About Island Bungalows and Travelling in Vanuatu

What are Island Bungalows? | Why visit Island Bungalows? | Don't plan too much | Flying | Ships | Go prepared | Communicate | Vanuatu climate | Tips for travelling on a budget | Guidebooks | Further information

What are Island Bungalows?
'Island Bungalows' are guesthouses in rural Vanuatu, locally owned and run by Ni-Vanuatu. They offer basic accommodation, meals and assistance to adventure travellers.

Rural Vanuatu is still quite undeveloped so, in general, you are not going to find electricity, hot showers, telephones, western food and five star service; the standard varies considerably. Some places are remote or new and not experienced in dealing with tourists. Other places are resort-like.

Transport can sometimes be inconvenient and expensive to the outer islands. These small challenges will not deter confident travellers.

Why visit Island Bungalows?
You will find a unique and real experience away from the commercial tourism centres of Port Vila and Luganville. When you stay in island bungalows and guesthouses you are making a much valued contribution to the rural economies of Vanuatu.

Don't plan too much
1. The number one rule in Vanuatu is not too worry - you are on vacation.
2. The second rule is to leave some degree of flexibility in your travel plans - you can't plan for everything and you don't know what you might discover.
3. The third rule is to relax and enjoy yourself - there's no need to rush.

You will soon find out about 'island time'. Vanuatu is not an overpopulated, urbanised, industrialised, polluted, climate changing nation like the so called 'developed' world. Things happen on their own time in Vanuatu. If you can't stand waiting then Vanuatu is not the place for you.

Only a couple of bungalows can be booked and paid from overseas travel agents. Many don't even have a telephone, a bank account or a booking agent. Not to worry, there are very few people visiting the outer islands and you needn't be too concerned about bookings. We have NEVER made a booking when visiting any bungalow on this site and sometimes travel for many days without seeing any tourists.

Bungalow owners rarely think of advising anyone about changes to their business, this is a problem we know too well. The bungalow may be closed, there could have been a cyclone and it has been destroyed, or prices have gone up. Still worried? Check the notes at the bottom of our bungalow pages to see how recent our information is, look for recent ratings by visitors and check if the bungalow has a contact.

Don't plan too much, it will only bring you stress. Form a rough outline of where you want to go, allow plenty of time, and sort out the details as you go.

For getting around the islands you will be very dependent on Air Vanuatu domestic flights. Their planes are quite reliable but some islands have only one or two flights a week and grass airstrips are the norm (only Santo, Tanna and Norsup on Malekula have tarmac).

Rain could spoil the airstrip, maybe the grass is too long, the flight could be overbooked and there are other reasons for you missing your flight. Still, it is remarkable that Air Vanuatu's flights meet the schedule most of the time.

The domestic timetable is always changing so check the latest version. Tickets for domestic flights are easy to get except at Christmas time and around school holidays.

Domestic flights can be booked and paid through Air Vanuatu overseas offices. In fact, you can do everything over the phone with a credit card and when you arrive in Vanuatu you should not need to visit the Air Vanuatu offices in Vila or Santo. That's much easier than before!

Skip Vila! In 2007, Air Vanuatu launched a weekly direct Brisbane-Santo service. The "Diver's Express" continues to run in 2009.

Local departure taxes: All provincial governments collect departure taxes. Make sure to have some spare Vatu change in your pocket before heading for the airport (400 Vatu Efate, Tanna, Santo and 250 Vatu other airports). Let's hope the revenue goes towards improving and maintaining the airports.

We've travelled between islands on local ships and, in general, they have little to recommend. It's difficult to track them down, passing ships are infrequent on many islands and most of them don't run to any schedule. It's not like the developed world, there are no passenger ferries with scheduled services.

Sometimes, you can spend days on an island waiting for a ship and then it might arrive in the middle of the night. Most of the ships in Vanuatu are cargo vessels with little space and primitive facilities for passengers. Sure, it can be nice island hopping by ship but you need to be patient.

The main domestic shipping routes in Vanuatu are between Port Vila and Santo. In the central islands it is feasible to travel by ship. In northern and southern Vanuatu, ships are rare and you would be very lucky to find a convenient departure. Read about island hopping on the L/C Brisk in our blog.

To find about ships, ask the locals. On the islands, people know what ships are coming and going. In town, go down to the wharves and make enquiries.

Go prepared
Some bungalows see few tourists and may not be well equipped. It helps to bring:
- Enough Vatu cash. Budget for minimum 3000 Vatu a day for accommodation, food and island transport. Airfares are extra. Always have some 1000 Vatu notes because you might not get change on local transport and in small island stores.
Exchange Rates.
- An up-to-date Air Vanuatu domestic timetable (handy for island hopping).
- Water bottle..
- Water purification tablets (rarely needed but if in doubt then use them).
- Anti-malaria tablets (some islands/areas).
- Torch light.
- Spare batteries. Alkaline batteries for digital devices are rarely available on the outer islands and neither is electricity for recharging batteries.
- A small padlock for locking bungalow doors (for peace of mind, not because security is an issue)..
- Antiseptic ointment or cream (take good care of cuts and scratches). Antiobiotics will be required sooner or later if you spend any length of time on the islands.
- Antifungal powder or cream.
- Bath towel (usually provided).
- Toilet paper (usually provided).
- A mosquito net (rarely needed, mosquito repellent is more important).
- In remote locations where there are few stores and some basic food (eg tinned fish) is handy to go with your aelan kaekae.
- Snorkelling gear (if that's your thing).

- Telecom Vanuatu phonecard (and pray the phones on the islands are working!). Nowadays, DigiCel has a pretty decent mobile phone coverage on the islands and you should be able to buy a prepaid SIM in Port Vila or Luganville.

