Tahiti: a word that inspires a sigh of longing from anyone who hears it. Don’t wait for a special occasion that may never come – make plans to go now.
For decades, Tahiti and its surrounding islands, which stretch some 1,000 miles from east to west and north to south, have earned the reputation of being a luxury destination, a place you only go to once, usually for a romantic occasion like a honeymoon or wedding anniversary. It’s the kind of place we hold in our perception as being so special — and so expensive — that we think going there should be reserved for a special reason and for many that means never going at all.
It’s time to change that old idea. While French Polynesia is never “cheap,” it can be affordable and definitely does not require a romantic partner. Make plans to go solo, with a friend or a group. You can have a perfectly wonderful and affordable vacation in this tropical paradise without going into debt if you’re willing to stop wishing and start planning with these five Tahiti travel tips.
- Focus on Moorea. All international flights must land at the Papeete International Airport on the island of Tahiti. The closest island to Tahiti is Moorea, just a 30-minute, $12 ferry ride away. Bora Bora, Le Taha’a, Tuamoto Atolls and other islands will require another plane fare and additional flight time. Why spend extra time in the airport and extra money when you can enjoy a couple nights in Tahiti and then take the ferry to Moorea for the remaining nights of your vacation? Moorea is absolutely stunning and has everything you’ve been dreaming to see: iridescent turquoise seas brimming with colorful tropical fish, sea turtles and corals; craggy volcanic peaks covered in lush green vegetation, exotic fruits and flowers growing wild and fresh water springs cascading into steep waterfalls. Sure, the other islands are wonderful and if you can afford it, by all means go. But you’ll find everything you’ve been dreaming about in Tahiti and Moorea.
- Travel during low season. Rates are more expensive in French Polynesia from May 1 to Oct. 31 because the weather is less humid and rainy. The low season runs from Nov. 1 to April 30. If you book during low season, you’ll save on airfare, hotels and get special prices on many excursions and activities. Don’t be put-off by concerns that it will be too hot or too wet. December and January will be the rainiest, so if that’s a concern, consider November and late February or March. But even then, rain tends to be strong and brief, and can even add to the dramatic beauty of your experience. Plus, the temperature difference between low and high season is negligible, usually staying in the high 70s to mid-80s during the day regardless of season with refreshing trade winds along the coastline.
- Include a breakfast and dinner package. Dining out is expensive – both for food and drinks. If you’re traveling during the low season, many restaurants will be closed. Unless you’re a light eater, the best bet is to select a hotel that offers the option of what is referred to as a half-board plan. This means your room price includes breakfast (usually a nice buffet) and dinner from the hotel restaurant’s menu. The Manava Beach Resort and Spa in Moorea is great for this. It’s just a few blocks from a small grocery store and has small refrigerators in all the rooms. Purchase fruit, snacks, lunch items and bottled water at the market to bring back to your room to keep you satisfied between breakfast and dinner. Alcohol in French Polynesia is expensive and heavily taxed, so if libations are an essential part of your vacation, purchase up to 2 liters of alcohol (per person) at the duty-free store at your departure airport. Having your own stash could save you hundreds of dollars in a country where a single cocktail can cost $25.
- Stay at a vacation rental instead of a resort. If it’s your first time in French Polynesia, staying at a reputable resort is your best strategy. The right travel agency, like travel wholesaler GoWay Travel, can put together some great travel deals and set up your trip so you can park your brain in vacation mode and just follow the itinerary. But once you’re familiar with the lay of the land and ready to go back for your second or third visit, staying at an “Airbnb” or a vacation home you find on VRBO can be a great way to save a bundle. You won’t have the onsite concierge service, restaurants and bar, activities center and daily maid service – but you will save hundreds of dollars in lodging costs. It’s a bit more of a gamble, so read through the reviews from previous guests and be sure to use a top vacation rental website platform.
- Book your excursions directly with the operator. Whether it’s an air-conditioned coach tour that circles the island of Tahiti, a scuba diving or snorkeling expedition, a 4×4 Jeep tour, or whirlwind Jet Ski excursion of the sparkling blue lagoons, you’ll save lots if you book directly with the operator. Rates are usually negotiable when you book direct and you also avoid commissions. Good bets in Tahiti are Marama Tours and Tahiti Tours. When you get to Moorea, contact Moorea Explorer. Hotels will set up your excursions, but that adds to the cost.
French Polynesia is a spectacular ecosystem. Its intoxicating beauty is enough to make you wonder if maybe Tahiti and her sister islands were once the original Garden of Eden. It’s not surprising it has a well-earned reputation for luxury travel and if that’s what you seek, you’ll find it in abundance. But the true luxury is in the beauty of the place itself. Don’t miss out because you think it’s too expensive. Say yes and start planning your French Polynesian getaway – the affordable way.
Kim Calvert is the editor of Singular magazine and the founder of the SingularCity social networking community. An outspoken champion of people who are living their lives as a “me” instead of a “we,” Kim oversees the creative direction and editorial content of the magazine and online social networking community. She’s been to French Polynesia three times and is looking forward to the fourth.