Tahiti Travel Guide

May 27, 2016


Tautira Valley - Tahiti - French Polynesia - Panoramic view

Tahiti! Just the sound of that name stirs up exotic images in your mind. If you’re visiting French Polynesia, there’s no way of avoiding the big island. But ‘the Queen of the Pacific’ offers so much more than just last minute shopping. Home to the only big city in French Polynesia – Papeete, you’ll love strolling through its colorful market and busy waterfront. Dig a bit deeper and head out of town to discover the famous black sand beaches, ancient archeological sites, surf spots & laid back seaside villages. Looking for that postcard view? Venture into the uninhabited interior on a hike or 4X4 adventure, get up close and personal with giant volcanic peaks and cascading waterfalls coming out of everywhere. The best part? You might be the only one there! This Tahiti Travel Guide will help you make the most of your time on the big island.

About This Tahiti Travel Guide

Tahiti is often the name used for the entire 118 islands and atolls that make up French Polynesia, though it is an island on its own. I spent three months in French Polynesia and over two weeks in Tahiti, as part of a six-month backpacking trip across the South Pacific Islands. During the following years, I have since returned several times to Tahiti both as a traveler and group leader. This travel guide to Tahiti was written based on my experiences and is meant to help you make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime destination. The Tahiti Travel Guide is geared towards independent travelers, but any visitor will find it useful. In this article, we’ll explore the island of Tahiti.

Heading off to French Polynesia? In-depth island guides to all 5 archipelagos await you, including sample itineraries and essential travel tips & tricks.

French Polynesia Travel Guide - banner

Why Should You Visit Tahiti?

The fact is there is no way to avoid setting foot in Tahiti. It is French Polynesia’s international gateway and all visitors arrive and depart from Faa’a International Airport. However, Tahiti is totally worth a few days. The big island may feel out of place at times, but nothing beats the vibe of the Papeete Market, the dramatic interior that so few explore, the hiking, and the opportunity to head out on a proper road trip. If you’re looking for something beyond the white sand beaches, spend a few days exploring Tahiti.

What’s Included In This Tahiti Travel Guide?

Tahiti Travel Guide Map

Click on the image to open in Google Maps. This map features all the Papeete and Tahiti highlights mentioned in this guide.

Tahiti Travel Guide Map - French Polynesia

Where To Stay In Tahiti?

Most of the recommended places to stay in Tahiti are in and around Papeete, except for Vanira Lodge for those who wish to experience solitude in Tahiti Iti (the “far side” of Tahiti). If you’re staying outside of Papeete and not in one of the places listed below, double and triple check the location of the accommodation as some places are located in the mountains. Such accommodations might have great views but will require having a car. 

For a luxury stay in Tahiti, the best resort is the InterContinental Tahiti Resort which is not too far from the airport in Fa’a. It’s perfectly situated to offer the best sunset views in Tahiti with a breathtaking panorama of Moorea. Next door, the Sofitel Tahiti Ia Ora Beach Resort and the Manava Resort in Punaauia are good options, and the Hilton Tahiti is set to open soon. On the other side of Papeete, en route to the east coast, the Le Tahiti by Pearl Resorts is another solid option.

Pearl Beach Resort Tahiti French Polynesia - pool

Pearl Beach Resort Tahiti French Polynesia - beach

If you prefer to stay at hotels in Papeete, the Tahiti Nui Hotel or the Sarah Nui Hotel are your current options. The former is the best hotel in the city, located within a short walk of the central market and evening food market in Place Vaiete. 

For a pension stay, the best in Papeete is by far Fare Suisse. They offer free transfers to/from the airport or ferry terminal, the breakfast is amazing, and the rooms are very well-furnished. Slightly out of town, along the west coast, Pension de la Plage and Relais Fenua are recommended options.

Pension Fare Suisse Tahiti - French Polynesia - room interior

Pension Fare Suisse Tahiti - French Polynesia -breakfast

Pension Fare Suisse Tahiti - French Polynesia -towel

Backpackers and budget travelers in Tahiti can check out Fare Rea Rea or Mahana Lodge Hostel. There are also many more options on Airbnb. 

Fare Rea Rea Papeete Tahiti - large bedroom

Fare Rea Rea Papeete Tahiti - kitchen

Here’s a list of all Tahiti accommodations that can be booked online.

Facts & Brief History

Tahiti is the largest island in French Polynesia, home to the capital Papeete and the economic & political center of French Polynesia. Roughly 70% of French Polynesia’s total population resides in Tahiti (~ 180,000). Tahiti is shaped like a ‘figure eight’, consisting of two islands connected at the hip like Siamese twins. The bigger of the two is Tahiti Nui and the smaller sister is Tahiti Iti. Tahiti Nui is home to the bulk of the population, living on the scarce flat land by the beach and even on the mountain slopes around the capital. Tahiti is a high island with a coral reef present around most parts. It was formed by a now extinct volcano, whose crater forms the island’s uninhabited interior, circled by massive peaks of which the highest of which is Mount Orohena (2,241 m).

Mount Aorai Hike - Tahiti - French Polynesia - Diademe panoramic view

Tahiti is part of the Society Islands and was not the first island to be settled in French Polynesia. It is believed that it was one of the last to be colonized by the ancient Polynesians, on their incredible voyage across the South Pacific Ocean which probably started from somewhere in Southeast Asia thousands of years ago. Pioneers arrived on giant double-hulled outrigger canoes – with one section devoted to plants, animals, and tools, while the other served as housing for the sailors and their families.

Outrigger canoe Tahiti French Polynesia

Contact with Europeans started in 1767, with the arrival of British captain Samuel Wallis. Other maritime ‘celebrities’ to visit Tahiti include Captain James Cook, Bounty captain William Bligh and even famous ‘mutineers’ – who returned here after taking over the ship from Bligh. With the Europeans, arrived the missionaries. First, it were the British Protestants, followed by the French Catholics. The expulsion of two French missionaries in 1836 sparked the beginning of a French takeover of the island, with its annexation to France from the Kingdom of Tahiti in 1880.

Tiki statue in Marae Tahiti French Polynesia

In 1946, Tahiti and French Polynesia became a French overseas territory. These days, Tahitians enjoy somewhat of a cosmopolitan life – with easy access to the big city of Papeete and all it has to offer. While traffic is bad and housing is scarce around Papeete, the further you travel out of town – life becomes more traditional and easy going.

colonial building tahiti french polynesia

Tahiti Island Travel Tips

Listed here are specific travel tips for Papeete and Tahiti Island. Be sure to also read the French Polynesia Travel Guide, filled with general travel tips to paradise.

Recommended Reading

  • Lonely Planet French Polynesia_new versionMy Crazy Christmas Miracle In Tahiti: accounts of magical ten days in Tahiti during my first visit to French Polynesia
  • 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 Tahiti?

Tahiti is a beautiful island, especially for nature-lovers. To really see the island of Tahiti, plan to spend at least three full days exploring the island. Have a look at these 24-hour, 3-day and 5-day Tahiti itineraries.

What To Pack For Tahiti?

Tahiti 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 Tahiti based on my experience of island hopping for three months. Even during the dry season, always be prepared for rain, with a light rain jacket.

When Is the Best Time To Visit Tahiti?

Tahiti is best visited during the dry season (May – October), which is also the cooler season. Expect more frequent sunny days, a cool breeze, less humidity, and a need to put on a jumper in the evening. July sees the Heiva festival – a  national celebration of Polynesian culture, August hosts the Billabong Pro surf championship, and whale watching is possible from July to October. That said – fear not visiting during the wet season (Nov – April) if you’re coming for an extended vacation. There is a lot of rain, mountains often covered in clouds – but that’s not the rule of thumb. I visited French Polynesian during the rainy season and all the photos you see were taken during this time. Bottom line: the dry season has much more calm & predictable weather, the wet season can be a bummer if you fall on a bad week.

