As the vacation hub of Tropical North Queensland, and so the easiest (and often cheapest) place to organise scuba diving trips to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, plus tours travelling to the Daintree Rainforest, Cairns is one of Australia’s biggest travel hotspots.
Whether you want to go scuba diving or snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, travel inland to the Atherton Tablelands, tour north to Cape Tribulation and Cape York or test your nerve with some adventure tourism, such as bungy jumping, skydiving or whitewater rafting (on the Barron, Russell or Tully rivers), Cairns will have the answer to your travel needs.
Indeed, an unassuming town in itself, Cairns is a place most people will spend little time in itself, instead using one of its many hotels for the occasional night between tours.
Being built on mudflats and mangroves, there’s no beach in Cairns (although there are a few good ones just north of the city), so people head to the excellent man-made lagoon to chill out, or otherwise sample one of the many restaurants along the Esplanade and around the casino.
Tourism is undoubtedly the number one business in Cairns, meaning tour operators, scuba diving schools and booking agents are everywhere. Indeed, the level of competition means Cairns is generally one of the cheapest places in Australia to take a scuba diving course. There is also a massive range of accommodation, with many luxury hotels, family holiday resorts and cheap backpacker hostels.
For budget travellers and backpackers especially, Cairns is renowned as one of the biggest party towns in Australia, with a brash desire for after hours fun that does put many tourists off. Like Queensland’s other boisterous party towns (notably Surfers Paradise and Airlie Beach), backpackers can expect free meals and cheap drinks to lure them into bars and then entertainment like wet t-shirt competitions to keep them there. Many budget travellers choose to base themselves in Cairns for a while, as plentiful jobs in the travel industry make it a good place to top up the travel fund. Working in travel is also a good way to secure a discounted tour or scuba diving trip.
Cairns is well-serviced by an international airport just 10 minutes outside town. Call ahead if you have booked accommodation as many hotels and hostels will collect you from your flight for free.
Cairns is a popular place to start or end an east coast roadtrip vacation from Sydney, meaning there are plenty of car and campervan rental companies based there.
See also the section on Tropical North Queensland for info about the surroundings of Cairns.