Vanuatu Volcano Tours: What’s The Best Way To Visit Tanna Volcano?

Tanna Volcano hike in ash painExploring the lands of an active volcano to watch explosions of lava… How does that sound? Tanna volcano (Mount Yasur) is the main tourist attraction of the island and one of the best things to do in Vanuatu. There are many Vanuatu volcano tours organised to bring tourists to the summit of Mount Yasur, known as the world’s most accessible active volcano. Is it worth it? And what’s the best way to experience Tanna volcano? These tips will help you plan your trip to Mount Yasur.

What you will find in this article about Tanna volcano:

  • what to expect from your Tanna volcano tour, including comments on the tour itself and the transport to get there
  • a list of the different options to experience Tanna volcano (day and overnight tours, hiking, scenic flights) with estimated costs (including Tanna volcano tour price, transport, flights, accommodation)
  • additional tips on when to go and things to bring to maximise your Tanna volcano experience

 

What to expect from Vanuatu volcano tours in Tanna

Vincent Albanese
Photo credit: Vincent Albanese

Tanna volcano and the overall island didn’t disappoint. Watching an active volcano lighting the sky in red is an incredible view and probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I felt my entire body vibrating every time the volcano woke up.

Standing near a crater with explosions sending hot rocks over your head is one of the most impressive sights in anyone’s life.

Despite being the country’s main tourist attraction, they have kept Tanna volcano summit untouched with no fences and no signs which adds a thrill to the experience. Is it safe for visitors? The edge of the crater of an active volcano has, of course, its amount of hazards. But accidents remain rare. You should be fine if you go there with a knowledgeable guide, follow instructions and use common sense. I believe the main threats come from the projectiles. If a big explosion happens, don’t panic and make sure you face the crater to see the rocks flying in the air that could potentially hit you, and move accordingly.

Although having access to an active volcano is incredible, I found the Tanna volcano tours disappointing.

They all offer the same experience to reach the summit. There is actually only one operator that manages the volcano. With their monopoly, they tripled the entry fee in a few years. I feel it is fair to pay to visit such a unique site. When you compare the price to other Vanuatu volcano tours, it puts it in perspective. But we are not talking about the same duration here. In my opinion, the reason why Tanna volcano tour price is perceived as incredibly expensive is due to the tour not delivering the experience you may wish for that price.

I regretted there was no option offered to tailor the experience closer to our adventurous travel style. Everybody leaves from the same place, at the same time, for the same experience. Should we have picked another volcano to visit? When I looked for other Vanuatu volcano tours that would include a trek to an active volcano, I only found Ambrym. It was a higher budget and with the volcano activity raised to 3 out of 5 when we were planning our trip, we found it risky to add it to the plan for that time.

I also doubt the profit made by the company running Tanna volcano tours is distributed to the surrounding communities or invested in protecting the environment – which is a major downside for me.

Culminating at only 361 metres above sea level, Tanna volcano is perfect for those who don’t like to make efforts. Visitors are taken in a 4WD to a car park near the summit. As far as I know, it’s the only one of the Vanuatu volcano tours that allow an approach for anyone. You only have to walk a few minutes to enjoy the show. But you share the place with dozens of other people as a reminder that you are at the top of the most accessible active volcano in the world indeed.

In some ways, it reminded me of Mount Kosciuszko, the highest mountain in Australia, sometimes considered as one of the seven summits. You can catch a chairlift almost to the top or opt for an 18-kilometre walk across the ridges and the nearby mounts. Guess which alternative I preferred…

So I wished a more challenging (and by this, I don’t mean risky!) option was offered to reach the top of Mount Yasur. The cost of petrol was often mentioned as a justification of the excessive cost of transport. So why not save this car trip for some visitors? It would also allow to spread the numbers of visitors at the top and give a more intimate experience.

Mount Yasur hiking Tanna Volcano Free Ash Plain

Thinking of hiking Tanna volcano without a group tour?

During my online research and while I was there, I found nothing that indicated that you are not allowed to go by yourself to see Mount Yasur craters from close. However, it does not sound safe to tackle an active volcano without local knowledge: the explosions, the lava and the sulfur clouds are dangerous. Tracks exist: I found a map of this two-hour treck that someone did in 2017 for example, but they do not seem to be accessible for tourists.

While we were diving in Santo, we met a couple of French people who – after doing the tour – thought it was okay to hike Mount Yasur by themselves. They described being caught by security guards at the top and treated like brigands, threatened to be brought to the police until they accepted to pay the volcano tour amount.

So it does seems the company organising the tours owns the access to the place. They only allow visitors on their tour to reach the summit.

Thinking of negotiating transport costs to Tanna volcano?

