Cairns, Australia – What to do? Where to stay? I give you some travel tips – for the backpacker who wants to discover Cairns on the cheap and do backpacking trips around.

6 things to know for a stay in Cairns – a practical guide for backpackers 

  1. Backpacker accommodation in Cairns
  2. Going out – nightlife in Cairns
  3. Backpacking trips near Cairns – travel tips and spots
  4. Free things to do in Cairns
  5. Travel tips on how to find a job
  6. The weather all year round – when to travel

Where to stay: travel tips on accommodation for backpackers.

Cairns is not like other bigger cities in Australia. Accommodation prices are more affordable and some backpackers’ hostels are really nice. I tried some of them. A non exhaustive list, ordered by preferences:
  • the Jack Backpackers

My home in Cairns. The best hostel I’ve stayed in.

The + :  great compromise quality/price, free dinner, bar downstairs, clean and super friendly atmosphere.You get to know backpackers quickly.

Tested and approved! The best one I’ve stayed in Cairns. Prices from 19$ AUD in a 6 bed dorm. Work for accommodation possible.

The – : none!

  • Cairns City Backpackers

I stayed over a week and would come back.

The + : a really friendly and chill place to stay! International guests. A small beach house alike. Nice dorms. A quiet hostel. Probably the cheapest backpacker hostel in Cairns – from 15$. Easy to park the car or the van in the quiet surrounding streets.

The – : Outside of the city centre. 15 mn walk.

  • Gilligan’s Backpacker Hostel

The + : travel and job agency downstairs. Party hostel. The club downstairs is the meeting point of backpackers. Good to go out and have a wild party night.

The – : A “backpacker’s manufactory”, big and more expensive than other hostels in Cairns – from 25$. Loud because of the club if you are not in a party mood.

  • Global Central

I stayed 2 nights. It was ok for the price.

The + : in the heart of Cairns. Affordable accommodation – from 18$. friendly staff, clean hostel, shuttles to Port Douglas, backpacking trips and other travel tips. Plus, 10$ meal and drink at P.J. O’Brien’s pub.

The – : too modern and too big for me. The building has got no real atmosphere.

  • Caravella central

I stayed 2 nights and was glad to go.

The + :  Really cheap (from 16$), right in the centre.

The – :  not the friendliest and cleanest hostel I’ve ssen.

Travel tips on booking accommodation in Cairns:

To book at the last minute,  and often offer interesting deals. Hostelworld also provide rates for the backpackers’ budget.

Where to go out in Cairns – travel tips to party cheap

After a few drinks (or a lot of goon!) at the hostel or at the pub, it’s time to go out! In Cairns, some possibilities are available to you. Cairns might be a small town but its night life is perfect for  backpackers on a cheap trip. The backpacker community meets at Gilligan’s, at Whoolshed in the centre or even at the Salthouse near Cairns’ peer.  No worries, you’ll probably test all the clubs since most of them are free until 22 /23 pm and since there are not thousands of places in Cairns anyway! And if you are not a fan of standard music, I’ve got other travel tips for you…  Electronic and techno music lovers frequently gather on farms in Cairns’ surroundings to dance and chill together. It’s a really nice travel experience for the party mouse backpackers. In the hostels in Cairns the backpacker network works quite well and lifts to such parties are organized.

Backpacking trips in the rainforest and tours for backpackers 

Cheap backpacking trips wanted! I give you some ideas and travel tips to enjoy Cairns region. The rainforest and the Atherton Tablelands are beautiful spots to go on backpacking trips. Since they are located near Cairns city, you can easily undertake short road trips to discover the area.

The waterfalls in the Atherton Tablelands 

Cairns’ tropical rainforest belongs to the Wet Tropics World Heritage area … and it’s not for nothing! Cairns region is full of exotic waterfalls and lakes – stunning wild places where you wouldn’t be surprised to see dinosaurs around.

My travel tips on what to see in the Atherton Tablelands:

  • Waterfall Circuit: Millaa Millaa, Zillie, Ellinjaa, Pepina, Mungali. In the Atherton Tablelands. I almost got frozen lounges while swimming underneath the waterfall but worth it!
  • Josephine Falls: amazing waterfall and clear water to swim in. The rocks form a natural slide… a lot fo fun! 75 km from Cairns.
  • Lake Barrine volcanic crater and lake Eacham in the Atherton Tablelands: a huge crater filled up with transparent water. Lake Eacham nearby to take a swim.
  • Crystal Cascade: accessible only by self drive. My tips: avoid the tourists and take the path in the back of the parking. A beautiful waterfall offers a quiet spot to swim.
  • Paronella Park: a garden displaying old Spanish Castle ruins and a waterfall. In the rainforest. 1.5 hour drive from Cairns
  • Barron falls and the skyrail: in Kuranda

The national parks south from Cairns:

  • Jourama falls: Paluma Range National. On the Bruce Highway.
  • Wallaman Falls: Girringun National Park. Near Jourama Falls. UNESCO World Heritage – listed Wet Tropics in North Queensland. I felt so small in front of this stunning scenery. The walk to the bottom of the fall is not to miss.

The things to see north from Cairns:

  • Cape Tribulation: in the heart of the rainforest and scenic drive from Cairns up to Cape Trib. 3 hours away. One day trip at least. For more trip tips, read my blog post 6 travel tips to Cape Tribulation 
  • Mossman Gorge: on the way to Cape Tribulation. Mossman National Park. See my article for more info and photos.

Adrenaline and attractions: backpacking trips near Cairns and travel tips

Cairns is famous for being a touristic spot on Australia’s East Coast. You have been probably told not to miss the Great Barrier Reef and the snorkeling tours. It’s Cairns’ big business…

Great Barrier Reef  – snorkeling and diving

Backpackers and travelers know Cairns mostly for the Reef. As backpackers on a one life trip in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef still belongs to the top things to see. Be aware that the Reef is no longer the healthy ecosystem it was once. Mass tourism … the amount of daily trips to the Great Barrier doesn’t do any good to the coral. Still, I admit that I loved snorkeling among turtles and the multicolor coral – an amazing travel experience. Green island and Port Douglas are other altneratives for snorkeling and diving. I’d recommend Fitzroy Island. The Reef is really nice at this place.
My travel tips to save on your budget:
Choose small sailing companies. To explore the Reef on the cheap, book a snorkeling and/or diving tour on a small boot. The travel group is often limited to 10/15 people. It doesn’t feel like a tourist trip. Visit to get interesting discounts on tours and backpacking trips.


In Cairns and Mission Beach, skydiving is one of the things to do if you want some adrenaline kick! I booked mine on Adrenaline website. They offer hot deals. Count around 280$ for the flight and the jump. If I could barely breathe the first seconds of the free fall, it turned to be a crazy and awesome experience! My travel tips on the backpacking trips and tours: If you are in a rush, a solo traveler or you don’t want to plan by yourself the backpacking trips, the town is full of agencies for backpackers which will be more than happy to sell you tours! They offer a comfortable solution to explore Cairns area without stress and with a bunch of backpackers. And don’t hesitate to negotiate prices! Still, avoid the tours for backpackers if you can and go on your own. Share the costs and the fun with other travelers. Put ads on Facebook, at your backpacker hostel or just ask your new roommates.

Free activities in Cairns

The best of the best: having fun and exploring without spending a single dollar! Find some travel tips and places to go :
  • The lagoon :
Where? In Cairns city. What to do? Chill, take a swim or a walk, have a barbecue, go to the skate park and beach area, meet other backpackers
  • The botanic gardens:
Where? Collins Avenue, Edge Hill QLD. By car : free parking, 10 mn from the city. By bus: 130, 131. What to do? See tropical trees and plants, bird watching.
  • Street events:
Music festivals at the lagoon and in Abbott Street, night markets all year
  • Hikes:
White Rock Peak, Lamb Range. Panoramic view of Cairns. 5 km return hike. A challenging steep track.

The job situation for the backpackers who want to work in Cairns

To find a job in Cairns is not that easy… You are not the only backpacker who could fall in love with the tropical city. Be ready for concurrence, above all in the dry season. The job agencies for backpackers might be a solution if you struggle. The travel agency Happy Travels offers a backpacker job board that you’ll pay only if you get the proposed job – 100$AUD fees.

My travel tips on searching a job in Cairns:

Look first on the social networks (Facebook groups) and gumtree, ask at your hostel, put ads on Internet. Banana, mango or potato farms are numerous in the Atherton Tablelands. Depending on the season, work is available ( harvest season: summer). But the climatic conditions can be challenging.

Weather: best time to stay

You’re now convinced that Cairns is THE place you want to be next. Now, when to travel up to the tropics? The town is located in the far tropical North of Australia, which means that the rain season is not to neglect. If you have no problem with feeling like in the hot and humid jungle, you can undertake backpacking trips at any time. Otherwise, look at my travel tips to know when to go!
  Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

Temp max. °C 31 31 30 28 27 25 25 25 26 27 28 30
Rainfall mm 320 380 360 190 110 50 30 20 40 50 130 130

These guide lines are based on my own travels in and around the city. I’m sure, you have got more travel tips to share with us! Leave a comment!

A day trip to Cape Tribulation, QLD Australia – 6 travel tips