French Polynesia! It sounds like this incredibly dreamy and expensive destination, but is it really? Whilst it is definitely true that French Polynesia is home to some of the dreamiest islands we have ever been to, we decided to write this article to show that it is much more affordable and accessible than what most people think. Of course, if you go for the luxurious, all-in, over water bungalow type of holiday, you will end up paying exorbitant prices, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And it shouldn’t be that way, because then you will miss out on many things that these beautiful islands have to offer.
What is key for an affordable stay in French Polynesia, whilst discovering the ‘real’ islands and its people? We try to break it down for you below.
1. Find a good flight deal
French Polynesia is probably one of the furthest places you can go to on this planet, if you are traveling from Europe, so flight tickets will inevitably be a big part of your budget. However, the good news is that since May 2018 there is a low-cost airline called French Bee, with flights from Paris and San Francisco to Tahiti! We flew with them and were impressed with the quality and service.
They have flights 3 times a week, and if you book in advance you can get a return ticket from Paris for 1000 EUR, which is less than half of what you would pay if you would fly with one of the bigger airlines.
2. Staying in family pensions
This is probably the best thing you can do to cut down your budget. French Polynesia is so much more than just luxury resorts. On every island we visited, we found that there were many affordable accommodation options, often run by an entire family. Most of them have only a handful of rooms so it really feels like you are welcomed into their home. It’s an amazing way to get to know the local people and you will get a taste of the real Polynesian hospitality (we can learn a thing or two from them). Moreover, if you fly half way around the world, it would be a pity to spend all of your time in a resort without getting to know the island and its people!
The majority of these places are not listed on any of the major booking platforms so you need to do some research in advance. We’ve listed some on our blog, but the best way to find these pensions is by searching on the accommodation section of the Tahiti Tourism website. You will see there are many more options here than on any of the major booking platforms or guidebooks. This website doesn’t provide a lot of information though (e.g. pictures and reviews are often missing) so you may want to google some of the places to find more information.
To book a room in these pensions, all you need to do is send them an email or give them a call. Prices for a double room in a family run pensions can go from 50 to 100 EUR per night for the ones in a prime location.
3. Staying in Airbnb accommodation
Another great way to save on accommodation expenses is Airbnb. There are PLENTY of private rooms, bungalows and even entire apartments for rent on all of the major islands in French Polynesia. Often these are even located in an amazing location facing the ocean! Make sure to book these ones in advance! As everywhere in French Polynesia, our hosts were always super friendly and welcoming. Prices vary widely depending on the type of accommodation, but you can get private rooms for as little as 50 EUR a night and a private bungalows typically start at 70 EUR.
4. Eat in “Roulottes”
These literally translated ‘foodkarts’, are very typical for French Polynesia and you can find them everywhere along the coastline of all the islands. They are called foodkarts but are actually little restaurants where most of the locals have their meal. We had some of the most amazing food in these Roulottes, ranging from coconut shrimp to marinated fish and chicken cooked in leaves all served with a fresh Tahitian beer. You will pay around 10-15 EUR per person for a massive meal. A great alternative to the more expensive tourist restaurants!
5. Cook your own food
Most of the family pensions and Airbnb accommodations have a separate fully equipped kitchen for the guests, and as there are usually only a handful of rooms, you typically have the kitchen to yourself 😊 Supermarkets in French Polynesia are super modern and we were surprised with the variety of products they have to offer; we even knew most of the brands which is so crazy given we were half way around the world! Most products are imported so expect to pay Western prices.
6. Cut down on car rental costs
Another significant expense in French Polynesia is having your own wheels, especially if you end up renting your vehicle with one of the major international companies like Avis or Europcar (which are the two main rental car companies on the islands). There’s absolutely no need to rent a car for the entire duration of your stay in French Polynesia, especially on the smaller islands where you can do everything by bike or with a motorbike.
The only island where we would recommend hiring a car for the entire duration of your stay is Tahiti because distances are quite large and the things to see are scattered around the island. But here again, there’s no need to pay the crazy prices of the international companies. We found a local agency called Eco Car Tahiti which is located just in front of the airport who has small cars for rent as of 35 EUR a day (vs min 75 EUR a day with Avis or Europcar). They were super friendly and we had an amazing experience with them.
On Moorea, most of the activities are located on the North Western shore, so if you are sleeping around that area, there’s no need to rent a car as you will not use it most of the days. There’s a public bus circling the island which you can catch to get to your hotel and back. You may want to rent a motorbike for 1 or 2 days to go around the island and visit the Belvedere lookout.
If you’re sleeping elsewhere on the island you could rent a car with Eco Car Tahiti and take it with you on the ferry to Moorea. You will take the ferry anyways to get to Moorea and the return ticket for a car is only 70 EUR. This will be a much better deal than renting directly on Moorea where prices are 80+ EUR a day.
Finally, on Bora Bora and Huahine you can get to most places with a motorbike or bike, and if you want to have wheels for an afternoon just go for a half day package. Most family pensions offer bicycles or can rent a motorbike for you.
7. Bring own snorkeling gear
This may sound trivial, but you should note that you will probably go snorkelling once or twice a day in French Polynesia, and when they rent out a snorkelling set at 10/15 EUR an hour, this can add up quickly.
Traveling to French Polynesia is perhaps not the cheapest holiday you can do, but it’s MUCH more affordable than any of the other islands in the Pacific that we’ve been to (like Hawaii). Flights will make up a significant part of your budget, but once on the ground you can really get around on a budget.
We were blown away by these paradise islands and would highly recommend them as a holiday destination. We can’t wait to go back to explore the other islands and hope you will too!