Best Great Barrier Reef Hotels

View all Great Barrier Reef Hotels

The Great Barrier Reef is perhaps the ultimate travel bucket-list destination. Off the coast of Queensland, in northeastern Australia, the underwater wonderland and UNESCO World Heritage Site stretches for approximately 1,500 miles in the Coral Sea. Here are our favorite hotel home bases for exploring the largest coral reef in the world -- adult-only resorts, apartment complexes, and luxury hotels in Cairns (considered the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef), Port Douglas, Kewarra Beach, and the Whitsundays.

  1. Located on stunning, secluded Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays, Qualia Resort is a luxury adult-only hotel with a peaceful and intimate vibe. The 60 upscale rooms occupy waterside bungalows, each one with sleek wooden decor, a private terrace, and a huge bathroom with freestanding soaking tub -- there are even water views from the tubs in many rooms. Property highlights include a private beach and two infinity pools with breathtaking views over the Coral Sea's turquoise waters. There are a range of low-key activities on offer, such as free yoga, plus adventurous excursions to the Great Barrier Reef dive and snorkel sights. Expect steep prices for food, drinks, and spa treatments on top of Qualia's very high nightly rates.

  2. While Qualia is an exclusive adult-only hotel, Cairns Coconut Holiday Resort is a sprawling place that provides an affordable, all-in-one holiday destination for families, with a huge number of kids' amenities and some decent features for adults, too. There are two big outdoor pools and a water park that the kids will love, while adults might appreciate the fitness center and tennis court. A wide range of no-frills accommodation choices, from basic campsites to well-appointed villas, makes it easy for travelers to tailor stays to their specific needs and budget. However, the resort is not within walking distance of central Cairns and its Wi-Fi can be unreliable.

  3. While Cairns Coconut is quite a distance from central Cairns (but still accessible), the 255-room Shangri-La has an unbeatable location in the heart of downtown Cairns on the water. There are excellent dining options on-site (including a restaurant and two bars) and many more food and drink spots are located within easy walking distance. Rooms are spacious and minimal with minibars, big bathrooms, and impressive balconies. 

  4. This upscale property offers well-appointed, competitively priced apartments that feel more like comfortable, stylish residences than hotel rooms. With modern kitchen and laundry appliances and welcoming decor, these self-catering apartments have generous space, daily housekeeping, and balconies. Jack & Newell is close to the action of Cairns, and many of its apartments offer sea views. There are an outdoor pool and fitness center on-site, but no restaurant or bar, like at Shangri-La. 

  5. One of Port Douglas' best value accommodations, this small, family-run motel punches above its weight with clean, well-equipped rooms that come with kitchenettes and first-class service. Free Wi-Fi, daily housekeeping, a small saltwater swimming pool, and free bike rental are other amenities that make Lazy Lizard Motor Inn an excellent value. The motel isn't as central as some of its Port Douglas competitors; those planning to self-cater will need a car for the 10-minute drive to the town's main supermarket. On the plus side, it's less than a 10 minutes' walk to the southern tip of Four Mile Beach. 

  6. Peninsula Boutique Hotel is located on Port Douglas' Esplanade, a small and quiet road that runs parallel to Four Mile Beach at its northern end. The beach is about 150 feet from the lobby, and the water views from various parts of the hotel (including many of the guest rooms) are striking. Absolute beach frontage is the hotel's biggest selling point, but there are plenty of other noteworthy features. The airy, cheerful rooms are all suites with kitchenettes, balconies, and two-person tubs; the restaurant serves excellent food at reasonable prices; and the large pool -- a series of small, interconnected tiered pools set amid lush gardens -- is a delight. Rates are around twice as much as Lazy Lizard's, but Peninsula's beachside position and proximity to shopping are tradeoffs. 

  7. It's hard to miss the Pink Flamingo: It has a pink, orange, and purple front wall and a large metal gate adorned with sculpted palm fronds. The same vibrant color scheme is repeated in the breezy lobby, which also features flamingo statues and paintings. The message is that the Pink Flamingo doesn't take itself too seriously, and its guests shouldn't, either. But don't be misled by the playful attitude: This is an adult-only hotel (guests must be at least 18) with an emphasis on discretion and privacy. It's also gay-owned and operated, and provides a welcoming atmosphere for LGBT travelers. Pink Flamingo lacks Peninsula Boutique's on-site restaurant and beach frontage, though it's about a 10-minute to the southern end of Four Mile Beach.

  8. Mai Tai Resort combines the personalized service of a bed-and-breakfast with the atmosphere of an upscale resort, and is priced accordingly (starting rates here are about the same as Pink Flamingo's highest rates). Mai Tai's stunning views over the Port Douglas hinterlands are a major draw, and its four rooms are also enticing. All are equipped with flat-screen TVs and DVD players, minibars, and tea/coffee-making facilities, air-conditioning, and ceiling fans. The free Wi-Fi is reliable and strong. The rooms also have private outdoor sitting areas, some with sweeping views. The two Deluxe Rooms also have outdoor Balinese-style showers. 

  9. Kewarra Beach Resort & Spa is a popular beachfront property in the small community of Kewarra Beach, which sits off the Captain Cook Highway amid dense rainforest. The low-key and romantic resort is located on a gorgeous private beach, with bungalows that are integrated into the lush rainforest at the shoreline. The interiors of the cabins are a mix of rustic and contemporary, but they're beginning to show their age. All rooms have flat-screen TVs, good air-conditioning, minibars, and spacious balconies. Wi-Fi is free, but at times shaky. The resort's biggest draw is its location, and there's plenty of fun to be had exploring the rainforest and walking along the beach. When those novelties wear off, two lagoon-like pools and a day spa provide pleasant distractions. An on-site restaurant and bar offers alfresco dining with a strong emphasis on local seafood.

  10. Situated at the northern end of Port Douglas, this large and upscale hotel benefits from its proximity to Four Mile Beach, which is about a five-minute walk away, and other Port Douglas attractions. On-site, it impresses with its gorgeous gardens, a large pool, and top-notch health and wellness facilities. Modern rooms come in various configurations, but all feature tasteful decor and plenty of amenities, including free Wi-Fi and free movies. The atmosphere is family-friendly, although couples looking for a romantic getaway may find the large number of children a nuisance (Kewarra's quiet, calm atmosphere is ideal for couples). 

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