Tahiti on a Budget

Tahiti on a Budget

French Polynesia is an island-chain nation comprising of 121 islands and atolls that span over 2000 kilometers in the South Pacific Ocean.  In popular culture, the nation is colloquially known as “Tahiti” – the name of the largest island in the island chain. The name “Tahiti” generally elicits images of a faraway tropical paradise consisting of palm-tree topped islands with sugar-white beaches, linked together by a maze of luxurious overwater bungalows inhabited by the Kardashians of the world. The popular image is not far off from the truth on some islands like Bora Bora – which hosts some of the most luxurious, movie-star worthy hotels in the world.  For less moneyed mortals however, travel in Tahiti is still possible on a budget – so long as some care is taken in planning.  Tahiti was the final destination on my incredible round-the-world trip on my sabbatical year, and my piece-de-la-resistance of how to travel on a budget in the most unlikely of places.  This blog post will cover ideas on how to travel in Tahiti on a Budget, as well as my itinerary and trip costs for a 10 day trip.


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Given its location in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, most people will be arriving in Tahiti in Faa’a International Airport in the city of Papeete – the capital of the nation located on Tahiti island.  If you arrive during the daylight hours, you may be lucky enough to catch one of the public buses that run between the airport and the harbour / “gare martime” or downtown Papeete.  Buses typically run during business hours from 9am – 6pm, and the fare is 200XPF (or roughly $2USD) for the 30 minute ride into town.  Outside of the public bus hours, your only option would be a private taxi which costs roughly $25 – $30USD each way from downtown Papeete to the airport.

There’s a public bus system that runs reliably around Papeete, but getting around can be a bit time consuming.  Taxis can be quite costly if you plan to use them frequently. Outside of Papeete, public buses are not aways available – which can mean you might want to rent a bike or a scooter to get around.  Car rentals are also available from the airport.

One way to reduce your transportation costs is to visit islands small enough to be navigated by bicycle.  Most islands in French Polynesia – aside from Tahiti island – are small enough that transportation by bicycle is easily done.

SIM Card:

The airport has a SIM card kiosk where you can purchase plans from 500XPF/ $4.50USD (2GB + 30 minute calling) to 1800XPF/ $16.50USD (8GB data-only).  eSIM plans are also available on Airalo if the kiosk is closed when you arrive.


French is the official language in French Polynesia – but English is very widely spoken.  English-only speakers will have little issues getting around if they don’t speak French.  All the same, expect most signage and menus to be in French only – so it might not be a bad idea to have a SIM or eSIM in case you need to use Google Lens to translate a sign or menu.


Transportation (ie: moving between islands, and moving from ports to new hotels etc.) can be cumbersome, time-consuming and costly. If travelling on a budget, I would recommend not aiming to visit more than 1-2 islands per week on a trip to Tahiti.  For my 10 day trip to Tahiti, I visited just two islands: Tahiti Island, and Moorea. 

Tahiti Island and Moorea are excellent destination choices for budget travel in French Polynesia as the two islands have large local populations – which means more locally priced accommodations and services – and they are within close proximity to each other – which helps to control transportation costs.  Indeed, most travelers enter and exit French Polynesia from Papeete Airport on Tahiti Island – so it is a natural choice for an island to explore; and beautiful Moorea just a short ferry ride from Tahiti Island is small enough to explore by bicycle. 

Tahiti Island:

Tahiti Island – and more precisely the city of Papeete – is generally where most travelers to French Polynesia will arrive and depart.  Papeete is the capital city of French Polynesia, in addition to being the centre for commerce in the region, most of the region’s governmental buildings are also located in this city. 

Papeete is not unlike any large western city – like Melbourne or Los Angeles.  The city is on the water, but doesn’t really have much of a beach.  Most activity in Papeete centers around the central port “Gare Maritime” area.  There is a large marina in the area, and it is also where the cruise ships come in and out.  The Papeete Market is a nice place to walk around for small souvenirs.  The Mahana Lodge Tahiti, is one of the cheapest accommodation options on Tahiti island.  The property is centrally located walking distance to the port which makes it a convenient launch point to catch a ferry to a neighbouring island.

Exploring beyond the city of Papeete on Tahiti island, will generally require renting a car or scooter.  If you don’t intend to drive, this well-reviewed tour is a relatively economical and comprehensive way to see some of the major sights around Tahiti island including a guided tour of the Arahurahu Marae museum, Maraa Grotto, the Water Gardens of Vaipahi, Faarumai Waterfalls, Pointe Venus and the Belvedere du Tahara’a.

While Tahiti Island is a natural starting point for adventures in French Polynesia, you definitely start to feel like you’re in a commercial hub – especially when you’re in Papeete.  I recommend not spending too much time in Papeete – maybe 1-2 days on arrival and 1-2 days before your departure flight – as you didn’t go all the way to French Polynesia just to spend time in the Los Angeles of the South Pacific.


Stunning Moorea is just a 30 – 45 minute ferry ride from Papeete, yet the two places could not feel more different.  Arriving in Moorea from Papeete is like exchanging concrete and traffic for quiet roads, palm trees, soaring green mountains, spectacular sunsets and idyllic beaches – all the things for which you came to French Polynesia.

Ferries between Tahiti Island and Moorea runs almost hourly (during daylight hours) on daily basis.  Cost is about $15-20USD round-trip depending on which company you choose.  You can check ferry schedules and purchase your tickets for the two ferry companies (Aremiti and Terevau) in advance, or purchase tickets at the dock. The Aremiti ferry is considered the faster ferry. 

