Luganville Coral and Clam Garden Snorkel Shore Excursion Review – Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

If you are looking for a snorkelling experience in Luganville, this is the one. It’s expensive for what it is, but you get to experience a wide variety of coral, fish and other marine life, including things I’ve never seen when snorkelling anywhere else.

I've never seen a creature like this when snorkelling.
I’ve never seen a creature like this when snorkelling.

Luganville is located on the largest island in Vanuatu, Espiritu Santo, and is well-known for its dive sites and blue holes. Plain old snorkelling is something you don’t hear so much about, surprising considering the location. Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises frequently include Luganville or Champagne Bay (also located on Espiritu Santo) on their itineraries, and from time to time, so does Carnival Cruises. At the moment Royal Caribbean only really visits the port as an alternative when there is bad weather elsewhere. That said, all four cruise lines offer this Coral and Glam Garden Snorkelling shore excursion in slightly different variations.

Welcome to the marine conservation are for us.
Welcome to the marine conservation are for us.

We did this excursion from Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas after being diverted to Luganville from Mystery Island. So without further ado, here is my review!

Shore Excursion Details

  • Duration: 1.5 – 2.25hrs depending on cruise line
  • Activity Level: Moderate – mostly shallow water, but there can be substantial currents and limited places to put your feet down.
  • Transport: Non-air-conditioned vans
  • Tour Operator: 

 

Here is the info you need to find this shore excursion with each cruise line:

Royal Caribbean

 

Princess Cruises

 

Carnival Cruises

 

P&O Cruises

 

Here’s what happens

Most of the cruise lines quote different durations, but the only difference between them is the time spent at the coral and clam garden, the rest of the experience is the same.

Royal Caribbean advertises this as a two-hour shore excursion, making it medium-length in comparison to the other cruise lines and it consists of meeting at the shore excursions section of the cruise terminal.

Cruise ship excursions through these doors!
Cruise ship excursions through these doors!

 

The waiting area - note: it isn't air conditioned.
The waiting area – note: it isn’t air-conditioned.

Once the tour operators are ready for you, it’s a 10-15 minute van ride following the Main Street of Luganville to and from the private beach located at the eastern-most end of the city.

Driving through Luganville
Driving through Luganville

This beach is situated opposite Aore Island on the Segond Channel, so it is very protected, but there can be substantial currents, so you need to watch where you are swimming and make sure you aren’t pushed too far down the beach.

One thing that was not made clear either in the excursion or in Royal Caribbean’s information about it is that, according to Princess, this coral and clam garden is not entirely natural. Snorkelling there, it is evident that parts of it are man-made with concrete sections under the water in some places. The Princess shore excursion information says that the landowners, Pio and Evette have actively been developing the garden for 13 years. Beyond the boundary of their land, the coral and marine life continue, but there is a distinct abundance within the confines of their beach area. So it appears this work on their part has indeed contributed to making it a beautiful place to snorkel.

Upon arrival, we were taken down to the beach. It’s a fairly steep slope down with limited steps, and it can be wet, so you need to be reasonably mobile.

The pathway down (looking back up it)
The pathway down (looking back up it)

Snorkelling equipment is available for you to use if you don’t have your own, and there is undercover seating available if you just want to sit back and enjoy the view for a little while.

The view from the beach.
The view from the beach.The view from the beach.

All of the shore excursion information indicates drinks are available (Royal Caribbean’s choice of wording could suggest drinks are included, but it isn’t entirely clear, other cruises clearly state that beverages are a separate cost), but nothing was ever offered. I’m unsure whether it is meant to be complimentary or at a price, but you will definitely want to bring a bottle of water with you to keep hydrated.

One of the buildings you can chill in that looks like it might also sometimes house a small market.
One of the buildings you can chill in that looks like it might also sometimes house a small market.

From the main covered beach area, it’s a few steps down to the beach proper.

The stairs down to the actual beach.
Looking towards the stairs down to the actual beach.

Depending on the tide, you might be straight in the water at the bottom of the stairs, or you might have some beach.

I'm at the base of the stairs and ready to go snorkelling!
I’m at the base of the stairs and ready to go snorkelling!

Either way, keep an eye out for jagged pieces of concrete, rocks and broken coral.

