Which is better Daintree or Kuranda?

admin on November 21st, 2023


Considering a Rainforest tour during your holiday in Cairns, Tropical North Queensland?   Then no doubt you have read or heard about these two destinations ‘Daintree’ and ‘Kuranda’. Both Daintree and Kuranda are popular tourist destinations in Queensland, Australia, but they offer different rainforest experiences.  Which one is better to visit depends on your interests and what type of experience you're looking for.

As the local tour specialists, we frequently have holidaymakers ask us about tours to experience the rainforest. We've discovered that there are many people who are keen to see the rainforest but are unaware of the rainforest in the region.  We have also found there is some confusion between the Daintree and Kuranda rainforests for some visitors. Both of which are located approximately 100km /62 miles from each other and both will provide a different experience.

So here are some pointers about each location to assist you with your decision on which rainforest experience is best for you… For you, It may be both!


Kuranda is a village located amongst the rainforest in the mountains North West of Cairns with an approximate drive time from Cairns of 45mins.

Though, for most visitors the attraction of travelling to Kuranda via the Heritage style Kuranda Scenic Train and the Kuranda Skyrail Cableway gondolas are the preferred method of travel.  Both the train and gondola journeys are very scenic with different perspectives of the rainforest, the Barron Gorge and views out to the Coral Sea. The train winds around the side of the mountains and provides a commentary about the history of the railway line and its purpose for being built along the way. 

The Skyrail Gondola is a peaceful journey with only the sounds of the rainforest below being heard. Amazing views over the top of the rainforest can be seen as well as the Coral Sea. The Skyrail journey has two stations along the way with scenic outlooks across Barron Gorge and a board walk circuit through the rainforest including a stop has a ranger that walks the circuit providing interesting facts about the rainforest.  Once you arrive in Kuranda Village, there is a walk uphill from the Train & Skyrail station, so best to wear comfortable walking shoes, bring a pram for young kids, or ask about transfer options.

Kuranda Village is quaint and quirky with shops and markets full of arts, crafts and souvenirs.  There is a range of attractions such as the Koala Gardens, Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Birdworld and River Boat rides on the fresh water Barron River that flows around the village. Kuranda is also home to Rainforestation where you can experience Aboriginal culture, Australian wildlife and the well known Army Duck Rainforest tour. Please note Rainforestation is not in Kuranda village but slightly out so transfers to and from will be required.  Can't decide and want to do it all - the Ultimate Kuranda Day Tour maybe what you are after, with free time to visit the Butterfly and a quick look at the markets.

Kuranda is a place suitable for all ages and is perfect for families. If you are not so interested in the shopping but more interested in nature, there is a walking track through the rainforest that surrounds the village. Because of its close location to Cairns and various modes of transportation options, a trip to Kuranda can be a half day or a full day. It is entirely up to you and what you want to see in Kuranda. You may even be interested in just the journey there and less time in the village. It is completely self-guided which is ideal for people who prefer to be more flexible with their itinerary.

There is a wide range of Kuranda Day Trips available, with transfers from your accommodation.


Daintree Rainforest

The Daintree World Heritage Rainforest is located North of Cairns and Port Douglas, approximately 2.5 hours from Cairns and 1.5 hours from Port Douglas.  Known for its incredible biodiversity, diverse wildlife, including exotic birds and plants, the Daintree is a popular destination for eco-tourism and adventure activities such as rainforest walks, wildlife spotting being immersed in nature.

Driving north from Cairns and Palm Cove, you drive along the spectacular coastline - The Great Barrier Reef Drive.  It's a windy road that hugs the coast with stunning ocean views up to Port Douglas.

Most Daintree day tours include a River Cruise on the Daintree River a saltwater river lined with Mangroves and Rainforest and is home to many Estuarine Crocodiles and a variety of bird and reptile species.

Mossman Gorge is located in the more Southern part of the Daintree with several walking trails through the rainforest which follows the freshwater flow of mountain water through the gorge full of large granite boulders and waterholes. As it is the original land of the indigenous Kuku Yalanji people, there are guided tours available that take you on a cultural Dream Time walk. Again, this cultural walk is included in some tours to this area.  

Some tours may also take you across to the other side of the Daintree River which is only accessible by a cable ferry. From there, you can travel further up to Cape Tribulation where it becomes even more remote and you can walk along some of the untouched beaches where the mountains of rainforest meet the sea. You may have heard the expression “Where the Rainforest meets the Reef”.  The beaches on the cape is where this expression come from.  

