French Polynesia (Moorea) on a Budget

The French Polynesian islands and budget are not usually found in the same sentence. When I think French Polynesia, I think Bora Bora and overwater bungalows and honeymoons. Or I used to think that. It came on my radar maybe a month before our trip when I realized that (as a flight attendant) I had flight benefits on Air Tahiti and Air France who both operate direct from LAX. I started digging, and was pleased to see how inexpensive Moorea could be done! I will include what we spent and some pricing, something I usually shy away from, just to prove that this CAN be an affordable destination.

Our trip was 1 week including flying days, and I spent around $1050. We left on a redeye flight from LAX for our 8 hour flight to PPT on Tahiti. Let me go ahead and say right now that my airline benefits are obviously huge for this budget, but not necessary. I paid $240 roundtrip, BUT I’ve been posting deals on my insta story for the same flights that were $500 roundtrip at the same time! We met people who had booked the deal! Once we arrived at 7am, we grabbed a taxi to the ferry as Moorea was our destination. The taxi was around $25 and the ferry around $10 depending on which of the 2 companies you go through. The most non-budget friendly part of the whole trip was the taxi costs. If you get in a taxi it seemed like it’s going to be $20 min, even for rides under 5 miles, and I’m so thankful that we decided to rent a car on Moorea. The manual car rental, through Avis, for 4 days was $250. I suggest asking your accommodation if they have a code for renting car or suggestion, as ours told us to use the guesthouse name (we stayed at Fare Edith) and we got 40% off of our rental that we booked maybe 3 days prior.

Let me start by saying every local we spoke to said, ‘oh Moorea is the best or most beautiful’, or ‘good job choosing Moorea’. And while I haven’t visited the others you must reach by plane, I fell in love with Moorea. It put me in mind of what Hawaii may have been 50 years ago development wise, and it is not just a honeymoon spot. It takes 1.5 hours to drive the entire island on the one main road, there is one big grocery store that’s very well stocked (champion grocery close to the ferry port), and a few other scattered small grocery stores or general stores that may or may not be open past 5pm.

Most of the action is going to be on the north side of the island, or the northwest corner. We booked our bungalow on the west side, providing beautiful sunsets and a realllllly big lagoon for kayaking and snorkeling. There are a couple of hotel chains, Hilton and Sofitel, that provide the overwater bungalows, but for the most part it’s a lot of guesthouses and small mom and pop run accommodations… which I love.

We had a bungalow maybe 20 feet from the beach. There were 4 bungalows total, & Edith and family lived just across the road and I help with any issues. But it had AC and ‘on the beach’ which is really all we cared about. Truth be told, I wish we had paid a littttle more as it was pretty outdated and we had some bug visitors, butttt it’s an island in the middle of the pacific and towels there are $35 a piece in the store, which put my complaining about the old towels into perspective. Honestly, there are most likely going to be bugs and lizards anywhere (except that 5 star Hilton). We survived and had a huge bungalow for the 3 of us for $140/n.

View of our beach from the lagoon 😍

For excursions we did a combination of hikes, beach days, and one paid excursion. There are tons of hike options, and a few start at the Belvedere Lookout so you can kill 2 birds with one stone as we did. We did the 4ish mile out and back coco tiers hike and had stunning views at the top. The other hike we did was a little underwhelming. The ‘Āfareaitu Waterfall was not really a waterfall while we were there, which was a surprise to me as we did our trip during the rainy season. Regardless, the drive to the gentleman’s house who you pay to park and start the hike was an adventure enough, and also a little insight into how locals live.

Just spending a day at the public beach was better than most excursions anywhere in the world. We did just that on a weekend and were rewarded with locals playing drums and others practicing dances, and just living their best lives drinking in paradise. We fit right in, or tried to, and had a wonderful beach day. We also just enjoyed our west coast beach one day and were able to kayak and snorkel straight off our beach. I kayak chased a black tip shark for a while and just enjoyed being able to see straight down in the crystal clear water to the coral and fish below.

The excursion we did pay for was my surprise highlight of Moorea. Jardin de corail du motu Ahi on the east side of the island was an accidental discovery. We paid $32 and they boated us over to the private little island just off the coast. I can’t speak to what the quality of snorkeling is with the other boat tours, but at 1/5 or more of the price of Viator… I was more than happy. We went to Champion grocery right up the street before and packed ourselves a very hodgepodge lunch of ready to eat food and drinks and we were ready to post up for the day on an island. The snorkeling ended up being wonderful tho! They set up a ropes course just off of the island where you can pull yourself along through the coral. The current was fairly strong, so the ropes were much appreciated. When we got back to the beach, the locals had brought out some bait and a couple of stingrays were just circling around the shallows. That isn’t uncommon without the bait, but they continued to think we were going to be feeding them so they were extremely friendly little puppies coming up to us and swimming around. I hope they have as much fun as we did. The locals invited us back for a DJ party the following evening, but sadly we were leaving to go to Tahiti. So I’m not sure the exact use of this private island, it seemed like it could be a venue space, but there were plenty of tables with shade and a full restroom available as well.

