In 1980, this string of lush green islands was transformed from the ponderous Anglo-French New Hebrides Condominium into the Ripablik Blong Vanuatu.
Since then, the country has expressed its independence by developing a national identity based on Melanesian kastom.
It's a colorful land of many cultures, full of fascinating surprises.
Make discoveries for yourself by asking any ni-Vanuatu (indigenous inhabitant) for the nearest cave, waterfall, swimming hole, hot spring, blowhole, or cliff.
The 83 islands of Vanuatu (the name means "Land Eternal") stretch north-south 1,300 km, from the Torres Islands near Santa Cruz in the Solomons to minuscule Matthew and Hunter Islands (also claimed by France) east of New Caledonia.
This neat geographical unit is divided into three groups: the Torres and Banks Islands in the north, the Y-shaped central group from Espiritu Santo and Maewo to Efate, and the Tafea islands (Tanna, Aniwa, Futuna, Erromango, and Aneityum) in the south.
Vanuatu sits on the west edge of the Pacific Plate next to the 8,000-meter-deep New Hebrides Trench.
This marks the point where the Indo-Australian Plate slips under the Pacific Plate in a classic demonstration of plate tectonics.
(top) Where Vanuatu is at the east end of the Melanesian chain, 2,445 km northeast of Sydney, Australia, and 800 km west of Fiji.
In Vanuatu sharks are associated with a particular type of magic that involves certain individuals who can either become sharks or control sharks.
Though introduced by man, the pig is now considered indigenous.
The southernmost islands are less vulnerable to hurricanes, and get less rain than the hotter islands north of Efate.
(top) A principal botanical curiosity of Vanuatu is giant banyan trees (nabangas), which often dominate village meeting or dancing places (nasaras), especially on Tanna.