How to travel to Vanuatu on a budget – with kids
Coconut trees, white sand, warm aqua water, great snorkelling and…wait for it…..no crowds. It’s what I imagine French Polynesia may have looked like before the expensive resorts moved in.
Don’t get me wrong, French Polynesia is incredibly beautiful however it’s also extremely expensive. I found a much cheaper alternative which can be reached via a 2.5 hour direct flight from Brisbane, Australia.
I’m talking about the island of Espiritu Santo (known as just ‘Santo’) in Vanuatu.
Just in case you don’t believe me, here is a photo of a beautiful beach in Santo. Other than a cow taking a siesta under a tree in the distance, and a staff member raking leaves under the tree house bungalow you see on the right, this beach was completely deserted.
The wonderful thing about Santo, is that it doesn’t do luxury brand name resorts. You won’t find an upmarket Sofitel or a Mercure Hotel here. If you need to be pampered, and to eat in fancy restaurants…..Santo is not for you.
Since you are reading a blog post about affordable travel with kids in Vanuatu, then I’m confidently guessing you are ok with this. If we’re being honest, the thought of taking my nearly 2 year old and 4 year old to a fancy restaurant gives me panic attack inducing anxiety.
Flights will probably be your most expensive item for this holiday. However, here’s a tip….travel in shoulder season. The weather is still great however flights and accommodation are cheaper.
Vanuatu has a wet and dry season. Summer (November to March) is hot with more rain, and Winter (April to October) is cool and dry. April and October are considered shoulder months.
I visited during the last week of March and the first few days of April, so technically it was still ‘off season’ for the most part of the holiday. I figured it was so close to the ‘good’ season that it would be fine and the risk paid off. The weather was perfect with a couple of enjoyable evening thunderstorms that rolled out just as quick as they rolled in.
If flying with Air Vanuatu for your international flight, and your child is under 2, you will only be charged 10% of the adult fare providing you are happy to have them on your lap. If you child is between 2 and 11 years, you will only be charged 75% of the adult fare. Sometimes they have deals where kids fly for a set price for e.g. $199 for kids flying from Brisbane.
You will be able to drastically reduce your costs by staying in basic bungalows, especially if you are travelling in shoulder season. I chose to stay at Lonnoc Beach Bungalows. It’s a one hour drive from the main town of Luganville and mains electricity does not reach this far down the island. The locals, including the bungalows and restaurants use a combination of solar, diesel and coconut oil generated electricity. They are completely self sufficient and any food you eat is straight from the farm to the plate.
The bungalows are very basic, consisting of thatched roofs, mosquito nets over wooden beds and cold water ensuite. They have lights powered by solar, but no power points to charge electronic devices. Anything that needs charging can be charged at the restaurant. The bungalows do a great job of keeping the weather out and ensuring you get a good night sleep. However, they are just very basic and the finishing is not pretty. You can actually camp here too if you have brought a tent and equipment over with you.
The location and friendly staff make up for any lack of luxuries!
The Bungalows are owned by the Vocor family and the restaurant on site has a basic but delicious menu. There is WIFI here but it only seems to work in the restaurant, and also when it feels like it. Don’t count on using WIFI here. The local hospitality school does work experience at these bungalows so the waitresses can often seem unsure of themselves. However, what they lack in confidence they make up for in friendly smiles and are apologetic for any small mistakes made whilst learning the ropes.
It’s worth checking out the bungalows ten minutes down the road at the very beautiful Port Olry as well.
You can search for and book into Lonnoc Beach Bungalows below, as well as find other accommodation options if this isn’t for you.
Check out and compare accommodation options here:
Hiring a car is a good option here because the best beaches and cheap bungalows are located down towards Port Olry, which is around a one hour drive away from the main town of Luganville and the airport. Even if you stay in Luganville and hire a car for just a day or two to travel the coconut lined East Coast road, it would be cheaper than a taxi. See my blog post on Port Olry – Where the Coconut Highway Ends.
There is no big name car hire companies here. However, you can hire a car either through:
Freshwater Planation: Phone +678 37366 or email email@example.com
The Espiritu Hotel & Car Rentals: Phone +678 37539 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Car hire is not cheap, between $100 and $150 per day. However, you are allowed to travel sitting in the back of the ute tray. If you feel comfortable doing it, you can share the cost of the car with extended family, and older kids or adults can travel in the tray back. It is not uncommon to see the locals squeeze 5 adults into the back of a ute, especially along the East coast road heading down towards Port Olry.
Eating is not cheap like “South East Asia cheap” here unfortunately. At around $15 – $20 per meal, it’s actually around the same price as eating in Australia. Here are some ways we reduced the cost:
- There are cheapish eateries lining one side of the produce market in Luganville. You sit down at a plastic chair and table, and order your meal through the brightly coloured window above you.
- The cost of fresh fruit and vegetables is really cheap at this same market. I paid around 150VT for a bunch of 10 bananas which was around AU$1.80.
- It is possible to self cater here in the cheap bungalows however, its more camping style. You will be cooking on an open flame type BBQ in a communal area if your Bungalow has one and allows it.
- There are a couple of supermarkets in Luganville to stock up on supplies for self catering like bread and margarine.
- Find out if your accommodation includes breakfast in the price. Lonnoc Beach Bungalows serve up a simple breakfast of toast and fruit every morning.
