A Travel Price Comparison for Australia Cairns vs. Airlie Beach for Vacations, Tours, and Honeymoons

Should you visit Cairns or Airlie Beach?

Which is cheaper to visit? Which is more expensive for vacation?

Should I visit Cairns or Airlie Beach? This is a common question asked by many travelers. By figuring out which city has activities that align with your interests along with knowing which is more affordable, you'll understand where you can get more bang for your buck. So, let's dive into the details and the data, which all comes from actual travelers.

Where Should I go: Cairns or Airlie Beach?

Cairns

Most travelers go to Cairns specifically to visit Great Barrier Reef. The city itself is surprisingly large and cosmopolitan with a population of approximately 140,000. The city's economy is almost exclusively based on tourism, although you will find some jobs centered around agriculture, or more specifically sugar cane, bananas, coffee, tea, wine, and some tropical fruits. The city itself is surrounded by rainforest and makes a great base for exploring Kuranda, with the Barron Gorge National Park and the Daintree offering a quieter tropical getaway than Cairns.

Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach, in Queensland, offers the closest port to the Whitsunday Islands on the Great Barrier Reef. It's a small town of only 25,000 and has grown out of the area's popularity as a tourist destination. It's main industry remains tourism and, as such, there are many venues set up to accommodate travelers hoping to make trips to the Whitsunday Islands and the Outer Great Barrier Reef. The town has the feel of a vacation destination. While in the past Airlie Beach appealed specifically to the backpacker crowd, it's popularity has spread and now there are facilities catering to all travel types. The area has become more commercialized and there are plenty of large resorts to choose from. Even so, you'll still find no shortage of affordable accommodation around town.

Which city is cheaper, Airlie Beach or Cairns?

These are the overall average travel costs for the two destinations.

The average daily cost (per person) in Cairns is $76, while the average daily cost in Airlie Beach is $113. These costs include accommodation (assuming double occupancy, so the traveler is sharing the room), food, transportation, and entertainment. While every person is different, these costs are an average of past travelers in each city. What follows is a categorical breakdown of travel costs for Cairns and Airlie Beach in more detail.



Accommodation
  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person
    Cairns $34
    Airlie Beach $47
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room
    Cairns $68
    Airlie Beach $94
Compare Hotels in Cairns and Airlie Beach

Looking for a hotel in Cairns or Airlie Beach? Prices vary by location, date, season, and the level of luxury. See below for options and compare which is best for your budget and travel style.

Hotels in Cairns


Hotels in Airlie Beach


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Local Transportation
  • Local Transportation Taxis, local buses, subway, etc.
    Cairns $9.69
    Airlie Beach $16

Hired Cars and Shuttles in Cairns

Also for Cairns, here are a few examples of actual transportation services:

  • Airport to Cairns/Port Douglas Transfer: $13
  • Airport Transfers between Cairns Airport and Cairns City: $14
  • Express Private Transfer from Cairns Airport to Cairns City: $22
  • Airport Transfer - Cairns City To Airport: $53
  • From Fitzroy Island Return Catamaran Transfer: $60
  • Luxury Van, Private Transfer, Cairns City - Cairns Airport: $62
  • Luxury Van, Private Transfer, Cairns Airport -Trinity Beach.: $71
  • Cairns Airport transfer to Cairns City: $76
  • Luxury Van, Private Transfer, Cairns Airport - Palm Cove.: $89
  • Premium Van, Private Transfer, Cairns City - Cairns Airport: $89
  • Premium Van, Private Transfer, Cairns Airport - Trinity Beach: $107
  • Cairns Airport (CNS) Departure Transfer (Cairns Hotels to Cairns CNS Airport): $112

Hired Cars and Shuttles in Airlie Beach

Some specific examples of transportation prices in Airlie Beach:

  • Whitsunday: Prosperpine Airport to Airlie Beach Transfer: $16
  • Airport Transfers - Return (round fare) share shuttle service: $28
  • Airport Transfers - One way share shuttle service: $17

Is it cheaper to fly into Cairns or Airlie Beach?

Prices for flights to both Airlie Beach and Cairns change regularly based on dates and travel demand. We suggest you find the best prices for your next trip on Kayak, because you can compare the cost of flights across multiple airlines for your prefered dates.





Food
  • Food Meals for one day
    Cairns $22
    Airlie Beach $26

Food Tours and Cooking Classes in Cairns

For Cairns, here are some samples of tours and activities related to meals and dining experiences:

  • Guided Twilight Tour of the Aquarium with Dinner: $90
  • Cairns Aquarium by Twilight with 3 Course Dinner: $99
  • Afternoon Tour with Evening Dinner Cruise: $134
  • Small-Group Afternoon Cairns City Tour with Harbour Dinner Cruise: $154

Food Tours and Cooking Classes in Airlie Beach

Also, here are some specific examples of food and dining related activities in Airlie Beach.

  • Whitsundays Segway Sunset and Boardwalk Tour with Dinner: $93

Entertainment
  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc.
    Cairns $30
    Airlie Beach $129
Typical Entertainment prices in Cairns

Below are a few sample prices from actual travelers for Cairns's activities, tours, and tickets:


  • Scuba Diving
    $36

Tours and Activities in Cairns

For Cairns, here are a few prices for actual activities, tours, and tickets provided by various companies:

  • Cairns Aquarium General Admission Ticket: $32
  • Cairns Aquarium Admission Ticket: $35
  • From Fitzroy Island Full-Day Adventure Tour: $61
  • Goldsborough Valley Tour: Stand up Paddle through sacred lands: $63
  • Half-Day City Sightseeing Tour: $63
  • Waterfall and Wallabies Sighting Tour: $63
  • Kayak Turtle Tour from Palm Cove: $65
  • Day Trip: Rainforest & Aboriginal Culture Tour: $66
  • Cairns Shore Excursion: Cairns City Sights & Surrounds Tour: $70
  • Cairns City Sights and Surrounds Tour: $70
  • Hartley's Crocodile Adventures Wildlife Encounter Day Trip from Cairns: $71
  • Standup Paddleboard Tour in Goldsborough Valley: $71

Tours and Activities in Airlie Beach

Some specific costs of activities, tours, and entrance tickets for Airlie Beach are as follows:

  • 2 Day Great Barrier Reef "Reefsuites" Experience: $631
  • 2 Night Small Group Whitsundays Sailing Adventure Aboard Mandrake: $375
  • 2 night Whitsunday Islands Cruise on Atlantic Clipper from Airlie Beach: $394
  • 2-Day Great Barrier Reef "Reefsleep" Experience: $470
  • 2-Day Whitsundays Sailing Adventure: SV Whitehaven: $315
  • 2-Day Whitsundays Sailing Adventure: Summertime: $315
  • 2-Night Whitsunday Islands All-Inclusive Sailing Tour from Airlie Beach: $315
  • 2-Night Whitsunday Islands Sailing Adventure on Trimaran 'Avatar': $422
  • 2-Night Whitsundays Sailing Cruise Aboard 'Spank Me' Including Whitehaven Beach and the Great Barrier Reef: $375
  • 2Day 2Night Sail, Snorkel & SUP Adventure Whitsundays double: $439
  • 3 Day Whitsundays Sailing and Diving Adventure: Kiana: $592
  • 3 Day and 2 Night Whitsundays Maxi Sailing Adventure on Hammer: $514

Alcohol
  • Alcohol Drinks for one day
    Cairns $11
    Airlie Beach $7.23

Sample the Local Flavors in Cairns

Here are a few nightlife and alcohol tours and activities from local tour providers in Cairns:

  • Tablelands Food & Wine Tour: $233


When we compare the travel costs of actual travelers between Cairns and Airlie Beach, we can see that Airlie Beach is more expensive. And not only is Cairns much less expensive, but it is actually a significantly cheaper destination. So, traveling to Cairns would let you spend less money overall. Or, you could decide to spend more money in Cairns and be able to afford a more luxurious travel style by staying in nicer hotels, eating at more expensive restaurants, taking tours, and experiencing more activities. The same level of travel in Airlie Beach would naturally cost you much more money, so you would probably want to keep your budget a little tighter in Airlie Beach than you might in Cairns.


When is the best time to visit Cairns or Airlie Beach?

Both places have a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. As both cities are in the southern hemisphere, summer is in January and winter is in July.

Should I visit Cairns or Airlie Beach in the Summer?

The summer brings many poeple to Cairns as well as Airlie Beach.

In the summer, Cairns is a little warmer than Airlie Beach. Typically, the summer temperatures in Cairns in January are around 29°C (84°F), and Airlie Beach is about 26°C (79°F).

It's quite rainy in Airlie Beach. Cairns receives a lot of rain in the summer. Cairns usually gets more rain in January than Airlie Beach. Cairns gets 429 mm (16.9 in) of rain, while Airlie Beach receives 331 mm (13 in) of rain this time of the year.


  • Summer Average Temperatures January
    Cairns 29°C (84°F) 
    Airlie Beach 26°C (79°F)

Should I visit Cairns or Airlie Beach in the Autumn?

Both Airlie Beach and Cairns are popular destinations to visit in the autumn with plenty of activities.

In April, Cairns is generally a little warmer than Airlie Beach. Temperatures in Cairns average around 27°C (80°F), and Airlie Beach stays around 23°C (73°F).

It rains a lot this time of the year in Airlie Beach. It's quite rainy in Cairns. In April, Cairns usually receives more rain than Airlie Beach. At this time of the year, Cairns gets 273 mm (10.8 in) of rain, while Airlie Beach receives 143 mm (5.6 in) of rain.


  • Autumn Average Temperatures April
    Cairns 27°C (80°F) 
    Airlie Beach 23°C (73°F)

Should I visit Cairns or Airlie Beach in the Winter?

Both Airlie Beach and Cairns during the winter are popular places to visit.

Cairns is a little warmer than Airlie Beach in the winter. The temperature in Cairns is usually 23°C (73°F) in July, and Airlie Beach stays around 16°C (62°F).

Cairns usually gets less rain in July than Airlie Beach. Cairns gets 35 mm (1.4 in) of rain, while Airlie Beach receives 40 mm (1.6 in) of rain this time of the year.


  • Winter Average Temperatures July
    Cairns 23°C (73°F) 
    Airlie Beach 16°C (62°F)

Should I visit Cairns or Airlie Beach in the Spring?

The spring attracts plenty of travelers to both Cairns and Airlie Beach.

In the spring, Cairns is a little warmer than Airlie Beach. Typically, the spring temperatures in Cairns in October are around 27°C (80°F), and Airlie Beach is about 23°C (73°F).

In October, Cairns usually receives around the same amount of rain as Airlie Beach. At this time of the year, Cairns gets 44 mm (1.7 in) of rain, while Airlie Beach receives 48 mm (1.9 in) of rain.


  • Spring Average Temperatures October
    Cairns 27°C (80°F) 
    Airlie Beach 23°C (73°F)

Typical Weather for Airlie Beach and Cairns

Cairns Airlie Beach
Temp (°C) Rain (mm) Temp (°C) Rain (mm)
Jan 29°C (84°F) 429 mm (16.9 in) 26°C (79°F) 331 mm (13 in)
Feb 29°C (83°F) 469 mm (18.5 in) 26°C (78°F) 377 mm (14.8 in)
Mar 28°C (82°F) 471 mm (18.5 in) 25°C (77°F) 312 mm (12.3 in)
Apr 27°C (80°F) 273 mm (10.8 in) 23°C (73°F) 143 mm (5.6 in)
May 25°C (78°F) 118 mm (4.6 in) 20°C (68°F) 67 mm (2.6 in)
Jun 23°C (74°F) 62 mm (2.5 in) 17°C (63°F) 57 mm (2.2 in)
Jul 23°C (73°F) 35 mm (1.4 in) 16°C (62°F) 40 mm (1.6 in)
Aug 24°C (75°F) 34 mm (1.3 in) 18°C (65°F) 27 mm (1.1 in)
Sep 25°C (77°F) 40 mm (1.6 in) 20°C (68°F) 15 mm (0.6 in)
Oct 27°C (80°F) 44 mm (1.7 in) 23°C (73°F) 48 mm (1.9 in)
Nov 28°C (82°F) 104 mm (4.1 in) 25°C (77°F) 107 mm (4.2 in)
Dec 29°C (83°F) 211 mm (8.3 in) 26°C (78°F) 191 mm (7.5 in)


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Cairns vs. Airlie Beach Travel Comparison

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