Tahiti is often the name used to describe the 118 islands and atolls that make up French Polynesia, though it’s actually the biggest island in this dreamy French territory. Chances are you’ll spend some time on the big island just after your arrival or just before heading back home. Despite not being as exotic as some of the outer islands, Tahiti is beautiful enough to deserve a few days of exploring. If you only have 1 day in Tahiti, here’s an itinerary to help you make the most of your time.
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Additional Tahiti Travel Guides
Check out these additional resources for planning a trip to Tahiti.
Where to Stay in Tahiti?
Most of the recommended places to stay in Tahiti are in and around Papeete, except for Vanira Lodge for those who wish to experience solitude in Tahiti Iti (the “far side” of Tahiti). If you’re staying outside of Papeete and not in one of the places listed below, double and triple check the location of the accommodation as some places are located in the mountains. Such accommodations might have great views but will require having a car.
For a luxury stay in Tahiti, the best resort is the InterContinental Tahiti Resort which is not too far from the airport in Fa’a. It’s perfectly situated to offer the best sunset views in Tahiti with a breathtaking panorama of Moorea. Next door, the Sofitel Tahiti Ia Ora Beach Resort and the Manava Resort in Punaauia are good options, and the Hilton Tahiti is set to open soon. On the other side of Papeete, en route to the east coast, the Le Tahiti by Pearl Resorts is another solid option.
If you prefer to stay at hotels in Papeete, the Tahiti Nui Hotel or the Sarah Nui Hotel are your current options. The former is the best hotel in the city, located within a short walk of the central market and evening food market in Place Vaiete.
For a pension stay, the best in Papeete is by far Fare Suisse. They offer free transfers to/from the airport or ferry terminal, the breakfast is amazing, and the rooms are very well-furnished. Slightly out of town, along the west coast, Pension de la Plage and Relais Fenua are recommended options.
Here’s a list of all Tahiti accommodations that can be booked online.
1 Day In Tahiti Itinerary Map
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Option 1: Papeete Walking Tour
If you’re pressed for time, focus your day in Tahiti on the colorful capital city – Papeete. This is the only real city in French Polynesia, though small enough to feel like a town. You can easily explore the best that Papeete has to offer in a one-day walking tour.
There’s no better way to start our walking tour of Papeete than at the colorful Papeete Market. The largest market in the country, this is the best place to stock up on some souvenirs before heading home. Enjoy some live music before checking out the local specials: scented monoi oil, soap, vanilla, woodcarving, black pearls, and of course – colorful pareo. It’s also a good place to buy some snacks for the day, whether fresh fruit and vegetables or local snacks such as breadfruit chips (uru).
Locals love this place too, with lots of exotic fruits & vegetables, freshly caught fish, and Polynesian specials – like the taro and breadfruit.
Here’s what it feels like to stroll around the Papeete Market
From the market, head a few blocks north and have a look at the Papeete Town Hall. The building was inspired by the old palace of the Tahitian Queen Pomare, and you can stroll around the grounds.
Back towards the market, check out the garment, pearls, and specialty shops in the streets around the market – before joining up with the busy intersection that’s home to the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s the oldest Catholic church in Tahiti, around since 1875. You can step inside through the side entrance.
A few blocks away is the French Polynesia Assembly. It also doubles as a botanical garden. Follow the footpath and have a look at native plants and a few imports over the years. The path leads to the Queen’s Pond – the quietest spot I’ve found in Papeete. It is where Queen Pomare of Tahiti used to bathe in the morning.
Next up is the Presidential Palace just up the road. Though you won’t be able to meet the president, you can ask the guards nicely if you can peek into his lovely residence.
For lunch, head to Patachou, a cafe that is tucked inside a narrow pedestrian alley. They serve delicious local dishes and the usual favorites. The portions are big and the price is very reasonable. Another solid option is Cafe Maeva. The original restaurant is on the upper floor of the market but it has since branched out and now has another location in the adjacent streets. Once you’re ready for dessert, head to Queeny for some ice cream. Since you’re in paradise, you must try the signature tiare flavor, directly made from the fragrant flower that is also the national emblem of Tahiti. For a quick and cheap meal, you’ll find many options inside the market that offer food-to-go.
We’ve seen the Catholic church, now time for the Protestants. The Paofai Temple is one of the cutest churches around, with its bright pink color radiating in the sun. Sunday service is the best time to visit.
Here’s what it looks and sounds like during Sunday church service in Tahiti.
Just across the church is the Tahiti Pearl Museum. It’s the work of Robert Wan, the ‘father’ of the Tahitian black pearl industry. The museum is free to enter, and you can learn how black pearls are made followed by a bit of shopping.
Cross over to the Paofai Gardens – the ‘central park of Papeete’. Grab a bench or a shady spot on the grass and watch locals killing a few hours, and super fit Tahitians heading out to the lagoon on outrigger canoes. After major renovations, Papeete’s waterfront has received a major facelift. Its boardwalk now features a few cafes and restaurants where you can pause and enjoy the city vibe.
If you haven’t had lunch yet, head to Snack Vaimiti on the far side of the park. If you haven’t already tasted some poisson cru – here’s your chance. The national dish of raw tuna chunks in coconut milk is simply a must!
Relax in the gardens or head back to town via the waterfront boardwalk and Bougainville Park. Go back to your hotel, rest, pack and get ready for the night! Need to do more shopping? Head back to the market. It’s open until 5 pm.
Time to join the locals in Place Vaiete for one of the highlights of Papeete. Tahitians love to eat out, and the best place to grab dinner in Papeete is in the roulottes of Place Vaiete. Every day starting at 6 pm, food trucks dot the square, cooking anything from Chinese food to traditional Tahitian dishes. Check out the menus, grab a seat, and enjoy massive portions of food always served with a side of sliced baguette! If you’re looking for a restaurant setting, make reservations at either Zen Cafe (sometimes also called Mahou Cafe) or L’api’zzeria.