Heiva French Polynesia - Tahitian stone lifting champion - French Polynesia

Tahiti Mountains and palm trees French Polynesia

Tahiti Average Costs

Here’s a breakdown of my costs from Tahiti during my first visit in 2015/6. I stayed at a hotel in central Papeete, ate mostly outside, rented a car for 3 days, and joined one organized tour.

Exchanging Money In Tahiti

The local currency in French Polynesia is the Pacific Franc (XPF) and you will no doubt need to get some. The easiest way is to withdraw cash when you land at the airport (check with your local bank what the withdrawal fees will be). However, if you need to exchange money, you have a few options:

  1. At the airport: there is a currency exchange and an ATM at the Tahiti airport.
  2. At your hotel: if you’re staying at a proper hotel or resort, you should be able to exchange USD and Eur at the going exchange rate which is a pretty comfortable deal. The only catch is that you’re limited to about 200€ per person per day. 
  3. At a local bank in Papeete: if you visit during opening hours, you can exchange major currencies such as USD, AUD, NZD, Euro, Yen, Pound, and Swiss Francs. However, there might be a limit of $460 per person per day (plus a fee of about $10). So it doesn’t make sense if you need to exchange a lot of cash. If you are not traveling on your own, you can bypass the limit by coming with your travel party, since the daily limit is per person. Be sure to have your passport with you and be prepared to wait in line for a good 20 minutes or longer.
  4. At an automatic machine: Banque de Tahiti operates an automatic foreign exchange machine at their branch just across the street from the tourist information center (just after the Vaima shopping center). The advantages of using it are that it’s in operation all the time (like an ATM), fees are low (about 460F per transaction), and there appears to be a much higher limit (I exchanged $750 in one go). No ID required but keep in mind that the machine might be out of order and in no hurry to be fixed.
  5. At a travel agent: travel agents in Papeete will even exchange large sums of cash. They do charge a fee but if the banks won’t exchange for some reason (and this does happen), this is the best option. 

Tahiti foreign currency money exchange automatic machine in Papeete French Polynesia

Getting Around Tahiti

  • By bus: Tahiti is the only island in French Polynesia with ‘proper’ public transportation. Lines serving the oceanside villages commence just behind the Banque de Tahiti and run on (somewhat) set schedules starting very early in the morning (not sure about Sundays). Fares start at 200F, which will get you to and from the airport. I used the bus quite a few times to get from Papeete to the airport. It will take about 20-30 mins. An exact fare is not needed.
  • By taxi: taxis are notoriously expensive in French Polynesia. The short ride to and from the airport to Papeete will start at 2,000 XPF and you’ll add a few hundred Francs per piece of luggage. The rate jumps to 3,800 XPF in the evening hours. Trips to other parts of the island can be quite expensive. You can expect to pay a minimum price of 2100F to get by taxi from the airport to central Papeete. 
  • By car: renting a car in Tahiti (and in French Polynesia), is an expensive affair. Expect to pay between 4000-10,000F per day, depending on the rental duration and transmission (manual or automatic). Always check if basic insurance and unlimited mileage are included. Avis Pacific Car offers a new fleet of cars, excellent customer service, free pickup & drop off, and also has a branch in the center of town. They’ll also refund any unused days in your contract and offer prepaid wifi hotspots within your car. Email the Avis Pacific Car reservation center in Tahiti (reservations@avispacificar.pf) before booking online. They’ll extend an extra 5% discount or more for X Days In Y readers (just mention X Days In Y)! Eco Car & Tahiti Easy Car are located right outside the airport and offer rentals at lower rates. They’ll also offer free pick up and drop off for certain accommodations. Newcomers Hertz Tahiti and Tahiti Auto Center are also options for renting a car or scooter in Tahiti. If you’re over 70, you might be asked to show medical proof that you’re able to drive so plan to get this document from your doctor.
  • By Scooter: no special license is currently required for renting small scooters in French Polynesia. If you’re comfortable with the risk, some car rental companies also offer scooters for rent. 
  • By foot: only visiting Papeete? The city, more like a town, can easily be explored on foot.

I highly recommend exploring the island of Tahiti – there’s lots to see around the coast. The best way to experience the island is by renting a car and driving around at your own pace. The road around Tahiti Nui is about 120km’s, with Tahiti Iti being much smaller but impossible to completely circle by car.

Driving In Tahiti

Driving in Tahiti is fairly easy once you get out of the endless traffic jams of Papeete. Outside the city, a highway extends for a few kilometers, before turning into a rural road (you’ll hardly drive faster than 70 km/h). Roads are in good condition and all points of interest are clearly marked. As on many islands in French Polynesia and France – Tahiti uses the PK markers, measuring road distance from Central Papeete and Taravao. You’ll see these markers on the roadside.

point kilometre PK market Tahiti french Polynesia

Taking The Ferry In Tahiti

You can fly to nearly every inhabited island in French Polynesia from Tahiti. The international airport in Faa’a also has a small domestic terminal dominated by Air Tahiti (see the French Polynesia travel guide for more information on domestic flights within French Polynesia). When it comes to taking the ferry in Tahiti, a large terminal in the center of Papeete mostly serves the route between Tahiti and Moorea. Two companies serve this line, Aremiti with its large boats and Terevau with their smaller but slightly faster catamarans. Crossings take about 30 minutes and run several times per day, though much less frequently on Sundays.

Terevau Ferry Moorea French Polynesia

Beginning in 2021, Aremiti launched a new route that serves Huahine, Bora Bora, Raiatea, and Tahaa in the Leeward Islands group. Three times per week, a boat will depart Tahiti and reach Huahine about three and a half hours later, then continuing to the other stops (about eight hours to reach Bora Bora taking into account all the stops). Note that the return leg will take longer due to the prevailing winds. In a couple of years, Aremiti will receive the Apetahi Express, a much faster boat that will reduce travel time. Terevau is also set to compete on this route. This is great news for both locals and tourists as the trip should cost half the price of an equivalent plane ticket (albeit taking much longer).  

Sundays In Tahiti

Pretty much everything is closed on Sundays in Tahiti. However, the Papeete Market has a special ‘Sunday edition’, starting very early and running until about 9 am. Only the food stalls are open and they spill over to the streets outside the market. Grab your breakfast outside and head inside for some sugar cane juice – only available on Sundays!

Papeete Market sugarcane juice Tahiti French Polynesia

Drinking Water In Tahiti

Water is safe to drink in Tahiti and Papeete but it’s best to ask at your accommodation. It is the big city after all.

WiFi & Mobile Data In Tahiti

Both Vini and Vodafone have good mobile coverage in Tahiti. Vodafone has less wait time in their office but Vini offers better coverage in the outer islands. Free WiFi should be available in all accommodations and most restaurants. 

Safety In Tahiti

Tahiti is a very safe travel destination but it is also home to less fortunate Tahitians, some arriving from other islands with failed hopes of finding a job in the big city. Papeete is safe during the day but certain parts should be avoided at night. Inquire at your accommodation. If staying in Airbnb’s or pensions, it’s best to lock your room and windows when you’re out.

Tourist Information Center

The friendly staff at the local tourism office can really help you with sorting out your visit to Tahiti and the outer islands, share useful maps and equip you with brochures. The tourist information center in Papeete is currently located at 91 Boulevard Pomare.

How To Save On Costs In Tahiti?

