A spur of the moment road trip is great fun if you are twenty and all you need is a backpack and a sleeping bag. However, a little travel planning can go a long way to ensuring an enjoyable, worry-free trip. During the summer when the Islands are busy, you will be well served by planning your accommodations (hotel & camping) in advance, as many hot spots such as Tofino fill months prior, leaving a small selection of high priced alternatives for poor planners. If you want to camp, reserve as far ahead as possible. For example, high season reservable campsites at the Green Point campground in Pacific Rim National Park are available from May 17 through September 23. The reservation system opens April 2, and often within a week, most available spots for the season are fully booked.
Travel Planning: Vancouver Island Climate
Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands have a mild coastal climate with cool wet winters and warm dry summers. The reason this is referred to as the Wet Coast is because it rains — sometimes a lot. The maritime location and high mountainous topography running down the spine of the Island create these conditions. Weather rolling in from the Pacific Ocean dumps rain on the western half of the Island, leaving cooler wet weather in its wake. The weather systems then clear the mountainous interior and skirt the East Coast and Gulf Islands leaving comparatively less moisture in these areas. Island weather patterns are easy to see in local flora from towering rainforests of giant spruce, cedar, and Douglas fir in the west to Gary oak, arbutus and meadow ecosystems in the east. The characteristics of these climatic zones can vary quite substantially. As a rule of thumb, the West Coast (Tofino, Uclulet, Bamfield, Port Renfrew & Sooke) are several degrees cooler on average than the east coast from Campbell River south to Victoria. As you go north from Campbell River towards Telegraph Cove, Port McNeil and Port Hardy, the weather also changes, dropping 2°-3°(C) over the Southern Island. The air on the West Coast and to the north tends to be damper and a breeze blows constantly, so even if the temperature is not much colder, it feels colder. Be sure to pack warm clothes if you plan on visiting the West Coast or the North Island, especially if you are camping. Smart visitors who have done their travel planning always pack their raincoats and bring warm clothes for the winter months!
Climate normals from 1971-2000 Daily Average Temperature:
|Daily Average Temperature (°C )|
|Monthly Precipitation (mm)|
Travel Planning: Getting Here
- Check out our getting to Vancouver Island section.
Travel Planning: Canada Borders and Money
- Do I Need a Passport to Visit Canada? Most likely. Visitors from the U.S.A. require a passport or a NEXUS card for travel by land, sea, and air. A passport card or Enhanced Drivers License (EDL—only available in several states) allows entry and exit by land and sea only. Visitors from all other countries require a passport for all modes of entry. Check out the Canadian Border Services Agency or U.S State Department for US citizen requirements.
- Currency: The currency of Canada is the Canadian Dollar, nicknamed the Loonie. There are banks throughout the Island and currency exchanges in downtown Victoria. Most businesses also accept US dollars at competitive rates. It pays — no pun intended — to shop around for the best rates as they can vary widely. I would suggest exchanging funds at one of the leading five banks such as Royal Bank (RBC), Bank of Montreal, Toronto Dominion (TD) Bank, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), or Scotia Bank for the best rates. All the main banks have ATM systems, and these should be used rather than the private ATM’s found in hotels, restaurants and bars which can charge a hefty transaction fee.
- Cash, Credit and ATM Cards: Major credit cards accepted pretty much everywhere include Visa, MasterCard and to a lesser degree American Express. There is limited acceptance of cards such as Discover, but you can’t go wrong if you only have a Visa or MasterCard. Make sure to have some cash on hand when entering Canada for incidentals such as taxi, bus, food etc.
Generally, credit cards or ATM cards will give you the best interbank exchange rates. However, many credit cards charge a commission and a foreign transaction fee that can be as high as three percent. If you aren’t comfortable bringing a larger initial cash supply with you, a nifty trick is to load a positive cash balance onto your credit card before you leave home and then take cash advances (against your credit card) from ATM’s as you need them. Take as much out at a time as you are comfortable carrying. You will pay a transaction fee and be paying for your purchases with cash, but you will avoid the foreign transaction surcharge that can add up over a holiday. The bonus is you will also avoid high interest rates charged to your account by cash advances on credit. Check with your credit card issuer and bank regarding foreign withdrawal fees before you leave.
Just remember, you may want to make some payments with your credit card such as car rentals to take advantage of any included insurance coverage if you have it with your policy.
Travel Planning: Canada Communications and Power
- Telephone: Local calling requires area code 250 or 778 + the seven digit number. Long distance calling requires a 1 before the area code. If you have a smart phone, consider using an app such as Skype to make calls using a WI-Fi connection. Calls of this type both long distance and local will only cost a few cents per minute while hotel and cellular long distance calling can be astronomical. Cellular phone coverage is available for most of the east coast of the Island and all of the Gulf Islands, though reception can be spotty at best in places. TELUS, Bell, and Rogers are the main carriers providing a mix of 3G, 4G, LTE and GSM networks. You may also consider buying a cheap prepaid phone package once you get here as the calls will be local and it may be cheaper than activating international roaming on your existing phone.
- Free WI-Fi: Foreign data roaming charges can add up quickly, so use the extensive network of free Wi-Fi hotspots in Victoria wherever possible. Throughout the Island, most hotels (except the high end outfits that often charge exorbitant connection rates) now provide free WI-Fi, as well as many coffee shops, restaurants, and pubs. Several coffee shops and food chains supplying free WI-Fi include Starbucks, Serious Coffee and McDonald’s. Check this site for a map of free WI-Fi cafe locations, although it is by no means complete. Some hotspots do not require a passcode, but others will. For example, all the Victoria public library branches have free WI-Fi with no passcode required, but cafes such as Murchie’s Tea and Coffee require a free passcode. It may cost you a cup of coffee to get the passcode, but hey, it’s worth it.Most library’s and business oriented hotels have wired kiosks providing free internet access if you don’t have a phone or laptop computer. Internet cafes are located in most communities; some are free and some charge by the minute or hour.
- Power: 110-120V- 60 cycles (same as USA and Mexico) with three prong grounded plug.
Travel Planning: Vancouver Island Emergency Services
- Police, Fire & Ambulance: For genuine emergencies requiring police or medical services, dial 911. 911 is not designed to assist you if you run out of gas or get lost looking for the pizza joint. Seriously, they get calls like this all the time! Hospitals are available in most of the larger centres, but clinics are the norm in the smaller towns such as Bamfield and the Gulf Islands communities. In Greater Victoria, the municipalities employ their own police departments. Everywhere else you will deal with the RCMP.
- Health insurance is highly recommended in case of accident or illness. Ensure you establish your coverage before your trip and double check the fine print to ensure you have enough coverage should you get sick or injured.
Good luck with your travel planning.