Mount Yasur Guide – Visiting Vanuatu’s spectacular active volcano in 2020

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When you think of Pacific islands you’re probably not picturing Vanuatu. Instead of world-class luxury spa hotels on pristine beaches, Vanuatu is a more rugged and natural place that rewards those with an adventurous spirit willing to work a little harder.

Instead of being transferred to your overwater villa by seaplane or speedboat, getting to the active volcano at Mount Yasur on the tiny island of Tanna requires riding in pick-up trucks on very rough terrain.

Then you’ll be hiking through the undisturbed rainforest, and spending a night in a basic hut with electricity only from a car battery recharged by solar panels. And maybe some rats to keep you company. Very

In this Mount Yasur guide we’ll give you all the facts for planning your trip.

Mount Yasur Facts

Discovered in 1774 by James Cook, at least as far as Europe was concerned, Mount Yasur is a 361 metre high volcanic cone on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. The crater is 300 metres wide and 100 metres deep.

It was the glow of the volcano that attracted Captain Cook’s attention when his ship brought Europeans to Vanuatu for the first time.

Vanuatu is a chain of volcanic islands in the South Pacific west of Fiji, a thousand miles from Australia.

Yasur means Old Man.

Mount Yasur is a stratovolcano, which means that it is made up of layers of hardened ash and lava from previous eruptions. The steepness of the slope indicates that the lava doesn’t flow far.

Mount Yasur has been erupting regularly for at least several hundred years, usually a few times every hour. Eruptions are typically small blasts of lava bombs a few tens of metres into the air and the volcano can usually be approached safely.

The lava bomb blasts are often accompanied by a cloud of volcanic ash and gas.

Here’s a video of the journey across Tanna Island and the nighttime eruptions at Mount Yasur:

Ways to visit Tanna Island and Mount Yasur

There are three ways to see Mount Yasur:

Do it yourself

Arrange your own flight in, get a ride across the island in a local car probably arranged by your accommodation, and stay overnight on the eastern side.

An overnight package tour

Another way is to book a package tour which will include flights from Efate, transfers to the volcano, and overnight accommodation. Some will return you to accommodation on the western side of the island where the facilities are better but prices are higher.

A daytime package tour

A third option is a package tour without an overnight stay. This will mean that you get to see into the crater from the air on your scenic flight, but you’ll miss seeing the volcano in darkness, which would be a real shame.

Either of the first two options should mean that you get to see the volcanic activity at the crater rim in the darkness, which is when it is the best sight.

A package trip has the advantage of a scenic flight over the volcano. allowing you to look down into the crater, and some tours allow you to explore the ash plain around the cone and climb up to the crater. The aircraft used on these tours give everyone a window seat.

The package tours are more expensive and may be fully booked, so booking your own flight and accommodation can be cheaper.

However, you won’t get to see the volcano from the air, and your experience on the ground will vary according to the knowledge and attitude of your host.

My driver was an awkward bugger and had made other arrangements with other people, so despite the fee I’d paid for the service, I did not get to explore the ash plain around the base of the volcano on foot and had to hurriedly snap photos from a moving pick-up truck.

When you go with a driver organised by your accommodation you’re just getting some local guy with a truck who only cares about getting you to your destination and getting paid.

When you go with an organised tour package, you’re accompanied by guides whose job is to give you a good experience. I did the self-organised option because it was low season, I had limited time due to flights in and out of Vanuatu, and there wasn’t a tour available on my dates.

I would recommend taking the organised package tour because of the chance to see the crater from above and to spend time down on the ash plain. The DIY option was significantly cheaper, but I think the tours end up giving you more for your money with a lot less effort.

tanna island market stall
Supplies are limited on Tanna
yasur volcano tanna vanuatu black volcanic ash driving pickups full of people
The journey across the island is slow and bumpy, but through stunning scenery

How to get to Mount Yasur

You reach Tanna by flying from Port Vila airport on the main island of Efate, arriving into tiny Whitegrass Airport which is no more than a tin hut.

Whitegrass is on the western side of the island close to the island’s main town, Lenakel. From the airport you’ll need to arrange a driver to take you over the central hills to the eastern side of the island.

Your accommodation will usually be able to arrange transfers, or you can haggle a price at the airport.

It is possible to stop at the base of the volcano on the western ash plains and climb up. Officially, you’re only meant to access the volcano through the eastern side entrance at the visitor centre.

If your accommodation messes up your transport and you don’t get chance to explore the ash cone on foot then you’ll be missing out.

tanna volcano yasur black sand road
The western slopes are incredible black volcanic ash

Visiting Mount Yasur

In order to preserve the natural environment of the volcano and to maintain visitor safety by controlling visits, entrance is now via a visitor centre where you will climb into the back of a pick-up truck for a ride up the trail through the jungle to just below the crater.

