Destination – Alice Springs: Guide for Foreigner Visitors
Alice Springs is known as the capital of Australia’s “Red Center” and is the launching pad to the popular tourist attractions in the region like Uluru and Kings Canyon. It’s probably the reason why 99% of people visit and travel to Alice Springs.
You’ll find that when you visit Alice Springs there’s not too much to do here beyond Uluru and the canyon. It’s a very, very small town.
But the town does have tremendous natural beauty, offering visitors scenic bushwalking trails, botanic gardens, and lots of historic buildings (which for Australia is like 150 years old).
That said, I loved Alice — the town had a good, rough, independent feel to it, and locals are a lot friendlier than on the coasts. It’s that small-town charm.
The seemingly small and remote area is the second largest town in the Northern Territory, following closely after Darwin. There’s a lot to offer, particularly for travelers — it’s home to an impressive wildlife park, various cultural points of interest, and some pretty good dining options.
What Do I Need to Travel to Alice Springs?
Foreign nationals cannot enter the Australian territory without a valid travel authorization. Most tourists intending to spend a limited time in Australia apply for temporary visas such as the ETA travel authorization or the eVisitor visa as they are often the most straightforward to apply for.
As part of your visa requirements for Australia, it’s possible that you will be asked to obtain further documentation in order to be granted entry. This will depend on the visa you decide to apply for and may include, for example:
- Medical or travel insurance
- Proof of employment or studies
- Proof of financial means to support yourself during your time in Australia
- A return plane ticket as evidence of your plans to leave Australia
Once you arrive at the Australian border, you’ll need to have a copy of your visa with you. You will also need your passport — the same you used during the visa application. If you plan to drive while in Australia, remember to take a valid driver’s license with you.
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Alice Springs
This giant rock in the ground is well, a giant rock in the ground — but it’s beautiful nonetheless. The rock started forming over 550 million years ago and it’s of great religious importance to the local Aboriginals. The best way to see it is by going as part of a multi-day tour of the area or driving on your own. Admission to the park is 25 AUD ($18 USD) per person. Expect to pay around 225 AUD ($160 USD) per day for a multi-day tour.
2. The Reptile Centre
3. Hot Air Ballooning
4. Desert Park
5. MacDonnell Ranges
Other Things to See and Do in Alice Springs
1. Cultural museums
Head for the Cultural Precinct where highlights include the Sculpture Garden, the Museum of Central Australia, and the Namatjira gallery that displays the territory’s largest collection of original paintings by the famous Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira. Alice Springs’ museums are fairly small so they don’t take a lot of time to see but are interesting nonetheless, especially the Museum of Central Australia.
2. Royal Flying Doctor Service
The Flying Doctors were the first aeromedical organization in the world and patrol the outback to provide emergency medical care to the region’s remote communities. The short museum tour provides all you need to know about this fascinating and essential service for residents in this part of Australia. As a history buff, I was super enthralled by this museum! Growing up in a big urban area, it’s hard to imagine my ambulance being a plane! Admission is 17 AUD ($12 USD) and the museum is open 9am-5pm, except for Sundays when it opens at 1pm.
3. Olive Pink Botanical Garden
The Olive Pink Botanical Garden is located close to the scenic Todd River. Stroll through the magnificent landscaped gardens and check out their important collections of exotic plants, mature native trees, and shrubs. It’s open 8am-6pm every day. There’s no set fee but they do accept donations.
4. The Old Court House
Built in 1928 (which in Australia terms is very old), the Old Courthouse was originally the office of the administrator for this part of Australia, before becoming the courthouse in 1980. It is now home to the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame, a small museum immortalizing 100 Australian women who were first in their fields. The museum is open 10am-5pm except on weekends when it closes at 4pm. There is no entry fee!
5. The Larapinta Trail
If you’re a hiking enthusiast, this 250-kilometer trail through high mountains in a semi-desert area is a challenge for you. Situated within a national park, the area is heavily populated by a range of bird species so you find a lot of bird watchers there. You’re in the desert so bring lots of water and gear. It’s best hiked in the cooler winter months.
6. Aboriginal Australia Culture Center
This incredible gallery highlights the cultural history of the Aboriginal people of Australia who ruled the land prior to the Europeans. You can listen to traditional music, learn how to play the didgeridoo (indigenous Australian wind instrument), and even try to throw a spear. It has much more robust information than the visitor center at Uluru. It’s open Monday-Friday from 9am-5pm.
