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15 Things You Need to Know Before Cruising to Mystery Island, Vanuatu

15 Things You Need to Know Before Cruising to Mystery Island, Vanuatu

Beautiful Mystery Island is a popular port of call on many South Pacific cruises. Here’s what you need to know before your visit.

Do you have a port stop at Mystery Island in Vanuatu on your upcoming South Pacific cruise? I spent a day exploring this gorgeous tiny island on a cruise from Sydney, Australia.

Mystery Island, officially called Inyeug, is a little slice of paradise covered with greenery and surrounded by a healthy coral reef.

Tip: To keep Mystery Island’s coral reefs healthy for the next generation, please use only reef-safe sunscreen when you visit. If you’re not sure what to look for, here’s an honest review of one of my favorite brands.

This tiny dot on the map is an unspoiled idyll, and you can see it for yourself on a cruise!

I’ll share 15 important things I learned about visiting Mystery Island—from a bit of the area’s culture, what you can expect to see and do, and which essentials you’ll need to pack in your beach bag to make the most of your day.

1. Most people visit Mystery Island by cruise ship

Although Mystery Island has a small grass airstrip left over from WWII used mainly to receive supplies for nearby islands, the vast majority of visitors arrive by cruise ship.

Currently, Carnival, Princess, Norwegian, P&O, Celebrity, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, AIDA, and Hapag-Lloyd all offer cruises to Mystery Island.

Usually only one ship visits the small island at a time, and not every day—although on rare occasions Mystery Island will host two ships for the day.

Even with thousands of cruise passengers ashore, Mystery Island is decidedly uncrowded

Mystery Island offers a real “private island” experience without all the extras that you might find at private destinations owned by cruise lines.

There aren’t waterslides, fancy beach cabanas, swim-up bars, or huge crowds. Instead, you’ll find pristine natural beaches and basic amenities, with enough space for everyone to enjoy the island.

Related: 12 Amazing Cruise Line Private Islands You’ll Want to Visit

2. No one lives on Mystery Island

Visitors to idyllic Mystery Island often wonder why no one lives on this pearl of the Pacific! One reason is that local legend tells that the island is haunted by sea gods, so it’s considered taboo to live there.

Mystery Island’s population is zero!

But a more practical reason for Mystery Island being uninhabited is that it doesn’t have the infrastructure needed for modern-day habitation. There isn’t electricity or roads like you’ll find on the nearby island of Aneityum.

For anyone nervous about a lack of toilet facilities, you’ll be happy to hear there’s a newer toilet block not far from where you’ll land on the island. There are also rustic, wooden-seat outhouses scattered around, but they’re well-ventilated, comfortable, and clean.

3. Mystery Island is a tender port

There isn’t a dock on Mystery Island for cruise ships, so your ship will drop anchor offshore and ferry passengers over on tender boats (which at this tiny port will be the ship’s lifeboats).

You’ll need to take a tender boat from your cruise ship to Mystery Island’s tender dock

Tendering operations can take time, especially if you’re visiting on a larger cruise ship, so take this into consideration when planning your day. Some cruise lines require guests to pick up tender tickets—check your daily planner or the cruise line app for details.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Tender Ports and Tender Boats on a Cruise

Since it’s not as easy to return to the ship for lunch as it is at docked ports, you might want to prepare to purchase lunch on the island if you’re going to stay for the full day.

4. You can walk the perimeter of Mystery Island in under 30 minutes!

If you’re feeling adventurous, consider walking the perimeter of the island and discovering all of its beautiful beaches. Mystery Island is really small, at just 61 square miles (159 square kilometers).

It’s completely encircled by sandy beaches, so many people can walk completely around the island in under a half hour. It took me a little longer because I kept stopping to take pictures!

Escape the busier beaches near the dock for total relaxation on the other side of Mystery Island

Just like at other cruise ports, many cruisers scope out the closest beach and plop down a towel. You’ll notice that the sands nearest the tender dock will be busy all day.

But if you walk around the island, you’ll be sure to find a sandy spot that’s a lot less crowded. I found an area on the other side of the island under a big shady tree to relax, then joined in with a group of snorkelers to spot schools of colorful fish. I even had the chance to swim for a bit with a sea turtle not too far from the shore!

Tip: Mystery Island doesn’t have any lifeguards, so avoid swimming or snorkeling too far offshore or in the most secluded areas.

5. What you can see and do on Mystery Island

If you’re visiting Mystery Island just to relax and soak up the sun on gorgeous sandy beaches, you can absolutely do that!

But it’s not just a Gilligan’s Island-style spot that’s completely deserted.

Residents of nearby islands boat over each day when a cruise ship is in port—often with the whole family—to offer a variety of services, amenities, and entertainment. Enjoy what they have to offer, or you can just discover the little island’s rustic charm by exploring its shady footpaths through the mangroves.

