Raiatea Island Travel Tips
This section of the Raiatea travel guide highlights specific travel tips for those planning to visit the sacred island.
- The Hunt For The Rarest Flower: a personal account of a four-day visit to Raiatea during my first trip to the South Pacific Islands in 2015.
- French Polynesia Travel Guide: everything you need to know before heading to paradise. This is the first resource in the planning of a trip to French Polynesia.
- Lonely Planet: ‘the bible’ for any independent traveler. For such a dreamy yet challenging destination, I recommend grabbing one for the road to go along with this Raiatea travel guide.
- 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 Raiatea?
To properly explore Raiatea, I recommend spending at least three nights on the island. This is enough time to see the main island and visit neighboring Tahaa or hike in Raiatea. Note that Raiatea is not a luxury beach destination. If you’re seeking this experience, base yourself in one of Tahaa’s luxury resorts. (four nights if arriving late) should be enough.
Is Raiatea Worth Visiting?
I loved Raiatea. It was a pleasant surprise during my first island-hopping trip in French Polynesia. Despite the absence of pretty beaches and snorkeling sites on the main island, Raiatea is big enough to get lost in and offers many ways to stay active, from superb hiking to scuba diving. It doesn’t get visitors who are purely after the luxury overwater bungalow experience but rather tourists who are interested in its authentic vibe, cultural significance, and natural beauty.
Tahaa vs Raiatea
Spend a few nights both on Tahaa and Raiatea if you have the opportunity. Though they share the same lagoon, the two islands “specialize” in different experiences and attractions.
Raiatea: much bigger than Tahaa and actually a central member of the Society Islands. It’s home to a proper small town, government agencies, major hospital, regional high school, market, and the airport. Naturally, it’s more geared to independent travelers with plenty of accommodation, car hire, guided excursions, restaurants, etc. Visitors will enjoy lots of hiking opportunities and the most important archeological site in French Polynesia.
Tahaa: a super laid-back island, probably the ‘wildest’ island in the Society Islands. There are eight small villages along the coastline with not a whole lot happening in them aside from vanilla and pearl farming. It’s also less geared to tourists, though there are a handful of accommodations.
The big exception is the lagoon. Tahaa is blessed with exceptionally beautiful lagoon motus. Of the two islands, it’s off the coast of Tahaa where you’ll find incredible beaches, dive sites, and snorkeling spots. You can even sleep on some of these motus.
When Is the Best Time To Visit Raiatea?
Like all members of the Society Islands, the best time to visit Raiatea is during the dry season(June – October). During this time, the temperature is comfortable, and the southeasterly trade wind is almost constantly blowing, keeping the mosquitos and the clouds at bay. This is also the best time for hiking. Visiting Raiatea during the shoulder season (April/May and November) is also ideal. During the wet season (Dec-March), Raiatea gets a lot of rain. It doesn’t mean that it rains all the time, but it can lead to tour cancellations and dangerous hiking.
How To Get To Raiatea
Raiatea is an important island in French Polynesia so it’s well connected to several other stops. Here are the best ways to reach Raiatea.
Getting to Raiatea From Tahaa
You can hire a private taxi boat from Tahaa to Raiatea, such as Tahaa Location, or hop on the Enota Shuttle which is the slower “public ferry”. It only runs from Monday to Saturday. Alternatively, the Tahaa Transport Rapide is the quicker way to reach Raiatea from Tahaa, with service also on Sundays. From the Utuora pier, take a taxi or arrange transfers through your hosts in Raiatea.
Raiatea by plane
Taking a domestic flight is the easiest way to get to Raiatea. Both Air Tahiti and Air Moana fly to Raiatea from Tahiti and other islands, with the former flying to Raiatea also from Moorea, Maupiti, Bora Bora, and Huahine. If you’re visiting several islands in French Polynesia, look into the Air Tahiti Pass.
Raiatea by ferry
The Apetahi Express connects Raiatea with Tahiti via Raiatea, Bora Bora, Tahaa, and Huahine. This new service makes it more affordable to see multiple stops within the archipelago. You might also be able to get to Raiatea from Bora Bora (and maybe even from Maupiti) using the Maupiti Express. There is little information about this route, but you can try contacting them via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (+689-40676669 or +689-87740240).
Raiatea by Cargo Ship
The Hawaiki Nui cargo ship departs Tahiti, calling port at Bora Bora, Raiatea, and Huahine. A short trip could cost as little as 2,500F – quite a bargain if you are flexible (and speak French). According to the latest information I found, the boat leaves for Raiatea from Tahiti – Tues & Thu at 4 pm (12-hour journey), Bora Bora – Wed at 1 pm & Fri at 12 pm (short voyage), and Huahine – Friday at 3 am (~3-hour voyage). Do double-check this info.
Where To Stay In Raiatea?
Raiatea has no resorts (except for a private island) but only pensions, a couple of lodges, and self-catering options. If you’re opting for the boutique options in the southern half of the island, I recommend renting a car for your entire stay. If you’re backpacking or self-catering, the closer you are to Uturoa, the more services you’ll find, such as supermarkets, ATMs, markets, restaurants, etc. Note that most accommodations in Raiatea require a minimum two-night stay. Here are a few recommendations in every category.
for the luxury resort stay, you’ll need to base yourself in Tahaa’s lagoon and explore Raiatea on a day trip. The best resort is Le Tahaa, which faces Bora Bora on one end and Tahaa on the other, followed by Vahine Island on the other side of the lagoon. If you nonetheless want to base yourself in Raiatea without compromising on luxury too much, check out Motu Nao Nao Private Island. Its three villas nestled on a beautiful 75-acre private island are the stuff dreams are made of.
In the vicinity of Uturoa, check out Villa Ixora and its lagoon-side location, Villa Tonoi for its high-altitude views if you don’t mind the climb. At Pension Temahani, enjoy its ideal location for sunsets and the friendly hosts. Further out of town, Pension Les Trois Cascade, Pension Manava, and Pension Fare Vai Nui are about halfway from Uturoa to the far end of the island. Close to Marae Taputapuatea, Pension Opeha, and Hotel Atiapiti are solid options.
Self-catering & Camping
the Sunset Beach Motel has a gorgeous setting. Its garden bungalows are sprinkled in a coconut plantation with incredible sunset views towards Bora Bora. You can also pitch a tent on their property. About a 15-minute drive from town, Pension Manava also offers camping options.
Getting Around Raiatea
There’s a sealed road hugging the nearly 100 km coastline of Raiatea. Every kilometer is marked by PK markers indicating the direction and distance from Uturoa. The Road is mostly flat apart from a few steep inclines. Here are the best ways to get around Raiatea.
From the airport
The Raiatea airport is 3.5 km from Uturoa. Your pension/hotel will likely pick you up for free or for a small fee. Taxis await all arrivals, and a ride to Uturoa should cost around 1,000F (higher fare for drop-off beyond Uturoa).
There are local buses (le trucks) that connect the villages of Fetuna and Opoa with Uturoa. Buses operate on weekdays only, have 2 departures per day, and are probably more suitable for locals than tourists.
Renting a car in Raiatea is the easiest way to get around, and surprisingly, it is not that expensive. Most car rental agencies are conveniently located just outside the Raiatea airport, such as Moana Rent a Car, Raiatea Location, and Raiatea Rent A Car. Some pensions also rent vehicles to guests or offer a package stay that also includes car rental.
By bicycle & hitchhiking
It should be no challenge to rent bicycles in Raiatea, perhaps even from your hosts. Electric bikes should also be available for rent by now on the island. Unless you are very fit, it won’t be easy to circle the island due to its size. Moreover, the prettiest section of Raiatea (in my opinion) is between Opoa and Vaia’au – on the opposite end of Uturoa. As for hitchhiking, locals are very friendly in Raiatea, and you should have no problem finding a ride. Keep in mind that the southern end of the island is sparsely populated without too many passing cars.
What To Pack?
Raiatea 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 Raiatea based on my experience. I also recommend packing good hiking shoes and snorkeling gear if you plan also to visit Tahaa (at least a mask and snorkel).
You can use a credit card in most places in Raiatea, and ATMs are available throughout the island. If you’re heading to Tahaa for a few days – bring enough cash with you.
Diving & Snorkeling In Raiatea
If you’re heading to the Tuamotu Atolls during your trip to French Polynesia, save your scuba dives for later. However, if you’re not hopping to the likes of Rangiroa, Fakarava, or Tikehau, Raiatea offers more than decent diving sites. I did a couple of dives in Tahaa, and that’s where you might dive even if departing from its neighbor. Raiatea offers the only wreck dive in French Polynesia, and you can also do an introductory dive to get to know the lagoon.
Regarding snorkeling in Raiatea, you’ll need to join a snorkeling tour to one of the islets (motu) at the edge of the barrier reef or a boat tour in the lagoon. If you’re staying lagoonside on the southern half of the island, you might be able to snorkel off the shore. Your hosts might also offer kayaks and access to one of the islets, such as Motu Iriru which is accessible to the public.
Hiking In Raiatea
Hiking is one of the top things to do in Raiatea. The island’s hiking trails are among the best hikes in French Polynesia. We’ll cover the best trails in the next section of the Raiatea travel guide. Most hikes in Raiatea should be undertaken with a guide. I hiked with Kiam Marti (email@example.com | +689 87 272300). He’s a super nice guy, very knowledgeable about the island’s history, flora, and fauna. If you want to do multiple hikes, Kiam might offer a discounted price.
Beaches in Raiatea
There are no dreamy beaches in Raiatea – it is not a beach destination. The only white sand beach is an artificial one next to Marae Taputapuatea. To satisfy your craving for a proper beach, join a guided excursion within Raiatea’s lagoon or to neighboring Tahaa.
Drinking Water In Raiatea
Tap water might be OK to drink, but it might not. It all depends on where the water is pumped from. To be on the safe side, ask your hosts during check-in.
There are several highly acclaimed restaurants in lodges and pensions around the island (reservations required). Notable mentions include Villa Ixora and Raiatea Lodge. Assuming you like going local (like me), Uturoa has snacks during the day – perfect for packed sandwiches and roulottes at night (food trucks). The town center also has a bunch of large supermarkets (one of them even open on Sunday until late afternoon) and a fruits & vegetables market (open weekdays). You can always count on locals selling fruits, vegetables, fresh coconut, and sometimes fresh fish on the roadside.
Safety In Raiatea
For general safety tips in French Polynesia, check out the ‘safety’ section of the French Polynesia Travel Guide. Specific to Raiatea: don’t go hiking on your own unless it’s the Taputapuatea or Mount Tapioi hike (the trail might be currently closed). Trails are not marked, and it’s super easy to get lost (trust me). Contact a certified hiking guide, such as Kiam Marti (firstname.lastname@example.org | +689 87 272300).