Tonga

Guide for Visiting Tonga and What to Do in Tonga

Where is Tonga Island?

Tonga, officially named Kingdom of Tonga, is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean known as “The Friendly Islands.” It has 169 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. Its neighbors are Fiji, Wallis, and Futuna to the northwest, Samoa to the northeast, Niue to the east, Kermadec to the southwest, and New Caledonia and Vanuatu further to the west.

Tonga Island map
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

How to get to Tonga

Tonga does not receive a lot of tourists compared to its neighboring countries, but there are a few flights a week that take visitors from international destinations to Tonga. The top airline that has flights to Tonga is Air New Zealand. Air New Zealand has daily flights from London to Los Angeles with a once-a-week connection from Los Angeles to Tonga. If you want to take a trip to Tonga from USA, Air Pacific has flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Nadi, Fiji. From Fiji, you can hop on a connecting flight to Tonga. Citizens from New Zealand, USA, UK, and Australia can visit Tonga without a Visa for a stay of 31 days or less. If you are a passport holder of any of these countries, all you need is a passport with at least 6 months’ validity beyond your departure from Tonga and a return ticket.


How to get around Tonga

Getting around the Tongan islands requires a lot of boat rides. Taking the inter-island ferries is the most popular and cheapest means of getting around Tonga. If you are keen on saving time, though, you can take domestic flights, rent a car, take the local buses, hail a taxi, or even rent a bike.

traveling by car


Best time to visit Tonga

The best time to visit Tonga is any time since the islands have a year-round tropical climate. If you are comfortable with tropical summer, visiting between November to April is ideal, but if you want a milder climate, visit Tonga any time between May to October.


Currency used in Tonga

Pa’anga is the currency used in Tonga. 1 Tongan Pa’anga is equivalent to 0.44 USD.


Tonga population

Based on the 2016 census, 100,651 people live in Tonga. The people on this friendly island are known as Tongans. Most of the people are living on the main island called Tongatapu.


Time Zone in Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga follows the UTC+13 time zone. Tonga is 17 hours ahead of New York, USA, 12 hours ahead of London, UK, and 4 hours ahead of Tokyo, Japan. It is only 1 hour ahead of Wellington, New Zealand.


What language is spoken in Tonga?

The official languages in Tonga are the Tongan language (a Polynesian language closely related to Hawaiian and Samoan) and English.


Is Tonga Safe for Tourists?

Generally, Tonga is safe for tourists since the crime rate in the country is pretty low, but incidents such as robbery, assault, and house break-ins still do happen. As a general rule, practice caution when you are traveling in a new place.

Tonga


What is Tonga known for?

Tonga is known for its beautiful islands and friendly locals. The life expectancy in the Kingdom of Tonga is 70 years.


Which country owns Tonga?

Although it was never formally colonized, The Kingdom of Tonga was a British protectorate, and it became fully independent in 1970.


Popular Tonga Destinations

Some of the most popular destinations in Tonga are Vava’u, Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu, and Ha’apai. Vava’u is a small, scenic island famous for humpback whales. Nuku’alofa is renowned for snorkeling, while Tongatapu is well-known for its ancient tombs, and Ha’apai, Vava’u, is also famous for whale watching.


Popular Tongan Food and Drink

Tongan food and drink play a huge part in their culture. While you are enjoying your Tonga vacation, make sure to try ufi (a large white yam), lu pulu (meat and onions marinated in coconut milk), and feke (grilled seafood in coconut sauce). For drinks, have a glass of kava or Tonga lager.


Best Places to See and Things to Do in Tonga

1. Swim with the humpback whales in Tongatapu

Tongatapu is one of the highly recommended places to visit by the Tonga Tourism Department, not only because it is the capital, but also because it offers a lot of recreational activities that bring you close to nature.

humpback whales - Visiting Tonga

Hire one of the travel companies that offer boat tours that include swimming with the whales and guarantee you will have one of the best vacations of your life.

2. Play around Mapu’a’a Vaea Blowholes

One of the most popular places to see in Tonga is the Mapu’a’a Vaea Blowholes. Visit on a nice, windy day and you will get to see hundreds of blowholes spurt upwards at the same time. It is one of the most magnificent water shows courtesy of nature. The bigger the swell of the waves, the greater the blowholes. This natural landmark stretches for 5 kilometers along the south coast. Seeing the Mapu’a’a Vaea Blowholes is something you should do when visiting Tonga.

3. Buy local produce in the Talamahu Market

A Tonga vacation would not be complete without visiting the Talamahu Market. This is the best place to immerse yourself in the Tongan culture while doing a little bit of shopping on the side.

Talamahu Market - Visiting Tonga
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The best day to shop is Saturday mornings, which are the market days of most Tongans. You can buy anything, such as food, drinks, toys, accessories, souvenirs, and a whole lot more.

4. Explore Ene’io Botanical Garden

One of the best things to do in Tonga Islands is to explore Ene’io Botanical Garden. This 22-acre botanical garden has been here for over 40 years. There are daily guided eco-tours which allow you to see the prized endemic flora of the garden. This area is also a good place to have lunch since there are a lot of ocean-side restaurants and bars nearby that offer fresh seafood and the islands’ best fruits. There are also small shops that sell local and native crafts that are perfect souvenirs for your trip.