- Whilst there is no power in the bungalows for a fridge, if you bring an esky and get ice every few days from the shops at Luganville, you won’t have to buy every meal. You can actually bring an esky over with you as a piece of checked in luggage.
- If you get lucky with fishing like we did when Grandpa reeled in a decent coral trout, you won’t have to buy meat for a day or two.
THING TO DO – FREE OR CHEAP
- Snorkel over dumped military vehicles over 7 decades old at Million Dollar Point near Luganville. You can still visit with young kids who can’t snorkel yet. See my post on Million Dollar Point – Better Value Than Expected. Cost $AU5 or 500VT per adult. Young kids are free.
- Check out the produce market in Luganville
- The amazing freshwater Blue Holes. My favourites were Riri Blue Hole and Nanda Blue Hole. Riri Blue Hole is surrounded by jungle, complete with jumping platform and rope swing with a cost of AU$5 or 500VT per adult. Nanda Blue Hole is more expensive at 1000VT but it is more spectacular in colour and clarity. It has a lovely boardwalk, a cafe, modern clean toilets and a gift shop. Both are worth the visit due to how different they are.
- Pay a visit to Port Olry. If you are not staying here, you can pull in at Chez Louis Restaurant (on your right as you enter Port Olry) for lunch as the beach in front is truly spectacular with great snorkelling just to the left. If the tide is low enough, you can wade across to some neighbouring islands.
- Visit Lonnoc Beach. If you are not staying here, you can visit the restaurant at Lonnoc Beach Bungalows for lunch and enjoy the lovely sheltered beach. This beach is warm, calm and perfect for young kids.
- Champagne Beach is worth a visit however, I personally feel it’s a bit overrated when compared with Lonnoc Beach or Port Olry. It is 500 metres further on from Lonnoc Beach Bungalows and there is a AU$5 of 500VT entry free. The cruise ships stop here regularly and if you visit on a cruise ship day, there will be a pop-up market and lots of people. On any other day, you may be sharing the area with nobody except some free-range pigs and cows.
- Hire a Kayak on one of the above lovely beaches. This may be free if you are staying in the bungalows there.
- Fishing is allowed however you should ask permission first. Lonnoc Beach Bungalows allowed us to fish from the shore and in the kayak, which was free to use if staying there. In fact, we caught our dinner one night from the kayak on an extendable fishing rod which we brought over with us.
- Go hunting for coconut crabs……but don’t try to pick one up unless you know what your doing!
- Sway in a hammock set up at one of the bungalow accommodations and sleepily watch the kids play in the sand and chase small crabs
- If you have a hire car, go looking for World War II relics. They are everywhere!!
THINGS TO DO – MORE EXPENSIVE BUT WORTH IT
- Visit Freshwater Plantation on Aore Island. It’s a 5 minute boat trip from Luganville, you just need to phone them to ask them to send the boat over. Doing a tour of the plantation can add up if there is a few of you, but it’s worth it. The same goes for the lovely restaurant on site. The kids won’t be bored as the tour includes a bat cave with suspension bridge and a visit with some baby animals. You can also swim out front or jump off the floating platform. Phone (+678) 37366 of email email@example.com.
- Horse Riding with Santo Horse Adventures. Young kids can’t join in however if your kids are older, you can enjoy a unique trail ride through a lovely tunnel of mangroves complete with white sand and aqua waters. The ride also boasts a ride through the jungle and through the waters at Lope Lope Beach. Phone (00678) 777 4700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- If organised tours are your thing, you won’t have trouble finding someone to take you on one. This can get a bit pricey when on a family holiday but it ensures you don’t miss out on anything.
COST OF HOLIDAY
BUDGET WAS AU$3,000
- $1,279 FLIGHTS for all four of us. This included 2 x adult sale fares, 1 x 10% infant fare, 1 x child special rate fare
- $ 534 ACCOMMODATION in a basic bungalow. $89 x 6 nights.
- $ 450 CAR HIRE. Full car hire of the most expensive 4WD at $150 per day x 6 days was $900. We went halves with our fellow travellers.
- $ 450 FOOD. This includes eating out and shopping purchases. Beer works out to be around AU$80 a carton here.
- $ 200 SPLURGE on a tour at Plantation resort and a VERY fancy meal afterwards
- $ 40 ENTRY FEES in total to various places
- $ 30 SOUVENIRS to take home
It’s interesting to note that we could have done this around $500 cheaper by getting a smaller hire car, avoiding the $200 splurge, choosing slightly cheaper accommodation and self catering for dinners as well as lunch.
I understand that this seems a lot still when you only have $2 in your bank account…….you are probably thinking, I don’t have $3,000 lying around!! Well, nobody does, you have to make it happen! See my Savings plan for holidays blog post and my How to travel cheaper blog post if you need help.
ALSO, LETS PUT THIS INTO PERSPECTIVE
$3,000 is $58 per week saved for a whole year. A few years ago, I reduced our shopping bill by nearly this much every week just by switching from Woolworths to Aldi’s……with a few sacrifices it’s not as hard as it sounds!
If you are having trouble sticking to a savings plan, keep looking at this picture!
Want to discover more awesome places for your next family getaway?
For more blog posts and information on my travels through Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu, please check out this page: Vanuatu
For information on all of my destinations, check out this page: My travel destinations
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