When visiting Port Vila, you will hear about Mele Cascades, Vanuatu’s must-see waterfalls. Mele Cascades is often listed as one of the best things to do in Vanuatu. The plan is to walk along a river with a series of terraces and cascades with photogenic pools and a plunging 35-metre waterfall at the end… It sounded like one of these places we could only love. But when we arrived in Port Vila, we didn’t like what we heard about the Mele Cascades from locals and previous visitors.
Mele Cascades: a tourist trap or a must-see?
We love waterfalls, so we didn’t consider removing Mele Cascades from our itinerary. But I couldn’t stop wondering if the Mele Cascades were famous mostly because they are easy to access from Port Vila. Well, I will cut the suspense here: they do deserve their notoriety.
The Mele Cascades look stunning.
From a landscape point of view, they delivered above my expectations. And it even felt like a small adventure. The path and the stairs in the jungle were easy as you can expect from a popular tourist attraction. The fun started when we had to cross a few streams. And it became a real balance test to reach the falls. To access the higher part of the cascades, you have to walk on the wet limestone surface.
Going all the way up could be laborious for people who aren’t fit or experienced. They have installed ropes and carved footholds on the terrace to make it easier. Almost anyone should be able to go up at their own pace. But it doesn’t mean anyone will enjoy it. It’s not a walk in the park. It’s slippery and may challenge your balance. Be ready to get your foot wet!
We were by ourselves when we visited Mele Cascades and had it for the two of us most of the time. We only met two other couples on our way. It was a rainy day, although we were lucky to get there between two showers. We loved how quiet and natural it was. I am sure the experience is different when visitors from a big cruise ship take over the place. I heard more than 500 hundred people can be there at one time. Try to avoid visiting Mele Cascades on these days.
But everything at Mele Cascades isn’t positive
I am a fervent supporter that tourism should support local businesses and communities. It’s even more important when we are talking about one of the poorest countries in the world. Tourism is an important source of revenue.
Unfortunately, the Mele Cascades had to be sold by their traditional owners. The company never recovered from the economic difficulties brought by Cyclone Pam and the drought that left the cascades dry for a while.
It’s now owned by a Chinese company. I appreciate that money is required to maintain the infrastructures and facilitate access for most people. I also know that businesses owned by foreigners aren’t systematically negative: they sometimes provide more opportunities and employment. But since they own Mele Cascades, the fees are too high. We didn’t spend more than two hours there as we were interested in nature, not the restaurants and other services they were offering.
Most locals warned us about the price rather than trying to sell us their local gem. I saw it (maybe wrongly) as a sign that the community is not benefiting from this price increase. It was very different from Millenium Cave Tours in Espiritu Santo, a local tour that use their profit to send more children to school. It broke my heart to realise the beautiful Mele Cascades seemed to be about making profits.
How much does it cost to visit Mele Cascades from Port Vila?
The entrance fee when we visited was 2,000 VT per person. We found it was way too much for what it’s worth and met many people who skipped the visit just because of the price.
We caught a bus from Port Vila to get there. It cost 300 VT per person. The cascades are only 10 km away from the capital and located in the biggest village of Vanuatu. There were many buses in the area, so I don’t think it’s worth hiring a car or a driver to visit Mele Cascades.
Evergreen Vanuatu organises tours to the Mele Cascades, starting at 3,600 VT per person. It’s always nice to have a local guide with you to enhance the experience. I wouldn’t imagine it’s worth the extra cost at Mele Cascades which is already an expensive activity. But I highly recommend you do a guided tour of the forest at some point during your trip to Vanuatu. The locals have an impressive knowledge of the nature around them, and you will learn a lot, even maybe taste some fruits you never had!
What do you need when you visit Mele Cascades?
I highly recommend wearing water shoes* to visit Mele Cascades. I went there with waterproof hiking boots* and I struggled in some places as the water was very close to entering via the top of the shoes. It wasn’t ideal. It is also feasible to go there with thongs and finish barefoot.
You can swim in the pools at the cascade. The water is not as warm as the ocean, but it can be perfect to refresh if you had to make effort during the hike. So take your swimming suits and a towel! I particularly like having a microfiber towel* when I travel as they are light and dry quickly.
Make sure you also bring a water bottle*. The Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website stated that tap water in Port Vila was safe to drink when we visited. So we just needed to fill our bottle at the hotel.
Responsible travel tip: If you don’t like the idea of drinking tap water, I recommend purchasing a Sawyer Water Filtration System* or a LifeStraw water bottle with an integrated filter*. These are great solutions to avoid using plastic water bottles.
When is the best time to visit Mele Cascades?
The obvious answer is to visit Mele Cascades when there is water flowing! A drought hit Vanuatu a few years ago and dramatically reduced the water level at the cascades. It seems to be rare and to recover quickly after a good rain.
We went to Vanuatu just after summer, in late April. The temperatures were lovely and not too hot to move around. But if you visit when it’s hot, Mele Cascades can be a good pick on a hot day. The water was refreshing and there was plenty of shade.
It rained for most of our time in Port Vila, which was good news for the water level at the cascades. They looked impressive. Luckily, we managed to visit between showers and could enjoy the sun hitting the water. The colours looked incredible.
As mentioned earlier, if you can avoid the site when there is a cruise ship in Port Vila, you will have a more pleasant experience.
Combine your Mele Cascades trip with other activities nearby
Exploring the Mele Cascades doesn’t take long. We wandered for a while with no rush. Still, we were back at the carpark after two hours. There are a restaurant and a cafe where you can relax in the gardens, near the entrance at the bottom of the pools. But it’s nothing amazing. We preferred to explore other areas near Port Vila: Hideaway Island and the Tanna Coffee Factory are not far away.
Have you been to Mele Cascades? Would you recommend it? Share your feedback in the comments below!
Where are Mele Cascades?
Mele is the biggest village of Vanuatu, on Efate Island. Mele Cascades is approximately 10 kilometres outside Port Vila, the capital of the archipelago. It is likely that you will land in Port Vila when you fly to Vanuatu.
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