A place where the colorful ocean meets a tropical rain forest, and home to two world heritage sights, it’s no wonder outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers from all around the world flock to Cairns, Australia. Cairns is known as the “gateway” to Queensland, Australia’s tropical northern state, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Cairns is a laid back mid-sized city that doesn’t disappoint when it comes to tourist activities for backpackers to explore.

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Cairns is most famous for its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef system in the world. Backpackers often bunker down in Cairns in order to go on multi-day diving adventures. One could spend weeks swimming around the reefs, and barely even touch the surface. Those looking for just a day or two of exploration can easily sign up for day snorkeling or dive cruises that’ll be sure to give a true taste of the beautiful underwater world the reef has to offer.

But travelers don’t come to Cairns just for the reef. Backpackers also love visiting the nearby mountain town of Kurunda (a 2-hour drive into the rain forest), learning about the aboriginal culture at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, taking a ferry to explore some of the regions numerous islands on the reef, and taking advantage of Cairns’ bustling nightlife. 

There are numerous hostels in the city where backpackers can unwind after a full day of adventure. Here are some of the best.

Traveller’s Oasis


Starts at ($20) for 6 bed-dorm HostelWorld (*9.5) Booking.com (*9.2) Map

**Prices are shown for weekdays in Mid-season (October)

Traveler’s Oasis has been awarded Hostel World’s “Hoscar” for the best hostel in Australia for the last five years, and the recognition is well deserved. This hostel is a home away from home. With an outdoor pool, lush greenery, several hammocks, and clean, comfortable rooms, it’s a quiet, peaceful refuge from the excitement of the city. With plenty of common spaces, it’s also a great place for socializing and meeting other travelers from around the world. 

Traveler’s Oasis had the budget-conscious backpacker in mind when designing its living space. It’s well equipped with a variety of amenities that help backpackers stay comfortable and within their budget. Two fully equipped kitchens, as well as an outdoor barbecue, are available for travelers hoping to save on restaurant costs, and the hostel even offers drink vouchers and discounted restaurant meals for those not in the mood for some cooking. Plenty of free entertainment is available as well, with over 1500 movies available to watch on the common TV (or on the TV in each private bedroom), and there’s a book exchange shelf for travelers to find something new to read for free.

The hostel is beautifully decorated with lively colors, and guests will find comfortable, well-spaced out beds in each of the dorms. The hostel is a short walk from the city center, and only a few blocks away from the ocean. Travelers will find all sorts of shops, restaurants, and nightlife right outside the door!

Highlights of the hostel

  • Swimming pool
  • Two kitchens and barbecue
  • Book exchange
  • 1500 movies on a hard drive
  • Hammocks

Reviews

  • “Great outdoor communal area for meeting fellow travelers!”
  • “A slice of paradise”
  • “Kind and helpful staff”
  • “Extremely clean”
  • “Friendly and chilled out atmosphere”

Globetrotters International


Starts at ($15) for 8 bed-dorm HostelWorld (*9.1) Booking.com (*8.6) Map 

**Prices are shown for weekdays in Mid-season (October)

Located just a couple blocks from the ocean, and near the center of town, Globetrotters International is a down to earth hostel for backpackers looking for a calm place to relax. The hostel prides itself in being quiet and spacious. There’s no loud bar on site (although it’s easy to get to bars if you like), and guests will never feel overcrowded. It’s a small family-run hostel that’s not connected with any larger hostel chain.

Guests here will enjoy a hip clean layout with plenty of communal space for hanging out with other travelers. There’s a pool with several lawn chairs for sunbathing, hammocks, and several large comfy couches for lounging. Each guest gets their own small fridge locker, and everyone has access to the hostel’s multiple fully equipped kitchens. Additionally, the hostel offers a free dinner every Wednesday, and a free breakfast including muesli and yogurt, cereal and toast every morning.