7. Hike Kings Canyon
Located just over 300 kilometers from Alice Springs, Kings Canyon is a great place to get out and hike while taking in the amazing natural beauty of the region. The walls of the canyon are over 100 meters high, offering some amazing views and great hiking. There are a few short trails you can explore in a couple of hours, as well as a longer full-day trail (the Giles Track is 22 kilometers). If you do visit, be sure to stick to the paths. Much of this area is sacred to the Aboriginals and leaving the paths is frowned upon. Single-day tours for Kings Canyon start around 200 AUD ($141 USD).
Where to Stay
With every level of accommodation on offer, Alice Springs has something for everyone. Choose between desert luxury or a free site to pitch the trusty tent (like I did!).
If you’re pulling through in your caravan or simply want some steady ground to set up your camp, I would suggest taking a look at Alice Springs Tourist Park.
Peaceful and generously equipped, this park caters to solo travelers as well as big families. Since you’re likely to be staying in Alice for just a day or two, make sure it is somewhere memorable.
Alice Springs Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Hostels cost around 25-30 AUD ($18-21 USD) per night for a dorm room with 6-8 beds. Double occupancy private rooms with shared bathrooms cost around 65 AUD ($46 USD) per night, while private rooms with private bathrooms cost around 90 AUD ($64 USD). Most hostels include free linen, free WiFi, and some even include free breakfast.
Budget hotel prices – You can find a room 2 in a 3-star hotel for as low as 170 AUD ($128 USD), but most are above 200 AUD ($143 USD). Most of these hotels offer a private bathroom, TV, free WiFi, air-conditioning, and many have free breakfast. On Airbnb, a private room in an apartment averages about 70 AUD ($50 USD). You can find a whole apartment for as low as $85 AUD ($61 USD), but most average out to be 130 AUD ($93 USD).
Average cost of food – There are cheap meals for under 14 AUD ($10 USD) at many of the grab-and-go and ethnic food shops, but expect to pay around 20 AUD ($14 USD) for a meal in a sit-down restaurant. If you cook your own meals, expect to pay 95-108 AUD ($68-77 USD) per week for basic groceries like pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foodstuffs. Food out here tends to be more “pub” based with fewer luxury dining options than other cities.
Activities – There’s something for every budget in Alice Springs, but if you want to get to Uluru (either by rental car or on a tour), it’ll cost you. A multi-day tour will cost about 225 AUD ($160 USD) per day for everything, including food and accommodation. If you want to drive yourself, rental cars start from around 90 AUD ($65 USD) per day. Admission to nature parks like the Alice Springs Nature Park start around 25 AUD ($18 USD), while admission to museums and historical sites are from 17 AUD ($12 USD) (although there are also plenty of free sites).
Tours to Uluru and Kings Canyon – You don’t visit Alice Springs without seeing Uluru. While multi-day tours will cost around 225 AUD per day, you can book a shorter half-day tour if you’re on a budget. Sunrise tours last a couple hours and allow you to take in the sights while the sun is coming up. They will cost around 74 AUD ($55 USD) per person. You can also do short guided hikes on a day trip for around 175 AUD ($125 USD). If you want to rent a car and see the park yourself, expect to pay around 125 AUD ($90 USD). Admission to the park is 25 AUD and a car rental will cost around 90 AUD ($65 USD) per day. If you’re on a budget, try splitting costs with other travelers. That way you can share the cost of the rent a and the gas, as well as the actual driving.
Single-day tours for Kings Canyon start around 200 AUD ($141 USD). If you want to visit yourself, admission is 35 AUD ($25 USD) per vehicle or 20 AUD ($14 USD) per person on foot. Again, if you can share a car rental with someone you’ll be able to save money here — especially on the park admission.
Backpacking Alice Springs Suggested Budgets
How much does it cost to visit Alice Springs?
On a backpacker budget, you can visit here for 60-80 AUD ($42-56 USD) per day. This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a cheap hostel or camping, cooking all of your meals, and using local transportation to get around. On this budget, you could stick to mostly free activities or admission fees for museums/sites. If you wanted to rent a car to see Uluru, you’ll need to add another 125 AUD ($90 USD) to your budget (a bit less if you can split the rental with other travelers).
On a mid-range budget of about 245 AUD ($175 USD), you’ll be able to stay in a private hostel room, eat fast food, book a rental car to go to Uluru, and pay the entry fee for Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
On a luxury budget of 505+ AUD ($360+ USD), you can stay in 4-star accommodations, enjoy eating at sit down restaurants, hire a rental car to get around, or opt on a multi-day tour to Ayer’s Rock.
Alice Springs Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Alice Springs can be a very, very expensive country to visit. If you aren’t careful, you’ll blow through your entire budget in no time flat! Here are a lot of ways to save money when you visit Alice Springs:
- Bring food to Uluru – Food at the visitor’s café near Uluru is highly overpriced. Try to stock up on snacks from the supermarket before you set off on any adventure in this area.
