You don’t come to Vanuatu in search of big international brands. You come to the islands to find unique souvenirs created by the people who live here, and there are plenty of those on offer. These might range from the smallest carving or woven bag in a local market to a large artwork from one of the galleries in Port Vila.
The most interesting places to shop in Vanuatu are definitely the markets, where you’ll brush shoulders with locals going about their daily errands while checking out the range of items on display: from fruits and vegetables and live produce, to bags, hats, sarongs and other staples of local life. There are a few handicraft markets scattered throughout the islands as well, the largest of which is in Port Vila, a place that houses plenty of independent local sellers. The supermarket chain Au Bon Marche, meanwhile, sells a good range of souvenirs, as well as French-influenced food such as pate.
The further away from Port Vila you get, the more basic the shopping choices become. Tanna has a few local markets of interest, and there’s a similar story on Pentecost. Espiritu has several tourist-focused boutiques, as well as a large and interesting marketplace.
Our top picks
Vanuatu Handicraft Market
Wharf Road, Port Vila
Set on a hill just above the main street of Port Vila, this huge undercover market houses the work of hundreds of local artisans from throughout Vanuatu. If you’re only in the country for a short time, this is your one-stop shop for souvenirs. Twenty-six boutiques and 140 stalls sell everything from wood carvings to pottery, paintings, mats, sculptures, jewellery and baskets. There’s also a food court, and demonstrations of how many of the products on offer are made.
Diana Tam Gallery
Pango Road, Port Vila
For art of a slightly different kind to the local works, it’s worth calling past this gallery run by Hong Kong-born Australian expat Diana Tam. The pieces on sale here are usually bright, atmospheric works that capture her local surrounds as an adopted resident of Port Vila. Diana also designs jewellery. Even if you’re not in the market to buy, this is a great little place to wander around for a window shop.
Shop like a local
The Kava Emporium
Pango Road, Port Vila
Warning: this is serious stuff. You might have tried kava – the sedative brew made from the root of the piper methysticum plant – in Fiji and thought, what’s the point? But kava in Vanuatu is a different beast, and one that’s not treated with quite as much reverence as in Fiji. At the Kava Emporium, on the main street in Port Vila, you can pick up a bag to try at home. Just go easy.
Port Vila Markets
Lini Highway, Port Vila
A visit to these bustling waterfront markets is the perfect way to experience local ni-Vanuatu life. Stall owners will smile and say hello as you pick your way through the tables stocked with every bit of produce an islander could ever want: from fruits and vegetables to kava root, live crabs and chickens. There are also a few stalls selling freshly cooked seafood.