Located in the South Pacific Ocean, Tonga is a breathtaking archipelago that consists of 169 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. The country is a hidden gem that is still relatively unknown to many travelers, making it the perfect destination for those who are looking for a unique and off-the-beaten-path travel experience. In this complete travel guide, we’ll explore the best hidden gems of Tonga and everything you need to know to plan your trip.
Getting to Tonga
The main international airport in Tonga is the Fuaʻamotu International Airport, which is located on the main island of Tongatapu. There are direct flights from Auckland, Sydney, and Nadi. The flights from Auckland take around three hours, while the flights from Sydney and Nadi take around four hours. Once you arrive at the airport, you can take a taxi to your hotel or arrange for a transfer through your hotel.
When to Visit Tonga
The best time to visit Tonga is during the dry season, which runs from May to October. During this time, the weather is warm and sunny, with little to no rain. The wet season runs from November to April, and while it can be hot and humid, it also brings the risk of tropical cyclones. If you’re looking to swim with humpback whales, the best time to visit is from July to October.
Where to Stay in Tonga
Tonga offers a variety of accommodation options, from budget-friendly guesthouses to luxurious resorts. If you’re looking for a more authentic experience, consider staying in a family-run guesthouse or a beach bungalow. There are also several eco-lodges that offer a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly experience. Some of the top-rated resorts in Tonga include The Tongan Beach Resort, Fafa Island Resort, and Sandy Beach Resort.
What to Do in Tonga
Swim with Humpback Whales
One of the main attractions in Tonga is the opportunity to swim with humpback whales. From July to October, the humpback whales migrate to the warm waters of Tonga to mate and give birth. There are several tour operators that offer whale-watching and swimming tours, but it’s important to choose a company that follows responsible whale-watching guidelines.
Explore the Vava’u Islands
The Vava’u Islands are a group of islands located in the north of Tonga, and they are known for their stunning turquoise waters and secluded beaches. The islands are also home to some of the best snorkeling and diving spots in the country, with a variety of coral reefs and marine life to explore.
Visit ‘Eua Island
Located just off the coast of Tongatapu, ‘Eua Island is a hidden gem that is often overlooked by travelers. The island is known for its rugged landscape, with hiking trails that lead to stunning viewpoints and waterfalls. ‘Eua Island is also home to some of the best birdwatching in the country, with a variety of native bird species to spot.
Explore the Ha’apai Islands
The Ha’apai Islands are a group of islands located in the middle of Tonga, and they offer a more remote and secluded travel experience. The islands are home to some of the best beaches in the country, with white sand and crystal-clear waters. The Ha’apai Islands are also a popular spot for snorkeling and diving, with a variety of coral reefs and marine life to explore.
Visit the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace is located in the capital city of Nuku’alofa, and it is the official residence of the King of Tonga. While the palace is not open to the public, visitors can admire the beautiful architecture and take photos from outside the gates.
Experience Tongan Culture
Tongan culture is deeply rooted in tradition, and there are several ways to experience it during your trip. One of the best ways is to attend a traditional Tongan feast, known as a ‘umu. During an ‘umu, food is cooked in an underground oven, and guests are treated to a feast of local dishes, including taro, yam, and coconut.
Another way to experience Tongan culture is to attend a church service on Sunday. The majority of Tongans are Christians, and church plays a significant role in daily life. The services are usually held in Tongan, but visitors are welcome to attend and observe the traditions and rituals.
Visit the Ancient Tombs
Tonga has a rich history, and one of the most fascinating aspects of the country’s past is the ancient tombs that can be found on the islands of Tongatapu and ‘Eua. The tombs date back to the 13th century and are believed to be the final resting place of Tongan royalty. Visitors can explore the tombs and learn about the history and culture of the country.
Fishing is a popular pastime in Tonga, and there are several opportunities to try your hand at it during your trip. You can join a fishing charter or hire a local guide to take you out on a boat. Some of the most popular fish to catch in Tonga include yellowfin tuna, mahi-mahi, and wahoo.
Where to Eat in Tonga
Tongan cuisine is influenced by Polynesian and Melanesian traditions, and there are several local dishes to try during your trip. One of the most popular dishes is lu pulu, which is made from taro leaves, coconut cream, and corned beef or chicken. Another popular dish is ota ika, which is a raw fish salad that is marinated in coconut cream and lime juice.
There are several restaurants and cafes in Tonga that offer local cuisine, as well as international options. Some of the top-rated restaurants include Friends Cafe, The Waterfront Cafe, and The Billfish Cafe.
Getting Around Tonga
Tonga is a small country, and the best way to get around is by car or taxi. There are several car rental companies on the main island of Tongatapu, and taxis are readily available. If you’re traveling between islands, there are several domestic airlines that offer flights, as well as ferry services.
Tips for Traveling in Tonga
- Pack plenty of sunscreen and insect repellent, as the sun can be strong, and there are mosquitoes in some areas.
- Dress modestly when visiting churches or other cultural sites. Women should avoid wearing shorts or sleeveless tops, and men should wear long pants and a shirt.
- Bring cash with you, as many places do not accept credit cards. The local currency is the Tongan pa’anga, but US dollars are also widely accepted.
- Respect the local culture and traditions, and always ask permission before taking photos of people or cultural sites.
Tonga is a hidden gem that is full of surprises and hidden treasures. From swimming with humpback whales to exploring ancient tombs and experiencing the local culture, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation, Tonga is the perfect destination for a unique and off-the-beaten-path travel experience.