I like comparing destinations, but I rarely have a straight answer about which one I think is the best. See the ties between Sydney vs Brisbane, Cairns vs Brisbane, New Caledonia vs Vanuatu… But when the question is Cairns or Port Douglas, I don’t hesitate a second. Port Douglas it is! Let me explain to you why to help you plan your trip to Far North Queensland.
The Cairns to Port Douglas road is fantastic
As you drive from Cairns to Port Douglas, you’ll get to see one of Australia’s most scenic roads. Of course, you could go to Port Douglas as a day trip and still experience that road. But why go back to the city if you have time to stay in such a beautiful place?
In my opinion, Cairns is a small city that doesn’t have as many charms when compared to Port Douglas.
Port Douglas is more special than Cairns
Can you name another place in the world where two UNESCO World Heritage listed sites meet? It’s quite unique, isn’t it? And they’ve been well protected.
In Port Douglas, they developed tourism but ensured they conserved the beauty of the landscape. From the beach, it looks pristine and untouched. Still, tourists will find all the facilities and comfort they need. The Port Douglas region was the first place in the world to gain the ECO Destination certification!
You won’t forget your night(s) in Port Douglas
You cannot enjoy all of the Daintree region via a day trip from Cairns. There are too many places to explore in the region to fit it all in one day. So don’t rush it and stay for at least one night near Port Douglas. It will give you a chance to visit the Daintree Forest at night. Plus, you can enjoy the most popular places without the crowd, before the tours from Cairns arrive. I was surprised by how quiet the popular Mossman Gorge was when we visited it early in the morning.
Where to stay in Port Douglas
I recommend staying at an ECO Certified accommodation: check out Thala Beach Nature Reserve*, Daintree Eco Lodge & Spa*, Daintree Wilderness Lodge* and Silky Oaks Lodge* for example. But most travellers won’t have the budget to experience these beautiful places. We found a good deal online to stay in town, at the Mantra*.
Where to eat in Port Douglas
We only had one dinner in town. If you’re looking for somewhere special for dinner, we loved the Nautilus*. But if you want water views, then have a look at Osprey’s Restaurant*, Hi Tide* or The Yachty*.
For a unique experience – way more than a dinner – in the rainforest, have a look at Flame of the forest.
Tours from Port Douglas are among Australia’s best
I’m not saying that tours from Cairns aren’t good. But the Port Douglas and Daintree region offers a range of ECO-certified tours with fantastic interpretation opportunities and a commitment to sustainable practices.
There are many opportunities to learn about the rainforest, the reef, and the fascinating ecosystems in the two UNESCO World Heritage Listed parks, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Forest.
Even if Cairns is the most famous place to go out to the Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas is actually an excellent option as tours from there can take you to the Ribbons Reef.
You’ll be closer to Cape Tribulation
If you’re hesitating between Cairns or Port Douglas but also thinking of visiting Cape Tribulation (which I highly recommend), stay in Port Douglas. It is easy to visit Cape Tribulation as a day trip from Port Douglas, either you prefer to self-drive or join a tour*.
Some people go all the way to Cape Tribulation from Cairns as a day trip. It’s feasible, but you’d add at least a one-hour drive each way compared to staying in Port Douglas, which turns the day trip into a very long day. There are a lot of things to see in the Daintree region, and you’ll have a better time if you can avoid packing everything in one day.