Port Douglas Vs Palm Cove

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Palm Cove and Port Douglas are beach destinations in Far North Queensland Australia lying about 42 Km, 26 miles, apart. Both destinations are north of Cairns City and Cairns International Airport, with Palm Cove being closer to both. Is Palm Cove a good place to stay and what are the pros and cons of basing yourself in either place for a Queensland vacation? We’ll go into that in this post.

For all tours and activities available in our region, look here.

Palm cove beach qld
Palm Cove QLD, The Esplanade, Jetty and Double Island.

Here are the approximate drive times for the region. There are road works on The coastal Captain Cook Highway, you may have delays. Allow much longer if you’re heading for the airport by taxi, shuttle, or Uber, in case you get caught.

  • Cairns Airport to Palm Cove is 27 minutes.
  • Cairns Airport to Port Douglas is 1 hour at least.
  • Palm Cove to Port Douglas is 44 minutes.
  • Palm Cove to Daintree River Ferry 1 hour +
  • Palm Cove to Cairns Central 30 mins.
  • Palm Cove to Mossman Gorge 53 minutes
  • Port Douglas to Mossman Gorge 20 minutes.

The drive from Palm Cove to Port Douglas is officially one of the most beautiful in the world, don’t miss these views and take the time to stop at the lookout.

Port Douglas Vs Palm Cove Similarities

Both Port Douglas and Palm Cove have a pleasant sandy beach with a swimming enclosure (stinger net) for use in stinger season (summer). Both have plenty of nice resort hotels with one chain, Pullman Sea Temple, represented in both. Check out Sea Temple in Port Douglas here, in Palm Cove here.

The weather will be almost identical in both, as is the wildlife. Yes, there can be crocodiles at both locations.

Both places are close enough to the airport for transfers to not be a big deal.

You can take picture-postcard photos of tropical palm trees and the Coral Sea in both places. They’re both Instagram-worthy.

Use our map of Palm Cove accommodation here. Or use the map below.

Neither place has a huge amount “to do” without taking trips and tours. Both have plenty of dining options and are pleasant to explore on foot, but the major attractions of Far North Queensland (FNQ) will require you to hire a car or take a tour. For car hire, check out your options and find the best deal with this price comparison tool.

In Palm Cove you can walk along the Williams Esplanade and along the jetty. The jetty is a popular fishing spot with views of Double Island. There is a kids’ playground on The Esplanade in Palm Cove, there are several playgrounds in Port Douglas. The Rex Smeal Park playground in Port Douglas is currently under repair, but there are others.

You can visit The Great Barrier Reef, The Daintree Rainforest, Kuranda, The Tablelands and local waterfalls from either place, easily.

Port Douglas vs Palm Cove, Shops and Markets

Palm Cove and Port Douglas both have shops, Port Douglas is much better for shopping, but for a basic shopping centre you’ll need to go to Cairns.

Palm cove shops
Shops in Palm Cove, directly opposite the beach.

Both places have markets. The Port Douglas Market is held every Sunday morning, Palm Cove Market is only held once per month, also on Sundays. It’s usually on the first Sunday of each month on Williams Esplanade. You can check dates on the Palm Cove Markets website. There is sometimes an additional smaller market on The Marina in Port Douglas if a cruise ship is visiting or on Wednesdays, 11 am to 5 pm in high season. Both feature crafts, gifts, food and local products.

Both Port Douglas and Palm Cove markets have over 100 stalls.

Advantages of Palm Cove

Palm Cove is closer to Cairns and The Airport and is much more convenient if you plan to spend much time in Cairns. It’s also much closer to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, this wildlife attraction is about a 35 minute drive south of Port Douglas, just a few minutes from Palm Cove.

Cairns has a beautiful lagoon pool (free and great for small kids) and an aquarium. If you stay in Palm Cove you can choose to take reef trips from either Cairns or Port Douglas. Palm Cove is roughly halfway between the two so for either you’ll need an early morning drive or pick-up. For Low Isles you need to depart from Port Douglas, for Green Island you need Cairns. The reef cruise we like best is this one, from Port Douglas, to the Outer Reef. There are pontoon options in Port Douglas and Cairns.

