Wild by even French Polynesian standards, Tahaa is really a ‘get away from it all island’, where traditional Tahitian life is still the norm. Sharpen your senses and breath deeply, the ‘Vanilla Island’ blooms with the sweet scented flowers that make your favorite desserts and the island’s prime crop. Venture out into the lagoon, and discover small islets floating in the bright blue, with pristine beaches just waiting for you to set foot on! This Tahaa Travel Guide will help you make the most of your time on this off the beaten track destination.
About This Guide
I spent three months in French Polynesia, as part of a six-month backpacking trip across the South Pacific Islands – with two full days in Tahaa (three nights). This travel guide to Tahaa was written based on my experiences and is meant to help you make the most of the Vanilla Island. The Tahaa Travel Guide is geared towards independent travelers, but any visitor will find it useful.
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Why Should You Visit Tahaa?
If you’re on a limited vacation, Tahaa is not a must-visit destination. However, here are four reasons for visiting Tahaa:
(1) Of all the Society Islands, Tahaa is its wildest member. There aren’t too many people here (locals and tourists alike) and time really does seem to sit still. Deep emerald bays carve their way into rolling hills, with nothing but sleepy villages and a whole lot of wild hibiscus in between. (2) Tahaa is world renowned for its vanilla production. Some of the world’s best is grown right here, and you’ll get the chance to see how it all works. (3+4) Tahaa’s lagoon is blessed with some of the prettiest motus (small lagoon islets). I’m talking about pristine beaches, untouched and just waiting for you. Here’s the real kicker: for those seeking to stay in a luxury resort on one those ‘dream islands’, Tahaa offers a superb alternative to the overstretched resort scene in Bora Bora with one of the top resorts in French Polynesia. Keep reading for more details.
What’s Included In This Guide To Tahaa?
Tahaa Travel Guide Map
Click on the image to open in Google Maps. This map features all the highlights mentioned in this guide.
Facts & Brief History
Oddly shaped Tahaa shares the same lagoon with its big sister to the south – Raiatea. Some theorize that the two were once part of a single island, only to be split at some point. There are even accounts of an underground lava tube connecting Raiatea and Tahaa.
The 4,000 residents of Tahaa live almost entirely around the 70-kilometer coast, making a living from copra production, black pearl, and vanilla farming. Over 80% of French Polynesia’s vanilla is grown in Tahaa, world-renowned for producing some of the finest vanilla in the world.
Tahaa Island Travel Tips
Listed here are specific travel tips for Tahaa. Be sure to also read the French Polynesia Travel Guide, filled with general travel tips to paradise.
What Do You Want To Know?
- 1 Why Should You Visit Tahaa?
- 2 What’s Included In This Guide To Tahaa?
- 3 Tahaa Travel Guide Map
- 4 Facts & Brief History
- 5 Recommended Reading
- 6 How Many Days Do You Need In Tahaa?
- 7 Tahaa vs Raiatea
- 8 When Is the Best Time To Visit Tahaa?
- 9 What To Pack?
- 10 Money
- 11 Tahaa Average Costs
- 12 How To Get To Tahaa
- 13 Getting Around Tahaa
- 14 Where To Stay In Tahaa?
- 15 Diving & Snorkeling
- 16 Beaches In Tahaa
- 17 Drinking Water In Tahaa
- 18 Eating
- 19 What To Buy In Tahaa?
- 20 Tahaa Island Tour
- 21 Along The Coastal Road
- 22 Apu Bay
- 23 Tiva
- 24 Patio
- 25 Faaaha Bay
- 26 Haamene
- 27 Black Pearl Farm
- 28 Vanilla Farm
- 29 Joe Dassin Beach
- 30 Motu Beaches
- 31 Other Activities In Tahaa
- 32 Now It’s Your Turn
- Vanilla Tasting & Luxury Living In Tahaa: a personal account of my 2 days in Tahaa.
- 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 Tahaa?
If you’re after a luxury resort stay, you could spend your entire vacation in Tahaa. If that’s not the case, you don’t have to base yourself in Tahaa in order to see it. You can use neighboring Raiatea Island as a base and visit Tahaa on an organized day trip from Raiatea. This is especially true if you are traveling solo and won’t be renting a car on the island / hitchhiking but rather using an organized tour to see the island (in which case you can do this as a day trip from Raiatea).
Of course, if you have the time and are looking to really explore Tahaa, staying on the island is highly recommended. One or two full days in Tahaa should be enough. If you’re looking to do some hiking and diving, add an extra day. I personally spent three nights in Tahaa (arriving late the first evening): two nights on the main island and one night in a resort out on a motu.
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 Tahaa?
