Tofino and Ucluelet are both communities located on the West side of Vancouver Island along the Pacific Ocean in the area known as Clayoquot Sound and on Tla-o-qui-aht tribal territory. Home to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the area boasts of temperate rainforests that meet the ocean and is home to an abundance of wildlife and marine life.
This area of British Columbia is very popular with tourists looking to experience nature year-round but more so in the summer. It truly is one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited and has such a unique feel to it compared to other coastal areas we have visited in the Pacific Northwest. It feels uniquely Canadian with the presence of First Nations communities, the beaches don’t allow people to drive their vehicules on them like they do in the US, and there are barely any chain hotels and restaurants.
The first time we visited in 2004, we were in awe of the beauty here but it is not easy to get here and it is not cheap and so we didn’t visit again until 2020 when non-essential travel was permitted again.
In this post, we share information and pros and cons of staying in Tofino and Ucluelet.
Overview – The villages:
Tofino is more renowned than Ucluelet and hence draws in more tourists. The population of Tofino is approximately 1,900 and approximately 600,000 tourists visited in 2018. In 2018, 73% were Canadian, 18.2% were International (mostly from Europe: UK and Germany) and 8.8% American.
By comparison, Ucluelet (also known as Ukee) had a population of 1,726 and no statistics about the number of visitors are available. Ucluelet might feel smaller but that could be because it feels less busy most likely due to less visitors. This can be assumed by the looking at the accommodation options in Ucluelet; there are less hotels and vacation rentals than Tofino. From speaking with people in Ucluelet and reading TripAdvisor reviews, it appears the profile of tourists is similar to Tofino.
The verdict: Both villages have stunning scenery and interesting things but if you’re looking for quieter, then Ucluelet is the clear winner.
It is not easy to reach either Tofino or Ucluelet, which contributes to how remote it feels; you really have to plan to come here!
If you’re visiting from Vancouver, you will most likely take a ferry to Nanaimo and then drive about 200 kilometres down a winding mountain road that has road work being completed for the last few years. You need to plan to travel for about 7-8 hours door-to-door and just the ferry costs about $100 each way for a regular vehicule.
Tofino is accessible by air; you can either
- Fly on a float plane from Downtown Vancouver on Harbour Air ;
- Fly on a commercial flight from Vanvouver Airport’s South Terminal on Pacific Coastal that lands at YZA – Tofino Airport.
Flying does save you time but the weather is so unpredictable with coastal fog affecting flight conditions; flights can get cancelled or delayed often (we know because we used to schedule some of these flights for a charter airline). You can rent a car at YAZ airport through Budget but we do not know how much that is and how many cars they have. There is limited taxi service but YAZ is not a full service airport and so do your research in advance. Some hotels offer transportation and making arrangements in advance is a must. If YAZ was a full-service airport, we do believe it would change the feel of Tofino and Ucluelet as you’d probably have Q400 service from other places in BC, Alberta, and even the US.
The verdict: Both Tofino and Ucluelet are not easy to get to but if you want to fly in for a weekend, then Tofino might be the easiest option. If you don’t want to drive or rent a car, your best is Tofino because the float plane drops you off in town at the Marina. In Tofino you can bike to the beach, walk around town and access tours pretty easily.
If you’re visiting, chances are you will want to spend some time at the beach. Both Tofino and Ucluelet have access to the water, both the open ocean and inlets.
The stretch of beach that goes from Long Beach to Cox Beach is very popular for people who like to surf and boogie board but the water is very cold and so you need a wetsuit. In Tofino, the Tonquin area also has a nice beach for relaxing a quick dip if you’re brave.
Ucluelet does have some beaches but they are not the flat hard-pack sand walk for kilometers type of beaches. That being said, there are still some swimming spots and if you want to kayak and paddleboard, that’s an option too.
The verdict: If you want a beach vacation and plan to spend lots of time on the beach, Tofino is the best bet. If the beach is not your priority, Ucluelet is the best bet.
