Help Me, LP! Is Tahiti suitable for an independent traveler?

In this series, Lonely Planet’s team of writers and editors answers your travel problems and provides tips and hacks to help you plan a hassle-free trip. This week, Lonely Planet senior editor Melissa Yeager shares some tips for visiting Tahiti for non-honeymooners. 

Question: I want to visit Tahiti, but it’s not a honeymoon, and I’m not into resorts and packaged holidays. Is there any way to explore the islands more independently?

Melissa Yeager: My colleagues here at LP turned this one over to me this week because I’m actually in the middle of planning a trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia. It’s not my honeymoon either but I am counting down the days until I can hike, swim and soak in the sun in those idyllic waters.

But I get where you’re coming from. With its dreamy above-water bungalows and tranquil lagoons with crystal clear water, the islands of Tahiti have become so synonymous with honeymoons on Instagram that merely mentioning you’re visiting these islands to a friend may immediately conjure visions of lovebirds fresh off the stress of planning a wedding. 

And if the luxe resorts and celebrity sightings of Bora Bora are not your vibe (or budget) – you might wonder if this is a place to visit.  

Tahiti and French Polynesia on a budget

Beach view of Mt Otemanu in Tahiti
Beach view of Mt Otemanu in Tahiti © Maridav / Shutterstock

The many ways to travel in Tahiti

There are more than 118 islands that make up the country of Tahiti – so the good news is there are plenty of options that are not Bora Bora and there are lots of ways to make this an independent, island-hopping adventure. 

For instance, you can get between Pape’ete and the island of Mo’orea by ferry. To get to some of the more remote islands, Air Tahiti (note: this is different from the carrier Air Tahiti Nui that flies internationally) offers inter-island air passes. You can pick one of their itineraries with prearranged passes or you can chart your own path.

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Nuku Hiva Island, French Polynesia © age fotostock / Getty Images

A variety of accommodation options for all budgets 

In terms of accommodation, there’s also a lot more to French Polynesia than just the posh, mega resorts that pop up on social media – places that if you’re willing to adventure to some of the lesser traveled spots can offer a unique connection to this country and its natural beauty while supporting small, family-owned businesses.  

To do this, choose a Tahitian guesthouse called pensions (Tahiti Tourisme says this is pronounced pone-see-owns.) Often family-owned, these places will not only give you a chance to connect with locals and their culture but allow you to meet similar-minded travelers as well. You’ll find a range of pension options from luxurious to rustic. Consider what some lack in fluffy bedding and air conditioning they might make up for by giving you the chance to experience a place few visit while also offering a memorable cultural experience.

A date with the ocean in Mo’orea, French Polynesia

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500px Photo ID: 43717172 - Pacific paradise
Overwater huts © Peter Wade / 500px

Many treat you like one of the family and yes, some of them do have overwater bungalows that will allow you to live out that (bougie) dream on a budget and in a way that might feel more authentic to you. 

Before you book a pension, check what amenities they offer to make sure the lodging matches your expectations for accommodations and that you are prepared when you arrive. Do they have towels? Air conditioning? Do they require you to pay in cash (most will). Some may require you to purchase a half-board or full-board package which will include your meals. (Which honestly may be helpful in some more remote places.) 

If a pension doesn’t seem like your vision for a Tahitian trip and you have a larger budget to work with, you might consider chartering a boat for a sailing vacation to visit several islands.

Introducing Tahiti & French Polynesia

The many activities in Tahiti

Once you get to French Polynesia, you’ll have a large number of activities to choose from beyond reading a book at the beach. If you love being in the water, you have your choice of surfing, snorkeling, diving or paddle boarding. If you’d rather be on dry land, you can go on a 4×4 adventure or hike the trails for perfect waterfall and lagoon views. You can check out pineapple farms, go horseback riding or see wildlife like whales. 

So in short, yes. While there are a ton of big-name resorts to stay at and it is an iconic honeymoon destination, there are certainly lots of other options to chart a different adventure if you choose. 

Checking In: Sofitel Kia Ora Mo’orea, kick back and relax in the luxe overwater bungalows

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