There’s an impressive selection of luxury hotels and resorts in and around Port Vila and, to a lesser extent, on Santo and Tanna. Other islands have a varying range of budget or medium-priced bungalows or guesthouses. Here, meals are simple affairs and are often included in the room rate.
On the most isolated islands communication is by word of mouth, transport is by foot and there’s no money to fix things that break. You’ll be pampered in the locals’ happy-go-lucky, warm style. If you’ve paid for everything back in your own country or are on a tour from Port Vila, take cash to cover all drinks, pay upfront for extras (such as kastom – traditional ownership – fees), and don’t be surprised if your host has no money to give in change (always carry some small denomination notes). If you’ve booked island accommodation through an agency, be aware that your hosts may receive only a tiny portion of the payment and, even then, they may not receive it until after you’ve gone. At the end of your stay, you’ll be presented with a handwritten bill, which will probably include an itemised list. A lot of time and thought goes into preparing these bills, so it’s not really something to quibble about unless you really disagree with a certain charge.
Outside of main towns, bungalows are the most common form of island accommodation; these are quaint, thatched bamboo or timber huts, usually with verandahs and plaited pandanus-leaf walls. Floors range from concrete slabs to sand or crushed shells. Owners usually take great pride in the bungalows, but it’s hard to keep them spotless when only a few tourists arrive each year, if your extended family needs somewhere to sleep and there’s a community of geckos living in the roof.
You might find communication difficult (mobile-phone coverage can be patchy on outer islands), and remote island bungalows can be at the peril of cyclones, changing tides and arguing families. Get local advice (Port Vila's tourist office is the best source) or just head there regardless; you’ll always find somewhere to stay.
Some hosts can’t wait to show you all the treats the island offers; they'll catch fresh seafood for meals, and will head off at 4.30am for an hour’s walk to the nearest boat so that it’s waiting ready for you at 7am. Others may leave you to find your own way around, and offer only a loaf of bread and cup of tea in the morning.
Staying in a bungalow generally costs around 2000VT to 3500VT per person (not per room). This often includes meals, but check in advance as you may need to take you own food. Luxuries are rare: most island bungalows have only solar lighting and occasional generator power in the evenings, and often there's no running water, so expect bucket showers and long-drop toilets. Be prepared for hard beds, lack of warm bedding, holes in the mosquito nets and a chorus of roosters acting as your personal alarm clock from 4am. But the locations – on waterfront clifftops, in pristine jungle or in the shadow of brooding volcano – along with warm family welcomes, make up for all of that.
For photos of remote bungalows, and how to get there, visit Positive Earth (www.positiveearth.org/bungalows).
Most island bungalows and guesthouses will let you use their grounds and facilities for camping (around 1000VT per person). If you want to pitch your tent on a remote beach, the local chief will probably give his approval. Camping is popular on organised overnight hikes to the volcanoes of Ambrym or treks on Malekula and Santo; tents can be supplied. There's a camping ground at Havannah Harbour on Efate.
Guesthouses, Resthouses & Nakamals
It’s unusual but possible to ask to stay in a women’s meeting room or church hall, or in someone’s house, though these days most communities that attract tourists have a formal bungalow set-up (to which you'll be directed).
Young males might be offered a spot in the village nakamal (meeting house and kava bar), in exchange for an evening’s toktok (discussion). You’ll need bedding and protection against mosquitoes (sometimes fleas and rats, too).
Resorts, Hotels & Motels
Port Vila dominates Vanuatu’s tourist industry and has accommodation to match. Reasonable budget options start at 5000VT for a double, and single rates are often half, or open to negotiation. Expect ceiling fans; air conditioning will be a bonus or will cost extra if you want it turned on.
Midrange options are priced between 8000VT and 20,000VT for a double room, and could include resort-style or motel-style rooms, usually with a swimming pool and restaurant. Top-end hotels and resorts start at around 20,000VT for a double or twin room and range from intimate beachfront places to full-blown family resorts with water sports and kids clubs.
You can usually negotiate a rate for long stays. If you're a walk-in traveller, ask about 'local rates', which can be substantially lower than those listed online, especially if it's quiet. Children under 12 are often free.