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Santo, Vanuatu

Espiritu Santo (also just Santo) is in the largest island in Vanuatu.

Luganville is the largest town on the island.

It belongs to the archipelago of the New Hebrides in the Pacific region of Melanesia. It is in the Sanma Province of Vanuatu. The town of Luganville, on Espiritu Santo's southeast coast, is Vanuatu's second-largest settlement and the provincial capital. Roads run north and west from Luganville but most of the island is far from the limited road network.

Vanuatu's highest peak is the 1879 metre (6165 foot) Mount Tabwemasana in west-central Espiritu Santo.

In 1998, Santo hosted the Melanesia Cup.


A Spanish expedition led by Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós established... Read more

Santo, Vanuatu

Espiritu Santo (also just Santo) is in the largest island in Vanuatu.

Luganville is the largest town on the island.

It belongs to the archipelago of the New Hebrides in the Pacific region of Melanesia. It is in the Sanma Province of Vanuatu. The town of Luganville, on Espiritu Santo's southeast coast, is Vanuatu's second-largest settlement and the provincial capital. Roads run north and west from Luganville but most of the island is far from the limited road network.

Vanuatu's highest peak is the 1879 metre (6165 foot) Mount Tabwemasana in west-central Espiritu Santo.

In 1998, Santo hosted the Melanesia Cup.


A Spanish expedition led by Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós established a settlement in 1606 at Big Bay on the north side of the island. Espiritu Santo takes its name from Queirós, who named the entire island group La Austrialia del Espíritu Santo in acknowledgment of the Spanish king's descent from the royal House of Austria, and believing he had arrived in the Great Southern Continent, Terra Australis. During the time of the British–French Condominium, Hog Harbour, on the northeast coast, was the site of the British district administration, while Segond, near Luganville, was the French district administration.

During World War II, particularly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the island was used by Allied forces as a military supply and support base, naval harbor, and airfield. In highly fictionalized form, it is the locale of James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific and the subsequent Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific. The presence of the Allies later contributed to the island's diving tourism, as the United States dumped most of their equipment and refuse at what is now known as 'Million Dollar Point'. Another wreck off Espiritu Santo, the SS President Coolidge, is also a popular diving spot. The SS President Coolidge was a converted luxury liner that hit a mine during the war.

Between May and August 1980 the island was the site of a rebellion during the transfer of power over the colonial New Hebrides from the condominium to independent Vanuatu. Jimmy Stevens' Nagriamel movement, in alliance with private French interests and backed by the Phoenix Foundation and American libertarians hoping to establish a tax-free haven, declared the island of Espiritu Santo independent of the new government. The Republic of Vemerana was proclaimed on May 28. France recognized the independence on June 3. On June 5 the tribal chiefs of Santo named the French Ambassador Philippe Allonneau "King of Vemerana", Jimmy Stevens became Prime Minister. Luganville is renamed Allonneaupolis. But negotiations with Port-Vila failed and from July 27 to August 18, British Royal Marines and a unit of the French Garde Mobile were deployed to Vanuatu's capital island but did not invade Espiritu Santo as the soon-to-be government had hoped. The troops were recalled shortly before independence. Following independence, Vanuatu, now governed by Father Walter Lini, requested assistance from Papua New Guinea, whose forces invaded and conquered Espiritu Santo.


Santo, with many wrecks and reefs to be explored, is a very popular tourist destination for divers. Champagne Beach draws tourists with its white sand and clear waters. The "Western Side" of the island contains many caves which may be explored, and cruise ships often stop in at Luganville.

The local people make their living by supporting the tourist trade, by cash-crop farming, mostly copra but some cacao and kava as well as peanuts, or by subsistence farming and fishing.

Most Santo people are Christians. The largest church groups on the island are the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Melanesia (Anglican). Also active are the Apostolic Church, the Church of Christ, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and others. However, in many villages, particularly in Big Bay and South Santo, the people are "heathen", a term that in Vanuatu has no pejorative connotation — it simply denotes someone who has not embraced Christianity. Customary beliefs of a more modern sort are found among followers of the Nagriamel movement based in Fanafo.

For almost all Santo's people, custom plays a large part in their lives, regardless of their religion. The chief system continues strongly in most areas.

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Santo, Vanuatu: Port Information

In Luganville, your cruise ship will dock near the town center at Main Wharf.
Besides, liners may anchor offshore in Champagne Bay, and passengers are transported ashore by tender boats.
Taxis and mini-buses are available.

