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Which Great Barrier Reef Tour Is Best?

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Gabby Boucher
Updated Wed 13 Mar 2024

Which Great Barrier Reef tour is best? There is no right or wrong answer, as every traveler is looking for something different in a reef experience. Luckily, Cairns is known as the "Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef". That means there is a huge variety of reef tours that depart the city every day, so you are sure to find something that suits your needs. 

From day trips to pontoons, to scenic flights over the reef, to liveaboards where you can spend up to one whole week at sea, there are so many incredible reef tours from Cairns. This article will dive into the question, "Which Great Barrier Reef tour is best?", based on a few different factors that travellers may be looking for. If you're still unsure which reef tour to choose, feel free to live chat with us and our travel experts will help you decide!

snorkellers smiling on a Great Barrier Reef tour from cairns


Which Great Barrier Reef Tour Is Best?

There are so many unique and amazing Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns. We've split up our list of the best Great Barrier Reef tours based on different categories. So whether you're a budget traveler, an intro diver, an advanced diver, or someone looking for unique experiences, there is a perfect reef tour out there for you. Here are our top picks for the best Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns based on each category.

But we do advise that you browse all the tours on our website fully, as there are lots of great options and each tour varies slightly. However, the Great Barrier Reef is so special that you're sure to have an unforgettable time no matter which tour you choose!

Here are some of the most popular Great Barrier Reef day tours from Cairns!

girls posing on the front of a boat on the great barrier reef


Best Budget Great Barrier Reef Tour From Cairns

Travellers on a budget can still experience the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns! Reef Experience offers the perfect affordable day trip so travellers can snorkel dive, and sightsee on the reef without spending a fortune. This tour offers amazing value for money, as there are many free activities and perks on Reef Experience that normally cost extra on other tours. Breakfast, lunch, snorkel gear, guided snorkel tours, glass bottom boat tours, an intro dive or a certified dive, and Cairns city pick-ups are all included!

Scuba Diver posing underwater on the great barrier reef


Best Cairns Reef Tour For Advanced Divers

Advanced divers will be in heaven on the Great Barrier Reef! Cairns offers a variety of liveaboards that are perfectly suited to experienced scuba divers. Why spend one day on the reef when you can sleep overnight at sea and have time to complete anywhere between 6 and 24 dives at world-class reef sites?

Spirit of Freedom offers 3, 4, and 7-day advanced liveaboards where you can visit remote destinations, try night dives and shark dives, and experience some world-class diving. Mike Ball is a close second as a favourite tour for advanced divers, and their tours come with a low-level flight option as well. 

colorful corals on the Great Barrier Reef near cairns


Best Cairns Reef Tour For Learning To Dive

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the best places in Australia for learning how to scuba dive. The water is warm and calm, the instructors are incredibly experienced, and you'll get to take your first breaths underwater surrounded by a vast range of colourful corals! Diver's Den has an Open Water Course that provides the ideal environment for learning to dive. Start with 2 days of classroom learning and pool practice. Then take your newfound knowledge to the sea and choose between a 1 or 2 night liveaboard where you can try night dives and test your skills!

Woman wearing a dive team tshirt on the great barrier reef


Best Luxury Great Barrier Reef Tour From Cairns

If you're looking to treat yourself during your Great Barrier Reef tour, look no further than Evolution Reef Cruise Gold ClassYou'll get to enjoy a standard reef day trip with the added bonus of free return transfers, a private lounge with five star service, and a guided snorkel tour through the flourishing coral reefs. Indulge in delicious food and drinks to refuel after plenty of snorkelling and diving!

two travellers enjoying a Great Barrier Reef Tour


Best All-Inclusive Reef Tour From Cairns

If you're looking for all-around great value, Tusa Snorkel and Dive is an incredible option. With a minimum age of 12 years and a maximum tour group of 40 people, you'll have an intimate experience with the Great Barrier Reef. This tour includes all food and drinks, state-of-the-art gear, guided snorkel tours, and two intro or certified dives. If you'd love to just book a tour and have everything included so you don't have to plan or organize anything else, Tusa is perfect for you!

snorkeller smiling on tusa reef tours boat trip from cairns


Best Unique Great Barrier Reef Experience From Cairns

For a unique Great Barrier Reef experience, consider a tour to the Frankland IslandsInstead of sailing to the Outer Reef, you'll visit a collection of gorgeous and secluded islands that are overflowing with fascinating wildlife. Snorkel, paddleboard, and kayak through pristine coral reefs and keep your eyes peeled for sea turtles, manta rays, and reef sharks. You'll also get to explore the tropical islands on foot and cruise down the Mulgrave River where you may spot some ferocious saltwater crocodiles!

bright blue water and golden sand in the frankland islands


Best Cairns Reef & Island Combo Tour

Another one of the best Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns is Great Adventures: Green Island & Great Barrier ReefIf you'd rather combine your reef trip with some time on a beautiful island, Green Island is one of the best day trips from Cairns! On this Great Adventures trip, you'll get to visit a reef pontoon and snorkel or dive as you would on most tours. But you'll also get 2 hours to spend exploring Green Island! Hike through the rainforest, lounge on the beach, or try more snorkelling off the coast. Either way, a day on Green Island is sure to be an unforgettable one!

man snorkelling with a turtle around Green Island


Best Great Barrier Reef Flight Package From Cairns

An amazing way to see the Great Barrier Reef is from above! On a scenic flight package, you'll get the opportunity to do a standard boat tour with snorkelling or diving, plus the added bonus of a mindblowing flight over the reef. Down Under Dive's Cruise & Fly Package is the ultimate reef experience! Visit two reef locations and enjoy up to 5 hours of frolicking underwater. Then top off the day with a 25-minute scenic helicopter flight over the reef and soak in some of the best views of your life!

Aerial views of green island and the surrounding reef


Best Great Barrier Reef Pontoon Tour From Cairns

Pontoon tours are some of the best types of Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns. They are stable, secure, and great for families or first-time snorkellers. Reef Magic has one of the best pontoon tours from Cairns. Check out the underwater observatory, learn about the reef ecosystems from an onboard marine biologist, let the kids swim in an infant-safe swimming enclosure, and enjoy the spacious sundecks.

Quicksilver is another excellent option that departs from Port Douglas. It's about an hour north of Cairns, but you can add on bus transfers and you'll get to visit the spectacular Agincourt Reef. The snorkeling here is truly incredible, and Port Douglas offers a more chill, quiet experience than Cairns. 

woman snorkelling on a Reef Magic tour from cairns


Best Great Barrier Reef Sailing Tour From Cairns

If you're looking for a reef tour that is slightly more adventurous than a pontoon tour, a Great Barrier Reef sailing tour will give you that rush of travelling across the Coral Sea in style. Passions of Paradise is one of the most popular Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns. Though sailing is weather dependant, Passions always makes an effort to ensure their guests have an amazing day on the reef. 

Passions of Paradise catamaran on the great barrier reef


Ready to book your trip to the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns? Check out our full list of tours here, or live chat with us online and we'll help you book the perfect tour for you!

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