Let’s admit it. For their small size, the Micronesian and Melanesian nations are spoilt by tourism. Prices are sky-high, and you would not be wrong to assume that you are in a developed country. I want to do an extensive South Pacific tour sometime, and I choose Vanuatu as a first point to visit. Just to get my feet wet, and see exactly how expensive it can get.
Oh, it can get very expensive, as I found out. Starting from the flights to get in, to the accommodation, to the food and entertainment. The prices are almost at par with Australia, which fuels a lot of the tourism industry in these areas. And its worse that these countries cater to the affluent family/vacation travel industry, and not really to the Backpacker industry.
But as a few days passed by, I realised that there are ways to travel cheaply here too. So, listing down my travel hacks for Vanuatu. Note that I have only been in the Efate, which is the island of the capital city, Port Vila. So, I can’t say much about the other islands of Vanuatu. But I am sure that some of these should apply to not only every island in Vanuatu, and other South Pacific island nations.
1) Travelling in
Ok, there are not much options here, as you have to choose between a cruise ferry or an airline. Cruise options are extremely expensive, so I would count them out. Wait, you could also opt to go for the cargo ship containers, but you need connections for that, and the schedule is practically unknown. Australia is the cheapest country to fly in from, and on Air Vanuatu. I had to play around with the dates for Sydney, to find the cheapest combination, but still it worked out to about 400 AUD round-trip, although my return leg is not to Sydney, but to Fiji.
There are plenty of accommodations available through Agoda, but only 1 or 2 backpacker places were listed. The rest are all resorts or proper hotels. If you try on hostelbookers, you will pretty much have only 1 backpacker place listed. City lodge, in Port Vila is a good option at 1800 Vatu.
Now, here is a little trick I picked up in Vanuatu by accident. Book the backpacker dorm through hostelworld or hostelbookers, instead of booking directly. What this means is that, you will have to pay 10% of the rent to hostel world, and the remaining to the hostel. Wait, how is this even a trick? The answer is that, you book only for 1 day, and then extend your stay once you reach the hostel. Why? The hostel would still give you the dorm/room at the 90% for the remaining days as well! I kept asking the reception, if this was right, and was told time and again, that it is.
3) Travelling around
There are minibuses by plenty in Port Vila. Even from the airport. So, get into one of those. The difference is huge, as I found out when I landed. I took a taxi to my hostel for 1500 Vatu (15 AUD), while another hostel mate took the minibus. It cost him 300 Vatu.
For the rest of Efate island, there are minibuses, but they are far too few. So, to see the remaining part of the island, i recommend booking a car and pooling it with some other guys from the hostel. If you have a few days in Efate and there is nobody at the hostel when you land (very likely. happened to me as I walked into an empty 8-bed dorm) wait a couple of days to see if there are others coming in. Then carpool with them. The daily rent for the cheapest car is about 7000 Vatu (70 AUD). Can work out to 15-20 dollars per head, if you can find 3 more folks. That is much cheaper than paying for a day-tour with an agency, which can cost you around 100 AUD.
Oh, the restaurants in Vanuatu are such a rip-off. The Aussies find it ok, because they compare it with the prices back home. But, coming from South East Asia, I was appalled at the prices! One decent meal with rice and meat, can cost above 700 vatu.
There are a couple of ways to eat cheap in Port Vila. One is to rely on the supermarket entirely. I made noodles and sandwiches with canned meat/tuna and vegetables, and survived amazingly. Au Bon Marche, is the cheapest supermarket in town, and a shopping of 1000 vatu, gave me enough supplies to last 2 days. Thats 10 AUD for 2 days, guys!
The other option is the 24-hour city market, where you can buy vegetables and fruits for cheap. A whole bunch of bananas cost me just 200 vatu, and was part of my breakfast for 3-4 days. And if you are dying to have a proper meal, head to the back of the market, which has a couple of small table-restaurants, which will sell you rice, meat and veggies in a nice little meal. All of it for just 400 Vatu. If you want to get adventurous, you can also try the local laplap and fruitbat meat, which is a delicious meal by itself. And mind you, this combination that you can buy for 400 vatu at the market, is sold in any other restaurant in town for nothing less than 2000 Vatu.
There are few clubs and pubs in Port Vila, and I can tell you that none of them are worth it. A local tusker beer costs 350 vatu onwards, even at the cheapest bars in town. Buy the same thing from Au Bon Marche for only 170 Vatu, and drink at any of the beautiful beaches around the town. Trust me, that is much more rewarding that the bars. And if you feel more adventurous, try Kava, the local drink. It does smell and taste disgusting, but is very soothing for only 50 Vatu a cup.
There are many beautiful beaches and attractions in Port Vila. But unfortunately, you have to pay an access charge for all of them. So, the trick is to choose the best beaches/spots and visit them alone. The blue lagoon and the mele cascades are worth visiting, despite having an access charge of 500 AUD and 2000 AUD respectively.
If you are like me, more interested in photographing, than swimming on beaches, there is a way out. At the beach ticket counter, tell them that you want to take a look before you decide to swim. They would mostly allow you to do that. Then say that you will decide and come back with your beach wear, if interested. Apparently, the beach access charges are for swimming on the beach. So, if you don’t swim, you essentially would not be asked to pay.
These are what I can think of for now. I still have a few days left here, and hope to find some more tricks. Do you have any others up your sleeve?
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