Fakarava Travel Guide

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Fakarava Travel Tips

Listed here are specific travel tips for Fakarava. Be sure to also read the French Polynesia Travel Guide, filled with general travel tips to paradise.

Recommended Reading

  • Living A Fantasy In The Fakarava AtollLonely Planet French Polynesia_new version: personal account of my magical time in Fakarava.
  • French Polynesia Travel: everything you need to know before heading to paradise.
  • Lonely Planet: ‘the bible’ for any independent traveler. For such a dreamy yet challenging destination, I recommend grabbing one of these for the road to go along with this travel guide. After all, it’s not only super useful but also makes for a great souvenir!
  • Tahiti Tourisme: the official site of the local tourism office. You’ll find relevant information about Tahiti and the outer islands.

How Many Days Do You Need In Fakarava?

cycling fakarava atoll french polynesiaFakarava can be enjoyed even when you’re not diving. To figure out how many days you need: (1) think about how many dives you want to do, taking into account you can do 2-3 dives per day (2) add a couple of days for relaxing, exploring the atoll and heading to the pink sand beach by the south pass (3) take into account if you’ll be diving elsewhere in the Tuamotus, like in Rangiroa for example.

If you’re looking to do serious diving in the south pass (more than 2 dives), consider basing yourself there for a few days and then transferring back to the main motu.

Fakarava or Rangiroa?

As always, the answer is: it depends! I would, of course, recommend visiting both (like I did). Rangiroa and Fakarava are both world class diving destinations, considered to be the best places in French Polynesian for scuba diving. People from all over the world make the long journey to both just for the diving. Here are the pros and cons of each just in case you have to choose one. In case you’re wondering, I personally prefer Fakarava to Rangiroa by a mile!

Fakarava

  • boats hanging over lagoon - fakarava french polynesiaPros: laid back and still not yet fully discovered, plenty of ways to enjoy the atoll aside from diving, the coral is simply exquisite so every dive is memorable, two very distinct dive sites – the north & south passes, the motu where you’ll be staying is huge and you can easily get lost there for the day, beautiful white sand beaches, excellent snorkeling, shark walls, lagoon excursion to pink sand beach, possibility to see ‘shark walls’.
  • Cons: the north and south passes are very far apart and are essentially two separate destinations, the likelihood of spotting dolphins and hammerheads are lower, not as many dive and accommodation options.

Rangiroa

  • Diving Rangiroa French Polynesia Avatoru Pass silver tip sharkPros: really geared for tourism, plenty of dive centers and accommodations to choose from, greater likelihood of seeing the ‘big fish’ (dolphins, hammerhead sharks, silvertip sharks, manta rays etc.), easier to get to from Tahiti, excellent snorkeling from just about everywhere.
  • Cons: aside from a couple of lagoon excursions (which aren’t cheap but worth it), there isn’t much to do aside from scuba diving, the coral here is not that impressive so if you lucked out on seeing the ‘big fish’ – your dive could be disappointing, relatively crowded with divers, the main motu where you’ll be staying is small and there aren’t that many options for self-discovery, no white sand beaches.

When Is the Best Time To Visit Fakarava?

storm in fakarava atoll french polynesiaUnlike the Society Islands, the Tuamotu Archipelago sees slightly different weather patterns. You’ll be able to dive year round, though keep in mind that seas are a bit rougher during the ‘dry season’ (June – September) when the southeasterly trade wind blows. During the ‘wet season’ (November – April), you’ll get a passing storm that never sticks around for too long as there are no mountains to slow them down. During this time, you might get a full week of cloudy weather and periods of rain that lead to lagoon excursions getting canceled. The month before and after each season is probably the best time to visit. It’s not too hot, not too cloudy and not too windy.

I personally spent 8 days in Fakarava during February, having arrived from neighboring Rangiroa where the weather was similar. I had nothing but sunshine for 5.5 out of those 8 days.

What To Pack?

Fakarava is a tropical destination, and as such – I recommend packing clothes that dry quickly and keep moisture (a.k.a sweat) out. Have a look at the X Days In Y Packing List for recommendations on what to pack for Fakarava based on my experience.

Money

There is one ATM in Fakarava. You’ll find it at the post office and it does accept international cards. However, it may or may not work and some ATM’s in French Polynesia have daily/weekly cash withdrawal limits. Inquire ahead of time at your pension if credit cards are accepted (shouldn’t be a problem). Dive centers accept credit cards.

Mobile Phones

If you just happened to get a Vodafone SIM card (I recommend Vini), make sure you have plenty of credit. You will not be able to buy a Vodafone top-up card in the Tuamotus (or the Marquesas Islands)!