For the budget-conscious traveler, Globetrotters International’s reception can get guests special deals on tours, as well as a night club and restaurant coupons. For eco-conscious travelers, perhaps the best draw to this hostel is that it is entirely sun-powered. Guests will also find that all cleaning products used are natural and organic.

Highlights of the hostel

  • – Eco friendly (sun powered)
  • – Free breakfast
  • – Personal fridge lockers
  • – Swimming pool
  • – Quiet non-party atmosphere

Reviews

  • “Great value for the money, and amazing staff”
  • “A great place to chill and unwind”
  • “Helpful staff and comfy beds”
  • “Full of young travelers”
  • “Easy walking distance to shops and the marina”

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Mad Monkey Backpackers Waterfront

Starts at ($10) for 14 bed-dorm HostelWorld (*9.1) Booking.com (*8.7) Map

**Prices are shown for weekdays in Mid-season (October)

At Mad Monkey Backpackers Waterfront, it would be difficult not to make friends. The hostel’s management has created a space that’s very conducive to socializing, and they go out of their way to organize multiple group events every day. It’s got a bar and pool on-site, a communal barbecue, and a cinema and gaming area with board games, a variety of movies, and a PlayStation.

Guests here will also have access to a communal kitchen area, free bicycle hire, free local gym access (including classes) and free hot breakfast. Guests often socialize at the hostel in the evenings, and many take advantage of the hostel’s incredible location right on the Esplanade on Cairns’ spectacular waterfront. High-class bars and restaurants are just minutes away right outside the hostel’s door.

Mad Monkey has a variety of room options including bunk bed dorms with USB ports at each bed, and deluxe private bedrooms. The entire hostel is equipped with air conditioning, and the beds have recently been upgraded with new top-quality mattresses and linen.

Highlights of the hostel:

  • Bar on site
  • Gaming room
  • Free gym access
  • Free Bicycle hire
  • Daily group activities

Reviews

  • “The breakfast here makes Mad Monkey hostels special”
  • “Staff have a passion for ensuring guests have a great stay”
  • “Modern and clean”
  • “Super friendly staff and in a great location”

Gilligan’s Backpackers Hotel & Resort

Starts at ($10) for 10 bed-dorm HostelWorld (*8.5) Booking.com (*8.2) Map

**Prices are shown for weekdays in Mid-season (October)

Gilligan’s Backpacker Hotel recreates a high class, high energy resort experience for budget travelers. This is a huge multi-floor hotel with a large pool, several bars on-site, and even night clubs. Gilligan’s offers a variety of amenities including a free gym and powder room, free breakfast, free airport pickup nightly entertainment, and a social hour for meeting fellow backpackers with free give away prizes. The two on-site nightclubs at this hotel occasionally bring in big-name international DJs. 

Accommodation here is reasonably priced given the amenities, and backpackers can choose between private suites and dorm-style rooms. The hostel is located right in the city center next to all of Cairns’ best nightlife. 

For backpackers seeking out work in the area, there’s a “job club” on the property with a tour company that provides professional advice on finding work while traveling in Australia. The hotel’s website even boasts a job board with backpacker-friendly positions available.

Highlights of the hostel

  • Two nightclubs on-site
  • Fitness Center
  • Key cards
  • Beautiful swimming pool
  • Lively, party atmosphere

Reviews

  • “A party hostel through and through”
  • “Big rooms with a balcony”
  • “Fabulous atmosphere!”
  • “Perfect location and very clean rooms”

Tropic Days Backpackers


Starts at ($17) for 7 bed-dorm HostelWorld (*9.3) Booking.com (*9.0) Map

**Prices are shown for weekdays in Mid-season (October)

Quite opposite from Gilligan’s, Tropic Days Backpackers is a low key, small guest house/hostel for those looking for a relaxed atmosphere. It’s been listed by Lonely Planet as Cairns’ best hostel, and it’s clear why. The hostel boasts all of the comforts backpackers could want including air conditioning, a swimming pool, hammocks, two separate communal kitchens, an outdoor terrace, and a swimming pool, and free bicycle hire. The hostel’s layout is modern with beautiful hardwood floors, bright lighting, and cozy communal areas to meet other travelers.

