Four years ago, my best friends and I were planning our big trip around the South Pacific and of course we wanted to visit some of the beautiful islands. The only problem was that we were on a budget and we had heard that Tahiti was one of the most expensive islands on the planet. But surprise, surprise: we were wrong! The biggest expense we made that day was to buy the plane ticket from Auckland, New Zealand to Tahiti.
Tahiti (and the other islands in the South Pacific) are not just for honeymooners and the rich and famous. If you want to get the most out of your trip to this part of the world for as little cash as possible, follow my tips for travelling Tahiti on a budget.
image by Mayumi Ishikawa, flickr
How to get around
A few months later, we had finally landed in Tahiti with our luggage – but with nowhere to go. We knew the cab was going to be too expensive for three girls with huge backpacks, so we decided to hitchhike from the airport to town. It worked right away and we kept travelling like this throughout our French Polynesian adventure. If you don’t dare to hitchhike or if you are travelling alone, then I suggest you use the public buses. They are few, not always on time, but they are extremely cheap.
We arrived in the center of Papeete – Tahiti’s capital – and headed towards the tourist office. We had no time to lose, as we hadn’t booked anything in advance! We asked if there was any cheap accommodation, anything we could afford, but had a good laugh when the manager told us nothing like that existed and the cheapest room he could find was about a $100.
It was early enough in the day and we had some time to make up our minds about spending that kind of money. Should we just fly back to New Zealand? A walk around the town, we thought, should help us find the solution. By chance we bumped into a super nice and newly built backpacker hostel – yes, hostels exist in Tahiti! Mahana Lodge is located right next to the local market and the waterfront and offers bunkbeds from as little as $26 (or private rooms for a little more). We could even see the lagoon from our window!
We had already decided to book a room there, when suddenly we saw the manager of the tourist office coming after us, waving. He invited us to his home and offered for us to stay with him and his wife for free. Most Tahitian families have what they call, a “fare” in their garden – a small room with all the facilities which comes in handy when the family is visiting from the remote islands. We couldn’t believe the hospitality!
Budget Activities on Tahiti
Finding Local “Guides”
As a budget traveller in Tahiti, I discovered so many wonderful things by living close to the local communities and by talking to random people on the streets. Everyone is so friendly and loves to share tips for the island. For example, we met a lady who was making her own flower crowns on the market and she agreed to show us the beauty of her island only because we were the first backpackers she had ever met.
There are actually quite a few things you can do on a budget. The Museum of Tahiti is free of charge and you can also try to shake like a local for free in the majority of dance schools around the city. We even had the chance to meet a fisherman who took us on his tiny boat to discover the magnificence of the lagoon on a sunny day. Most of the hiking tracks are for free as well. You just need to make sure someone knows where you are.
Where to Eat & Drink
There are supermarkets where you can find cheap meals and stock up on essentials. For a more satisfying experience, you can indulge in a meal from one of the various “Roulottes” located downtown. Starting at 5pm, these local food trucks are parked on the main square of Papeete.
At night, you can choose from a variety of bars and enjoy cheap Happy Hour cocktails (or a local beer) while listening to live music.
Visiting Bora Bora
If you want to discover other French Polynesian islands, such as Bora Bora, there is a local agency called Sejours dans les iles which can organize trips for you way cheaper than other travel agencies. They have agreements with lovely guesthouses where you can experience the real life of islanders instead of booking expensive hotel rooms.
image by Frederic Le Quere, flickr
When we thought about Tahiti, immediately we imagined nothing but luxurious honeymoons, enormous bungalows on the white sand beaches of Bora Bora and cocktails in the pool with a beautiful sunset in the background. Let’s be honest, this is why you come here, but there is more to it! I learned one thing during my experience in Polynesia. Tahiti is for everyone. There is so much more to discover and guess what, it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to travel here!
This is a guest post by Lesly Vervondel.
Lesly is a Belgian travel-addict who loves discovering new places. She got bitten by the travel bug while visiting New York for the first time in 2010 and since then, she hasn’t stopped traveling. She lived in Singapore and New Zealand and now decided to move to Tahiti and enjoy the island way of life. Follow her life on Instagram @leslylolly!