What You Need to Know About Planning a Trip to Tonga
So, you’re thinking about travelling to Tonga? That’s amazing! Now is the time to take the leap and start planning a trip of a lifetime. Tonga might seem like an overly exotic destination with cultural protocol to negotiate and a place where “things work differently”, but don’t worry! After reading this complete introduction on how to plan a trip to Tonga, you’ll find that sorting out the practicalities for visiting Tonga is as easy as a balmy island breeze. Wise up with our Tonga travel advice!
Tonga is a nation of around 170 islands located in the South Pacific, most of which are uninhabited. The country covers 748km2 (289 sq mi) and is split into five different regions/island groups consisting of Tongatapu, ‘Eua, Ha’apai, Vava’u and The Niuas. The capital is Nuku’alofa located on Tongatapu. Learn more in Understanding the Regions in Tonga.
Why Visit Tonga?
Travellers have Tonga as a bucket list destination for its unique culture, tropical climate, stunning island landscapes and to swim with whales. The countries main activities are on the water, including sailing, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkelling, kitesurfing, fishing and more.
Who are the People of Tonga?
Around 98% of the population of Tonga are Tongans, descendants of a Polynesian group closely related to Samoans and sharing a small portion of Melanesian influence. Learn more in Who are the People of Tonga?
When is the Best Time to Visit Tonga?
There’s never really a bad time to visit Tonga, but depending on what activities you want to do and your ideal weather scenario, there might be a better season for you to visit.
Climate of Tonga
Tonga is a tropical country and experiences warm temperatures throughout the year. It has two distinct seasons, a dry season which is drier and cooler, and a wet season which is hotter and humid. Learn more 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.
Wet Season (December to April)
The wet season is hotter and more humid, with temperatures around 23-31°C (74-88°F) and the 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).
So when is the best time to travel to Tonga? Get more information in The Best Time to Visit Tonga.
What Do You Need to Bring With You to Tonga?
Of course, packing is a personal choice, so we won’t dive into a full packing list here – see The Complete Packing List for Tonga for that. Just know that you’ll need a tropical wardrobe including some more modest items of clothing for when you’re outside of your tourist accommodation, as respectful clothing is important to Tongans.
Here, we’ll talk about things you need to bring to Tonga that you might have not thought about.
Do You Need a 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?
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. Find out more in What is the Currency in Tonga?
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 eco-system so natural sunscreens are repellents are a must, while water purification bottles are preferable to buying bottled water. Find out more in What Medication to Pack in Your First Aid Kit for Tonga.
How Long Do You Have in Tonga?
How far can you get in Tonga? Well, it depends on what time you have. Tonga is a destination of resorts, so staying at one resort for your whole time in Tonga is definitely a relaxing way to spend your time here. Nevertheless, if you want to move around, here’s what you can achieve in certain timeframes.
3 Days in Tonga
Over a long weekend, this will give you enough time to see the highlights of Tongatapu. See The Best Tonga Itineraries for a Weekend.
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 Best Tonga Itineraries for 5 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! See The Best Tonga Itineraries for 1 Week.
Two Weeks in Tonga
The adventurous travellers can visit four major island groups of Tonga. See The Best Tonga Itineraries for 2 Weeks.
Ways to Get Around Tonga
There’s no right or wrong way to get around Tonga. It depends on time, budget and personal style. Here are some of your options.
To get between island groups, flights operate daily except Sundays. They are the fastest and most comfortable way to get between islands but are the most expensive option. See The Guide to Flights 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 are trips of several hours. See The Guide to Travelling in Tonga by Ferry.
Car rental is available in Tongatapu and Vava’u. Travellers need a Visitor’s Driving Licence to legally drive in Tonga. Find out more in Things to Know About 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.
Local buses are ultra-cheap, providing a local experience to get around Tongatapu and more limited service on Vava’u. See How to Travel Around Tonga By Bus.
For more tips and ideas for transport in Tonga, see How to Get Around Tonga.
Accommodation in Tonga
When it comes to places to stay, Tonga has a range of choices to suit all budgets. Resorts usually consist of 2-7 fales (beach houses) and have a restaurant and watersports equipment. Guest houses are usually run by locals, providing an affordable place to stay in Tonga’s main towns. Additionally, holiday homes, villas/apartments and backpacker hostels are options.
Learn more about Tonga’s accommodation in the following sections:
Things to Do in Tonga
Tonga has a varied choice of activities that often surprises most visitors, from cultural foodie experiences to life-changing wildlife interactions. A good place to start with deciding what to do is with our 10 Things to Do in Tonga.
The main attractions and experiences in Tonga include:
- Swimming with whales
- Scuba diving
- Game fishing TTD038
- Cultural tours
- Natural & historical sightseeing
- Kitesurfing TTD161
Where to Visit in Tonga
Tonga is split into five destinations, each with their own attractions and charms. While we definitely recommend visiting at least two of the island groups, here’s a brief overview of each region so you can decide which is best for you.
Tonga’s third-largest island sits 45km (28 miles) off the southeast shore of Tongatapu. It’s Tonga’s oldest island with sublime weathered rocky landscapes and forest national park. See The Complete Guide to ‘Eua.
Ha’apai is a scattering of 62 islands in the centre of Tonga. Beaches, swaying palms, turquoise waters, lagoons… It’s all here in this South Seas paradise. Find out more in The Complete Guide to Ha’apai.
A tourist hub, Vava’u provides the most choice when it comes to whale swimming, fishing and sailing. Find out more in The Complete Guide to Vava’u.
Very few tourists travel to the far-flung Niuas, some 300km (190 miles) north of Vava’u. It’s home to three isolated islands, Niuatoputapu, Tafahi and Niuafo’ou. Learn more in The Complete Guide to The Niuas.
Food in Tonga
Tonga’s restaurants have international influences, such as Italian, American, British, Chinese and more, as well as local Tongan dishes. 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.
Self-catering is often an option at some accommodations, where travellers can pick up food from small supermarkets, fale koloa (convenience stores, and produce markets. Be sure to check out our Where to Buy Food in Tonga.
For a complete guide to food in Tonga, see the Guide to Tonga Food.