So you’ve booked your ticket… or maybe you’re about to! And you’re wondering what it would be like to travel to Vanuatu as a solo female traveller.
I asked myself the same question back in February 2020, as I was about to travel here (literally, weeks before the pandemic took hold of the world).
While researching Vanuatu online, I struggled to find information from the perspective of a female. Plus, as Vanuatu isn’t a well-known country or common destination here in the UK, my knowledge before arriving was pretty limited, save from a few pages of a Lonely Planet book.
If you’re hoping to visit but are looking for advice from a solo female backpacker who has visited, I hope this guide can give you some reassurance. It’s an incredibly beautiful country, and honestly, backpacking in Vanuatu is one of my top 5 travel experiences.
Is Vanuatu safe for a solo female traveller?
Yes. But like any country, that yes comes with its own unique conditions. In any unfamiliar country that you visit, you need to respect the culture, educate yourself on current affairs in that country, and follow general travel safety rules.
I’ve created this guide to share my own experiences and tips, but for any unfamiliar country that you’re heading to, I always recommend checking out your government’s foreign travel advice for that particular country. This is tip No.1 on my pre-trip safety checklist for solo female travellers.
For the sake of complete transparency, recent news suggests there has been a slight increase in crime in Vanuatu over the last couple of years, particularly burglaries. And there have been reported attacks in nightclubs and of lone travellers after dark.
In December 2020, Vanuatu officially “graduated from the list of least developed countries”. However GDP per capita remains low compared to other countries, and the pandemic certainly wouldn’t have helped many people’s financial situations, as almost half of Vanuatu’s GDP comes from tourism.
However, like any location, by following safety advice, keeping to cultural guidelines, and of course using common sense, you can make yourself as safe as possible.
A guide to female solo travel in Vanuatu
This draws on some key points from my general guide to staying safe as a solo female traveller but with more specific advice for Vanuatu.
It’s not just about the idea of safety. But how to make friends and navigate the culture as a female solo traveller too.
I’ve separated these out into tips through the different stages of your time in Vanuatu. From when you arrive at the airport, to different activities around the islands, so you can jump to what’s relevant for your trip.
- Arriving at the airport
- Accommodation tips
- Clothing and cultural respect
- Transport: Moving around Vanuatu
- Out and about tips: Day and night
- Booking activities
- My experience as a solo female traveller in Vanuatu
Arriving at the airport
It’s likely that you’re arriving in Port Vila, but even as the capital of Vanuatu, it’s still a tiny airport! Be prepared for a possible random bag check (mine was when I first arrived), but otherwise the airport experience was smooth and easy to navigate.
As you leave the airport, head over to the right-hand side, near the airport parking, to find where the local minibuses stop. They’re cheaper than taxis and will be filled with local people too, which I just generally find more reassuring than jumping into a car. Jump down to read more about transport in Vanuatu.
Chat with people on your flight/at the airport
The dreaded situation, a talkative seatmate on a flight… 😀 . All jokes aside, if you’re solo travelling, talking to strangers is something you’ll obviously have to do, but it can be incredibly rewarding… I really recommend this TED talk by Tina Seelig about the little risks you take that can increase your luck.
It doesn’t have to be on the plane, but when you land and you’re waiting for a bag, queuing for passport control, see if you can strike up a conversation with another friendly solo traveller.
Making travel friends in Vanuatu as a solo traveller
Vanuatu doesn’t have any hostels (at the moment!), so you’ll need to find other moments to connect to other travellers you can spend time with. A tour is usually best, but it can happen in other places too!
After my flight landed in Port Vila, I ended up talking to an Irish solo traveller at the airport, and on the flight, he happened to sit next to an American girl who had worked in the Peace Corps in Vanuatu for two years.
She knew Bislama (the National language), helped us get a minibus and shared so many invaluable tips with us both — from cafes and bars that she recommended to public transport tips. I’d been in Vanuatu for all of 30 minutes but by chatting to a stranger, I already had a friend and expert advice from someone who had visited long-term.
Don’t worry if this doesn’t happen for you. There will be other moments to meet people. And honestly, if you’re armed with the right information and you’re not into chatting with strangers, you do you!
Related Read | How to Make Friends While Travelling Solo
Vanuatu accommodation tips for solo females
As a solo female backpacker, price and safety are my priorities when booking accommodation. In Vanuatu, I always searched by price first, and then started comparing by these factors…
- Proximity to town/walkable to local places (cafes/market/waterfront/museums etc.). Making sure there’s somewhere nearby to go for dinner is important too.
- Transport options. Does the accommodation offer transfers to the places you want to see or from the airport? Are you near a main road for a bus stop? Or does the activity tour pick up from your hotel?
- Reviews from other solo travellers (Google, booking.com etc.)
