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Papeete, Tahiti

Papeete is the largest city in and capital of French Polynesia on the island of Tahiti.

Tahiti lies in the South Pacific. It is the largest of the 118 islands and atolls that comprise French Polynesia. Tahiti is in the Society Islands, an archipelago which includes the islands of Bora Bora, Raiatea, Taha'a, Huahine and Moorea, and has a population of 127,000 people, about 83% of whom are of Polynesian ancestry. The legendary name 'Tahiti' not only identifies this island but also the group of islands that make up French Polynesia.

Tahiti is composed of two volcanic mountain ranges. In the shape of a 'turtle', it is made of Tahiti Nui (the larger part) and Tahiti Iti (the peninsula). The two islands are linked by the isthmus of Taravao and skirted by black beaches.

Papeete is not a tropical... Read more

Papeete, Tahiti

Destination:

Papeete is the largest city in and capital of French Polynesia on the island of Tahiti.

Tahiti lies in the South Pacific. It is the largest of the 118 islands and atolls that comprise French Polynesia. Tahiti is in the Society Islands, an archipelago which includes the islands of Bora Bora, Raiatea, Taha'a, Huahine and Moorea, and has a population of 127,000 people, about 83% of whom are of Polynesian ancestry. The legendary name 'Tahiti' not only identifies this island but also the group of islands that make up French Polynesia.

Tahiti is composed of two volcanic mountain ranges. In the shape of a 'turtle', it is made of Tahiti Nui (the larger part) and Tahiti Iti (the peninsula). The two islands are linked by the isthmus of Taravao and skirted by black beaches.

Papeete is not a tropical paradise. It is a typical government center and industrial port with small doses of French and Polynesian charm. It has shopping, eating, and drinking, but very little sightseeing for the capital city and even fewer top-class hotels. The residents speak French and Tahitian, although English is spoken by many in the tourist trade. The people-watching is superb.

Once a sleepy town, today the harbor of Papeete is busy with cargo freighters, copra ships, luxury liners, and ocean-going yachts. There are sidewalk cafes, shops overflowing with French fashions, shell jewelry and handicrafts and a wide variety of restaurants serving Tahitian, French, and Asian cuisine. Not an attractive city, there are many small shops selling black pearls, small goods, souvenirs. The marche draws many shoppers for local produce (including fish) or souvenirs. Popular cafe with wifi on the second floor. Don't expect many stores to be open after 6 p.m. Anywhere in Papeete. Seriously. What is open are the food trucks by the harbor and some restaurants and bars. Also lei vendors and a couple of others just outside the market. Convenience stores a bit outside the city center at gas stations are open.

History

At the outbreak of World War I, Papeete was shelled by German vessels, causing loss of life and significant damage.

The growth of the city was boosted by the decision to move the nuclear weapon test range from Algeria to the atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa, some 1,500 km (930 mi) to the east of Tahiti; this originated in particular in the construction of the Faa'a airport next to Pape'ete, the only international airport in French Polynesia. In 1983, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built the Papeete Tahiti Temple here because of the large number of members in the region. On 5 September 1995 the government of Jacques Chirac conducted the first of the last series of nuclear test detonations off the shores of Moruroa. A resulting riot in Papeete lasted for two days and damaged the international airport, injured 40 people, and scared away tourism for some time. (Similar rioting occurred after another French nuclear test in the same area in 1987.)

Climate

Papeete features a tropical monsoon climate with a wet season and dry season. However, precipitation is observed even during the city's dry season. The dry season is short, covering only the months of August and September. The rest of the year is wet, with the heaviest precipitation falling in the months of December and January. Temperatures are relatively constant throughout the course of the year, averaging around 25 °C (77 °F).

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Papeete, Tahiti: Port Information


Your cruise liner will dock in the center of the town.
A visitor center is available right at the cruise pier. 
Everything is within walking distance.

Get around Papeete, Tahiti


Papeete is a walking city. It's really too small to bother with any other form of transport, unless you are going out to the fringes, or would simply like to experience the famous le truck for fun (hop-on, hop-off, anywhere in the city center) Bring a water bottle: it can be quite hot and humid.

Taxis are clean and efficient although relatively expensive and may be hard to find after 6 pm. There are two dedicated taxi stands along the waterfront. Fares are prescribed by the government and are displayed inside Taxis. Hotels will know exactly what the fare is to the city center. Meters are unheard of, so confirm the fare before getting into a taxi.

Le Truck will take you to other parts of the island and around town quite cheaply. The service is infrequent or non-existent on weekends.

