Moorea Travel Guide

May 27, 2016

Moorea Panoramic Lagoon View to Tahiti - Temae Beach - French Polynesia

Your love affair with Moorea begins on a clear day in Tahiti, with the sight of giant peaks rising like shark fins out of the blue waters on the horizon. As you leave Tahiti behind on the ferry, dolphins lead the way into the harbor like a welcoming party. Moorea is known as ‘the magical island’ and for good reasons. Tahiti’s little laid back sister feels is a world away from the big island, with time ticking away so peacefully as you’re living the Polynesian dream. Moorea’s twin bays carve out the island’s signature heart shape, and its lush deep valleys spill into a massive lagoon that feels like a giant heated pool. There’s something for everybody in Moorea, and once you visit – you simply won’t want to leave! This Moorea Travel Guide will help you make the most of your time in the magical island.

About This Guide

I’ve visited Moorea on four occasions (and counting), including a whole month on my first trip to the South Seas in 2015. This Moorea travel guide was written based on my experiences and meant to help you make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime destination. The Moorea Travel Guide is geared towards independent travelers, but any visitor will find it useful. In this article, we’ll explore the island of Moorea. Look inside for discounts on scuba diving.

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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Why Should You Visit Moorea?

Moorea is so beautiful you simply won’t want to leave. A dream island with stereotypical French Polynesian charm, this is the idyllic holiday for anyone. Why? Because there’s something for everyone in Moorea! It’s the perfect holiday package without the packaged holiday. Beach lovers will love catching up on some reading under the shade of a palm tree, water sports enthusiasts will have plenty of ways to get wet and nature lovers will always remember those magical hikes through lush forests of mape trees, waterfalls, and panoramic vistas over the lagoon. On the accommodation front, pamper yourself in a luxury resort, chill in local pensions or even rent a simple beachfront bungalow to really get the local feel. Moorea offers plenty of opportunities to satisfy your senses. They say Moorea is the Tahiti of old (much like Maupiti is the Bora Bora of old) and when you’re in Moorea, Tahiti does feel like a world away.

mount rotui and hilton overwater bungalows - scenic flight - moorea - french polynesia

What’s Included In This Moorea Travel Guide?

Moorea Travel Guide Map

Click on the image to open in Google Maps. The map features all the highlights mentioned in this guide.

Moorea Travel Guide Map - French Polynesia

Where To Stay In Moorea?

Moorea is one of the most visited islands in French Polynesia and as such, it offers a wide range of accommodations to suit all budgets. If you’re not planning to stay at a resort, it is highly recommended to book well in advance to avoid having to settle for a place without much value for money (and there are those as well in Moorea). This is especially true during the high season (June-September) and local school holidays. 

The best part of the island to base yourself at is somewhere between Haapiti and Papetoai. Here, the lagoon is wide and the sunsets are to die for. Avoid the south end of the island as it lacks any major attractions or dining options. 

Here’s a list of all Moorea accommodations which you can book online. 

Resorts: the Hilton Moorea is the best resort on the island. It’s currently the only five-star resort in Moorea. It’s located at the foot of Mount Rotui and offers splendid views and good snorkeling. Next up is the Sofitel Moorea which will soon upgrade to a five-star category. It’s located on the east coast on sandy Temae Beach. After the closure of the InterContinental Moorea in 2020, the Manava Beach Resort is the remaining option. It’s conveniently located just outside Maharepa, the largest village in Moorea. At some point, the grounds of the former InterContinental will house a new resort. 

Hilton Moorea - French Polynesia

Sofitel Moorea - French Polynesia

Pensions: there’s a large selection of pensions and beach lodges in the prime areas of the island. Pensions range from simple accommodation to pampering “boutique” style lodgings. My top recommendations include Moorea Beach Lodge, Moorea Island Beach, Moorea Green Lodge, Pension Poerani, and the family-friendly Linareva Resort (not actually a resort). Unlike pensions on other islands, most of Moorea’s pensions do not offer half-board stays so you’ll need to go out for dinner. 

Pension on lagoon where to stay in Moorea - French Polynesia

Hotels: this rare category is somewhere between a resort and a pension in terms of offered services. In Moorea, the Hotel les Tipaniers is the best choice. It’s popular with families and lies on arguably the best public beach on the island. It has a beach restaurant, a dive center, and boat rental. The twin islets (motu) are just a short kayak paddle away. The beach is great for swimming, snorkeling, and kitesurfing. Another option is Hotel Hibiscus which offers both garden bungalows as hotel-style rooms. 

Les Tipaniers Beach Moorea French Polynesia pontoon

Self-catering & Airbnb: you’ll find plenty of vacation rental units around the island but do your due diligence before as some photos are deceiving. Remember the important factors: location, privacy, proximity to the lagoon, and the availability of Wi-Fi. 

