A complete travel guide to the wild island of Tanna, Vanuatu - Globe Guide

A complete travel guide to the wild island of Tanna, Vanuatu

I felt the powerful vibrations of the ground rumbling beneath my feet before I heard it: an unmistakable roar, as the angry crater that looked like the mouth of hell sent huge plumes of vapour floating high into the sky.

Those billowy clouds cloaked the vast opening of the volcano we stood on, as strong wind gusts swirled the smell of sulphur around us. I peered over a guardrail into the seemingly endless hole just a few feet in front of me hoping for a glimpse of the monster inside, and just then, it happened.

Mt Yasur, Tanna, Vanuatu travel guide

A crackling noise, and what looked like fireworks being set off as a ball of flames erupted below, shooting sparks of red hot lava straight up that looked like they were dancing in the dark.

Mt Yasur, Tanna, Vanuatu

Mt Yasur, Tanna, Vanuatu

As we made our way back down the mountain in the pitch black, it sounded like firecrackers going off behind us, the eruption igniting the dark night sky with a ferocious red glow.

I was craving a wild, off-grid adventure, and had certainly found it on Tanna, Vanuatu.

Mt Yasur, Tanna, Vanuatu

Home to natural attractions like vibrant coral reefs, cascading waterfalls, hot springs, lush jungles and the world’s most accessible volcano, Mount Yasur, this far-flung island in southern Vanuatu delivers when it comes to awe-inspiring sights.

First ‘discovered’ by Captain Cook in 1774, it doesn’t appear much has changed in the generations since he first set foot on these shores save for some paved roads, a handful of beachfront bures, and a tiny airport that welcomes wide-eyed guests a few times each week (and you won’t find any security lines here, of course).

Mt Yasur, Tanna, Vanuatu

Root crops, tropical fruits and coffee beans are grown on the fertile lands around the island, disturbed only by a scattering of villages where people live just as their ancestors did.

While driving past on one of the rugged dirt roads, you can be sure that a handful of smiling, shirtless children will be there to excitedly wave and call out a greeting—if they don’t happen to already be racing each other around on a white sand beach, that is.

Children playing on the beach in Tanna, Vanuatu
Children playing on the beach in Tanna

It’s quite a journey to get here, you won’t find the usual creature comforts and the day’s plans are at the whim of Mother Nature. But, those who make the effort are rewarded with secluded bays, untouched snorkel spots and other-worldly landscapes–and chances are, they’ll have it all to themselves.

Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Tanna Island, Vanuatu.

Tanna Island, Vanuatu
Tanna Island, Vanuatu

Things to do on Tanna Island, Vanuatu:

Walk on the Mount Yasur Volcano

Without question, the highlight of a visit to Tanna and the entire reason most people come here is to see Mount Yasur in all her glory and say that they got to stand on an active volcano.

Rightfully one of Vanuatu’s top attractions, the best way to see it is during a guided tour where you get to see it in both daylight and at dusk.

I booked through White Grass Ocean Resort (more on that later), and our phenomenal full day volcano safari included a picnic lunch and driving on a sea of ashes at the base of the smouldering volcano which felt like sand dunes—how cool!

Standing at the base of Mount Yasur
Standing at the base of Mount Yasur

Mt Yasur, Tanna, Vanuatu

We enjoyed a dance performance from villagers, cooled off with a swim at the aptly-named White Beach, then put the skills of our 4X4 (and driver) to the test as we headed up a road in such rough shape it felt more like a hiking trail.

The road gets to within about 200 metres from the crater, and it took just a few minutes to walk up from the parking lot to arrive at the edge as the late afternoon light began to disappear. Once there, we spent about an hour gasping in awe at the magma explosions, never quite sure when the next one would shoot up but always absolutely thrilled when it happened.

Mt Yasur, Tanna, Vanuatu

Book a Mt Yasur volcano tour:



Mt Yasur, Tanna, Vanuatu

Safety tips for visiting Mount Yasur, Vanuatu

Safety is absolutely critical when visiting the Mt Yasur volcano–again, this is an active, unpredictable volcano with insanely steep drop-offs right into the mouth of the crater, swirling vapour and boiling hot lava.

Locals understand the dangers well, and there’s an official rating system in place for when the area is to be avoided (anything above a 2 is a no-go). Sadly, there was one case in recent memory where a Japanese tourist was so set on heading up despite warnings that it was too dangerous, that she offered a guide a large sum of money to take them up. Both were killed by a flying piece of burning hot lava rock.