  • Use public buses whenever you can. If you land or depart at a reasonable time, and just carry a backpack – taking the bus to and from the airport is super easy.
  • Have a look at Airbnb and Couchsurfing options. There should be plenty of those.
  • Don’t discount those tourist maps and brochures at the tourist office! They will have a few very useful coupons (like X% of car rental).
  • Doing some shopping? There’s lots of competition among Papeete shops catering to tourists. Take your time and compare prices. Keep in mind that bargaining is not customary in any South Pacific Island. Don’t forget that some items qualify for a tax refund upon your departure or even on the spot.
  • Have your (breakfast and) lunch at the Papeete market and your dinner at the roulottes at Place Vaiete (food trucks).
  • Drink tap water. It should be perfectly safe, just double-check.
  • If opting to stay at resorts, some offer a free night if you stay for more than two nights.

Things To Do In Papeete

Check out these one, three and five-day sample Tahiti itineraries to see how to divide your days on the big island

While Papeete is the largest and busiest city I’ve visited while traveling across the South Pacific Islands, it can easily be explored in one day. With a colonial feel, a lovely waterfront, the best market on the islands, and lots of food options – Papeete certainly has some charm to it.

aerial view of Papeete Tahiti - French Polynesia

Papeete traffic Tahiti French Polynesia

Papeete Market

By far the best market in the entire South Pacific, ahead of even the Punanga Nui Saturday market of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. The 7,000 square meter Papeete municipal market (Le Marché de Papeete) is open daily from the early morning hours until 4 or 5 pm and on Sundays until 9 am. The covered market is really the beating heart of Papeete and is a must-see for visitors and locals alike.

Enjoy the ukulele tunes at the entrance and grab an ice-cold coconut, as you set to explore this exotic market. The bottom floor is home to souvenir stalls, fruits & vegetables, fish, and small food stalls (snacks) on the side. It’s a great place to grab an unfussy breakfast (400F) and lunch (400-1500F).

For something a bit more intimate, head upstairs to Cafe Maeva. It serves generous portions of traditional Tahitian food (the raw fish is yummy) and don’t forget to try the freshly squeezed pineapple juice.

Tahitian ukulele music in Papeete Market Tahiti French PolynesiaView of Papeete Market Tahiti French PolynesiaPineapple and beautiful Tahitian at Papeete MarketPapeete Market fish Tahiti French PolynesiaPapeet Market Tahiti French PolynesiaPapeete Market Tahiti, French Polynesia - buying fruit

The top floor is mainly home to large souvenir shops, but also a big selection of pearl shops and even tattoo parlors. Prices are generally OK and bargaining is not customary. Check out the ‘shopping’ section in the French Polynesia Travel Guide.

If you’re an early riser (or just have some jet lag left), you can visit the Papeete Market in the early hours of the morning on Sundays, when Tahitian families crowd the market in last-minute food shopping for the Sunday feast known as ma’a Tahiti. Sunday is also when the market spills out into the nearby streets, with dozens of food and flower stalls. Inside the market, there’s a Chinese family that makes delicious sugar cane juice…. But only on Sundays!

Tahitian flower necklaces in Papeete Tahiti French PolynesiaMonoi Oils at Papeete market Tahiti French PolynesiaBags and hats Papeete market Tahiti French PolynesiaPapeete Market Tahiti French Polynesia - fishPapeete Market Tahiti French Polynesia - pareo

Outside the market, families sell pareo (sarongs), flower necklaces, traditional clothing, and even pearls. Prices here are the cheapest I’ve seen in Papeete, but not everything is locally made.

Around the market, you’ll find lots of mainly Chinese bazaars selling discount clothes, shoes, toys, etc. There are also a few colorful-looking garment shops… if you’re into sowing.

Here’s what it feels like to stroll around the Papeete Market

Papeete Town Hall

Based on the design of the old palace of Queen Pomare, the Mairie de Papeete is worth checking out. It’s one of the prettiest buildings in town. It’s also the place to buy a hiking permit for the Fautaua Valley hike (see ‘hiking in Tahiti’).

Papeete Town Hall Tahiti French Polynesia

Notre Dame Cathedral

Construction of the oldest Catholic church in Tahiti began in 1844, only to be completed in 1875. Sitting in the middle of a very busy intersection, there’s no way you’ll miss it. The cathedral also marks the start of the pointe kilometre system (PK markers), from which distances are measured on the island.

Notre Dame catholic church Papeete Tahiti - French Polynesia

Paofai Temple

The pink-colored Temple de Paofai sits close to the waterfront slightly outside the center of town. This is the main Protestant church, with a colorful Sunday service that starts at 10 am (~90 mins). After grabbing breakfast in the Papeete Market, head here to watch locals dressed in their Sunday best, ladies showing off with their tropical hats and men sporting flower shirts. Be prepared for a whole lot of singing!

Paofai church Papeete Tahiti French PolynesiaPaofai Temple Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia - interiorPaofai Temple Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia - hats3Paofai Temple Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia - hats2Paofai church service Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia

Here’s what it looks and sounds like during Sunday church service in Tahiti.

Paofai Gardens

Right across from the Paofai Temple, the gardens are the ‘central park’ of Papeete. It’s a great place for early evening jogging or simply strolling around. The garden’s beach is a ‘depot’ for outrigger canoes, belonging to clubs that often practice in the lagoon. This is a serious sport in French Polynesia. At the edge of the gardens right behind the sandy soccer field, you’ll find a handful of excellent snacks (see ‘food section’).

Paofai Gardens Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia

Waterfront Esplanade

Between Paofai Gardens and Place Vaiete, this newly-opened seaside boardwalk is located at the bottom of Pouvanaa Avenue a Oopa. It’s a nice way to cut across town along the banks of the lagoon but also a good spot for a coffee or a meal.

Restaurant in Papeete waterfront Tahiti - French Polynesia

Papeete waterfront Tahiti - French Polynesia

Tahiti Pearl Museum

The museum (free, Mon-Sat 9-5 pm) is inside the exquisite Robert Wan pearl store. Wan is the ‘father’ of the Tahitian black pearl industry, and the museum is a great place to learn about how black pearls are produced. In the outer islands, there’s a very good chance you’ll be able to visit an actual pearl farm (for sure in Bora Bora, Huahine, Taha’a & the Tuamotus). In any case, the museum is free, and you can even have a look at some of the best pearls in French Polynesia up for sale. For tips on buying a black pearl, visit the ‘shopping’ section in the French Polynesia Travel Guide.

Tahiti Pearl Museum Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia

Bougainville Park

Grab some shade beneath a breadfruit tree, watch locals killing a few hours and have a look at the bust of the famous French navigator. The park, more like a tiny square, is not a must-see by any means.

French Polynesia Assembly Complex

The house of the French Polynesian parliament also doubles as a lovely botanical garden (known as the assembly garden), with native and imported plants lining the footpath along with a few impressive banyan trees. Signposted on your right as you enter, continue along the path until reaching the Queen’s Pond. This is the most peaceful spot I’ve found in Papeete, a great place for a picnic lunch when it’s hot outside (there’s even cold water available for free). The pond’s water is crystal clear, with giant goldfish swimming around. It is said that Queen Pomare used to come here every morning to bathe.

French Polynesia Assembly - Queen’s Pond, Papeete Tahiti

War Memorial

Commemorating the fallen Polynesian soldiers in battle, the war memorial is on the way from the assembly complex to the presidential palace.

Presidential Palace

The present structure was completed back in 2000. You can’t obviously enter the home of the President of French Polynesia, but if you ask nicely, the guards might let you take a few steps inside and photograph this beautiful colonial-style palace.