Like all Society Islands, the ‘best’ time to visit Tahaa is during the dry season (May – October). During this time, the temperature is slightly lower, the southeasterly wind is cooling and most importantly – there’s less rain and clouds (it can rain heavily in Tahaa).
I personally visited Tahaa during the heart of the wet season (November – April), arriving on a very rainy day. It’s really a hit or miss because the following few days were super sunny, something to think about if coming for a short stay. If it is raining, you can still tour around the island and visit a vanilla farm – but you won’t really enjoy the views and the lagoon.
Bottom line: aim for the dry season but don’t let it stop you from visiting Tahaa. Look out for the Hawaiki Nui Canoe Race in November, a major sporting event which passes by the island.
What To Pack?
Tahaa 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 Tahaa based on my experience.
It’s best to take out cash in Raiatea as there’s only an ATM in Patio and you never know if it’ll work or not (plus some banks have daily/weekly withdrawal limits). Find out ahead of time if you can pay with a credit card and always have some USD or Euro for ‘emergency’.
Tahaa Average Costs
Here’s a breakdown of costs during my three days in Tahaa. I spent two nights in a budget accommodation, one night in a luxury resort and went on a tour around the island.
How To Get To Tahaa
Tahaa does not have its own airport and getting there is a bit challenging. You’ll be landing in neighboring Raiatea (~35 mins from Tahiti) and taking a boat to Tahaa (~30-60 mins). This transfer will be arranged for you if you’re staying in one of the two luxury resorts in Tahaa but if not, you have two options both requiring you to get to the main pier in Uturoa (1,000F by taxi from the Raiatea airport).
If you miss the last ferry you will be ‘stuck’ until the following day so don’t make it too tight if catching a flight. Here’s a good article about getting to and around Tahaa.
- Tahaa Shuttle: public ferry connecting Uturoa with the major villages on Tahaa. I think there might be two lines departing Raiatea with one serving the eastern side of Tahaa and one the west coast. One way adult ticket currently costs 763F. Weekdays only.
- Tahaa Transport Rapide: a small boat operated seven days a week by a private company. This will be your only option if arriving over the weekend. Have a look here for the price and schedule. Expect to pay 1,500 for a one-way ticket.
- 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 (email@example.com) or phone (+689-40676669 or +689-87740240). Here are the current schedule and ticket prices.
Getting Around Tahaa
There is absolutely no public transportation in Tahaa. From the pier, your pension/hotel will likely pick you up and drop you off (free or for a small fee). Do it yourselfers can hire a car from Tahaa Locations Voiture for ~10,000F per day. There might be other small outfits renting out vehicles but you’ll have to inquire when booking accommodation. In any case, roads in Tahaa are in very good shape, have PK markers indicating distances and there’s really no problem driving on your own.
If you are traveling alone and/or don’t want to drive around on your own – the best way to get around Tahaa is on an island tour. If you want to have the freedom of eating in the village – inquire if your pension is walking distance from such options.
Where To Stay In Tahaa?
Staying in or close to one of the villages means proximity to some kind of food option aside from your pension. I found the budget options to be very limited in Tahaa so expect to pay higher prices than on other islands for simple pensions. There are a few solid pensions on the island and two top-notch resorts. You might also be able to find Airbnb or couchsurfing options.
Here are a few honorable mentions along with a list of all Tahaa accommodations that can be booked online via booking.com.
Le Tahaa Island Resort & Spa
One of French Polynesia’s top luxury resorts, Le Tahaa is the really the stuff dreams are made of. The resort is magically located on Motu Tautau, with one side facing Bora Bora and the other facing Tahaa. It’s a great choice for both families and couples, offering you the chance to experience paradise while also being able to explore Tahaa and its lagoon.
You can arrive at the resort in real ‘style’ on a helicopter ride, but chances are that a boat from the Raiatea airport or the Tapuamu pier in Tahaa will be your means of getting to paradise. Choose from a private beachside villa or an overwater bungalow. Whatever you go for will include all the modern comforts of a luxury resort with an exquisite traditional Polynesian touch. Rooms are air-conditioned, extremely pampering and offer absolute privacy.
Children are welcomed at Le Tahaa and if they are under 12, they’ll even stay and dine for free. Kids and adults alike will love the beautiful grounds, dotted with original palm trees and hammocks. The swimming pool is refreshing on a hot day and if that’s not enough, head over to the spa for a Polynesian massage.
As I mentioned earlier, the best beaches in Tahaa are out on the motus. So Le Tahaa actually sits on one of the prettiest stretches of white sand you’ll ever see. In the narrow channel that separates the resort from the neighboring motu, there’s excellent snorkeling in an area known as the ‘coral garden’.
There’s plenty more to this unique resort. Have a look at this review of Le Tahaa Island Resort & Spa!