Here are some of my favorite things to do on Mystery Island:

  • Buy souvenirs at the straw market
  • Have your hair braided
  • Enjoy a massage
  • Snorkel with turtles or explore a shipwreck
  • Visit the tiny WWII-era airstrip
  • Have your picture taken in the famous “Cannibal Soup” pot
  • Enjoy music and dance performances by locals
  • Take a long beach stroll around the island
I was almost cannibal soup! Just kidding, but for $5 I got to ham it up with a local guy who pretended to cook me (while his associate took tons of pics)

6. You’ll have several options for lunch and snacks on Mystery Island

If you’re planning to spend most of the day on Mystery Island, you’ll be happy to know that several lunch options are available, though they tend to focus on local seafood. You might also find grilled chicken or sausage, along with fried plantains, rice, fruit, and veggies.

I enjoyed a delicious lunch of yellowfin tuna, prepared on a wood-fired grill, at the open-air Mystery Grill & BBQ.

I watched my yellowfin tuna being prepared at Mystery Grill & BBQ before enjoying it at a picnic table with plantain fries, seasoned rice, an amazing local banana, and grilled peppers

Boiled spiny lobster was also a popular lunch option, although this New England girl was shocked by the high prices!

I’ll never again complain about the price of lobster (although those are some massive specimens!)

You can also purchase packaged snacks and bottled soft drinks from a few vendors to enjoy on the beach. Vanuatu’s local beer, Tusker, is also available on the island.

7. Massages and hair braiding are very cheap on Mystery Island

If the spa prices on your cruise ship are too much for your budget, consider trying a relaxing massage during your beach day on Mystery Island!

I found several massage huts that charged $15 for a 20-minute massage, $20 for 30 minutes, and $40 for an hour. Prices varied a little, so walk around to find the best deal.

I enjoyed a much-needed half-hour massage for only $20 on Mystery Island

During the massage, you’ll wear a swimsuit and be in a small, mixed-gender hut for the service, but it’s very relaxing and an amazing value.

If you’re wearing a two-piece, your practitioner will undo the clasp of your top at some point and gently guide your arms through the straps to access your back. I found that they were very aware that I was in mixed company, and I never felt exposed. If this would make you feel uncomfortable, let the practitioner know at the start of your service.

Hair braiding is also very cheap on Mystery Island. My hair is a few inches past my shoulders and I’m always quoted well over $100 for hair braiding in port on Caribbean cruises. On Mystery Island it was just $12 for long hair!

Tip: If you find a massage or hair braiding venue you’d like to use but the wait is too long, ask if you can make an appointment! Instead of wasting an hour waiting in the sun, I was able to take a refreshing swim and then turned up a few minutes before my scheduled time.

8. Vendors on Mystery Island accept AUD

The local currency on Mystery Island is Vanuatu’s vatu, but I didn’t encounter a single vendor that didn’t accept Australian dollars. I also always received change in AUD, but I can’t promise that’ll be the case for every cruise.

Several vendors also listed prices in US dollars on their signs.

Don’t worry about exchanging money for the local currency before visiting Mystery Island—everyone accepts AUD, and many also accept US dollars

I didn’t see any vendors that accepted credit cards, so be sure to carry some cash with you for snacks, souvenirs, and excursions.

Tip: Although haggling over prices is common—and even expected—at markets in some parts of the world, it’s really not part of the culture in Vanuatu.

9. Most vendors on Mystery Island speak at least some English

The nation of Vanuatu has three official languages: Bislama, English, and French—and the popularity of the three languages is in that order. But since most visitors to Mystery Island are English-speaking, you probably won’t have much of an issue communicating with most of the vendors in English.

My American accent did pose a problem a few times, so I just slowed my speech down or tried French whenever I noticed that someone didn’t seem to understand me.

If you’d like to practice a few Bislama phrases before your visit, here are some of the most helpful basics:

Good morningGud moning
Good afternoonGud aftenun
How much is that?Hamas long hem?
Thank you very muchTankiu tumas
See you laterLukim yu

10. You can skip the pricey ship excursions and book on the island

Some cruisers swear by booking shore excursions through the cruise line. Although it’s usually a more expensive option, the cruise line usually promises that you’ll make it back before all-aboard (and the ship will wait if the excursion is late).

This might make sense in many ports of call, but all of the shore excursions on Mystery Island are run by just a few local companies. You’ll be able to book most basic excursions right when you arrive on the island, often at a significant discount.

You can save money on Mystery Island shore excursions by waiting to book on land

Excursions offered include snorkeling, paddleboarding, and clear kayak tours, along with boat tours to a turtle lagoon or shark cave.

But if you have your heart set on a specific excursion, like those that travel to the neighboring island of Aneityum, you might want to book through the cruise line to guarantee your spot.

11. You can’t stay on Mystery Island overnight on a cruise

Most South Pacific cruise itineraries that visit Mystery Island only stop for the day. However, you’ll occasionally find an overnight itinerary.

