How to: Do Port Vila

Planning to visit the capital city of Vanuatu, Port Vila? Well, here are some tips to do it right.
(Updated May 10, 2019)


What is Port Vila like? What's the "local" experience? Well, Port Vila is a provincial center for the Shefa province. There is a good chunk of Australian/French/Kiwi/Chinese expats living here, leading to an influx of foreign influence. However, for the most part, this is a provincial center. While tourists do make their way here via cruise ships and flights, there isn't much "local flavor" in the city. Locals will frequent the city to send mail, get money from the bank, refuel on boat/truck gasoline, and go grocery shopping. Locals don't really head to Vila to do much else, as there isn't much to do (but it has ice cream and french fries! Locals in my village head into town for those things. Haha). 

Most stores/restaurants/bars do not have websites. Look them up on Facebook instead, where they post all of their info. Also, download the free Vanuatu Bucket List app. It has loads of information on happy hours and movie times and maps and transport and why are you not done downloading the app yet?

The two truly local things I recommend to any visitor are drinking kava and visiting the Market. Most other things are made for tourists and aren't "local" experiences.

If you want to get away from the city life and actually see what village life looks like, try booking a bungalow. Most do not have websites or an online presence, however, most locally-owned places can be found on this website, created by Vanuatu Tourism (this lists pretty much every bungalow on my tiny island!). 

Perhaps I'm a bit jaded (I am). However, that isn't to say your stay in Vila won't be a good one! Just read up on some basic info below to make your stay in Vanuatu's most populous city an enjoyable one.

Stuff to Do

Port Vila has lots of touristy stuff that I equate to the Ripley's Believe It or Nots of the USA...nothing culturally relevant, and all overpriced.  That includes parasailing, ziplining and buggies. 

In the city proper, two nice attractions are the two boardwalks along the water downtown. There's one just off of the main road that has grassy areas and trees, as well as small beaches where you can walk down to the water...

And there's the paved, modern one that was just recently unveiled in the last year, right downtown beside all the shops and restaurants. Grab your food to go and enjoy the view!

Another cultural site worth visiting is the Vanuatu Cultural Center. I visited once with some students while we were on a field trip, and it is very cool. It has loads of photos and culturally significant items from most of the islands sprinkled throughout. It's small, but it is packed with information. If you're lucky, they will demonstrate sand drawing for you, a traditional way of storytelling in which the storyteller will draw a picture without breaking the line, completing a lovely piece of artwork when the story is complete.

Sand drawing at the Vanuatu Cultural Center

Hideaway Island is nice, but I personally don't like the coral beach it offers, since it's a bit hard to sit on (yes, we get picky about our beautiful beaches here when we have so many options, ha). But it is a nice snorkeling spot and home to the Underwater Post Office (you heard that right!) where you can snorkel down to send a waterproof postcard.

There are nature-y things to do outside of Vila that I won't really list here since it's not *quite* Vila. Those include Mele cascades and some lagoons.

Getting Around

Do not rent a car in Port Vila unless you plan on driving around the island of Efate at your leisure. When staying in the city, the "bus" system works just fine, and is a cheap 150vt per ride, per person. That being said, don't take the taxis either, unless you need to go very quickly to your destination, or if you have a lot of luggage (buses, if not full, will carry quite the assortment of items, so two pieces of luggage is nothing in comparison to the produce or ice chests filled with fish that it carries to the market).

Annalisa, the coolest passenger

Veronica notes the killer speaker system in our bus.

The buses in Port Vila are part hitchhiker, part carpool, part Uber Pool. You hail a bus, which is any large van with a red "B" on the license plate, and when it pulls over, you tell them your destination. Always know your destination as well as a general landmark nearby (you can always guide the driver when you get close). If they shake their head or inexplicably drive off, it's because they're headed in a completely different direction. If they nod you in, then hop inside.

The bus will pick up other passengers and may stop for gas on your trip, or completely go out of your way (this happens like, 20% of the time). They won't forget about you, just be patient. You may not be the first one dropped off, but soon you'll be at your destination. Never ask the price. If it's in the city or near the airport, it will be 150vt. Sometimes drivers will take advantage of your obliviousness and charge you more. I repeat: don't ask the price. Just hand them 150vt as you exit, and you're golden (and if you only have large bills, ask for the precise amount of change so they don't overcharge).

