9 of the Best Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns 2024

Do you want to know which Cairns based trips to the Great Barrier Reef are the best? We’ve got you covered!

I’m an Australian who has been to Cairns several times. Each time I go, I’m amazed by the sheer beauty of the Great Barrier Reef – it’s one of the most stunning natural wonders in the world.

If you’re planning a trip to Cairns and want to explore the Great Barrier Reef, you’re in for a real treat! There are so many incredible tours and experiences that will show you the best of what this area has to offer.

Having gone on numerous tours myself and talking to other travellers who have done similar tours, I can vouch for the quality, authority and trustworthiness of those companies offering Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns.

So whether you’re looking for an affordable day tour or an immersive overnight experience, plenty of options are available.

My Top 3 Picks: Best Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns

#1 Top Pick
Sailboat sailing on a warm beautiful day in the Whitsunday Islands on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Full-Day Great Barrier Reef Sailing Trip

  • 9 hours
  • Lunch included
  • Snorkel equipment
#2 Pick
Frankland Island in Far North Queensland Australia on the Great Barrier Reef

Full-Day Cruise Tour To Frankland Islands

  • 8 hours
  • Lunch & snacks
  • Use of equipment
#3 Pick
Wonderful and beautiful underwater world with corals and tropical fish.

Overnight Dive, Snorkel And Sail Experience

  • 2 days
  • Max of 12 people
  • Accommodation & food included

9 of the Best Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns

Sailboat sailing on a warm beautiful day in the Whitsunday Islands on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

1. Full-Day Great Barrier Reef Sailing Trip

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ LENGTH:  9 hours | ✅ Book it!

This fantastic full-day Great Barrier Reef tour is also one of the best Cairns sailing trips on offer! Explore the waters of tropical North Queensland as you sail to Upolu Reef and snorkel with the turtles, fish and coral.

Exposure suits can be hired for an additional $6 per person, though they are provided for kids under 14 free of charge. Guided lessons are also available if you think you may need some extra support exploring the waters.

“We had a great time, the staff were friendly and helpful, the group size was perfect. Amazing experience snorkelling the reef. Highly recommend Reef Daytripper.” – Gemma_H

Weather permitting, you will visit two sites – Upolu Reef and a sheltered lagoon. This gives you plenty of time to swim, snorkel and scuba dive, as well as relax on-board and chat with fellow travellers. The day is fairly straightforward and laid-back, with a buffet lunch to look forward to.

If you are particularly anxious or haven’t been scuba diving or snorkelling in a while, you can ask for a guided tour. This is also a great option if you want a more personalised and in-depth experience too, as you can learn more about the tropical fish and other marine life swimming around you.

Important details

  • Start time and location: 7:30 am from Reef Daytripper
  • Duration: 9 hours
  • Includes: A guided snorkel tour and use of snorkelling equipment, exposure suits for children under 14 years old, lunch, snacks, tea and coffee

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Frankland Island in Far North Queensland Australia on the Great Barrier Reef

2. Full-Day Cruise Tour To Frankland Islands Great Barrier Reef

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ LENGTH:  8 hours | ✅ Book it!

While there are some Great Barrier Reef day trips from Cairns that will take you to the most popular and crowded spots, this tour is definitely the opposite of that! This is the only tour that includes a visit to the picturesque Frankland Islands, so you know you’ll have plenty of freedom to swim and explore where you like.

This full-day cruise also provides the option to rent a stand-up paddleboard or a kayak, or add on scuba diving if you wish.

“We had a fantastic day, even though the weather was a bit cooler. We saw so many different types of fish and coral and even managed to spot a whale calf. The staff on the boat were wonderful and happy to share all their knowledge and experiences. Would love to go back!” – Christine_D

Get ready to escape the crowds and discover one of the best kept secrets of North Queensland! On a luxury boat, take a 30-minute cruise down the Mulgrave River before arriving at the tropical Frankland Islands for the day.

Spend your four-and-a-half hours here snorkelling, kayaking, or sunbathing on the island’s soft white sands.

An expert marine naturalist will be with you to go over the different fish and coral species that are found here. If you have any questions about this unique ecosystem, they will be more than happy to answer them! 

