Tahiti Holidays: 13 Things to Do In and Around Papeete

January 27, 2021

tahiti holidays

Few names conjure up a romantic vibe of days gone by like “Tahiti.” The largest and most well-known island in French Polynesia, its capital, Papeete, is usually the first-visited place when landing in the tropical paradise archipelago. Because it is the most urbanized island in French Polynesia, most people use it as a launch point to get to one of the other gorgeous islands like Bora Bora. However, it is far more worthwhile to begin your journey with two or three days here. Papeete is a great place to begin your Tahiti holidays!

Tahiti, known as the island of love, was to be my base and first stop in French Polynesia – you can only fly to the other islands from Tahiti, hence the nickname “Gateway to French Polynesia.”  Since their discovery over 200 years ago, Tahiti conjures up visions of swaying coconut-palmed beaches, and fragrant tiare blossoms. It is surrounded entirely by a coral reef contrasted by the two towering volcanic peaks in the center of the island.

Tahiti is filled with black-sand beaches, blue lagoons, towering waterfalls, two extinct volcanoes, rich history, handicrafts, and delicious cuisine. it’s a popular vacation destination. Explored by Captain James Cook in the 18th century, it was also often painted by French artist Paul Gauguin.

Tahiti at a Glance

tahiti holidays

  • Island group: Windward Islands
  • Area: 1,044 km2 (403 sq mi)
  • Currency: Central Pacific Franc (XPF)
  • Highest elevation: 2,241 m (7352 ft)
  • Highest point: Mont Orohena
  • Location: Pacific Ocean
  • density: 181/km2 (469/sq mi)


The main languages spoken by the locals are French and Tahitian. If you can learn a few words, it will be helpful.


  • Hello: Ia ora na (pronounced yo-ra-na)
  • Thank you: Mauruuru (mah-roo-roo)
  • Welcome: Maeva
  • Good Bye: Nana
  • Bathroom: Te piha pape,


  • Hello: Bonjour
  • Thank you: Merci
  • Goodbye: Au revoir
  • Bathroom: Salle de bain or toilettes

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13 Marae

tahiti holidays

If you are interested in Tahiti’s interesting past, a visit to one of the marae should be on your agenda. Though it’s been well over 150 years since Tahitians converted to Christianity, evidence of their ancient pagan religion is still present throughout the island. The most popular are the Marae Arahurahu on Tahiti’s west coast and the one in Huahine. The ruins of the Maeva represent the ancient pagan worshiping customs of Tahiti. The stone structures were built by their ancestors to offer sacrifices to their pagan gods.

12 Waterfalls

tahiti holidays

Tahiti is well blessed with scenic waterfalls, but by far the most popular is the Faarumai Waterfall only 30 minutes from Papeete by car. It is also called Les Trois Cascades because it consists of three waterfalls. The first is easily reached; the second and third are reached via a hike through lush rainforest to get to the crystal clear pools

11 Poisson Cru

poisson cru

Poison Cru is a traditional concoction of raw fish marinated in coconut milk and lime juice tossed with tomatoes, cucumber, and scallions. This national dish is surprisingly tasty and a must-try!

10 Roulottes

tahiti holidays

Peter Gill / UK, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

After 6 p.m., Papeete’s main square, Place Vai’ete, turns into a food lover’s paradise. Eating at the roulottes is a must; these outdoor “food trucks” roll out after sunset and create a carnival atmosphere along the waterfront, offering inexpensive but delicious local fare, serving everything from Chinese dishes, sweet or savory crepes, steaks, pizza, sashimi, and of course – the above-mentioned poisson cru, which is where I tried it.

The vibe at this waterfront festival is so much fun! As darkness sets in, locals and tourists flock here to listen to the cheery music and enjoy delicious food at a good price.

9 Point Venus

point venus

I got to walk along the black sand beach where Captains Cook, Captain Wallis, and Captain Bligh all landed after anchoring their ships offshore. Point Venus, the northernmost point of the island, is where Captain Cook on Endeavour was able to track the transit of Venus in 1769.

Marking the spot is a charming white brick lighthouse, Phare de la Pointe Vénus, built in 1868, 99 years after Cook’s first visit. Inside is information about the history of the Point.

Tahiti’s rich culture can be enjoyed on a stroll along this waterfront promenade, providing endless photo ops from luxurious yachts to racing pirogues (canoes), and outrigger canoes.

8 Sunset


Even though our stay was short, we were able to observe two gorgeous sunsets. One was at a beautiful black sand beach at Venus Point (above), and the other was at our hotel. This one was even more magnificent as we could see the island of Mo’orea in the distance.

