Cathedrale Notre Dame Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia

3 Days In Tahiti

3 Days In Tahiti

Last updated on March 15th, 2022

Though often used to describe the 118 islands and atolls that make up French Polynesia, Tahiti is actually an island on its own, and the largest island in French Polynesia. Chances are you’ll spend some time on the big island between flights. Despite not being as exotic as some of the outer islands, Tahiti is beautiful enough to deserve at least a few days of exploring. If you can only spare 3 days in Tahiti, here’s an itinerary to help you make the most of your time.

Heading off to French Polynesia? In-depth island guides to all 5 archipelagos await you, including sample itineraries and essential travel tips & tricks.

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Additional Tahiti Travel Guides

Check out these additional resources for planning a trip to Tahiti.

Independent Traveler's Guide to French Polynesia

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 resorts are the recently-opened Hilton Tahiti and the InterContinental Tahiti Resort both of which are not too far from the airport in Fa’a. They’re 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. On the other side of Papeete, en route to the east coast, the Le Tahiti by Pearl Resorts is another solid option.

Pearl Beach Resort Tahiti French Polynesia - pool

Pearl Beach Resort Tahiti French Polynesia - beach

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.

Pension Fare Suisse Tahiti - French Polynesia - room interior
Pension Fare Suisse Tahiti - French Polynesia -breakfast
Pension Fare Suisse Tahiti - French Polynesia -towel

Backpackers and budget travelers in Tahiti can check out Fare Rea Rea or Mahana Lodge Hostel. There are also many more options on Airbnb. 

Fare Rea Rea Papeete Tahiti - large bedroom
Fare Rea Rea Papeete Tahiti - kitchen

Here’s a list of all Tahiti accommodations that can be booked online.

Quick Finds

3 Days In Tahiti Itinerary Map

All places featured in this Tahiti itinerary can be found on this map. Simply click on the image to open in Google Maps:

3 Days In Tahiti Island Itinerary Map - French Polynesia

Day 1: Papeete

Spend your first day exploring the ‘big city’. Papeete feels very busy and congested at times, but it certainly has its charm. In a vast ocean of remote islands, Papeete feels as cosmopolitan as Paris.

aerial view of Papeete Tahiti - French Polynesia
Street in Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia
Papeete traffic Tahiti French Polynesia

Start your day off in the Papeete Market, one of the best markets in the South Pacific. Grab a coconut at the entrance and enjoy the ukulele tunes to get you into ‘Tahiti mode’. You can find here everything: from heavenly scented monoi oils to black pearls and nice-looking pineapples. The market is open daily from the early hours of the morning until about 5 pm and on Sundays until about 9 am.

Tahitian ukulele music in Papeete Market Tahiti French PolynesiaView of Papeete Market Tahiti French PolynesiaPineapple and beautiful Tahitian at Papeete MarketPapeete Market fish Tahiti French PolynesiaPapeet Market Tahiti French PolynesiaPapeete Market Tahiti, French Polynesia - buying fruit

Here’s what it feels like to stroll around the Papeete Market

From the market, let’s begin a walking tour of Papeete. Highlights include the Notre Dame Cathedral, Papeete Town Hall, Queen’s Pond, and the Paofai Gardens. 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. 

Papeete Town Hall Tahiti French Polynesia

Paofai Gardens Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia

Restaurant in Papeete waterfront Tahiti - French Polynesia
Notre Dame catholic church Papeete Tahiti - French Polynesia

If it’s raining (or if you need a bit of air conditioning), visit the Tahiti Pearl Museum. Learn about the Tahitian black pearl industry, how these beautiful gems come to be, and maybe even buy your female loved one the ultimate souvenir from French Polynesia!

Tahiti Pearl Museum Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia

At night, work up your appetite and head to Place Vaiete. After 6 pm, the square will be filled with hungry locals and a few roulottes (food trucks). Choose from some chow mein, sashimi, or the national dish – poisson cru. The atmosphere is great, the portions are huge and you’ll be telling your friends about this dinner back home. If you’re looking for a restaurant setting, make reservations at either Zen Cafe (sometimes also called Mahou Cafe) or L’api’zzeria.

Place Vaiete roulottes Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia

Have a look at this one day in Tahiti travel itinerary for more details.

Day 2: Road Trip Around Tahiti

Time to leave the city behind and head out on a road trip. Rent a car for the day and explore Tahiti Nui’s west and south coasts, before crossing over to the smaller Tahiti Iti. There’s a lot to see on this day so try and get an early start. You might not be able to see everything on this itinerary, especially sections of Tahiti Iti, but if you time things right and skip the short hikes, you should be able to pack everything.