A buffet lunch with tea and coffee are all included, and you can purchase soft drinks, bottled water or alcoholic beverages as well. All ages are welcome on the trip, making it a great option for Cairns reef tours for families.

Important details

  • Start time and location: 8:30 am departure from Deeral Jetty at 169 Ross Rd or pre-arranged pick-up from selected CBD hotels 
  • Duration: 8 hours
  • Includes: A river and island cruise, use of kayaks, snorkelling equipment and stand-up paddle boards, a guided snorkelling tour, an island walk and rock pool discovery led by a marine biologist, protection suits, morning or afternoon tea with a tropical buffet lunch, and travel in an air-conditioned vehicle

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Wonderful and beautiful underwater world with corals and tropical fish.

3. Coral Sea Dreaming: Overnight Dive, Snorkel And Sail Experience From Cairns

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ LENGTH:  2 days | ✅ Book it!

Want to maximise your time exploring this beautiful part of the world? Cairns overnight reef tours are an unforgettable opportunity to travel off the beaten path and truly immerse yourself.

The Coral Sea Dreaming sailing trip spans two days and is limited to 12 people, with both private and shared accommodation available. Introductory dives and certifications are offered, so even beginners can join in. 

“Wonderful experience with friendly, knowledgeable, and hard-working guides. I highly recommend this trip!” – Kyle_H

As you depart from Cairns and head towards the Great Barrier Reef, enjoy some complimentary snacks and get to know everyone else on board, the crew included.

Before you know it, it’ll be time to snorkel in the shallow coral reefs or take a guided dive with one of the instructors. Keep an eye out for turtles and reef sharks, as well as the amazing variety of colourful coral.

After lunch on deck, you can swim some more or laze about and wait for the sunset. Once the sun goes down, you’ll have the rare opportunity to go night diving, even if you are not yet certified. This gives you a chance to spot unique marine life that you don’t get to see during the daytime.

On day two, wake up on the beautiful reef and watch an amazing sunrise. After a continental breakfast, you’ll head to a different location for some more fun in the ocean. After lunch, you’ll begin to make the return journey and arrive back in Cairns at around 4 pm.

Important details 

  • Start time and location: 8 am at Cairns Marlin Marina
  • Duration: 2 days 
  • Includes: Overnight accommodation with shared bathrooms and hot showers, all meals plus light refreshments including snacks, coffee and tea, and use of snorkelling equipment

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Green Island Great Barrier Reef, Cairns Australia seen from above

4. Full Day Reef Cruise Including 10 Minute Heli Scenic Flight: Get High Package

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5 Stars | ⏳ LENGTH:  9 hours | ✅ Book it!

Get a head-start to the day on this fantastic Get High Package Great Barrier Reef cruise. On this memorable day tour, you’ll get to see and experience the reef from all sorts of viewpoints.

Take a cruise on a high-speed catamaran, go scuba diving, and take a 10-minute helicopter flight to view the islands and reefs from above.

“This was a great experience as a solo traveler, they sat me at a table with other solo travelers and I quickly made new friends to explore the reef with. I was very impressed with the lunch. The helicopter ride was absolutely amazing! The staff is also very kind and friendly. 10/10 recommend this tour.” – Anonymous

This tour starts bright and early, departing Cairns in a luxury high-speed catamaran. You will visit two separate dive sites on the Great Barrier Reef and enjoy up to three scuba dives.

Whether you are a beginner or already certified, you are welcome to come along, as all different experience levels are catered for. Expect to spend about five hours on the reef, so there’s plenty of time to swim and snorkel around too.

After exploring the beautiful coral and marine life underwater, enjoy a buffet BBQ lunch served aboard the yacht.

You’ll then hop aboard a luxurious helicopter for a breathtaking 10-minute flight over the Hastings Reef. Overall, the crew are super attentive and friendly, ready to help you have the best day possible. 

Important details

  • Start time and location: Between 7:15am to 7:45am at Reef Fleet Terminal for an 8 am departure
  • Duration: 9 hours
  • Includes: A cruise onboard a luxurious and fast catamaran, visits to two exclusive outer reef locations, use of snorkelling and scuba equipment, an introductory dive for beginners or a certified dive for those meeting qualifications, a 10-minute scenic reef helicopter ride, lycra or sun suit hire, all fees and taxes covered, and a complimentary glass of wine with cheese and crackers on the journey home

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Beautiful tropical coral reef with shoal or coral fish

5. Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling and Diving Cruise from Cairns

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5 Stars | ⏳ LENGTH:  8.5 hours | ✅ Book it!

