Tahiti Travel Guide

May 27, 2016

Tahiti Travel Guide - mount aorai panoramic view

Tahiti! Just the sound of that name stirs up exotic images in your mind. If you’re visiting French Polynesia, there’s no way of avoiding the big island. But ‘the Queen of the Pacific’ offers so much more than just last minute shopping. Home to the only big city in French Polynesia – Papeete, you’ll love strolling through its colorful market and busy waterfront. Dig a bit deeper and head out of town to discover the famous black sand beaches, ancient archeological sites, surf spots & laid back seaside villages. Looking for that postcard view? Venture into the uninhabited interior on a hike or 4X4 adventure, get up close and personal with giant volcanic peaks and cascading waterfalls coming out of everywhere. The best part? You might be the only one there! This Tahiti Travel Guide will help you make the most of your time on the big island.

About This Guide

Tahiti is often the name used for the entire 118 islands and atolls that make up French Polynesia, though it is an island on its own. I spent three months in French Polynesia and over two weeks in Tahiti, as part of a six month backpacking trip across the South Pacific Islands. This travel guide to Tahiti was written based on my experiences, and is meant to help you make the most of this once in a lifetime destination. The Tahiti Travel Guide is geared towards independent travelers, but any visitor will find it useful. In this article, we’ll explore the island of Tahiti.

Traveling to French Polynesia? Start your reading with French Polynesia Travel Guide, where you’ll also find similar travel guides to 11 islands in French Polynesia!

French Polynesia Travel Guide

Visiting other South Pacific destinations? Get some tips on how to island hop in the South Pacific and check out these travel guides to the Cook IslandsSamoa, American Samoa and Vanuatu

Why Should You Visit Tahiti?

The fact is there is no way to avoid setting foot in Tahiti. It is French Polynesia’s international gateway and all visitors arrive and depart from Faa’a International Airport. However, Tahiti is totally worth a few days investment. The big island may feel out of place at times, but nothing beats the vibe of the Papeete Market, the dramatic interior that so few explore, the hiking and the opportunity to head out on a proper road trip. If you’re looking for something beyond the white sand beaches, spend a few days exploring Tahiti.

What’s Included In This Guide To Tahiti?

1 DAY IN TAHITI Itinerary

5 Days In Tahiti itinerary


Tahiti Travel Guide Map

Click on the image to open in Google Maps. This map features all the Papeete and Tahiti highlights mentioned in this guide.

Tahiti Travel Guide Map - French Polynesia

Where To Stay In Tahiti?

Unless you’ll be renting a car for your entire visit to Tahiti, I highly recommend staying in Papeete. That way, you can enjoy the big city and rent a vehicle when you want to explore the island. Here are two of my favorite choices, one in town and one outside:

Hotel Sarah Nui: This 3 star hotel has a great location, walking distance from the ferry terminal, market and all the Papeete highlights. Rooms are air conditioned and equipped with a mini fridge, a safe and some even with a small kitchenette. Above all, there’s excellent free Wifi throughout the hotel!

The hotel provides a free shuttle service from the airport and free parking if you’ll be renting a car. For an extra 1,800F you can also enjoy an excellent buffet breakfast.

Hotel Sarah Nui Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia Reception Hotel Sarah Nui Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia Lobby 2 Hotel Sarah Nui Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia lobby Hotel Sarah Nui Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia bed Hotel Sarah Nui Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia room

Residence Aito: If you’re looking for that ‘home away from home’ and will be renting a car, this is probably one of the best bargains in Tahiti. Situated at the top of a hill in the affluent suburb of Punaauia, you’ll be staying in a residential apartment complex just 15 minutes from the airport and 25 from Papeete. It will feel like you’re miles away up here, and the air is even a bit cooler and less oppressive than down by the lagoon. If it does get too hot, just hop in the swimming pool!

You basically have your own apartment, equipped with a kitchen, living room, washing machine and even a balcony with views of the island of Moorea. Wifi is available in the apartment complex’s common area. Once again, to take advantage of this great bargain – you must have your own car. The apartment is at the top of a steep hill and you won’t be able to use public transportation to do grocery shopping or visit Papeete.

View of Moorea from Residence Aito Tahiti French Polynesia Residence Aito Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia view Residence Aito Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia pool Residence Aito Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia living room Residence Aito Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia bedroom Residence Aito Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia kitchen


Facts & Brief History

Tahiti is the largest island in French Polynesia, home to the capital Papeete and the economic & political center of French Polynesia. Roughly 70% of French Polynesia’s total population resides in Tahiti (~ 180,000). Tahiti is shaped like a ‘figure eight’, consisting of two islands connected at the hip like siamese twins. The bigger of the two is Tahiti Nui and the smaller sister is Tahiti Iti. Tahiti Nui is home to the bulk of the population, living on the scarce flat land by the beach and even on the mountain slopes around the capital. Tahiti is a high island with a coral reef present around most parts. It was formed by a now extinct volcano, whose crater forms the island’s uninhabited interior, circled by massive peaks of which the highest of which is Mount Orohena (2,241 m).

Clear view of Tahiti from Moorea French Polynesia

Tahiti is part of the Society Islands, and was not the first island to be settled in French Polynesia. It is believed that it was one of the last to be colonized by the ancient Polynesians, on their incredible voyage across the South Pacific Ocean which probably started from somewhere in Southeast Asia thousands of years ago. Pioneers arrived on giant double hulled outrigger canoes – with one section devoted to plants, animals and tools, while the other served as housing for the sailors and their families.

Outrigger canoe Tahiti French Polynesia

Contact with Europeans started in 1767, with the arrival of British captain Samuel Wallis. Other maritime ‘celebrities’ to visit Tahiti include Captain James Cook, Bounty captain William Bligh and even famous ‘mutineers’ – who returned here after taking over the ship from Bligh. With the Europeans, arrived the missionaries. First it were the British protestants, followed by the French Catholics. The expulsion of two French missionaries in 1836 sparked the beginning of a French takeover of the island, with its annexation to France from the Kingdom of Tahiti in 1880.

Tiki statue in Marae Tahiti French Polynesia

In 1946, Tahiti and French Polynesia became a French overseas territory. These days, Tahitians enjoy somewhat of a cosmopolitan life – with easy access to the big city of Papeete and all it has to offer. While traffic is bad and housing is scarce around Papeete, the further you travel out of town – life becomes more traditional and easy going.

colonial building tahiti french polynesia


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