Tropic Days have a well-equipped information desk where guests can book a variety of day trips straight from the hostel. Guests look forward to their famous weekly Barbecues that include tasty local dishes including crocodile, kangaroo and emu meats.

Tropic Days Backpackers is in a quieter location. It’s a bit of a walk to the city’s center, but the hostel provides a courtesy bus to and from town.

Highlights of the hostel

  • Quiet location
  • Weekly barbecues
  • 2 communal kitchens
  • Clean and cozy

Reviews

  • “Good price, and great tourist recommendations”
  • “Beautiful and well looked after hostel”
  • “People actually took the quiet hours seriously”
  • “Quiet, zen and relaxing.”

Bounce Cairns

Starts at ($14) for 10 bed-dorm HostelWorld (*8.9) Booking.com (*8.6) Map

**Prices are shown for weekdays in Mid-season (October)

Bounce is a large resort party hostel designed for backpackers on a budget who are looking to enjoy the best nightlife Cairns has to offer. The hostel has an entertainment team tasked specifically with organizing events every day and night. This team knows the ins and outs of the city and can show guests the hottest (and cheapest) backpacker bars available. 

Bounce is located right in the center of the city next to all the top nightlife. scenes. Inside the hostel is a variety of comforting amenities including a pool and outdoor bar (with cheap drinks!), a steam room, air conditioning in each room, a barbecue, and free hot breakfast. 

Like most hostels, guests can choose budget dorm accommodation here. Those seeking private rooms will find the rooms slightly pricier but more luxurious. Private rooms come with their own bathroom as well as hardwood floors and a flat-screen TV.

Highlights of the hostel

  • Beautiful private rooms
  • Daily organized events
  • Free breakfast
  • Cheap food and drinks

Reviews

  • “Close to the city center and has everything you need”
  • “Tasty breakfast with fresh pancakes”
  • “Excellent hosts at reception”

Mad Monkey Backpackers Cairns

Starts at ($11) for 6 bed-dorm HostelWorld (*8.3) Booking.com (*8.1) Map

**Prices are shown for weekdays in Mid-season (October)

Operated by the same team as Mad Monkey Backpackers Waterfront, this is a hip fun hostel located in the center of downtown Cairns, next to all of the nightlife. Like its sister hostel, the vibe here is all about community. The hostel is known to have a “family atmosphere.” It’s easy to make friends here, and there’s always something social to do. It’s famous for its family-style meals. At night, Mad Monkey’s entertainment team will lead guests to the best bars for backpackers in Cairns.

The hostel’s bedrooms were recently renovated with modern equipment in the communal kitchen and new furniture for the rooms. It’s also got an outdoor pool and bar, and gourmet pizza restaurant on site. 

Highlights of the hostel

  • Gourmet pizza restaurant
  • Free hot breakfast
  • Social, family atmosphere
  • Entertainment team
  • On site pool and bar

Reviews

  • “Hostel managers are very friendly”
  • “Good location and chill atmosphere”
  • “Clean and tidy”
  • “Fun hostel with good common areas”

Cairns is a melting pot of backpackers from all around the world. Backpackers and travelers from all walks of life can be found here – a young family from the States on a week-long vacation, retired folks from Europe settling down by the beach for a few months, and 20-something backpackers hoping to cover as much of the world as possible before their money runs out.

Those backpackers spending years traveling the world will often rave about their time spent in Cairns. It’s a place for backpackers to meet up with fellow travelers they’ve met along the path. A lot of young tourists even take advantage of the Australian work visa here. Backpackers can stay in their backpacker’s paradise, while also working for a while to restock on the travel funds.

For travelers wanting a taste of everything – a hip social scene, beautiful lush rain forests, and the world’s most majestic underwater ecosystem, Cairns is not to be missed.

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