The  trail is being improved with concrete but it is still a very bumpy ride. The idea of a single defined vehicle route up through the jungle side is to prevent trucks damaging the scenic western side and to prevent accidents when people try to drive up the ash cone.

In reality there’s nobody there to stop anyone continuing to tackle the western slopes, but most organised tours will take you via the main entrance.

Restricting access via the official visitor centre is also an attempt to ensure safety. When the volcanic activity is strong, you won’t be allowed in.

A visitor centre, safety monitoring, and a purpose built road up to the rim all comes at a cost, and that cost is the very high entrance fee of 10000VT, or about £65. That’s per person.

What time to visit Mount Yasur

The best time to see Mount Yasur is in darkness. Typically this means arriving at the visitor centre for 4pm.

yasur volcano tanna vanuatu crater panorama guided tour
Mount Yasur crater

Is it safe to visit Mount Yasur?

Perhaps the first thing many people want to know from a Mount Yasur Guide is whether it’s safe to vist.

If activity is too high, you won’t be allowed in, and that would suck. Activity was low enough that I was allowed in, but high enough that the higher viewing areas were off-limits, due to the risk of lava bombs landing there.

Despite the apparent risk, it is still immensely frustrating not to be allowed up to see into the crater.

From the lower side you can’t see over the crater rim, so you only get to witness the top part of the lava bombs arc into the sky and you miss all the steaming and exploding that’s going on lower down.

It’s still a fantastic experience when it gets dark and the red glow becomes apparent, but I still get jealous when I see other people’s photos from the better vantage point.

As frustrating as it is, you have to know that an active volcano is a risky place to be. When you’re there you would happily ignore any safety rules to get a better viewpoint, regardless of how logical and sensible you are.

Logic and sense goes out of the window and you just want to get a better view. You’re only there once, it’ll be fine.

This is why it’s a good thing that the operators strictly enforce the rules and don’t give in to all the people complaining and asking to be allowed to get closer. Go on, just once, just for me.

It must be hard for the staff to stand their ground and say no, and when you see what happened to the tourists in New Zealand recently you understand why this is necessary.

I urge you to read our full guide looking at Is Mount Yasur Safe? which gives you full details on the risks, the exclusion zone, activity levels, the eruption history, and all the other facts you should know before you visit.

Mount Yasur tour itinerary

A typical tour itinerary staying in the better resorts on the west of Tanna looks like this. Most will pick you up from your hotel on Efate for the outbound flight:

  • 1200: Depart Port Vila
  • 1300: Arrive in Tanna and transfer to accommodation
  • 1500: 4×4 Safari to Mt Yasur
  • 1600: Arrive at Mt Yasur visitor centre
  • 1700: Arrive Mt Yasur crater rim
  • 1900: Leave Mt Yasur
  • 2030 Arrive at accommodation
  • 0700: Breakfast
  • 0800: Depart Tanna
  • 0900: Arrive Port Vila

If you’re staying overnight near Yasur then you’ll go straight there from the airport. Your return flight will also be later because you’ll need to allow an hour and a half for the return journey over the mountain to get back to the airport.

Heading out of town is your only chance to visit the market and the small grocery stores to get supplies for your stay.

You will need to pick up plenty of bottled water because there will be no safe water for drinking or washing at your accommodation if you’re staying on the western side.

Late afternoon is the time to head to the volcano. At the visitor centre you’ll be “treated” to an annoying “cultural” show, which is just a waste of time and an attempt to justify the very high fee.

Jump into the back of a pick-up truck for a very bumpy ride up to just below the crater rim. There is a Vanuatu Post mailbox if you want to drop in a postcard, and then it’s a short walk to the rim.

There are no barriers or safety rails, but the guides will give strict instructions about where you are allowed to go, and threaten that if anyone ignores the rules then the whole group will be forcibly removed.

When activity is low, you’ll be allowed to walk up to the higher west side which gives a better view down into the crater and the three vents that take turns spitting out red lava. When the activity is higher, you won’t be allowed to go up there.

Some time after darkness you’ll be forced to leave. The route back down to the waiting pick-up trucks will now be in complete darkness, as will the rest of your journey back to your accommodation, so take a torch.

Back down at the visitor centre you’ll be offered a token refreshment but you’ll be better off heading out to find your driver in the darkness.

yasur volcano tanna vanuatu volcano post postal service
Take a postcard to send from the volcano post

What to take to Mount Yasur

  • A tripod if you want any decent shots in the darkness, or to capture long-exposure shots of the lava bombs
  • A raincoat
  • A warm coat
  • Water
  • Sturdy footwear
  • A torch
  • A postcard if you want to send one from the Volcano Postbox

Note that Mount Yasur is not suitable for young children. No drones are allowed. Some people say they were allowed to fly drones after paying a 10000VUV fee, but when I visited we were told that drones were banned. You should ask first down at the visitor centre.

Tips for visiting Mount Yasur

Here’s a few things I now know should be in a Mount Yasur guide having learned the hard way.

