The Ultimate Guide to Budget Travel in Tonga
Tropical islands, real island cultures, amazing marine wildlife… Tonga is a memorable destination especially for the budget traveller who will find that you don’t have to spend much to see the ancient Polynesian sights, unusual natural wonders and stay in a piece of island paradise. Sure, the activities that Tonga is most famous for such as whale swimming and scuba diving do have a hefty price tag, but there’s much more to The Kingdom of Tonga that you don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy. We’ll guide you through how to experience this South Pacific nation on the cheap with this guide to Tonga on a budget.
An Intro to Tonga
Location: In the South Pacific in the continent of Oceania. Tonga is directly south of Samoa and two-thirds of the way between Hawaii and New Zealand.
Size: 750 km² (290 mi²) of land scattered over 700,000 km² (270,000 mi²) of ocean
Climate: Daily average temperature – 26°C/79°F, yearly average rainfall – 1,600mm/63″
Find out more in What is the Weather Like in Tonga?
Time zone: TST / GMT+13
Find out more in What is the Tonga Time Zone?
Find out more in Who are the People of Tonga?
Languages: Tongan and English
Find out more in The Guide to the Tongan Language
Is Tonga Cheap to Visit?
Tonga is a cheap country to visit in comparison to other South Pacific Islands, New Zealand and Australia. However, Tonga is more expensive than backpacking in Southeast Asia. Don’t worry, with this guide to travelling Tonga on a budget, we’ll share ways to stretch your dollars or “pa’anga” further.
How to Get to Tonga
First things first, you’ll need to see if you are actually able to travel to Tonga due to restrictions put in place at the borders after the COVID-19 outbreak. Visit the Government of the Kingdom of Tonga‘s website for the latest travel information.
Next, what is the best way to get to Tonga? Tonga can be accessed by flight, cruise ship or private sailing yachts. The most popular way to get to Tonga is by international flight, so let’s start with that.
Flying to Tonga
Direct international flights to Tonga come from New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Samoa and American Samoa. If you’re coming from further afield, connecting flights can be made in New Zealand, Australia and Fiji. See our guide, Which Airlines Fly to Tonga? for more advice on flying to Tonga. Plus, get tips on how to save a few bob in our guide, How to Book a Cheap Flight to Tonga.
Most international arrivals land at Fua’amotu International Airport on the island of Tongatapu, 21km (13 miles) from the nation’s capital, Nuku’alofa. A limited number of flights also arrive at Lupepau’u International Airport in Vava’u, about 10km (6 miles) from Neiafu. Find out more about these airports and the best one to fly to in What Are the Airports in Tonga?
Cruises to Tonga
Tonga is on the itinerary of several South Pacific cruises from New Zealand, Australia and the US, as well as round-the-world cruises from the US and the UK. There are two ports of call in Tonga, one in Nuku’alofa on Tongatapu and the other in Neiafu in Vava’u. Find out about which cruiseliners have Tonga on their itinerary, as well as what to do at each port of call in The Guide to Taking a Cruise to Tonga. Plus, we have money-saving tips in the 10 Ways to Save Money on a Cruise to Tonga.
Sailing to Tonga
Tonga is situated at the centre of a Transpacific journey between the US and New Zealand. The yachting season is between May and October. Learn about the sailing formalities and the ports of entry in The Sailing Guide to Tonga.
What You Need to Know About Customs Declarations
Tonga has strict biosecurity measures at the border to stop unwanted pests and diseases from entering the country. Therefore, anyone arriving in Tonga has to declare any “risk items” they have packed in their luggage – even common items like food and sports gear. Be sure to read up on Everything You Need to Know About Arriving in Tonga so you are prepared.
Check out our complete guide on How to Get to Tonga for even more tips on making your way to the islands of Tonga.
When to Visit + The Cheapest Time to Visit Tonga
Tonga is a tropical country and experiences warm temperatures throughout the year. It has two distinct seasons, a dry season that is drier and cooler, and a wet season that is hot and humid. Learn much more about the weather and climate by month in What is the Weather Like in Tonga?
Dry Season (May to November)
The dry season is also known as the winter season in Tonga, although many would not describe it as winter with temperatures around 19-29°C (66-84°F). The rainfall per month is an average of 110mm (3.9″). The dry season is also the time for whale swimming and the clearest visibility for scuba diving.
Wet Season (December to April)
The wet season is hotter and more humid, with temperatures around 23-31°C (74-88°F) and an average monthly rainfall of 210mm (8.3″). This is also Tonga’s cyclone season, which means there’s a risk of cyclones (but only a risk). On a more positive note, the wet season is also the low season in Tonga where you’re much more likely to find cheaper deals on flights and accommodation.
The Cheapest Time to Visit Tonga
So when is the best time to travel to Tonga? Check out our complete guide, The Best Time to Visit Tonga, which dives deeper into the subject.
Tonga Packing List for Backpackers and Travellers on a Budget
The main thing you need to keep in mind when packing for Tonga is having a tropical wardrobe that includes some more modest items of clothing for exploring Tonga’s towns and villages. A packing list for Tonga might look a little something like this:
- Shorts/Skirts/Dresses (some below the knee for leaving the resort)
- Singlets/T-Shirts (some to cover the shoulders for leaving the resort)
- Sarong (lavalava) for a quick cover-up
- Light sleepwear
- Light jacket/Cardigan/Pashmina for cooler evenings
- Light fleece jumper (something to keep warm after swimming from a boat)
- A smarter outfit covering the shoulders and knees if going to church
- Clothes to travel in
- One-piece swimsuit for watersports/village stay
- Rash vest
- Reef shoes
- Walking shoes
- Light cotton shirt to cover arms and protect from the sun and mosquitos
- Light rain jacket/Small umbrella
And that’s just the clothes! For a full packing list of everything to take, including accessories and toiletries, check out The Complete Packing List for Tonga.
Health Products to Pack
With questionable drinking water, high UV levels and the presence of mosquitos, certain health products are essential to take to Tonga. Tonga also has a fragile marine ecosystem so natural sunscreens and repellents are a must, while reusable water purification bottles are preferable to buying bottled water for obvious environmental reasons. See our health essentials packing list in What Medication to Pack in Your First Aid Kit for Tonga.
The currency in Tonga is Tongan Pa’anga. You will need to be prepared to get by on cash for much of your stay as this is often the only payment method accepted. There are ATMs in the four main towns of Tonga. Get more money tips in What is The Best Way to Pay in Tonga?
Do You Need a Tourist Visa to Visit Tonga?
For citizens of around 70 different countries, the answer is no. You just need to arrive in Tonga with a valid passport. Citizens not of visa-exempt countries will need an Entry Permit. Find out more in Do You Need a Visa to Visit Tonga?
How Long to Visit Tonga For
Tonga might make for an idyllic boutique resort getaway to simply relax for a few days – and that’s fine; we all need to R&R from time to time. Most travellers, however, are here to explore and experience some of the most dramatic culture and wildlife experiences in the South Pacific. With that in mind, here’s what you can achieve in certain timeframes… (And don’t worry, we’ll get onto the destinations in the next few sections).
3 Days / A Long Weekend in Tonga
Over a long weekend, you have enough time to see the highlights of Tongatapu. Check out the Tonga Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: 3 Days / Weekend for an example itinerary.
5 Days in Tonga
Start by exploring Tongatapu, then head to one of the outer islands, such as the nearby ‘Eua, for a couple of days. See the Tonga Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: 5 Days for an awesome trip idea.
7 Days / One Week in Tonga
Visit two island groups to experience two sides of Tonga. Flights and ferries connect the main four groups on a regular basis so take your pick! Get some inspiration on what to do and where to go from our Tonga Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: 7 Days / One Week.
14 Days / Two Weeks in Tonga
Adventurous travellers can visit as many as four major island groups of Tonga. See the Tonga Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: 14 Days / Two Weeks for weeks of exciting experiences.
Where to Go: Budget Travel in Tongatapu
Tongatapu might be the main arrival island of Tonga, which has the added bonus of being the cheapest island to get to, but there’s much more to it than that. Tongatapu is home to a wide array of free and cheap attractions, whether it’s the natural wonders of ‘Anahulu Cave, Mapu ‘a Vaea Blowholes or the Flying Foxes of Kolovai or historic sites like the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon, Royal Tombs or the Abel Tasman Landing Site.
A good base for budget travellers is Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga, which has a wide variety of budget accommodations, eateries and supermarkets should you be self-catering. From here, you can hire a car, take the bus or jump on a tour to explore the island.
Alternatively, for a more “island-style” holiday, there are some budget accommodations along Ha’atafu Beach on the west side of the island with beach activities, including kayaking and snorkelling, to enjoy.
Where to Go: Budget Travel in ‘Eua
As if it were made for backpackers, ‘Eua is an island exclusively of budget accommodations and an excellent choice of free and cheap experiences. The island sits around 40km (24 miles) southeast of Tongatapu, taking half a day to ferry there. It’s Tonga’s oldest island, which has weathered some interesting natural features over the millions of years, from natural arches to sinkholes to giant banyan trees.
For budget travellers, hiking is a good way to explore the island, especially in the ‘Eua National Park where you can look out for the red shining parrot, pass impressive sinkholes, and venture to stunning island lookouts.
Cultural activities, like learning Tongan crafts, is another way to spend your time here on the cheap, which can be organised with villagers through the resorts. Horseriding TTD362 is another activity that can be pretty affordable, while the whale swimming tours here are among some of the cheapest in Tonga (but still around TOP$350-$400).
Learn more about ‘Eua in The Guide to ‘Eua on a Budget.
Where to Go: Budget Travel in Ha’apai
Although getting to this central island group in Tonga is a little more expensive than Tongatapu and ‘Eua, Ha’apai is a must-visit for budget travellers seeking sun, sea and sand. There are 62 islands in the island group, most of which are uninhabited including Uoleva Island which has a couple of budget resorts for travellers to get the “Robinson Crusoe” experience. Alternatively, guesthouses in the main town, Pangai, make for a good base to explore the island of Lifuka, its stunning sweeping sandy beaches and historical sites.
Stay at any of the waterfront accommodations in Ha’apai and you’ll spend your days snorkelling and kayaking for free. Otherwise, it’s affordable and achievable to hire a bike and explore the flat island of Lifuka and Foa. Crafting lessons are also offered by one of the guesthouses so you can learn to make your own Tongan souvenirs.
Dive further into planning a budget trip to Ha’apai with The Guide to Ha’apai on a Budget.
Where to Go: Budget Travel in Vava’u
This northern island group in Tonga might be a little more expensive to get to, but it offers some of the top snorkelling spots, dive sites, sailing grounds, and fishing grounds in Tonga. Not that budget travellers will want to fork out too much on all of these activities, but they are certainly there to tempt you!
The main town, Neiafu, has plenty of budget accommodation, as well as interesting sights like the local market on the waterfront or the Vava’u Pearl Centre. There are a couple of budget resorts in the island group too, such as the Beautiful Ofu Island Backpackers, where you can get that resort experience with kayaking and island-hopping tours for a more affordable price.
Learn more about visiting Vava’u in The Guide to Vava’u on a Budget.
How to Get Around Tonga on a Budget
Tonga might not have an overwhelming number of island groups but the distance between each is quite substantial with around 180km (110 miles) between Tongatapu and Ha’apai and 130km (80 miles) between Ha’apai and Vava’u. Not to mention, Tonga’s larger islands are well worth exploring on land. So how do you get around Tonga?
To get between island groups, flights operate daily except Sundays. They are the fastest and most comfortable way to get between islands, therefore the most expensive option. Learn more about flying between the island groups in The Guide to Flights in Tonga and see prices in How Much Does it Cost to Fly in Tonga?