There are several board walks and walking trails through the rainforest and on the edge of some of the remote beaches on Cape Tribulation. Some of these walks are included in the tours to the area. However, are free to use by self-drivers: Dubuji Boardwalk, Jindalba Mardja Botanical Walk and  Kulki Boardwalk.

To really appreciate the Daintree Rainforest we highly recommend going with a knowledgeable guide, who can provide you with a depth of knowledge and share their passion for this unique destination. Depending on the style of Daintree rainforest tour you are looking for, you could even enjoy a dip in a refreshing swimming hole, like Emmagen Creek - however we strongly advise only doing this with a tour guide, as this is croc country, and you should only swim where it's safe.

View all Daintree Rainforest Day Tours or contact the local specialists on 1300 761 612 to discuss your options.  

Travel Tip: You may want to consider staying overnight - see the selection of Daintree Rainforest accommodation including luxury eco retreats like the Daintree Eco Lodge.


The Significant Differences

Kuranda is generally self-guided even if travelling via Scenic Train and Skyrail Cableway. When booking Kuranda, usually you are booking a package that includes all transportation including accommodation transfers, everything else you do is at your own leisure and expense. The Scenic Train and Skryail Cableway offer amazing views of the Rainforest from a different perspective. It is what I would call a “leisurely’ day out.  The village has a variety of attractions, which makes it ideal for all ages and families. Due to the markets and attractions in Kuranda it can seem commercialised in comparison to visiting the Daintree.

The Daintree Rainforest in comparison is located in remote and less developed area. This provides an up close and personal experience with nature itself. If you are less interested in shopping and wildlife parks and keen to get immersed in amongst raw natural surrounds, I recommend exploring the Daintree and Cape Tribulation areas.

Take a Daintree Day Tour, extended multi-day tour or Self-Drive.  I will point out however, that there is so much to learn about the area around the Daintree National Park. A lot of history and the natural ecological and biological facts of the rainforest can be learnt on tours. Also, being such a long day of travel, you may find someone else driving on your behalf less tiring day out. A day trip to the Daintree usually takes up a good 10 to 12 hours. This is why I prefer to recommend a day tour to the Daintree rather than self driving.  If you have young children, the time and distance factor is on a Daintree trip is worth taking in to account.

Daintree Rainforest Fast Facts


  • Located approximately 125 km/78 miles North of Cairns and 68.5km/42.5 miles North of Port Douglas
  • Full Day Tour Options, or multi-day tours 
  • Scenic Coastal Route
  • More remote and untouched rainforest
  • Rainforest Walks
  • See animals in their natural environment/habitat
  • Travel in a tour with a guide in a 4WD vehicle, Coaster or Self-Drive
  • Most tours to this area will include a 1 hour Daintree River Eco/Wildlife Cruise along with Mossman Gorge
  • Not suitable for infants
  • ​Not Wheel Chair Friendly unless self-driving


Kuranda Fast Facts


  • Located approximately 30km/18.5 miles North West of Cairns and 65km/40 miles South of Port Douglas
  • Half Day or Full Day Tour Options
  • Located in the mountains behind Cairns
  • Suitable for all age groups
  • Wheel Chair Friendly
  • Located within Kuranda Village
  • Rainforest Walks
  • Village has attractions for all ages
  • Markets with food, arts, crafts and souvenirs
  • Wildlife attractions eg. Koala Gardens, Australian Butterfly Sanctuary & Birdworld
  • Self-guided and scenic
  • Travel by Kuranda Scenic Railway, Skyrail Cableway Gondola, Bus or Self-Drive (or any combination of these)


As you can now see - both the Daintree and Kuranda offer very different experiences, and the choice will ultimately depend on your personal interests and the type of experience you're looking for.  The best thing is that, each time you return to Tropical North Queensland, you can re-visit each destination again, and experience it in a new way - From Zip Lining, Horseriding on the Beach to Drift Snorkeling in the Mossman River.

Contact the local Tour Specialists to discuss your Tropical North Queensland holiday and to book your Rainforest Tour to the  Daintree or Kuranda phone 1300 761 612

Read all about the Things to do in Kuranda on our Kuranda Blog pages. 

Author: Jennifer Tofia - Tropical North Queensland & Great Barrier Reef Destination Specialists

Updated: February 2023




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