Sometimes you're lucky and get an empty bus that picks up no other passengers and you get an express ride to your destination!


People have asked me about getting the "authentic" Port Vila experience. As I mentioned above, not a lot of locals hang out here. It's quite expensive for the local income, at least, spending time like a tourist is. It's crazy to me how I find myself spending about the same amount on food/drinks as I would have spent in Chicago. Meals at sit down restaurants are 700vt-2500vt (most in the 1000-1400vt range). That's for non-local fare. Non-local fare includes burgers, French pastries, pizza, sushi, Indian, Chinese noodles, and more. Don't underestimate the quality of "mall" food at Tana Russet Plaza, because that food court is fabulous.

However, if you want local food, there are a few options for you, and they are more affordable for the aelan budget. These are meals under 500vt, and usually at the 300vt mark. The Market, in the city center, has a slew of fast-casual food stands behind the produce section of the market where you can easily find a meal of rice, cabbage and chicken for 300vt, and you can wash it down with a fresh coconut. The food stands are only open during regular business hours (they're most popular for lunch) and the produce at the market is open 24/7. I didn't believe someone when they first told me this. Well, it's open 24/7 because the mamas selling produce just sleep at the market. So if you're really craving a mango at 3am, you can just tap one on the shoulder to buy one. However, I'd think about your actions: interrupting someone's sleep to spend 20vt on a mango.

All around the city are kava nakamals, where you can get washemaot for a fair price for a snack, ranging from 20vt-100vt per piece, depending on what it is.

Also throughout the city, you'll see a chain of brightly-painted-pink restaurants that read "GO 4 FOOD" and house quick Chinese/local food. There's rice, soups, chicken wings, and boiled starches like taro or yam. They're equally affordable, around the 300vt mark.

Personally, I'd recommend if you want some cheap ice cream, go to Au Bon Marche (the grocery store). It's the cheapest for scoop or bar ice cream. And if you want burgers, go to Island Time, where you can get a cheeseburger with the works for 550vt.

Milkshakes, unfortunately, cannot be recommended here (not that milkshakes are local, but they are a regular part of my diet, which is why I mention them). The ratio of milk to ice cream is far too high, and the ones that actually get the ratios right are around 700vt and up. THAT IS NEARLY SEVEN DOLLARS FOR A MILKSHAKE. A tragedy, really. If you must get a milkshake, be sure to get one at Tana Ruset Plaza, at Caribbean Vanuatu. It's pricey but they load up these shakes with syrups and cookies and candies and all sorts of doodads to make it worth it.

Vanuatu has fresh fish everywhere, as well as lots of seafood. In the villages, you can easily eat crab/lobster for cheap (I'm talking 20 vt for a baby crab), but in Port Vila the prices match those that Westerners are willing to pay. Oh, and if you want the opportunity to eat a flying fox (similar to a bat, and considered a local food as well as something to check off the "I ate this" bucket list), then L'houstalet Restaurant is where you wanna go.

For a unique dining experience that requires some planning ahead, I HIGHLY recommend La Maison du Banion, which is a magical little treehouse in the bush where you book a private meal for your group. Everything is vegan, as all the food is locally grown...really local. Like, right-behind-the-treehouse local. It's owned by a French woman, but all the food she cooks is local with a Western flair. You'll be eating whatever's in season, but slightly more gourmet than what you'd eat in the village. When I visited, we had shaved papaya salad, manioc fritters, and avocado/cocoa mousse. It was divine. Oh, have I mentioned it is BYOB? There's a corkage fee for 500vt for the entire table, but when I went with a large group of champagne-happy drinkers, our final total, per person, was only 2500 for a four-course meal and plenty of wine. That is a steal, especially for Port Vila. The environment is lovely, too, as it's situated in an open-air treehouse, and the place is completely candlelit. I recommend you bring mosquito spray and possibly a jacket (depending on the weather).


I'll let you read all about drinking kava in my separate post about the root drink here. If you want a truly local experience, you MUST drink kava. If you leave Vanuatu without trying it, then you missed out on something major.

Ok, with that being said, some of you may wanna get your (alcoholic) drink on. The culture of Vanuatu is not good for a partier. Businesses/stores are open quite early, with major grocery stores and shops opening at 7am. Many close at 5pm, and bars/restaurants aren't open late either.