Camping & Backpacker: there’s a growing number of establishments that offer dorm room stays for backpackers in Moorea. Check out the dorm room at Pension Motu Iti, ideally located between the two bays. Another option is at Camping Nelson, both for dorm room stays and for pitching a tent. This place is slightly out of date but there are lots of dining and grocery options nearby.

Here’s a list of all Moorea accommodations which you can book online.

Facts & Brief History

Moorea (properly spelled and pronounced Mo’orea) is a high island in the Society Islands archipelago. It was first settled by Polynesians about 1,000 years ago, arriving by boat (obviously) either from other islands already colonized in the South Pacific (originally departing probably from Southeast Asia). For many centuries, locals lived simply and traditionally – with local religion and myths ruling life. Perhaps this explains the meaning of the island’s name – ‘yellow lizard’, likely stemming from local legend.

Opunoho Valley moorea panoramic view french polynesia

Samuel Wallis was the first European to make contact with the local Polynesians in 1767, followed by James Cook in 1769 and the Christian missionaries later on. With the arrival of the Europeans, traditional life gradually faded away along with much of the native population who were not immune to the diseases brought over by the foreign visitors.

These days, Moorea manages to retain some of its laid-back charms while still feeling connected to the world. Perhaps this is the reason why so many French ex-pats and retirees call this place home, seeking the peaceful life that Moorea so beautifully offers. There are a little over 16,000 residents in Moorea, almost exclusively living around the very slim coastline. Unfortunately, such development is blocking parts of the gorgeous coastline, inaccessible to the public due to private homes forming long chains of private paradises (though the beach is public).

Curved palm tree in Mareto Beach Moorea French Polynesia

While in the past copra was a major source of local income, pineapple is the prime crop these days. In fact, Moorea is the ‘pineapple capital of French Polynesia’, so I hope you like this delicious fruit because there’s plenty of it. Tourism is also a major source of income, drawing honeymooners, families, and independent travelers who take advantage of the proximity to Tahiti – only 30 minutes away by ferry. The island’s tourism industry was badly hit by the 2008 global economic crisis, with a few resorts shutting down – most notably the massive Club Med at Hauru Point.

opunohu bay on scenic flight - moorea - french polynesia

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36 comments

  1. Thank you so much for this! It’s everything you could ask for in a guide. Hope you have many more happy and fulfilling adventures

    1. Thanks for the feedback Sandy. Heading tomorrow back to Tahiti and then Moorea for round #2. What a special place!

  2. Another evening spent reading your fantastic guides, doing last minute preparations for our trip to FP, in 3 weeks we will be at Moorea, cannot wait! Great work Avicai! 🙂

  3. Thank you for your detailed and well-written guide. I have spent couple hours now reading your travel guide to Tahiti, Bora Boara and this one, Moorea. Our trip won’t be until March, 2018 but I’m getting excited reading and looking at your beautiful photos.

  4. Thank you for all the wonderful insight into Mo’orea. We will be spending this Christmas there. After reading your guide, we are even more excited!

    1. Thanks Monica!

      It’ll definitely be a very merry Christmas, but I wouldn’t count on it being a white one 🙂

  5. Thank you SO much for writing this! Headed to Moorea the end of October for a honeymoon and haven’t found much in the way of guides- so this was perfect! Can’t wait for all of the adventures!

  6. This is great, very helpful for a first timer, in California, realizing This area is not as far as I thought, hoping for a trip next year, I guess I need to wait till May for decent weather. Any thoughts on off-season? I’m thinking I will stay on this island, but also maybe visit another smaller more cultural island nearby, any suggestions?

    1. Hi

      I’ve traveled offseason as well. If you’re traveling for an extended period of time, a day of rain here and there isn’t going to make or break your vacation. It is a lot less breezy though… Some of the better lesser known islands are Maupiti and Huahine. If you need specific 1:1 consultation, check this link out: https://xdaysiny.com/tahiti-tailor-made/

  7. Any idea where I can find a guide for the pierced mountain hike? I am travelling to Moorea for a couple weeks at the end of August. I’ve searched everywhere for a guide online but have had no luck.

  8. My husband and I did an “intro” dive with Aude. She was so informative and made us feel safe, so much so that we wanted to do another dive before we left! If you’ve never been scuba diving and are on the fence, this is the best way to go. We are now working on getting our certifications!

  9. This is a wonderful guide. Thank you! My gf and I are looking at Air BnBs… what do you recommend? staying in Temae, or Opunohu?