Get around Santo, Vanuatu

Minibuses and taxis are available. 
You can rent a car/scooter in ​Luganville.

What to see in Santo, Vanuatu

Espiritu Santo is a diver's paradise with a multitude of sites and wrecks. Its most famous wreck, President Coolidge, is known for being the largest accessible wreck dive in the world. It is a fascinating ship with a dual history as a luxury cruise liner and a military transport vessel and the wreck retains evidence of both lives. It requires experience with deep dives and wreck penetration to safely explore. The wreck is so large that there is anecdotal evidence of divers getting lost inside and having to rely on strategically placed emergency oxygen bottles to escape.
Another famous (and less intimidating) dive site is Million Dollar Point where the United States military dumped all of its equipment into the sea after WWII. Divers and snorkelers can enjoy exploring sunken tanks, jeeps, aircraft and millions of 1940s coke bottles.

Bush Walking
Millennium Cave is another attraction. Only found in 2000, tourists can make the trek to this large bat-filled cave and then relax while tubing back to their starting point along a lazy river. Wear old clothing, sturdy shoes, and realize that there is an active bat colony which will crap on you. Remember that you can wash back at your bungalow and enjoy the experience.
Trekkers and nature walkers have numerous options, including several multiday treks. Ask around in Luganville for tour operators and guides.

Champagne Beach is often quoted as being the most beautiful beach in the South Pacific. Watch out since it gets invaded when the cruise ships come to call. There are many other beautiful and isolated beaches. Sharks have been known to attack swimmers and there are some dangerous currents so be sure to ask the locals before jumping in.

What to do in Santo, Vanuatu

Snorkeling, swimming, and other fun beach activities.

What to eat and drink in Santo, Vanuatu


The traditional dish which you will most likely be offered once during your visit is a root vegetable cake called lap lap. Essentially this is either manioc (cassava), sweet potato, taro or yam shaved into the middle of a banana leaf with island cabbage and sometimes a chicken wing on top. This is all wrapped up into a flat package and then cooked in hot stones underground till it all melts together into a cake. The best place to pick up some of this is in the food market in the town center.


This is a variation of lap lap with the cake rolled into a cylinder with meat in the middle. It tastes a lot like a sausage roll. You can find these again in the market (usually from mele village people) but they will be served from foam boxes to keep them warm.


Vanuatu's meat is renowned in the region. The reason the meat's so good is that it's all naturally grown, with no feedlots or other problems of westernized mass production. The result of this is that the steaks are very good indeed.


As you may expect from an island nation, seafood is a common option and the quality is generally excellent. Reef fish are commonly found in restaurants, along with many varieties of prawns, lobster, and the delectable coconut crab.

The coconut crab is only found in parts of the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean and has been declining in numbers so rapidly that it is now a protected species in most areas. There is a minimum legal size requirement in Vanuatu of four centimeters, but the creature can grow to over 8 cm in length with a leg span of up to 90 cm. The crab gets its name from the fact that it climbs palms to cut down and eat coconuts - nothing to do with the flavor.


Kava is a local drink, made from the roots of the plant Piper methysticum, a type of pepper. Kava is intoxicating, but not like alcohol. Its effects are sedative. Some travelers have experienced a hangover from its consumption.

Kava is consumed in private homes and in local venues called Nakamal. Some of the resorts also offer kava on occasion for travelers to try.

Kava is served in a "shell" or small bowl. Drink the whole shell-ful down steadily, then spit. It's handy to have a soft drink on hand to rinse with afterward, as the taste of kava is strong and not very pleasant.

It is worth noting that the kava available in Vanuatu is generally a much stronger variety than the kava found in other Pacific islands such as Fiji, where it is comparatively mild. Four or five large shells in a typical kava bar will leave the inexperienced drinker reeling (or worse) after a couple of hours, and it can take a day to recover.

Good advice to experience kava as pleasantly as possible is to go with an experienced drinker and follow their lead, take the small shells, and stop after an hour and a half. It's quite easy to find a local kava drinking buddy, just ask around your hotel and you'll find volunteers - maybe at the cost of a shell or two.

Kava bars (or Nakamals) are normally dark places with very dim or no lighting at all. This is because bright lights and kava intoxication do not go together well - so be careful with flash photography, which may not be received very well in such venues.

Shopping in Santo, Vanuatu

Tipping is not expected in Vanuatu, nor is haggling or bargaining; it is not the custom and only encourages a "master-servant" relationship. However, gifts are very appreciated and the exchange of gifts for services rendered fits well into the local traditions (western governments have a hard time coming to terms with this practice as it is interpreted as bribery and corruption. But in the Melanesian culture, this practice is a normal way to do business...well the White Man introduced that "Cash" stuff).