Our ready made aisle grocery store meal

In terms of dining, we did lunch at Hotel Les Tipaniers beachfront restaurant and enjoyed the local dish, poisson cru, and a heck of a view. They will let you take beers down to the beach and enjoy the picture perfect settings or swim. If I go back, I would look at doing a boat tour of the lagoon area around here as it’s stunning and we saw a lot of boat activity and kite surfing/rentals in this area. We also stopped at the most beautifully set roadside stand I’ve ever seen, Snack Teanahei. Any of the panini roadside stands serve giant french baguette paninis that were enough to split 3 ways to for a light lunch. Pizza is very popular, and was actually really good! Snack DJ (pizza Daniel), on the west end, was open later than most places and saved us one evening. It’s a dirt side street and the couple comes out of their back door to ‘open shop’ but the pizza and fries were great & they were so nice! If you want a nice meal, we were told Holy Cow Steakhouse was good and had a view. My advice for any of the above is to check the hours for any place you’re thinking to go, as they’re closed on certain days or close early! Google maps even had the roadside stands on it, and service was surprisingly great on the island (I have T-Mobile).

I’ll touch on the Rotui juice factory and tasting as well, but honestly it’s a skip for me unless you just want a free activity to do. The tasting does include some alcohol, but it’s over in 2 minutes and unless you want the high priced rum or $50 bottle of pineapple champagne, you can buy the juices at any gas station or store, and the Tahitian rum and mixed cocktail at the grocery store. I can vouch for skipping the pineapple champagne too, as we got luck as got to taste it as well. Not during the tasting, but we made friends with the older lesbian couple beside us and one told her ‘sugar mama’ to buy a bottle and passed it around with us inside the store. Very unsure if you’re supposed to do that, but while the company was very entertaining, the champagne was meh.

That is my ‘guide’ to Moorea based on our 4 full days there, but let me touch on the vibe of this paradise. We ran around in swimsuits & didn’t wear a shirt for 2 whole days. It’s just acceptable to grocery shop or dine in a swimsuit and cut offs, especially when a lot of our dining was beachside stands and plastic tables. The locals walk around barefoot, and the women really wear the bright Polynesian print sarongs and dresses day in and out. You can pull over on the side of the road for fresh fruit stands set up in yards, or even the days fresh fish catch that have been strung up on line and ready to sell. A lot of the locals live in what we in the US would called shacks, but there it seemed to be pretty standard housing, and when your backyard is the Pacific Ocean or the jagged mountains inland I imagine you don’t spent much time inside anyhow.

I returned from this trip and my friend said, ‘you seem so happy and have such good energy’, and that’s how I felt. It’s one of my favorite island paradises that I’ve found, and I hunt these down. But the simplicity of local life, plus the astounding natural beauty really cemented Moorea as a place I loved. I would 100% go back someday, especially given how much we did for so cheap. Including our $25 aperol spritz at the veuve cliquot beach club we stumbled upon. Boujie or budget, the choice really is yours to combine how you see fit.

Part 2 was Tahiti, but I can’t really speak on its behalf as we stayed on a sailboat for our 1 night there. We booked our stay on Airbnb, and while the translation for the listing was quite bad, the reviews were good and we decided to gamble and book it. It was wonderful in that the host picked us up in his dinghy at 11am to check in so we had our groceries and a full day on a boat ahead. It was a surprise in that we realized the French host lives on the boat and would be staying with us. We rolled with the punches tho, and thanks to google translate ended up with one heck of an experience. He ended up sailing us to a secluded cove (which we paid $30 each) where we anchored and were able to have front row for a sunset while we snacked on our charcuterie board we threw together and drank our Tahitian rum. We cooked burgers for lunch and ahi tuna for dinner, and really just made ourselves at home with our new friend Stephane. We cooked enough for him to join us, because how awkward to just be eating while he is in his bedroom next door, and he told us (mostly through google translate) about his life and being an engineering professor on land on Tahiti (we think?), and we met his Canadian fiancé via FaceTime. He even played his saxophone for us at the end of the night. He wasn’t very good, but we got a good giggle out of it. The entire experience was an adventure. His next stop on his boat is Cuba (we think?).

Google translate convos

We woke up the next morning, snorkeled, kayaked, made breakfast and then checked into the Hilton 😂. My travel friends had enough of my adventurous stays, and wanted to shower before our long travel day in a real bathroom rather than the back of the boat. It was well worth it, as we had slept on the trampoline of the boat on mattress pads once we saw how small the boat cabins were, and the Hilton bed was heavenly to relax on before our redeye out.

The 6 full days just felt like a really chill adventure looking back, and who doesn’t love a budget adventure in a tropical paradise?!

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