Fakarava Average Costs

Here’s a breakdown of costs during my 8 days in Fakarava. I stayed in a simple accommodation, did 5 dives and went on a full day lagoon excursion.

How To Get To Fakarava

fakarava airport french polynesiaBy Air: by far the most convenient way to get to Fakarava. Direct flights are available from Tahiti (70 mins), Rangiroa (30 mins) and a couple of small atolls in the archipelago. It is possible to fly from Rangiroa to Fakarava without having to connect in Papeete. As always, if you’re visiting multiple islands in French Polynesia, inquire about the Air Tahiti Pass.

Pro Tip: overcome Air Tahiti’s 10kg weight limit on checked baggage by presenting your dive card. This should give you an extra 5kg and they hardly ever ask to see if you have equipment beyond a snorkel (which you technically should)!

By Boat: getting to Fakarava on a cargo ship is possible but very challenging. You’ll need to be very flexible with your time, lucky and speaking French will go a long way. The Saint Xavier Maris Stella IV serves the Tuamotus from Papeete and it may or may not carry passengers.

Getting Around Fakarava

Riding bicycle in Fakarava Atoll French PolynesiaTo/From Airport: the airport is located about 4 km’s from Rotoava Village and all accommodations will pick you up (almost always for free).

Around Fakarava: the best way to get around the main motu is by bicycle. A sealed road runs from Rotoava to the airport in the north and about 10 km’s down south. It’s flat and easily doable on a bicycle. Beyond the airport, a cyclable dirt road runs all the way to the lagoon pass, also marked by the same PK markers that indicate distances on the sealed roads.

Getting to the South Pass of Fakarava

Fakarava’s two lagoon passes are a scuba diver’s paradise but it is the more remote south pass that is considered the best (see “where to stay in Fakarava”). Aside from chartering a boat, getting to the south pass is possible either by staying at one of the pensions located near the pass or by joining a day trip to the pink sand beaches. Some dive centers will periodically take divers on a day trip of diving in the south pass.  

Diving & Snorkeling In Fakarava

Fakarava is designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, with restrictions on commercial fishing and pollution in place, all in agreement with the local population. The exquisite marine life and coral is like no other I’ve personally seen anywhere in the South Pacific.

Fakarava Atoll Lagoon French PolynesiaThe snorkeling in Fakarava is superb and easily accessible. The water is clean, clear and good spots are to be found pretty much anywhere along the lagoon. I particularly enjoyed the snorkeling outside the village, along the sealed road before the airport and off the breathtaking PK9 beach. I was also tipped off by a local that riding south of the village will bring you to lovely and secluded spots.

As for the diving, Fakarava is rewarding every single dive. Not only will you encounter walls of sharks and thrilling drift dives back into the lagoon, you’ll also witness some of the most pristine coral in the entire South Pacific. The protection that the Biosphere Reserve provides, combined with the direction the reef faces (away from the prevailing winds) – allows the coral to grow and flourish in Fakarava. It comes in all shapes, sizes and most importantly – color! Keep in mind that dive centers only take CMAS and advanced SSI/PADI divers on extra challenging dives. This is for your own safety.  

Dive Spirit Fakarava - dive boatI went diving with Dive Spirit Fakarava, currently operated by Yannick and Henri. Part of the totally worth it Te Moana Pass, divers are taken very seriously and personally here and it all starts the day before you dive. Ariane or Matias will meet you at your pension, sort out all the paperwork and make any changes to your dive schedule in case a spot opened up.

Dive Spirit Fakarava - dive centerThe following day, you’ll be picked up and driven to the dive center – located in a beautiful spot by the lagoon. Grab your gear, some morning coffee and start your briefing. Safety is paramount, especially when drift diving in the wide north pass. Your instructor will also brief you on what to look out for and how to maximize the chances of seeing the ‘good stuff’. Each one carries an erasable board, used for scribbling down what it is you’re seeing throughout the dive.

Dive-Spirit-Fakarava-instructor-with-boardDive Spirit Fakarava offer ‘fun dives’, snorkeling trips, dive certifications, daily trips to the north pass and occasional trips to the south pass. Morning dives are two tanks with a break on the boat or on a beautiful beach, while afternoon dives are single tank. The more dives you do, the better the price gets. Book early as space is limited.

There are plenty of more dive photos and stories in the ‘things to do’ section, but here’s more useful information for planning your dives.

Fakarava North Pass vs. South Pass

Fakarava is famous for its two lagoon passes: Garuae Pass (‘north pass) and Tumakohua Pass (‘south’ or Tetamanu Pass). Think of these two dive sites as two separate destinations. While the north pass is easily accessible from Rotoava, the south pass is about 2 hours away by boat.