Trust the authorities and the rating system.

Mount Yasur

Stay a safe distance away from the crater’s rim–there’s zero room for error here, as even the guardrails that have been put up around some parts of it have huge gaps and don’t feel very strong.

Don’t take dumb selfies that put you or others at risk, and parents will want to keep an incredibly close eye on their children.

Guardrails at Mount Yasur
Guardrails at Mount Yasur

While it’s a pretty easy, five-minute hike up from the parking lot, good walking shoes are recommended.

Keep in mind visits are never guaranteed as seismic activity or washed out roads can derail even the best laid plans, so plan to stay on Tanna for at least a few nights and schedule your visit for the first day in case it gets postponed.

Roads leading up to the volcano can sometimes get washed out

Swim into the Lemnap (Blue) Cave

A much less explosive adventure on Tanna is the Blue Cave, found on the west coast near the resorts. There’s not much to see from the water other than what looks like your usual cliffside, but once you slip on your snorkel gear you’re in for a treat.

A rainbow-hued coral reef teeming with fish leads to the cave’s entrance, and at low tide you’ll duck under a rock ledge to swim inside.

However, most opt to go during high tide instead: not only is the light better inside, but the water level means visitors will need to swim down and under the ledge for at least a few seconds for a bit of a thrill, then emerge to find this:

The Lemnap (Blue) Cave in Tanna, Vanuatu
The Blue Cave

While the seconds-long swim can feel slightly claustrophobic the first time, the cave itself is huge and there’s plenty of space to move around and admire the soft light that emerges from a hole in the ceiling, creating a natural spotlight on the gem-toned water.

Globe Guide tip: Getting good photos in the cave can be tough, so try your luck by bringing a GoPro or your smartphone in a waterproof case.

The Lemnap (Blue) Cave in Tanna, Vanuatu

Learn about the traditional culture on Tanna, Vanuatu

One of the most fascinating things about visiting Tanna is seeing how kastom–the traditional way of life–continues to this day, resisting western culture in a way few other places have.

There are only about a dozen police officers on the entire island: instead, each village has a chief, and any problem that comes up is solved by gathering the area chiefs together under a large banyan tree and settling the matter before sunset that same day.

A tree that the village chiefs sit under to make decisions

Boys are circumcised between the ages of three and six, and when that rite of passage happens there’s a huge ceremony to celebrate.

Oh, and let’s not forget the cults. There’s one that believes that England’s Prince Phillip is part of their family (despite his passing), and the famous John Frum cargo cult which you can read more about here.

Courtship and weddings are an interesting one too: my guide Phil explained that when a couple decides they want to marry, the man sneaks the woman out of her family home in the middle of the night and takes her back to his house. He then sends word to the chief about what he’s done, who then informs the chief of every village between them and the woman’s home until word makes it back to her family.

No surprise, this is the point where the parents usually get mad.

The soon-to-be bride heads home after a week, while the groom gathers what’s essentially a dowry to give to her family. For those wondering, Phil paid one cow, four pigs, and a big pile of yams and kawa for his wife.

Our guide Phil with a kawa root

A great way to experience the traditions firsthand is to book a tour to visit a village, which usually includes fire-making and weaving demonstrations, and traditional dancing where the men wear nambas made from bark or leaves and women don skirts fashioned from woven mats or burao bark.

There’s also the opportunity to pick up some handicrafts for souvenirs, to help support the locals.

Book one of these guided tours:



Explore Tanna’s beaches and underwater world

Most holidayers from Australia and New Zealand come to Vanuatu to relax on its sandy shorelines and swim in the crystal waters. Despite its rugged landscape, Tanna has some great beach spots like the aforementioned White Beach, black sand beaches thanks to the volcanic activity, as well as prime snorkeling and dive sites.

Some of the country’s best reefs are found around Tanna, as its rocky coastline drops sharply to ocean depths creating fantastic sites to explore along the underwater walls, and a number of local operators offer snorkel and dive trips around the island.

For an easier excursion that doesn’t require much more than a mask, check out the Blue Holes (near the Rocky Ridge Bungalows) at high tide to see fish and vibrant coral gardens below the surface.