Presidential Palace Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia

Place Vaiete

Papeete’s ‘main square’, hot during the day, unavoidable by night. The square occupies prime real estate along the waterfront and comes to life after 6 pm when the famous roulottes (food trucks) take center stage. Dining out here is not something you want to miss. See the food section for more.

Place Vaiete Roulottes - Papeete - Tahiti - French Polynesia

Papeete Marina

A lovely boardwalk stretches from Place Vaiete all the way to the Paofai Gardens. Popular with joggers and locals, it’s a great little hike in the center of town. Admire the massive ships that dock just a few meters away or the lucky yachts that get to sail the warm waters of the South Pacific. The marina is also the meeting place for excursions heading out to the Tetiaroa Atoll (see ‘excursions in Tahiti’).

Papeete waterfront at night Tahiti French Polynesia

Jewish Synagogue

Any person of the Jewish fate will be amazed at the small Jewish community of Tahiti. If you’re around on a Friday night, head for Shabbat service and there’s a 100% chance you’ll be invited for a post-service dinner you’ll never forget!

Papeete jewish synagogue Tahiti French Polynesia

Kanti Chinese Temple

The only Chinese temple in Tahiti stands in the district of Mamao in Papeete. Chinese workers began to arrive in Tahiti in 1865 to work in plantations in the district of Papara. The temple surprises visitors at first with its very oriental architecture, with its big red columns, its green facade, and its pagoda roof in red glazed tiles. The Chinese temple is frequented all year, but especially before Chinese New Year to thank Kanti for the favors of the past year, and during the period of the Chinese New Year to renew the protections and know the future for the new year. The present temple was inaugurated on May 30, 1987, to replace an old temple built on the same site and destroyed by fire on May 20, 1981.

Recommended Places To Eat In Papeete

There are lots of food options in Papeete, including a few high-end French and ethnic restaurants. Here are a few favorites and well-recommended spots.

Place Vaiete Roulottes: a must for any visitor to Tahiti, this is a place frequented by locals as well as tourists. Every day after 6 pm (including Sunday), the square fills up with the legendary roulottes (food trucks) and lights up with an atmosphere reserved only for the ‘big city’. In this food heaven, choose from Chinese, crepes, French dishes, and above all – traditional Tahitian food. Absolute musts include chow mein, sashimi, and the national dish – the poisson cru (Tahitian fish salad of raw tuna in coconut milk or sweet chili sauce). Portions are huge and always served with a side of baguette. Expect to pay 1200-2000F for a main dish + side (cash only). Note that roulottes are not allowed to sell alcohol, and you may not bring your own.

Place Vaiete roulottes Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia

Place Vaiete roulottes in Tahiti French Polynesia

Chinese food in Place Vaiete roulottes Tahiti French Polynesia

Best tuna tartare - L'estanco Roulotte seafood truck Papeete - Tahiti.

Snack Vaimiti: located close to Place Toata, just behind the soccer field in the Paofai Gardens. Opening hours are tricky so check their Facebook page before.

Snack Vaimiti Papeete Tahiti French Polynesia

Patachou: located in a small pedestrian alley close to the market. This is a great (and quiet) spot for breakfast and lunch. Portions are huge and prices are reasonable. I just loved the grilled tuna sandwich and the grilled tuna salad (1200-1500F)!

Patachoux Tahiti restaurant in Papeete - French Polynesia

Ice cream at Queeny: four minutes away from Patachou, once you’re ready for dessert, head to Queeny for some ice cream. Since you’re in paradise, you must try the signature tiare flavor, directly made from the fragrant flower that is also the national emblem of Tahiti. 

Papeete Market: lots of simple choices here on the first floor for breakfast and lunch. The simplest lunch options are the sandwiches, but you can also find fish dishes and traditional Polynesian food such as steamed taro. Upstairs, you’ll find Cafe Maeva – slightly more upscale, quiet, and with live music usually around lunchtime.

Cafe Maeva Papeete Market - Tahiti French Polynesia

Other recommended places to eat in Papeete include L’O à la Bouche, L’api’zzeria, Zen Cafe (sometimes also called Mahou Cafe), Café Maeva – Grill House & Chill Bar. Reservations required.

Recommended Places To Eat Outside Papeete

If you’re looking to spice things up on perhaps your second or third nights in Tahiti, taxi to either Le Lotus Restaurant at the InterContinental Resort, or to The Blue Banana, Roulotte Noix de Coco by Teva, La Casa Bianca, Tahiti La Plage, Poke Bar II, and La Plage Restaurant in Punaauia.

Recommended Bars & Nightlife In Tahiti

You’ll find a handful of bars and nightclubs along the waterfront, but for the best experience, head to Les 3 Brasseurs. It’s a good spot to visit before or after the roulottes of Place Vaiete, even though they serve their own food. Choose from five homemade beers that are brewed right here in Tahiti, served in small glasses and up to five-liter pitchers! A recently-opened rooftop bar is now a happening nightlife spot in Tahiti. You might need to book a table in advance but try your luck if it’s not too busy this evening. 

Les trois brasseurs pub Papeete Tahiti

Other nightlife options include Cafe MaevaGrill House & Chill Bar and Le Retro, by Place Vaima shopping center. These spots should have live music on most evenings but if it’s a party you’re looking for, perhaps Au Piment Rouge is for you.

Shopping in Papeete

Papeete is the best place for a quick round of shopping before heading home. The prime shopping is found in and around the main cathedral and on the streets leading to the central market. Here’s what I recommend to look out for

  • Hinano fashion: Hinano beer has been sold since 1955 but its logo has been far more successful than the beer. Hinano clothing and merchandise can be found in many shops in Tahiti but the best place is at Boutique Hinano.
  • Black pearls: many shops sell loose pearls or jewelry. Pearls are graded in three main categories and are duty-free so don’t forget your passport. 
  • Books: head over to Odyssey Tahiti for the best selection of books and picture souvenirs of French Polynesia.
  • Papeete Market: the best place to buy sarongs (pareo), vanilla, and simple souvenirs.
  • Surf fashion: the surf shops along Avenue de Generale de Gaulle have some cool Tahiti-branded clothing that you won’t find anywhere else.
  • Crafts: it’s best to purchase crafts from the outer islands but if you didn’t have the opportunity, the central market and a few specialty shops are good options. Just be sure of the source of what you’re buying. The finest crafts are from the Marquesas Islands.
  • Clave prints: though I’ve heard he’s never been to Tahiti (yet), Reunion Island-based Clave makes beautiful prints of various scenes from the islands. Head to Galerie Winkler to see what they have left. Large poster-size prints sell for around $60. 
  • Monoi products: monoi is a traditional way of blending flower scents with coconut oil. It smells like paradise and worth taking back home with you. The most famous brand is Tiki Tahiti but more “upscale” brands can easily be found. I always bring back a few bottles of monoi oil, soap, and shampoo. It makes for a great souvenir as well as gifts. The best place to buy these is at supermarkets because locals use them as well. For monoi gift baskets, head to souvenir shops.

clave print tahiti

Tahiti West & South Coasts

After Papeete, Tahiti’s west coast is its busiest. The hills are home to expensive real estate, and the coast is dotted with resorts, beaches, and the remains of ancient temples. The south coast is much more relaxed, with lots of natural sites and sleepy villages that seem a world away from the big city.


Punaauia is “the Beverly Hills of Tahiti”. The high grounds of this affluent Papeete suburb are covered with expensive real estate with million-dollar views of neighboring Moorea, especially during sunset. Its coastline is quite busy, home to busy intersections and a few shopping centers, but its lagoon shore is home to top restaurants (see the previous section for recommendations as well as the Tahiti Travel Guide map). Plan to dine here either on your back from a road trip around the island or for a special occasion. 

Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands

The national museum of French Polynesia is located in the affluent suburb of Punaauia on the west coast of the island and it holds exquisite artifacts from all five archipelagoes. Unfortunately, the museum has been closed for a couple of years, pending renovation. However, there are always some exhibitions open to the public so it’s worth checking their website and stopping by if you’re interested in the history of the islands and their people. 

Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands - Tahiti French Polynesia

Parque Vaipoopoo

This little park is right on the lagoon and perfectly situated for the best sunset views in Tahiti. Plan to come here on a drive back after exploring Tahiti (see this Tahiti itinerary for more details). 

Sunset over Moorea from Tahiti - French Polynesia

Route de Monoi 

Monoi is the heavenly scented coconut oil used by Polynesians as a fragrance and as after-sun care. The west coast is dotted with perfumeries that are officially licensed to sell monoi oil under strict standards. You can visit these factory shops along what’s known as the Route de Monoi and learn about this unique local product. The most famous is Perfumerie Tiki but a better tour is given elsewhere. 

Monoi Oils at Papeete market Tahiti French Polynesia

Plage Vaiava – PK 18

Along with Plage de Taharuu, this is the prettiest beach in Tahiti Nui. It’s tough to find parking during weekends and holidays, but it’s well worth the effort. You’ll find here a long stretch of grayish-white sand, a tiny bit of shade, a few topless sunbathers, and surprisingly decent snorkeling considering we’re on the big island.

Plage Vaiava PK 18 in Tahiti French Polynesia

Marae Maraetaata à Paea

Down the road from PK 18 beach and very easy to miss. Take a left and head inland for a few hundred meters until you reach the parking lot. Marae is open-air Polynesian sanctuaries dating back to pre-Christian times. They were used for religious ceremonies, social gatherings, and religious activities. This particular complex is home to three temples, hardly visited by tourists. There’s a good chance you’ll be the only one here.

Marae Maraetaata Tahiti French Polynesia

Marae Arahurahu

One of the best-preserved marae in Tahiti, it is here you can finally see a tiki statue, though the original is housed in the Gauguin Museum. What’s makes this marae extra special, is the ahu – the altar that stands high at the very edge of the rectangular temple. During the July Heiva Festival, Marae Arahurahu hosts a lavish cultural show that includes singing, dancing, and reenactments of ancient religious ceremonies. 

Marae in Tahiti French Polynesia

Maraa Grotto

Located on the mountainside of the coastal road. With water trickling down the moss-covered mountain and its two crystal clear cave pools, the Grottes de Maraa make a worthwhile quick stop. It’s a shame you can no longer swim in the pools (at least at the time of writing this guide). Visitors to Samoa will find this place similar to the lovely Piula Cave Pool.

Maraa Grotto Tahiti French Polynesia

Papara Beach – Plage de Taharuu

Tahiti is known for its black sand beaches and this is the one! Papara beach is long and its black sand fiery hot during the day. There’s plenty of parking and even a small snack if you’re hungry. Along with Plage Vaiava, it’s undoubtedly one of the best beaches on the island of Tahiti.

Papara black sand beach Tahiti French Polynesia

Bain de Vaima & Vaipahi Gardens

I couldn’t believe this place was free to enter! Roam around the beautiful tropical gardens, so well maintained and feeling like a world away from the big city. There’s even a natural waterfall smack in the middle!

If you’re up for a hike, you have three options here: the great loop 5K ~ 2 hrs, the small loop 2.7K ~ 1 hr, or the river trail 2K ~ 45 mins. I chose the small loop, which first ascended to a forest of tall pine trees. You then reach a small clearing, with fine panoramic views of the lagoon and Tahiti Iti in the distance. You then begin to descend back down to the river via a thick mape tree forest. This was my first chance to see this magnificent tree, also known as the Tahitian Chestnut Tree. Its roots are straight out of a fairytale, and you’ll find this tree throughout the tropical rainforests of French Polynesia.

Logistics: if you’ll be hiking here, bring with you: water, a hat, shoes (sandals OK) and a change of clothes. The gardens have a gift shop, toilets, and even a shower!

Waterfall in Vaipahi gardens Tahiti French PolynesiaMape forest in Vaihapi gardens Tahiti French PolynesiaBain de Vaima & Vaipahi Gardens Tahiti - banyan treeBain de Vaima & Vaipahi Gardens Tahiti - hikeBain de Vaima & Vaipahi Gardens Tahiti - view

Harrison Smith Botanical Gardens

The final stop before crossing over to Tahiti Iti, the Jardins Botaniques is another great place to unwind after a bit of driving. A very well worth 600F will get you in, and you’ll likely start by visiting the two resident Galapagos turtles (if they’re still around by the time you visit). The female is said to be 185 years old, while the male – Charlie – is about 210!

UPDATES: as of 2017, you can no longer touch, feed, or hug the turtles. In January 2018, stray dogs entered the turtles’ enclosure, seriously wounding the two and eventually leading to the death of the male turtle. 

Giant galapagos turtle eating in botanical gardens Tahiti French Polynesia

Lotus flower in botanical gardens Tahiti French Polynesia

You can then walk along the paths which snake their way around the large perimeter. First up is the beautiful mape forest. You’ll probably feel like you’re in one of the Harry Potter movies, and the fact that you might be all alone here will further add to that. The forest is also dotted with a few wild lotuses and giant bamboo.

Harrison Smith Botanical Gardens Tahiti French Polynesia - mape chestnut tree

The section closer to the beach is scattered with a few lily ponds that wouldn’t shame the Claude Monet Garden in France, and hundreds of wild palm trees – which I personally can’t get enough of!

Tahiti East Coast

The east coast is the wildest and least populated part of Tahiti Nui. The coastal road is squeezed by the giant mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. It resembles in part the legendary Pacific Coast Highway of California and looks like one giant nightmare for road engineers to construct (and maintain with all the fallen rocks). For the most part, there is no protective reef out here, making any beach off the side of the road a perfect spot for some after-work surfing.

Tahiti East Coast French Polynesia

Le Belvedere

What do the French do when there’s a beautiful panoramic view on the top of a mountain? They construct a restaurant, of course. At the end of a road that snakes its way through a thick pine forest, you’ll find the Belvedere Restaurant (they even do pickups from Papeete). Aside from the restaurant, you can enjoy the breathtaking (and free) panoramic views of Papeete, Moorea Island, and the lush volcanic peaks that Tahiti is famous for. The Belvedere is also the starting point for the challenging Mount Aorai hike (see ‘hiking in Tahiti’).

View of Papeete from La Belvedere Tahiti French Polynesia

Logistics: it takes about 30 minutes to reach the Belvedere from Papeete and you can theoretically walk up there from the city. The mountain road is very popular with local residents on their morning hikes and cyclists practicing for the tropical version of the Tour de France – so drive with extra care!

Le Belvedere Tahiti French Polynesia panoramic view

James Norman Hall Museum

Located just outside Papeete in the district of Arue, the museum is the actual former home of American novelist James Norman Hall who, best known for publishing the Bounty trilogy together with Charles Nordhoff. The museum is open every day except Sunday, Monday, and holiday (8 am-4 pm), entrance costs 800 XPF for adults and 400 XPF for children. 

James Norman Hall Museum - Tahiti French Polynesia

James Norman Hall Museum - Tahiti French Polynesia 4

James Norman Hall Museum - Tahiti French Polynesia 3

James Norman Hall Museum - Tahiti French Polynesia 2

Tahara’a Scenic Lookout

A proper roadside lookout from where you can see sections of Matavai Bay, a historically significant part of Tahiti. It is here that early European explorers chose to anchor upon arrival in Tahiti. 