Tanna Volcano Transport Vanuatu
First view of Tanna Volcano from the road

The airport is on the west side of the island and Tanna volcano in the east. So you will need to drive for 1.5 hours across the island to reach it. Although they are making improvements on the roads, they are still in poor conditions and only recommended for experienced drivers. Petrol is expensive on this remote island and that’s how they justify the hefty transfer cost of 5,000 VT one way for a private transfer.

It is tempting to try to lower down this expense when you know that’s almost ten times what locals pay when they share a ride in a pickup. We did not manage to get a public transport or a discount rate. It seemed only private transfers were possible for tourists to go to the east coast. Apparently, a group of drivers is controlling the prices.

The only way we found to reduce the transport cost to Tanna volcano was to be lucky and team up with another group of travelers. The driver did not divide the 5,000 VT by the number of people but made us pay the 2,500 VT for two as we agreed before knowing we would be five in the truck, plus a couple of locals. Anyway, we felt this was a fair price for us, and we were the lucky ones inside the car. The ride at the back – although very scenic – looked extremely uncomfortable with all the potholes and the cold wind.

There is no possibility of hiring a car in Tanna. No bikes were available for visitors at the accommodations where we stayed although it would be a great way to cover the shorter distances between the points of interest in the Tanna volcano region. Be ready to walk a lot or pay each time you want to go somewhere. The most efficient way is to ask your hosts to organise and negotiate transport for you. It’s a good idea to confirm the price with the driver directly as we were twice asked for a different amount than the one we were told by our host – and once the price even doubled!

Tanna volcano tours: options and budget estimate

I have compiled an overview of the different Tanna volcano tour options I found. They are sorted by estimated price, from the cheapest to the most expensive. I have added comments from my personal experience to help you choose the best option for you. Although Tanna volcano tours are expensive, Mount Yasur stays the most accessible active volcano in terms of price, length, and difficulty if you compare it to other Vanuatu volcano tours.

We opted to stay overnight near Tanna volcano (#1). I would have loved to combine this with a scenic flight (#3), but it was out of our budget.

1. Overnight stay near Tanna volcano

Estimated cost of this option for a couple: 65,000 VT

35,000 VT (return from Port Vila)

+ 5,000 VT (airport transfer with a group – return)

+ 5,000 VT (accommodation)

+ 20,000 VT (Tanna volcano tour fee)

I believe this is the best way to visit Tanna volcano. You will have time to experience it in different ways than just reaching the top to see the eruption. We could hear the volcano all day and all night long. After a while, you get used to it. And we were excited every time we could glimpse the dark cloud or the lava.

The summit of Mount Yasur is not the only beautiful place to visit to enjoy Tanna volcano, and you actually miss out a lot if you limit to day trip to Tanna volcano.

Hiking the ash plain of Tanna Volcano

Mt Yasur Tanna volcano eruption rock lava
A reminder of the power of Mount Yasur

We spent hours walking in the canyon build by a river through the ashes at the base of Mount Yasur. I had never seen such a landscape. It was stunning.

I would place this walk in the must-do list when in Tanna, as much as going to the top of the volcano.

You get a peek of the canyons when you drive from the west to the east of Tanna. But it is a very different feeling to walk there with the volcano snoring in the background and the stones it once spat all around us. I felt tiny.

Be careful of the quicksands in the river when you cross it. One step you’re okay, the next one your entire leg is in the sand!

This day was one of the highlights of my trip to Vanuatu, and surprisingly, it nearly didn’t incur any cost. We walked all day and ate from the local fruits we bought for a few hundred vatus on the side of the road after leaving our accommodation and snack we had from Port Vila.

Mount Yasur hike Tanna Volcano Ash Plain

Tanna Volcano Hiking Ash Plain Canyon

Visiting villages and exchanging with the locals

The region of Tanna volcano is remote, and villages in the area had a more traditional lifestyle than many villages we saw in Efate and Espiritu Santo. It is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the Ni-van culture and taste local products they grow in their gardens.

Of course, that’s something you can do elsewhere in Vanuatu. But it was also interesting to seize the opportunity to learn about the influence of Mount Yasur – the old man in a local language – in the region. It shapes a lot the looks of the villages, with their dark alleys and lush vegetation. The ash ground also impacts the agriculture. In the past, the volcano had a significant role in their way of life.

In Etapu village, they used to cook on two holes that create steam when you place fire at the entrance. They call it the “volcano nose” which gave its name to the village. Near Port Resolution, they have small hot springs near the bay that they can use for cooking too.

