Tahiti is arguably best known as an island paradise for romantic getaways, but don’t let that dissuade you from starring it on the family vacation wish list. Think about it — you don’t have to be a grown-up to enjoy beaches and sparkling blue water teeming with colorful fish.
Located in the southern part of the Pacific Ocean, French Polynesia is comprised of 118 islands. The destination as a whole is commonly referred to and marketed as The Islands of Tahiti. However, it’s important to understand that Tahiti is also the name of the region’s largest and most populated island.
The only international airport in French Polynesia, Faa’a International Airport (PPT), is located on the main island of Tahiti. The flight from San Francisco or Los Angeles is a bit more than eight hours. Those looking to break up the journey can plan a stopover in Honolulu; there’s a long list of family-friendly offerings on Oahu.
A number of airlines fly direct to Tahiti from the United States, but the relative newcomer in the mix, low-cost carrier Frenchbee, is turning heads for its low fares. I came across round-trip flights from San Francisco — over the Presidents’ Day holiday, no less — for just shy of $450, and less than a month later my family was happily slathering on sunscreen. While Frenchbee offers fewer amenities (our tickets included a carry-on bag up to 26 pounds and a personal item, but checked luggage, drinks and meals were an additional fee), its affordability can’t be denied.
Papeete, the capital city of French Polynesia, is about three miles from the airport, but traffic typically makes the trip a 15- to 20-minute drive. It offers just about everything you’d need and expect, including restaurants, hotels and shopping.
Le Marché is Tahiti’s public market. Popular with locals and visitors, it offers a variety of perks for traveling families. Along with showcasing a wide range of Tahitian handicrafts, foods, flowers and trinkets, it offers an ideal location for parents to introduce kids to the local currency, the Pacific franc (XPF). Negotiating over prices is not common, but goods at a variety of price points are available. Merchants, often dressed in woven hats and floral-patterned attire, are generally pleasant and typically speak English.
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It’s a long day, typically around 8 hours, but if your kids have an adventurous side, trekking into the rugged Papenoo Valley delivers spectacular scenery and a better understanding of Tahitian culture. Along with chasing waterfalls and offering a river swim stop, the Papenoo Vaihiria tour with Ia Ora Na Tahiti Expeditions explores an extinct volcanic crater. Covering everything from local history and traditional plant use to the significance and artistry behind Polynesian tattoos, it’s clear that owner Teuai Lenoir genuinely enjoys sharing his heritage.
Passengers sit in bench seats in the bed of a four-wheel drive vehicle during the tour. It’s a bumpy ride, so I wouldn’t recommend it for young children, but middle-schoolers and older kids are likely to embrace the adventure and impressive panoramas. Wear your swimsuit under your clothes, and along with a camera, bring plenty of sunscreen and bug repellent.
TOPDIVE Tahiti takes a small number of snorkelers on select excursions to what’s commonly known as L’Aquarium dive site. It’s deep water, so your kids should be older, confident swimmers, but the views are one of a kind. Along with the coral and colorful fish, there’s a Cessna prop airplane, a boat and, oddly enough, a desk and chair lying the on the sandy bottom. Stingrays are common, so be on the lookout.
Located 11 miles northwest of the island of Tahiti, Moorea can be reached via a 15-minute plane flight or a 30- to 60-minute ferry ride. While the hassle of the airport travel rules out most day trip opportunities, two ferry companies make the trip between Moorea and the waterfront in downtown Papeete multiple times a day, for as little as $25 per person round trip. No reservations are needed; you simply show up, buy a ticket and walk on board. If you have a rental car, select ferries also transport vehicles.
A number of Moorea tour operators will pick up and drop off passengers at the ferry terminal, making scheduling a day trip even easier. Moorea Activities Center operates snorkeling tours off jet skis and ATV tours that venture inland and upward to postcard-worthy panoramas. Enjoy Boat Tours Moorea offers visitors the chance to swim with turtles, eagle rays and blacktip reef sharks, then sets up a picnic lunch on a moto (islet or tiny island) where you can walk along the beach, collect seashells or do more snorkeling.
Located a short walk from the waterfront in Papeete, Hotel Tahiti Nui is the place for families wanting to stay in the thick of the humming capital. The property offers 91 rooms, including 47 suites that provide traveling families with some extra room to spread out. Hotel Tahiti Nui is an easy walk to the Le Marché public market, the ferry terminal and countless neighborhood shops and restaurants. The hotel’s rooftop pool offers mountain views and is popular spot to cool off after days exploring.
Beach lovers won’t want to leave Le Tahiti by Pearl Resorts.
Set on the shore of Matavai Bay, the property’s backyard is the stunning Lafayette Beach, and all of its 91 rooms and suites boast an ocean view. Whether wandering the stretches of black sand or splashing in the resort’s beachside pool, it’s easy for a family to happily fill a day of vacation. An added perk: Le Tahiti by Pearl Resorts is located 10 minutes from downtown Papeete and offers free shuttle service to guests interested in making the quick trip.
When the family is ready for a couple days to enjoy simply staying put, the InterContinental Tahiti Resort and Spa is the place to do it.
The resort features 246 accommodations; most rooms and suites are located in three-story buildings, but the property also boasts two dozen overwater bungalows, one of which is big enough to sleep two adults and two children.
Days here can be spent swimming in the two freshwater infinity pools or snorkeling in the Lagoonarium, full of colorful fish and coral. Twice a day, at 9 am and 3 pm, kids are welcome to help resort staff feed the fish. For families in search of more fish-spotting opportunities, TOPDIVE Tahiti sits on the edge of the resort property.
Public transportation on the island of Tahiti is limited. While taxis are plentiful, you won’t find ride services like Uber or Lyft. If your family is the type that likes to roam as opposed to relaxing by the hotel pool, a rental car should be a consideration.
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Editor’s Note: For review purposes, some of Dana’s hotel stays and activities were organized by Tahiti Tourisme or a media rate was provided. As always, our thoughts and opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Dana Rebmann.
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