It’s true that French Polynesia’s popular islands of Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora are well known for their dreamy overwater bungalows and magnificent, luxury resorts. But what’s less well known is that you can actually find a real range of accommodation options in French Polynesia.
From the small, locally-owned and family run guesthouses – Tahiti pensions - to villas and small hotels which operate alongside the bigger luxury chain hotels. There's an option to suit most budgets if you know where to look and you're prepared to take yourself "off-grid" and discover some of the more remote, paradise islands. Where do I sign up?
The first thing to note if you’re travelling solo or on a shoestring is that budget hostels like you'll find in Australia and New Zealand don’t really exist in French Polynesia. If you’re looking to keep your costs down, a local pension is your best bet and it makes a great choice for many reasons.
Pensions are often set in the grounds of a family home and may have a swimming pool or beachfront views. Some of the most amazingly-located pensions can be found on small 'motus' or individual islands dotted about the edges of a coral reef, with views over a lagoon, or towards other islands.
The standard of each pension varies from quite basic but clean accommodation with a fan and no meals included - to super comfortable rooms with great amenities and a high standard of décor. The level of amenities can vary with each pensions, so don't necessarily expect WIFI or air conditioning and get ready to pack your gadgets away for a spell. The traditional, thatched lodges keep themselves cool naturally, and since you're more than likely to find yourself near the water, you can hop in to cool down!
Because of their scenic and often remote locations, be prepared to find that there aren't many/any local restaurants you can pop out to from your pension, so you're likely to end up eating at your guest house. If meals are included in your stay or you opt to dine in, you can expect tasty, home-cooked meals with plenty of seafood, which is a great way to discover local cuisine and also help you budget.
The traditional Tahitian meal (Ma’a Tahiti) is cooked in an underground oven known as the ‘himaa’, as is the tradition in other Polynesian countries. On a bed of heated stones, leaf-wrapped shellfish, chicken and pork and root vegetables are left to steam, then served with a deliciously cream coconut cream to sweeten them. Locally grown pineapple, water melon, banana, plantain, mango, grapefruit and papaya will likely be on the menu, with many dishes including creamy coconut and coconut sprinkling! Another delicious local dish is Poisson Cru; raw tuna fish salad that is marinated in lime juice and coconut milk.
Pensions are definitely the right choice for you if you’re planning to get away from the crowds and tourist hot spots. Since they often have just a few rooms, a stay in a pension is an excellent opportunity to wind down in a calm and relaxed environment. They’re often situated on, or close to islets or motus, which offer some spectacular settings and truly amazing beaches. The Polynesians make friendly hosts too and will be happy to regale you with local legends and the history of the islands that they are so proud of.
If you’re looking for accommodation that’s not too far from the airport, there are a few Tahiti pensions that offer cosy, intimate lodging and some come with a handy kitchenette, including Pension de la Plage and Pension Relais Fenua.
On the island of Fakarava you’ll find pensions are almost the only type of accommodation available, promising a really authentic stay and a great opportunity to meet locals, practice your French and begin to experience what life is like as an islander - try the Pension Havaiki.
The islands of Raiatea and Taha’a are home to some luxurious pensions which are at the top end of the pension style accommodation. If you’re looking for that rustic charm but with a little more comfort, then consider adding a stay in Taha’a into your itinerary. In Taha'a, head to the Fare Pea Iti for striking views over Bora Bora from the comfort of an authentic little pension, or the beautiful, boutique Le Taha'a.
Think 3 course dinner with candlelight and local décor adorning the walls – this kind of accommodation makes for a lovely honeymoon if you’re keen on French Polynesia, looking for somewhere secluded where you can have the place to yourselves or can’t justify the prices of Moorea or Bora Bora.
All of the pensions can organise local activities for you and will also provide bicycles and snorkelling gear, and they may include non-motorised water sports equipment like kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.
In fairness, mid-range hotels are few and far between in a country that’s dotted with budget-friendly pensions at one end and decadent luxury resorts at the other. However, if you seek them out, you will find there are some hidden gems that provide a great option for those who prefer hotel facilities without the wallet busting prices – and we can happily recommend some great options on different islands.
When you find these hotels you can expect to find comfortable and stylish accommodation, often with pools and/or balconies, tropical gardens and a restaurant. The hotel will be able to book local activities and will probably offer use snorkelling equipment.
Raiatea is home to one of the best small hotels called Raiatea Lodge. It's just 5 minutes from the airport and although it has no beach of its own, it's a 5 minute paddle from the gorgeous white sand motus Miri, by the hotel's canoe! Sneaking into an otherwise luxury-dominated island, in Bora Bora you’ll find Maitai Polynesia the only 3* property with overwater bungalows - which makes for a cheaper way to tick off that bucket-list experience.
Without a doubt, the luxury and international resorts are what many people have come to expect from a holiday in French Polynesia. The 5* hotels here are some of the most attractive hotels in the world.
Think grandeur, decadence and no-expense-spared; overwater bungalows in Tahiti are beautifully thatched cottages on stilts hovering above the shimmering, crystal-clear and turquoise coloured lagoon like those at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa. Some rooms, like those at Le Meridien Bora Bora even have incredible glass floors so you can see the fish without even getting out of bed! It’s the stuff dreams are made of and it accommodation like this exists in abundance here in French Polynesia.
These kind of resorts are located mostly in Moorea and Bora Bora, although there are several private islands nearby. A very short hop from Tahiti, the island of Tetiaroa is home to Marlon Brando's self-named resort 'The Brando' which offers world-class luxury against a stunning Polynesian backdrop - a popular luxury honeymoon destination. You can expect a hefty price tag, but you’re guaranteed an unforgettable stay and probably the trip of a lifetime!
If you’re interested in exploring French Polynesia either for a holiday or perhaps as a stop on your round the world ticket – let our experts help. We can help you choose where to stay in Tahiti and find the most amazing accommodation to suit your style and budget, whether it’s a charming Tahiti pension, a comfortable hotel or a truly decadent luxury resort.
We can arrange every aspect of your trip from international and domestic flights and transfers to trip ideas – to talk about planning your next trip, call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.