You may never have heard of the island archipelago of Vanuatu, but you probably have heard of “cargo cults.” Vanuatu’s Tanna Island was home to the first cargo cult, a fascinating and bizarre piece of wartime history. The cult started when American soldiers enlisted the locals to move war material, which to the natives seemed like incredible wealth. Their hero, “John from America,” turned into the mystical “Jon Frum,” their new savior they believed to be a modern incarnation of an ancient deity. To this day, although you may be hard pressed to find people who still believe in Jon Frum, you can still participate in the annual Jon Frum Festival at Sulphur Bay.
There are actually 82 islands in Vanuatu, many of them tiny and some of them uninhabited. You’ll be sure to find lush green surroundings anywhere you go in this tropical paradise, and the greatest attraction here is the natural beauty everywhere you turn. Incredible waterfalls are everywhere, beautiful beaches, and wonderful underwater exploration.
Many of the islands offer a glimpse at a lifestyle that has not changed. Traditional villages still exist, and it’s the real thing—not a tourist trap. You can still witness the old ceremonies and traditional way of life in these old villages, and if you’re lucky, get a look at the locals participating in one of their traditional dance ceremonies.
Casinos, Restaurants, and Banyan Trees
But it’s not all wilderness on the islands of Vanuatu, if you’re interested in taking a chance, you can visit a casino; or you can visit one of the amazing gourmet restaurants in the capital of Port Vila. This city is home to much of the country’s tourist trade, and here is where you’ll find the most elegant resorts and best restaurants, all with the best ocean views you have ever experienced. Outside of the main resort areas you may find more local restaurants that are worth a visit, and you may even be offered a cup of kava, which is a local drink served in a shell. It looks quaint and fun, but it’s powerful, has a sedative effect, and has an “acquired” taste that most non-natives will find hard to get used to. Also in the smaller towns and islands, you will find very inexpensive guest houses and cheap accommodations. All throughout the islands, you can take in the natural beauty and wonders of the local flora and fauna, including the peculiar giant banyan trees that are among some of the largest natural organisms on earth.
Although there are dozens of indigenous languages that are still spoken, most people there speak English or French, or Bislama, which is a pidgin derivative of the English language which is truly fascinating to hear spoken.
Vanuatu is one of the most unusual places in the South Pacific, ready to give you a rare mix of modern and primitive life, the natural beauty of the South Seas, and a fascinating culture.