La Perle de Tahaa
Located about 25-min from the airport by boat and car, La Perle de Tahaa is mountainside pension with an access to the lagoon on the other side of the road. Enjoy views of Bora Bora from the small beach area and restaurant in front of the guesthouse. The bungalows are well equipped with a beautiful Polynesian decoration. The pension’s large bungalow category features an equipped kitchen and can accommodate up to for guests, perfect for families.
Located mountainside in the south of Tahaa in a very large garden, Pension Titaina features three spacious units ideal for families. Enjoy the exotic garden, a bicycle ride or a full day tour to Tahaa with the guesthouse when staying minimum of three nights. You will appreciate the delicious cuisine based on local products and the peaceful environment of the guesthouse. Small restaurants and a grocery store are located within 7km from the guesthouse.
Fare Pea Iti
Located on the north coast of Tahaa with magnificent views overlooking a string of islets and Bora Bora, Fare Pea Iti is a true piece of heaven. With only six units, this charming property with a well-tended garden, a swimming pool with gazebo, and a pontoon for easy access by the lagoon, is the perfect place for a romantic getaway.
Au Phils du Temps
This small mountainside pension is across the road from a pontoon beneath which you can snorkel. It has just two basic but comfortable bungalows set in the heart of a garden planted with Tahitian Gardenias and they come equipped with a Polynesian décor, pandanus roof and private bathrooms.
Diving & Snorkeling
There’s good scuba diving off the east coast of Tahaa and Raiatea. Inquire with Tahaa Diving which just happens to be located in Le Tahaa Resort. For snorkeling, you’ll have to somehow get to the motus (either by staying on one or visiting as part of a lagoon excursion from Tahaa or Raiatea).
Beaches In Tahaa
To get to those picture-perfect beaches in Tahaa you’ll actually have to venture out to the small motus on the northern side of the island. On the main island itself, there’s only Joe Dassin beach to speak of – a small sliver of white sand at the edge of a dense forest. You’ll also need a boat to get to this beach as there are no roads leading down here…
Drinking Water In Tahaa
Definitely ask before drinking tap water in Tahaa.
There are a few very low key restaurants/snacks on the main island and a few food shops. Opening hours are strange so inquire locally. All pensions/hotels should offer half board for an extra charge (breakfast and dinner).
What To Buy In Tahaa?
Vanilla, vanilla, vanilla! They don’t call this place ‘the Vanilla Island’ for nothing. Don’t expect it to be cheap, not even if you buy directly from the farmer. Prices are determined on an annual basis by all the growers and they are usually quite high. For about 4 sticks of vanilla, expect to pay 1,500F and up. You will have no problem bringing vanilla through customs, just be sure to declare. This makes a great gift for anyone who likes to bake. Local Tip: once opened, keep the vanilla in an upright position, in room temperature and with a few drops of rum at the bottom of a sealed glass container. There are also quite a few black pearl farms in Tahaa but I always recommend to do your pearl shopping in Tahiti.
Things To Do & Places To See In Tahaa
Check out this 5 days in Raiatea and Tahaa sample itinerary to see how to divide your days on the islands
Tahaa Island Tour
The following sites can be visited on a self-guided tour with your own car or as part of an organized tour with a local guide. I opted for the second option since renting a car when you’re solo wasn’t worth it but. In addition, having a local guide has the added benefit of actually understanding what it is you’re seeing. I booked a tour with Teva, the owner of Poerani Tours for a half day 4X4 tour of the island (5,000F, | 3.5 hours | firstname.lastname@example.org | +689 87788025). Though you won’t see every single part of Tahaa, the island’s highlights are covered – especially the vanilla farm, which is the main reason for visiting Tahaa. Teva is super knowledgable and speaks excellent English, though if demand is high you might get one of his relatives or friends who also work with him.
Along The Coastal Road
You might find yourself all alone on parts of the coastal road around Tahaa. Along the way, you’ll drive through sleepy seaside villages and bay after bay of emerald water. On the western side of the island, you can see the silhouette of Bora Bora – a magnificent sight on a cloud free day.
Be on the watch for extended mailboxes on the side of the road. In fact, they’re not just used for delivering the mail but also for delivering fresh baguette. Being such a lush tropical island, it’s no wonder why everything grows here in such abundance. Spot the wild hibiscus growing on the roadside and even star fruit which comes in both sour and sweet versions.
One of the many pretty bays on Tahaa. This one sits on the southern end of the island, right before the road begins to climb to one of the mountain passes dropping to the western part of the island.
A small picturesque village at the mouth of Hurepiti Bay. The highlight here is the signature church, beautiful and right on the water.
The ‘capital’ of Tahaa. Here you’ll find a few shops and snacks but not much else.
