Cook Island vs. Vanuatu

Finding it tough to decide between the Cook Islands and Vanuatu for your next vacation? Both Pacific paradises offer stunning scenery and fascinating cultures. Want to learn about the Polynesian heritage that colors the Cook Islands or Vanuatu's captivating Melanesian roots? You're in the right place. Which will capture your heart: the Cook Islands' captivating dance and music traditions, or Vanuatu's rich ritual and art?
Cook Island vs. Vanuatu

Table of Contents

You’re on a quest to choose your next dream destination. Could it be the Cook Islands with its pure lagoons and lush mountains, or perhaps Vanuatu, famous for its volcanoes and vibrant underwater life? Your journey starts here. Stick around to explore more about these two fascinating South Pacific gems.

History & Culture

Stepping into the history and culture of the Cook Islands and Vanuatu is like turning the pages of a living history book. Each destination has a unique story to tell, woven with vibrant traditions, age-old customs, and fascinating past.

In the Cook Islands, Polynesian heritage is strong and proud. Their ancestors, the Maori, came from Tahiti, bringing with them rich traditions. The rhythm of drums echoing from dance performances and the beautifully crafted wood carvings portray this cultural legacy. It’s like a beautiful painting that breathes life into the history and legends of this island nation.

On the other hand, Vanuatu, formerly known as the New Hebrides, tells a different tale. This Melanesian archipelago has been home to a diverse mix of tribes for over 3,000 years, each with their unique customs and languages. From sand drawing to the famous land-diving ritual, the cultural experiences here are distinct and unforgettable.

These two South Pacific nations offer a treasure trove of cultural immersion. Yet, they differ vastly from each other. While the Cook Islands celebrates Polynesian culture with lively music and dance, Vanuatu’s cultural tapestry is rich with Melanesian tribal traditions and rituals.

In essence, both the Cook Islands and Vanuatu provide a wonderful gateway into Pacific Island cultures. If you’re inclined towards Polynesian culture, the Cook Islands is your destination. If Melanesian tribal traditions fascinate you, Vanuatu is the place to be. Remember, the culture you immerse yourself in is the memory you take home!

Attractions & Activities

In your quest for the perfect vacation, attractions and activities are high on the list. Dive into the endless options that both the Cook Islands and Vanuatu offer. Get ready to explore!

The Cook Islands, with its 15 small islands, welcome you with a trove of exciting activities. Discover the lush tropical landscape on a guided hike or mountain bike in Rarotonga, the most populated island.

Want to be more adventurous? You can explore the marine life by snorkeling or scuba diving in the turquoise lagoons, abundant with vibrant fish and coral. If relaxation is your priority, an island tour aboard the iconic ’round bus’ offers an effortless way to take in the sights.

Conversely, Vanuatu is brimming with thrilling attractions and activities for every nature lover. You can visit the active volcano, Mount Yasur, on Tanna Island, where the thrilling view of glowing lava against the night sky is a spectacle to remember.

Additionally, Vanuatu’s rich underwater life offers world-class diving spots like Million Dollar Point and SS President Coolidge. If you prefer land, exploring the jungles and cascading waterfalls of Espiritu Santo, the largest island, is an experience like no other.

Both destinations offer opportunities for exploration and adventure. However, the choice boils down to your personal preference. If mountainous terrain and coral-filled lagoons sound appealing, the Cook Islands is your go-to. On the other hand, if witnessing an active volcano or diving into World War II wrecks sounds intriguing, Vanuatu is your choice.


Unspoiled beaches and sparkling turquoise waters define both the Cook Islands and Vanuatu. Both are a paradise for beach lovers, but they offer distinct coastal experiences.

The Cook Islands is renowned for its pristine beaches. The seven-kilometer (around 4.3 miles) stretch of white sand in Muri Beach, Rarotonga, offers breathtaking views of the lagoon and four offshore islets. For a quieter experience, head to One Foot Island in Aitutaki, often hailed as one of the world’s most beautiful islands.

In contrast, Vanuatu’s coastline varies from island to island. Champagne Beach in Espiritu Santo, with its white sand, clear waters, and unique bubble effect due to volcanic activity, is a standout. Also worth visiting is the black sand beach in Port Resolution, Tanna Island, a captivating sight.

Your choice depends on what type of beach you prefer. If endless white sand and blue lagoons are your thing, then the Cook Islands offer the perfect beach experience. If you’re more inclined towards unique coastal landscapes, Vanuatu’s varied coastline, from black to white sand beaches, might be the one for you. Remember, both places offer more than just sunbathing, with fantastic swimming and snorkeling opportunities too!

Eating, Drinking & Nightlife

When you’re on holiday, sampling local cuisine, savoring a drink, and experiencing the nightlife can be an adventure all on its own. Let’s take a culinary journey to the Cook Islands and Vanuatu!

In the Cook Islands, you’ll find a fusion of Polynesian and international flavors. Fish and seafood, often fresh from the ocean, are a big part of meals. A must-try is Ika Mata, raw fish marinated in lemon juice and coconut milk. Also, you should sample Rukau, taro leaves cooked with coconut cream.

