The islands of Tahiti for every budget
From campgrounds to private island getaways, there’s something for everyone in French Polynesia, reports Dilvin Yasa.
Regardless of whether there’s any truth to the suggestion, there’s nothing that makes you sound like quite like Old Moneybags than announcing you’re “off to the islands of Tahiti for the week”. Certainly, with its iconic vistas of luxurious overwater bungalows dotted like jewels across endless, azure lagoons and white-sand motus topped with swaying palm trees, the islands (all 118 of them) attract a certain crowd, but that doesn’t mean they are off limits to everyone else.
In fact, provided you pay close attention to the time of year you travel (July, August and the Christmas period are high season, and therefore significantly more expensive), and opt for an island in keeping with your budget (less publicised islands such as Maupiti and Raiatea are less expensive than tourism heavy hitters Bora Bora and Moorea), you’ll find the perfect island getaway in line with what you’re comfortable to spend.
At the risk of sounding like a dodgy 90s song, when it comes to the picturesque islands of Tahiti, the best things in life are free — or as close to free if you’re willing to let go of that long-held fantasy of basking in your overwater bungalow.
Campgrounds in stunning locations are plentiful, cheap as chips and often, kept on the down-low, so make a booking at Bora Bora Camping or at Camping Nelson in Moorea. Prefer a thatched roof over your head? Pensions and cheap bungalows through Airbnb or Homeaway are available on every island — many of which are located right by the water and equipped with kayaks and snorkelling gear included in the price of the rental (in many cases well under $150 a night).
Swimming, snorkelling and hiking are three of the most common activities — each one free to enjoy — but hiring a bicycle is also a great way to get around the islands, with a daily rental setting you back less than $30.
And while your budget might not quite stretch to all-you-can-eat lobster at a high-end resort or a private motu picnic for two, there are plenty of budget food options on the islands of Bora Bora and Moorea in particular. Tasty baguettes filled with chicken or tuna and hot chips can be purchased from the local supermarkets for around $5 a pop, while food trucks lining the main roads do a roaring trade once the sun sets. Expect crepes, pizzas and good old fish and chips for less than $10 and then toast your good fortune (and financial savvy) by enjoying them on the beach.
As we move into the ‘idyllic resort’ price bracket, it’s helpful to remember that Bora Bora will almost always be the most expensive choice, but if you’ve got your heart set on conquering the jewel in Tahiti’s crown, there are ways around it too. Renting a privately owned overwater bungalow is possible through the aforementioned accommodation rental sites, as is looking at resorts which aren’t the kinds of names celebrities drop whenever they come back from their honeymoon. Hotel Matira, for example, offers some of the cheapest overwater bungalows in Bora Bora and standard rooms at the resort start from a smidge over $200 a night.
Where possible, opt for a resort where meals (or breakfast at least) are included in the daily rate, and leave yourself open to discovering some of the ‘ma and pa’ family run restaurants that tend to be located in or near the centre of town within each island. While nothing fancy to look at (expect plastic chairs and simple dcor), eating fresh mahi mahi and salad alongside the locals will set you back around $15 per dish.
If you can score a sale fare, another great option is to lock in a cruise which focuses on sailing around Tahiti’s islands such as Windstar Cruises or Paul Gaugin Cruises. In a destination where costs can quickly add up, it can make financial sense to book a seamless style of travel where all meals — and some activities — are included.
Not afraid to see a row of zeros on your hotel bill? For the last few years, high income earners across every industry (and the odd influencer or two) have made no secret of their preference for Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora or The St.Regis Bora Bora Resort, but lately, it’s all becoming about including the odd private island also.
The Brando is located on the private island of Tetiaroa (speaking of private, you will also need one such plane to get you there) and rates for a one-bedroom villa (one of 35) start from $4,667 per person, per night with a two-night minimum stay.
For meals, you can’t go wrong with indulging in those all-you-can-eat seafood buffets of course, but for something extra special, why not lock in a private yacht cruise, complete with private picnic set on a romantic motu? Priced from $5,350 for the day (up to 10 passengers) and available only to guests of Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa, it includes opportunities to snorkel, swim with rays and sharks and a sunset cruise around the lagoon.
Other activities you might like to enjoy include scenic helicopter tours, private dive trips and for those without an Insta-husband at the ready, photoshoots across a wide range of scenic locations because hey, if you don’t have the photos, were you even there?