When travelling to Espiritu Santo, you hear about Millenium Cave a lot. It is one of the best things to do in Vanuatu. But after finding out the price or discovering the difficulty, you may hesitate about joining the tour. These tips will give you a better idea of what to expect and how to plan your trip, so you get the most out of your experience at Millenium Cave (Vanuatu).
Drawn from my experience doing the tour in 2018, this article provides info on:
- the cost of the Millenium cave trek
- the itinerary
- the difficulty
- if it is worth it
- what to do if you have kids
- how to get to the trek
- the equipment to bring,
- tips to spend the night there
- the best time to plan your visit
1. Cost of the Millenium Cave trek
The trek is 7,500 VT per person including the return transport from Luganville but not your lunch. It is a guided tour that lasts for a full day and will take you to remote areas.
Your money will help the local community. When we visited, they were using it to provide education to more than 125 children (a number that had increased every year).
In some places in Vanuatu (the Mele Cascades in Port Vila or the Mount Yasur Volcano in Tanna for example), we considered the entry fees were too high for the experience offered. But we didn’t have this impression with the Millenium Cave tour. It felt like we were spending our money on something positive (profit goes to education rather than private profit). Plus, the tour guide was knowledgeable and willing to share many stories.
2. Itinerary of the Millenium Cave trek
The tour starts at their office in Luganville, near the Sarakata river bridge. A 4WD truck takes visitors to Nambel village (a 45-minute drive). We loved the adventure from there as we were at the back of the car that filled up on the way with kids coming back from school who shared their snacks with us – a cousin of the cacao bean we had never seen before.
From Nambel village, it is a 20-minute walk to Vunaspef village, who are the landowners of Millenium Cave. Although there is no significant difficulty in that part, it’s already slippery, and the bamboo bridge gives a first taste of the adventure that awaits.
Depending on the fitness of your group, it takes around 1.5 hours to walk from the village to Millenium Cave. Going through the cave takes 30 minutes. Then it’s lunchtime near the river before scrambling on rocks for 30 minutes (canyoning) and enjoying a leisurely swim for 45 minutes. The way back up takes around 30 minutes to Vunaspef village.
After a break there, you go back to Luganville (20-minute walk + 45-minute drive).
I’ll do the math for you: it takes approximately 6 hours to complete the full Millenium Cave tour.
3. How difficult is the Millenium Cave tour?
We are used to long and challenging hikes and didn’t find this one particularly hard for fit and experienced hikers.
But if it is your first hike of this kind, the Millenium Cave tour may be difficult for you for a few different reasons:
- You have to walk for a long time (4 hours, although the duration varies according to the overall fitness of your group)
- You need good balance on the slippery paths
- You need to climb steep ladders up and down (and a few rocks too)
- You need to walk in the water over rocks only lit by a small torch
- You need to scramble in the canyon (not proper canyoning but close to it for a short time)
- The heat and humidity can make it harder if you are not used to it
I was impressed by how much work the locals did to improve access to the trek.
Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ranks as one of the most epic hikes ever for a majority of the visitors. Although I never felt in danger, the safety standards may not be the ones you are used to for this type of activity in other countries (no helmet, ladders made of wood, weak anchorage into the rocks…). But if the weather isn’t bad, there is nothing impossible for healthy people as long as you take your time and go at your own pace. Don’t hesitate to warn the guide if you feel uncomfortable as he can help and give tips.
Also, you will be in the darkness of the cave with just your torch to light the way. You will not see any exit or natural light for a while. I found it beautiful and not scary at all as there is plenty of space on the sides and above and continuous airflow. However, those who are claustrophobic may find it challenging.
Are you covered for adventurous activities by your travel insurance? I recommend double-checking to avoid bad surprises if an incident happens. Adventurous activities are often extra. Some travel insurance like WorldNomads* and Covermore* make it easy to include adventurous activities.
4. Is Millenium Cave worth the price and the efforts?
That’s a big YES from me. We had a great time with our tour guide learning more about the Ni-van culture while discovering a remote and wild area. Even if they improved access for tourists, it is still very adventurous and natural.
