There’s plenty to do on this island paradise, but here’s our guide for the things worth seeking out.
Because it is close by, has amazing coral diving metres from the shore, and to reset your clock to the far-more-chilled “island time”. But, most importantly, because it’s back open for business after rebuilding itself after the destruction of Cyclone Pam in March 2015. You wouldn’t know it to look at it today but just 18 months ago the capital was nearly flattened. Now there are new local breweries, freshly renovated resorts and decades-old restaurants that are welcoming visitors back to Vanuatu.
The whole town is an easy wander. Start at the northern end of the Kumul Highway at Chantilly’s on the Bay for a seaside coffee (chantillysonthebay.com) and walk south past the tourist office and central post office, which sports a colourful wall by French artist Aloi Piliol. Breaks are on offer at the Brewery Restaurant & Bar that brews Nambawan beer, a relative newcomer taking on national brew Tusker. Just after the brewery the road heads up a hill and gives you a view of Iririki Island Resort (iririki.com) one of the most photographed parts of Port Vila, and the resort is also brand new after a Post-Pam redo. Then turn around and head back the way you came.
Lava Lounge is the pick of the lunch stops with a waterside location and killer pizzas coming out of Kandy’s Kitchen. For something different try a tropical take on French fries with the fried salted coconut, shards of coconut treated like chips, or the Kava Lava, a cocktail that features the local tipple of choice, kava. For a simpler bite, grab a terrace seat at the Jungle Café for a Solwata burger, a fish burger with lettuce tomato and mayonnaise. At the far end of town is the War Horse Saloon (facebook.com/Thewarhorsesaloon), a proper wooden saloon bar near the cruise ship wharf. Bull skulls, number plates and old shirts are nailed to the roof – they have Tusker on tap, but try a Seven Seas Amber Ale, another boutique beer brewed in Port Vila.
Walk through Independence Park to the National Museum of Vanuatu (vanuatuculturalcentre.vu), a suitably chill monument to Vanuatu’s history. Housed in a traditional wooden house with staff languidly attending to duties with local songs on the radio. Visit exhibits of tamtams (carved upright slit drums) and sandroing (UNESCO-recognised traditional sand drawings), as well as the fascinating story of Chief Roi Mata. The chief was buried on Eretoka Island along with a number of chiefs and their wives, not all of whom were dead at the time.
French restaurant L’Houstalet has been in Port Vila for more than four decades. Clement Martinez is a charming host and is happy to talk about his most famous dish, flying fox marinated in red wine, garlic and herbs served with steamed rice. A popular protein with locals, Clement was invited to add a French spin to this challenging meat and now finds it a bestseller.
The Holiday Inn Resort Vanuatu (vanuatu.holidayinnresorts.com) was the last resort to open after Cyclone Pam, and has had a total makeover with a verandah restaurant, nine-hole golf course and great family-friendly vibe. The resort gives you access to a tranquil lagoon to swim in, is a short 20-minute walk to Port Vila and can offer a range of activities including diving at nearby Hideaway Island Resort and Marine Sanctuary (hideaway.com.vu) in Mele By where amazing coral reef dives are just metres from where you stand on the sand.
Shop for non-tat souvenirs at Pandanus (pandanusvanuatu.com), a boutique full of arty printed Ts, throw cushions and locally made jewellery.