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
- 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 10 Free & Cheap Things To Do on Tongatapu.
- Outside of Nuku’alofa, eating out a little more expensive. Consider self-catering and getting your supplies from the local fale koloa (convenience store)
- If you are ordering meals from resorts, note that many serve huge Tongan-style portions, so consider sharing a main and an entree/side to reduce the cost
- The guided tours of Tongatapu provide good value for getting you to the various sights with a knowledgeable guide – 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
- Stay in one of the island’s budget accommodation – see the list of recommendations besides this guide!
- Consider all of the free (or not free) inclusions that the accommodations around Tongatapu offer, such as free snorkel gear, kayaks, bicycle hire 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, see our 10 Tips for Visiting Tongatapu on a Budget.
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 affordable ways to get around.
Nuku’alofa by Plane
Most overseas travellers arrive on Tongatapu by plane, landing at the nearby Fua’amotu International Airport. 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.
Airport and Accommodation Shuttles
Often the cheapest and the most convenient way to get between the airport and your accommodation is to use your accommodation’s airport transfer service. This is usually TOP$15-$30 per person if going to Nuku’alofa or up to TOP$50 if going somewhere else on Tongatapu. You need to book this service in advance.
Buses in Nuku’alofa
Public buses are the cheapest way to get around Tongatapu. Bus fares cost approximately TOP$1 to travel within Nuku’alofa and usually up to TOP$3 between destinations on Tongatapu. Learn more about taking the bus in Tonga and Tongatapu here.
Bicycle Hire on Tongatapu
With Tongatapu being a flat island and only 257km2 (100 miles2), getting around by bicycle is a cheap and fun experience to go short distances. Bike hire is available at some accommodations, such as Heilala Holiday Lodge and Liku’alofa Resort for free to TOP$20 a day.
For more information on the transport on Tongatapu, see the 10 Ways to Get to Tongatapu (& Around Tongatapu).
Free and Cheap Activities on Tongatapu
Tongatapu is scattered with historical, royal and natural sights that make it a dream for any traveller on a tight budget. Only a limited few sights are paid sights, but at only around TOP$15, it’s still pretty affordable. Your biggest expense will be getting between attractions, but budget travellers will find good value in guided tours either available independently as listed in The Best Guided Tours of Tongatapu or organised with selected accommodation. A good price to pay for a full-day guided tour of the sights is around TOP$100 per person.
See the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon
Also known as “Maui’s Burden”, the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon is an intriguing and ancient monument believed to have been constructed in the 13th Century by the 11th Tu’i (king) of Tonga. The area near Niutoua is within an attractive park-like setting with a walkway leading to the back of the area where visitors can see ‘Esi Makafakinanga or “Tu’itatui’s Backrest”, which is said to be where the king leant while he watched the construction of the monument.
Explore and Swim at ‘Anahulu Cave
An impressive limestone cave on the east coast of Tongatapu awaits. After paying around TOP$15 entry, duck through a small entrance which instantly opens up into a huge limestone cave lit up for you to see in all its glory. A well-formed walkway leads to a refreshing swimming hole where it’s possible to swim into more caves if you know what you’re doing or go with a guide.
Hufangalupe Landbridge and Cliffs Lookout
After a drive down a pretty rough dirt track (the last 50m is really rough, so just walk the rest of the way if you’re in a rental car), you’ll first come to a side track to an astonishing lookout over Hufangalupe Beach. Continue down the dirt road and you’ll follow a well-trodden trail to a cliff archway with the waves crashing below. Walk over the archway for about five minutes and look back to see an amazing view of Tongatapu’s rugged cliff coastline.
For more free and cheap activities, check out our 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in 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, budget traveller’s restaurant choices are reduced to what’s available at resorts and accommodations with restaurants. Expect to pay around TOP$15-$25 per person for lunch and TOP$20-$50 for dinner.
Because some of the accommodation on Tongatapu is self-catering, it’s possible to pick up supplies from fale koloa, which are convenience stores with grates over the windows where you ask for what you want to the store clerk. They can be found in almost all villages across the island. Alternatively, supermarkets are available in Nuku’alofa.
For affordable dining in Nuku’alofa, check out our Cheap Eats in Nuku’alofa.