Vanuatu, an island country in the southwest Pacific Ocean. It lies between Fiji and Australia and consists of the 80 or so islands that make up the New Hebrides group. Vanuatu extends north and south in a narrow band for more than 500 miles (800 km). It has a total area of 5,700 square miles (14,760 km2). The largest of the 13 main islands are Espíritu Santo, Malekula, and Efate. All the main islands are of volcanic origin and are mountainous and heavily forested. The highest peak rises 5,940 feet (1,811 m) on Espíritu Santo. There are several active volcanoes. The climate is hot and humid, but tempered somewhat by trade winds.
Vanuatu is little developed economically. Most of the people live by subsistence farming, but there are large plantations on the coast that produce export crops, notably copra, coffee, and cacao. Fish, beef, timber, and manganese are also exported. Vanuatu has tax laws designed to attract foreign corporations, and a large number of foreign banks have branches in the capital city of Vila, on Efate island. Tourism is increasingly important. There are no railways and few roads. There is an international airport at Vila. Vila and Santo, on Espíritu Santo, are the chief ports.
In 1989 Vanuatu had a population of 142,944. Almost all the people are Melanesians. The official languages are English, French, and Bislama (a pidgin combining English, French, and Melanesian).
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach the islands, in 1606. They were mapped by Captain John Cook in 1774. The islands came under the joint control of Great Britain and France in 1887. Vanuatu gained independence in 1980.