As for Vanuatu, the local cuisine, called Aelan Kakae, is known for its unique ingredients and cooking methods. Laplap, a traditional dish made from taro or yam with coconut milk and meat, is a local favorite. The islands’ fertile volcanic soil also makes for some of the best organic beef in the world.

Moving on to drinks, both destinations offer a unique experience. In the Cook Islands, you’ll discover locally brewed beers and a vibrant cocktail scene. For non-alcoholic options, don’t miss out on Nu, fresh coconut water.

Vanuatu, on the other hand, is renowned for Kava, a traditional drink made from the root of the Kava plant. This mildly sedative and euphoric drink is a significant part of Vanuatu’s culture and is worth a try.

For nightlife, the Cook Islands offer laid-back options. You can enjoy a mix of live music, cultural shows, and beach parties, especially on weekends. Conversely, Vanuatu’s nightlife, mainly in Port Vila, is more lively with nightclubs, casinos, and bars. However, remember, Kava bars offer a uniquely Vanuatu experience.


You’ll want a souvenir to remember your dream vacation. So, let’s compare shopping in the Cook Islands and Vanuatu.

In the Cook Islands, you’ll find a variety of local markets and stores selling handmade crafts, pearl jewelry, and sarongs. A must-visit is the Punanga Nui Market in Rarotonga, where you can find local handicrafts, clothing, and fresh produce.

Meanwhile, in Vanuatu, you’ll discover vibrant markets selling locally made items, such as T-shirts, woven goods, and wooden carvings. Vanuatu is also famous for its organic, high-quality coffee and chocolate, making these great gifts or souvenirs.

Remember, your choice depends on what you value in a shopping experience. If you’re into handmade crafts and pearls, the Cook Islands’ markets await you. But, if organic coffee, chocolate, and unique woven goods sound appealing, then shopping in Vanuatu might be for you.


When you’re planning a vacation, it’s important to think about where you’ll rest your head at night. So, let’s compare the accommodations in the Cook Islands and Vanuatu.

The Cook Islands offer a wide array of accommodations. You can find something to fit any budget, from the thrifty to the extravagant. One unique option you’ll find here is the beachfront bungalows, offering serene getaways nestled right up against the ocean.

These bungalows, often found on Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands, offer fantastic views of the surrounding sea. They’re perfect for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle and simply relax by the beach.

In contrast, Vanuatu offers a different range of accommodations. The options here are varied, with everything from treehouse accommodations to luxury resorts available. The experiences you can have while staying here are diverse, appealing to a wide range of preferences.

Particularly on Efate Island, where the capital Port Vila is located, you’ll find a wide range of places to stay. The accommodations here run the gamut from budget hostels to luxury resorts.

In summary, both the Cook Islands and Vanuatu offer a broad range of accommodations to suit all types of travelers. It’s all about what you’re looking for in a place to stay during your vacation.

Family-Friendliness & Children’s Activities

Planning a family vacation means finding activities that will keep the kids entertained. So let’s look at what the Cook Islands and Vanuatu have to offer.

In the Cook Islands, your family can enjoy a wide variety of child-friendly activities. The clear, shallow waters make it easy for children to explore marine life safely, and the island tours offer a great way for kids to learn about the local culture.

The Cook Islands also offer cultural shows that the whole family can enjoy. These shows provide insight into the islands’ history and traditions, offering a unique and educational experience for your kids.

Meanwhile, in Vanuatu, you’ll find a host of activities suitable for children. The jungle exploration activities are a particular hit, offering kids the chance to see local flora and fauna up close.

Visiting a turtle sanctuary is another popular activity for children in Vanuatu. The opportunity to learn about these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat is not to be missed. And of course, snorkeling in the clear blue waters is a must-do activity for families.

In conclusion, both the Cook Islands and Vanuatu are excellent destinations for families. Whether you’re seeking relaxation or adventure, you’re sure to find plenty of child-friendly activities to keep your little ones entertained.

Getting There & Getting Around

Traveling is about the journey as much as the destination. So, how do you get to the Cook Islands or Vanuatu, and how do you get around once you’re there?

Firstly, getting to the Cook Islands typically involves a flight into Rarotonga International Airport. Regular flights connect the Cook Islands with New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. So, wherever you’re coming from, you should be able to find a convenient flight.

Once you’re on the islands, getting around is pretty straightforward. Renting scooters or cars are common options, giving you the freedom to explore at your own pace. Alternatively, the round-island bus service offers a convenient and economical way to get around.

In comparison, to get to Vanuatu, you’ll typically fly into Bauerfield International Airport in Port Vila. There are direct flights from Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. This makes it a fairly accessible destination from various locations.

Getting around Vanuatu, on the other hand, can be an adventure in itself. Car hire is a popular option, while the local bus system provides an authentic and economical way to travel. If you want to explore other islands, domestic flights are readily available.

In summary, both the Cook Islands and Vanuatu are relatively easy to reach and navigate. The choice between the two will depend on your specific travel preferences and requirements.


When you’re planning a trip, it’s essential to consider the weather. So let’s compare the climate in the Cook Islands and Vanuatu.