    1. Thanks Rachel. I would advise to look for places between the InterContinental Resort -Haapiti Village & between Maharepa Village-Temae. Hope this helps and happy travels in the South Seas

  10. Hello, we’re going to be Moorea morning of April 4th (arriving on the first ferry from Papeete) and until 2pm the 5th before sailing on a catamaran with friends for a week through (Bora, Huahine, Tahaa[coral garen], Raiatea [wreck dive]). We just got certified here in California and I’m wondering if we should try to snorkel and dive during such a short visit.
    The lagoon excursion with shark/ray/snorkel already sounds good enough. Is it worth it to dive also? What will we see on the dive that we don’t get to experience through snorkeling?
    Can we get around on a scooter? For example, can a scooter make it to Belvedere lookout with me and my husband? Or is a car really necessary?
    Thank you so much, this is really a fantastic guide.

    1. Hi Jenny. If you have one full day in Moorea, save the diving for the other islands you’ll be visiting. The dives take place on the slope in the outer section of the lagoon so there is more to see vs snorkeling (so definitely do go diving on the trip). You can make it on a scooter up to the belvedere. I advise snorkeling in the Moorea Lagoonarium vs the lagoon tour (coordinate your visit to the Lagoonarium with the stingray feeding). However, seeing as you’ll be on a boat and probably doing a lot of snorkeling, you can totally “chill” in Moorea and do a land based tour / hike plus relaxing on the beach. Hope this helps!

  11. Yes that’s a fantastic suggestion, we’ve never been near stingrays before and that has been on our bucket list. One more question for you. Is there a scooter rental near the ferry drop off? Is there a particular business you recommend? Thank you so much!

    1. I don’t believe there’s a scooter rental near the ferry but try contacting the suppliers and see if they can arrange a pickup from the ferry. I know of Albert Transport but there are a few other smaller outfits.

  12. well i found this article is very helpful and informative and its a lot of about Moorea its a very beautiful location soon i’ll take a tour
    Thanks for sharing

  13. Great guide, can you recommend a place to rent a small boat for a day on Moorea? A fun beach bar on Moorea? Thanks, Marc

    1. Hi Marc
      You should be able to find both at the beach of Les Tipaniers hotel. It can be accessed by the public. They have a beach bar and a place that rents out boats etc.

  14. absolutely love your guides! used them on our first trip to rangiroa/fakarava. this is our first trip to moorea. looking at diving there in feb with 4 parents, 3 teens so looking at an airbnb. would you do a house on the north near the dive shops or do one on the west, sunset side. would love something with beach out front and we could snorkel from the house. maybe walk to restaurants or shops – but not super busy beach out front. what do you recommend? thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Maryann
      My personal preference is for the west coast, between Haapiti and Les Tipaniers Hotel. That’s a great low key spot that also has a beach and some snorkeling.

  15. Thanks for the post which has tons of information.
    We are planning a trip to French Polynesia and we are family of 4 which includes 2 kids. Do you any recommendations to choose the islands which are Kids friendly.

    -Mani

    1. that depends on what you consider kids friendly. but in general: Moorea, Huahine and Bora Bora

  16. Do you have any links for hiking trails? Specifically the hike to the keyhole and any/ all waterfalls? Also looking for best snorkel spots, I am an experienced and avid ocean swimmer. Can you recommend a boat tour that includes feeding / swimming with sharks and mantas where we also might see turtles…but also includes eating at a water side table with the rays around us? I’ve seen pic amd Andy’s looks like a big company, but maybe too big/ touristy? Headed there next week! Mahalo!

    1. Hi Christina. Most of the hikes mentioned in the travel guides are not official hikes. So apart from the Three Coconuts Pass which is a marked trail, for all others I’ve included as much information as I can. You can search online for some Summit Series posts but those maps won’t be helpful. So use the info in the guide and cross reference it with local advice. That said, hikes such as the Piereced Mountain are better done with a guide, for your own safety. This is ESPECIALLY true during the wet season when it can be very dangerous to hike without a guide. For snorkeling, the best spot in the Moorea Lagoonarium. For tours, I went with moorea mahana tours. All these operators have the same itinerary: visit sting rays and then stop for lunch on a motu where you can snorkel. The snorkeling is not that great where they stop for lunch, just OK. The Lagoonarium would be the best. Hope this helps.

  17. Hi! I find your site most helpful for planning our family trip to Moorea for this December. Looking at the distances to the coral garden and the shark sand bank from shore I am wondering if booking with a tour operator is even necessary. It seems feasible to rent a couple of kayaks or a small boat to go out to both on the same day on our own schedule provided we bring our own snorkel gear which we will given covid and all. Perhaps even dine at the Coco Beach restaurant if there was a way to moor or land the boat ashore. Would this doable with two school age kids in double kayaks with 2 adults?

    Secondly, there seems to be much debate as to the positives and negatives of renting a car at Papeete airport and cross over with it on the ferry versus renting it from an agency across the ferry terminal in Moorea. Selection and price being the advantage on the main island side and less stress/hassle and ferry limitations with renting on the Moorea side. Any advice on that quarter would be most welcome! Thank you!!!

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