- Go camping – If you intend to spend a few days up at Uluru, camping is an option as the resorts here are expensive. Expect to pay 65 AUD ($46 USD) for a site with electricity during the high summer season, and 55 AUD ($40 USD) during the low winter season.
- Combine tours – Combine tours of Uluru, Kings Canyon, and Kata Tjuta to save money on the cost of an individual excursion. Expect to pay around 675 AUD ($482 USD) for 3 days and 2 nights including accommodation.
- Couchsurf – Accommodation in Australia can be quite pricey. If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing hosts all throughout the country. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
- Drink goon (box wine) – Goon is infamous on the Australian backpacker hostel trail. This cheap box of wine is the best way to drink, get a buzz, and save a lot of money at the same time. Four liters of goon typically costs 13 AUD ($9 USD) (compared to a six pack of beer for the same price). Drink this before you go out and save on spending money at the bar (where it is about 10 AUD/$7 USD per drink). Also, blow up the bag when you’re done and have a little pillow to rest your head on!
- Cook and have picnics – Again, eating out is not cheap. The best way to reduce your costs is to cook as many meals as possible. Alice Springs is a great place to bring snacks and meals to. You can make your own picnic out there!
- Find free Internet – The internet in Australia is painfully slow and expensive (just ask any Australian how they feel about this), but libraries and McDonalds have free WiFi that you can use.
How to Get Around Alice Springs
Walk – The downtown area of Alice Springs is incredibly walkable, so it’s entirely possible to get around without having to spend much on transportation at all!
Public Bus – Alice Springs does have a public bus system. A single ticket is 3 AUD ($2.15 USD) and gives you three hours of unlimited bus travel. A one-day ticket costs 7 AUD ($5 USD). You can save 10 AUD ($7.15 USD) by getting their “Flexi-Trip” tickets, which give you 10 individual trips good for 3 hours each for 20 AUD ($14 USD) or by getting a one-week pass, which is also 20 AUD ($14 USD).
Taxi – Taxis are expensive (fares are a minimum of 4 AUD ($3 USD) and cost 2 AUD (1.45 USD) per km, so this isn’t the best option.
Bicycle Rental – Bicycle rentals are common in Alice Springs, starting from about 25 AUD ($18 USD) per day. My Ride is Alice Springs is one of the best rental places in town.
Car Rental – Getting a car rental is one of the most practical ways to get around Alice Springs and the area, and you can find prices starting from about 90 AUD ($65 USD) per day. That might be out of budget, but it’s cheaper to drive to Ayer’s Rock than it is to hop on a multi-day tour. Plus you can likely find someone to split the costs with.
Use rentalcars.com to search for available vehicles. It’s a search aggregator, so it’ll return better deals than if you rely on big companies like Hertz.
Multi-Day Tours – You can combine tours of Uluru, Kings Canyon, and Kata Tjuta to save money on the cost of an individual excursion. Expect to pay around 675 AUD ($482 USD) for 3 days and 2 nights including accommodation (the lower priced tours usually include camping). Depending on your travel style, this price can increase quickly. Some tours will include all the extras, like meals.
When to Go to Alice Springs
Alice Springs’ climate can be quite extreme, with scorching hot summers and cold winters. Summer lasts from December to February, and the average temperatures range from 60-95°F (20-35°C), but sometimes can climb as high as 104°F (40°C). It’s dry here most of the year, but January is considered the wettest months.
Winter (June to August) is “cold,” with average temperatures between 41-68°F (5-20°C), and July is the coldest month. Temperatures may even drop below zero, making it not the best time to be camping! On the other hand, prices are definitely lowest during the winter.
Spring (September to November) is pleasant with warm temperatures, but fall (March to May) really is the best time to visit. The days are warm and the nights are cool, with temperatures ranging from 54-81°F (12-27°C). This is also a great time to go to Uluru, but it can get a lot colder out there – sometimes dropping as low as 46°F (8°C). Pack plenty of layers!
How to Stay Safe in Alice Springs
Alice Springs is an incredibly safe place to backpack and travel to. People are nice and helpful and you’re unlikely to get into trouble.
Most incidents in Alice Springs tend to occur because visitors are not used to the country’s unique climate and wilderness. Be sure you have plenty of sunscreen, and stay as hydrated as possible. This is especially true if you’re driving through the outback. There are long, long distances without any towns in sight, so if you break down, you’ll want to be prepared. If you’re hiking, make sure you know what to expect ahead of time. Be on the lookout for snakes and spiders, and if you’re bitten, seek immediate care. (Don’t worry though – all those horror stories about giant spiders and vicious animals are pretty rare!)
Always trust your gut instinct.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Alice Springs. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.