Cairns and Port Douglas are two incredible Great Barrier Reef towns for very different reasons. Cairns is an exciting, vibrant tourist city that offers ease of access to the inner reef whereas Port Douglas is a laid back forest town that provides a quick cruise to the outer reef!

When it comes to choosing between Cairns and Port Douglas, there are a few factors you should consider, including:

Reef access

You aren’t going to have any trouble experiencing the reef from either Cairns or Port Douglas, as both towns offer easy access to this most astounding natural wonderland.

This being said, both towns offer markedly different reef experiences, with Cairns providing an action-packed, all-out reef adventure with endless catamarans to countless individual reefs. Cairns is the place where you can easily set out for the likes of the unforgettable Hastings Reef, Moore Reef, Breaking Patches and the amazing Cod Hole.

Conversely, Port Douglas offers a more laid back experience, with fewer tour operators and easy access to the outer reef. For those of you looking to feast your eyes upon larger coral and fish species without the time it takes to experience them from Cairns, then Port Douglas is easily the best option!

What you want to do in your downtime

Of course, you’re not going to spend your whole adventure submerged in the reef, and it’s important to consider how you want to enjoy your downtime when you can’t be experiencing the otherworldly coral, fish and sea species that cruise beneath the sea.

As we said, Cairns is a buzzing tourist destination, a place where excited travellers and wannabe divers flock from all over the world to get out to the reef and have a little party in between.

Port Douglas, conversely, is renowned for how uber chilled it is, with a tranquil vibe and plenty of lush vegetation to enjoy when you can’t be setting sail to the reef!

That’s not to say Port Douglas doesn’t like a party, but they are fewer and harder to find than in crazy Cairns!


Naturally, this means accommodation varies greatly between the two towns, with Cairns offering countless options to suit all budgets whilst Port Douglas is more… luxury travel-esque.

But this doesn’t mean you can’t find awesome Port Douglas hostel accommodation – resorts and stunning homestays are just a little more plentiful…

Related article: 6 Best Things To Do in Cairns

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