You’ll never run out of things to do on Espiritu Santo, whether you have one day, one week or one month to explore Vanuatu’s biggest island. We spent ten days on Santo and wished we could have stayed longer.
Here’s a selection of our favourite things to do in Espiritu Santo to plan a trip you will never forget. It’s classified by types of activities: water-based activities, landscapes, and cultural activities.
The best water-based activities in Espiritu Santo
1. Scuba dive some world-famous sites
If you’re not a scuba diver, don’t skip this number one activity just yet. Even beginners can enjoy scuba diving in Santo!
Scuba diving is not cheap in Vanuatu, but the underwater world around Santo is fascinating. You get to see splendid corals around the smaller islands, shipwrecks like the world-famous SS Coolidge and war relics at Million Dollar Point.
If you are not certified or not confident, you could get a first experience or a refresher at one of the resorts with a dive centre like Aore Resort* and Coral Quays*. And then, why not go all the way to the deep dive certification so you can explore further down?
Scuba divers who can go to 30 or 40 metres deep will have one of their best experiences at the SS Coolidge. Make sure you plan a night dive.
2. Snorkel pristine coral reefs
Pack your snorkel gear when you travel to Santo. You will have many opportunities to use it as it’s cheaper and easier to organise than scuba diving.
The reputed places for snorkelling are:
- Million Dollar Point: the Americans dumped war equipment in the ocean, and corals and anemone now cover the wrecks with many fish around
- Port Orly: a short kayak trip will take you behind Bat Island where you will find pristine coral reefs with stunning boulders and small canyons
- Aore Island: the very shallow reef just a few metres away from the beach is ideal for those who don’t want to make any efforts
- Dany Island: we didn’t have time to check this one, but it’s suitable if you don’t have your snorkel gear as you can hire equipment on this island, reputed for having thousands of square metres of stunning corals
- Turtle Bay: there is a reef in front of the Turtle Bay Lodge* that may be worth exploring if you have time (we didn’t – but we liked our lunch with a view there!)
Unfortunately, we only found dead corals in the Bay of Islands when we kayaked there. We had fun skin diving on plane wrecks, but I would not put on the must-do list.
3. Explore untouched nature on a kayak
Kayaking is perfect to find secluded and untouched spots. You can hire kayaks from many resorts and beaches on the main island such as Port Olry, Turtle Bay, Bay of Islands, and Matevulu Blue Hole. The offshore islands, Aore, Malo, and Bokissa, also offer good kayaking opportunities.
We loved our experience kayaking from Matevulu Blue Hole to the Bay of Islands where we found a deserted beach on an untouched island to stop for lunch.
If you don’t feel like making efforts, you can get a local young man to paddle for you as you go up the transparent Riri River to the stunning Riri Blue Hole. Visiting the blue holes is a must-do in Espiritu Santo.
4. Learn traditional fishing
From the beach, you will often see the locals on their traditional canoes fishing with their nets. Their technique is fascinating to watch. How about joining them? Have a chat with locals at Port Olry; they will know someone who can take you. And if you feel like going further away, you can look for a fishing tour on a motorboat.
The most beautiful landscapes in Espiritu Santo
5. Visit stunning blue holes
You cannot visit Espiritu Santo without stopping at one of the blue holes, at least. If you have time for more, the better.
You will be breathless in front of the purity of the blue of these freshwater sources and the contrasts with the green of the surrounding jungle. In some of them, you can climb a tree or a platform to reach a swing and jump into the water. Read this for more information about Santo blue holes.
Responsible Travel Tip: You will be amazed by the water clarity of the blue holes in Espiritu Santo. Help protect them by not using chemicals in the water: avoid using sunscreen and insect repellant before swimming!
6. Relax on some of the world’s best beaches
The most famous beach in Santo is Champagne Beach. Some ranked it among the most beautiful beaches in the world. And it’s not hard to understand why.
But Port Olry beach may be as beautiful. And Lonnoc Beach has its charms too. We loved the opportunity to stay a few metres away from these stunning beaches (check out our treehouse here in Port Olry* or this other option in front of Lonnoc Beach*). The facilities were basic, but we had all we needed including great opportunities to chat with our local hosts.
If you prefer more comfort and luxury while still being near an idyllic beach, you will find beautiful resorts in Espiritu Santo. Our night at Aore Eco-Retreat* was fantastic and we felt lucky to have such a beautiful piece of paradise just for us. We went for dinner at the nearby resort, Aore Island Resort*, and it looked promising too.
On the main island of Espiritu Santo, not too far from Champagne Beach, we had lunch at Turtle Bay Lodge*. The location is fantastic. We almost spent our afternoon there as we could not get enough of the shades of blues.
7. Hike Millenium Cave
It’s a lot of efforts to hike to Millenium Cave, but it’s rewarding. It’s often listed in the best things to do in Vanuatu. It’s a full day activity where you’ll get to explore a forest, a canyon, and a cave. You’ll be wet, you’ll be tired, but you’ll be amazed. Plus, the fees support the entire community. Learn more about Millenium Cave here.
8. Stay in a treehouse
Some ni-Vanuatu had a brilliant idea. Instead of taking down trees to build accommodations with beach views, they built houses in the trees. It’s very popular near the Yasur volcano on Tanna Island, but you can also find this kind of accommodation in Espiritu Santo.
We stayed in a treehouse at Serenity Beach* and it was an amazing experience to be on the beach, close to nature with all the basic comfort we needed.
Responsible Travel Tip: It’s great to support treehouses as these constructions have a minimal impact on the landscape compared to other types of accommodations. Indeed, instead of taking the trees down, they use them to build a room. Plus, they are built with local natural materials.
The best cultural activities in Espiritu Santo
9. Stay in a village
There is no better way to experience the local life and learn more about the culture than by staying in a remote village. Homestays are not always easy to find as people are busy with their lives and it’s not their main activity. A great alternative is to stay at the Vunaspef village. As they are the landowners of the Millenium Cave, they are used to tourists. Although they have the basic facilities available, visitors rarely stay for the night. But for those who do, it’s a highlight in their Vanuatu trip.
10. Go horse riding
Horse riding is a fantastic way to explore the natural beauty of Santo. There are a couple of ranches that offer this activity to tourists. We did it in Port Olry, but there’s also a ranch closer to Luganville, in Lope Lope. Our experience went way beyond a horse riding adventure as we had the chance to learn more about the local culture and way of life.
11. Drink kava
No trip to Vanuatu is complete without a visit to a kava bar. If kava is famous across the Pacific Islands, it’s originally from Vanuatu. The best way to experience kava is to find a local who will take you to his favourite kava bars. Kava bars open at the end of the day and you need to locate the small lights on the side of the road to find one. Go slow for your first time as the kava effects can be surprising.
12. Try local food
Many restaurants in Santo will cook with local ingredients but won’t offer local dishes on their menus. It’s a shame because the ni-Vanuatu food is delicious. When in Luganville, you can go to the market to purchase fruits that you may not have tasted before. On the other side of the park, near the water, you can find a concrete house where they serve local dishes such as laplap, simboro, and tuluk. And don’t forget to buy a fresh coconut as a drink to complete your delicious lunch.
Responsible Travel Tip: Buying local food from stalls at the market is a great way to support locals who may not benefit directly from tourism.
What were your favourite activities in Santo? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is Espiritu Santo?
Espiritu Santo is Vanuatu’s biggest island, in the north of the archipelago. There are direct flights from Brisbane to Santo, and it only takes a couple of hours to arrive in a totally different world. Vanuatu is an easy exotic destination for Australians.