Explore Tahiti which lies in the South Pacific. It is the largest of the 118 islands and atolls that comprise French Polynesia. Tahiti is in the Society Islands, an archipelago which includes the islands of Bora Bora, Raiatea, Taha’a, Huahine and Moorea, and has a population of 127,000 people, about 83% of whom are of Polynesian ancestry. The legendary name ‘Tahiti’ not only identifies this island but also the group of islands that make up French Polynesia.
Tahiti is composed of two volcanic mountain ranges. In the shape of a ‘turtle’, it is made of Tahiti Nui (the larger part) and Tahiti Iti (the peninsula). The two islands are linked by the isthmus of Taravao and skirted by black beaches.
Papeete is the capital city and the administrative centre. Once a sleepy town, today its harbor is busy with cargo freighters, copra ships, luxury liners and ocean-going yachts. There are sidewalk cafes, shops overflowing with French fashions, shell jewelry and handicrafts and a wide variety of restaurants serving Tahitian, French, and Asian cuisine.
Faa’a hosts the international airport built on the lagoon. Apart from the airlines check-in counters, there is an information counter, a snack bar, a restaurant and vehicle rental offices and shops. Nearby, in a special Tahitian-style house, artisans sell flower leis and shell necklaces.
Tahiti and her islands are some of the most beautiful in the entire south Pacific. Tahitians are very respectful and generous and kind. To hear random people say ‘hello’ on the street to strangers or even passersby is not uncommon. Many of the Tahitian kids are well into rap and hip-hop, performing or practicing in the streets or in public squares.
The philosophy of the people, ‘aita pea pea’ (not to worry), truly is the Tahitian way of life. Be patient and polite to them and you will get anything you ask for, including a large smile. They are very warm and welcoming people.
Be aware that your trip to Tahiti may be a one-time but unique experience due to its high price. Though not legally binding, more and more couples are renewing their marriage vows and will be bedecked in pareus, flowers, shells and feathers. The groom approaches the beach in an outrigger canoe. His bride, carried on a rattan throne, awaits him on the white-sand beach. A spectacular sunset, Tahitian music and dancers add to the ambiance. A Tahitian priest “marries” the couple and gives them their Tahitian name and the Tahitian name of their first-born.
The generally accepted theory states that Polynesians first settled in the Pacific around 4,000 years ago. Using wooden double-hulled sailing canoes lashed together with natural fibers and applying their knowledge of the wind, currents and stars, the first intrepid navigators sailed eastward, settling the central island groups of the Cook Islands and French Polynesia between 500 BC and 500 AD.
The weather is ideal! The climate is tropical. The average ambient temperature is 27°C and the waters of the lagoons average 26°C in the winter and 29°C in the summer. But do not worry most resorts and hotel rooms are air conditioned or cooled by ceiling fans.
Tahiti is served by Faa’a International Airport, which is close to the main city of Papeete (Papy – et – tay). All international flights will land in Tahiti. The national airline carrier then operates flights to all of the other islands.
The most common form of transportation around Tahiti is by car. The former “Truck” does no longer exist in this form (a rickety public open-air bus with wooden passenger cabins that will stop on the side of the street and serve different cities). They got replaced by city buses and prices are very inexpensive and most will end up in the centre of downtown close to the market. Other means of transportation include scooters or private cars. Most rental cars will be stick shift. There is a multitude of bikes to rent cheaply. This is especially a good idea on Sundays as everything is closed and you can end up discovering the islands.
French and Tahitian are the most spoken languages, but English is widely understood in the tourist areas, but not in less frequently visited areas (such as the remote islands of the Tuamotus). Most signs are in French, very few of them in Tahitian.
There are MANY things to do in Tahiti and a lot to see and take pictures of. Should you embark on a circle island trip (of around 70 miles), some of the must see things would include:
‘Le Marché’. This is the large two-story Papeete’s market place where many things can be bought. Buy your lunch here and some “Monoi”. “Monoi” is the local Tahitian oil, strongly scented and worth a good price. It is used to get tanned and moisturize your skin. Also buy a “pareu”. This is typical Tahitian clothing that can be tied into many different ways (a cover-up, a dress, shorts, a shawl). It can also be spread out as a picnic cloth or a beach towel. Created with traditional designs and bright tropical colors, they are inexpensive and make the perfect souvenir. This is especially good for getting to know Tahitians as every Tahitian knows how to tie one. Le Marche is also the place where you’ll find jewelry as well as many calendars, postcards, cups… Ripe fruits, scented soaps, vanilla beans, dance costumes, woven hats and bags and shell necklaces up to your ears are what you’ll find in the market. It is centrally located and you can’t miss it.
The Arahoho blowhole on the North side of Tahiti Nui. An area where a blowhole in the shore has formed on the road and whose waves crash inside the rock cliff.
Les Trois Cascades. Three beautiful waterfalls inside the island of Tahiti Nui.
Tomb of King Pomare the Fifth. The tomb of the only king of Tahiti, when it was a monarchy.