Both Tofino and Ucluelet have a range of accommodations: camping, hotels, Airbnbs, condos, small hotels/bed and breakfasts. It really depends what you are looking for! Accommodations in Tofino and Ucluelet are not cheap in the summer; you need to budget at least $200 per night and the average rates are about $400 (unless you are camping).
That being said, we do find things tend to be cheaper in Ucluelet even if there is less inventory. We don’t mind driving to Tofino occasionally and since we like how quiet Ucluelet is, it might be our top choice.
The one thing to know though is that there aren’t any chain hotels in the area other than the Best Western Tin Wis located on MacKenzie Beach. Considering the going rate is $400 ++ during peak times, it might be a good place to use up any Best Western points you have.
In Ucluelet, we’ve been able to find places to stay that range from $250-$350 per night.
Don’t plan to arrive and just find a place to stay though or you will end up sleeping in your car; everything sold out on long weekends in the summer!
The verdict: If you are looking for luxury on a cheaper budget and don’t mind driving about 30 minutes to Tofino occasionally, Ucluelet is the way to go.
The dining options:
Both Tofino and Ucluelet have lots of dining options that range from fast-food style to higher-end tasting menus. You will also not find any large chains in either town; they are all small local businesses. Since Tofino receives more visitors, they do have more options than Ucluelet.
Both Tofino and Ukee have a renowned place to eat. In Tofino, it’s the namesake Tacofino Food truck with 2 locations for fish tacos and burritos. In Ukee it’s Pluvio Restaurant and Rooms that offers a tasting menu made from locally sourced ingredients.
The one thing to know about dining in Tofino and Ucluelet, is that things are unpredictable; from businesses choosing to close the day of to give their employees a day off or places being closed when the power goes out due a storm, you always need to have a back-up plan!
Again, things are not cheap but you can find deals. If you want to save money, cook for yourself but be advised there is only one major grocery store in both towns: a Co-Op. Due to the remote location, the selection is hit and miss and the prices very high so it is best to bring some supplies with you if you are driving.
The verdict: We have enjoyed food in both Tofino and Ucluelet and can’t say with certainty which one has better options and encourage people to visit restaurants in both villages.
Many people who visit both Tofino and Ucluelet intend of spending time outside and to participate in various tours.
When we stayed in Ucluelet, we really enjoyed being able to walk the Wild Pacific Trail almost daily and visited the Ucluelet Aquarium to find out more about marine life. We were also able to easily access other trails like Half Moon Bay.
When we stayed in Tofino, we enjoyed walking to the beach and renting kayaks.
The first time we visited the area, we went on a whale watching tour and visited Tofino Hot Springs Cove. Since the tour started early, it was really easy to be in Tofino and just walk over to the dock.
In Ucluelet, they also have wildlife tours by boat and walking, like whale watching and bear watching.
The verdict: Both Tofino and Ucluelet provide access to activities and tourist attractions. For those who enjoy hiking/walking, Ucluelet is the best bet because of the Wild Pacific Trail and other nearby trails.
The most kid-friendly:
Both Tofino and Ucluelet are kid-friendly travel destinations. There are so many outdoor activities for people of all ages and fitness levels making it a great place for a family vacation. We did see more kids in Tofino, most likely due to the beach and more accommodation options but both places are welcoming to children. Of the places we stayed at, only one would have been suitable for kids and so that’s something to consider when seeking out accommodations.
And as for food, most places will have food options for kids other than some of the higher-end places.
The verdict: Both places offer kid-friendly options but being on the beach in Tofino might be the easiest when travelling with kids.
We enjoy both Tofino and Ukee for different reasons and can’t visit one without visiting the other. We hope you found this list of pros and cons and this guide helpful. Our next posts will share our experiences staying and eating in both Tofino and Ukee.
Do you have any questions about Tofino and/or Ukee? Did we miss anything in assessing pros and cons? Which one would you pick based on this post and your travel style?