6 Must Dos in Port Vila
Over the two weeks that Emmett and I spent in Vanuatu this past July, eight of those days were spent in the capital city of Port Vila. During our time staying in the heart of downtown Vila, we got to know the small city pretty well. A lot of people pass through Port Vila on their way to resorts or as a cruise ship stop, but I think it's definitely worth spending at least a few days in the city to get a feel for all it has to offer. Thus, I present to you the 6 Things You Must Do in Port Vila.
1. Visit Port Vila Market
I've already done a longer post on the what/when/where of the market, but I'll sum up why it's so great: excellent people watching, fresh local produce, tasty Vanuatuan dishes, tons of handicrafts & souvenirs... If you only have time for one thing in Port Vila, it should be visiting this market.
2. Stroll Along the Promenade
One of my favorite things to do in Vila was eating some fresh fruit from the Market while strolling along the waterfront Promenade. When we were there, it had just undergone renovations and was the perfect place to relax, people-watch some more, and feel the breeze.
3. Spend an Afternoon at Iririki Resort
Iririki is an all-inclusive resort on a namesake island. Aka the type of place I can't actually afford to stay. What I can afford - and you can too! - is a day trip to the island to pretend you're living the high life. Iririki is just a two minute (free!) ferry ride across Mele Bay. A day pass to the resort, bought upon arrival, is a very affordable 1500 vatu or $18 AUD. Not only that, but the day pass is also a voucher. A voucher that's redeemable for the full cost of purchase for any food and drink on the island. How cool is that? One key thing to remember if you go: your pass is valid only from 8 AM to 5 PM. That means you can't redeem it for food or drink after 5 - don't forget! We nearly got caught up ourselves, ordering our drinks mere minutes before the clock struck 5 PM.
Other than exchanging it for food/drinks, your Iririki day pass allows you to do the following:
+ Use the resort's kayaks & catamarans
+ Swim in the sunset pool
+ Visit the games room or playground with your children
+ Hire a snorkel, mask, and fins
+ Instead of food/drinks, the pass is also redeemable for one spa treatment or one chip at Jewel Casino
With our day passes, we decided to spend the afternoon snorkeling, taking in the sunset, and grabbing drinks overlooking Mele Bay. It was a lovely and relaxing little getaway. If you do go to snorkel like we did, know there isn't much reef to look at thanks to the 2016 Cyclone. However, there are plenty of colorful fish around though, so it's still pretty enjoyable.
4. Take a Day Trip Around Efate's Ring Road
Escape Port Vila for a few hours - or an entire day - for a road trip around Efate's Ring Road. There are so many amazing sights to see an hour or less away from the city. Stunning white sand beaches, dreamy blue swimming holes, cascading falls, a snorkel-able WWII wreck... You must leave Vila to do at least one of these activities while you're on Efate. Read more details about taking a road trip around Efate on my post about it here.
5. Eat at Jill's American Cafe
Jill's American Cafe in Port Vila is a bit of a local institution. It's got wifi, used books for sale or swap, and oh yeah, REALLY DELICIOUS FOOD. After you've sampled some local Vanuatuan cuisine at Port Vila Market's cafe hall of course, your next dining experience should be a visit to Jill's. Jill's Cafe understands that there are two things that American restaurants seem to do better than any other country: Tex-Mex and Milkshakes. After ten months in New Zealand, I was desperately missing grabbing a tasty quesadilla or a milkshake that wasn't watered down (as NZ milkshakes tended to be). Little did I know that thanks to the Peace Corps alum population in Vila, there would be an American cafe in Vanuatu that would satiate my homesick cravings! If you go to Jill's, you absolutely MUST try a fresh banana thick shake. They are everything a milk shake should be. Pair that with any of the dishes on the American-inspired menu and you'll have a filling and delicious meal.
6. Try Kava at a Local Nakamal
According to Wikipedia, kava roots are "used to produce a drink with sedative, anesthetic, euphoriant, and entheogenic properties" throughout the Western Pacific. That pretty much sums up what it is but not how it is. I've tried kava twice now - once in Nadi, Fiji and once in Port Vila. First off, let me start by saying that it does NOT taste good. I had to concentrate carefully to swallow it. Chugging it was a little bit choke-inducing. Kava tastes like a cocktail made with grass clippings and mud. And it looks like dirty water, so it's hard to come to terms with the fact that it actually isn't skimmed from the top of a nearby mud puddle. Once you've slurped up your muddywatercocktail, you begin to feel numbing on your tongue and throat. Then you start to get increasingly drowsy. Then you feel really out of it yet, at the same time, sort of super in-love with the world.
Some nakamals (kava bars) cater to Western tourists and have a pub-like atmosphere. However, our bus driver took me and Emmett to a nakamal, Bamboo Nakamal, that was a bit out of the way and very local. Like as in everyone there was giving us an amused "what are these white fellas doing here?" look. After purchase, our proprietress slopped some kava out of a tub into a recycled water bottle for us to "enjoy"... It was a pretty authentic experience to say the least. We took our kava bottle and sat in two white plastic lawn chairs on a cement slab under dimmed bare bulbs, grimacing as we downed the kava one chug at a time. Everyone else at the nakamal was quiet with effects from the drink. Emmett and I eventually walked back to our accommodation in Vila, feeling super cruise-y and content. However, the effects of kava hit me hard right when we got back to our room. I was waaay numbed out and the room was spinning which made me pretty nauseous; I think I may have had too much kava on a mostly-empty stomach. I ate some ramen noodles and immediately felt well enough to go straight to sleep for the night at 9 PM.
Overall, kava was weird y'all! However, when in Vila.... You gotta do as the locals do and give this weird drink a try if you're up for it.
How to find a nakamal (kava bar) in Port Vila: Ask a taxi or bus driver to take you to one! There are plenty around the city from what I've heard and read. That's how we found ourselves at a super locals-only sort of nakamal for our Vila kava experience.
So, there you have it: Port Vila in a nutshell! If any of you guys ever find yourself in this charming (yet sleepy) little Pacific capital, you'll have to try some of these for yourselves. Until next time!