What is it Like to Visit Tonga?(c) Tonga Ministry of Tourism
What is it Like to Visit Tonga?

What is it Like to Visit Tonga?

(c) Tonga Ministry of Tourism

Welcome to the Kingdom of Tonga

170 islands scatter the South Pacific Ocean, harbouring majestic caves, thousands of years of history, kings and queens, crystal clear waters and safe refuge for humpback whales. This is the Kingdom of Tonga. Still relatively unexplored by travellers, you’ll never have to worry about the tourist crowds here. You’ll find yourself effortlessly immersing in the local culture and leaving the cares of the modern world behind.

So what’s it like to visit Tonga? Get an overview of the key aspects of a Tonga getaway in the guide below.

Reasons to Visit Tonga

  • The culture here is unique, authentic and easy to immerse in
  • It can be super affordable if you want it to be
  • It’s one of the only countries in the world where you can swim with Humpback Whales
  • The snorkelling and scuba diving is amazing
  • Resorts are boutique and usually off-the-grid for a real castaway experience
  • Guesthouses are cheap and a real local experience
  • It’s off-the-beaten-track, providing new experiences around every corner

For more reasons to check out the Kingdom of Tonga, see 10 Amazing Reasons to Visit Tonga.

What is it Like to Visit Tonga?(c) Tonga Ministry of Tourism

The Culture

Let’s start with the most unique aspect of visiting Tonga, which is the culture. Nowhere else in the world can you experience Tongan culture, which is a Pacific nation proud to be the only one never to be colonised. It’s also a nation that is less-visited by tourists, thus feels much more authentic than other South Pacific countries. Tours are more about being with a local just showing you the cool stuff around, rather than going through a rehearsed speech.

That’s not to say that there’s no influence from the Western world, especially when it comes to religion. Tonga is a very religious country, which interestingly shuts down on a Sunday. Outside of tourist resorts, it is illegal to conduct business, play sports, exercise or even do some chores! For travellers staying in towns and villages, this is the perfect opportunity to experience the glorious singing of the locals at one of the church services.

Finally, the culture can also be experienced through the handicraft markets that never fail to impress. All handicrafts in Tonga are unique, handmade by locals and use local materials.

Find out more about the culture of Tonga in The Guide to the Tongan Culture for Travellers.

What is it Like to Visit Tonga?(c) tongapocketguide.com

The Wildlife

If there’s only one thing you’ve heard about Tonga, it’s probably that you can swim with humpback whales. Needless to say, swimming with these majestic gentle giants is a life-changing experience, making you appreciate the amazing underwater world more than you can imagine. However, travellers also need to set their expectations right, knowing that whales are wild creatures and not every trip provides the “perfect swim”. That’s why it’s always worth booking at least a couple of days for whale swimming to not only increase your chances for an amazing experience but to also not pressure tour guides to chase whales. Plus, remember that whales are only in Tonga between June and October.

Learn more about the whales in The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga.

Whales, however, are just one of the thousands of marine life available to interact with in Tonga’s waters. The snorkelling and scuba diving is amazing here, heightened by crystal clear waters and many areas of healthy corals. Get more advice in Guide to Scuba Diving in Tonga.

Finally, how can we forget the flying foxes? Large fruitbats hang in the trees, especially in the villages of Tongatapu. You’ll often hear them before you see them, squeaking in the trees on the side of the road. It’s always worth pulling over for a wildlife fix.

Learn more about the wildlife of Tonga in A Traveller’s Guide to Wildlife in Tonga.

What is it Like to Visit Tonga?(c) tongapocketguide.com

The Natural Attractions

Don’t underestimate how much there is to see in Tonga. Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, alone will have you spending full days hopping from one natural wonder to the other. Islands harbour amazing natural attractions, such as 5km (3.1 miles) of blowholes shooting water some 30m (100ft) into the air along the coast of Tongatapu. Natural archways that the locals have dubbed “landbridges” decorate some of Tonga’s rockier islands, like Tongatapu and ‘Eua. Not to mention the mesmerising limestone caves you can explore and even swim inside.

Of course, Tonga has its fair share of idyllic islands with white sand beaches, swaying coconut palms and linings of coral reefs. It’s a true South Seas paradise.

As for in the water, how about scuba diving into the South Pacific’s largest sea cave in ‘Eua? Or opt for a casual snorkel into Swallows’ Cave in Vava’u with an amazing surprise waiting inside the cave’s waters.

Get a complete list of amazing natural sights in The Best Natural Attractions in Tonga.

What is it Like to Visit Tonga?(c) tongapocketguide.com

The Historic Attractions

Arguably, Tonga is one of the most fascinating South Pacific destinations for historical sites. Little is known about the islands’ tribal history, but sites like the stone trilithon, Ha’amonga ‘a Maui, sure make you wonder.

Tonga is also the only South Pacific nation with a monarchy, where royal sights dot Tongatapu, from grand tombs to Victorian-style palaces. Kings also ruled Tonga pre-European times where kings were known as “Tu’i Tonga” and evidence of their fortresses and other sites can be found across the islands.

Check out 10 Fascinating Historical Sites in Tonga, as well as A Brief History of Tonga.

What is it Like to Visit Tonga?(c) tongapocketguide.com

The Resorts and Guesthouses

Forget five-star resorts packed with other holiday-goers. Tonga’s accommodation provides a true island experience, where you often feel like you have the whole place to yourself…

The main style of accommodation for tourists in Tonga are resorts and guesthouses. “Resort” is a term used rather loosely, but usually involves individual bungalows or “fales”, a restaurant, a beach and usually some watersports equipment to take advantage of. On the other hand, guesthouses provide a more “local” experience, like staying in a bed & breakfast and are irresistibly affordable.

In both cases, accommodation in Tonga is boutique accommodation, where resorts and guesthouses only have a handful of rooms. This means that resorts are amazingly tranquil allowing you to fully escape from the modern world.

Learn more about accommodation in Tonga in our Accommodation category.


Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of Tonga Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before settling in the South Pacific, so he knows a thing or two about planning the perfect trip in this corner of the world. Robin works and consults regularly with the Ministry of Tourism of Tonga. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides and is a regular host of webinars with the South Pacific Tourism Organisation.

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