The 10 essential things to do in Papeete



Located on the west coast of the island of Tahiti, Papeete is the capital of French Polynesia and is the administrative hub for the five scattered islands in the archipelagos of French Polynesia (which has a nautical surface area the size of western Europe). Despite Papeete’s vast sphere of influence across the region of French Polynesia, Papeete remains relatively small and accessible, making it the ideal base for a one- or two-day tour of the island of Tahiti.

The small port city of Papeete is the point of embarkation and disembarkation for all Aranui 5 cruises, so all passengers have an opportunity to explore its tangle of streets and expansive waterfront at the start or end of their Aranui cruise.

Here’s 10 things to see and do before or after a 12-day cruise.

1. Papeete Market

The first stop on a city tour of Papeete has to be an early morning visit to vibrant city market. Located in the centre of Papeete, start the day with a tour to see market stalls laden with local crafts ranging from brightly painted pareos to hand woven baskets, colourful works of art, and finely crafted jewellery stalls featuring the famous black pearls for which French Polynesia is famous.

© Massimiliano Cinà

Buy Local Crafts

The morning is the best time of day to buy a wide variety of exquisitely decorated, large fabric ‘Tifaifai’ that feature vibrant depictions of floral motifs, and the market is one of the best places to see this symbol of Polynesian craftsmanship. Also don't miss the beautiful wreaths of fresh Tahitian flowers that the women make by hand in the covered area and the back alley of the market.

Explore Food Stands

It is open every day of the week from sunrise until around 3 pm but the best day to visit is on a Sunday when the market spills outside from the covered area into the streets of downtown Papeete, not far from the waterfront, offering a rich variety of colours and flavours from freshly caught seafood, to the characteristic fruits and vegetables of the island such as pineapple, passion fruit, banana, and grapefruit.

2. Notre Dame Cathedral in Papeete

Situated close to the market in Papeete is the small Cathedral of Notre Dame. An ideal place to savour a few moments of calm on a day tour of the centre of the city.

The cathedral is one of the most important historical and religious buildings in all of French Polynesia. Built during the latter half of the 19th century, it was inaugurated on December 23, 1875. During its history it has withstood cyclones and German bombardments during the First World War, and still remains today a very important place for the inhabitants of Tahiti, many of whom are driven by great religious fervour.

Visitors can see the importance of religion in Tahitian society when attending a mass on Sunday morning. The masses in Tahiti are reminiscent of the gospel masses that take place in certain North American churches. The songs occupy an important place, and you can see how warmly foreigners are welcomed.

3. The Gardens of Paofai

As the sun and temperatures start to climb take a stroll from Papeete’s city centre along by the waterfront to the gardens of Paofai Park and find a shady spot to relax in the four hectares of landscaped parkland.  Discover a garden with plants, trees, and shrubs that are the most emblematic of the islands of French Polynesia, particularly the fern of Huahine and the vanilla pods of the Leeward islands. Cool off by its pond and waterfalls or take a picnic to enjoy on the well laid out lawns and find sports facilities, games for adults and children and even free exhibition spaces.

Near to the waterfront is the Protestant Temple of Paofai. The temple was built on the spot where the oldest Protestant church in Papeete stood, a very small bamboo chapel, erected by the founder of the city, the missionary and pastor William Pascoe Crook. Today, this building can accommodate up to 1,800 worshippers. Visitors are welcome to attend Sunday mass, where white attire is required. Seeing all these member of the congregation in their best clothes, the women with their braided hats and the men in immaculate costumes, all singing religious songs of French Polynesian is an experience that will mark your stay in Papeete.

Continue your walk in the park along the seafront to admire the boats that anchor in the port,  see the black sand beaches and the restaurants and shops lining Boulevard Pomaré, which marks the perimeter of the park gardens.

For the best sunset views of the nearby Moorea, the sister island of Tahiti,  go to the park at around 5 pm and sit in the grassy areas of garden by the sea or on one of the faré poté available, and watch as the sun sinks over the horizon and enjoy picture perfect views of Moorea.

For those keen to explore in nature and see magnificent waterfalls close to Papeete a tour out to hike in the Fautaua Valley is easily accessible from Papeete, the capital of Tahiti. The Fautaua River flows through the valley, eventually cascading down the mountainside as the Fautaua waterfalls almost 300 metres into a shallow bathing pool called Loti Bain.

4. Manua Exquisite Tahitian Art

One of the best shops lining Boulevard Pomaré is Manua Exquisite Tahitian Art - a must see stop on a day tour of Papeete. The art shop and gallery house the finest selection of handcrafted work by local French Polynesian artists, reflecting the diversity and richness of the art of Tahiti and its islands, particularly artisans in The Marquesas. Passengers joining the 12-day cruise to The Marquesas with Aranui 5 will have an opportunity see the places that have inspired these artisans.

Expect to see amazing one-of-a-kind works of art, such as tikis, animals, canoes, and numerous items made of local woods, shells, bone, and mother-of-pearl, in addition to an excellent pearl shop right next door. 

5. Wan Pearl Museum

Just along the street, also on Boulevard Pomaré in Papeete, is the Robert Wan Pearl Museum -  the world's only museum dedicated to pearls. The modest, free venue tells the story of pearls throughout the world, their fascination and the legends that surround them. There is an explanation of the technical details of pearl farming, as well as Robert Wan's private collection featuring the world’s largest Tahitian pearl.

6. Buy pearls as a souvenir

After a visit to the museum, for those inspired to own their own Tahitian pearl, there are two possible ways to buy pearls in Papeete.

Either choose pearls that are already mounted and sold in the up-market jewellery shops that line Boulevard Pomaré and look over to Moorea Island. This location is where the vast majority of the jewellery stores on Tahitii are displayed, and the quality is reflected in the generally high prices of the artisan pieces on display.

Alternatively, buy individual pearls, unmounted and have them mounted in one of the stores that offer this service. Unmounted pearls are sold according to the size, shape, and quality with many examples originating from the waters and sparkling beaches of the Tuamotu islands and the Gambier archipelagos.

For the best address in Papeete to buy quality pearls at possibly more affordable prices than the seafront jewellery stores, the relatively well-known Mihiarii pearls store is best. There are three boutiques and a creation boutique in Papeete, all located not far from the city centre close to the market.

Pearls can also be bought at reasonable rates from stalls within the covered market.

Aranui cruise passengers will also have an opportunity to visit a pearl farm and purchase pearls on the island of Rangiora in the Tuamotus, as part of their 11-day cruise.

7. Street Art in Papeete

Excellent examples of street art are a little-known aspect of Papeete. In fact, the 'ONO'U' Street Art route is a tour you can follow to learn more about the city of Papeete. Since 2014, an international street art festival called "ONO'U" has been held in Papeete with the goal of promoting urban art and throughout French Polynesia. In Tahitian, "ONO'U" means "gather the colours." Numerous extremely beautiful murals created by international as well as local artists can be found throughout the city of Papeete.

8. Eat in the caravans of Papeete

An unmissable culinary and convivial experience whilst in Papeete is to dine at one of the caravan trailers.

It offers a great opportunity to taste local cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere and one of the best-known places for trailers is Place Vaiate. It’s located in the centre of the city, along by the waterfront and next to the port, but it’s possible to find trailers all over the city and along by the beaches.

Eating at the trailers in Papeete, or on Moorea and Bora Bora, is a bit of an institution. Everyone does it from locals and expats to tourists seeking its genuinely warm and friendly atmosphere. Trucks selling different styes of cuisine are set up around a few plastic tables and chairs and everyone settles in for a bite to eat in the open-air. Whilst they are not known for great gastronomy it is possible to find very good raw fish in some places.

At Place Vaiate you can expect to pay on average about 1200 to 1700 fr for a dish (10 to 15 €) or in the small neighbourhood dishes costs about 800/1200 fr.

9. Parc Bougainville

One of the best places to stop during a tour of the city is Bougainville Park. It is a tiny tropical oasis with a huge banyan tree that provides shade during the hottest part of the day. Perfect for adults and kids, with a separate children’s playground with swings and rides.

Situated at the entrance of the park, facing the seafront, is the Bougainville statue, which is dedicated to the French sailor, Louis Antoine de Bougainvile. He called in at Papeete in 1768 and became famous in Europe when he published his "Voyage autour du monde" in which he described Tahiti as heaven on earth where men and women lived happily in innocence, away from the corruption of civilisation.

10. Attend a Polynesian dance performance

Finally, one of the last things to do in Papeete, if you have the opportunity, is to attend the Heiva, a famous local dance and field performance. The Heiva is present every year during the month of August and if you plan to come at that time, it’s one of the must do events in the city.

© Alikaphoto


Of all the things to do in Papeete, a stroll along the waterfront will give you the greatest sense of the city's personality. Everyone from the neighbourhood congregates there to stroll, especially after work and in the late afternoon. Beginning from the trailers in Place Vaiate in front of the city's port, with its boats and catamarans bound for Tetiaroa. It’s the ideal way to experience local life by ending the day in Papeete watching the sun set over the island of Moorea and further afield to Bora Bora and anticipating the adventure ahead on Aranui 5.


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