Tonga Travel Tips: 31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga 🐳 [2023]©
Tonga Travel Tips: 31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga 🐳 [2023]

Tonga Travel Tips: 31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga 🐳 [2024]


Essential Travel Tips for Your First Time to Tonga

Looking for an adventure in the South Pacific? Perhaps to experience a unique culture, see a variety of gorgeous island landscapes, discover an intriguing history, or do a once-in-a-lifetime experience like swimming with whales? Well, you might just be picturing The Kingdom of Tonga. And you’re in the right place to get the most essential tips for travelling in Tonga!

Likely, you’ve only heard utterances of this island nation. Yes, Tonga is definitely considered one of the hidden gems of the South Pacific. But we’ll show you just how easy and wonderful it is to visit with the help of these whopping 30+ Tonga travel tips! That way, you’ll be prepared for the island adventure ahead.

1. Most People Don’t Need a Visa for Tonga

Citizens from more than 70 countries can enter Tonga with ease, needing no more than a valid passport to enter the Kingdom of Tonga. Those not from a visa-exempt county will need to apply for an Entry Permit for Tonga, but even then, it’s as simple as getting your passport stamped. Visitors can stay in Tonga for up to one or three months, depending on their nationality or, you never know, you might want to extend your Visitor’s Visa for up to six months! Find out more about entry in Tonga in our guide, Do You Need a Visa to Visit Tonga?

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2. But Your Passport Must Still Be Valid for Another 6 Months!

One that trips some visitors to Tonga is the entry requirement that your passport must be valid for at least six months after the date you intend to leave Tonga!

Tonga Travel Tips: 31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga 🐳 [2023]©

3. There’s More to Tonga than Nuku’alofa

Most travellers arrive in Tongatapu and head straight for the capital, Nuku’alofa. While Nuku’alofa is pretty awesome and provides pretty much all of the activities most visitors want to do, it’s far from the “real” Tonga. Tonga is made up of 170 islands split into five different island groups with their own unique charms. Be sure to do some island-hopping! Get some inspiration on where to go with our island guides:

And if you can’t visit them all, compare them in The Best Islands to Visit in Tonga!

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4. The Whale Season is June/July to October

Let’s be honest, many of you are dreaming of swimming with humpback whales. Sure, Tonga is one of the only (and best) countries in the world where you can legally swim with these gentle giants. But know that this activity is only available when the whales migrate to Tonga from the Antarctic. This is typically June to October, but can be as short as July to October in Vava’u and as long as June to November in ‘Eua, for instance. If you’re thinking of treating yourself to this unique experience, be sure to wise up with The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga.

30 Tips for Travelling in Tonga(c) Tonga Ministry of Tourism

5. You Can Swim with Whales in Almost All of the Island Groups in Tonga

Island groups like Vava’u are renowned for their array of whale swimming operators, but this is not the only place you can swim with whales in Tonga. Whale swimming tours are available with multiple operators in Tongatapu, Ha’apai, ‘Eua and Vava’u. Where’s the best place to swim with whales? Well, there are arguments for each island group, which you can dive deeper into in The Best Place to Swim with Whales in Tonga.

31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga©

6. But There’s More to Do Than Just Whale Swimming

Don’t get us wrong, swimming with whales is just a tiny portion of what the islands of Tonga have to offer. There’s more opportunity for adventure, with scuba diving in giant sea caves, snorkelling above vibrant coral, fishing for big game, kitesurfing sheltered lagoons, surfing epic reef breaks, and more. There’s also the opportunity for sightseeing with amazing coastlines of blowholes, majestic limestone caves, ancient stone trilithons, colonies of flying foxes and more and more. Of course, you can always just relax with an island massage, a yoga retreat or just find yourself a hammock by the beach…

Simply browse our 101 Best Things to Do in Tonga: The Ultimate List for hours of inspiration!

Tonga Travel Tips: 31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga 🐳 [2023]©

7. Tonga Shuts Down on a Sunday

Now to the nitty-gritty. What are some of the customs you’re likely to encounter in Tonga? First up, it’s Sundays. Tonga is a religious Christian country, which is reflected in the laws, such as business transactions are void on a Sunday. It is also prohibited to play sports and exercise – even swimming at the beach! Depending on the island group, natural sights and attractions are closed on Sunday.

Nevertheless, resorts are exempt from the rules, which still have their restaurants open and watersports equipment available to hire on a Sunday. Check out more ways to experience a Tongan Sunday in 10 Things to Do in Tonga on a Sunday.

