Raiatea Island Travel Tips
Listed here are specific travel tips for Raiatea. Be sure to also read the French Polynesia Travel Guide, filled with general travel tips to paradise.
What Do You Want To Know?
- 1 Recommended Reading
- 2 How Many Days Do You Need In Raiatea?
- 3 Is Raiatea Worth Visiting?
- 4 Tahaa vs Raiatea
- 5 When Is the Best Time To Visit Raiatea?
- 6 What To Pack?
- 7 Money
- 8 Raiatea Average Costs
- 9 How To Get To Raiatea
- 10 Getting Around Raiatea
- 11 Where To Stay In Raiatea?
- 12 Where To Camp In Raiatea?
- 13 Diving In Raiatea
- 14 Hiking In Raiatea
- 15 Beaches
- 16 Drinking Water In Raiatea
- 17 Eating
- 18 Safety In Raiatea
- The Hunt For The Rarest Flower: a personal account of my 4 days in Raiatea.
- French Polynesia Travel Guide: 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 Raiatea?
To properly experience Raiatea, three days (four nights if arriving late) should be enough. The island is small and there isn’t all that much to see. If you’re after a pampering luxury holiday of sipping cocktails on the deck of your overwater bungalow, you could probably spend a week (if you can afford that). I spent three full days in Raiatea and felt totally ready to leave to the next island.
Is Raiatea Worth Visiting?
Raiatea was one of my big surprises in French Polynesia. I wouldn’t come here if you’re after that ‘classic’ beach holiday, but if you like hiking and enjoy a good road trip – you’ll find Raiatea very satisfying. Aside from hiking, there’s good diving, excursions to explore the lagoon and neighboring Tahaa is super close. Raiatea reminded me of Moorea, an island that I dearly love. It doesn’t have the beaches of Moorea but it does have the mountain scenery and a hell of a lot fewer people (and tourists) around.
Tahaa vs Raiatea
Though sharing the same lagoon, Tahaa and Raiatea have their own distinct personalities. So if you’re already here, you might as well see both. I was faced with a big dilemma of whether to sleep on both islands or use Raiatea as a base. Finally, I decided to spend 3 nights in Tahaa and 4 nights in Raiatea (I probably could have used an extra night in Raiatea). Here’s the deal:
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, activities, 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. Raiatea, on the other hand, has no real beaches to speak of. Most lagoon excursions and some scuba dives will take place in Tahaa, even if booked in Raiatea.
When Is the Best Time To Visit Raiatea?
Like all Society Islands, the ‘best’ time to visit Raiatea is during the dry season (May – October). During this time, the temperature is slightly lower and most importantly – there are less rain and clouds. You wouldn’t want to travel all the way out here and be confined only to your villa. Keep in mind that during these months, the southeasterly wind blows in this direction so the lagoon might be a bit choppy (and chilly at night).
I personally visited Raiatea during the heart of the wet season (November – April). This was probably the island where I had the worst luck with the weather. I had one incredibly sunny day and two cloudy days… so you do the math. Though I didn’t mind it so much as I had plenty of islands coming up, I did see a few disappointed faces with visitors who came to French Polynesia for just a week.
Bottom line: aim for the dry season but don’t let it stop you from visiting Raiatea. Look out for Raiatea’s version of the legendary Heiva festival (July) and the Hawaiki Nui Canoe Race (November) – both excellent times to visit the island though book way in advance.
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.
You’ll be able to use a credit card in most places in Raiatea. Note that the only ATM I’m aware of is in Uturoa, and if you’re heading to Tahaa for a few days – bring enough cash with you.
Using a credit card for pretty much everything is not a problem in Raiatea. In fact, you can even get by with just US Dollars in your pocket. ATM’s are available throughout the main island.
Raiatea Average Costs
Here’s a breakdown of costs during my 4 days in Raiatea. I stayed in a dorm room close to town, cooked my own dinners, hiked a lot and even hired a car for a day to go on a road trip.
