If you’re visiting the South Island of Vanuatu and want to get a good feel for it, it’s worth scheduling one or two days in the capital, Port Vila. On the south coast of Efate, Port Vila is a port town with waterfront restaurants, accommodations ranging from hotels to resorts, and shops selling locally-made goods like chocolates, soaps and, of course, kava, a drink that’s popular in the South Pacific. It’s made from a root and can make your mouth and tongue numb.
I recently visited Vanuatu for six days, spending three of them on Port Vila, a 2.5-hour flight from Brisbane, three hours from Sydney, or 3.5 hours from Melbourne, with Virgin Australia operating regular flights.
I based myself at Nasama Resort in the south part of Port Vila, as well as at Grand Hotel Casino, a high-rise hotel within walking distance of Port Vila’s busiest restaurants, cafés and bars. Ahead, I’m sharing everything I did while there so, if you’re heading too, you can plan ahead for your activities.
Learn How Chocolate Is Made at Gaston Chocolat
Gaston Chocolat is a brand owned by Frenchman Olivier Fernandez and stocked around Port Vila with a shop in downtown Port Vila. The shop is part factory, part café and offers regular tours that take you through every step of the chocolate-making process. Taste chocolate samples at the end, including kava chocolate laced with the area’s popular drink. Pick up a treat to eat in the café after or grab some chocolate bars to take home as souvenirs.
Cook Your Own Lunch at Papaya Loco
Even those who don’t consider themselves great at cooking (myself included) will enjoy a cooking class at Papaya Loco, led by co-owner Marcus. Located on an old copra plantation right on the beach, the school regularly hosts half-day cooking classes where you’ll learn how to make dishes from Vanuatu, the Caribbean, and Portugal. Afterwards, you can feast on what you made, which is usually a starter, main, and dessert.
Take a Gin-Making Tour at 83 Islands
83 Islands is a craft rum brand and distillery, filling barrels and aging rum since 2019. It also makes limited-edition flavoured rums, gins, and other spirits using local ingredients, most notably kava, and regularly experiments with various yeasts to create interesting flavour profiles. The Distillery Experience Tour showcases the 83 Islands’ process on its production site and includes a tasting of its finest rums and local liquors.
Shop For Souvenirs at Port Vila Markets
The Port Vila Markets in downtown Port Vila offers all kinds of locally made handicrafts, from fashion and face creams to spices and roasted coffee beans. Grab some gifts for friends and family back home while at the same time supporting local communities. When you’re done shopping, pick up fruits and veggies to takeaway or lunch at one of the markets’ many food stalls.
See the Coffee-Making Process at Tanna Coffee
Tanna Coffee is grown on volcanic soil in Vanuatu, made through traditional farming practices passed down for generations, and roasted at a sprawling estate that’s open to the public. Take a tour of the facilities, learn how the coffee’s roasted, and then head to the estate’s plantation-facing patio with a cup of it. It’s full-bodied and with a nutty finish. If you’re lucky, owners Terry and Sandra will be around to share their stories.
Get a Massage at Volcanic Earth Day Spa
After all the Port Vila exploring, you might be keen to unwind and do nothing at all. Do exactly that with a body wrap or scrub treatment, massage or magnesium bath at Volcanic Earth Day Spa. All treatments are performed with products using local ingredients that you can buy in the reception area after and are performed by locals. The spa has won multiple wellness awards.