Fancy an early morning swim or snorkel? Just 18 kilometers outside Papeete is Plage Vaiava, also known simply as PK18 beach. The sand is definitely not black and the snorkeling is surprisingly good. There’s lots to see on this day so don’t spend too much time working your tan.

Plage Vaiava PK 18 in Tahiti French Polynesia

Just a few kilometers down the road you’ll find two ancient Polynesian temples, known as marae. The first one is Marae Maraetaata à Paea, hardly visited by tourists. The second is Marae Arahurahu, complete with its restored ahu (the marae’s altar) and tiki statues.

Marae in Tahiti French Polynesia

Fifteen more minutes of driving along the coast will bring you to 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.

Maraa Grotto Tahiti French Polynesia
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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!

Papara black sand beach Tahiti French Polynesia

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!

Waterfall in Vaipahi gardens Tahiti French Polynesia

Blue tropical lagoon from Vaipahi gardens Tahiti French Polynesia

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. 

Tahiti botanical garden French Polynesia - galapagos turtle

Harrison Smith Botanical Gardens Tahiti French Polynesia - mape chestnut tree

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!

Panoramic view of Tahiti from Plateau de Taravao Tahiti French Polynesia

Depending on how well you’re doing on time, head back down to the coast and drive to Tautira. This part of Tahiti is extremely scenic, especially on the mountainside where you’ll see the openings of massive valleys as you drive. Stop in Tautira’s famous black sand beach for one of the finest views in Tahiti. There is a trail that heads inland but save this for another visit to Tahiti.

Tautira Valley - Tahiti - French Polyensia

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, Le 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).

Maui Beach Tahiti Iti Tahiti French Polynesia

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. 

Teahupoo Tahiti French Polynesia

Teahupoo - Tahiti - French Polynesia

Teahupoo black sand beach - Tahiti French Polyensia

Black sand beach in Tehaupoo Tahiti French Polynesia

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.

Sunset in Tahiti - French Polynesia
Sunset over Moorea from Tahiti - French Polynesia

Day 3: Papenoo Valley

If you thought the black sand beach at Teahupo’o was the Tahiti you’ve dreamed of, wait until the end of this third and last of your three days in Tahiti. Book a spot with Teuai Olivier from Ia ora na Tahiti Expeditions’ for a day you will never forget. I guarantee that! Olivier is renowned throughout French Polynesia for his cultural know-how. He’s a former two-time Mr. Tahiti champion and one of the premier guides on the island (tell him I say hi).

Papenoo Valley tahiti tropical fruits

Papenoo valley tahiti Topatari Waterfall

The Papenoo Valley follows the contours of the biggest river in Tahiti, deep into the uninhabited center of the island. The only way to explore this wild part of the island is on a 4X4. So unless you have a Tahitian friend who will lend you their jeep, you’ll have to book an excursion. On the menu? Breathtaking mountain vistas, cascading waterfalls, and ancient Polynesian temples.

Papenoo Valley - Tahiti - French Polynesia

 

Papenoo Valley Tahiti driving through river 2

Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - crossing river
Papenoo valley Tahiti waterfall and steep road sign

Papenoo Valley Tahiti huge waterfall

If you opted for the full-day tour of the Papenoo Valley, it’s now time to exit to the west coast of the island and you’ll start the return leg by going through a tunnel that runs right beneath the highest section of the area. Afterward, you’ll begin the plunge to Lake Vahiria (473m) and continue through a section of an extremely lush rainforest before reaching the highway on the west coast. 

Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - mountains 2
Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - Tunnel
Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - swimming in waterfall
Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - Lake Vaihiria

Here’s what the entire day in the Papenoo Valley looked like in this time-lapse video

Dinner and Polynesian Dance Show

When you arrive in Tahiti, ask your hosts when there will be a dinner and dance show taking place at one of the resorts, and don’t miss the opportunity to see Tahitian dancing at its best. The top performances include dance groups that won the annual July Heiva Festival so we are talking about the seriously talented and exotic dancers! 

Tahitian Dancing - French Polynesia 3

What’s Next?

We’ve just scratched the surface, but if you only have 3 days in Tahiti – this is a pretty good plan. For more information about Tahiti and French Polynesia, check out these recommended guides.

Independent Traveler's Guide to French Polynesia
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