How To Get To Raiatea
Raiatea is an important island in French Polynesia and therefore, quite well connected. Here are the best options:
By Air: the easiest way, no doubt. The island is connected to Tahiti (multiple daily flights), Moorea, Maupiti, Bora Bora, Huahine and several atolls in the Tuamotu Archipelago. As always, if visiting several islands in French Polynesia, buy yourself an Air Tahiti Pass.
By Boat: the Hawaiki Nui cargo ship departs Tahiti, calling port at Bora Bora, Raiatea, and Huahine. A short trip could cost as little as 1,500F – quite a bargain if you are flexible (and speak French). According to the latest information I found, the boat leaves to 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.
By ferry: UPDATE – it is reported that the Terevau ferry company has begun operating a new line linking Tahiti with Huahine and Raiatea. The new line departs Tahiti early on Sunday mornings and returns to Tahiti at noon, after calling at Huahine and Raiatea. Feedback received from local contacts indicates this line is not very reliable so be sure to check their website, as this service may have already been discontinued.
From / To Tahaa: the public ferry (navette) connected the Raiatea with Tahaa during weekdays only. A single ride currently costs 763 and there are several routes running from Uturoa to different parts of Tahaa. Tahaa Transport Rapide is another option, the only one on weekends and holidays (runs seven days a week). A single ride costs about 1,500F and they can drop off at several points around Tahaa. Both options depart from the quay in ‘downtown’ Uturoa. Another option is the Maupiti Express, a boat service that used to link Maupiti with neighboring islands apparently now operates regular service between Bora Bora, Tahaa and Raiatea. They have no website at the moment, but you can contact them via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (+689-40676669 or +689-87740240). Here are the current schedule and ticket prices.
In Style: I didn’t really know where to stick this one so I’m just putting it here. Dream Charter Yacht runs private or small group cruises around the Society Islands, departing from Raiatea. If that’s your thing, go for it. I actually met several independent traveling couples in Huahine who arrived on one of these yachts and loved it!
Getting Around Raiatea
There’s a sealed road hugging the nearly 100 km coastline of Raiatea, dotted by PK markers indicating the distances. The Road is mostly flat aside 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 town should cost 1,000F (outside of town 1,500F).
By Bus: there are local buses (known as le trucks) that connect the villages of Fetuna and Opoa with Uturoa. Busses operate weekdays only, have 2 departures per day and are probably more suitable for locals than tourists.
By Car: renting a car in Raiatea is the easiest way to get around, and surprisingly not that expensive at all. I hired a manual economy car from Moana Rent a Car. They’re located right outside the airport but also pick up from the pensions around town. You’ll pay 6,000F for a 24-hour rental, 4,000F if you bring it back by 6 and there are discounts for longer rentals (you can even rent for 4-6 hours).
By Bicycle: inquire locally about hiring a bicycle or it might even be offered at your pension. You’ll find it difficult to see all parts of the island and keep in mind that the prettiest section of Raiatea (in my opinion) is between Opoa and Vaia’au – on the opposite end of Uturoa.
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 quite sparsely populated without too many cars passing by.
Where To Stay In Raiatea?
Even if you will have wheels during your stay in Raiatea, I recommend staying close to Uturoa as it has everything you need such as supermarkets, ATMs, market, snacks, etc. I did find a few small snacks and food shops in the ‘outer villages’ – but those can be a hit or miss. Here are four good options, and you can also check Airbnb and Couchsurfing:
Pension Tepua: pretty much the only choice for backpackers, just 2.5 km’s south of Uturoa. There’s an eight-person dorm room that’s hardly ever full, complete with tiny beds, mosquito nets, hot showers and a very well stocked kitchen (food shop just up the road). The dorm room is facing the main road so if you’re a light sleeper, equip yourself with earplugs.
There are also family units, some right on the lagoon though there’s not really a beach. I wouldn’t consider this place a classic pension as no dinners are offered and the owners tend to keep to themselves (though they are very nice). There’s a swimming pool, excellent free wifi, laundry facilities, excursions available, bike/kayak rental and they do airport pick ups/drop offs for 1,000F. Credit cards accepted. UPDATE: Pension Tepua is now known as Villa Ixora and it may or may not still be offering backpacker accommodations. It’s been remodeled and rebranded as a boutique pension with a highly-acclaimed restaurant.