Since church is on Sunday for most (not for SDA folks, not that they drink alcohol anyways), so the most popular night for locals to drink is Friday. On any night at any bar, tourists and expats will get their drink on because we have little shame.

Typically, places close down around 9pm or 10pm. I've been kicked out of a bar at 9:30pm because no patrons were there on a Thursday night except myself and my friends, so the bar decided to close.

Almost every night there is a happy hour somewhere. Check out the Vanuatu Bucket List app or various venues' Facebook pages to see their offers and times. They can start as early as 3pm and go as late as 8pm.

Beer (Tusker) is your best bet, since cocktails can often be watered down (I drank 4 vodka lemonades once and had zero buzz) and the taxes on ciders and wines can be high (I once paid 800vt for a bottled cider). Tusker is typically around 200-400vt.

For a breezy beachside drink on outdoor beds draped with gauze, reminiscent of a 90s R&B music video, head to Banyon Beach Bar. It's not open very late unless there's a special event, so be sure to go here for a sunset drink (a sunset view over the ocean, no less). They sometimes have DJs, and they serve pizza, too, so you can turn it into a dinner venue.

Next, head to Club Lit (formerly Lava Lounge) (which can be hit or can be a chill lounge, or it can be a twerking dance competition, or it can be a gigantic DJ festival). It's on the water (directly on a dock) and has a nice, chill vibe with lots of couches. They recently added a dress code (mostly applicable to men) which has cut down on the more wild crowd that would occasionally appear late at night. Now, it's dance-friendly and sometimes, SOMETIMES, the number of women present is higher than the number of men. This is wild, people.

If it's a Thursday night, then War Horse Saloon (lots of people just call it "the saloon") is where you wanna go for the town's only karaoke. It's mostly filled with expats, many of them regulars, as well as a small handful of locals. I guarantee that during your visit, you will definitely hear "Killing Me Softly," "Hotel California," and "Redemption Song." I've been here far too many times, clearly.

For the latest of late night dancing, there's only a couple options. Elektrorock Musik Bar gets hopping around 10pm, and is where locals will go for dancing til the early hours (3am I'm told). Passing this place at night, I can say that the music could be a lot better. But that's just my opinion.

I've never been, but I hear good things about Anchor Inn & Voodoo Bar, which gets packed with late night dancers starting around 10pm.

Check out Wotz On Vanuatu to see if there are any special events going on, as well as the Facebook page for any particular venue. Again, the Vanuatu Bucket List app has information, too. The Alliance Francaise often hosts concerts or events with cheap drinks.


For basic grocery shopping to re-stock your apartment rental, head to the Market. You can get the freshest produce from the Efate area here at local prices. Right beside it is Au Bon Marche (a chain grocery store), where you can get pantry staples as well as alcohol. But if you are serious about your groceries, head to Au Bon Marche Numbatu, which is a quick bus ride from the city center and has massive aisles, and is by far the best-stocked  and most varietal ABM in town. 

For clothes, there are several secondhand shops (my favorite of which is Stret Price). If you have more money than us PCVs, then you can head to Billabong or the other "expensive" Western stores along the main road. You want some $100 linen pants? You got 'em. 

The best souvenirs that support the local economy are found at the Market. You'll find hand-woven purses and baskets, as well as hand-painted sarongs or artwork made by locals. If you go for what's cheap in the shops on the side roads of downtown, they are most likely Chinese imports. If you want to buy local, buy from the Market or the handicraft markets on the seafront boardwalk. Another option is the shop Pandanus, which sells more upscale local gifts such as jewelry, artwork and accessories. Yet another is Organic Paradise, which also sells upscale local food-based gifts from various vendors (Vanuatu Craft Association, Aelan Chocolate, Gaston Chocolat, K2 cafe and more). They aren't necessarily things that locals use, but they are made from locally grown produce, such as a Limoncello-like liqueur, jams, coffee, and spices. 

If you want your money to go to the local economy, local/authentic souvenirs include baskets/woven purses (500-3000 vt), woven mats (1000-1500vt), coffee, dried kava powder, things made with coconuts, scented coconut oils and soaps, Aelan brand chocolate (350vt+) or cacao products, and carved wooden items including small canoes (1500vt) or totems. Items sold at those more upscale shops that include pottery or most food items are created/produced by foreigners and "white people" who live here. 

I'll update this post in the future should I find some other information I find relevant for you!


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