What to see in Papeete, Tahiti


  • The waterfront. Papeete has redeveloped its waterfront into a long park, with foods and carnival-like attractions.

There are many things to do in Tahiti and a lot to see and take pictures of. You can embark on a circle island trip (of around 70 miles), some of the must-see things will include:

  • 'Le Marché'. This is the large two-story Papeete's market place where many things can be bought. Buy your lunch here and some "Monoi". "Monoi" is the local Tahitian oil, strongly scented and worth a good price. It is used to get tanned and moisturize your skin. Also, buy a "pareu." This is typical Tahitian clothing that can be tied into many different ways (a cover-up, a dress, shorts, a shawl). It can also be spread out as a picnic cloth or a beach towel. Created with traditional designs and bright tropical colors, they are inexpensive and make the perfect souvenir. This is especially good for getting to know Tahitians as every Tahitian knows how to tie one. Le Marche is also the place where you'll find jewelry as well as many calendars, postcards, cups... Ripe fruits, scented soaps, vanilla beans, dance costumes, woven hats and bags and shell necklaces up to your ears are what you'll find in the market. It is centrally located and you can't miss it.
  • The Arahoho blowhole on the North side of Tahiti Nui. An area where a blowhole in the shore has formed on the road and whose waves crash inside the rock cliff.
  • Les Trois Cascades. Three beautiful waterfalls inside the island of Tahiti Nui. The path is presently closed by a rockfall, check with the tourist office on updates or chance going if you are close by. The pedestrian bridge is chained shut.
  • Tomb of King Pomare the Fifth. The tomb of the only king of Tahiti, when it was a monarchy.
  • Pointe Venus Lighthouse. Black sand beach and clear blue water by a fishing reef. Popular with young Tahitians.
  • Botanical Garden/Gauguin Museum. At Papeari, on the west coast, the botanical garden made by Harrison Smith lies alongside the Gauguin Museum in the magical setting of the Motu Ovini.
  • The Olivier-Breaud Golf Course. You can admire the wonderful layout of this golf course set in the magnificent Atimoana complex which was a sugar cane farmland rum in the 19th century.
  • Arahurahu Marae. A restored religious site containing various stone block structures dedicated to the old gods and where important ceremonies used to take place.
  • Museums. It is interesting to visit the Museum of Tahiti and the Islands which has a rich collection of very old pieces and reconstructed historical scenes. The Black pearl museum, as well as the Gauguin museum, are fun to see if you want to get out of the heat.
  • To'ata. A square with small restaurants (see "Eat") but also the place to be for the July celebrations with dance and traditional music, the Heiva I Tahiti.

What to do in Papeete, Tahiti


  • All nautical activities: surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling (most resorts will provide you with the equipment for free), canyoning, stingray and shark feedings, water sports, deep sea fishing, kitesurfing... you name it. If you're going diving, get a reputable dive company, those with the far out websites are reportedly a bit low on ethics and safety, not well prepared, and do not go far past the marina.
  • On land, you also have the possibility of for example hiking, 4WD safari, and golf.
  • Deep sea fishing has been curtailed on Tahiti and is difficult to find.

What to eat and drink in Papeete, Tahiti


Eat

Do note that tipping is not a custom in Tahiti. It is beginning to be seen in some of the restaurants and hotels on the larger islands, but in general, Tahitians do not expect your tip as it is included in the final price.

"Roulottes" (snack shops on wheels) are especially popular on Friday nights to get some great Chinese food, crepes, and French-style dishes. You won't miss it since it is located along Papeete's waterfront. Unbelievably delicious meals at bargain prices in a fun and local atmosphere.
The main island dish to try is the "poisson cru" ("raw fish" in French.) It is a fresh fish marinated with lime juice and coconut mixed with vegetables. Many varieties can be found all over including Poisson Cru Chinois (Chinese style), Poisson Cru Ananas (pineapple style). Parrotfish, ahi, mahi mahi, and other fresh fish are divine in a light sauce made from Tahitian vanilla and coconut milk. Do not miss the exotic tropical fruits.

Baguettes are found all over the island at a very reasonable price. As well as baguettes, Tahitians have created the "baguette sandwich" where everything from fish to french fries is stuffed into.

Make sure you also try the very popular Chinese ma'a tinito (which is a mixture of pork, kidney beans, Chinese cabbage, and macaroni.)

Family occasions and celebrations are the time for a huge tamara'a Tahiti (Tahitian-style feasts) where a meal consisting of suckling pig, fish, breadfruit, yams, and fe'i bananas is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed in an earth-dug oven over layers of hot rocks.