5. Take a day trip to Atata Island

Atata Island is a bit far from the center, but it is worth the day trip. One of the best things to do in Tonga is to spend a day in Atata Island doing water activities such as kayaking, snorkeling, and swimming.

Atata Island
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Most of the boat tours offer free lunch, drinks, and snacks as part of their package. Level up your Tonga vacation and take a day trip to Atata Island.

6. Bathe in the natural pool in Anahulu Cave

One of the best features of the Tongan Islands is their natural pools. During your Tonga vacation, include Anahulu Cave in your itinerary. Here you can find an underground natural swimming pool. Swim to your heart’s content and make sure to pack a picnic so you can stay longer. The place is a popular tourist destination, so it is best to visit on a weekday to avoid the crowds. The Anahulu Cave is located on the east side of Tonga and composed of a large network of limestone caves you are free to explore with a guide.

7. Visit Ha’amonga’a Maui Trilithon – the Stonehenge of the Pacific

In the Pacific Island of Tonga, you can find Ha’amonga’a Maui Trilithon, which is known as the Stonehenge of the Pacific. This is one of the most popular places for tourists in Tonga Islands.

Ha’amonga’a Maui Trilithon - Visiting Tonga
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

A lot of tourists come to explore and appreciate the site and take tons of photos. Although it is still unknown as to why Stonehenge was built here and for what purpose, it is still a good place to check out.

8. Relax at Luahoko Robinson Island

The Luahoko Robinson Island has one of the best beaches all throughout Tonga Pacific Islands. It takes a while to get here, but once you arrive, you will not want to leave. There are no commercial places in the island, thus making it more serene and untouched. If you just want a relaxing and quiet afternoon, this is the solace you’re looking for during your Tonga travel.

9. Have a glimpse in the Royal Palace

One of the best things to do in Tongatapu Island in Tonga country is to visit the Royal Palace.

Royal Palace, Tonga
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

As of this writing, the Royal Palace is not yet open for public viewing and visits, but most of the city tours include dropping by outside the palace and admiring it from the outside.

10. Snorkel in Ha’atafu Beach

Another jewel of this Kingdom Island is the Ha’atafu Beach. You can lay on the white sand, watch some hermit crabs go about their day, swim in the clear blue waters, and go snorkeling. Ha’atafu Beach has a healthy marine life, and you will get to see different colorful fish in the shallow part of the beach, which is perfect for families traveling to Tonga with little kids.

11. Take a hike in Mt. Talau

The islands of Tonga is a venue filled with tons of outdoor recreational activities. Take an easy hike up Mt. Talau and you will be rewarded with an aerial view of the islands.

Mt. Talau
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

If you are visiting Tonga during summer, the best time to hike up Mt. Talau is two hours before sunset. There are viewing platforms that you can climb to for the best sunset view of the islands. Do not forget to take your camera with you for that picture-perfect tropical sunset moment.

12. Check out the Ancient Tombs of Lapaha

Be respectful in coming here since these are ancient burial sites. This is worth the visit, especially if you are interested in culture, history, and ancient architecture.

13. Spend an afternoon in Hufangalupe Natural Land Bridge

This is one of the most scenic views in the country of Tonga, but Hufangalupe Natural Land Bridge may be a challenge to find on your own. Book a local guide and ride to take you to one of the most breathtaking places in Tonga.

14. Take a photo with the Three-Headed-Coconut

You read that right. Nowhere else in the world will you see a coconut tree that has three heads. This is one of the most visited sites in the world.

3 headed coconut tree
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

If you are traveling to Tonga, ask your local guide about this tree and take an afternoon trip here.

15. Drive to Abel Tasman Landing Site

Rent a car or book a driver/tour guide and head over to Abel Tasman Landing Site. This is one of the historical sites in Tonga Islands – the route is scenic, too!

 


What to pack for Tonga

Tonga enjoys a tropical climate, so you need not pack thick jackets and warm clothes when preparing for your vacation here. Pack light clothing you will be comfortable in, wandering around the tropics.


Expert Tips on Traveling in Tonga

Dress appropriately

Dress appropriately not only for the weather but also coinciding with social decorum. Tonga is not a very liberated country, so dressing modestly is the way of life on the whole islands, especially for women. While you can wear bikinis on some beaches, especially the private ones, this is not something you want to do on public beaches. When packing for your trip, pack your rash guards together with your bikinis and sunscreen. This might also be a wise thing to do to keep you from getting sunburned since the tropical sun can be quite unforgiving, especially during summer.

Trip to Tonga

Make sure you do not plan anything for Sunday

The country takes a nationwide rest day on Sundays, so almost everything is closed.

Buy a local sim card

Wi-Fi is not that common in the country. If you need to be connected to the internet for navigation, work, or getting connected with family and friends back home, purchase a local sim card at the airport so you have internet data during your Tonga vacation.

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