Etapu Tanna Volcano Nose Steam
Village in Tanna (Vanuatu)
Port Resolution Bay Tanna

Watching the eruption of Tanna volcano from your room

Accommodation Tanna Volcano View Eruption
View from our room at Tanna Tree Top Lodge*

Don’t expect the resort style near the volcano on Tanna. Accommodations are basic, most of the time traditionally built with bamboo and leaves. You won’t have access to a hot shower, and there is often no electricity except to charge your phone or camera. I loved the simplicity, and it was actually cosier than I expected with mosquito nets and very clean beds.

 

We chose to spend one night in a tree house with a view of the volcano (5,000 VT). It kept us entertained for hours.

It kept us entertained for hours. Tree houses are popular in the area and provide a fun experience with a great view. However, be aware the steps to the room can be uneven and a bit hard for unfit people and not a good idea if you always need a nighttime bathroom break. Our location was ideal. It took 15 minutes to walk to the Ash Plain and even less to the entrance of the volcano. We were told I took one hour to walk to Sulphur Bay and a bit more to Port Resolution. It was convenient not to be dependent on paying trucks every time we wanted to go somewhere. To book, check out Tanna Tree Top Lodge*.

 

Etapu village Tanna Volcano Accommodation
Etapu village

For our two other nights, we opted for a more authentic experience in a village (around 2,800 VT).

We loved our time with the chief Jack and his family in Etapu village*, between the volcano and Port Resolution (allow a 30-minute walk to the entrance of the volcano). Jack introduced us to people from a more remote village in his community. We were lucky to be the only tourists there at that time. Sharing their everyday life for a short while was exciting. Jack was also helpful to arrange transfers and tours as we needed. Check out Island of Fire here*.

 

Tanna Volcano Accommodation Island of Fire Tree House
Vanuatu Volcano Tanna Mt Yasur from Etapu
Etapu village Tanna Volcano experience

There are many options for accommodation near Tanna volcano.  When you make your choice, keep in mind that either you will have to walk or pay for a transfer wherever you want to go. Homestays are a perfect combo for a budget and authentic experience, but they can be isolated. Unfortunately, the pins on the maps I found online to indicate the hotel locations were not always accurate. I highly recommend reading the reviews and the details to get a better idea of where you are booking and what budget to expect for transfers.

Ash-boarding

I am quite confident that a vast majority of you have never tried sand-boarding on the ash of an active volcano. Although I could not find it listed in my travel insurance adventure activities, it was tempting. You can hire a board from Tanna Tree Top Lodge*. We ended up not having time to do it as we got caught up in discovering local traditions in villages.

2. Overnight stay at a resort

Estimated cost of this option for a couple: 78,000 VT

35,000 VT (return from Port Vila)

+ 10,000 VT (accommodation with airport transfer)

+ 33,000 VT (Tanna volcano tour fee incl. transfer)

Tanna accommodation Rocky Ridge Bungalow
Our bungalow with sea view at Rocky Ridge*

If you are not an outdoor lover and need a level of comfort with a hot shower, you will have to stay on the west coast of Tanna island. You can book a tour from your resort that will arrange the transport and the visit of Tanna volcano. We had a lovely stay at the locally owned Rocky Ridge Bungalows*. They offer a simple room with a private bathroom, a hot shower, and a terrace with sea view. If you want to upgrade, check out the White Grass Ocean Resort* or the Rockwater Resort*.

If you want to experience more of Tanna in the comfort of a resort and without spending time organising your trip, check out this 4-day tour package that you can book online for $630* per person (+flights).

3. Scenic flight from Port Vila

Estimated cost of this option for a couple: 90,000 VT

It was out of our budget, but seeing an active volcano from the air must be an incredible experience. The small planes only have window seats and look perfect to enjoy the best views. Check out Air Taxi Vanuatu.

With this option, you will only see the volcano from the air. You will not land on Tanna and miss out on the opportunity to summit the world’s most accessible volcano. Standing near the volcano and feeling the earth vibrating at each explosion is part of the experience that you don’t get from the plane. If you want to upgrade, it will take you the full day, and the package is around 5,000 VT extra per person. I believe it is a better deal than just the flight by itself unless you have very limited time. Indeed, with only the scenic flight, you will be back for lunch at your resort in Port Vila.

4. Day tour from Port Vila (incl. scenic flight)

Estimated cost of this option for a couple: 100,000 VT

The usual Air Vanuatu flight from Port Vila to Tanna does not provide the spectacular views over the volcano. And the timing does not allow to reach the volcano without spending a night on the island. You will have to book with a different operator. Check out Air Taxi Vanuatu and Unity Airlines.

If the weather or the volcano conditions do not allow the scenic flight, you receive a discount.

