Tahiti is the heart of the 118 French Polynesian islands and the only island with an international airport (Fa’a’ā International Airport). It’s home to over 70% of all the Polynesian population and has a vibrant little city called Papeete. Unlike what most people think, Tahiti does not have those long white sandy beaches with the turquoise blue water and dreamy palm trees. It’s mainly surrounded by black beaches, which are usually very lively with locals playing a game of football or having some food in a local ‘roulotte’ (=foodcarts) on the beach.
If your time in French Polynesia is limited, we would recommend skipping this island as the other ones are much more beautiful, but if you’re interested in seeing the Polynesian culture, it’s worth spending a couple of nights here. It’s the only island with a real city and a vast community of local people.
What to do in Tahiti?
This stunning long black sandy beach is perfect for a relaxing afternoon to get over the jetlag. The sand is pitch black and the beach is spectacular for pictures at sunset. The waves can get pretty big (so not great for swimming), and if you’re lucky you may spot some local surf champions hitting the waves.
This is one of the rare white sand beaches on the West coast of the island with gorgeous corals and tropical fish just off the beach. The water is incredibly clear but a bit shallow at first. Head further towards the reef and you will see it’s amazing for swimming and snorkelling! Very popular with the locals! This beach is also the perfect spot to watch the sunset over the neighbouring island of Moorea, and if you’re lucky you may spot a couple of whales jumping on the background.
Spending the night in Tahiti-Iti
Tahiti Nui is the small peninsula attached to the main island. It’s much less crowded and has a more local vibe that the main island. We drove along the South-Coast road and stopped in Tahaupoo for a beautiful walk along the coastline till the end of the village which is very famous for its monster waves (and where many surf competitions take place). There’s plenty of local ‘roulottes’ on the beach with delicious seafood (but quite a long wait).
Tahiti-Iti is almost 2 hours driving from Papeete so we would recommend spending one night here before heading back.
Museum of Tahiti and its islands
We really enjoyed this little museum as it gives a lot of interesting background information about the history and the flaura and fauna of the islands, as well as a summary of the amazing stories of the explorers who discovered the different islands. It’s definitely worth the stop if you want to find out more about the mysterious Polynesian islands. Surprisingly though, an important part of history is left out which is how Polynesia ended up as a French overseas territory.
Market in Papeete
In many guidebooks this is marked as THE thing to see in Tahiti, but we couldn’t really understand why. The market gets very busy in the early morning as it is the place where most of the locals do their groceries so there’s a fun atmosphere. But it’s not very big and there’s just a couple of stalls with fresh fruits and fish – nothing like the big street markets in Asia.
Where to sleep?
- Taaroa Lodge: Super cute little lodge right on the beach, owned by a former surf champion. There’s only a handful of rooms which are basic but comfortable and not expensive (45 EUR/night). There’s free kayaks and snorkelling gear and a fully equipment kitchen where you can prepare your own meals! We absolutely loved this place and it’s a bargain for French Polynesia.
- Vanira Lodge: This is another place we fell in love with in Tahiti-Iti. It’s more upscale but still affordable compared to the big resorts (100 EUR/night). The lodge is nestled into the green hills just off the coastline and offers a spectacular view on the blue lagoon. You can see waves crashing against the reef in the far. The rooms are little bungalows built in wood and bamboo, that merge perfectly with the landscape. There’s a beautiful walk behind the lodge that takes you even higher for a breath-taking view.
- Airbnb: Airbnb is starting to pick up in Tahiti and we found super good deals through this website, especially around Papeete.
Where to eat?
French Polynesia is famous for its “roulottes” which are literally a foodcarts along the street. They serve only a couple of dishes per day and all the ones we tried were absolutely delicious. There are roulottes every few kilometres along the coastline so you just need to pick the one with the best view.
- Waterfront roulottes in Papeete: This is THE spot to have dinner in Papeete. The roulottes (foodcarts) are assembled on Vaiete Square and open in the evening. There’s loads of choice between different cuisines and you eat on little tables set up in the middle of the square. It gets very busy in the evening and there’s a great atmosphere.