First, I want to clear up a common misunderstanding: Tahiti isn’t a country. A lot of people seem to classify it as its own country, and I also thought the same until I began planning my trip. Bora Bora isn’t a country, either. These two islands are part of a chain of many islands that make up the country that is French Polynesia. Tahiti, however, is the country’s main island. When flying in from other countries, you’ll arrive at the international airport in Tahiti. Most people will then either take the next flight out to another island as quickly as possible, and will only return to Tahiti to head back home.
But don’t be so quick to leave. Tahiti actually has a lot to offer and is definitely worth a visit, if only for a half day.
Tahiti offers a very different experience as opposed to its more popular sister islands, such as Bora Bora and Moorea. Don’t expect powder white sand or crystal blue waters here. Instead, you can expect tons of black sand beaches, rough surf, jungles and waterfalls, hikes, and rugged landscapes. It’s a great way to balance out your trip so that it isn’t all lazing around in your overwater bungalow (which isn’t all that bad, though).
An entire loop around the island is approximately 80 miles and it uses one main highway. It’s as simple as that! I suggest going counter-clockwise (I went clockwise, and a lot of the signs were facing opposing traffic, so we would miss them and have to backtrack). But, you’d be just fine going clockwise as well. In addition to the popular spots, there is a lot of other nice scenery to admire along your drive.
The best way to get around is by car. While you can just do an arranged island tour, I highly recommend just renting a car and doing it yourself. This popular loop is referred to as the Circle Island Tour, and it’s seriously one of the easiest drives that I’ve ever done on a trip. You won’t need a GPS and just a simple map will do, but even without a map you’d be fine because there are signs everywhere that point out the popular tourist spots.
Black Sand Beaches Everywhere
Our first stop was Point Venus on the northern part of the island, which was one of the island’s many black sand beaches. But with its calm surf, warm waters and wide beach, it made for a perfect place to swim and relax.
Other Amazing Stops Along the North Shore
Next, we ventured on to the Blowhole of Arahoho, which was pretty neat and a lot more impressive than the one I visited in Kauai.
Located very close by were the Faarumai Waterfalls, or also simply referred to as just the “three waterfalls.” A very short hike takes you to one of the main falls, which is amazing. Just don’t forget bug spray!
If You Have Time to Spare
From there, we planned to head down to the fern grottos. Since it was still somewhat early in the day, we decided to take a slight detour to Teahupoo, which is located off the main part of the island (still really easy to get to). Teahupoo is known for some of the biggest and deadliest waves in the world, and is a popular spot for professional surfers.
Sadly, I don’t think the water could have been any flatter when we went, so I do recommend checking the surf forecast before you head out. But if you’re in the area and you’ve got the time to spare, check it out!
Caves and Grottos
Our last stop was the Maraa Fern Grottos. One of them was roped off due to falling rocks, but the other was accessible if you want to cool off and go for a dip.
Don’t forget about black pearl shopping! Tahiti is known for their black pearls, and while you can get them on the other islands, the selection of shops is huge in Papeete in the Vaima Center area. You could probably spend all day shopping for black pearls with all the choices you have. But just don’t plan on doing this on Sunday, as most of the shops are closed.
Where to Stay
I stayed at the Le Meridien Tahiti, which is conveniently located near the airport. I stayed in a room that offered a great view of the amenities, but they also offer overwater bungalows here, too. I was a bit bungalowed out after a week in Bora Bora and Moorea, and I wanted to save some money, so I decided to opt for a regular room. The rooms are spacious, clean, and decked out stylishly in modern Polynesian decor.
Due to the water being so different from the other islands (it’s a deep shade of blue here due to the dark sand), I find that it isn’t really as appealing to stay in an overwater bungalow on this island. Additionally, these bungalows do not have the individual lagoon access that you might expect. However, these rooms are the resort’s most luxurious option, so if you’re looking to splurge throughout your entire trip, I’d say go for it.
Their swimming pool is a lot of fun; it’s huge and has a sand bottom, so you can still get that white sand beach experience. The property itself is maintained well and the gardens are filled with so many vibrant colors. They also offer complimentary Internet access on the hotel’s computers in the lobby area. Overall, I’d recommend staying here if you plan on visiting Tahiti during your French Polynesia trip.
Essential Travel Information
Flights to Tahiti: You’ll fly to PPT Airport, and if you’re flying from the United States, you’ll likely be flying in from California. This makes for a pretty long flight, especially if your departure isn’t originating from the West Coast and you’re switching planes there. If you’ll be moving on to one of French Polynesia’s other islands, break up your travel time by spending a day or two in Tahiti. Use FlightHub or other similar airfare search engines to find the best price possible, as these tools will quickly compare the different options available for your travel dates/departure airport.
Car rental: I highly recommend just renting your own car and exploring the island on your own. It’s easy peasy and fun. We rented our car through Hertz.