Cargo-style boats and fast catamaran passenger ferries travel between Tongatapu, ‘Eua, Ha’apai and Vava’u several times a week. They are cheaper than flying but trips can last several hours. See The Guide to Travelling in Tonga by Ferry to learn much more about this transport method and How Much Do Ferries Cost in Tonga?
Car rental is available in Tongatapu and Vava’u. We have The Guide to Renting a Car in Tonga to give you more rental car advice. Plus, get some money-saving advice from our 10 Ways to Save Money on Car Rental in Tonga.
Taxis are available in Tongatapu and Vava’u. Ask for the going rate, as many don’t use meters. See The Guide to Taxis in Tonga for more tips and Taxi Prices in Tonga: The Costs You Need to Know for prices.
Buses are ultra-cheap, providing a local experience to get around Tongatapu and a more limited service on Vava’u. We have a guide for that too, in How to Travel Around Tonga By Bus, as well as prices in How Much Does it Cost to Travel Tonga by Bus?
There are a lot more ways to travel around Tonga between resort transfers and guided tours, so be sure to browse our Tonga Transport Guide: 10 Ways to Get Around Tonga for more advice.
Cheap Accommodation in Tonga
Tonga’s budget accommodations are intimate. Choose from cheap beachfront resorts typically consisting of only two to seven fales (beach houses), while guesthouses provide an affordable and homely experience. Holiday homes, budget hotels and even backpacker hostels are also available in Tonga.
The term “resort” is used rather loosely in Tonga, meaning that even budget fales (beach huts) are classed as a resort. Some may have either an à la carte-menu restaurant or a dining room where shared meals are served, while free use of watersports equipment is almost always a given. Some resorts will also offer their own paid experiences, from cultural activities to snorkelling trips. Learn more about what to expect from Tonga’s resorts in How to Pick the Best Resort in Tonga for You. Plus, don’t miss the 10 Best Budget Resorts in Tonga.
Found in each island group’s main towns, guesthouses are usually owned by locals, providing affordable and authentic Tongan hospitality. Guests have a private room, sometimes with an ensuite, and share communal facilities like a kitchen and bathroom. Find out more about their facilities in How to Pick the Best Guesthouse in Tonga for You, as well as our top picks in the 10 Best Guesthouses in Tonga.
Although there is the odd international-style hotel in Tonga, most hotels are budget, available in the two largest towns, Nuku’alofa and Neiafu. Check out How to Pick the Best Hotel in Tonga for You for more of an overview or jump straight to our favourites in the 10 Best Hotels in Tongatapu and 5 Best Hotels in Vava’u.
Backpacker accommodations consisting of dorms and private rooms with communal facilities can only be found on the island of Tongatapu. They are some of your cheapest accommodations in Tonga, which you can learn more about in How to Pick the Best Backpacker Accommodation in Tonga for You. See our top recommendations in the 6 Best Backpacker Hostels on Tongatapu.
For groups seeking their own space and perhaps conveniences like self-catering facilities, choose one of the holiday homes in Tonga. Holiday homes can be cost-effective for large groups and families. Check out How to Pick the Best Holiday Home in Tonga for You for more details. Plus, be sure to browse the 10 Best Holiday Homes in Tonga.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Tonga
Tonga hooks most travellers with the prospect of swimming with humpback whales but there’s much more to this island nation. You never know, after browsing our 101 Best Things to Do in Tonga: The Ultimate List you might just realise that there are amazing experiences even outside of the whale season.
When it comes to experiences that you can enjoy for free or at least very cheaply, here are the highlights:
- Snorkel in crystal clear waters with coral and tropical fish
- Enjoy island hikes in the ‘Eua National Park
- Visit natural attractions like the Mapu ‘a Vaea Blowholes
- Swim at the stunning ‘Anahulu limestone cave
- Check out historical sites like the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui
- Learn Tongan handicrafts with local villagers
- Browse the Tongan handicraft and produce markets
- Try some Tongan cheap eats in Nuku’alofa.
Get more inspiration for ways to enjoy Tonga on the cheap in the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Tonga.
