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“Do you have any suggestions on what to do tomorrow?”
The guy at the tourist information looked at me with wide eyes. “Tomorrow? But tomorrow is Sunday. Everything is closed.”
My last days in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, did not sound very promising. I had thought of taking a bus around the island of Tahiti, but as I soon learned, busses didn’t operate on Sunday either. Yet, despite everything being closed, I ended up having a surprisingly good time.
Tahiti can be very expensive. If, like me, you’re conscious about your budget and do not want to rent a car or join an expensive tour, here are some suggestions on what to do.
#1 Go for a walk around Papeete
The city centre is easy to explore on foot. Grab a map from your hotel or the tourist information and set out to see the most important sights.
Great stops include the Jardin de Paofai and the temple de Paofai, a church opposite the park that comes alive on Sundays when locals attend the mass. If you’re looking for something different and unexpected, check out the Chinese temple. And if you get hungry, stop for a snack at the Papeete market.
2 – 3h
#2 Shop at the Papeete market
The Papeete market is one of the city’s most famous sights. It’s open every day except for Sundays, when it only opens its doors in the early morning. At the market, you can find fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, but also souvenirs and colourful clothing. Around the market, you will find many small bistros and cafes that invite you to take a break.
30min – 1h
#3 Have dinner at the roulottes
In the evening, at around 6pm, the Place Vaiete becomes alive as food trucks set up their chairs and tables. If you’re looking for a cheap place to eat (cheap in comparison to most restaurants – you should still expect to pay 10 – 20$ for a meal), this is where you want to go.
Make sure to try the poisson cru, the national dish of French Polynesia. It is marinated raw fish, similar to the Peruvian ceviche, and sold at several roulottes.
#4 Learn about pearls at the Musée de la Perle
The Robert Wan Pearl Museum is the perfect place if you want to learn about the pearls sold in many shops around the country. It is linked to the Robert Wan shop and the exhibits range from explanations about pearl farming and fishing (did you know that Polynesian pearl divers can dive up to 30 – 40m deep, for up to three minutes?) to exhibits about pearls worldwide.
Afterwards, check out the shop to see how much you would have to pay for one of those beautiful pearl necklaces.
#5 Hike to the Belvédère
That Sunday, when everything was closed, I ended up hiking to the Belvédère. Located at 600m above the town, you will find a restaurant with amazing views over Papeete. The climb is along a steep and winding road but it is worth it. This is also where the trail going up Mount Aorai starts.
To get here, start at the Tourist Information and walk down Rue Paul Gauguin. At the second roundabout, turn right. You will see a park and a police station on your left handside. Once you have gone past them, take the first street on the right and follow it, all the way up the mountain.
4 – 5h
#6 Take a bus around the island
Let me warn you about one thing. While it sounds easy, taking a bus around the island and hopping on and off as you please, it is not. Bus schedules are irregular, nobody knows when the next one is going to arrive and they stop running around mid-afternoon. That said, taking a bus is a cheap and fun way to explore Tahiti.
I spent almost two hours at the bus station in Papeete before my bus finally left. After an hour of driving past the coastline amd some very dramatic scenery on the island, I then hopped off at the Jardins de Vaipahi. This water garden is completely free to visit. Plants are labelled and explanations are given in English, too. From here, you will also find two hiking trails leading up into the forest.
There are more stops along the coast worth visiting. Ask at the tourist information and they can give you some recommendations.
#7 Explore the underwater world
Tired of walking around the city? Then a trip to Tahiti’s underwater world is a great option. You can easily arrange whale or dolphin watching excursions, snorkelling trips or diving. I went diving with Scubatek Tahiti, who are based at the yacht club, on the outskirts of Papeete. Due to a strong swell, conditions were not very good but it was still a lot of fun. I saw many fish and even a sea turtle.
My dive instructor swore that she had heard a whale singing. All I could hear was my own breath but it is cool to know that one of those giant creatures was close.
4 – 6h
#8 Hike the Fautaua Valley
The Fautaua Valley hike is the one thing I wanted to do but could not due to limited time. Since everything I read about it sounded amazing, I decided to include it on this list.
You need to get a permit from the town hall to do the hike. Once you have aquired the permit, you are free to walk along the Fautaua Valley, where a waterfall waits for you in the end. Make sure to bring your swimsuit so you can hop in!