How to Save Money on Your Trip to Tonga
Home to royalty, a scattering of idyllic islands, turquoise waters and some of the top whale-swimming, scuba diving and game fishing experiences in the South Pacific, Tonga might seem like a destination that only the rich and famous can afford. But look a little closer and you’ll see that Tonga is a humble country with an array of budget accommodations, affordable transport and more. That combined with our money-saving tips below, makes it easy to save money when travelling in Tonga.
Before we jump into how to save money in Tonga, be sure to bookmark Tonga Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to Tonga Cost? for even more budgeting advice.
1. Pay with Cash
You always need cash available in Tonga. There are many cafes, guesthouses, convenience stores, activity providers and more that only accept. While there are around 700 outlets that accept debit or credit cards, note that this usually comes with unfavourable exchange fees from your bank plus a 4-5% surcharge from the outlet. As we said, it’s best to have cash available. Read more on the subject in What is The Best Way to Pay in Tonga?
2. Withdraw Lots of Money at Once to Save on Fees
With the above point in mind, you probably don’t want to carry all of the cash you’re going to need during your stay in Tonga for obvious security reasons. We recommend withdrawing Tongan Pa’anga from an ATM where possible – usually only at Fua’amotu Airport, Nuku’alofa, Pangai (Ha’apai) and Neiafu. However, every time you withdraw cash from an ATM, you’ll face foreign exchange fees and ATM withdrawal fees of around TOP$8-$15. Save money by only withdrawing money just one or two times during your trip, getting enough cash to sustain yourself for a few days. Learn more about ATMs in Can You Use Your Credit or Debit Card in Tonga?
3. Make Your Own Meals
With main meals typically costing TOP$20-$40 each and produce in Tonga being so affordable, it’s a no-brainer that making your own meals will save you a ton of money on food. Just follow The Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping in Tonga to see where you can stock up on groceries, as well as get an idea of the typical grocery prices in Tonga. Apartments with self-catering facilities can be found in most touristy areas of Tonga, while communal kitchens are a feature of most guesthouses – more on that below!
4. Stay in Guesthouses
Become part of the family and save money on accommodation by staying in one of Tonga’s guesthouses. Run by locals, guesthouses are like a bed & breakfast where there are usually several guest rooms in a large home. There are often shared bathroom facilities and ensuite rooms available, as well as a communal kitchen and/or the owner may offer Tongan-style meals. Browse some of the guesthouses available in the 20 Best Guesthouses in Tonga.
5. Do Free Activities and Sightseeing
Tonga is full of free activities and amazing sights. Break up your holiday of pricey whale swims and scuba diving with some of the free activities around. Visit some of Tongatapu’s historical sites like Ha’amonga ‘a Maui, climb Mt Talau in Vava’u, cycle across Lifuka Island in Ha’apai, hike in majestic ‘Eua National Park and the list goes on! We have no lack of ideas, just check out our 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Tonga for more.
6. Use WiFi or a Local SIM; Not Roaming
While a trip to Tonga is more about connecting with nature and the local culture rather than your relatives back home, if you absolutely need to stay connected to the online world during your trip to Tonga then don’t use roaming. You will always find cheaper ways to connect to the internet by using a local SIM card or, if you’re lucky, finding free WiFi. Get advice on both in The Best SIM Cards in Tonga for Travellers and How to Get Internet in Tonga.
7. Travel in the Low Season
Everyone wants to travel to Tonga during the whale season, which runs from July to October each year. However, Tonga has so much more to offer than whale swimming. Certain resorts and activity operators entice travellers in the low season with “low season rates” and “pay five and stay for seven” deals, and even the local airline is in on the action offering the occasionally super saver fare! There are many more benefits to travelling during the low season, which we list in the 10 Reasons to Travel in the Low Season in Tonga.
8. Book Accommodation Early in the High Season
If you are keen on swimming with whales and want to travel in the high season, then make sure you book your desired accommodation early. Chances are you have picked a certain accommodation because it has a good price and looks amazing! However, almost all accommodations in Tonga have very limited rooms and availability, with resorts often having two to seven fales (bungalows) at the most! Guesthouses are also boutique, where you’ll rarely see a guesthouse with more than 15 rooms. Start browsing Where to Stay in Tonga: The Best Accommodations and book early!
9. Compare Your Airport Transfer Options
Admittedly, there isn’t a huge choice when it comes to airport transfers. Most of the time, you either have a taxi or a transfer organised through your chosen accommodation. However, one isn’t always cheaper than the other, so it’s best to compare depending on which island you are on. We’ve made it easy for you with our guide to The Cheapest Airport Transfers in Tonga.
10. Keep in Mind “Tongan Portions”
Back to food, if you’re heading out for a meal, there’s a way to save money. Tonga’s restaurants serve huge main meal portions that we like to call “Tongan portions”. You can still have an enjoyable but slightly more affordable meal by sharing a main and an entree, for instance. Otherwise, do what the Tongans do and take a doggy bag for lunch tomorrow!