Blue Holes, Tanna, Vanuatu

Where to stay in Tanna

I’m not usually one to encourage people to stick close to their resort while travelling, but unless you’re an extremely independent backpacker-type this is exactly what you’ll want to do on Tanna.

While one of my favourite things about the island is how undeveloped and undiscovered it feels, that also means it can be a challenge to get around on your own and there definitely aren’t grocery stores and restaurants on every corner.

Come to think of it, I’m not sure I even saw any outside of the tiny main town.

A village in Tanna, Vanuatu

On that note, I highly recommend basing yourself at White Grass Ocean Resort & Spa located on the west side of Tanna just a few minutes from the airport. I spent all three nights here, and not only is their oceanfront property absolutely gorgeous but there’s also a pool, spa treatments (getting a beachfront massage is heavenly), an excellent restaurant and dive centre.

White Grass Ocean Resort & Spa, Tanna, Vanuatu
White Grass Ocean Resort & Spa

Airport transfers are included along with complimentary bike and snorkel gear rentals, and White Grass organizes all sorts of tours around the island which you’ll absolutely want to take them up on–I can’t say enough good things about our guide Phil who navigated the seemingly impassable roads all day long like a total pro.

White Grass Ocean Resort & Spa, Tanna, Vanuatu

The dive centre at White Grass Ocean Resort & Spa

Basically, their lovely, welcoming staff flawlessly handles every detail you could possibly need during your stay so you can simply relax and enjoy a breathtaking sunset during happy hour.

White Grass Ocean Resort & Spa, Tanna, Vanuatu

White Grass has 18 bungalows surrounded by lush, tropical gardens, and a pristine coral reef on its doorstep.

White Grass Ocean Resort & Spa, Tanna, Vanuatu

White Grass Ocean Resort & Spa, Tanna, Vanuatu

It’s one of the best resorts on Tanna (the other being its neighbour, Rockwater Resort) and has even hosted celebrity guests: actor Will Smith stayed in bure #17 while filming the Welcome to Earth documentary, and higher-ups from Survivor like Jeff Probst and Mark Burnett were based here for weeks during the show’s ninth season Survivor Vanuatu: Islands of Fire in which Tanna plays a starring role.

Click here to book on Expedia or Reserve on Booking.com

A mural was painted after Will Smith visited this kawa bar in Tanna
A mural was painted after Will Smith visited this kawa bar in Tanna

Some adventurous folks looking for more of a budget-friendly, off-grid experience opt to stay in the treehouses near the volcano. They’re definitely be memorable, as long as you understand what you’ve signed up for (think steep ladders and rudimentary bathrooms in the middle of the jungle).

If interested, check out the Glowing Mountain View or Castle Tree House.

Mount Yasur
Mount Yasur

How to get to Tanna Island

Here’s where it gets a bit complicated. Following the bankruptcy of national airline Air Vanuatu in spring 2024, it’s become slightly more difficult to book the one hour flight to Tanna from the capital, Port Vila.

A solution is the works, but for now travellers will need to book through one of the three charter airlines that service the island:

It’s also possible to get to Tanna by boat or ferry as some locals do–however, it can take up to 12 hours and the schedule is not very dependable so flying is still the best option.

For those who are short on time and still want to see the highlights of Tanna, Air Taxi offers day trips and scenic flights on their small planes (everyone gets a window seat!) with prices starting around $400 per person, as well as overnight trips.

What to bring to Tanna Island

As mentioned, you won’t find any big box stores here so remember to pack sunscreen and bug spray. There isn’t air conditioning (even at the resorts), so some visitors might find it helpful to bring a handheld fan or a small travel-size fan with a stand to help cool off at night.

One thing that caught me off-guard was how many critters visited my room at night–yes, I’m talking groups of geckos slithering across the ceiling. As a Canadian this totally wigged me out, but the Australians I was with slept like babies since they’re used to it! On that note, if you’re a wimp like me then you might want to bring some sort of mosquito netting as well.

Finally, the planes that service Tanna are so tiny that luggage restrictions are sometimes in effect. If you’re travelling with a larger suitcase, only pack the essential items you’ll need into a carry-on size bag, and leave the rest in your big bag and check it at your hotel in Port Vila.

Globe Guide experienced White Grass Ocean Resort & Spa in collaboration with the property. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.



This post may contain affiliate links, which Globe Guide receives compensation for at no additional cost to you.

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