The trek in the jungle was interesting as we learn about how they use plants in the village, for food and medicine. Our guide was happy to share his knowledge about the forest we were exploring. He made sure we had many opportunities to try fruits we had never seen before or the best one we had ever tasted. We ate delicious bananas, passion fruits, grapefruits, different kinds of passion fruits and a few others we didn’t know like what they call their local apples.
The Millenium Cave itself is fantastic, both for the beauty of the cave and the strange feeling of being in the total darkness with hundreds of bats over your head. The short canyoning experience is fun and I wished it lasted for a bit longer. The final swim in the river is quite relaxing – although a bit too refreshing to my taste – and the views are stunning.
It was not at all a walk in the park, but it was easier than I expected.
We regretted not having an adventure offered at Tanna Volcano. Our experience at Millenium Cave was totally different, and we could not have wished for a better tour.
5. Can kids hike Millenium Cave?
I cannot comment on a minimum age for a kid to hike Millenium Cave. I can think of children I know that would love the experience and others that would be terrified and exhausted. There is also a certain level of risks in this kind of activity that only parents can evaluate for their own child. The staff from the Tour Office should be able to give you more specific advice as they will have had experience with kids.
Millennium Cave is too adventurous for young kids who would struggle going up and down the ladders. But this should not stop their parents from joining the tour. Women in the village can look after the young children while the rest of the family goes on the hike. When I was by myself killing time in another Ni-van village, many children were happy to find a new face to play with.
They can also organise more family-friendly tours from their village to the river or the jungle.
6. How to go to Millenium Cave
You cannot go to Millenium Cave for a self-guided visit. You need the authorisation of the landowners who will provide a guide for you.
And you cannot drive to Vunaspef village with a car rental. Only experienced drivers can manage this unsealed road in bad condition. Plus, we were limited to a zone with our car rental that included most touristy sites on Santo but not Millenium Cave.
Your only option to visit Millenium Cave is to book a tour.
You can visit their official website for all the information about booking your Millenium Cave tour. The best is to contact them in advance by phone (+678 547 0957) or email ([email protected]). We were lucky to be able to go on the tour in the morning when we showed up at their tour office in Luganville, just after the Sarakata Bridge.
These are the only ways to ensure you are doing the tour with the landowners. It also means your money contributes to maintaining the tracks, training the guide and financing the Millenium School that provides education for the entire community, and not only the village of the landowners. Plus, when you consider the difficulty of the hike, I would not recommend doing it without a knowledgeable guide to show you the safest way.
7. Equipment you need for the Millenium Cave tour
The best is to ask questions directly to your guide if you have any doubt about what to take with you. You can leave it to them before going on the trek. So if you stay overnight in the village, you don’t need to carry your overnight backpack during the long walk. But it’s a good idea to separate it in advance from your day pack, so you don’t waste time sorting everything out while the group is ready to leave.
The information below should help you have a better idea of the things to take for your Millenium Cave tour:
You will get wet during your Millenium Cave tour
Hence, only take gear that can get wet. They will give you backpacks in the village, so you don’t have to worry about getting yours into the water. During the hike, you will walk in the stream to reach the cave and then entirely swim in the river on the way back.
We took our underwater camera for this hike. I left my hiking shoes in the village and did the walk with my diving boots as I didn’t mind these getting wet. Some other people in our group were wearing reef shoes or runnings. Runnings are great if you don’t mind having them all wet (and keep in mind that it takes a while to dry in Vanuatu’s humid climate). But water shoes that dry quickly and have holes in the sole and a good grip are even better. See this model for example*.
We also had small dry bags* to protect our food and some equipment like our first aid kit. They can also provide a dry box at the village if you don’t have your own dry bag. A headlamp* could make the walk through the cave more manageable for those who are not at ease walking in the dark on uneven terrain. They do provide a waterproof torch but it cannot be fixed on your head.
Don’t forget to bring dry clothes that you will leave in the village. It will be more comfortable to be dry for the trip back to Luganville.
Clothes for protection
I hiked Millenium Cave with quick-dry long trekking pants and a light top with long sleeves. I found it was a great option for a few reasons:
To be protected from the sun: I chose not to use sunscreen during the hike as we were mostly in the forest and it was not a very sunny day. If you think you need sunscreen, I recommend choosing a brand that is reputed for not having chemicals (I use zinc). It will reduce the risk of polluting the water.