This Great Barrier Reef snorkelling and diving cruise from Cairns is a must-do activity. Board an impressive 35-metre-long superyacht for a day of swimming, snorkelling, diving, and learning about the local marine life.

If you happen to be on this tour by yourself, you’ll be seated with other solo travellers so making new friends is a breeze!

“The crew was truly outstanding. Their humor and easy going nature made the rough seas trip a breeze. They assisted me in finding a prescription mask that fit my needs (free of charge). We hit up two different reefs and had a lot of time in the water. The free wine at the end was a great way to end the day. Would 100% recommend!” – Jennifer_G

Your deluxe yacht, the Evolution, will depart in the morning and quickly arrive at one of 12 exclusive mooring sites. The first dive site will typically be either Saxon or Norman Reef, where you’ll be equipped with snorkel gear and scuba equipment.

If you need prescription masks, the crew will assist you free of charge. If you are a little nervous, there are guides ready and willing to provide instruction and encouragement. Their sense of humour and attentiveness will make you feel at ease throughout the whole day.

Spend some time in this vibrant underwater world, getting to know the playful marine life that lives among the multi-coloured coral. Then, it’s time for a delicious BBQ lunch of fresh fish, prawns, steak and salads. If you are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free or have any dietary allergies, let the operator know at least 24 hours in advance so they can prepare a special meal for you.

After lunch, you will head towards the second location of the day – the North Hastings Reef. Here you are welcome to swim, snorkel and dive again. However, for an additional cost, you can also choose to go on a scenic 10-minute helicopter ride.

On the way back to Cairns, afternoon tea and a complimentary glass of wine are offered. There is also a fully-licenced bar to purchase any other drinks and snacks you might like.

Important details

  • Start time and location: Between 7:15am to 7:45am at Reef Fleet Terminal for an 8 am departure
  • Duration: 8 hours and 30 minutes
  • Includes: A cruise on fast and luxurious superyacht, five hours of reef time at two outer reef locations, a pre-booked dive, use of snorkelling and scuba equipment, free lycra suit hire, BBQ lunch with fresh seafood (or a vegetarian/vegan option), an optional 10-minute scenic flight, and a glass of wine and snacks on the way back

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Sunrise on a Catamaran Moored in Cairns Harbor

6. Passions Of Paradise Great Barrier Reef Snorkel And Dive Cruise From Cairns By Luxury Catamaran

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ LENGTH:  9 hours | ✅ Book it!

If you want to spend your holiday in Queensland in luxury, this Cairns diving day trip is perfect for you. What sounds better than spending the day on an extravagant 25-metre catamaran, swimming, snorkelling, and enjoying a delicious buffet lunch?

This tour allows you to learn plenty about the ecology and marine life of the Great Barrier Reef. For an additional fee, you can also hire an underwater camera to capture amazing memories from the day. 

“So much fun! Great guides who allowed us to stick by them and showed us the coolest parts of the reef. Trip out can be rough but they sell sea sickness tablets. Special shout-out to Andrea for being a great scuba guide!” – Ava_V

On the Passions of Paradise tour, you will get the chance to visit two of 26 incredible locations across the Great Barrier Reef. These destinations are chosen according to the weather conditions of the day.

Relax on board the 25-metre luxury catamaran and snack on the morning tea provided before you begin your day of snorkelling or diving.

Full instruction is provided by the experienced guides to ensure you get the most out of the trip and know exactly what you’re doing. If you’re lucky, you may even come across some majestic sea turtles. 

After your buffet lunch (with both seafood and vegetarian options provided), you’ll head to the second location on the reef. Keep in mind that this is quite a large trip, often with up to 90 passengers, so prepare for a sociable day!

