Rarotonga Travel Guide

June 20, 2016

Cross Islands Track Panoramic view - Rarotonga Cook Islands

Picture yourself starting out your day as the sun’s rays make their first appearance above the sleepy lagoon. After a tropical breakfast and perhaps a stroll on the beach, you go for a bit of scuba diving, hop on your scooter for a mini road trip around the island, or maybe you just do nothing on the beach. As the day draws to a close, you admire the sunset with a cocktail in your hand and cap off typical day in paradise with a Polynesian fire and dance show. All this and more are what your holiday in Rarotonga might look like. To help you plan the tropical vacation of a lifetime in the most ‘happening’ of the Cook Islands, start your reading with this Rarotonga Travel Guide.

About This Guide

I spent three weeks in the Cook Islands as part of a six-month backpacking trip across the South Pacific Islands, with almost three weeks in Rarotonga. This Rarotonga Travel Guide was written based on my experiences and is meant to help you make the most of this dream destination. The travel guide is geared towards independent travelers, but any visitor will find it useful.

Traveling to the Cook Islands? Start your reading with The Cook Islands Travel Guide!


Visiting other South Pacific destinations? Get expert advice on how to island hop in the South Pacific and check out these travel guides to French PolynesiaSamoa, American Samoa, Easter Island and Vanuatu

Why Should You Visit Rarotonga?

With only 32 kilometers required to circle the island and so many options to keep you both sleeping like a baby at night and happily ‘busy’ during the day – Rarotonga feels like one big tropical playground. Catering to the entire spectrum of travelers (even backpackers and weddings), there’s really something for everybody. The island is big enough to find your own spot, yet small enough to easily be explored. What’s even better is the affordable cost of getting around on your own, and the stiff competition for your tourist dollars. While not as traditional as other South Pacific islands – if you’re looking for a comfortable holiday in a modern yet relaxed setting, and with plenty of things to do (or not do) – you’ll love Rarotonga!

What’s Included In This Guide To Rarotonga?

Top Things To Do In Rarotonga Cook Islands - thumbnail wide

Rarotonga Travel Guide Map

Click on the image to open in Google Maps. This map covers all the highlights mentioned in this travel guide. 

Rarotonga Travel Guide Map - Cook Islands

Facts & Brief History

Rarotonga is the main island in the Cook Islands chain (meaning ‘south of Tonga’). Located in the southern group of islands, nearly 70% of the Cook Islands’ current population of 15,000 resides here. Rarotonga was formed by intense volcanic activity, leading to a rugged and mountainous interior characterized by sharp peaks and dense forests. The island is only 32 km in circumference, surrounded by a coral reef which sharply drops more than 4,000 meters to the ocean floor.

Rarotonga from the air Cook Islands

Rarotonga was settled by seafaring Polynesians, likely arriving from neighboring French Polynesia sometime in the 6th century. These pioneers were masters of the sea, sailing in massive outrigger canoes called Vaka, and navigating using stars and waves pattern. These pioneers would later embark on a voyage out west, discovering New Zealand – some 3,000 km’s away!

Highland Paradise Rarotonga Cook Islands marae visit

Contact with Europeans and missionaries in the early 19th century marked the beginning of the end of local Maori culture and the devout acceptance of Christianity. These days, Rarotonga’s economy is primarily focused on tourism, with modern infrastructure and facilities concentrated around the island’s beautiful coastline.

Black Rocks Tropical beach in Rarotonga Cook Islands

One of the few challenges for locals is the issue of land. Plots traditionally belong to the various island tribes, later shared with families who in turn split the property into smaller plots for the younger generation. This never-ending cycle means that fewer and smaller plots can be shared. It is only because more Cook Islanders reside outside of the Cook Islands, that this land division challenge is not ballooning to a national problem.

Mount Raemaru Track Rarotonga Cook Islands mountains and coast



  1. Just been to Rarotonga for 15 days we loved it and fell in love with the place. Stayed at Palm Grove. The place was nice, beach crystal waters I think was the best for snorkelling and swimming what seen around. Friends met there said same as she snorkelled around different resorts. The people so nice, food beautiful. Hired a car as had 2 days free car hire part of package then extended for the next 11 days as bus is costly went on once.. Went to some of the places you mentioned markets, cafe salsa, mooring cafe, LBV, delicious cafe across from LBV best custard slice , spaghetti house, koka lagoon cruise, Te Vara Nui village, highland paradise, fished on the Skies charter then hubby went on the Queen Marlin. Flew out to Aiutaki for the day trip on catamaran to oh my what can I say just Paradise . The water there lagoon unbelievable the colours. Picked up my black pearl from beachcomber as a gift part of our package staying 2 weeks. Hope to go again but for 3 weeks. Didn’t get to some places but left some for next time

    1. Wow Georgina! Sounds like an awesome trip. Thanks for sharing. You did end up staying in a very nice (and quiet) part of Raro. I’m sure there will be a second time!

    1. Hi Ben

      The price of car/scooter is quite cheap so if it’s within budget, I would advise having wheels for your entire stay (there are discounts for long rental periods). However, if that’s not an option, try renting for 3 days for concentrated sightseeing, and use the bus for the rest of the time.

  2. Hi we will be in Rarontonga for 8 days starting March 31 2018 and would like to rent a car for some of the time but having a difficult time finding reasonable prices. Any suggestions We are staying at the Edgewater and their shuttle service is expensive

    1. Hi Susan

      I’ve included in the guide two car rental outfits that offer readers from XDAYSINY.COM discounts on their rental. Did you have a look? I believe the outfits are Polynesian Rentals and Go Cook Islands

  3. we’ll be in rarotonga this December/January for three weeks. Any advice for the cross inland hike?
    What activites would be available in December?

    1. Hi Alison. Hiking during this time should just be taken with extra caution since it’s the rainy season and the trail might be slippery. It’s best to not hike after it has rained but exercising extra caution works as well. All activities are available during December though perhaps some suppliers take time off (most likely not).

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