The Cook Islands boast a tropical climate, with warm temperatures and sunny days year-round. The average temperature ranges between 75°F (24°C) and 84°F (29°C). However, be prepared for some rain, as the islands experience a wet season from December to April.

Despite the rain, the Cook Islands remain an attractive destination throughout the year. The drier months, from May to November, are particularly appealing, offering more sunshine and lower humidity levels.

Vanuatu, on the other hand, also enjoys a tropical climate, but with more significant variations in temperature and rainfall. Average temperatures range from 70°F (21°C) to 90°F (32°C) throughout the year.

Like the Cook Islands, Vanuatu has a wet season, which lasts from November to April. During this time, heavy rainfall and even cyclones can occur. The drier months, from May to October, offer a more pleasant travel experience, with milder temperatures and lower humidity.

In summary, both the Cook Islands and Vanuatu feature tropical climates with warm temperatures year-round. The choice between the two will depend on your weather preferences and the time of year you plan to travel.


Safety is a crucial consideration when selecting a vacation destination. So let’s compare the safety aspects of the Cook Islands and Vanuatu.

The Cook Islands are known for their low crime rates and friendly locals, making them a safe and welcoming destination for travelers. You’ll find that the islands offer a relaxed and secure environment for tourists to explore.

However, you should still practice basic safety precautions, like not leaving valuables unattended and keeping an eye on your belongings in public spaces. It’s also essential to be mindful of natural hazards, such as strong ocean currents and exposure to the sun.

Vanuatu also boasts a relatively low crime rate, and the locals are known for their warm hospitality. You should feel safe while traveling around the islands, but it’s always a good idea to take standard safety precautions.

Like in the Cook Islands, it’s important to be aware of natural hazards in Vanuatu. The country is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, making it susceptible to volcanic activity, earthquakes, and tsunamis. However, these events are relatively rare and should not deter you from visiting.

In conclusion, both the Cook Islands and Vanuatu are generally safe destinations for travelers. It’s essential to be aware of your surroundings and take standard safety precautions to ensure a secure and enjoyable trip.


A critical factor in planning any vacation is the cost. So let’s compare the expenses you might incur in the Cook Islands and Vanuatu.

In the Cook Islands, you can expect to pay more for accommodation, food, and activities compared to Vanuatu. The local currency is the New Zealand Dollar (NZD), and the prices can be relatively high, especially in tourist areas.

For example, a mid-range restaurant meal in the Cook Islands may cost around NZD 30 (USD 21), while a similar meal in Vanuatu could be around 2,000 Vatu (USD 18). However, it’s still possible to find more affordable options if you’re on a budget.

Vanuatu, on the other hand, tends to be a more budget-friendly destination. The local currency is the Vanuatu Vatu (VUV), and you’ll often find more affordable accommodation and dining options compared to the Cook Islands.

Activities and transportation can also be more affordable in Vanuatu, making it an attractive option if you’re looking to stretch your travel budget further.

In summary, while the Cook Islands may be a more expensive destination, they offer a unique experience that may be worth the extra cost. If budget is a critical factor in your travel plans, Vanuatu might be a more affordable option. As always, careful planning and budgeting can ensure an enjoyable vacation in either destination.

Which Is Better – Cook Islands or Vanuatu?

Choosing between the Cook Islands and Vanuatu can be a tough decision, given the unique offerings each brings to the table. Let’s recap some of the key points from the sections above to help you make your choice.

From a historical and cultural perspective, the Cook Islands offer an immersive experience of Polynesian traditions. You’ll dive deep into the richness of Maori culture, with their dance, music, and art.

Conversely, Vanuatu provides a tapestry of diverse cultural influences, with more than 100 different languages spoken, offering you a fascinating exploration of Melanesian traditions.

When it comes to attractions and activities, both the Cook Islands and Vanuatu shine in their own ways. The Cook Islands entice you with spectacular lagoon cruises and hiking trails, while Vanuatu beckons with its active volcanoes and stunning waterfalls. Your choice will depend on what adventures tickle your fancy.

On the topic of beaches, it’s a close call. The Cook Islands mesmerize with pristine, white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters, perfect for snorkeling. But Vanuatu doesn’t fall short, boasting equally breathtaking beaches with a unique touch of black sand due to volcanic activities.

In terms of eating, drinking, and nightlife, you’ll find diverse culinary experiences and nightlife activities in both destinations. The Cook Islands stand out with their island night feasts, while Vanuatu offers kava tastings, a unique experience that is deeply rooted in local traditions.

On safety, both the Cook Islands and Vanuatu are generally safe, with friendly locals and low crime rates. As for the cost, your budget might play a significant role in your decision. The Cook Islands, while slightly pricier, offer an exceptional experience that could make the extra cost worthwhile. In contrast, Vanuatu presents more budget-friendly options.

In conclusion, your choice between the Cook Islands and Vanuatu will largely depend on your personal preferences, interests, and budget. If you’re looking for a culturally rich Polynesian experience with stunning beaches and a slightly more sophisticated dining scene, the Cook Islands could be your go-to. But if your heart longs for diverse cultural interactions, active adventures, and a more budget-friendly experience, Vanuatu might just steal your heart.