A bag of rice to a village chief may be received with gratitude and dignity, but to offer triple the value in cash may be regarded as patronizing, plus it will artificially inflate the price for the next traveler; set wrong expectation, and rapidly destroy the genuine spontaneous friendship so easily given to you.

A nice gesture is to give phone cards or a T-shirt, or school pads, pens, etc., for the children. Plenty of kids here! We naturally don't recommend lollies and the like as it only encourages junk food dependency plus giving cash to local men may often be spent at the Kava bar and of no benefit to his family. If you have to give cash, ensure it is given to women, preferably mothers who generally control the family budget. The introduction of Poker machines has certainly not helped the situation considering these places are for the most part frequented by local people (mostly men) who can ill afford to waste their small wages in this way.

Safety in Santo, Vanuatu

​Vanuatu is, on the whole, a safe and friendly environment. You are unlikely to encounter any trouble unless you do something extremely provocative, though crime rates are said to be increasing. Take the same precautions you would anywhere else.

There are no seriously poisonous snakes, spiders, or insects on Vanuatu. However, there are various poisonous aquatic animals that you should beware of if you are swimming, snorkeling, or diving in the area. The most dangerous of these is the stonefish. Saltwater crocodiles are present, but the likelihood of an attack is minimal.

It is advisable to be immunized against Hepatitis A and B and typhoid fever before visiting Vanuatu.

Malaria is endemic within some areas of Vanuatu. If you are venturing outside the resort areas, check with your doctor before you travel. Malaria may not be endemic but you may come in contact with mosquito carriers and visitors from outer islands who have malaria - particularly in the wet season and at the hospital.

Dengue fever is also mosquito vectored particularly in the wet season. Be familiar with the symptoms as there is no cure all for dengue and malaria symptoms are intermittently leading to misdiagnosis.

Malaria preventative drugs have side effects which can cause problems in the sun, scuba diving, general stability, and digestion.

Be careful of any small cuts, scratches, or other sores you receive while traveling in Vanuatu. As in most tropical areas, small sores can easily become infected if you don't practice proper hygiene. Most of these things require common sense. However the sea water in Vanuatu will not heal your cuts, regular wetting will cause the condition to rapidly worsen requiring intravenous antibiotics and possible amputation. Iodine solution does not work and is alleged to make the situation worse. Mercuro-Chrome [Cumulative Poison] and Gentian Violet are better.

Language spoken in Santo, Vanuatu

There are three official languages: English, French, and Bislama. Bislama is a pidgin language – and now a creole in urban areas – which essentially combines a typically Melanesian grammar with a mostly English vocabulary. It is the only language that can be understood and spoken by the whole population of Vanuatu, generally as a second language.

It is a mixture of phonetic English woven in a loose French sentence structure spoken with ‘local sound' producing some comical outcomes e.g., ladies brassieres or bathing top is called "Basket blong titi"; no offense intended. An excellent Bislama dictionary is available from good book shops: 'A New Bislama Dictionary,' by the late Terry Crowley. Some common Bislama words/phrases include:
  • Me / you - mi / yu
  • Him / her / it (neither masculine nor feminine)
  • this here - hem/ hemia
  • Us /we / all of us - mifala / mifala evriwan
  • You / you (plural) - yu / yufala
  • I do not know/understand - mi no save
  • See you later / ta ta - Lukim yu/ tata
  • I am going now - ale (French derivation of allez) mi go
  • One/ two / three - wan / tu / tri
  • How much (is that) - hamas (long hem)
  • Plenty or many - plenti
  • Filled to capacity / overfilled - fulap / fulap tumas (too much)
  • Day / evening / night - dei / sava (literally supper) / naet
  • Hot / cold - hot / kol
  • What / what is that - wanem / wanem ia (literally wanem here?)
  • Why / why did you - frowanem (for why?)
  • Please / thank you / sorry (very sorry) - plis / tangkyu / sori (sori tumas) - sorry too much
  • Do you know - yu save (pronounced savee)
In addition, 113 indigenous languages are still actively spoken in Vanuatu. The density of languages per capita is the highest of any nation in the world, with an average of only 2000 speakers per language. All of these vernacular languages belong to the Oceanic branch of the Austronesian family.


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Latest travel blogs about Santo, Vanuatu

Vanuatu: Tour Around Luganville

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