Diving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae reef diveThe North Pass: this is where you’ll do most of your diving. It’s the widest pass in French Polynesia with excellent drift dives that you’ll get to enjoy depending on your skill level and sea conditions. What to expect? Exquisite coral, lots of sharks and a few other surprises (much more later on this).

The South Pass: legendary for the multiple walls of sharks you’re pretty much guaranteed to see, diving the south pass is challenging due to its remoteness. There are three ways to dive the south pass: (1) spend a few nights in Tetamanu Village and dive with Eleuthera (2) join a dive safari from Rotoava with the likes of Dive Spirit Fakarava. This usually costs between 20,000-30,000F and includes a two tank dive, picnic lunch and a visit to the pink sand beach (and excursion which on its own costs 12,000F). Such trips take place usually twice per month, when there’s enough demand and when the conditions are right. (3) Join an excursion to the pink sand beach, skip the snorkeling session and instead book a single dive with Eleuthera (your hosts will sort this out for you).

The Verdict: I’ve heard mixed reviews from those who dove in the south pass. Some said it was totally worth the effort and some said it was ‘OK’. I guess it’s all about expectations. I personally only went snorkeling in the south pass since I was quite content with the shark walls I came across in the north pass. If you are totally set on conquering the south pass, I recommend spending 2 nights there at the start of your Fakarava trip and then transfer back to the main motu.

Where To Stay In Fakarava?

Much like the island vibe, the accommodations in Fakarava are as laid back as can be. Aside from one or two resorts, you’ll mostly find pensions and one little lodge that I simply fell in love with.

Fakarava North

Relais Marama Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia Jacques the ownerIf you’re a backpacker, solo traveler, a family with children or just in search of a friendly home away from home – the Relais Marama is what you’ve been looking for, and one of the best deals you’ll find in French Polynesia! It all starts with a free pickup at the airport by Jacques, the friendly owner and longtime resident of the island. He’s traveled to many exotic places in the world before settling down in Fakarava and opening up this place that’s really all about a sense of family. En route from the airport, Jacques will take you on a quick tour of the main motu before dropping you off at your cute little bungalow, just a 10-minute walk from the village.

Accommodation ranges from simple one bedroom open-air bungalows facing the reef, to larger family units in the gardenia and noni filled garden, and even a handful of camping spots to pitch your tent. Units are simple but comfortable, with a mosquito net, small balcony and even a lockable cabinet. As for the sleep quality? You’ll be sleeping like a baby to the sounds of the crashing waves on the reef just meters away. If there’s a breeze at night, you might even need to cover up.

Relais Marama bungalow Fakarava Atoll French PolynesiaRelais Marama fakarava cheap accommodation - bungalow interiorRelais Marama fakarava cheap accommodation - campingRelais Marama fakarava cheap accommodation - gardenRelais Marama fakarava cheap accommodation - beachRelais Marama Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia hammock

Bathrooms and (lukewarm) showers are shared by everyone, with a super well stocked communal kitchen serving as the heart of the place. This is where you’ll meet fellow travelers like you and families on a round-the-world tour.

You’ll get excellent value for your money at Relais Marama, with free wifi throughout the property (even in your bungalow), free laundry service, free filtered water, bicycles and a generous breakfast every morning starting at 6:30am (pancakes on Sundays). If the mood is right, Jacques even throws free BBQ nights, with freshly caught fish on him and cold Hinano beers on you! Several snacks can deliver food upon request and you can even catch a free ride to one of the better restaurants (Chez Elda) if you want to spice things up a bit.  

Relais Marama fakarava cheap accommodation - free breakfastRelais Marama fakarava cheap accommodation - communal kitchenRelaid Marama BBQ dinner Fakarava Atoll French PolynesiaRelais Marama BBQ dinner Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia fish bones

Stay at the Relais Marama if you’re looking for something nonfussy and communal, and give Jacques a big hug for me!

Other solid Fakarava North options include Pension Veke Veke (great location), Havaiki Lodge (upscale), Tokerau Village & Papara (slightly remote but within cycling distance from main village), and Kori Kori (very basic). 

Fakarava South

If you’re staying at one of the pension in the south pass, your hosts will arrange the transfer, based on Air Tahiti arrival and departure times. Since the journey is quite long, on days when there are several flights, you might be instructed to wait. The “main” accommodation right on the south pass is Pension Tetamanu. However, slightly friendlier options can be found at Pension Raimiti and Pension Motu Aito

Beaches In Fakarava

Unlike Rangiroa, Fakarava has amazing beaches that are a short bicycle ride away. The best one is called PK9 (see ‘things to do’ section) and there are infinitely more (including pink sand beaches) on the more distant motus around the lagoon.

