How to Visit Tongatapu on a Budget
The “Sacred South”, otherwise known as Tongatapu, is one of the most budget-friendly islands in Tonga. Not only is getting around cheap and easy, but the island offers plenty of accommodation choices for the frugal traveller. What’s more, most of the land attractions are free with only very few paid-for attractions. See historical sites from ancient Polynesia, check out sights from the South Pacific’s only royal family, and discover breathtaking land formations. You’ll also find a few beaches and snorkelling hotspots for good measure. We’ll guide you through it all in this travel guide to Tongatapu on a budget.
10 Tips for Visiting Tongatapu on a Budget
Before we jump into the things to do and where to eat, etc., check out this list of tips for visiting Tongatapu on a budget to learn how to be more frugal while exploring the island!
- The cheapest way to get around Tongatapu is by bus – see How to Travel Around Tonga By Bus
- Be sure to check out all of the free and cheap attractions around the island – see our 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Tongatapu.
- Save money on food by self-catering and getting your supplies from the local fale koloa (convenience store)
- If you are ordering meals from restaurants, note that many serve huge Tongan-style portions, so consider sharing a main and an entree/side to reduce the cost
- If taking a guided tour of Tongatapu, choose a full-day option rather than a half-day, as they are cheaper on an hourly basis
- Have cash available to avoid unfavourable exchange rates and credit card fees (not to mention, not everyone accepts credit card on Tongatapu)
- Stay in one of the island’s budget accommodations – see the list of recommendations beside this guide!
- Consider all of the free (or not free) inclusions that the accommodations offer, such as breakfast, kayaks, WiFi and more
- Organise an airport transfer with your accommodation for a cheaper rate than a taxi
- Stay in Nuku’alofa, where there are more conveniences in terms of affordable food, getting around and proximity to some of the island’s water-based activities.
For more details on each tip and more, see our 10 Ways to Save Money When Travelling in Tonga.
How to Get to Tongatapu on a Budget
With an international airport and a cruise ship port, Tongatapu is one of the easiest (and cheapest) islands to get to in Tonga. As for getting around, public transport, such as buses and taxis are affordable, while bicycle hire and budget car hire are more independent yet affordable ways to get around.
Tongatapu by Plane
Most overseas travellers arrive on Tongatapu by plane, landing at Fua’amotu International Airport, approximately 30 minutes’ drive from Nuku’alofa. Flights to Fua’amotu Airport are available from New Zealand, Australia and Fiji, where you’ll need to make connections if you’re coming from elsewhere. For budgeting tips, check out How to Book a Cheap Flight to Tonga. Additionally, take a look at the Cheapest Airport Transfer Options in Tonga for the best ways to get between the airport and your accommodation.
How to Get Around Tongatapu
Tongatapu is well-connected by roads across and around the island, with most transport connections made in Nuku’alofa. Car rentals and bicycle rentals are an option for independent travel. Alternatively, bus services, taxis and guided tours are also available. Find out all you need to know about transport in our Tongatapu Transport Guide: 10 Ways to Get to (& Around) Tongatapu.
Free Activities on Tongatapu
Tongatapu is scattered with historical, royal and natural sights that make it a dream for any traveller on a tight budget. Your biggest expense will be getting between attractions, but budget travellers will likely find good value in guided tours available as listed in The Best Guided Tours of Tongatapu. Otherwise, car rental is also very affordable.
Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon
Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon, also known as “Maui’s Burden”, is an intriguing ancient monument believed to have been constructed in the 13th Century by the 11th Tu’i Tonga (king), Tu’itatui. The attraction near Niutoua is within an attractive park setting with souvenir stalls and a grassy walkway leading to Maka Fa’akinanga or “Tu’itatui’s Backrest”, which is said to be where the king would lean against while he watched the construction of the monument. Interpretation panels at the site explain the history of the site. Find it signposted along Taufa’ahau Road, Niutoua, east side of Tongatapu. See more free sites like this in the 10 Best Historical Sites in Tongatapu & Nuku’alofa.
Hufangalupe Land Bridge, Cliff Lookout and Beach
There are a few impressive natural features to admire in the Hufangalupe area. After a drive down a dirt track (the last 50 m/yards is rough, so it’s best to park up and walk the rest of the way if you’re in a rental car), you’ll first come to a side trail to an astonishing lookout over Hufangalupe Beach. Another fainter trail leads down to the beach from the road. Alternatively, continue down the dirt road and follow a well-formed trail down to a cliff archway covered in vegetation, the Hufangalupe Land Bridge. Walk over the land bridge and continue for approximately five minutes before turning back to see an amazing view of Tongatapu’s rugged cliff coastline. Access is off Hufangalupe Road, southeast coast of Tongatapu.
Mapua ‘a Vaea Blowholes
Back to something more serious, the Mapua ‘a Vaea Blowholes are an impressive natural attraction spanning some 5 km (3 mi) along the coastline. You’ll see hundreds of blowholes spouting water into the air before the water falls back onto the tiered reefs, making a beautiful natural feature. While the blowholes perform at any time, some of the best times to see the blowholes are at sunset for gorgeous hues and during windy weather or large swells at high tide to see blowholes bursting up to 30 m (100 ft) in the air! Find the attractions at the end of Vaea Road, Houma, southwest side of Tongatapu. For more interesting sights like this, check out the 10 Best Sights & Natural Attractions on Tongatapu.
For more free and cheap activities, check out our 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Tongatapu.
Cheap Activities on Tongatapu
Museums, culture tours and even island day trips make up much of the affordable activities on Tongatapu. Again, we have many more examples in the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Tongatapu, but some of the cheapest activities include the following…
This impressive limestone cave on the east coast of Tongatapu is a must-see, and not too expensive either! Duck through the entrance which instantly opens up into a vast limestone ‘Anahulu Cave lit up to admire in all its glory. A well-formed walkway leads to a refreshing swimming hole – so bring your swimwear! Although it’s possible to swim into more caverns, it’s best done if you know what you’re doing or if you’re with a guide. Entry is approximately TOP$15 per person. Check out ‘Anahulu Beach while you’re there, as listed in the 25 Best Beaches on Tongatapu. Find it signposted from the southern end of Haveluliku village, east side of Tongatapu.
Pangaimotu Island Day Trip
Some of the best-value tours available on Tongatapu are day trips to the off-shore islands, available from Faua Wharf in Nuku’alofa. For instance, take a day trip to Pangaimotu Island to experience Tonga’s idyllic islands. After a 15-20-minute boat trip, you’ll arrive on the island to enjoy it as you please: swimming from the beach, walking around the island, sunbathing or finding shade under a coconut tree, or snorkelling at the nearby reef (snorkel hire is an additional fee). At around TOP$50 for a full-day experience, that’s not a bad way to make your Pa’anga go further!
Boats depart from Faua Wharf (behind the fish market and Ngutilei Restaurant) every Sunday at 11 am and 12 am. Trips throughout the week require at least 10 passengers to go ahead (so book at the Tourist Information Fale in advance and they’ll get back to you).
Tonga National Museum
Admire all sorts of ancient Tongan tools, from stone anchors to wooden headrests, and get a fascinating insight into the way that Tongans lived hundreds of years ago at the Tonga National Museum. Too many visitors miss this treasure trove – mainly because the museum is not easy to find. However, those who discover it usually get a sense that they’ve found something special. The museum has a very affordable fee and guided tours are provided by passionate and knowledgeable guides at no extra cost. Alternatively, you can walk around the hall self-guided thanks to the information displays. The museum is located upstairs in Queen Salote Memorial Hall, Taufa’ahau Road (opposite the Lulutai Airlines office), Nuku’alofa city centre.
More Things to Do on Tongatapu
On top of all the activities mentioned, Tongatapu also has the Fishing Pigs, Three-Headed Coconut Tree, Flying Foxes of Kolovai and much more for free or at an affordable price. We go over them all in the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Tongatapu. For more experiences that don’t necessarily fall into the “budget” category but are still just as amazing, take a look at the 50 Best Things to Do on Tongatapu.
Dining on Tongatapu on a Budget
Tongatapu’s main hub, Nuku’alofa, is where you’ll find the most dining options including the cheap eats. Outside of the city, restaurant choices are reduced to a handful of local cafes, as well as the occasional resort restaurant and accommodations providing meals.
Cheap Takeaways in Nuku’alofa
The masters of fast food in Nuku’alofa, Three Men’s Fastfood (Taufau’ahau Village) have prices starting from TOP$10 with their small burgers to around TOP$15-$20 paninis.
Get your Mexican fix from Inglewood LA Snacks (Wellington Road), a hole-in-the-wall eatery with burritos, tacos, nachos and kesatias starting from TOP$12.
There are also plenty of bakeries to stuff your face for breakfast or lunch all for a reasonable price, such as Agape Donuts (Wellington Road) and A.Cowley & Sons (Fasi-Moe-Afi Road).
Cheap Restaurants on Tongatapu
A long-established hole-in-the-wall eatery at the Tonga Post Building food court, Chand’s Curry House (Taufa’ahau Road, Nuku’alofa) is a popular Indian takeaway. Treat yourself to a variety of curries with various boned and boneless meats, all served with rice, roti and a chilli chutney – amazing value for the price!
Try Tonga favourites like ota ika (raw fish marinated in coconut cream) or lu (taro leaves wrapped in meat and coconut cream) in restaurants, such as Mum’s Cafe (Cnr Fatafehi and Laifone Road, Nuku’alofa), Ofeina Restaurant (Veitongo) and Keli’i and Rose Restaurant (Vaini).
More Tongan delights can be found at the 12 Seafood Restaurant (Umusi Road, Popua). Indulge in super fresh fish and chips and Tongan seafood dishes, like fish curry, ota ika and sweet and sour all for under TOP$20!
Cheap BBQs and Street Food on Tongatapu
The cheapest meals you’re going to find on Tongatapu are from those selling local meals on the roadsides. All over Tongatapu, you’ll see market stalls selling sweet but filling treats like manioke tama, topai and ngoua for around TOP$5. Check out our Tongan dishes in the 10 Unique Foods in Tonga You Have to Try.
Meanwhile, at the Tui Mata Moana Market (Faua Wharf, Nuku’alofa) walk or drive-thru to pick up local drinks like ‘otai and barbecue meals all for TOP$10 or less. Learn more about ‘otai in the 10 Drinks in Tonga You Have to Try. Finally, catch BBQs and food trucks set up at the Vuna Wharf Bus Station every evening except Sunday!
For more recommendations, check out more of The Cheap Eats in Nuku’alofa & Tongatapu.
Self-Catering on Tongatapu
Another surefire way to save money on food on Tongatapu is to cook your own meals. Stay at one of the 10 Best Self-Catering Accommodations in Nuku’alofa & Tongatapu and pick up groceries from the many convenience stores, fale koloa and roadside produce stalls to whip up your own sustenance! Check out The Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping in Tonga for more tips for a self-catering trip.
More About Tongatapu on a Budget
That’s it for our complete travel guide to Tongatapu on a budget. For more tips on visiting Tonga’s main island on the cheap, take a look at the following:
- The Travel Guide to Tonga on a Budget
- Tonga Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to Tonga Cost?
- The Complete Guide to Tongatapu