Undoubtedly the prettiest of many bays in Tahaa. The best way to appreciate the beauty around here is by continuing with the road as it climbs the mountain before dropping to the next bay – Haamene. Even on a cloudy and rainy day, the wild beauty of Tahaa is so impressive. You can really see just how sparsely populated the island is.
From the viewpoint of Faaha Bay, the road drops down to Haamene Bay, the deepest in Tahaa. This bay is simply huge! Simple homes dot the coastline and fishing, copra production and black pearl farming are pretty much the only things to do around here.
Black Pearl Farm
It just so happens that Teva’s family also runs a pearl farm. We stopped for a quick tour of the Poerani Pearl Farm, nestled along the shores of Haamene Bay. Our guide just so happened to be Teva’s mother, who’s been running this place for decades. With surprisingly good English, she explained the process of making black pearls. It all starts with a ‘mother of pearl’, an oyster carefully selected by a professional grafter who will then use it to inseminate the other pearls – hopefully putting the good qualities of the mother pearl into mass production.
Though undergoing a major decline, black pearl farming is still a huge source of income for islanders in French Polynesia. You’ll be able to visit a farm on almost every island and I highly recommend doing so. I learned that it takes up to five years to produce a quality pearl and that the same oyster can be used up to four times in its lifetime. But it’s really a hit or miss, as quite a few pearls do not meet the standards and either must be discarded or used for very low-quality jewelry.
Tour company, black pearl farm – what else is missing in Teva’s family? That’s right… a vanilla farm. Well, he’s got that too actually. From the pearl farm, we drove inland to the family’s vanilla farm. This is the highlight of the trip and the main reason for visiting ‘the Vanilla Island’.
To be honest, there’s not much happening on a vanilla farm and once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all (and it rarely smells like vanilla inside). What is extremely interesting is learning about the process of making the final product and why Tahaa vanilla is considered to be the best in the world.
It turns out that it takes almost nine months to get the finished product. The vanilla that grows here is exceptional in quality due to the optimal conditions of elevation, humidity and moisture. The only problem is that the insects that normally pollinate the flower are not to be found in French Polynesia. So what’s the solution? Vanilla farmers manually pollinate the plants in a delicate process done by hand. So this is how the best vanilla in the world makes its way (hopefully) to your creme brulee, ice cream, and even fish dishes.
The tour ended back at the Teva’s house, which also doubles as the gift shop. His lovely wife will greet you with fruit juices, vanilla coffee, and some fresh fruit to get you into shopping mode. You can obviously buy vanilla from the farm in small or large packs (five large vanilla sticks will cost about $25), as well as vanilla related products (extract, coffee, etc.). Other French Polynesian specialties are also on sale, including monoi oils, sarongs, and even exotic spirits. Prices are very reasonable, but those of vanilla products will fluctuate on an annual basis.
Joe Dassin Beach
Between Pati and Tiva, Joe Dassin beach can only be accessed by boat. It’s wild and you’ll likely have it all to yourself, though I am not sure chartering a boat just for this makes sense. If you ask the locals, they’ll even recommend just heading out to the motus.
Surprisingly, for such an emerald island, the motus around Tahaa are considered to be some of the prettiest in French Polynesia. Perhaps it’s because of their seclusion or perhaps it’s the white sand and wild palm trees. One of the highlights of visiting Raiatea & Tahaa is definitely to head out to these small islets on the edge of the lagoon. You can join a lagoon tour which usually includes a picnic lunch on one of these dream beaches (known as picnic motu), but you can also sleep here. I stayed one night at Le Tahaa Island Resort & Spa in Motu Tautau, which is considered to be the prettiest spot in the lagoon, complete with pristine beaches ‘as seen in travel magazines’.
The small lagoon between the resort and the neighboring motu is known as ‘the coral garden’. Even if you’re not staying at the resort, chances are your lagoon tour will stop here for some of the best snorkeling around.
If you’re looking for even more adventure, walk all to the way to the edge of the neighboring motu until there’s nothing but Bora Bora and a whole lot of ocean in front of you. Carefully jump into the channel leading back to the lagoon and enjoy the ridge. Riding the strong current back into the lagoon is the closest thing to flying I’ve ever felt, without having an airplane involved. You’ll be zipping by schools of fish and maneuvering around the coral. Just be careful not to cut yourself on the coral and to always avoid the yellow coral – which is poisonous (but definitely not deadly).
Other Activities In Tahaa
Aside from the island and lagoon tours which we covered above, you’ll also find a few local operators offering jet ski tours in the lagoon (~20,000F per couple) and quad tours in the mountains of the main island (19,000F per couple). Poerani Tours is one such company (email@example.com | +689 87788025).
Now It’s Your Turn
I hope you’ve found this Tahaa Travel Guide useful. If you have any questions or your own Tahaa travel tips, leave a comment below and let’s get the conversation started!