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Tahiti (Papeete) (Photo:sarayuth3390/Shutterstock)
3.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Tahiti (Papeete)

Two nearby volcanoes erupting from an emerald sea created Tahiti, the largest and most populated of the Polynesian islands. Tahiti Nui (meaning big) is the largest section of the figure-eight shape, while Tahiti Iti (little) forms the smaller area. Though connected by a narrow strip of land, from the air they almost appear to be two separate islands.

About Tahiti (Papeete)


Pro

Papeete is a bustling city, but you can escape to rainforests, beaches and waterfalls

Con

You'll have to search farther afield for that island paradise feel

Bottom Line

Worth adding a day in port after your long-haul flight and before your cruise starts here


Find a Cruise to the South Pacific



Tahiti serves as the gateway for cruisers traveling to the Society Islands and other South Pacific destinations. Because passengers land at Faa'a International Airport, Tahiti is the jumping-off point for embarkations.

Tahiti is also the urban hub of the region, with the port of Papeete at its very center. It feels a lot more French -- and bit more cosmopolitan -- than the other islands with sidewalk cafes along the main boulevard and a colorful, busy municipal market. The vibe is bustling (and traffic congested), with locals hopping on and off city buses on their way to and from work, and tourists ducking in and out of shops selling jewelry, French wines, fabrics and crafts.

That's the atmosphere, at least, on Tahiti Nui. Tahiti Iti is much more rural -- with just a few villages and small beaches -- and sparsely populated. A day's trip along its quiet coastal roads awards views of clear waters, waterfalls, archeological sites and caves -- and a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of tourist-heavy Tahiti Nui. From Tautira, where the main road ends, you can walk along the stunning Pari Coast to spy petroglyphs and sacred marae, or temples.

Ultimately, Tahiti offers more activities, resorts and restaurants than its neighboring islands. Beyond Papeete are museums, beaches and water sports options; even if your ship overnights in Tahiti, it's worth arriving a couple of days early to explore or simply relax at a hotel perched at the edge of the water. After your cruise, if you haven't done everything you intended to do in paradise, you can make up for it here on a post-cruise stay.

Where You're Docked

Cruise ships dock in the heart of Papeete, Tahiti's capital city, alongside a waterfront esplanade. A new, two-story cruise terminal is planned for completion in 2020. The building will streamline the entry from the ship to the port along the Grand Boulevard near the downtown market.

Good to Know

In Papeete, trying to cross the multiple lanes of traffic can be tricky; there are pedestrian zones and a few traffic lights, but we recommend exercising caution. Just because a car has slowed down or stopped for you does not mean scooters just beyond will.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The local currency is the French Pacific franc. A good rule of thumb is that 100 francs equal US$1 -- but you'll want to check XE.com for the latest exchange rates. In Papeete, vendors in the market and shops generally accept U.S. dollars. Be sure to ask about their exchange rate. There are several banks on the main drag in Papeete with ATMs, and there's also an ATM at the airport.

Language

Although French and Tahitian are the official languages, locals in the touristy areas and shops speak some English. If in doubt, bring an English/French phrase book.

Shopping

Bring home local products and crafts from the city's famous market, Le Marche du Papeete, such as intricate wood carvings, coconut oil, monoi oil, coffee and mother-of-pearl shells. If you visit the market before your ship sets sail, pick up a gorgeous fresh floral arrangement for your cabin; they're surprisingly reasonable (about 2,000 francs, or US$20). Just remember to leave it behind after your voyage as plants can't be brought back into the United States.

Editor's note: Haggling is considered rude.

Best Cocktail

Be sure to order an ice cold Hinano beer at your first opportunity. This bitter, golden lager is made right on the island in the Punaruu Valley.