Espiritu Santo (commonly known as ‘Santo’) is arguably one of the most well-known dive destinations in the South Pacific. Not only is it the resting place of the world-renowned wreck SS President Coolidge, it’s also a stunning tropical getaway. Take time out from the hustle and bustle of modern life and enjoy the peace and quiet of this gorgeous island.
Despite the island’s size, you will find two very different terrains. Along the western side of the island is a rugged landscape of mountains, while the south and east are flat, fertile and filled with agriculture. This rugged landscape carries on under the sea, creating a marine terrain of caverns and caves. To the north is Vanuatu’s first national park, Vathe Conservation Area which provides a jungle sanctuary for the islands diverse variety of endemic species inclusive of birds, butterflies, wild orchids, flying foxes and reptiles.
The island of Santo played an essential role during WWII as it provided a base in the South Pacific for over 100,000 allied troops and support staff. This massive occupation of the island is still very evident today, with a prevalence of historic sites and abandoned equipment both above and below sea level.
Luganville, the island’s capital, is just busy enough to give you a small variety of hotel bars and restaurants to enjoy during your stay. Whether you’re after a luxury getaway or budget dive lodgings, you will be sure to find accommodation to suit you close by to the township.
Santo has a tropical climate with distinct wet and dry seasons.
Wet Season: December to April
The heat combined with the morning and afternoon thunderstorms creates up to 90% humidity. January to March are the hottest and most humid months with daytime temperatures reaching 34ºC at times. These months are also prone to tropical cyclones.
Dry Season: May to November
Temperatures stay pleasant and can get up to 28ºC on warmer days. The best time to visit Santo is between May and October when rainfall is at a minimum and humidity drops off to create comfortable conditions.
Due to the proximity of wreck dive sites to Luganville, all diving from Santo departs from here.
Although Santo is home to some beautiful reef sites, the main attraction would be the wreck dive sites outlined in our ‘Highlights’ section below.
Conditions in Santo are usually excellent with calm seas and visibility ranging from 15-35 metres. You will find a whole range of tropical marine species here, from beautiful gorgonian fans to thriving schools of fish and colourful little critters.
For those who want to push their boundaries, Santo makes the perfect tec diving destination. The SS President Coolidge makes for a stunning tec classroom, with dives varying in depth from 20-72 metres.
The water temperature varies during the year:
December to April: 26°C to 28°C
A 3mm wetsuit is recommended. January to March is when the water is at its warmest.
May to November: 24°C to 26°C
A 5mm wetsuit is strongly recommended. August and September are when the water is at its coldest.
SS President Coolidge
A ship that was once a luxury liner, it was used as an allied troop transporter during WWII which accidentally hit two US mines in 1942. The impressive wreck (198 metres long) is one of the most massive accessible wrecks to sport divers anywhere in the world. The dive can be done from boat or shore with an easy walk to a line that leads to the ship's bow. Complete with military supplies and personal belongings scattered across the ocean floor, and of course the famous 'Lady and the Unicorn', this dive is not to be missed. The ship is so big that even if you dived it ten times in different locations, you would still only view a part of it. As most of the dives are over 30 metres, decompression stops are necessary. These stops are made on the coral garden where you can see a colourful array of hard corals and fish life. Maximum depth is 20-70 metres.
Million Dollar Point
This site is where the US Navy dumped tonnes of valuable machinery and supplies after the war to prevent them from being left behind and used by the French and British troops. This site can be accessed from shore and takes you back in time as you explore an abundance of coral-encrusted war equipment; from bulldozers and trucks to crates of Coca-Cola. This site is also home to a small wreck of the trading and salvage vessel, the El Retiro. Maximum depth is 40 metres.
The USS Tucker was a US destroyer which sank in 1942 after accidentally hitting an American mine in the Segond Channel, causing the ship to split in two. After she was hit, the boilers, condensers and gearboxes bridging the two sections broke apart scattering over the seafloor covering an area of over 100 metres. This dive has several interesting swim-throughs with an abundance of portholes and open bulkheads providing plenty of light. There are some spectacular finds in colourful corals and sponges growing on gun turrets and mounts. Coral trout, cod, sweet lip, angelfish and batfish are regularly seen in the area, and visibility usually is about 40 - 50 meters.
Max depth: 20m.
MV Henry Bonneaud
This local trader was scuttled in 1989 and is awash with marine life and vibrant coral. This is an easy penetration wreck dive where the visibility is 30 - 40 meters. There are plenty of soft corals and sharks to be seen. This site is a haven for flashlight fish which are abundant during night dives. Maximum depth is 45 metres.
Tutuba Point is a spectacular reef with both hard and soft corals, caves, swim-throughs and the most beautiful marine life. This is a drift dive with fantastic visibility ranging between 40 - 50 meters. Turtles, reef sharks and Napoleon wrasse are often visible. The site is located on the northern tip of Tutuba Island and is a short boat ride away from Luganville. Maximum depth is 25 metres.
There are plenty of areas to explore on foot in Santo. Trek to the 50-metre high Millennium Cave full of bats, stalactites, stalagmites and water sculptured rocks. Swim in waterfalls or down the river in a tropical gorge along the way. The 220-hectare Loru Park has nature walks, a bat cave and one of the last stretches of lowland forest on Espiritu Santo's east coast. The Vathe Conservation area is renowned for its flora and fauna. If you're after a real land-based adventure, then a two-day trek up Mount Wimbo is for you, rewarding you with spectacular views over the Cumberland Peninsula.
Culture and History
As a former WWII allied base, Santo offers many opportunities to explore relics from this time such as Quonset huts, three bomber strips, and Million Dollar Point, where the US forces dumped hundreds of tonnes of civilian construction equipment at the close of WWII. Whether you're on land or in the water, you're sure to find an exciting piece of history.
Local cultures and traditions are still alive and well. Take time to learn about the ancient lifestyles, culture and traditions of the local people in a Kastom village. For a taste of daily life take a visit to Luganville's bustling market (open daily except for Sunday) and admire local handicrafts while sampling fresh local produce.
There is no shortage of peaceful spots to soak up the sun and bask in nature's majesty in Santo. Relax or picnic on the beautiful white sands of Lonnoc, Golden or Champagne Beach. Kayak from island to island on clear blue water. Swim or snorkel in the magnificent blue holes. These crystal springs are true natural wonders where crystal clear fresh water comes to the surface through layers of limestone and coral producing water of aquamarine blue quality.
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