Prepare for cold and wet weather at the crater after dark.

Take a tripod, and a torch.

If staying in village bungalow accommodation, pick up supplies near the airport before you cross the island.

Wherever you’re staying on Tanna, make sure you pick up bottled water near the airport because there are no shops once you leave the area of Lenakel town.

It’s also a good idea to take hand sanitizer and wet wipes, and expect limited access to electricity and sanitation.

Be prepared for a bumpy and slow ride in pick-up trucks over poor roads. Also be prepared for travel difficulties after rain.

Be warned that if activity at the volcano is high, you won’t be allowed to close to the crater, or maybe not allowed in at all.

yasur volcano tanna vanuatu guided tour safety
After dark, it can get cold and windy

Ashboarding

It is possible to go ashboarding on the western side of the volcano where most of the ash falls. Arrange it with your accommodation provider. Apparently the ash is very soft. Expect to pay around 10000VT. 

Where to stay at Mount Yasur

If booking a package tour you will have a few choices, mainly the better quality and more expensive hotels on the west of the island near the airport. Choices close to Mount Yasur are very basic village bungalows with limited facilities but offering an authentic island life experience.

A good choice if you want a view of the volcano is Volcano Island Paradise.

If booking a package tour you will have a few choices, mainly the better quality and more expensive hotels on the west of the island near the airport. Choices close to Mount Yasur are very basic village bungalows with limited facilities but offering an authentic island life experience.

A good choice if you want a view of the volcano is Volcano Island Paradise.

David Attenborough and the Tanna Island cargo cult

In a fascinating documentary from 1960, David Attenborough visits Tanna and encounters the John Frum cargo cult. Below is a video with some clips from the original programme, showing what Mount Yasur looked like in 1960.

The full episode is available at the internet archive.

Best time to visit Mount Yasur

Like Fiji, proximity to Australia makes Vanuatu a very busy place during Australian school holidays. 

High season is May to July and best avoided if you want cheaper prices and less busy conditions. On the other hand if you want the best weather and minimal risk of disruption due to rain, then this is the time to go, but book well ahead.

August to October has decent weather and is less busy. Cheapest prices and quieter times come at the expense of increased cyclone risk in the wet season from November to March. Great for a bargain but be prepared to be flexible because rain can affect transport.

The journey across Tanna is improving every year as a proper sealed road is built, but most of the journey is on dirt roads which can be very difficult in wet conditions.

Volcano activity can be higher after rains. This means it would look more dramatic, but also means an increased risk of visits being cancelled if the geologists decide activity is too high.

yasur volcano tanna vanuatu crater danger sign
Pay attention

Best air tours to Mount Yasur

There are two main providers offering air tours from Efate to Tanna and Mount Yasur: Air Taxi Vanuatu, and Unity Airlines.

The best choice with Air Taxi Vanuatu is their overnight tour to Mount Yasur.

Our pick with Unity Airlines is also the overnight tour.

All air tours get booked up well in advance. They’re all similar prices. The price varies according to your choice of hotel but expect to pay around £450 per person. Note that this includes your flights from Efate to Tanna, all transfers, accommodation, breakfast, and the entry fee for the volcano.

The volcano entry fee is around £65. Cheap accommodation in a village bungalow like Volcano Island Paradise would be around £40. Transfers between the airport and your bungalow, and your bungalow to the volcano, would total around £100.

Add around £100 for your flights from Efate to Tanna.

If you want to stay longer, or if your budget is tight, then the DIY option will save you £150, or more if you negotiate transfer prices for the whole vehicle instead of per person.

On the other hand, if air tours are available on your dates then the price is really very good considering the added volcano flypast, better accommodation, and ease of planning.

Location

FAQ

How much is a tour of Mount Yasur?

For an overnight air tour from Efate to Mount Yasur including transfers, entrance, and accommodation, expect to pay around £450 per person.

What is the Mount Yasur entry fee?

Around £65 per person.

What's the best time to visit Mount Yasur?

Mount Yasur eruptions look most dramatic in darkness so visit in the evening. Go up to the crater before dark.

How do you get to Mount Yasur?

Fly from Port Vila on Efate, to Whitegrass airport on Tanna, about 40 minutes. Then take a four-wheel drive pick-up truck to Mount Yasur, about 90 minutes. At the visitor centre, trucks are provided to take you up to just below the crater rim.

Is it safe to visit Mount Yasur?

Any active volcano carries risk, but Mount Yasur has been erupting at a low level for hundreds of years. Eruptions are usually small and the volcano crater can usually be approached safely. Activity is monitored and visits are not allowed when volcanic activity is higher than the lowest 2 levels.

Who flies to Mount Yasur?

Air Vanuatu have flights most days between Port Vila on Vanuatu’s main island, Efate, and Whitegrass airport on Tanna Island. Tour operators with air tours from Port Vila are Air Taxi Vanuatu and Unity Airlines.

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