Important details

  • Start time and location: 8 am departure from the Reef Fleet Terminal (check-in between 7 am and 7:45 am)
  • Duration: 9 hours
  • Includes: A ride on a stylish and modern catamaran, a visit to two exclusive outer reefs, complimentary snorkelling tours and use of equipment, use of winter or summer wetsuits as well as prescription masks, a marine naturalist presentation, all marine park fees covered, and lunch plus snacks, tea and coffee

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

diving a coral wall on the great barrier reef

7. Ocean Freedom Great Barrier Reef Personal Luxury Snorkel & Dive Cruise, Cairns

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ LENGTH:  9 hours | ✅ Book it!

Another one of the most luxurious Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns is the Ocean Freedom tour. This trip gives you six hours on the reef, a little more than most other tours offer. It also takes you to protected no-fishing zones for a glass bottom boat tour and a snorkelling adventure in the beautiful Upolu Cay.

This cruise will have a maximum of 75 passengers, which is a little less than most group tours of this kind. This gives you more space to explore the ocean and stretch out on the catamaran while still having the option to meet plenty of new people. 

“The snorkelling locations were amazing and the team were very accommodating and friendly. The lunch was also great and was the best I’ve had on any group tour I’ve done. Highly recommend!” – Monica_H

After checking in, board your luxury catamaran and grab a coffee, pastry and some fresh fruit while settling in and getting to know some of the other travellers. In about an hour, you will arrive at your first location on the outer edge of the Upolu Reef.

Dubbed the “Wonder Wall”, this place is chock-full of gorgeous fish and marine life. Take advantage of the glass bottom boat tour complete with informative commentary before jumping in the water to go snorkelling with one of the guides. 

On the cruise to Upolu Cay, indulge in a tasty buffet lunch and prepare to explore this magnificent tropical oasis. This cay is referred to as a “coral garden” and is home to creatures like turtles and stingrays. Since this location is more shallow, even those less experienced in the water can snorkel around with ease. 

On the way back, snack on some more fresh fruit, cake, cheese and crackers before arriving in Cairns a little after 4 pm.

Important details

  • Start time: 7:15 am from the Ocean Free & Ocean Freedom desk at the Reef Fleet Terminal
  • Duration: 9 hours
  • Includes: Six hours on the Great Barrier Reef at two different reef locations, a cruise on a fast and luxurious catamaran, a smorgasbord seafood lunch with fruit, cheese and cracker platters, tea and coffee, and all fees covered

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

A tour boat pauses near the Great Barrier Reef to drop off groups of snorkelers.

8. Tusa Reef Tours – All Inclusive Great Barrier Reef Tours

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5 Stars | ⏳ LENGTH:  8 hours | ✅ Book it!

While on your Northern Queensland adventure, go carbon-neutral on an all-inclusive tour to the Great Barrier Reef. This premium day trip by Tusa Reef Tours is designed to give you the 5-star treatment.

There will be a maximum of 40 guests with plenty of staff and instructors to go around, so you can expect extra personalised attention on this trip. 

“The staff was very knowledgeable and friendly! They were willing to explain everything needed for beginning snorkel or scuba divers. The dive spots were fantastic! They went out of their way to find beautiful and secluded locations.” – Amber C

Head out to the Great Barrier Reef alongside marine guides and PADI instructors to make some unforgettable memories.

Regardless of your skill and experience level, the team will help you to get the most out of your day, from easing any anxiety to giving you helpful tips and tricks. Plus, you’ll get some great underwater commentary with the bone conduction headsets provided.

On this tour, you’ll be swimming and snorkelling at two of the most beautiful and secluded locations on the reef, with the opportunity to do up to three dives from the open dive deck.

In between, sit back and enjoy a gourmet lunch and all the snacks and beverages you could want. Beer and wine will also be available for purchase on the trip back to Cairns. 

Important details

  • Start time: 8 am from Finger C at the Cairns Marlin Marina
  • Duration: 8 hours
  • Includes: Snorkelling and scuba diving with use of equipment and wetsuits, waterproof headsets for underwater commentary, lunch, a free Tulsa Reef Tours drink bottle, all taxes and levies covered, plus tea, coffee and water throughout the day and an alcoholic beverage on the way home

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Helicopter ride over Moore Reef, part of the outer Great Barrier Reef in Australia

9. 40-Minute Great Barrier Reef Scenic Flight From Cairns

⭐️ RATING: 4/5 Stars | ⏳ LENGTH: 40 minutes | ✅ Book it!