Food and Dining on a Budget
Tonga’s restaurants can be found in Nuku’alofa and Neiafu, as well as some of its resorts. They typically have international influences, such as Italian, American, British, Chinese and more, as well as local Tongan dishes. Check out our top dining picks in The Guide to the Best Eats & Restaurants in Tonga, as well as the best-value dining experiences in Top Cheap Eats in Tonga.
Tongan food can be sampled at Tongan restaurants in Nuku’alofa, at cultural shows and buffets on Tongatapu, on cultural tours in Ha’apai, and at Sunday umu feasts in ‘Eua and Vava’u. Check out which meals to look out for in the 6 Unique Foods in Tonga You Have to Try.
Self-catering is often an option at some accommodations and one of the most significant money-savers when travelling. Travellers can pick up food from small supermarkets, fale koloa (convenience stores), and produce markets. Get advice on self-catering in our guide on Where to Buy Food in Tonga.
Want to know more about dining in Tonga? Head to The Guide to the Food in Tonga.
Typical Costs and Travel Budget: Is Tonga Expensive?
We all travel very differently. Therefore, making a precise budget for everyone is, quite frankly, an impossible task. Nevertheless, you can work out your own needs, thus budget, by simply looking at the typical prices listed below or in our article, Tonga Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to Tonga Cost?
The Cost of Accommodation
- Dorm bed/night – TOP$19-$30
- Guesthouse single room/night – TOP$50-$70
- Guesthouse double room/night – TOP$60-$90
- Guesthouse double ensuite/night – TOP$100-$120
- Hotel double ensuite/night – TOP$200-$350
- Mid-range resort fale (bungalow)/night – TOP$280-$400
- Family room or villa/night – TOP$180-$550
Get more accommodation prices in our guide, What is the Cost of Accommodation in Tonga?
The Cost of Food
- Main breakfast meal – TOP$10-$20
- Main lunch meal – TOP$14-$30
- Main dinner meal – TOP$20-$40
- Pint of beer – TOP$8-$10
- Small coffee – TOP$5
- Cocktail – TOP$13-$19
- Non-alcoholic drink – TOP$5
Grocery prices for self-catering can be found in What is the Cost of Food in Tonga?
The Cost of Tours and Activities
- Guided land sightseeing tour – TOP$75-$100
- Guided hike – TOP$70
- Culture tour/3 hours – TOP$75
- Botanical gardens tour – TOP$35-$50
- Cultural show & buffet – TOP$35-$55
- ‘Anahulu Cave entry – TOP$15
- Massage/60 minutes – TOP$90-$235
- Whale swimming tour – TOP$350-$690
- Scuba diving/two-tank – TOP$300 -$420
- Game fishing/half-day – TOP$455-$600
- Guided boat sightseeing/snorkel tour – TOP$120-$355
- Kayak hire/day – TOP$0-$140
- Snorkel hire/day – TOP$0-$25
Get more examples of activity prices, as well as free activities, in our guide, What is the Cost of Activities in Tonga?
The Cost of Transport
- Bicycle rental/day – TOP$0-$30
- Scooter rental/day – TOP$50
- Car rental/day – TOP$40-$150
- Public bus/trip – TOP$0.70-$3
- Taxi/30 minutes – TOP$30-$50
- Accommodation/airport transfers – TOP$4-$60
- Ferry/Tongatapu to Vava’u – TOP$80-$150
- Island resort airport transfer – TOP$60-$230
- Flight/Tongatapu to Vava’u – TOP$350
Get transport prices for more routes in our guide, What is the Cost of Transport in Tonga? And again, check out our guide, Tonga Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to Tonga Cost? for more budget tips and costs.
More About Visiting Tonga on a Budget
That’s it for our complete guide to Tonga on a budget but by no means the end of our Tonga advice! Check out the following guides for more tips for backpackers and budget travellers:
- 10 Tips for Travelling Tonga on a Budget
- 10 Ways to Save Money When Travelling in Tonga
- What is the Cost of Travelling in Tonga?
Finally, if this complete budget guide to Tonga wasn’t enough, how about scrolling through The Complete Travel Guide to Tonga?