Port Vila, Vanuatu
Vanuatu's compact capital city of Port Vila is set around Vila Bay on the southwestern shore of Efate, the South Pacific archipelago's main island. Originally called Franceville, the town was settled by the French in the 1880s and slowly grew into the economic and political hub of what was once the British- and French-ruled New Hebrides.
What We Love
Michoutouchkine & Pilioko Foundation Art Gallery: Purchase colorfully crazy art — that you can wear or hang on the wall — at the funky atelier of local painter Aloi Pilioko and the late Franco-Russian artist Nicolai Michoutouchkine.
Wet 'N' Wild Adventure Park: Get your adrenaline pumping with high-speed water slides, go-cart racing, hang gliding, and "zorbing"— a roll down the Mele hills inside a giant, translucent ball.
Best Known For
Ekasup Cultural Village: Set amid rainforest on the edge of town, this village offers “kastom” (Melanesian) dancing and music, handicraft making, and traditional medicine demonstrations. You'll also get to watch food preparation and have a chance to taste local dishes such as “lap lap,” a taro paste cooked with coconut cream and meat in an underground oven.
Scuba Diving: The pristine waters around Efate Island harbor coral reefs, shipwrecks, “dugongs” (sea cows), turtles, and other marine creatures.
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Who It's Best For
Sunseekers: From sea kayaking and scuba diving to pristine beaches and jungle waterfalls, Port Vila offers plenty of ways to experience the tropics.
Amateur Anthropologists: The National Museum, with displays of outrigger canoes and ceremonial headdresses, and Ekasup Cultural Village provide an excellent introduction to Vanuatu's unique and diverse indigenous cultures.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Port Vila Isn't the "Real" Vanuatu: If you want to watch people land dive (a ritual ceremony that resembles bungee jumping) or peer into the crater of a live volcano, you'll need to venture elsewhere in the archipelago.
It's Not Especially Photogenic: Even before it got whacked by Cyclone Pam in the spring of 2015, Port Vila's architectural hodgepodge wasn't the stuff of stunning photography.
Joe Yogerst is a California-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Travel + Leisure.