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8. Accommodation is the “Real Deal”

Tonga is not a destination for five-star resorts. Resorts are best described as “next-level glamping” where you’ll stay on the beachfront of stunning islands in a fale (beach hut). Alternatively, join the locals in one of the guesthouses, which are utterly affordable and an experience in themselves. The most “contemporary” accommodations can be found at the hotels in Nuku’alofa and Neiafu. But, remember, Tonga is a developing nation that enjoys the simple pleasures in life, even if that is at the expense of hot showers, room service and WiFi. If you’re too precious, perhaps Tonga is not for you. Browse Where to Stay in Tonga: The Best Accommodations to get an idea of the stays in Tonga.

Tonga Travel Tips: 31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga 🐳 [2023]©

9. Tonga is Always Quiet

Tonga is certainly not a “busy” tourist destination, so you needn’t worry about tourist hoards ruining your holiday. Even in the more popular whale season, it’s truly a place to escape from the modern world and embrace island time.

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10. Travel in the Low Season for the Best Deals

So if Tonga is always quiet, then why would you want to travel to Tonga in the low season? First, it often feels like you have whole resorts, no, whole islands to yourself. Second, the low-season deals are too good to resist. Accommodations, activity providers and even the domestic airline get in on the low season deal action, making your trip to Tonga a lot more affordable. Plus, we’ve also established that there’s always plenty to do in Tonga outside of the more popular whale season. Note, however, that some (but not all) tourism businesses do close down in the low season, especially in Vava’u.

Check out more reasons why we love the low season in Tonga in 10 Reasons to Travel in the Low Season in Tonga.

31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga©

11. Know What You Need to Declare

Tonga is a nation with a fragile ecosystem that needs to be protected from external pests and diseases. For this reason, you will be asked to declare certain goods on arrival in Tonga. It starts with declaring possible “risk” items on your Tonga Passenger Arrival Card. Then you will need to declare some items to Customs when you arrive at the airport/port. Find out more about the Customs and Quarantine process in our guide, Arriving in Tonga: Airport Customs, Biosecurity & Arrival Process.

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12. Tonga Can Be Really Cheap

Tonga’s glorious tropical islands might look like a destination for the super-rich, but it’s actually extremely affordable to visit. There are always ways to keep the costs down, from staying in local guesthouses to opting for the ferry for interisland travel, rather than flights. Sure, some activities like scuba diving, fishing, sailing and whale swimming aren’t exactly cheap, but most of your time in Tonga can be filled with either free or extremely cheap activities.

Check out 20 Ways to Save Money in Tonga for money-saving tips. Plus, plan your budget with How Much Spending Money Do You Need for Tonga?

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13. Pay with Cash

Your credit card won’t get you very far in Tonga, where most businesses you’ll be interacting with only accept cash. That includes many accommodations, tourism activities, shops, markets and more. Make sure you always have plenty of Tongan Pa’anga with you and save your credit card for withdrawing more cash every few days. There are ATMs in the main towns of each island group, except in ‘Eua and the humble Niuas.

Find out more about money in Tonga in What is The Best Way to Pay in Tonga?

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14. Supermarkets are Small

The supermarkets in Tonga are about the size of convenience stores in more developed countries, so don’t expect a wide variety when it comes to grocery shopping. Supermarkets are available in Tonga’s towns, while villages have “fale koloa”, which are Tonga’s version of convenience stores. They have wire grates over a window where you tell the attendant what you would like to buy. Fruit and vegetables can only typically be bought at markets or roadside stalls. Usually, if fruit/vegetables are for sale in supermarkets, it’s for a premium as supermarkets will get produce imported.

Learn more about buying food in our guide, A Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping in Tonga.

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15. Try the Local Cuisine

Aside from buying your own groceries, be sure to try the local cuisine. Tonga provides an opportunity to try some of the freshest seafood and an array of tropical fruits and vegetables you might not be familiar with. There is a good selection of Tongan eateries in Nuku’alofa while attending a Tongan feast as part of a cultural show or tour is an absolute must. Tongans are renowned across the South Pacific for their feasts, often complete with a spitroast pig. Learn more about the local food in The Guide to Tonga Food and 10 Unique Foods in Tonga You Have to Try.

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16. Special Diets Are Difficult to Cater For

Remember that Tonga is quite an isolated country, so getting special diet substitute ingredients, like gluten-free flour and dairy-free milk, is difficult and expensive. Furthermore, vegan and vegetarian diets are simply not part of the culture in Tonga. As Tonga caters a lot more to the local market than tourists, you’ll have little choice when it comes to creative meals for alternative diets. For those with allergies, intolerances and other diet-related health issues, let your resort know in advance so that they have time to prepare.

For more advice on the subject, check out The Gluten-Free Guide to Tonga and Tonga for Vegans & Vegetarians + 10 Best Restaurants.

Tonga Travel Tips: 31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga 🐳 [2023]©

17. Pack Right for Tonga

Tonga experiences a warm climate all year round, with temperatures around 31°C (88°F) in summer and only as low as 18°C (65°F at night in winter. Needless to say, you’ll want to pack a tropical wardrobe, but also be sure to pack a warmer layer for cooler evenings or for whizzing around on boats. There is particular attire to be worn to church if you plan to experience this cultural activity, while you might want to bring your own reef shoes and snorkelling gear to explore the underwater world.

Don’t worry, we’ve got every item covered in The Complete Packing List for Tonga.

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18. Be Patient

You may have heard the concept of “island time”. Well, in Tonga, you’ll experience “Tonga Time” where things happen at a slower pace than what you might be used to. This is experienced from the local speed limit, which is up to 70 kph (40 mph), to the fact that there are often no schedules and, even when they are, they are more “guidelines”. Learn more about embracing island time in What is “Tonga Time” (& What You Need to Know About It).

30 Tips for Travelling in Tonga(c)

19. Don’t Drink the Tap Water

While locals will probably tell you that the water is safe to drink, this is not usually the case for visitors. However, instead of killing the planet (and your time and budget) by buying bottled water everywhere you go, consider other ways to make the water safer to drink, such as a water purification bottle or purification tablets. Check out our easy-to-follow advice in Can You Drink the Water in Tonga?

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20. Accommodations Might Not Always Have What They Say They Have

Tonga is an ever-evolving country, which is reflected in the services provided by the accommodations. It’s common for visitors to read about particular services at a resort or a guesthouse to find that, in fact, there is no WiFi, you have to pay for breakfast, and your accommodation is on a random off-shore island – not in Neiafu! (All real stories we’ve heard from travellers during our research in Tonga).

Yes, some Tongan accommodation providers perhaps don’t realise the importance of updating their listings online (and print is always out-of-date), so if you really need a particular service, be sure to get in contact with the accommodation to ask. We also try to keep our accommodations listings on as up-to-date as possible:

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21. Sometimes, Your Accommodation Provider is the Only Way to Get Around

When you’re in a remote part of Tonga, such as ‘Eua, Ha’apai or any obscure off-shore island, you can often rely on your accommodation provider to get around. Public transport is limited to the main islands of Tongatapu and Vava’u, so getting a ride on your accommodation’s boat or a lift into town is usually the way to get around.

Learn more about getting around in the Tonga Transport Guide: 15 Ways to Get Around Tonga.

Driving Drive Driver Outside Car Road Vavau Mandatory Credit To Small(c)

22. Flights in Tonga Get Cancelled… A Lot!

Flights are the fastest and most comfortable way to get between the island groups of Tonga. However, they are not always reliable. Flights are often cancelled due to bad weather and occasionally due to maintenance of the local airline’s very small fleet. If your flight is cancelled, you’ll just get rescheduled to the next available flight. But whatever you do, don’t book a domestic flight to connect with your international flight out of Tonga! Give yourself at least an extra day to get back to Tongatapu before departing the country.

For more information on flights, see The Guide to Domestic Flights in Tonga.

Tonga Travel Tips: 31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga 🐳 [2023]©

23. Ferries Don’t Stick to Schedules

While we’re on the subject of interisland travel, ferries also have a few quirks you need to know about. First of all, schedules for ferries change frequently, so look up the latest ferry times at the ferry terminals or the local Visitor Information Centres. Even scheduled ferries turn up and depart whenever they’re ready to, so be sure to be ready for your ferry early – we’re talking super early! Ferry companies can be contacted by phone for the ETA and/or you can follow them on Facebook where they post ETAs.

For more things to know about taking a ferry, check out our Tonga Ferry Guide: How to Use Ferries for Interisland Travel.

Tonga Travel Tips: 31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga 🐳 [2023]©

24. The Quality of Car Rentals is Inconsistent (But Affordable)

What are the car rentals in Tonga like? Well, we can’t give you a straight answer. There are relatively modern car rentals that follow all of the usual procedures and paperwork, while some cars are falling apart and are simply a case of “borrowing the keys”. Insurance is rarely a thing, with car rental companies preferring to take a TOP$200 bond instead. Make sure you do a bit of research on car rentals before you commit. Check out The Guide to Renting a Car in Tonga for more tips.

Tonga Travel Tips: 31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga 🐳 [2023]©

25. Take Plenty of $2 and $5 to a Tongan Floor Show

Speaking of “tips”, do you need to tip in Tonga? Tipping is not mandatory, but it’s always appreciated as a sign of gratuity. The exception to the rule is at Tongan floor shows where it is customary to offer a fakapale which is a monetary donation either given on the floor in front of the performer or tucked into the performer’s clothing! Once the fakapale starts, it can continue throughout the show, so it’s best to have a few TOP$2 and $5 bills to offer!

Learn more about tax and tipping in our Tonga Tipping & Tax Guide for Travellers.

Tonga Travel Tips: 31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga 🐳 [2023]©

26. Enjoy a Connection with the Local Culture and Nature; Not WiFi

Having your face stuck to your phone screen is not an ideal way to experience Tonga, so luckily, the WiFi access in Tonga is pretty limited! Some accommodations offer WiFi; most of the time in a communal area rather than in your room, but most don’t. As for public WiFi, your best shot is going to one of the internet cafes in Nuku’alofa or Neiafu. But for online addicts, it’s not all doom and gloom as local SIM cards provide the best way to stay connected – learn more in The Best SIM Card in Tonga for Travellers.

Tonga Travel Tips: 31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga 🐳 [2023]©

27. Keep Yourself and the Environment Safe

Essentials to pack for Tonga are both sunscreen and insect repellent. But with Tonga’s fragile marine life, not to mention some of the harmful active ingredients in standard sunscreens and repellents on your own skin, using natural and reef-safe products is a priority! Be a responsible traveller by only using natural mineral sunscreens and natural mosquito repellents that are “reef safe”.

And if you have no idea what we’re talking about, get more info in the 10 Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens for Tonga and 10 Best Natural Mosquito Repellents for Tonga.

Tonga Travel Tips: 31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga 🐳 [2023]©

28. Dress Respectfully

As mentioned, Tonga is a religious country, so dressing respectfully is important to Tongans. In fact, it’s illegal for men and women to be topless in public, except if you’re in tourist accommodation. Swimwear should be kept to your resort, as Tongans swim at beaches fully clothed. It’s also more respectful to wear clothes to/below the knee when you’re outside of your resort. If going to church, wear something smarter like a shirt or a dress and cover the knees and shoulders.

Learn more about the cultural protocol in Tonga Etiquette: Respecting the Local Customs.

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29. Tonga Can Be Enjoyed in 7 Days to 14+ Days

How long should you spend in Tonga? Well, this depends on a number of factors, from budget to how many islands you want to visit. However, a comfortable amount of time in Tonga is from 7 days, if just visiting Tongatapu and ‘Eua or just one of the island groups, to 2 weeks if you want to enjoy both multiple islands! In short, there’s never too much time to spend in Tonga (except for when your visa runs out). Just browse the following articles for different ways to spend your time in Tonga:

We also have itineraries for 3 days and 5 days, should things be really desperate, but we strongly recommend that you spend more time in Tonga. You won’t regret it!

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30. Know What You Can Take Home with You

The handicrafts in Tonga are just amazing, with everything unique and handmade with local materials. However, be aware of the biosecurity restrictions of your next destination, as some local souvenirs might not make it through Customs. For instance, untreated shells and feathers are a typical no-no. However, popular Tongan crafts like tapa paintings, woven items and carved jewellery are usually fine. Learn more about Tongan souvenirs in our guide, Where to Find the Best Souvenirs in Tonga, as well as more tips for departure in Leaving Tonga: Departure Tips & Checklist.

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31. Make the Most of Tonga Pocket Guide

As Tonga’s largest travel guide, we’re here for you every step of the way! Get inspired by our Destinations guides to every single island group in Tonga to see where your wanderlust will take you.

Our Travel Tips section will give you all the practical advice you will need when planning your trip to Tonga. All your Tonga questions will be answered so you know what to expect when you arrive.

Looking for places to stay? Check out our Accommodations section where you’ll find the best options for all styles of travel: budget accommodation, luxury accommodation, guesthouses, resorts, hotels, villas, apartments and much more!

Whatever your tastes, you’re bound to find your dream bucket list of activities in our Things to Do section. Our Things to Do page is split up into easy-to-digest sections where you can just browse the activities that you are interested in, including water activities, walking, tours, shopping, nature, food and drink, golf, fishing, Tonga culture, adventure and more!

We make getting around easy with our Transport section, where you can find more information on buses, flights, ferries, vehicle rental, public transport, getting to Tonga and more.

Finally, whatever your taste and whatever your travel style, we’ve made the perfect Tonga itinerary in our Trip Ideas section. All the work has been done for you!

Tonga Travel Tips: 31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga 🐳 [2023]©

More Tips for Travelling in Tonga

That’s it for our official list of travel tips for Tonga but we’d be lying if we said that was all the tips we had for you. Check out the following guides for more useful advice on planning a trip to Tonga:

Finally, don’t leave without getting even more tips in The Complete Travel Guide to Tonga.


Robin (Lopini) 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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