Drinking Water In Fakarava

Water in the Tuamotu Atolls only come from the rain. Therefore, unless your pension offers filtered water, you’ll have to buy bottled water in Fakarava.  

Eating

eating dinner fakarava french polynesiaI hate to disappoint you but much like in Rangiroa, there isn’t much choice when it comes to fruits and vegetables in Fakarava. Don’t forget – you’re on a coral atoll. The soil isn’t fertile, the wind blows right through and there’s not much rain. You’ll find that shops sell mostly canned goods and imported fruits & vegetables if you’re lucky. Locals pre-order fresh produce which arrives on the weekly cargo ship and there isn’t much leftover. Coconuts, on the other hand, are not a problem to find!

Your pension might offer the opportunity to go half board, including breakfast and dinner. In any case, Fakarava has a few good snacks for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nearly all will pick you and drop you off for dinner, or deliver food to your pension.

See the ‘places to eat’ section for specific recommendations.

Safety In Fakarava

For general safety tips in French Polynesia, have a look at the ‘safety’ section of the French Polynesia Travel Guide.

As for Fakarava specific safety tips:

  • Your diving should be inclusive of insurance. However, it’s highly recommended to extend your travel insurance policy to include scuba diving related emergencies.
  • You might come across some sand flies in Fakarava, though they are nowhere as nasty as the ones in the Marquesas Islands. You will for sure encounter wasps when venturing outside the village. I even got stung once on the back of my head. There really isn’t much you can do aside from trying to avoid them and not panicking if you get bitten (unless you’re allergic of course).

Excursions In Fakarava

Pink Sandbar Fakarava Atoll French PolynesiaThere are three popular excursions in Fakarava: the ‘blue lagoon’ (~7000F for ½ day, 9000F full day), beach picnic (~4000F) and the pink sand beach (~12000F) – which we’ll cover in great depth later. If you must pick one, it should definitely be the pink sand beach. I heard that the blue lagoon in nothing special and you can easily cycle to the beach where the picnic is proposed on your own (it’s PK 9 beach).  

Pro Tip: I strongly recommend to go on these excursions during the first days of your visit to Fakarava. Why? Though it makes for a perfect way to spend your last day on the atoll (you shouldn’t dive in most cases), these excursions are very prone to cancellations due to weather and minimum passengers required. So, if you don’t want any last minute surprises, get these out of the way early to allow for extra flexibility. Diving will almost always be possible in Fakarava.

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5 comments

  1. Fantastic detail and thankyou for the effort and great photo’s
    My wife and I will be visiting late August/Early September and was wondering if you could advise what type of food is available in the local shops? as two people we are meeting are cruising yachties

    1. Hi Patrick
      Thanks for the feedback! Fakarava is such a unique destination! Fruits and vegetables are imported to the island for the most part. Locals pre order those as do the shops. It arrives on the weekly cargo boat if all goes well. Shops will have durable foods such as: canned food, pasta, cookies, alcohol, rice etc. and I’m pretty sure also frozen stuff. There are two shops in the main village and the one that ‘doubles’ as the bakery, also has some fruits and vegetables. I recall there were apples, mangoes, tomatoes… There is also the sarong and island fashions shop in the village which is technically also a fruits & vegetables ‘market’, but that is really up to the mood of the owner. Enjoy your time and feel free to hit me up with more questions!

  2. Hi
    Thanks for the info on Fakarava. We are planning to visit but I am concerned about the wasps you mentioned bc I am allergic to them and other bee stings. Are there many wasps/bees on Fakarava? and is their emergency medical facilities?
    We are avid snorkelers. We plan to visit Moorea, Bora Bora, TaHaa, Rangiroa, TIkehau. Now we are thinking to add in Fakarava and skip TaHaa. Is snorkeling wonderful in Fakarava. We love to see colorful coral. Will Fakarava have that?

    1. Hi Susan

      I’m not sure if it was a seasonal thing but there were wasps there. Not in crazy amounts, but there were. I can’t recall if I encountered them on other atolls. There is an infermary in the main village of Rotoava which I assume is also on call 24/7. I did visit the plave with a local and it seemed legit though I think it’s staffed only by certified nurses with doctors visiting a few times per month.

      Fakarava was incredible for the “island life” viba combined with the incredible diving and beaches. Rangiroa has no beaches and I think Tikehau as well (unless you take a boat excursion). As for the snorkeling, it is lovely in Fakarava but probably similar to what you see in Rangiroa. The difference is in the diving because Fakarava’s corals are in much better state than anywehere else. The coral in Rangiroa was of the “hard” kind and the fun was in snorkeling with sharks pretty much off the dock of your pension. So if it’s corals you like, Fakarava is an excellent choice and more of an “off the beaten track” destination.

      Hope this helps!

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