For example, on my recent cruise to Vanuatu and New Caledonia, our itinerary changed several times. When Isle of Pines announced they wouldn’t be accepting cruise ships for the foreseeable future, I was so excited to see that we’d have an overnight at Mystery Island instead!

When you have an overnight at most cruise ports, you don’t need to return to the ship and can book a hotel or stay with friends if you’d like to travel away from the port.

However, on a Mystery Island overnight, guests need to return to the ship in the evening and can tender back to the island in the morning.

12. Aneityum is just a short boat ride away

After spending a lazy beach day on Mystery Island, my plan was to take a shore excursion to Aneityum, the big island that you can see from your ship. It’s only a ten-minute boat ride from Inyeug, and most excursions include a village walking tour to see traditional homes, local schools, the medical dispensary, and the police station.

Other excursions might include a traditional kava ceremony and firewalking performance.

Aneityum is just a short boat ride from Mystery Island (here’s my view from the deck of Carnival Splendor)

Sadly (due to a maintenance issue on the ship) our overnight at Mystery Island was canceled and so was my day on Aneityum.

However, I did chat with quite a few of my new cruise friends onboard who had done an Aneityum shore excursion (some chose this because they had already visited Mystery Island, and others just weren’t big beach fans), and everyone enjoyed their day learning how the locals live on the larger island.

13. Cruisers are encouraged to bring school supplies for area children

For the past several years, cruisers have been bringing school supplies for the children of Aneityum when they visit Mystery Island.

Even a small donation of school supplies for local primary school kids goes a long way to make sure no child needs to worry about the basics for learning

If you’re considering packing some school supplies for the local kids, here’s a quick list of what they’re looking for, according to an article in the Vanuatu Daily Post.

  • Exercise books
  • Pencils
  • Pens
  • Rulers
  • Erasers
  • Colored pencils
  • Glue sticks
  • Pencil cases

14. The mystery of Mystery Island is a mystery!

There are several theories about why the tiny island of Inyeug is known as Mystery Island. The most popular is that cruise lines coined the name to make the island sound more appealing to potential guests.

Another theory is that during World War II when US troops created the airstrip on Inyeug, the runway was impossible to see from the water. The “mystery” came from the fact that it took a while before Japanese forces figured out where the planes were coming from.

But if you ask most locals, they’ll tell you that during Queen Elizabeth’s 1974 visit to several of Vanuatu’s islands, a reporter covering the tour asked the name of the island. When told that Inyeug means “small,” he decided that a headline of “Her Majesty Visits Mystery Island” would sell more papers than “Her Majesty Visits Small Island.”

15. What to pack in your day bag for Mystery Island

You won’t need to pack much in your day bag to enjoy your day on Mystery Island! Here are my essentials that you won’t want to forget when packing your Mystery Island beach bag:

  • Waterproof sunscreen
  • A hat
  • Sunglasses
  • A swimsuit coverup
  • A beach towel from the ship
  • Snorkel gear
  • Water shoes
  • Cash (AUD, USD, or vatu)
  • A waterproof phone case that fits your phone, cash, and cruise card

Related: 20+ Cute Swim Coverups for Cruises & Beach Travel

If you’re very fair-skinned or not used to the South Pacific sun, you might also want to include a lightweight top and bottom layer to completely cover your skin in case you feel yourself burning.

I slathered on the waterproof sunscreen before I snorkeled, but still managed to burn my backside an alarming shade of red! Having a lightweight and comfortable pair of beach trousers in my bag saved me from doing more damage after I left the water.

If your cruise embarks from a port close to home and you can carry on a small portable beach umbrella or pop-up shelter, I’d consider doing so. During my visit, there weren’t any umbrella rentals available on the island.

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Do you have an upcoming cruise to Mystery Island, Vanuatu? Or have you visited before? Drop me a comment down below, or ask me any questions you might have that I haven’t answered above.

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Carrie Ann Karstunen


Wednesday 12th of July 2023

My family have booked a cruise next summer visiting Mystery Island. We are very cautious about sun exposure and your article has me worried. Is there a way to guarantee a shaded beach spot on the island before our cruise?

Carrie Ann

Thursday 13th of July 2023

Hi Jacinta, when you visit Mystery Island all the spots on the beaches are first-come, first-served. I walked all over the island during my visit, and there aren't any shady areas on the beaches unless you're at the back edge of the sand near the island's central area. I'm also very cautious about sun exposure (I have very fair skin and I lost my dad when he was quite young to melanoma) so I understand your concern!

Here are my tips and ideas: (1) Lots of people carried pop-up beach shelters over, which you could do if you're driving to the port or can find a smaller one you can pack in your airline luggage (2) Get an early tender and head to the opposite side of the island. I found a low-hanging shady tree and set up camp underneath it so I could return whenever I needed a break from the sun. (3) Wear lightweight UV-resistant clothing like rash guards, and pack airy t-shirts and slouchy cotton pull-on trousers. (4) Pack lots of waterproof sun cream and reapply more often than you would at home.

Hope this helps, and happy cruising!