Should you visit Cairns or Airlie Beach?
Should I visit Cairns or Airlie Beach? This is a common question asked by many travelers. By figuring out which city is more affordable, you'll understand where you can get more bang for your buck. So, let's dive into the data, which all comes from actual travelers.
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, 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 $85, while the average daily cost in Airlie Beach is $128. 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. Below is a breakdown of travel costs for Cairns and Airlie Beach in more detail.
An average hotel room with basic furnishings costs about $76 in Cairns For the most convenient locations and nicer amenities you can expect to pay a bit more.
Accommodation prices vary by location and style, but travelers pay on average about $106 for a double occupancy room in Airlie Beach.
Food in Cairns costs travelers about $25 per day on average. Restaurants can vary significantly in price, so choose wisely if you're trying to save money. Fast food and street stalls are typically your cheapest options, which sit down restaurants can be significantly more expensive.
While meal prices in Airlie Beach can vary, the average travelers spends about $29 per day on food. Based on the spending habits of previous travelers, when dining out, an average meal in Airlie Beach should cost around $12 per person. Breakfast prices are usually a little cheaper than lunch or dinner. The price of food in sit-down restaurants in Airlie Beach is often higher than fast food prices or street food prices.
Meals for one day
Airlie Beach $29
Food Tours and Cooking Classes in Cairns
For Cairns, here are some samples of tours and activities related to meals and dining experiences:
Spirit of Dinner Cruise:
Cairns Aquarium by Twilight with 3 Course Dinner:
Small-Group Afternoon Cairns City Tour with Harbour Dinner Cruise:
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:
Cairns's transportation costs can vary by the type of transport chosen by visitors. Naturally, taxis and private drivers cost much more than public transportation options. On average, visitors spend $11 per person, per day on transportation in Cairns.
The cost of a taxi ride in Airlie Beach is significantly more than public transportation. On average, past travelers have spent $18 per person, per day, on local transportation in Airlie Beach.
Hired Cars and Shuttles in Cairns
Also for Cairns, here are a few examples of actual transportation services:
Airport Transfers between Cairns Airport and Cairns City:
Express Private Transfer from Cairns Airport to Cairns City:
Port Douglas Transfers from Cairns:
Airport Transfer - Cairns City To Airport:
Luxury Van, Private Transfer, Cairns City - Cairns Airport:
Luxury Van, Private Transfer, Cairns Airport -Trinity Beach.:
Cairns Airport transfer to Cairns City:
Luxury Van, Private Transfer, Cairns Airport - Palm Cove.:
Premium Van, Private Transfer, Cairns City - Cairns Airport:
Premium Van, Private Transfer, Cairns Airport - Trinity Beach:
Cairns Airport (CNS) Departure Transfer (Cairns Hotels to Cairns CNS Airport):
Port Douglas Transfers between Cairns Airport & Port Douglas (Private Chauffeur):
Hired Cars and Shuttles in Airlie Beach
Some specific examples of transportation prices in Airlie Beach:
Airport Transfers - Return (round fare) share shuttle service:
Airport Transfers - One way share shuttle service:
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.
Sightseeing, admission tickets, things to do, and other entertainment expenses in Cairns can vary widely by price. On average, visitors spend around $34 per person, per day on entertainment and sightseeing here.
Entertainment and activities in Airlie Beach typically cost an average of $145 per person, per day. This includes fees paid for admission tickets to museums and attractions, day tours, and other sightseeing expenses.
Typical Entertainment prices in Cairns
Below are a few sample prices from actual travelers for Cairns's activities, tours, and tickets:
Tours and Activities in Cairns
For Cairns, here are a few prices for actual activities, tours, and tickets provided by various companies:
Cairns Zoom & Wildlife Dome Entry Ticket:
Cairns Self-Guided Audio Tour:
Cairns Aquarium Admission Ticket:
Paronella Park Ticket:
Cairns 90-Minute Sunset Cruise with Welcome Drink:
Cairns 2-Hour Harbor Cruise with Afternoon Tea:
From Kuranda Scenic Railway Train Tickets:
Paronella Park and Mamu Tropical Skywalk Ticket Combo:
Half-Day Rainforest River Tubing Adventure:
City Sunset Bike Tour:
Kuranda: 1-Hour Rainforest ATV Tour:
Fitzroy Island Full-Day Adventure Tour from Cairns:
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:
2 Night Small Group Whitsundays Sailing Adventure Aboard Mandrake:
2 night Whitsunday Islands Cruise on Atlantic Clipper from Airlie Beach:
2-Day Great Barrier Reef "Reefsleep" Experience:
2-Day Whitsundays Sailing Adventure: SV Whitehaven:
2-Day Whitsundays Sailing Adventure: Summertime:
2-Night Whitsunday Islands All-Inclusive Sailing Tour from Airlie Beach:
2-Night Whitsunday Islands Sailing Adventure on Trimaran 'Avatar':
2-Night Whitsundays Sailing Cruise Aboard 'Spank Me' Including Whitehaven Beach and the Great Barrier Reef:
2Day 2Night Sail, Snorkel & SUP Adventure Whitsundays double:
3 Day Whitsundays Sailing and Diving Adventure: Kiana:
3 Day and 2 Night Whitsundays Maxi Sailing Adventure on Hammer:
Typically, people visiting Cairns spend on average $12 on alcoholic beverages per person, per day.
The average person spends about $8.15 on alcoholic beverages in Airlie Beach per day. The more you spend on alcohol, the more fun you might be having despite your higher budget.
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:
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.
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