Responsible travel tip: Did you know your sunscreen can pollute the water and harm animals? The best way to protect your body from the sun is to cover it with long sleeves and pants. If you do have to use sunscreen, choose a mineral one (like zinc) to avoid harmful substances (see the full list here) and apply it at least 20 minutes before entering the water.
To be protected from bugs: I didn’t like the idea of risking contaminating the river with bug repellant. We may have been lucky with the season but my clothes were enough to protect me from the bugs.
To be protected from scratches: Millenium Cave trek is physical. You will probably hit your legs or arms on rocks at some point. I had a few bruises but they did not affect my skin thanks to my clothes protection. Clothes can also protect from the vegetation, in case you were not listening when the guide showed the local equivalent of itching powder.
You will need to bring your drinking water for the hike and your stay at the village. It’s a long hike in hot and humid conditions, so you will need to have plenty of water. We read from the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website that “tap water in the major urban centres of Port Vila and Luganville is generally safe to drink,” so we filled up our water bottles from the tap at our accommodation before the Millenium Cave tour.
Responsible travel tip: Using water bottles rather than single-use plastic bottles makes a huge difference in the waste you leave behind while travelling. We managed to use tap water in our water bottles even when we went outside the urban centres thanks to a filter. It was very convenient as it saved us many trips to the shop and we never worried about having water. And it’s also cheaper! We use this flexible Sawyer Water Filtration System* that can be fixed to many usual bottles, comes with a pouch to pour the filtered water into containers and with a straw so you can drink directly from the source. Alternatively, I also like the LifeStraw water bottle with an integrated filter*.
Where to get your picnic for your Millenium Cave tour
My favourite place to buy food is at the Luganville market. You will find fruits and snacks like peanuts there. Then, you can go grocery shopping at LCM on Luganville main road – known as the best shopping centre for expats. We were happy to buy French pate for our sandwiches as we cannot find it easily in Australia and miss it a lot. If you want to stock up, the best one we got was actually in Port Vila, at the Bon Marche near the traditional market.
If you didn’t have time for shopping before the tour, there is a petrol station with a decent shop across the road from the Millenium Cave tour office. You could also ask your host or hotel the day before if they can provide you with a sandwich or if there is a place nearby that sells them.
8. Opportunity to spend the night at the village
If you are looking for an authentic experience in Vanuatu, you will be interested in spending the night at Vunaspef Village after your hike. It will cost you 3,500 VT per person, food included.
This Santo accommodation is basic but cosy enough for a good night’s sleep.
Remember you will need to dress appropriately in a traditional village to respect the local custom. It means women must cover their legs up to their knees. You can tie a sarong around your waist if it is easier for you.
Staying for the night became even more tempting during the hike. Our guide started fishing appetizing crayfish in the river for dinner. We learnt these are for visitors only and people from the village don’t eat them.
Unfortunately, we found out too late this was an option and had already our booking arranged elsewhere. We thought about going back without doing the trek (it’s 1,000 VT for the transport) but didn’t find time in the end.
9. The best time to visit Millenium Cave
The tour is dependent on the weather, and it can be cancelled if it rains too much. They may opt for a half cancellation or a full one depending on the conditions of the tracks. So if you want to maximise your chances of visiting Millenium Cave, I recommend planning it early during your stay. This will allow you to postpone it if the weather is unfavourable.
The rain season in Vanuatu is from November to April. The first months of the year receive the highest amount of rain. I wouldn’t be surprised if Millenium Cave tours get cancelled more during that period.
It rained quite a lot a couple of days before our Millenium Cave trek. The track was muddy and very slippery, but still doable.
Have you been to Millenium Cave? Did you find the hike challenging? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is Millenium Cave (Vanuatu)?
Millenium Cave is located on the island of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu. Vanuatu is an archipelago in the South Pacific. It is near New Caledonia and not too far from Australia’s east coast and the north of New Zealand.
You need to reach the village of Vunaspef to start the jungle trek that leads to Millenium Cave. From Luganville, it is a 45-minute drive (4WD necessary) plus a 20-minute walk.
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