Villa Temehani: beautiful location just 11 km’s out of town and right on a pretty little stretch of the lagoon. There are three wooden cabin style bungalows facing the backyard and the lagoon. The beach is perfect for watching the sunset, less for swimming though there are free kayaks to use. Breakfast is included and dinner available on demand. I just loved the front garden, a personal family project. There’s everything growing here: vanilla, star fruit, mango, herbs, grapefruit and so much more. It just happens to be that the owners’ son is Kiam Marti – your certified guide for hiking in Raiatea (see ‘hiking’).
Sunset Beach Motel: an absolutely gorgeous setting, super spaced out bungalows dot what looks like a coconut plantation, with some right on the lagoon. It’s a very popular spot for families and couples. In case you’re wondering where you can camp in Raiatea, the Sunset Beach Motel is also a great option for camping in Raiatea. You can pitch your tent on their lovely property for about 15$ per night
Pension Les Trois Cascades: located about halfway between Uturoa and Marae Taputapuatea. You’re also very close to the start of the Three Waterfalls Hike (but you’ll need a guide for that). It’s a good base for exploring the island though keep in mind that you’re not facing the lagoon. They also rent our cars and bicycles.
Where To Camp In Raiatea?
In case you’re wondering about camping in Raiatea, the Sunset Beach Motel will let you pitch your tent on their lovely property for about $15 per night. You might also be able to camp in Pension Manava which is about a 15-minute drive from town.
Diving In Raiatea
Raiatea actually has some pretty decent scuba diving. I personally did not go diving in Raiatea, as I wanted to use my limited time for land-based activities. I went diving in Moorea and was headed to Rangiroa & Fakarava anyways – the best places to dive in French Polynesia. Raiatea offers the only wreck dive in French Polynesia and you can also to some drift dives in and around the lagoon pass. There are several dive centers so inquire locally, some included in the totally worth it Te Moana Dive Pass.
Hiking In Raiatea
Hiking in Raiatea was the biggest highlight for me. In fact, it’s how I spent most of my time on the island. Aside from the Mount Tapioi hike over Uturoa, all hikes in Raiatea should be undertaken with a guide. I hiked with Kia Marti (email@example.com | +689 87 272300). He’s a super nice guy, very knowledgable about the island’s history, flora and fauna. If you want to do multiple hikes, Kiam will give you a discounted price. See the ‘things to do’ section for more information about specific hikes in Raiatea.
There are no dreamy beaches in Raiatea – it is not a beach destination. The only white sand beach is an artificial one, right by Marae Taputapuatea. To satisfy your craving for a proper beach, you’ll need to catch a ride to one of the lagoon motu. An even better option is to join a lagoon excursion to the prettier motu in neighboring Tahaa Island’s north coast or even spend a night or two on one of them. Le Tahaa Island Resort & Spa is a great choice for those seeking luxury on a tropical island, but there are less expensive options as well on other motu.
Drinking Water In Raiatea
Tap water might be OK to drink but it might not. It all depends where the water is pumped from. To be on the safe side, ask at your pension.
There are several good restaurants in lodges and hotels around the island. Assuming you like going local (like me), Uturoa has snacks during the day – perfect for packed sandwiches, and roulottes at night – big portions of traditional & Chinese dishes. 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 local selling fruits, vegetables, fresh coconut and sometimes even fresh fish on the roadside.
Safety In Raiatea
For general safety tips in French Polynesia, have a look at the ‘safety’ section of the French Polynesia Travel Guide.
Specific to Raiatea: don’t go hiking on your own unless it’s the Mount Tapioi hike. Trails are not marked and it’s super easy to get lost (trust me). Contact Kia Marti (firstname.lastname@example.org | +689 87 272300) – a certified guide who knows every inch of the island.