Moorea is just 37KM in circumference, so easy to explore by bicycle or scooter.  There are scooter and car rentals at the ferry dock.  There is a public bus (approx. $2USD) that runs roughly with the Aremiti ferry schedule with one heading north on the circumference road and another heading south after collecting passengers from the dock.  Note that bus schedules are approximate. I would not rely on being able to catch a bus anywhere outside of the ferry dock – even the locals don’t know when the bus is supposed to arrive, and in fact one local told me that the service is so sporadic that locals have a practice of leaving a pile of palm fronds on the road if they wish to catch the bus and then go about their day – the driver honks when he arrives for passengers to know when the bus has arrived.  From my own experience, I was successful in catching the bus when my ferry arrived in Moorea, but going back to the port, I ended up hitching a ride with a friendly local who was heading to the port. Hitch-hiking is generally considered safe on Moorea – but of course always carries some level of risk.

Outside of having to get motorized transport from the port to my accommodations I rented a bike during my stay on Moorea and on most days just biked everywhere.  It’s easy to cover the circumference of the island in a day by bicycle and have plenty of exploration time in-between. I did this several times during my stay – stopping and different beaches, fruit stands, eateries and viewpoints each day.  The island is so beautiful, you will never get bored.  If you’re short on time, or would like a guided tour, this well-reviewed tour takes you to a number of different destinations on Moorea, and includes lunch on the beach plus unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks – given the high cost of dining out – this tour is generous just for the food and drink included.

While inexpensive accommodations are very limited on Tahiti Island; on Moorea, you’ll find a better selection of relatively economical accommodations.  Please book a few months ahead.  Cheaper accommodations tend to be highly in demand, and can sell out. If booking ahead (recommended) consider booking options with free cancellation in case your plans change.  I got a dorm bed at Fare Arana ($35USD for dorm room / $110 USD for a private room).  Other good budget accommodations on Moorea include: Pension Motu Iti ($25USD for a dorm room / $115USD for a private beachfront bungalow) and the Moorea Surf Inn ($70 – $100USD for a private room).  I would draw particular attention to Moorea Surf Inn: in addition to being right on the ocean, the property offers its guests the use of its bicycles, kayaks, and snorkel gear free of charge and has excellent reviews. (It was booked out for my trip).

Moorea is a wonderland of nature and beaches – everything one hopes to experience when visiting Tahiti.  There are beautiful public beaches sprinkled all around the island’s 37km circumference.  I’ve mapped out the public beaches on the map embedded in this blog post – they’re all beautiful.  One of the best beaches for swimming and snorkeling is the public beach just slightly north of the port near the Sofitel hotel. 

Don’t forget to bring your snorkeling gear! Marine life is unreal on Moorea.  Have you ever been snuck up on by a giant ray?  Well it’s likely to happen here… not that I know from personal experience… Oh and do NOT forgot your mosquito repellent.  It might be different in depending on the season, but when I visited in December, the mosquitos in Moorea were the most merciless I have ever encountered ANYWHERE in the world! I recommend an Icaridin-based repellent, and if you’re particularly mosquito-prone, a mosquito shirt, or even a portable mosquito net – especially if sleeping in non-air conditioned accommodations.

With the exception of when I split the cost of a scooter rental with another traveler for a day (about $50USD a day), I explored around Moorea easily by pedal-bike.  The 37KM circumference road is quiet, and flat; and drivers are very courteous.  Pedal bike rentals go for about $10 – $15USD a day.

Food and Dining:

You can save a lot of money by preparing your own meals in Tahiti.  There are both larger-chain (ie: Carrefour), and small mom-and-pop style grocery stories all over Tahiti.  The wonderful thing about French Polynesia, is that because the island chain is a French overseas territory, stores are often stocked with French food products like cheese and fine wine – and these items tend to be relatively inexpensive as these products are technically domestic in Tahiti. 

Many of the budget accommodations I have recommend in this blog post: Mahana Lodge, Fare Arana, and Moorea Surf Inn have kitchens where you can prepare meals.  Look where the locals go for inexpensive dining.  Some of my favourite inexpensive dining spots during my trip were Place Vai’ete in Papeete – an outdoor foodcourt by the central waterfront with a number different foodtrucks and Snack Autea on Moorea – which served catch-of-the-day fresh fish dishes and sashimi. 

Diving and Snorkeling:

Amazing diving is available all around Tahiti.  You can book both single and two-tank dive tours which include pick up and drop off from you hotel.  Diving is far from cheap on Tahiti, but if money isn’t an issue – definitely a nice splurge. I did a single dive tour, and members of our group saw a whale shark! Not me unfortunately!  

If you’re on a budget, Moorea was a wonderland of free snorkeling that you can do right off many of the public beaches.  Don’t forget to pack your snorkeling gear!

Trip Costs for 10 days in Tahiti:

Accommodations:                   $269.39USD

Transportation:                       $95.00USD

Bike and Scooter Rentals:      $55.00USD

Diving:                                    $96.47USD

Food and Dining:                    $300.00USD

Total:                                      $719.39USD

Final thoughts on Tahiti on a Budget:

I was nervous about the costs of visiting Tahiti. The island-chain nation is as well-known for its beauty as they are for being one of the most expensive places in the world to visit.  In reality, while you can’t expect Thailand level prices – visiting Tahiti wasn’t that much more expensive than travelling around a major western destination.  The people were absolutely lovely, and often went out of their way to help or offer assistance. 

Of course, the other end of the spectrum is true as well.  The upper end of the cost spectrum can be infinite – but if you’re on a budget, so long as you plan ahead and book early, eat a few simple French meals of fine cheese, wine and fruit, maybe get around by bicycle (highly recommended), you can have a wonderful time enjoying these beautiful islands on a budget. 

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