11. Consider All Accommodation Inclusions
Much of the accommodation in Tonga doesn’t just offer a bed for the night. There are often inclusions, such as breakfast, airport transfers, free bike hire, etc. to complete your stay. Resorts will even offer further inclusions from the free use of kayaks to snorkelling gear. The value of a resort/accommodation can’t always be determined by the price alone. Be sure to compare inclusions and facilities to make sure you’re getting real value for money.
12. Know Your Transport Options
Have a nosy at our Tonga Transport Guide: 15 Ways to Get Around Tonga to see that there are more ways to experience Tonga than taking flights and hiring a car. There are some extremely affordable transport methods, between the local buses to the interisland ferries. Consider all of your transport options to get the best price!
13. Buy Produce from the Market
Back to a spot of self-catering, the best place to buy fruit and vegetables in Tonga is at the local markets and roadside fruit stalls. Take a look at The Cost of Food in Tonga to see how much to expect to pay for fruit and vegetables – some of the stall owners might try to charge more if you look like a tourist so just walk to another stall if the price is much higher. Although fruit and vegetables are available to buy in some supermarkets, they are usually imported from New Zealand and therefore sold for a higher price than local produce.
14. Compare Your Options for Whale Swimming/Watching
Whale watching/swimming is an activity available between July and October. While there are many operators for whale swimming/watching, some have vastly different prices and inclusions. Some operators have limited snorkelling gear available, asking guests to bring their own, while some spend more time on the water than others. For instance, whale tours in Vava’u tend to be much higher than in Ha’apai. Compare your options in Where to Swim with Whales in Tonga: The Best Islands and the 10 Best Whale Swim Tours in Tonga.
15. Exchange Currency at Tonga’s Banks
Better exchange rates, therefore cheaper currency conversions to Tongan Pa’anga, can usually be found in Tonga compared to overseas. This is often due to overseas currency exchange bureaus and banks having to buy in Tongan Pa’anga themselves before selling it to customers. Where is the best place to exchange currency in Tonga? Tonga’s banks like BSP tend to have better exchange rates for swapping foreign currency for Tongan Pa’anga compared to currency exchange bureaus like No 1 Currency which also charge high commission fees on top of the exchange rate.
For more on currency exchange, take a look at our tips in The Best Place to Exchange Currency in Tonga.
16. Refill Your Water Purification Bottle
Whatever you do, don’t waste money (and kill the environment) by buying bottles of water throughout your trip. If you know you’re staying at a resort with filtered drinking water, have a few reusable water bottles to refill at the resort before you head out. Alternatively, we highly recommend using a water purification bottle, such as Lifestraw, which removes 99.999999% of bacteria and 99.999% of parasites from water. That way, you can refill the bottle from any tap water you come across. We’ve used ours right across the South Pacific with no issues!
For more tips on having access to water, check out Is the Water Safe to Drink in Tonga?
17. Pack Right!
Making sure you’ve packed everything that you’ll need for your entire time in Tonga is also a good idea if you want to save money. Imported goods are likely more expensive in Tonga than they are at home, such as sunscreen, insect repellent or even your usual snacks or food staples that you can’t live without. What’s more, items like “reef-safe sunscreen” are rarely available in Tonga, so you’ll certainly want to bring enough to last your entire trip – unless you want to: 1) get burnt and 2) kill the coral you’re snorkelling with.
Make sure you don’t miss a thing by checking out What to Pack for Tonga: A Full Tonga Packing List.
18. Travel in Groups of Four or Eight
“Four” and “eight” are the magic numbers in Tonga. Not only are there many private accommodations and villas across Tonga sleeping four to eight people, but four is a good number for fishing while eight is a good number for whale swimming. Booking accommodations and activities in groups of four or eight usually means you’ll be paying the cheapest possible rate per person.
19. Predeparture Tip: Compare Flights and Airport Parking
Before we conclude this list of money-saving tips, we can’t forget to mention how you can save money on your trip to Tonga by saving on your flight to Tonga! There are multiple airlines and routes for getting to the islands, so be sure to compare all of your options following the advice in How to Book a Cheap Flight to Tonga.
As an extra tip for those who are parking at the airport before departing to Tonga, be sure to compare third-party park-and-ride companies rather than just paying at the official airport car park. They are usually significantly cheaper!
20. Be Prepared; Read Tonga Pocket Guide
Did you know there are some incredibly cheap and authentic places to eat in Nuku’alofa? Did you know that locals list their homes on Airbnb and Booking.com as accommodation for less than TOP$50 a night?! There are loads more ways to save money when travelling in Tonga that we share with you throughout our online travel guide to Tonga! Keep on browsing Tonga Pocket Guide for more tips that will save you money in Tonga!
More Ways to Save Money When Travelling in Tonga
That’s it for the ways to save money when travelling in Tonga. For more money-saving advice, take a look at more of our insightful articles:
- How Much Spending Money Do You Need for Tonga?
- What is the Best Way to Pay in Tonga?
- Tonga Tipping & Tax Guide for Travellers
Finally, get more budgeting advice from The Budget & Backpacking Guide to Tonga and Tonga Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to Tonga Cost?