Tahara'a scenic lookout Tahiti French Polynesia

Pointe Venus & Matavai Bay

Matavai Bay was the scene of many key events in Tahiti’s history. It is here that Tahitians and Europeans first met in the 18th century, where Captain James Cook set up an observatory to track the movement of Venus across the sky, where missionaries first landed, and where the infamous mutineers from the Bounty landed after parting ways with Captain Bligh.

The first point of interest as you park the car is the lighthouse. Completed in 1867, it makes for a popular spot for local playing petanque and various souvenir stalls selling pareo.

Pointe Venus Lighthouse - Tahiti - French Polynesia

Past the lighthouse, there’s a walking path towards the beach. Along the way are memorials to Captain Cook’s mission and the missionaries.

If you couldn’t make it to Papara Beach on the south coast, you have a chance to see a black sand beach over here. The beach is very popular with locals and children getting their first surf lessons – kind of a must for anyone living in Tahiti!

Pointe Venus Beach - Tahiti - black sand beach - French Polynesia

Hitimahana Beach & Papenoo

Two popular surf spots for experienced surfers. Perfect waves break really close to shore and at about 4 pm, locals start heading here after work for some pre-dinner exercise. Papenoo is also the starting point for the highly recommend Papenoo Valley 4X4 inland route (see ‘excursions in Tahiti’).

Arahoho Blowhole

In the district of Tiarei, just after the tunnel on the ocean side of the road, park the car in the small car park and walk a few meters towards the water. You’ll already hear the whistle of the water moving underground in the lava tube. As you reach the fence, wait a few minutes for the gush of water bursting right in front of you. The degree of impressiveness will obviously vary with the tide and the swell. If you’ve been to the Alofaaga Blowholes in Samoa’s Savaii island, this will likely look like child’s play.

Arahoho Blowhole Tahiti French Polynesia

The Three Waterfalls

You can’t visit Tahiti without seeing a few huge waterfalls! Known locally as les Trois cascades or Faarumai Waterfalls, to get to three waterfalls – turn right (towards the mountains) just meters after the Arahoho Blowhole. After passing the bridge and the tiny village, park the car and walk to the first waterfall. You should be able to walk all the way to its base, but when I visited, the place was badly damaged by a storm and it was not possible to get close to even the first waterfall. It has since been reopened to the public.

Three waterfalls Vaimahutu Falls Faarumai Tahiti French Polynesia

Tahiti Iti

The small sister of Tahiti Nui, this end of Tahiti offers visitors a more authentic Polynesian feel – away from the crowds and in touch with nature. With a rugged southern coast, it is not possible to circle Tahiti Iti by car. Roads will take you to parts of the south and north coasts before meeting the open ocean.


It’s a large town with a strategic position right at the seam of Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti – but there is little to do here for tourists other than to get gas, buy some food, and groceries.

Plateau de Taravao

Head up the road to the well-maintained lookout point. It’s tricky to find and I asked for directions a few times, but you once you start feeling the car working hard – you’ll know you took the right turn. At first, the narrow road passes fields of grazing cows, before entering a pine forest that eventually emerges to the lookout point. From here, enjoy the views down to Taravao and Tahiti Nui. If the mountains are free from clouds (and they hardly ever are in the afternoon), you’ll never forget the view from up here! This is a good picnic spot.

Panoramic view of Tahiti from Plateau de Taravao Tahiti French Polynesia

Pueu & Tautira

Small and very laid-back villages with hardly any tourists. There are a few black sand beaches that are popular with junior surfers and bathers alike.

Church in Tahiti French Polynesia

Tautira is a small peninsula that extends into the lagoon. Behind this small village are beautiful jagged peaks that hide a lush valley. Its famous black sand beach is one of the most well-known locations in Tahiti. After you’ve snapped your pictures and perhaps had a picnic lunch at the beach, you can head inland via a trail that runs along the river inside the valley (see the hikes section for more details). 

Tautira Valley - Tahiti - French Polyensia

Maui Beach

A picturesque sliver of white sand and palm trees in a world of black sand beaches. The small beach is very popular with locals and is good for just a quick stop to stretch out. If you’ve arrived here on an empty stomach, stop for lunch at La Plage de Maui. The location and the seafood are to die for. 

Maui Beach Tahiti Iti Tahiti French Polynesia


The surfing capital of French Polynesia and one of the top surf spots in the entire world. The village of Teahupo’o marks the end of the southern coast road, so you cannot miss it. Every year, the world’s top surfers and their groupies camp out here for the Billabong Pro. From the car park, cross the metal bridge on foot and head down to the beach. It’s a popular spot for the villagers, who splash along with the eels in the river or head out to surf in the ocean.

Teahupoo Tahiti French Polynesia

Teahupoo black sand beach - Tahiti French Polyensia

Surfer kids - Teahupoo - Tahiti - French Polynesia

Walk along the footpath through the row of houses shaded by the forest, and you’ll make it to another beach. From here, admire the waves and the gorgeous black sand beach backed by the lush volcanic mountains. Out here, waves are some of the biggest in the world, but this obviously depends on the season and your degree of luck. Several hikes start from here, going all the way around to the north coast. Ask around before heading out – a guide is highly recommended.

Black sand beach in Tehaupoo Tahiti French Polynesia

Teahupoo - Tahiti - French Polynesia

Tahiti Iti East Coast

This is the wildest and most inaccessible part of Tahiti so you’ll need to join a guided boat tour to visit. Coastal and inland trails lead to wild beaches, lava tubes, and natural ponds. Many locals who have lived their entire lives in Tahiti have yet to visit this part of the island, so if you make it here, consider yourself lucky. For tours to this inaccessible part of Tahiti, get in touch with Te Pari Explorer via their website or Facebook page. They offer jet ski and boat tours in the peninsula, including closeup view of the big Teahupo’o wave, followed by a visit to a cave in the rainforest, a waterfall, and a picnic lunch on a white sand beach. 

Hiking Options In Tahiti

Tahiti may not have the prettiest beaches in French Polynesia, but it does have some of the best hikes in the territory and perhaps in the entire South Pacific Islands. Most hikes require a guide as trails are either dangerous or unmarked. For guided hikes in Tahiti, reach out to Olivier Lenoir from ‘Ia ora na Tahiti Expeditions. He’s the closest thing I’ve found to a real Tahitian: in touch with nature, super knowledgeable about Tahitian culture, and never wearing any shoes (plus he speaks excellent English). He is a two-time Mr. Tahiti champion, winning the coveted Heiva festival. If he’s not available or busy with 4X4 tours into the Papenoo Valley, contact Aito Rando – a father-and-son company specializing in hikes throughout Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti. For up-to-date information about hiking in Tahiti, check out Tahiti Rando and their Facebook Page.

Papenoo Valley tahiti tropical fruits

Mount Aorai Hike

When you picture Tahiti, you probably imagine giant mountains stretching high into the clouds covered with lush tropical rainforests. If you hike Mount Aorai, the third highest peak in Tahiti (2066m) – this image will become a reality! It’s one of the most challenging, demanding, and dangerous hikes in the South Pacific – but also one of the most rewarding. Here’s a good resource to help you out.

Safety first:

  • You can hike Mount Aorai on your own, but it’s better to go with at least another person.
  • Check weather conditions on meteo.pf and avoid hiking if it has been raining the days before. The trail is well marked but slippery and narrow. Pretty much every move could be your last.
  • During the wet season, it is strongly advised to avoid summiting the mountain. I recommend hiking only to the first refuge hut. Between the huts is the infamous Devil’s Peak Pass – a sliver of trail along the ridge with nothing but thousands of meters below.
  • Hiking alone? Tell someone at the hotel reception and consider turning back at the first refuge hut (like I did).