Pointe Venus Lighthouse. Black sand beach and clear blue water by a fishing reef. Popular among Tahitians. Just turn seawards at the roundabout with the two supermarkets.
Botanical Garden/Gauguin Museum. At Papeari, on the west coast, the botanical garden made by Harrison Smith lies alongside the Gauguin Museum in the magical setting of the Motu Ovini.
The Olivier-Breaud Golf Course. You can admire the wonderful layout of this golf course set in the magnificent Atimoana complex which was a sugar cane farmland rum in the 19th century.
Arahurahu Marae. A restored religious site containing various stone block structures dedicated to the old gods and where important ceremonies used to take place.
Museums. It is interesting to visit the Museum of Tahiti and the Islands which has a rich collection of very old pieces and reconstructed historical scenes. The Black pearl museum as well as the Gauguin museum is fun to see if you want to get out of the heat.
To’ata. A square with small restaurants but also the place to be for the July celebrations with dance and traditional music, the Heiva I Tahiti.
All nautical activities: surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling (most resorts will provide you with the equipment for free), canyoning, stingray and shark feedings, water sports, deep sea fishing, kitesurfing…you name it.
You also have the possibility of hiking, 4WD safari, golf…
Deep sea fishing has been curtailed on Tahiti and is difficult to find.
Diving: get a reputable dive company, our experience was that those with the far out websites were a bit low on ethics and safety, not well prepared, and did not go far past the marina.
What to buy
Many of the shops around the centre of town near “Notre Dame” have great buys.
If you are dreaming of a tattoo, do make sure that you get it in Tahiti since the patterns are so special and reflect the spirit of the island. There are lots of places to get tattooed around Papeete including the market. You may also want to buy a black pearl to take it back with you. You will get some at very affordable prices on the market too.
What to eat
Do note that tipping is not a custom in Tahiti. It is beginning to be seen in some of the restaurants and hotels on the larger islands, but in general Tahitians do not expect your tip as it is included in the final price.
“Roulottes” (snack shops on wheels) are especially popular on Friday nights to get some great Chinese food, crepes, and French-style dishes. You won’t miss it since it is located along Papeete’s waterfront. Unbelievably delicious meals at bargain prices, in a fun and local atmosphere. When possible eat here as a meal for two is much less than a hotel meal (plus you get plenty of food).
The main island dish to try is the “poisson cru” (“raw fish” in French.) It is a fresh fish marinated with lime juice and coconut mixed with vegetables. Many varieties can be found all over including Poisson Cru Chinois (Chinese style), Poisson Cru Ananas (pineapple style). Parrotfish, ahi, mahi mahi, and other fresh fish are divine in a light sauce made from Tahitian vanilla and coconut milk. Do not miss the exotic tropical fruits.
Baguettes are found all over the island at a very reasonable price. As well as baguettes, Tahitians have created the “baguette sandwich” where everything from fish to French fries are stuffed into.
Make sure you also try the very popular Chinese ma’a tinito (which is a mixture of pork, kidney beans, Chinese cabbage and macaroni.)
Family occasions and celebrations are the time for a huge tamara’a Tahiti (Tahitian-style feasts) where a meal consisting of suckling pig, fish, breadfruit, yams and fe’i bananas is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed in an earth-dug oven over layers of hot rocks.
If you are looking for fine dining, definitely head to Paea south of Papeete to Chez Remy or Le Carre at Le Meridien. Pricey, but fantastic meals.
Tips: get French creamed cheese at breakfast on your crepes. Also, plan for your meals. Many restaurants don’t open until 7PM. Some of the hotels have multiple restaurants that serve different menus at different times of the day, and changes by day, which made for limited selections and inability to order something you, saw the day before. Some restaurants and businesses on the island close from 12-1:30PM, some until 3PM, which can make shopping and eating on a whim difficult.
What to drink
Bottles of water are readily available. Being a French territory, wine is common and easy to find. As this is a tropical island, a multitude of fruit juices from pineapple juice to coconut milk are to be found everywhere. It is sometimes better to crack open your own coconut yourself and drain it for lunch. If you’re a fan of beer, the Hinano Beer will definitely be one you will like to taste and bring a few cans home.
Music and dancing tell the story of the Tahitian people. Most hotels feature evening entertainment. Club dancing is also available in downtown Papeete but close at 3AM. You will probably not even get out that late, so tired that you will be from spending so much time in the sun discovering the island. Have fun!
Accommodation in Tahiti can run from the most luxurious 5-star with overwater bungalows, security, a bar, a pool, to small family pensions.
More and more resorts have business centers from where you can have high-speed Internet access. Papeete’s Central Post Office is open weekdays from 7.30AM to 11.30AM and from 1.30PM to 5PM/6PM. Saturdays from 7.30AM to 11.30AM.
People often know about Tahiti and Bora Bora but the following are other wonderful islands that should be visited:
Tahiti has one of the lowest crime rates within France and its territories. However, petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching occurs.
Official tourism websites of Tahiti
For more information please visit the official government website: