Photo Vanuatu Custom Travel Banks Islands Rock art
About 80% of the 200,000 people in Vanuatu live in rural villages scattered on 65 inhabited islands.
Air Vanuatu flys scheduled flights to 21 Vanuatu islands. Only the three main islands of Efate, Santo and Tanna are well known tourism destinations with daily flights and a range of accommodation for travellers.
Flights to the other 18 island destinations range from several flights a week to one flight a week with accommodation in rural village bungalows. Travel to the remote island villages is a very special experience but visitors must remember that this is an adventure - a real adventure - well off any of the normal tourism routes.
Village Bungalows are constructed by the local people using traditional thatch and wood building materials from the surrounding forests. The bungalows are clean and most offer beds of varying levels of quality - but make no mistake, the village bungalows are not anywhere close to "normal" hotel and resort standards. Some, like those at Friendly Bungalows in Tanna shown in these photos, are right out of South Pacific movie set.
This is adventure eco-tourism and while there are has been a great improvement in the quality of the bungalows in somme areas. Many of the island bungalows are quite comfortable with beds of varying quality. Many have flush toilet facilities and showers for each bungalow. Other village bungalows are more like "camping" with a thatch cover and basic toilet facilities (usually in a separate building).
It would not hurt to bring your own tent and sleeping gear, including, (at minimum) a mosquito net to drape over your bed. The Rocket Guide CD includes a list of recommended travel items for adventuring in rural Vanuatu.
The Rocket Guide also has photos of the outside, inside and facilities of village bungalows on the islands that have them. We are in the process of adding to this information and eventually will complete a visual database of the majority of the Vanuatu out island village bungalows.
For now, you can click on the islands in the Vanuatu Satellite View on this website to zoom in to see what's available.
What the villages lack in the way of sophisticated tourism facilities they more than make up for in cultural fascination. The small rural communities of Vanuatu are some of the most astonishing examples of ancient tropical island societies in the world. You will experience wonderful traditional dancing and art in some of nature's most beautiful island settings. You will be the guest of a society that has survived for thousands of years on tiny islands without reliance on any modern technology.
There are very few other places in this troubled world where you can visit communities like this and feel personally safe.
To visit these ancient communities you need only fly there on Air Vanuatu's domestic flights - you don't need a travel agent, you don't need to make reservations and would find it hard to do so even if you wanted to. (except, see the notes on Vanuatu Custom Travel's guided out island tours and organized out island tours in Vanuatu)
Air Vanuatu will guarantee to get you to the out islands safely and pick you up again on the next scheduled flight (or the one after if you wish). But on the island, you are guests of the village and you will have to make all your arrangements for lodging, food and activities with the person in charge of the bungalows (often the Chief of the village).
Air Vanuatu's responsibility for your adventure extends only to your flight for the simple reason that none of the village bungalows have liability insurance (or any other kind of insurance). So, don't forget to get travel health insurance before you travel - make sure it has coverage for emergency evacuation back to Australia or New Zealand (in case you fall and break your leg, or your back). You can be evacuated by helicopter and flown out to get proper medical attention but this is extremely expensive and unlikely to happen if you are not insured.
A village can only host a certain number of people, and to avoid having too many people arrive in a village at the same time, Air Vanuatu will advise you if the village is "available" at the time you wish to go there.
If the number of guests a village can host has been reached for the time you wish to visit, Air Vanuatu will offer alternative destinations so there will be little chance of having too many people for the village to accommodate.
This eliminates the need for a "reservation" system and the difficulties of trying to communicate without the aid of faxes, email, or - often - telephones.
Air Vanuatu will be able to provide reasonably reliable information on the condition of the bungalows and give feedback from other visitors - so you won't arrive there to discover the bungalows were blown away in a storm and have not been replaced. The Rocket Guide to Vanuatu CD also has detailed information on every island in Vanuatu.
Air Vanuatu can also give you an idea of the cost of the bungalows - but will not actually make 'bookings" for you or accept payment on behalf of the villagers. You will need to pay the bungalow owner directly - and in cash - for your accommodation and meals.
If you want to explore the out islands of Vanuatu you should first get a copy of the Rocket Guide CD
The guide provides satellite maps of every island plus a range of helpful hints on out-island adventuring and details on the islands and activities.
From the home page of the Rocket Guide CD Rom, click on the "adventures" button for information on exploring the rural islands.
Next, from the welcome page, click on "travel tips" on the menu bar and carefully read the specials on "Happy visits to villages", "rural travel tips", "culture", "responsible tourism code", "health and travel to rural Vanuatu."
Simon Humphries, the director of Vanuatu Custom Travel has spent a lot of time in the outer islands of Vanuatu setting up a network to aid travellers - from independent single travellers to small groups.
His experience, research and networking makes it possible for independent travellers to avoid the problems that new visitors to Vanuatu usually have when they try it alone (such as issues with local customs and social codes that can affect booking dates, rates, tours, transport, timings, distances, food, safety, inclusions, standards, reliability, and of course "island time").
Just to clarify how their vacations work - sometimes people may think Vanuatu Custom Travel’s tour options are just a small number of fully escorted group tours per year in the style of a Contiki or Intrepid trip. They DO offer this, but they also offer far more - including rare volunteer travel options, a volcano trek around Ambrym, specialist local tours and events like the round island canoe race. Their website makes it clear that they provide travel options for independent travellers from 1 person to small groups. So people can take one of the tour options shown on the website
on their own or as a couple or a small group.
Simon works very closely with specialist local tour guides and island coordinators. Most of his travel options depart every week of the year. He helps you to coordinate transport, accommodation and activities to make your vacation as enjoyable and hassle free as possible.
Vanuatu Custom Travel provides professional standards and access to key people in remote community in the outer islands. I have travelled around the outer islands myself and appreciate the need for what Vanuatu Custom Travel has set up.
Believe me it isn't easy to maintain a balance between what many travellers expect and what the rural island people in Vanuatu's villages expect and can deliver. By smoothing the way for travellers like yourself, Simon offers a very worthwhile service to both the visitors and the people of Vanuatu.
Go to his website www.vanuatucustomtravel.com if you want to find out what you can do with them.
To learn more about walking treks in Malekula, visit malekulahikingtrail.blogspot.com
Otherwise, if you elect to go it alone or with a small group of friends, contact David Dick at Air Vanuatu Tours. He will book your air tickets and provide the latest advice on the condition and occupancy of the village bungalows
The Rocket Guide to Vanuatu has complete information, with everything you need to know, big full page photos, exact position on a high resolution satelite image, and live email and website links. This is the most complete tourism guide ever published for Vanuatu. Designed as an educational tool for travel agents it will help you plan your vacation in Vanuatu better than any other resource.
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