7 Le Marche Municipale

le marche municipale

The Papeete Market, aka the Municipal Market, is a must-do in Papeete. Located behind the cathedral a couple of blocks back from the waterfront, the buzzing and colorful Marche Municipale spreads over two stories, lined with stalls and tables offering fruit, vegetables, fish, flowers, and vanilla. You can also find a huge selection of handicrafts such as pareos (sarongs), tifaifai (quilts), wooden carvings, and jewelry made from shells or the highly coveted local black pearls. Shopping while listening to live Polynesian music is pure joy!

6 Snorkeling

tahiti holidays

One of the best things to do for adventurous travelers on Tahiti holidays is snorkeling in the crystal blue waters.

Mahana Beach Park has a white sand beach with beautiful coral just a 20-minute drive from the center of Papeete. In addition to lots of colorful fish, there is a possibility to view stingrays, sea turtles, eels, and/or reef sharks.

However, because we were so short on time, the only snorkeling we were able to do was in the Lagoonarium at our hotel. See #2 below.

One of the things I did not get to do was go diving in Tahiti. As a certified scuba diver, I was disappointed that I was not able to do that — it’s such a fabulous destination for diving!

5 4×4 Safari Expedition

tahiti holidays

Our favorite adventure on our Tahiti holidays was traversing the rugged Tahiti landscape on an open-air 4×4 safari expedition into remote sections of the island, exploring the hidden world of tropical forests, remote mountain lakes, rivers, cliffs, and myriad waterfalls.

4x4 safari

We enjoyed a bumpy, winding trek through the lush valley, passing towering mountains and cascading waterfalls, ancient volcanoes, scenic overlooks, lakes, flora, and fauna, observing Polynesian culture along the way. Our guide explained the unique history and geography of Tahiti throughout the journey.

4 Day Trip to Mo’orea

tahiti holidays

If you have more than one day on Tahiti, just a short ferry ride from Papeete, Mo’orea is a beautiful island and a fun day trip. This volcanic island is known for its stunning coral reefs, lush landscapes, and crystal-clear turquoise waters.

To see as much of the island as possible, we opted to do a 4×4 safari tour that stopped at all the major sites and viewpoints, such as Mt.Rotui and Belvedere Viewpoint. It was great fun, providing a plethora of photo ops.

To learn more about visiting Mo’orea, read my article about how to spend a day in Mo’orea and discover homegrown lipstick in Mo’orea.

3 Manmade Lagoon

interconental tahiti

Tahiti is known for its beautiful black sand beaches. These are within driving distance from Papeete:

  • Lafayette Beach: 20 minutes
  • Point Venus Black Sand Beach: 20 minutes
  • Plage de Vaiava: 30 minutes
  • Taharuu: 1 hour
  • La Plage de Maui: 1 hour (rare white sand beach)

tahiti holidays

We didn’t really have time to visit many of the beaches besides Point Venus Black Beach during our Tahiti holidays, but I fell in love with my resort’s white sand man-made beach and bath-temp water.

tahiti holidays

The turquoise water was mesmerizing and there was even a swim-up bar. It was a great spot to chill out!

2 Intercontinental

intercontinental tahiti

We opted to stay at the luxurious Intercontinental Resort, a stunning 5-star resort with impeccably landscaped gardens and one of the few hotels on Tahiti that offers a few overwater bungalows. The hotel is set in a central location great for exploring other parts of the island.

Most rooms face the ocean, and from the hotel grounds, there are panoramic ocean views including the dazzling sunsets over the neighboring island of Mo’orea.

tahiti holidays

The main pool features a waterfall and infinity edges that blend into the “lagoonarium” where novice snorkelers can swim in manmade boulder-strewn waters stocked with fish.

1 Overwater Bungalow

overwater bungalows

Tahiti’s first overwater bungalows were built back in the 1960s to provide access to the lagoon where sandy beaches were lacking. Nowadays these thatched-roof private huts are considered the highest level of tropical luxury accommodations around the world.

tahiti holidays

Sleeping in an overwater bungalow is the most romantic thing you can do and a must-do if even just for one night. Most have glass floors where you can view fish, stingrays, and other marine life underfoot, and you can snorkel from your own private deck.


Papeete is the heart of Tahiti and is worth visiting before moving on to other islands in French Polynesia. I recommend spending a couple of days exploring the black sand beaches, outdoor adventures, and rich history in and near Papeete.

You may also be interested in 10 Best Things to Do in Bora Bora.

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Disclosure:  The author was honored to be the guest of Tahiti Tourism during her stay, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.

This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer.

About the Author

Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and the southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of the “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.

She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the next few months.

Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.

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