I actually booked all of my accommodation very last minute (on the morning of checking in for one hotel!). I made it work and I had good options to choose from, but I honestly wouldn’t recommend this. It was bad planning on my part, and it could have limited me to hotels which weren’t safe. So book in advance if you can.
What’s accommodation like in Vanuatu?
There are plenty of hotel options in Vanuatu, from luxurious resorts to small family-run hotels, and there are lots of homestays too.
As always, Google Maps and reviews (and booking.com reviews) are your friends when it comes to booking accommodation in Vanuatu, or anywhere! On Booking.com, I usually filter the reviews by the ‘solo traveller’ filter, to see the experience of others.
Each island and situation is different. But as an example, I’ve broken down where I stayed, on which island, and why I decided to stay where I did.
Port Vila Island
I stayed at Room With a View and also Hideaway Island Resort in Port Vila. Price, location, and availability were key. Hideaway Island is a very popular tourist spot so one of the buses stopped there regularly, and I was intrigued by the underwater post box!
Room With A View matched my budget and I liked that the location was close to the waterfront but not too centralised. It was also just down the road from a Thai restaurant with great reviews, so I was pretty sold on that.
Espiritu Santo Island
I stayed at The Hidden Lodge in Luganville (Vanuatu’s second-largest city) simply because it was close to the airport. Plus two of the tours I was doing (diving with Pacific Dive and the Santo Horse Riding) both included transfers to and from your accommodation in Luganville.
I was so tempted by the homestays on Tanna Island (there are homestays where you can see and hear the volcano at night!). But as Tanna Island is more rural, and as a solo female traveller, I decided to opt for a hotel, probably at my own loss to be perfectly honest. I stayed at the Tanna Evergreen Resort, which was of course lovely, but I feel like I really missed out on the experience of one of the homestays.
Clothing and cultural respect
In Vanuatu, Christianity is the most prominent religion and the culture has a pretty conservative and traditional approach to clothing.
As a solo female, making sure you’re dressed in a non-provocative way is key to blending in and being respectful.
Related Read | What Clothes to Wear in Vanuatu
It’s best to avoid short skirts, strappy vests and shorts in public places. Walking around town and villages, I opted for a long skirt (past the knees) and a T-shirt to cover my shoulders. It matched what the locals were wearing, and you’ll avoid frowns and excess attention.
In public swimming areas, it’s usually recommended to swim with your shoulders, middle and tops of your legs covered. For example, at the blue holes in Espiritu Santo, I wore a long-sleeved rash vest and 3/4-length leggings to swim. It matched what the local girls were wearing there, and also provided protection from the sun and mosquitos!
I also opted to wear this while snorkelling on the beach at Hideaway Island. In hotel bathing areas, like a beachfront or pool, swimsuits are accepted, especially for tourists. But as someone with very fair skin, I was happy to opt for the more respectful, sun-blocking option 🙂
Transport in Vanuatu
Depending on your accommodation, you may have an airport pickup or drop off service included, and possibly even for tours too. To get between islands, you’ll need to fly, but if you need to get around solo on an island, here are the transport options in Vanuatu…
As the islands of Vanuatu are relatively small, there aren’t any large coaches or buses moving around. Instead, look for small minibuses (literally seating about 10 people) with a red ‘B’ on the number plate. Generally, the prices range from 200 to 500vt, and definitely more if you’re heading to or from the airport. I only used these in Port Vila, but they were brilliant. They were regular and cheap, and there was always a group of other people inside too which I found reassuring. Just to note, I never used these after dark, so can’t comment on if there’s a difference.
Taxis will have a red ’T’ on the number plate, so avoid any cars that don’t have this. I took a taxi from Hideaway Island (there’s usually a small gathering of them on the mainland near the jetty) to the airport as I wanted to head there directly. The driver was lovely and we talked the whole way there.
If you need some extra reassurance, check out my taxi safety tips for solo female travellers.
Definitely an option to consider if you plan on visiting some off-the-beaten-track locations. However, I would always recommend only hiring a driver through your accommodation.
At The Hidden Lodge on Espiritu Santo, they offered private tours to locations around the island. Having a private driver is something I had never done before, but as I had a free afternoon after diving that morning, I asked if I could visit the blue holes. A member of the lodge team was my private driver for a couple of hours and he drove me to several of the pools.
We sang along to the Bee Gees and Beatles, talked about island life and waved back at groups of children sitting in vans heading home from school. As we got back, he also offered to show me the village Kava bar which was literally just around the corner from The Hidden Lodge. It was one of my favourite days in Vanuatu, aside from having my ankles obliterated by mosquitos at the blue holes!
Out and about tips: Day and night
So you’re in the right clothing, and you’ve got a plan for the day, is there anything else to know?
I’ve covered some more generalised tips for female solo travellers, which have relevance for any country. But here are a few more specific travel tips for female solo travellers that I would keep in mind in Vanuatu:
- Be prepared for a few stares. As a solo female, you might get a few surprised looks. I’m above average height, and very pale, so I often stick out and I definitely had a few double takes. And a couple of comments, although never anything threatening. Just unwelcome attention. But as all females know, you get that anywhere you go! E.g. in my home town, literally a few days ago.
- For every stare, I had about 20 smiles or hellos from people as I walked by. School children, teen girls, and a few older people. When you’re travelling alone, these small acknowledgements are precious and can really improve your day.
Pickpocketing is not common during the day, but remember to always keep an eye on your bags and belongings. Check out my tips on how to keep your gear safe when travelling, for useful advice on protecting your belongings. Whether that’s from potential theft or weather damage!
Going out at night in Vanuatu
Like any town, city, or country, heading out at night needs an extra layer of vigilance — especially for females.
As mentioned at the beginning of this guide, Vanuatu has seen a small increase in crime recently (according to the UK government’s foreign travel advice). As violent crimes are more likely to happen at night, in any country, you’ll need to take extra care.
It can get dark pretty quickly when you’re near the equator too! So aside from heading to bed incredibly early, keep these tips in mind if you’re planning on moving about at night as a solo female traveller in Vanuatu…
Tips for travelling at night in Vanuatu
- Pre-plan your route to a restaurant/bar for dinner or drinks. Keep it short, and if possible, check it out during the daytime. Have a backup plan in mind if you decide a street seems too dark or deserted to walk down.
- Take a torch, and make sure your phone is fully charged.
- Dress modestly, it’s a conservative country.
- Try and make friends with someone at your accommodation or on your tour to head out with!
- Choose places close to your accommodation/hotel: From Hideaway Island, I got a boat across to the mainland to watch a fire dance at the beach bar just near the boat crossing. It was comfortably busy and I felt safe wandering around to watch the performance with locals and tourists.
- Have someone you trust with you if you’re heading out for drinks. There’s a lot to be said for our natural gut instinct. If you’ve been invited out and you don’t trust that person or group, or feel like you’re heading somewhere off the beaten track, make your excuses and leave. It’s difficult as a female, because there’s a fine line between enjoying and living life, and simply trying to stay safe.
- Know your limits and watch what you’re drinking, a given anywhere.
Almost every hotel I stayed at offered a home-cooked dinner (e.g. The Hidden Lodge) or had an onsite restaurant. But in Port Vila, I tended to have a big lunch in town during the day and bought small snacks to eat on the balcony at night.
I also went to Kesorn‘s Exotic Thai Restaurant one night as it was literally about 100m away! Although it was a short walk, the street was still pitch black and to be honest that was slightly unnerving.
Vanuatu is an incredibly beautiful archipelago, and there are plenty of nature-based and cultural activities to watch or take part in. From traditional land diving and Kava ceremonies to scuba diving and volcano tours.
As a solo female, try and opt for reputable tours and activities that have a good selection of reviews. If you can, get some advice from your accommodation and cross-compare any recommendations with reviews online.
When taking part in any traditional ceremonies, visiting villages or heading to a homestay, make sure you dress appropriately by wearing trousers or a long skirt and ideally covering your shoulders.
Tours are one of the best places to make travel friends! If there are other solo travellers on your tour to Mount Yasur (the active volcano on Tanna Island) or your waterfall tour, be the brave one and strike up a conversation with
The majority of tour guides I encountered were men (apart from one woman who was involved in guiding our tour group around the volcano). Every guide/instructor/tour driver was kind, respectful and so eager to share knowledge, lore and information about Vanuatu.
In Vanuatu, Kava is a drink for social gatherings and ceremonies that were usually reserved for men only. However in many areas, things are changing, and Kava is usually always offered to female tourists too.
In many Pacific islands. There seems to be mild competition over which country has the best or strongest Kava. And I can confirm that the Kava I happened to try in Vanuatu was definitely stronger than the Fijian one I tried. But I’m sure it comes down to other factors. So take it easy!
My experience as a solo female traveller in Vanuatu
Vanuatu is one of my favourite and most memorable travel locations as a solo female traveller. You can read more about my general experiences in Vanuatu here. But as a whole, I felt safe there as a solo female traveller. But of course, that’s simply my experience.
Every local I spoke to was lovely and I felt safe moving around, but as it was an unfamiliar country, I of course took precautions.
As I’ve said many times, it’s all about minimising as much risk as possible. Keep your clothing modest, be wary of moving around at night, but enjoy your time there.
Vanuatu is a beautiful country and I’m hoping to visit again.