You will be at the top of Mount Yasur for lunchtime. Unfortunately, you will miss out on watching the incredible show of molten magma in the dark. It is an additional 7,000 VT per person to upgrade to the overnight stay with a scenic flight.

5. Overnight stay at a resort (incl. scenic flight)

Estimated cost of this option for a couple: 114,000 VT

That’s an 18,000 VT difference per person for a scenic flight compared to the #2 option of flying with Air Vanuatu. So if #2 is your preferred option and you have the budget, the scenic flight could be a fantastic and memorable addition to your Tanna volcano experience. Check out Air Taxi Vanuatu and Unity Airlines.

Extra tips for your Tanna volcano tour

The best time to visit Tanna volcano

Tanna Volcano - Andrew J Swann
Photo credit: Andrew J Swann

If you plan to join a Tanna volcano tour as a day trip and you are flexible with the day, check the weather forecast before booking. Fog and heavy rain can have a massive impact on the experience. In case of heavy rain or other inopportune weather, the tour may even get canceled. You will reduce the risks of unfavorable weather by avoiding the wet season between November and April. I also read that the volcano is more active during the wet season, between late February and April.

A few days after our visit, tourists got stuck on the island because of heavy rain. Our inability to forecast Nature is part of its beauty. Some days, the eruption is not as impressive. Other days, it is a bit too much and tours may be canceled. They rank the Tanna volcano activity on a scale from 0 to 4. You can check the level here. It was at level 2 when we visited Tanna, described as moderate eruptions. Access to the summit remains open but it is too dangerous to access the crater. If it reaches level 3, the tours are canceled and they evacuate the area at level 4.

Sunset and sunrise volcano tours are the best as you will see the volcano both in the dark and with day light.

Withdraw cash in Port Vila

There is an ATM on Tanna in Lenakel, but that’s a detour. Hence, it is better to withdraw cash in Port Vila. Try to have small notes by going to the supermarket, for example, so you can pay the exact amount. We often met people who could not give the money back from our big notes given by the ATM.

There is no ATM on the east side of the island. And payments on the east of the island are cash only. You will also need 200 VT for the airport departure tax. Allow around 1,500-2,000 VT for a meal in the west of the island and around 750-1,000 in the east.

Multiple Tanna volcano tour participation

There is a discount for joining Tanna volcano tour a second time, and it is free the third time.  Make sure you ask about the conditions to avoid bad surprises. Some people were told you had to visit it multiple times on the same day to benefit from the price reduction, and I read a review from someone who was asked to pay full price for his fourth time, but I could not confirm this with the tour operator.

Things to bring on your Tanna volcano tour

Tanna Volcano Transport Truck
Transport in the back of a truck on Tanna

The transfer from the west to the east of the island beautiful but uncomfortable, especially if you are in the back of a pickup. Temperatures in winter in Tanna can be cold so make sure you bring a warm jacket and a windstopper. A rain jacket and a scarf can also make a pleasant difference. Glasses can save the trip to protect your eyes if there are ashes flying around.

It’s only a very short walk from the car park to the volcano, but it is recommended to wear enclosed shoes. The rocks can be painful, and it is safer to be able to move quickly. It can be helpful to have a torch or a headlamp when travelling to this remote area, although your phone light may be enough.

You will have better photo results if you use a tripod for your camera when photographing the volcano at night. Don’t use a flash and play with your time of exposure and your aperture for exciting results.

You can sometimes buy local snacks on the side of the road, but not always. If you have food with you, don’t leave it in a bag in your room as it could attract rodents. It is better to protect it in a container. Ask your host for advice if you are unsure.

Travel insurance

It is always a good idea to purchase travel insurance to explore Vanuatu. It will make things easier if an incident happens and will give you a peace of mind to enjoy your volcano tour to its fullest. Click here to get a quote with the travel insurance provider we chose for our Vanuatu trip.

 

Have you participated in a Tanna volcano tour? Share your experience in the comments below!

Information gathered in this article is from our personal experience in June 2018 and feedback from other travellers. If you experienced something different when visiting Tanna volcano or believe something is missing or inaccurate, please leave a comment below.

 

Where is Tanna volcano Mount Yasur?

 

Tanna is one of the most southern islands of Vanuatu archipelago near New Caledonia, not too far from Australia’s east coast and the north of New Zealand.

Tanna volcano is located on the east of the island. It takes between 1 to 1.5 hours to drive there from the airport on the west.

 

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Vanuatu Volcano Tanna Hike Ash Plain Mt Yasur
Tanna Volcano Vanuatu Hiking Ash Plains Mount Yasur
Accommodation Tanna Volcano View Mount Yasur
Vanuatu Tanna Volcano Tour Summit Mount Yasur

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