There is so much broken coral under the water right at the waters edge.
There is so much broken coral under the water right at the water’s edge.

The beach is covered in broken coral.

A decent amount of broken coral has been washed up onto the sand too.
A decent amount of broken coral has been washed up onto the sand too.

I’d recommend wearing flippers to help protect your feet and make it easier to deal with the current. If you aren’t into wearing fins though, definitely make sure you wear reef shoes.

Flippers make swimming against the current here so much easier.
Flippers make swimming against the current here so much easier.

In the water, it is almost crystal clear once you get a few metres from the beach and it isn’t long before you find all sorts of marine life. It’s nearly as clear as Bora Bora.

Right near the beach are huge clams and other marine life.
Right near the beach are huge clams and other marine life.

There are all kinds of fish, sea horses, sea cucumbers, starfish, crabs and huge clams including different varieties I’ve never encountered before and some other creatures we’ve never seen anywhere that we’ve snorkelled including around Australia, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji and French Polynesia.

A little crab was hiding in this coral.
A little crab was hiding in this coral.

The snorkel area is designated with yellow buoys.

One of the yellow boundary marking buoys with Explorer of the Seas in the background.
One of the yellow boundary marking buoys with Explorer of the Seas in the background.

While it’s unlikely you will get in trouble if you are outside this area, this section is what belongs to the landowners. Swimming out beyond the buoys does get deeper and the coral there has not been fostered and developed, so there is not as much to see.

Life beyond the buoys.
Sea life beyond the buoys.

Due to the abundance of marine life, you do need to be reasonably confident in your swimming ability. While the water isn’t deep in most places, there are not a lot of spots to put your feet down without potentially harming something.

A sea cucumber that was feeling threatened by some careless swimmers.
A sea cucumber that was feeling threatened by some careless swimmers.

In my opinion, it is easy snorkelling, but the current combined with limited clear places to put your feet down can cause panic if you are not a confident snorkeler. We had a couple of people freak out on our excursion due to some water in their snorkels, and it resulted in a huge sea cucumber being stepped on plus who knows what other damage from the flailing. I sympathise with them, but just be aware of your ability before you get in the water and stay within an area you are confident you can handle and you’ll enjoy the experience a whole lot more.

Some of the beautiful coral you can see here.
Some of the beautiful coral you can see here.

Overall

This shore excursion with Royal Caribbean is way overpriced. Honestly, it’s price gouging at it’s finest. I understand the locals need to make money, and they certainly have every right to charge for the tour and access to their private beach. I also appreciate that Royal Caribbean needs to add a margin on top to cover their shore excursions staff costs and coordinating it all from their end, but we felt it was high when we booked on board.

After writing this blog and discovering it is more than double the price of P&O, Princess and Carnival I think it is obscene. I’m ok with paying a bit of a premium for a Royal Caribbean organised shore excursion, but Royal should be ashamed to be charging that high, and honestly, it’s made us rethink the number of shore excursions we will be booking through them in the future.

That said, the shore excursion itself is fantastic. The amount of time you spend in the water is maximised by the short van ride and the ability to get in the water almost immediately.

I found Nemo!
I found Nemo!

You definitely want to spend as much time in the water as you can because the coral and marine life is beautiful and unique.

Some tiny little fish we found in amongst this coral.
Some tiny little fish we found in amongst this coral.

You get to see more than you could straight in the water at Mystery Island, and you are able to enjoy it with far fewer people trampling everything.

This friendly fishy was very curious.
This friendly fishy was very curious.

This shore excursion lets you see things through crystal clear water that you just don’t get to see so easily elsewhere.

The water is very clear here with great visibility.
The water is easy to see through giving you lots of visibility.

Would I do it again? Absolutely, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in snorkelling at Luganville.

I've never seen this kind clams alive before.
I’ve never seen this kind of clams alive before.

Would I recommend it with Royal Caribbean though? No. Through Royal Caribbean, it is overpriced and is not worth that amount of money at all.

If you are looking for a better value shore excursion in Luganville, check out my blog on the Northern Beaches and Blue Hole shore excursion we did on the same day. There is no snorkelling, but it is beautiful.

What did you think?

Have you been on the Coral and Clam Garden Snorkel Experience on one of your cruises? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments down below!

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