Living the island life in Vanuatu means you're living amongst locals who honor and respect the natural resources surrounding them. You'll have lots of opportunities to see the wildlife as well which we love! Here's how to increase your chances and how to do it ethically.
As with any area that experiences tourism, a variety of spots will pop up that allow you to have an experience with animals. To be honest, some are going to be better than others as far as the treatment of animals go. Because we know vacationers still love experiences like this, we love to give a shoutout to organizations that make an effort to support and protect these creatures rather than profit off them. And even better yet, there are places in Vanuatu where you can see them in their wild, natural habitat.
Did you know you can spend a semester abroad in Vanuatu?
ILP has a volunteer program for college-age adults in Efate — learn all about it
We're in love with all the Efate has to offer, and that includes these rare encounters with animals local to the area.
Releasing + Swimming With Turtles
The northwestern edge of Efate island seems to be the best spot for turtle interactions, with our top picks sitting near one another.
Tranquility Island Eco Resort + Dive Base
We've been hearing good reviews about this sanctuary on Tranquility Island. Actually it has gotten the highest reviews of the 3 picks! It is technically a resort, but they also run a voluntary Hawksbill Turtle Conservation Program right on site. They teach about these critically endangered turtles and works towards providing a safe home for them during their first year of life, when they are most vulnerable.
Even if you're not staying at the resort, you can schedule a visit to the conservation. They ask that you send them a message on Facebook ahead of time to arrange your visit, and also plan on making a donation to sponsor a turtle (how cool is that!). You'll likely have the opportunity to adopt and be part of releasing your young turtle into the wild, so make sure to ask about getting involved with that experience if you're interested. It's pretty cool!
A tour that has popular for a number of years, and that gets good reviews, is the Coongoola Full Day Cruise. It includes sailing around Moso island, lunch on the beach, swimming and snorkeling, a trip to the sanctuary on Tranquility island (mentioned above), and pick up and return to Port Vila for $99 USD. Some have said they even saw dolphins on their boat trip, but of course there's never a guarantee for that.
Back To Eden
An Australian couple moved to Efate and set up a corner of the island where they offer accommodation, a yummy cafe, and event hosting. I'm excited to share about their snorkel tour though because there are rave reviews online. For just 2500 Vatu (about $21 USD) you'll get a 1-1.5 hour snorkel tour along their nearby sea anemone known as Nemo City where you're bound to find dozens of clown fish. Their website also says "You will also be lead to a bed containing the most iridescent giant clams, as well as stunning coral and schools of fish, and hopefully a turtle or two. Usually there have been up to 5 turtles on these tours, where the snorkelers can swim up close and personal with."
Count me in!
This is a coral reef in the same cove and some even say it's one of the best spots on the island to come snorkel. You can book excursions to come see the spot.
This tour includes not only time to snorkel around the reef, but also a ride on their glass-bottom boat and a tour of the northern end of the island by bus for just under $70 USD. There are mixed reviews on this excursion, with many saying the coral reef is pristine I and beautiful while others lamented that they didn't actually get to see any turtles at Turtle Reef. Keep in mind that this is a natural spot and there is never a guarantee that you'll see any wildlife. But if you book an excursion, keep your fingers crossed because it's a pretty incredible experience if you do get to swim with the turtles (and fish too).
Dolphin + Manta Ray Spotting
While there's plenty surrounding different islands in Vanuatu, it's a bit of a rarer site around Efate. It happens though, so just count yourself lucky if you see them!
It seems like dolphins prefer hanging around the northwestern cove of Efate, just like the turtles do. The good news is that you might be able to see multiple animals up around these islands. Just remember, this tends to be more of an opportunistic experience so don't expect to see them every time.
Again most tend to recommend the Coongoola Full Day Cruise if you're hoping for the best chances of seeing dolphins. While dolphins aren't technically promoted as part of this tour, some lucky groups have gotten the added bonus of dolphins coming up and swimming and jumping along their boat as they rode around the bay. They tend to hang just off shore from Efate's coastline.
There isn't a spot on the island where you can expect to always see manta rays, but the Coongoola Cruise reports seeing them from time to time, especially around November but also on dives throughout the year. One of their reviewers said their guide pointed out 5-6 manta rays that they were able to see (in August), so it happens from time to time!
Are you wondering what a dugong is? They're only found in certain parts of the world, so if you're not around their home it's no surprise you may have not heard of them yet! They're really similar to a manatee if that gives you a frame of reference. They're a massive mammal, averaging about 9 feet in length.
One of the parts of the world you'll find them is the Western Pacific ocean, stretching down to parts of Australia. They also like to hang around Vanuatu!
While Efate isn't the most common island in Vanuatu you'll find them, they've definitely been spotted around places like Port Vila harbor. Local boat drivers report seeing them typically once or twice a week in the area, in places like offshore from Eratap resort. They've also been spotted here and there around Iririki, Pango, and Paradise Cove.
But you can't predict it. And there's no guarantee you'll see them. However if you're kayaking around the southern coastline of Efate in those places we mentioned above be on the lookout (especially anytime from March-October). You never know if you'll be one of the lucky few to see a dugong!
And Even Humpback Whales
Again this is one of those encounters that you just can't plan for, but Humpback Whales have been spotted around Efate. The Dive Report says that you may have the best luck seeing them during the summer months, with June-early September being prime season.
But like I said, it's not something you can really plan for. Kayakers have reported spotting them in the distance, so keep your eye out during the summer while you're along Efate's coastline!
Want to do more than site-see in Vanuatu?
International Language Programs (that's us!) has a volunteer program on the island of Efate for college-aged Americans. It's a semester abroad experience where they get to live together in a local neighborhood and really immerse themselves in the culture for a few months — a big thank you to the Ni-Van locals for being so welcoming to our volunteers! Volunteers provide free English classes for children in Efate through this humanitarian program, but also have plenty of time to travel around and experience Vanuatu as well as nearby islands.
Learn more about how the program works and see if it's right for you by clicking that button: