A Complete Guide to Visiting Tonga with a Disability
We’ll be honest; with lots of sandy beaches, rough terrain and limited facilities for the disabled, Tonga is not the most accessible destination for disabled travellers. But if you are craving some tropical sun, there is the odd hotel in Tonga that has “wheelchair-friendly” facilities, at least providing a glorious place to unwind. In this complete guide to accessibility in Tonga, we list wheelchair-accessible accommodations, things to do for the disabled, and some added advice for disabled travellers.
5 Tips for Travelling with a Disability in Tonga
- Tonga is one of the most challenging destinations for wheelchair users to visit in the South Pacific, as disability facilities are not a priority
- Come with a travel buddy – Most shops, cafes and restaurants have one or two steps that make handling a wheelchair on your own extremely challenging. You’ll need the assistance of a trusted travel companion to help with these minor hurdles
- If you need any specific facilities or assistance on tours or at your accommodation, it’s a good idea to contact companies prior to your visit so they can either provide advice or get themselves prepared
- Tongatapu is the best island to visit for those with mobility issues, as many sights are accessible within a short distance from their car park
- Bring an all-terrain wheelchair if you want to make the most of Tonga’s glorious beaches; there are no all-terrain wheelchair hire in Tonga.
Accessibility at Tonga’s Airports
Tonga’s airports are where you’ll perhaps find the best facilities and services for disabled travellers visiting Tonga. However, don’t expect facilities to be of the same quality as international airports in more developed countries. The basic service that airports will offer is a wheelchair for getting on and off the plane. Wheelchair-accessible bathrooms are not always available. In short, disabled travellers are still likely to need the assistance of a trusted travel companion to help them through the airport process.
Note that for any assistance required, such as wheelchair assistance while at Tonga’s airports, arrange this through the airline.
Learn more about what to expect from Tonga’s airports in our guide, Tonga Arrival Airports: Which Airport to Fly into Tonga. Plus, learn more about Tonga’s local airline in Domestic Flights in Tonga: A Guide to Interisland Flights.
3 Best Tonga Accommodations with Wheelchair Access
There is a very small number of accommodations around Tonga that have wheelchair-accessible facilities. Note, however, that they by no means meet the same standards as, perhaps the New Zealand or Australian Accessibility Standards for buildings. They are put together at the accommodation’s own discretion.
If you require specific facilities, such as rails in the bathrooms or portable ramps, for instance, or anything else, it’s best to get in touch with accommodation providers directly. For facilities such as braille, none exist as far as we know.
1. Tanoa International Dateline Hotel (Tongatapu)
Tonga’s largest hotel, Tanoa International Dateline Hotel meets the standards of an international-style hotel with wheelchair-accessible facilities, including an elevator and wheelchair-accessible rooms with a higher-level toilet and a bathroom with grab rails. Surfaces at the hotel are smooth throughout, making it is to navigate throughout the hotel independently. Facilities at the Nuku’alofa hotel include a large outdoor swimming pool and poolside cafe/bar, as well as an on-site gym, airport transfers and check-in, laundry service, WiFi, TV entertainment in each room and a buffet breakfast with hot and cold options served each morning.
Check Tanoa International Dateline Hotel out:
- Tanoa International Dateline Hotel on Booking.com
- Tanoa International Dateline Hotel on Trip.com
- Tanoa International Dateline Hotel on Expedia
2. Sandy Beach Resort (Ha’apai)
Ha’apai’s only four-star resort, Sandy Beach Resort is tucked away from the world at the top of the blissfully sandy shores of Foa Island. One of the 12 exclusive bungalows has a ramp for easy wheelchair access. The ensuite bathrooms are spacious enough for more mobile wheelchair users, even with a couple of minor grab bars (perhaps not as strategically placed as they could be, but’s more than other accommodations in Tonga provide). Each bungalow is just a few steps from an unspoiled beach, where views can be enjoyed from your private terrace.
Check Sandy Beach Resort out:
3. Port Wine Guest House (Vava’u)
Four buildings of four different styles of accommodation await at the Port Wine Guest House in Vava’u – and one of them has a ramp for wheelchairs! The “Sailoame” unit features a queen bed and a bunk bed, making it ideal for families, as well as a private ensuite and a private outdoor garden shower. The highlight of the stay is the breakfast of fresh fruit from the garden, fresh bread, muffins, cinnamon rolls and more! Free WiFi is available, while airport transfers and laundry can be arranged for a fee. What’s more, the Tongan-owned guesthouse is just a five-minute walk from town where you can pick up supplies to spruce up meals in the communal kitchens available. Stay outside of the whale season for cheaper rates – cash only.
For a deep dive into all of Tonga’s accommodations, check out Where to Stay in Tonga: The Best Accommodations to continue your research.
Accessibility at Shops, Cafes, Transport, etc.
The facilities for disabled people in Tonga are extremely limited. Nuku’alofa (Tongatapu), Pangai (Ha’apai) and Neiafu (Vava’u) are the only towns with pavements (footpaths/sidewalks) with sufficient dips in the pavements but this coverage of pavements doesn’t go across the whole town. Pedestrian crossings are also limited in Tonga. Disabled parking spots are limited to a few places in Nuku’alofa, as well as at hospitals. The only braille signs we have seen in Tonga is for the bathrooms on ferries.
Shops and Restaurants
Shops and restaurants in Tonga are at least on the ground level or have one or two steps to access. Needless to say, Tonga’s buildings in general are not suitable for motorised wheelchairs but those in a self-propelled wheelchair with the assistance of others will be able to access most shops and restaurants in Tonga.
Transport for Disabled Travellers
When it comes to transport, there are no rental vehicles with rear lift access that we know of. Alternatively, vehicles such as utes and SUVs are widely available to rent in Tonga, which may be the best option to store wheelchairs.
Transport such as taxis are not wheelchair-friendly but drivers are usually happy to assist wheelchair users and find a spot to store fold-up wheelchairs. It’s best to let operators know about these needs upon booking to see if they can accommodate them.
Note that there are no rentals for all-terrain wheelchairs in Tonga.
10 Things to Do in Tonga with a Disability (with Assistance)
Needless to say, the majority of Tonga’s highlights are water activities and natural attractions that are very challenging for people with disabilities to access. Even for the attractions listed below, it is essential that you have someone who knows you well to also assist you on your holiday. Luckily, connecting with the Tongan culture is a significant part of a Tonga getaway that disabled travellers can access.
1. Culture Tour at Ancient Tonga
Tours solely dedicated to the Tongan culture are surprisingly hard to come by, but one place you can rely on for such an experience is Ancient Tonga in Nuku’alofa. The culture centre offers two tours; a “Full Culture Tour” which is two hours and a “Half Culture Tour” which is a shortened version of the tour with no tasting/eating. The Full Culture Tour is well worth the time, which incorporates a huge array of aspects of the Tongan culture presented through live demonstrations, hands-on experiences, tastings and a tour of a private museum. Learn more about the experience in the 15 Best Culture Tours & Experiences in Tonga.
2. See the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon
The most iconic historical site in Tonga is arguably the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui, located on an area of compact grass that is easy for wheelchair users to access with assistance. This ancient coral stone trilithon was said to be constructed in the 13th Century under the rule of Tu’i Tonga Tu’itatui, one of Tonga’s early kings. Interpretation panels at the site in Niutoua explain the historical theories behind the megalith’s construction. This historical attraction can be found on the main island, Tongatapu and is one of the 10 Best Historical Sites in Tonga.
3. Watch the Mapua ‘a Vaea Blowholes
As well as the features that man has created, there are some interesting natural wonders to discover in Tonga. One such wonder is the kilometres and kilometres of blowholes across the Tongatapu coastline known as the Mapua ‘a Vaea Blowholes. A concrete platform beside the parking area makes this one of the easiest natural attractions to access. Check out the 10 Best Natural Attractions in Tonga for more like this.
4. Craft Your Own Souvenir at Tina’s Workshop
For anyone wanting to immerse in the Tongan culture, handmake a meaningful souvenir, and make some friends along the way, Tina’s Workshop should be a first go-to. The workshop at the Fehoko Oceanic Arts Studio in the Nuku’alofa suburb of Popua offers weekly workshops for anyone to learn how to craft from tapa cloth, fronds or wood. Learn more about Tina’s Workshop, as well as other ways to learn handicrafts in our guide to Tongan Handicrafts: Top Tours & Workshops.
5. ‘Ene’io Botanical Garden Tour
Join the former Director for Agriculture and Forestry, Haniteli Fa’anunu, for an insightful guided tour of his beautifully curated ‘Ene’io Botanical Garden. Culture meets nature on his guided walking tours of a tropical garden. On the standard Garden Tour, learn about Haniteli’s interesting life story, as well as about tropical plants from across the South Pacific and their many benefits. The tour involves a short walk on compact terrain that can be navigatable in a wheelchair.
6. Sunday Church Services
An easy (and free) way to experience the Tongan culture is to attend a Sunday church service. Tonga is a highly religious Christian country, where going to Sunday church is part of the routine. Visitors are welcome to attend church services, as long as they wear appropriate clothing. The reward is listening to the locals’ harmonious singing and witnessing the passion of their faith. Learn more about church protocol and check out churches to visit in the 10 Best Churches in Tonga for Tourists.
7. Tongan Feast and Floor Show
Featuring traditional singing, dancing and, of course, a Tongan feast, a Tongan floor show is a must to experience at least once during your getaway! Cultural shows take place in some of the resorts around Tonga where you’ll get to enjoy a traditional form of dance known as lakalaka, which involves a mix of graceful dancing from the women and energetic war dancing from the men. You’ll need energy just to watch these captivating performances, but luckily, a floor show rarely comes without a Tongan feast with an array of local staples cooked in an umu oven, as well as a spitroast pig! Check out The 10 Best Cultural Shows in Tonga for recommended shows and what each entails.
8. Browse Local Markets and Stalls
A casual way to mingle with the locals is to go to the local markets and roadside stalls selling handicrafts and/or fresh produce. Visiting local markets provides excitement for all of the senses, with amazing handicrafts to admire, fresh tropical produce to buy and taste, and fun people to meet. Many stalls will personalise gifts for you, making your souvenirs from Tonga truly unique. See The Guide to Shopping in Tonga + The Best Places to Shop for more on the subject.
9. Enjoy Tongatapu’s Roadside Attractions
There are many attractions to see simply from the roadsides on Tongatapu, including the Flying Foxes in Kolovai, the Fishing Pigs in Navutoka, and the Three-Headed Coconut Tree in Liahona. Tongatapu offers some of the most accessible sightseeing, so learn more about the island’s attractions in Sightseeing on Tongatapu: Top 10 Sights & Natural Attractions.
10. Drink Kava with the Locals
Drinking kava, made from the ground-up roots of a pepper plant, is a favourite pastime in Tonga. The local men gather together most evenings or before Sunday church for “faikava“. In other words, to sit in a circle, drink kava, sing harmoniously and play the guitar. Although kava is a narcotic drink, just one drink from the coconut shell won’t have an effect. Although this is traditionally a male activity, female visitors are welcome too. See Where to Try Kava in Tonga for more information.
More Things to Do in a Wheelchair in Tonga
Of course, all disabilities are different in their limitations, so be sure to have a browse of the 101 Best Things to Do in Tonga to see what you think you will reasonably be able to do.
More About Accessibility in Tonga
That’s it for our full guide to accessibility in Tonga, including information on disability and wheelchair access. For more tips that you might find useful, see the following guides:
- Tonga Safety Tips: Is it Safe to Travel to Tonga?
- Tonga Travel Tips: 30 Tips for Travelling in Tonga
- 20 Tips for Your Family Tonga Vacation with Kids
Finally, get a complete guide to planning your trip to Tonga from scratch using The Complete Travel Guide to Tonga: Plan a Trip the Easy Way.