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  • Papeete-Harbor-Tahiti - Sailors and fishermen populate the harbor at Papeete on Tahiti.
  • Lighthouse-Point-Venus-Tahiti - Point Venus, within driving distance of Papeete, is home to a picturesque Victorian-era lighthouse and a monument to the crew of HMS Bounty, who landed on Tahiti here.
  • Beach-InterContinental-Tahiti - The InterContinental Resort Tahiti is known for its spectacular beach.

Papeete travel guide: Top things to do & see

our guide

The vibe

Papeete, capital of Tahiti and arguably the epicenter of French Polynesia, offers visitors a tropical paradise laced with a French flair. Papeete (pronounced pa-PAY-a-tay) is bordered by an aqua-blue sea and gorgeous beaches rimmed with palm trees. The landscape is downright magnificent, and the people are friendly and helpful.

For more than 200 years Tahiti has been a destination that has lured travelers from all over the world, and Papeete offers a gateway filled with delicious, locally sourced food, beautiful scenery and plenty of activities, from snorkeling and shopping to sightseeing.

Cruise ships that call on Papeete

Top reasons to go

  • The waterfront of Papeete offers carnival attractions, food shops and more.
  • People watching in the capital, whether at the local municipal market or through the different restaurants, is sure to offer interest.
  • The purchase of black pearls is easy in this city. However, make sure that your seller is certified.
See the South Pacific's famous black pearls during a Paul Gauguin cruise.
Roger Paperno / Courtesy of Paul Gauguin CruisesSee the South Pacific's famous black pearls during a Paul Gauguin cruise.

Top things to do & see

Lagoonarium

If you travel seven miles west of Papeete, the Lagoonarium is a wonderful place to catch up on all of the marine life that you may have missed during your snorkeling or diving adventures. Usually the expeditions are more satisfying and adventurous, but the Lagoonarium, which is a large viewing room under the water, is truly marvelous, with sharks, turtles, and glorious tropical fish surrounding you on all sides.

Water sports

With scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, jet skiing and more, Papeete offers a variety of aquatic activities. Aquatica (689-53-34-96) offers a large variety of activities. Snorkeling gear can be rented, if you haven't brought your own. The Aquatica staff can point you in the direction of the very best snorkeling sites on Tahiti.

Le Marché

For 155 years, Le Marché (public market) has intrigued shopaholics from around the world. The market’s authentic souvenirs are a draw, as tourists can purchase everything from handicrafts and fruits to clothing and wood carvings. The Tahiti Pearl Market there is among the best in the world for genuine pearls, including the famous Tahitian black pearl.

Municipal Market

A dazzling array of fresh fruits, vegetables, and items only known to inhabitants of Tahiti greet you at the Municipal Market. Visitors will marvel at the stunning assortment of food and handcrafts. The unwritten law of the land is that your nationality dictates the type of commodity that you sell. During lunchtime a Tahitian string band plays, and early every Sunday morning the area is transformed into a produce market. During this time, the market resembles a festival with all of the excitement and energy in the air.

Point Venus

This place was named Point Venus after Capt. James Cook observed Venus transiting across the sun in 1769. Today, this romantic, scenic area just six miles east of Papeete is ideal to have a picnic, enjoy the beach and park-like setting, or visit the handcraft shop and souvenir stand.

Hiking

Numerous hiking trails exist throughout Tahiti, and the hike to the top of Mount Aorai and the glorious cross-island Papenoo Valley-Lake Vahiria route are two of the best trails to take. Do not attempt to hike long distances unguided, though, as downpours can occur at any time and obstruct trails, making it difficult to find your way back.

At the end of a beautiful day, enjoy the view of sailboats at sunset on Tahiti.
Courtesy of Tahiti TourismeAt the end of a beautiful day, enjoy the view of sailboats at sunset on Tahiti.

Best bets for dining

Since 1974, Auberge du Pacifique (689-43-98-30) in downtown Papeete has been Tahiti's most acclaimed restaurant. In 1987, France honored owner Jean Galopin with "Master Chef" honors for his extraordinary combination of French and Tahitian cuisine. You are even invited to walk down to the wine cellar in order to pick out your own bottle to pair alongside your meal. At night, have dinner under the stars as the roof is opened. Casablanca Cocktail Restaurant (689-43-91-35) is a favorite with tourists because of its fabulous seafood and nightly live music shows. A great place to catch a Tahitian Dance Show is Captain Bligh Restaurant and Bar (689-43-62-90). Typically, shows are held Friday and Saturday nights at 8:30 pm.

Best time to go

The weather in Tahiti remains warm and pleasing all year round; however, the best time to visit is between May and October, as the off-season can get rainy and buggy.

When you arrive

Docking information

Cruise ships dock at Port de Plaisance in the Papeete Harbor. Ships dock right next to the Tourism office.

Getting around

Most Tahitians travel around by using the local le truck service. If you want to journey outside of Papeete, le truck travels almost everywhere on the island for a relatively reasonable price. You can use taxis, but they can be hard to obtain in the morning and early evening. The two largest gathering points for taxis are Centre Vaima (689-42-60-77) and near the market on Boulevard Pomare (689-42-02-92). Taxi fares are set by the local government, but rates increase by 30 percent or more between the hours of 8pm and 6am.

Need to know

Passport: All U.S. and Canadian residents will need a passport.

Language: French and Tahitian; however, most employees at the resorts speak English.

Currency: New Polynesian Franc (XPF)

Safety: Generally safe; however, be wary of petty theft.

Your take

How about you? Have you been to Papeete? What was the highlight? Have any tips? Let's see your photos!

Help improve this article! See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!

Published September 5, 2015

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