A Backpacker’s Travel Guide to Cairns

Backpacker’s Travel Guide to Cairns

Cairns in tropical North Queensland is more than the jumping off point for the Great Barrier Reef. North Queensland is surrounded by luscious rainforest and tropical beauty with a contagious laid back lifestyle that keeps Cairns a backpacker hot spot.

Top 5 Things to do in Cairns:

  • Chill out at the Cairns Lagoon, it’s free with loads of space to chill out, open for safe swimming all year round and there’s even free community wifi. Cairns city lacks a beach but if the lovely lagoon won’t do then hop on a bus up to the Northern Beaches and spend the day lazing in the tropical sun.
  • Stroll along the Cairns esplanade, join in with many free activities like Zumba and yoga and enjoy the facilities like running tracks, work out gear and playgrounds, BBQs and volleyball.
  • Visit the free beautiful and tropical Botanic Gardens.
  • Cairns is a good base for many day trip, explore the rainforest, take the scenic train or cable car through the rainforest to Kuranda, a cute, if more than a little touristy, village in the rainforest and explore the markets there.
  • For an adrenalin rush, try a bunjee Jump or white water rafting just outside Cairns.

Worth Splashing out on?

Cairns biggest attraction is the famous, UNESCO listed Great Barrier Reef and there are many ways to experience it from a snorkeling day trip to learning how to dive on a live abroad boat. A day trip snorkelling will set you back at least $100, more for diving, but it’s well worth it – you can’t miss the Great Barrier Reef!

If you want to do lots of activities around Cairns then you can often save money by booking a package with a local backpacker travel agent or hostel or you can also book online with Viator. This super saver deal includes Great Barrier Reef Diving and Snorkeling Cruise, Kuranda Scenic Railway and a trip to Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. Click here for more details. 

snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef near Cairns
Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef near Cairns

The Best Backpacker Hostels in Cairns:

Cairns has loads of backpacker hostels, most of which feel more like a tropical resort than a hostel. The huge Gilligan’s Backpacker Resort is always popular with a swimming pool, heaps of facilities, cheap meals and daily activities and a lively nightclub just don’t come here if you want to get a good night’s sleep!

For something quieter but still with all the facilities of a tropical resort try Travellers Oasis with a homely atmosphere and no bunk beds! Calypso Inn Backpackers Resort also has a nice, laid back, sociable atmosphere and a nice pool.

Where to Eat and Drink on a Budget in Cairns:

Cairns has many backpacker orientated eating and drinking options, some you can even get a free or very cheap meal, often with vouchers given out by your hostel. The Woolshed and The Jack are pubs popular with backpackers.

Cairns is also a great place for a night out, the night club at Gilligan’s is always lively and the town has many more pubs all within a short walkable distance.

There are also free BBQ facilities in Cairns, and most towns in Queensland so you can save money by buying your own food and enjoying a BBQ.

How to get to Cairns:

Cairns has an airport which is well served domestically but does not have many international flights. Cairns is connected by bus to the rest of Australia and most backpackers come here at the beginning or end of an East Coast Trip going from Sydney or Melbourne up to Cairns.

Visas for Australia

Expect for New Zealanders, all visitors to Australia need to obtain a visa before travelling but don’t worry, this is an easy process. Tourist visas for Australia are known as Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) visa cover visits of up to 90 day and are quick to process and are electronically linked to your passport so there’s no need to send your passport away. The visa costs $20, apply online through the government website  or make the process even quicker and easier by using iVisa.

If you want to stay longer and work and travel in Australia for a year or more then download my free backpacker’s guide to see if you are eligible for a working holiday visa 

Where Next:

The world’s oldest rainforest – the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation are not far north from Cairns. Inland, the Atherton Tablelands has beautiful waterfalls and can be a good place to find farm or fruit picking work or head south for Airlie Beach, gateway to the beautiful Whitsunday Islands and Whitehaven Beach.

The Whitsunday Islands make a good next stop South from Cairns
The Whitsunday Islands make a good next stop South from Cairns

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1 comment

How I scored a Campervan Relocation Deal in Australia for only $1 a day - Global Gallivanting Travel Blog October 27, 2022 at 3:39 pm

[…] Cairns we headed South and drove through miles of waving sugar cane fields, stopped along the way at the […]


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