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Port-Vila is the capital and largest city of Vanuatu. It is situated on the island of Efate in the province of Shefa. At a population of 44,000, Port-Vila is slowly growing, but remains a small and laid-back capital. The city extends across the length of Vila Bay, with parks, markets, and restaurants trailing the waterfront. Host to Vanuatu's largest harbor and airport, Port-Vila is a popular destination for cruise ships and a base for tours and adventure activities across the island of Efate.
It may not look like it, but Port Vila is one of the most multi-cultural towns on Earth. Its 40,000 Melanesian inhabitants come from over a hundred language and cultural groups, and bring those languages and cultures with them when they come to settle in the capital. All retain links with their home islands: ask someone on the street where they're from, and you're almost sure to get an answer other than "Port Vila". In addition to the ni-Vanuatu population, there is an assortment of Australians, New Zealanders, Europeans, Chinese, Indians and other expatriate nationalities who call Port Vila home.
Life in Port Vila is expensive. There is no income or corporation tax here, so the government must earn money instead with taxes and duties on goods, which were expensive anyway because of high transport costs.
Port Vila is tropical, and at times very hot, but during the June-August cool season the weather can be surprisingly chilly by tropical standards. During these months, pack a sweater and don't expect to spend all day in the pool.
Bauerfield International Airport, on the edge of town, has regular flights to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, New Caledonia and other Pacific destinations, as well as Air Vanuatu and charter flights to other islands. There is an international terminal and a domestic terminal, a short walk apart. If you're hungry while waiting for your flight and the croissants don't look appetising in one terminal, wander across to the other.
Taxis from the airport into town typically cost around 2000 vatu, depending where exactly you're going (a price list in displayed in the terminal). Buses (minibuses with B on the license plate) into town cost 150 vatu. Don't be a tourist by asking for the price - in that case it will likely be more, just tell the driver your destination and pay on arrival. Consider rounding up to 200 vatu if you have significant luggage. Note that buses are not allowed to pick up passengers outside the International terminal so you might need to walk to the domestic terminal for pickup.
In Port Vila the buses are mini-buses with a B on the number plate. They largely traverse the main roads and take you wherever you want to go. There are no scheduled services and are perhaps best thought of as cheap, but shared taxis. Wave at one that looks like it's heading in the right direction, and tell the driver where you want to go. The driver will either nod, in which case climb on board, or (less commonly) explain apologetically that he's in a hurry to get somewhere else, in which case wait for the next bus.
What to do
Port-Vila Markets, Kumul Hwy (On the waterfront). Mon-Sat, until late. In the centre of town, the Port-Vila markets are a colourful assortment of produce, selling all manner of fruits, vegetables, and foodstuffs. Women leave their local villages and come here to sell wares. Across the waterfront are more markets selling more appealing goods for tourists, including carvings, jewellery, clothing and souvenirs. Prices are marked and sellers rarely pressure to buy. Like many elements of Vanuatu, the laid-back and quiet approach of daily life can be found even in the market's atmosphere.
As developing-country capitals go, Port Vila is extremely friendly and safe, but petty crime is on the rise, so take usual precautions. Wandering the streets at night is best avoided due to dogs, drunks, and muddy potholes.
The tap water is safe to drink.
The malaria risk in Port Vila itself is reckoned to be minimal, but do take precautions against malaria if venturing out of town.