What images does Tahiti conjure up in your mind as you imagine traveling there? Pristine beaches? The flower-bedecked Polynesian women that artist Paul Gauguin saw? Images of a luxurious holiday haven for the rich and famous? Tahiti is all those images and so much more.
Whether you are strolling through the shopping center at the Marche de Papeete or walking around the town, the best way I explored Tahiti as a solo woman traveler was to take my map and promptly put it in my backpack. There are two reasons for my approach. One was to throw caution to the trade winds and explore the town of Papeete and the second reason was to have a backup plan just in case I did get lost.
Of course, I’ve had amazing adventures in Tahiti and eagerly recommend these seven amazing things to do.
1. Explore Papeete
Paradise on the cheap was my aim while exploring Tahiti. Taking a walking tour of the capital, Papeete, is a good base from which to branch out on your own. The suggested route is about a mile and a quarter and takes about two hours from the start at To’ata Square to the Place Vaiete.
Along this route, you will walk past one of the island’s most incredible churches, the Temple Paofai. It’s hard to miss this pink church. As you continue along the inland side of this four-lane road, you will pass the Robert Wan Pearl Museum, the shady haven of the Parc Bougainville, and the Vaima Centre. If you are looking for a decedant place to eat, you’ll find the Mango Cafe on your route. More about that below!
Your walking tour will continue along the waterfront, leading you to the shopping center at Marche de Papeete. End your walking tour at the Place Vaiete, where you can enjoy the very traditional Polynesian food trucks called roulottes. A roulotte snack is definitely a must-see and must-eat experience!
2. Take To The Coast
If you would rather rent a vehicle to explore the island of Tahiti, there is a 70-mile coastal road that encircles the island going in a clockwise circuit. Outside of the hustle of the capital city, the surrounding sea is the deepest blue, and the jagged peaks of Tahitian mountains jut out from the sea skyward. If you plan to take this route, be aware that cars saunter at “island pace” -- about 30 miles an hour.
As you drive in the clockwise direction from Papeete, you will pass through the Baie de Matavai, a favorite location for the early European explorers on the island. You will also find the Point Venus -- the site of Captain James Cook’s observatory -- on the bay’s eastern shore. The exquisite black sand beach is a great place to stop and view the lighthouse and walk along the shores.
3. Enjoy Nature The Tahitian Way
As you continue along this coastal route, you’ll see signs for a natural Tahitian wonder: the Arahoho Blowhole. Under the right conditions, the sea swells that are forced through the rock provide a great show. After driving a little over 60 miles past the blow hole, you’ll come to a road that turns inland. Here you will find the next best free sight on Tahiti: the Faarumai Waterfalls.
Further into your around-the-island journey, you’ll find another free activity to enjoy -- a walk in the Vaipahi Spring Gardens. Vaipahi Spring Gardens has many short walks as well as a two-hour walk, which is the longest in the gardens. Whether you hike along a short walk or opt for the long hike, the impressive waterfall in the gardens is just as memorable as Faarumai.
4. Venture To Tahiti Iti
If you are looking for something truly out of the ordinary, consider visiting Tahiti Iti. Tahiti Iti is the quiet, southeastern half of the island. If you enjoy hiking or surfing, or would like to see a calm, clean lagoon, then Tahiti Iti is the place to be. You can cross into Tahiti Iti at Taravao, but the road only extends to Tautira in the north and Teahupoo in the south. There is no road around this small island, but there are excellent waves for surfers in Teahupoo.
5. Hop On A Cargo Ship Or Ride The Ferry
Catch a ride on one of the cargo ships that transports goods between the islands, or hop onboard a ferry that shuttles back and forth between Tahiti and Mo’orea, a smaller island to the west, each day. There are also boat tours along the coast of Tahiti Iti. Professional boat operator Teahupoo Excursions runs custom tours that come highly recommended by travelers and have earned the company a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence.
If you don’t want to be on the water, then you can also spend a day hiking in some of Tahiti’s unforgettable inland hikes or just relaxing. Plop yourself down on one of the many beaches or wade out for a snorkeling experience. One of the best beaches is at Papara’s Taharuu Beach, which has black sand and big surf.
6. Eating In Tahiti
As with all things to do in Tahiti, there are the “paradise on the cheap” eats as well as upscale dining options. When I travel, I like to enjoy the local food and eat where the locals eat. If an eatery is overflowing with locals, then I know I’m guaranteed to get a great dining experience.
One of the most authentic and budget-conscious choices for great Tahitian food is the Vaiete Square roulottes mentioned above. These food caravans and food trucks are famous in Papeete. Locals and flocks of tourists make the pilgrimage to enjoy everything from thin crust pizzas to crepes. If you happen to be in Papeete on the weekend, then head over to the roulottes and enjoy live music.
If you are already shopping at the Marche de Papeete, you can also grab some good budget-conscious food there. Try the Tahitian-style stew or the couscous in the market’s cafeteria or head to the tables in the center court and enjoy people-watching and music. The cafeteria is located on the upper floor and only accepts cash payments. They only serve breakfast and lunch, so plan on having dinner elsewhere.
If you are looking to treat yourself to an exquisite higher-end restaurant, dining at the Mango Cafe is truly an experience. I was fortunate to enjoy dinner here with some of the crew from the cruise ship I was on and was treated to a meal of duck breast with fresh mangoes. They also serve fresh mahi mahi and many other ocean-inspired dishes. Arrive earlier in the evening as Mango Cafe is popular with the younger crowds and can get especially wild on the weekends.
7. Shopping In Tahiti
Other than souvenir shops, there isn’t a lot to buy ... other than the famed Tahitian pearls. If you are looking for gorgeous black or colored Tahitian pearls, then Papeete is the place to shop for them. I bought a beautiful set of earrings as well as a pendant necklace during my stay at the Intercontinental Tahiti Resort in Papeete.
If you are looking for a memento of your visit to Tahiti, then the Marche de Papeete is the place to find handicrafts such as the pareo (a sarong-type cloth), vanilla, and monoi (floral-scented coconut oil). Maybe you would like to invest in a lasting memento of your visit by getting a traditional Tahitian tattoo!