If you are looking for fine dining, definitely head to Paea south of Papeete to Chez Remy or Le Carre at Le Meridien. Pricey, but fantastic meals. Chez Remy definitely hits a 5 star at both meals with a large French menu and best wine and drinks selection, and very friendly, relaxed staff who also spoke perfect English. The Papaya dessert is beyond delicious. Plan $28–$45 pp USD. The Italian restaurant near the Le Meridien entrance is also divine; perfect stone oven baked pizza, divine Anchovie-Caper-Olive Spaghetti.

Tips: get French creamed cheese at breakfast on your crepes. Also, plan for your meals. Many restaurants don't open until 7 PM. Some of the hotels have multiple restaurants that serve different menus at different times of the day, and changes by the day, which made for limited selections and inability to order something you saw the day before. Some restaurants and businesses on the island close from 12-1:30 PM, some until 3 PM, which can make shopping and eating on a whim difficult. (Can't blame them, it's hottest then.)

Drink

Bottles of water are readily available. Being a French territory, wine is common and easy to find. As this is a tropical island, a multitude of fruit juices from pineapple juice to coconut milk is to be found everywhere. It is sometimes better to crack open your own coconut yourself and drain it for lunch. If you're a fan of beer, the Hinano Beer will definitely be one you will like to taste and bring a few cans home.

Music and dancing tell the story of the Tahitian people. Most hotels feature evening entertainment. Club dancing is also available in downtown Papeete. You will probably not even get out that late, so tired that you will be from spending so much time in the sun discovering the island. Have fun!

Shopping in Papeete, Tahiti


Black pearls abound. There is just about every kind of store here, including some (particularly near the Marché) who have no problem selling you imitation balls of black glass or fiberglass at market prices. Be sure to look for a certificate of authenticity on the wall of the shop, and trust your guidebook for recommendations.

Many of the shops around the center of town near "Notre Dame" have great buys.

If you are dreaming of a tattoo, do make sure that you get it in Tahiti since the patterns are so special and reflect the spirit of the island. There are lots of places to get tattooed around Papeete including the market. You may also want to buy a black pearl to take it back with you. You will get some at very affordable prices on the market too.

The local currency is the Pacific Franc (XPF).

Safety in Papeete, Tahiti


Tahiti has one of the lowest crime rates within France and its territories. However, petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching occurs.

Medical treatment is generally good. Two major hospitals, as well as several private clinics, provide 24-hour medical service.

As an overseas territory of France, defense and law enforcement are provided by the French Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force) and Gendarmerie.

Be sure to bring jelly-type sandals for walking amidst coral in the water and along the beaches or either old sneakers so you don't cut your feet on the coral or don't step on a stonefish.

Encounters with sharks in the lagoon will be most likely when scuba diving or even snorkeling but they are totally inoffensive. So are stingrays. However, be aware of moray eels which hide deep in the corals and whose bite can cause serious injury.

No vaccines are required.

Language spoken in Papeete, Tahiti


French and Tahitian are the most spoken languages, but English is widely understood in the tourist areas, but not in less frequently visited areas (such as the remote islands of the Tuamotus). Most signs are in French, very few of them in Tahitian.

Brush up on your Tahitian and French:

Tahitian:
  • Iaorana (E-yo-or-ahna) = Hello
  • Mauruuru (ma-rou-rou) = Thank you
  • Vahine (vah-heen-ney) = Woman
  • Tane (tah-ney) = Man
  • Nana (nah-nah) = Goodbye
  • Maeva (ma-ay-va) = Welcome
  • Fare (fa-ray) = House/bungalow
French:
  •  
  • Salut/Bonjour (sal-oo)- (bon-jour) = Hi/Hello
  • A bientot (ah-bee-yen-toe) = See you soon
  • Femme/Fille (fam/fee) = Woman/Girl
  • Homme/Garçon (ohm/gare-sohn) = Man/Boy
Many Tahitians end up mixing up words in French and Tahitian. An example would be a Tahitian asking where his "vini" is instead of using the French word for cellphone. "Où est mon vini?" "Where is my cellphone?" This is very common.

LOCAL TIME

10:06 am
August 25, 2019
Pacific/Tahiti

CURRENT WEATHER

26.84 °C / 80.312 °F
sky is clear
Mon

25.88 °C/79 °F
few clouds
Tue

25.85 °C/79 °F
moderate rain
Wed

25.86 °C/79 °F
moderate rain
Thu

25.95 °C/79 °F
moderate rain

LOCAL CURRENCY

XPF

1 USD = 0 XPF
1 EUR = 0 XPF
1 GBP = 0 XPF
1 AUD = 0 XPF
1 CAD = 0 XPF

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