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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 handicraft shop and souvenir stand.
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.
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.
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.
Cruise ships dock at Port de Plaisance in the Papeete Harbor. Ships dock right next to the Tourism office.
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.
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.
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Published September 5, 2015