To help digest some of that delicious food, walk along the beautifully lit waterfront. The sun should be well on its way to New Zealand, and the yachts should be back after a day out in the warm ocean.
If that wasn’t enough, head to Les 3 Brasseurs to wash things down with a glass (or a five-liter pitcher) of Tahiti-made brew. Choose from five different flavors and mingle with the young local crowd. A recently-opened rooftop bar is now a happening nightlife spot in Tahiti. You might need to book a table in advance but try your luck if it’s not too busy this evening. Other nightlife options include Cafe Maeva (not their market branch) and Le Retro, by Place Vaima shopping center. These spots should have live music on most evenings but if it’s a party you’re looking for, perhaps Au Piment Rouge is for you.
If you want to experience the thrills of a traditional Polynesian dance show, inquire with your hosts if any shows are taking place tonight in one of the resorts and book your tickets. The ticket might include a buffet dinner or just the show itself.
Option 2: Papenoo Valley 4X4 Tour
If you’ve imagined Tahiti to be filled with giant waterfalls cascading down from lush volcanic peaks – imagine no more! Venture into the uninhabited interior of Tahiti and you’ll never forget this day. The drive takes you along the Papenoo River, crossing streams, climbing up to gorgeous vistas, and down to waterfalls that are straight out of a magazine cover. If you opt for the full-day tour, you’ll also visit the secluded Lake Vaihiria. This is paradise folks, and there’s hardly anyone around to share it with! This trip has a half-day and a full-day version. I recommend booking the full-day experience with Olivier Lenoir from Ia Ora Na Tahiti Expeditions (tell hime Avi from Israel sent you).
Option 3: Roadtrip Around Tahiti
Guided or with a rented car, spend your only day in Tahiti exploring the coastal areas of the island. Several itineraries exist but I recommend hitting the road early and driving from Papeete to Teahupo’o.
Just a few kilometers down from the beach there are two ancient Polynesian temples, known as marae. The first one is Marae Maraetaata à Paea, consisting of three large stone structures. The second is Marae Arahurahu, complete with its restored sacred ahu (the marae’s altar) and tiki statues. During the July Heiva Festival, Marae Arahurahu hosts a lavish cultural show that includes singing, dancing, and reenactments of ancient religious ceremonies.
Further along the coast, you’ll reach the Maraa Grotto. Two cave pools are emerging from the moss-covered mountain, and the color of the water is out of this world. It’s a shame you can’t go for a dip here, but it’s still worth the quick stop.
If you’ve been wondering where the heck are those famous black sand beaches of Tahiti – wait no more. Papara Beach, also known as Plage de Taharuu – is one of the prettiest black sand beaches in Tahiti. It’s long, it’s wide, and the black sand is scorching hot under the afternoon sun!
We still have two more stops to make before crossing over to Tahiti Iti. The first is at the Vaipahi Gardens (Bain de Vaima). It’s free to enter these magical gardens, so well kept and even with their own waterfall! Fancy a hike? You have three options here ranging from one to two hours of walking. If you head up the hill, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the lagoon, and on the way back down, you’ll get to see the mape trees – with their incredible roots!
From one garden to the next, you must pay a visit to the Harisson Smith Botanical Gardens (600F per adult). Start by saying hello to the two resident Galapagos Turtles. The oldest one is pushing 200 years and may not be around by the time you visit (so hurry up!). When you’ve had enough with the turtles, get on the walking path and check out the gardens. There’s an even more enchanting mape forest that is straight out of some movie, wild lotus, lily ponds, and endless palm trees! UPDATE: in January 2018, stray dogs entered the turtles’ enclosure, seriously wounding the two and eventually leading to the death of the male turtle.
Time to cross over to Tahiti Iti in the busy town of Taravao. Find the road that heads up the mountain, say hello to the grazing cows, and park the car at the lookout point. If you’re having a lucky day, you’ll see the skyline of Tahiti Nui – formed by its giant volcanic peaks. But even if not – the view is breathtaking!
The final stop on this Tahiti road trip is at Teahupo’o, one of the most famous surfing sites in the world. The scenery on this leg is of lush mountains meeting the lagoon. Stop at Maui Beach to stretch your legs and if you haven’t had lunch, La Plage de Maui is one of the best restaurants in Tahiti, especially for fish and seafood (they stop serving food early so time it right).
Teahupo’o is not only the surf capital of French Polynesia, it’s also the end of the coastal road. Park your car, watch the young surfers practicing, and don’t forget to check out the breathtaking view behind you. I also recommend crossing the bridge and walking through the small village to the rocky beach from where the best views can be enjoyed. Every August, this place is packed with the best surfers in the world and their fans. Why? The waves are simply massive, all part of the Billabong Pro championship.
The drive back to Papeete is an attraction on its own as the setting sun paints the lagoon and lush mountains in colors that can only be seen in the South Seas. Take it slow and enjoy the view, especially the leg from Teahupo’o to Papara. Time your drive so you’ll have enough time to enjoy the final minutes of sunset in Punaauia. This is an affluent district in Tahiti that’s perfectly positioned in front of Moorea. Park your car in Parque Vaipoopoo and start thinking about moving here. If dinner is on your mind, Punaauia has a lot of options. The Poke Bar II is next door along with the more upscale Tahiti La Plage. More options can be found in nearby Marina Taina.
This 1 day in Tahiti itinerary gives you a small but well-worth taste of Tahiti’s urban scene. For more information about Tahiti, check out these recommended guides.