You'll be traveling in the tropics so there are too many details to cover here. If this is your first time to travel unescorted off the beaten track then read a relevant guidebook for more information. Speaking Bislama smooths your path and opens doors. It's easy enough to learn as you travel.

Take enough cash! I think that you should advise people to carry a cash reserve above and beyond what they think they will need when going to the islands. For instance we ran out of money on Malekula and I could not get the bank in Lakotoro to give me a cash advance on my Westpac Mastercard. We waited 5 hours for them to contact Vila and the answer came back that they could not do it. K.G, Australia, Sep-05.

Tourism is still a new business on many islands of Vanuatu and the locals may have little experience and training. Don't hesitate to talk your hosts and tell them about what you like and what could be improved. Usually they try to meet any reasonable request.

Vanuatu climate
Vanuatu has a tropical maritime climate with a rainy season from November to April. The Pacific Ocean moderates temperature variation and limits maxima. South-easterly winds predominate and rain-shadow zones are a feature on the west coasts of mountainous islands (e.g. west Santo). Winds are light and variable in the rainy season. Trade winds blow during the drier months. The tropical cyclone season is from November to April. Broad climatic patterns are increasing temperature and and reduced seasonality from the south of the archipelago to the north.

  Island Mean annual rainfall (mm) Dry season Hottest month
Mean daily
temperature (C)
Coldest month
Mean daily
temperature (C)
Windiest month
Mean daily windspeed
Calmest month
Mean daily windspeed
North Vanua Lava [1]
4108 Jul-Sep Feb
2256 Jul-Oct Feb
2006 Jul-Nov Feb
(Port Vila)
2222 Jul-Oct Jan
South Tanna [2]
1258 May-Dec Jan
[1] High orographic rainfall.
[2] Rain-shadow.
Data sources:

WMO-Vanuatu Meteorological Service http://www.worldweather.org/169/m169.htm
Vanuatu Meteorological Service http://www.meteo.gov.vu/VanuatuClimate/tabid/196/Default.aspx

The weather in Vanuatu can be 'good' at any time of the year, depending on where you are and what you are doing. On the beach, any season is good. Passing rain showers on the coast are no more than a brief disturbance. If you're trekking in the mountains, go during the dry season. Yachties avoid risking the cyclone season. Cyclones are infrequent and should not deter land-based travellers. For surfers, the winds are more reliable from June to October. You can get more specific climate data on our island pages (from south to north): Tanna, Efate, Malekula, Santo, Vanua Lava.

Tips for Travelling on a Budget
The most expensive item in your travel budget will probably be airfares. Pacific Blue offers the cheapest international air fares to Vanuatu. However, if you're going to fly within Vanuatu it may be cheaper overall to fly with Air Vanuatu and take advantage of the 20% discount on domestic flights. Air Vanuatu also has more international flights.

Travelling by ship is about half the cost of flying - not very cheap, considering the inconvenience. Also, account for the expense of waiting around for a ship.

It's expensive for one person to charter a truck on the islands, usually about ten times the cost of shared transport. It's more economical to wait for a ride although you might only find transport in the mornings (into town) and afternoons (return). If the distance is not far then walking can be an enjoyable and independent mode of travel.

It's true that bargaining is not a Melanesian custom. However, asking for a reduced rate at a bungalow or guesthouse is different to haggling over the price of a paw-paw in the Port Vila market house. Often, accommodation prices on the islands are set without looking at costs in town or the competition.

Unrealistic pricing does occur. For example, single accommodation in Santo or Vila costs as little as 1850 Vatu with clean, modern rooms, 24 hour electricity, hot showers and clean, modern toilets. Charging more than 1500 Vatu per night for a grass hut in the village is pretty expensive, even if the beach is nice. Bungalows are rarely fully booked and if you can explain why rates are unreasonable then you should be able to negotiate a fairer price.

Lonely Planet Vanuatu and New Caledonia
5th Edition
July 2006

The 5th Edition Lonely Planet combines Vanuatu and New Caledonia in one book for the first time. It's not perfect, but more complete than the 6th edition. Read our review.

While in the bookshop, you might grab a copy of the Lonely Planet Pidgin Phrasebook, 2nd Ed., January 2005 (link to Amazon.com). On the other hand, if you're an English speaker you can probably get by without it.



Moon Handbooks South Pacific
8th Edition
Avalon Travel Publishing, Moon Handbooks, November 2004.

First published in 1979, Moon Handbooks South Pacific is said to be the original single-volume guide to the Pacific islands and is currently in its 8th edition. With a pedigree like that, this must be a guidebook worth considering.

Quick review: I recently spotted an abandoned copy of the Moon Handbooks South Pacific 8th edition in Unity Park Motel, Luganville, and proceeded to read the Solomons Islands section after having just visited the place. Someone had already ripped out the Vanuatu chapter and before leaving I tore out the Solomon Islands chapter for myself :-)

It was refreshing to read something different to the drivel we commonly get from Lonely Planet these days. David Stanley has been writing these books for years and it shows: the text is clean and coherent with good insight and understanding. This book covers all of the South Pacific and has to be short on details but presents destinations you wouldn't otherwise think about; I found the Cook Islands chapter interesting but wasn't game to steal the whole book! When using a shoestring guide you are encouraged to discover places for yourself rather than look for specific recommendations. Stephen, Vanuatu Aelan Walkabaot webmaster, February 2008.

Further Information
You will probably visit the Vanuatu Tourism Offices in Port Vila and Luganville. The Vanuatu Tourism Office website is growing and has some new island bungalows.

Another website belongs to the Tafea Tourism Council (Tanna, Aniwa, Futuna, Aneityum). It looks cheap and amateurish but has some new and obscure bungalows.

Last updated: May 2009.

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