Palm Cove can be cheaper than Port Douglas, but its very hard to directly compare hotel costs. These change with the time of year. For best times to visit either Palm Cove or Port Douglas, go here.

Things To Do in Palm Cove

Most of the “things to do” involve taking trips and tours to nearby attractions, but actually “in” Palm Cove QLD there isn’t much to do when you compare with the boat trips and activities in Port Douglas.

Palm Cove has a market once per month and a food festival “A Taste of Palm Cove”, previously held in August. If you can find dates for 2024 you’re doing well, I haven’t been able to.

Advantages of Port Douglas

Port Douglas marina boats
Port Douglas Marina, a beautiful place to hop on a cruise, drink, or dine. The sunset views from Port are great and the sunset cruises take advantage of this.

Port Douglas has the marina. A fleet of boats depart the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina almost daily bound for the Great Barrier Reef or Low Isles. There are sunset sails on catamarans and an old Chinese junk. You can go scuba diving, kite surfing, stand-up paddleboarding and more.

For train enthusiasts, there are a few old timers around Port, remnants of The Ballyhooley and the old cane lines.

Port Douglas is much closer to Mossman Gorge and the Daintree Rainforest and Daintree Discovery Centre.

You can take a crocodile spotting cruise directly from Port Douglas on Lady Douglas. Read up on these cruises vs Daintree cruises here.

You’re also a lot closer to Hook-a-Barra in Port Douglas and The Wildlife Habitat is in Port too. (Get your Breakfast with The Birds tickets here, fishing and tasting barramundi here.)

Mossman Gorge is only about 25-minute drive north of Port Douglas, the ferry crossing on the Daintree River is a good bit further north. It’s not really “close” to Port Douglas, but it’s quite a long drive from Palm Cove or Cairns.

Port Douglas Carnivale is normally held in May and has food and family events.

Use our map of Port Douglas accommodation, below.

Things to Do in Port Douglas

Port Douglas has more of a “village” feel than Palm Cove and more historic buildings, including The Sugar Wharf, St. Mary’s Church, Old Court House and a few historic pubs.

From the heart of Port Douglas you can take the pleasant Flagstaff Hill walking trail with views of Four Mile Beach and The Coral Sea.

Port Douglas has cane toad racing!

We give you a Port Douglas itinerary for up to 2 weeks here with details on loads of things to fill your days in our area.

Palm Cove vs Port Douglas Accommodation and Packages

Port Douglas and Palm Cove both have campsites. Port Douglas has 2 backpacker hostels (Global and Port Douglas Backpackers). Both places have lovely resorts, adults only hotels and various villa and apartment rentals.

If you’re looking for a bargain stay in either place, take a look at Luxury Escapes (click through here, opens in a new tab). Both places sometimes appear in their listings.

For packages, Jet Star Airways (an Australian budget airline) sometimes has flights plus hotel deals. The last time I checked there were a lot of deals on internal Australian flights plus cut-price short hotel stays. Take a look at what’s current through them. We generally advise people to book flights and hotels separately. Use Skyscanner or Expedia to find the cheapest flights (open Skyscanner here) and book your hotel through Booking.com or as an Expedia package, look here for Expedia. Use whichever platform you prefer. This gives you better control and flexibility in finding the best deals.

We have a map of Port Douglas accommodation here.

Which To Choose, Port Douglas or Palm Cove?

We’d choose Port Douglas. Maybe we’re biased, but there seems to be more to do in Port Douglas and The Marina is a lovely place to be. We don’t think the extra 30 minutes or so drive time from Cairns is a big deal and you’ll reap the reward in being further north when you visit The Daintree Rainforest.

If you can, spend a night in Palm Cove on your way to Port Douglas. Break up your journey and enjoy a day at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures before heading north. If you have more time, spend 2 days in Palm Cove and visit Kuranda. Take the Cairns Skyrail gondola up, and the scenic train down, with a stop off at Barron River Falls. This day trip is much closer to Palm Cove than Port Douglas. For your day on The Great Barrier Reef, choose Port Douglas, likewise The Daintree and Mossman Gorge.

We hope this post helps you decide if you should stay in Port Douglas or Palm Cove. Whichever you choose, have a great stay in our part of the world.

About the author
Alyson Long

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