Tropical rainforest Mount Aorai hike Tahiti French Polynesia


  • The trail starts from the parking lot of the O’ Belvedere restaurant. You can safely leave your car there, just don’t leave anything visible inside.
  • If you are not staying overnight in one of the two huts – start hiking very early, no later than 5:00 am (that’s right). The reason for this is that the clouds move in at about 10 am, covering the peaks (and the jagged spikes of Mont Te Tara o Maiao – Diadème).
  • There are two overnight huts (one at 7.5k and one at 8.5k) and another refuge shelter just before the summit. The higher overnight hut and the refuge shelters have been renovated in 2021. The lower refuge shelter is in poor condition and awaiting renovation.
  • The complete hike is 10.6km (one way). It is possible to summit in a single day if weather conditions are perfect and if you are extremely fit and not carrying. a lot of weight on your back. 
  • Bring with you 3L of water per person (there are taps in the refuge huts but you need to filter the water), good hiking shoes (even waterproof shoes will get completely wet), a light rain jacket, long pants, food, first aid kit, headlamp, overnight gear (if sleeping) and a change of clothes and socks – because you’ll smell like hell back in the car park.

Mount Aorai hike - first overnight shelter - Tahiti - French Polynesia

The hike:

The trail itself is very well marked – in fact, it’s simply carved into the mountain somehow. Since you’re starting the hike in the morning hours (start by no later than 5 am), you’ll be hiking in the dark and getting completely wet right from the start, as the dew from the knee-high shrubs soaks your shoes and pants.

In the first section of the hike, there are excellent views of the curving mountains, Papeete and Moorea. Very quickly though, you enter the thick rainforest for kilometers after kilometer of slow ascent. You’ll hear birds starting their day, see moss-covered rotting tree trunks and pass an occasional freshwater stream. This is a proper rainforest!

Mount Aorai Hike Tahiti French Polynesia - view from startMount Aorai Hike Tahiti French Polynesia - view papeete

The hike starts to get tough as you continue climbing along the super narrow trail. You really need to concentrate on your every move since it’s very slippery out here and there isn’t much room for error.

Mount Aorai Hike Tahiti French Polynesia - into forest

Mushrooms in rainforest Mount Aorai hike Tahiti French Polynesia

Tropical mountains from Mount Aorai hike Tahiti French Polynesia

After about 2.5 hours of climbing, the views reach a climax and you should aim to be here before 9 am. You’ll be pinching yourself as you see breathtaking panoramic views just across the deep valley. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll see the jagged successive peaks of the Mont Te Tara o Maiao (a.k.a Diadème). I’m pretty sure it’s possible to hike there too but that’s a whole other story.

Mount Aorai hike Tahiti French Polynesia

Closeup Mount Aorai hike Tahiti French Polynesia

It’s another few kilometers to the first overnight shelter (3 hours of hiking so far). There’s some collected rainwater, a toilet you don’t really want to use and wooden bunk beds to pass the night. The views from the shelter are superb with panoramas of the Diademe and Moorea in the distance. 

Mount Aorai Hike - Tahiti - French Polynesia - the crown

Mount Aorai Hike - Tahiti - French Polynesia - Moorea closeup

Mount Aorai Hike - Tahiti - French Polynesia - view of Moorea

Mount Aorai Hike - Tahiti - French Polynesia - Diademe panoramic view

Mount Aorai Hike - Tahiti - French Polynesia - diademe

Panoramic view of Mount Aorai Tahiti - French Polynesia

From here, it’s another 2 km’s to the second hut via the Devil’s Ridge Pass. I’ve attempted to summit Mount Aorai on three separate occasions and never made any further than the first hut either due to poor weather or exhaustion. 

Devils Ridge Pass Mount Aorai hike Tahiti French Polynesia

Devils ridge pass Mount Aorai hike Tahiti - French Polynesia

From The first hut, it takes about 6 km’s and 90 minutes back down to the car park – basically walking through the clouds for the most part.

Walking in clouds Mount Aorai hike Tahiti French Polynesia

Fautaua Valley Hike

Fautaua Valley is “just behind” central Papeete, so this is a convenient and easy hike if you’re looking for a half-day experience (about 4 hours return). If you’re not hiking with a guide, you must pre-purchase a permit at the city hall (Maire de Papeete). Head to the first floor between 8 am and 3 pm, Friday from 8 am to 2 pm. It costs just 600 XPF per person and a guard will check your permit at the trailhead. The car park is just after the grounds of the water utility company and that’s where the trail begins (Polynésienne des Eaux).

Fautaua Valley - Tahiti Hike - French Polynesia

The hike begins with an easy walk along a path that’s used by the utility company as well as by city residents who come here after work to do sports. After a few minutes, you’ll see to your left signs pointing out to a small marae. This is the remains of an ancient Polynesian ceremonial site. You’ll also see signs explaining (albeit in French) that the valley was used by Tahitians who did not side with the French in the Franco-Tahitian War. Tahitian fighters sought shelter in the valley and built forts to protect from French troops. 

Fautaua Valley Hike Tahiti French Polynesia

marae in Fautaua Valley Hike Tahiti French Polynesia

After a short walk, the trail splits. If you turn left and cross the bridge, you’ll head on a trail that leads to the top of the waterfall. It’s a more challenging hike but the views are worth it. If conditions are right, you’ll be able to take a dip in a small pool at the top of the waterfall. This section is prone to closure due to trail erosion so it might be closed. It’s best to inquire before because people have gotten injured here.

Bridge in Fautaua Valley - Tahiti Hike - French Polynesia

If you keep heading straight, the wide trail will enter the rainforest and become narrow as it takes you deep into the valley. You’ll ford the river a few times and must pay attention to the short stacks of rock that mark the way back. I got lost on the return leg and it started to get dark, which led to a bit of panic, so be sure to mark exactly where you crossed because this part of the trail is not well-marked.

After a pleasant walk in a pristine rainforest, you’ll reach the Fautaua Waterfall. Go for a dip, take a break and enjoy the sounds of the cascading water and the birds.

Fautaua Waterfall Hike Tahiti French Polynesia

Bain de Vaima & Vaipahi Spring Gardens

There are three short walks to choose from, with either river or lagoon views. See ‘Tahiti south coast’ section.

Mount Marau Hike

This moderately easy hike basically takes you to the ridge parallel to Mount Aorai so there are great views to be enjoyed. The mountain is famous for the weather instruments installed at its summit. More info here

Fara’ura Valley Hike

This challenging hike requires fording a river a few times but the waterfall at the end and lack of any other humans around are well worth the effort.  More info here

Tahiti Iti Hike

A trail starting in Teahupoo will lead you along cliffs, past caves, and into lava tubes. This hike needs to be done with a guide. 

Recommended Excursions In Tahiti

You can technically join a guided tour of Tahiti but also just rent a car and sightsee on your own. Listed in this section are excursions that must be done with a guide. 

Papenoo Valley

Heading into the uninhabited interior of Tahiti Nui in the Papenoo Valley is a day I guarantee you’ll never forget. If you’ve ever seen pictures of Tahiti with massive green mountains and fresh waterfalls as tall as a skyscraper – they were probably taken here. The 32-kilometer track is only accessible with a 4X4 or on an excursion and you can extend your visit to a full-day tour that includes exiting on the west coast of Tahiti via the dreamy Lake Vahiria

Papenoo Valley - Tahiti - French Polynesia

My guide on this magical day was Teuai Olivier Lenoir, who now runs ‘Ia ora na Tahiti Expeditions. He’s the closest thing I’ve found to a real Tahitian: in touch with nature, super knowledgeable about Tahitian culture, and never wearing any shoes (plus he speaks excellent English). He is a two-time Mr. Tahiti champion, winning the coveted Heiva festival for his weight class (this is hardly a beauty pageant).