Do you have limited time in Cairns but still want to get a glimpse of the iconic reef? Luckily, there are Great Barrier Reef scenic flights from Cairns available. Although you won’t get to swim and snorkel, you can gain an appreciation of this UNESCO-listed site from above on this 40-minute flight.

“Such a wonderful panoramic view of our beautiful world and Great Barrier Reef! Thank you Daintree Air and Tom our amazing Pilot who was sooo knowledgeable! Nothing was too hard for this great team of people. They go above and beyond!! Hope to see you all again! – Jacinta and Maryanne

Run by Daintree Air Services, this scenic helicopter flight is an amazing way to see the Great Barrier Reef when you don’t have a full day to spare.

Each passenger will have their own window seat with unobstructed views, equalling plenty of photo opportunities. Your pilot will chat with you the whole time, giving you lots of insights and fun facts.

You will typically get to see Green Island, Upolu Cay, the Oyster Reef, Arlington Reef, Vlasoff  Cay and Michaelmas Reef, plus Cape Grafton, False Cape and Double Island. During takeoff and landing, you’ll also get a wonderful view of the Northern Beaches of Cairns, including Palm Cove.

If you can, book between 9:30 am and 2:30 pm, when the sun is at the best angle. 

Important details

  • Start time: 30 minutes before your scheduled time at Daintree Air Services
  • Duration: 40 minutes
  • Includes: A scenic flight with live commentary from a professional pilot

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

FAQs About cairns tours to great barrier reef

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how long is the boat ride from cairns to great barrier reef?

The boat ride from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef usually takes around 2-3 hours. Depending on which boat company you choose, the ride may be shorter or longer.

For an enjoyable and leisurely experience, it is recommended to take a full day trip with stops along the way for swimming and snorkelling.

is it better to go to the reef from cairns or port douglas?

Traveling to the Great Barrier Reef from either Cairns or Port Douglas is a great option. However, each city has its own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to a reef visit.

Cairns is the most well-known of the two, and is known for its bustling atmosphere and variety of activities. That said, you’ll find that prices in this city can be significantly higher than other options. Additionally, the time it takes to get to some of the popular reef spots can be quite long as well.

On the other hand, Port Douglas is much quieter in comparison and more affordable with many budget-friendly options available. It’s also easier to travel to certain sites near the reef from this location due to its proximity.

Ultimately, when deciding between Cairns or Port Douglas for your reef trip, you should consider your budget, activity preferences and how much time you’re willing to spend on traveling between sites.

How can I experience the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is undoubtedly one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, so experiencing it is an absolute must. There are a variety of options for how to experience this incredible site, ranging from guided tours to private charters.

Guided tours are a great way to get up close and personal with the reef, as experienced staff will be able to provide information about the various organisms that inhabit this unique environment.

Private charters allow you to explore the reef on your own terms while still getting amazing views of its beauty. No matter which option you choose, you’re sure to experience something truly magical at the Great Barrier Reef!

Is it safe to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef

The answer to the question is absolutely yes, it is safe to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. The world’s largest reef system offers a unique and unforgettable experience, with its crystal clear and warm waters, teeming with colorful sea creatures such as turtles, clownfish, moray eels, dolphins and more.

Plus, it’s protected by the Australian government and boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Snorkeling here is an amazing opportunity to explore one of nature’s wonders – just be sure to travel with a guide or a tour that has ample knowledge on how to access the best spots while keeping you safe from any potential hazards.

Great Barrier Reef the largest coral reef in the world Queensland Australia

Final Thoughts: cairns to great barrier reef tours

Visiting the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns is an experience that should be at the top of everyone’s bucket list. It’s a stunning and unforgettable journey to take, and your time in Cairns will never be the same once you’ve experienced these awesome tours.

From snorkeling with incredible marine life to learning about Australia’s history and culture, these tours offer something for everyone. So don’t wait any longer, make the most of your time in Cairns by booking one of these tours today. You won’t regret it!

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  • Samantha King

    Sam, a seasoned traveler across four continents and 49 countries, is a leading authority in travel planning. Her website, Travelling King, offers tailored itineraries and expert guides for seamless trips. Sam's expertise in luxury travel, fast travel, and destination guides keeps her at the forefront of the travel community.

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