Papenoo Valley tahiti tropical fruits

If you book your tour with Teuai, be sure to let him you came through Avi from XDAYSINY.COM (that’s me) and he’ll take extra good care of you. 

The valley is defined by the Papenoo River, the largest in Tahiti that drains a large percentage of Tahiti’s rainfall into the Pacific Ocean. The 4X4 road snakes its way along the river, crossing it a few times before rising back into the lush hills. In the past, the valley was home to warriors and Tahitians who refused to convert to Christianity. It was even used as a place of refuge during the Franco-Tahitian war (1844-1846). Past dwellers left their marks in the form of ancient temples and fruit trees, all of which are to be seen on this magical day in Tahiti’s rugged interior. 

Papenoo Valley Tahiti driving through river 2

Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - crossing river

Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - waterfall

Papenoo Valley Tahiti mountains and river view

Our first stop was the Topatari Waterfall. It required a bit of walking and crossing a river to get to its base – but it’s well worth the effort.

Papenoo valley tahiti Topatari Waterfall

The Papenoo River is a prime source of hydroelectric power, supplying 45% of Tahiti’s power. At one point, you’ll be driving over the dam. Look on your left to catch a glimpse of Puraha Waterfall. If you’re in luck, you should also be able to spot rare ducks that live in the valley (non-native). 

Papenoo Valley Tahiti driving through river

Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - ducks

The road then climbs to a breathtaking panoramic vista. This is Tahiti as you imagined it to be! Look around you – there’s a good chance of spotting a distant waterfall splashing thousands of feet from some giant mountain!

Papenoo valley Tahiti waterfall and steep road sign

Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - mountains

After lunch in the middle of nowhere, we hiked down to the prettiest waterfall in Tahiti – Te Pape o Teura Vahine, also known as Maroto Waterfall. Look at the color of the swimming pool, and may I just add that we were the only ones here!

Papenoo Valley Tahiti Maroto WaterfallPapenoo Valley Tahiti huge waterfallPapenoo Valley Tahiti

From here we climbed up to the Relais de la Maroto. Surprisingly enough, there’s a hotel with a restaurant all the way out here. Needless to say, the views are worth a million dollars. The hotel was originally built to house the workers who constructed the dam but these days, rooms are looking quite inviting for curious tourists.

After a quick cup of coffee, we descended to check out one of the many maraes (ancient Polynesian temples) that are found in the Papenoo Valley. The most impressive is the marae Farehape. Teuai explained the history of the marae and how each section was used back in the day. Interestingly enough, the valley served as the last refuge for Tahitians opposing Christianity and French rule back in the 19th century. Aside from the temple, there are lots of tropical fruits and medicinal trees growing out here. It’s very interesting to learn what you can and can’t eat, and which plant can cure which illness.

Other ancient temples can also be visited in the Papenoo Valley and it is quite evident that Tahitians still frequent these sites. Local belief is that “mana” (a Polynesian word for supernatural powers) can still be felt in the marae while lost spirits that did not make it to the underworld are believed to visit the sites at night. 

Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - marae 2

Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - marae

From the Relais de Maroto, full-day tours should continue the climb to the top of the caldera of the ancient volcano. From up here, the views are sensational and on a clear day, you should be able to spot to Ocean and even the highest peak in Tahiti – Mount Orohena (2,241m).

Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - mountains 2

Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - view of ocean

It’s now time to exit to the west coast of the island and you’ll start the return leg by going through a tunnel that runs right beneath the highest section of the area. Afterward, you’ll begin the plunge to Lake Vahiria (473m) and continue through a section of an extremely lush rainforest before reaching the highway on the west coast. 

Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - Tunnel

Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - Lake Vaihiria

Papenoo Valley Tahiti French Polynesia - swimming in waterfall

Here’s what the entire day looked like in this time-lapse video

Logistics: depart Papeete at 9:30 am and return at 4:30 pm, half-day tours are available, bring at least 2L of water, sandals, comfortable shoes, swimsuit, towel, and change of clothes. Note that there’s a minimum number of people required for a tour to take place and that excursions may be canceled after heavy rain. I highly recommend the full-day option but be sure it also includes a visit to Lake Vaihiria. 

Tetiaroa Atoll

Tetiaroa is known as the island that Marlon Brando bought. These days, it’s also famous for the luxury ‘eco’ resort that has been built here (anyone got $3,000 per night?). The island is only about 60 kilometers north of Tahiti, but it takes a good few hours to get there on an excursion from Papeete. A good way to visit the island is on a day trip from Papeete. You’ll meet the crew and guests at 5:45 am and return before 6 pm. Once you near Tetiaroa, you’ll be transported by small groups to the island on a tiny speedboat, where you’ll have time to snorkel, wander around and admire the bird colonies that make Tetiaroa so famous. 

Tetiaroa Atoll French Polynesia

Logistics: inquire with either Poe Charter or L’escapade and book in advance (about 15,000 XPF per person). Food is included in the price and they’ll have you back in Tahiti for dinner. Keep in mind that sailing can be rough and prone to last-minute cancellations due to rough sea or wind conditions. If you really have your heart set on visiting Tetiaroa, plan an extra day in Tahiti when outings are offered. 

Lava Tubes

If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, book a guided trip deep into the rainforest and visit several lava tubes flowing with water. Since this is a challenging excursion, children under a certain age cannot take part. 

Moorea Day Trip From Tahiti

The magical island of Moorea is just a 30-minute ferry ride from Tahiti. It totally deserves a few days on its own, but if you haven’t got the time – it is possible to join an excursion for the day and visit its lagoon.

Scenic Flights In Tahiti

Take to the sky and get an unbeatable view of Tahiti’s interior. For scenic flights in Tahiti, check out Tahiti Nui Helicopters. This new service offers several routes in Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora. Trips require an early start, a minimum number of passengers, and are prone to cancellations due to weather conditions which can be very tricky in such mountainous terrain. 

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

What’s Next?

I hope you’ve found this Tahiti Travel Guide useful. For more information about Tahiti and French Polynesia, check out these recommended guides.

Independent Traveler's Guide to French Polynesia


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  1. Let me just say that your website is THE best guide to the Pacific islands. Mostly all of our activities for our French Polynesia trip this July was planned using this website. It’s hard to come across such unbiased and detailed descriptions of these popular destinations. So thank you so much for your work and effort.

    1. Really honored to hear this Erik. Thank you! I wrote these guys exactly so that folks like us can see this magical part of the world. Enjoy paradise!

  2. I finally found Tahiti island information that is my type of adventure. Thank you! So excited to go this December. I had already planned on doing the hike up to the Devil’s Ridge Pass, can you tell me why exactly you didn’t cross it and the total time from arriving to the parking lot to arriving again after the hike (returning on devils ridge) I was thinking start the hike around 9am, maybe there will be less clouds by the time I reach the ridge? Thanks!

    1. Hi Lucy

      Tahiti is amazing! You’ll have a great time. The Mount Aorai hike is a very challenging hike and the section which starts from the first refuge hut and goes to the summit is a dangerous one, year round. During the wet season, hiking the trails gets even more dangerous and that is the reason why I went no further than the first hut. If luck provides you with consecutive days of sunny weather in (usually rainy) December, start hiking by no later than 5am if you want to summit. By 10-11am, it gets cloudy and not worth it (not to mention extra dangerous). Alternatively, you can overnight in one of the huts. It took me about 2-2.5 hours to get from the parking area to the first hut, and it’s a further one hour to the pass. Hope this helps and do hike with extreme care!

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