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“Budget travel” and “Bora Bora” might as well be antonyms. French Polynesia is one of the most expensive destinations in the world, and it’s not a place you can easily travel through on a shoestring. Fortunately, a trip to the Islands of Tahiti doesn’t have to be insanely expensive. After traveling through islands for months on end, these are my best tips for seeing French Polynesia on a budget.
Want all the best budget tips in one place? Grab the Moon Tahiti & French Polynesia guidebook through the links below.
1. Travel During the Shoulder Season
When tourism numbers climb, prices follow. Restaurants and day tours tend to have standardized prices throughout the year, but you’re bound to be nailed on flights and accommodation once high season begins.
The best time to travel to French Polynesia if you want to save serious money is from September to November and February to May. The domestic airline, Air Tahiti, discounts its flight prices massively during this time, and hotels usually lower rates to entice people into their rooms. As another bonus, top attractions tend to be less crowded and there are more spaces on popular tours.
The only downside? These months often see an uptick in rainy days. It’s the tropics after all! Usually these rain storms don’t last long, and make for a good excuse to do nothing but to shelter under a beach umbrella with a book in hand.
2. Stick to Just a Few Islands
The more you move, the more you’ll spend on flights and taxis once you land. Island hopping also eats into the time you have to enjoy the islands. Limit your island-hopping to around two destinations per week, or less if you want to truly soak in all an island has to offer.
3. Island Hop on the Air Tahiti Multi-Islands Pass
If you are planning to travel by air, book your flights on the Air Tahiti Multi-Islands Pass. This will save around 30% off on flights compared to one-way. For example, all flights on our recommended two-weeks in French Polynesia itinerary cost 584€ in the low season, and 632€ during the high season, and includes travel to eight islands.
When you plan your trip, be sure to lock in your flights before you book your accommodation as flights tend to sell out well in advance. If you’re using the Air Pass, you’ll be at the mercy of the set route that comes with each pass.
4. Travel By Ferry and Bus
The best way to get to Moorea from Tahiti is onboard the ferry, which takes just 30 minutes and costs around 12€ one-way. Compare this to flying, which costs around 75€ one-way.
If you have plenty of time to explore, it’s also worth taking the Apetahi Express, a ferry that shuttles around the Society Islands including Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Taha’a, Bora Bora, and occasional trips to Maupiti. Tickets come with two suitcases, each with a 23kg weight limit, and free change requests up to 48 hours before departure. The Apetahi Pass includes 31 days of unlimited travel to six islands for 26,900XPF (around 225€).
The island of Tahiti has a well-connected bus system that loops around the island for around 2-5€ per ride. Raiatea also has a bus, but the other islands are largely scant when it comes to public transport.
5. Stay in Pensions Instead of Hotels
Pensions are guesthouses, where you’ll typically stay in a room of a family home. Most pensions include a half board (breakfast and dinner) or full board (all meals) option. They’re cozy, quaint, and vary when it comes to cleanliness and quality but typically are nice places to stay. They are typically much cheaper than staying in hotels, and your activities and transport are often arranged through the pension owners for a decent price.
You can find pensions by searching for “pension + [island]” on Google, or on the Tahiti Tourisme website.
If you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t speak French. Most pension owners speak solely French and their local language, especially outside of the Society Islands. It’s worth downloading the Google Translate Chrome extension plugin and searching for pensions/accommodations in French. You’ll discover pension websites, typically also in French, that’ll be translated automatically–so you won’t have to copy and paste every paragraph into Google Translate itself.
Email the pension owners directly to make your booking. For this step, you might want to translate your email into French to increase your chances of getting a response.
6. Cut Costs at Mealtime
It’s not uncommon to drop 30-50€ for a meal, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Fortunately, portion sizes in French Polynesia tend to err on the larger side, and you can often split a meal without feeling hunger pangs later.
Stock up on snacks from the local markets and grocery stores to carry throughout the day, and take advantage of any breakfasts included in your accommodation. Sometimes, I eat a snack early in the morning, have a late brunch (included), snack again midday, and go out for dinner. Eating at roulettes, street food stalls, is another way to nab a great meal without spending a fortune.
7. Bring Your Own Snorkel Gear
No matter what island you’re on, there’s bound to be great snorkeling just a few fin kicks away from shore. Bring your own set of snorkel gear and you’ll have a free thing to do all day, every day, as long as the weather conditions are right.
It can be tempting to rent gear from your hotel or from an activity center, but this is largely a P.I.T.A. Fins that leave blisters, leaky masks, snorkels with mouth pieces that’ve been chewed through… and you’re still likely to pay a pretty penny for the honor. Plus, opening hours are usually wonky, making you reliant to when you can check-out and return your gear. When you do venture out on the water on a snorkeling tour, it’s likely you’ll have to share with other guests or they might not even have your size. There are plenty of companies who sell travel-sized snorkeling gear–it doesn’t need to be fancy.
8. Take Advantage of Free Activities
Pamphlets advertising sunset cruises, guided snorkeling tours, dive trips, ATV rides, cultural activities, and more wallpaper just about every hotel lobby. At first, it’s stressful to know where to start.
While yes, it’s nice to participate in some of French Polynesia’s iconic activities, like scuba diving with sharks in Fakarava or enjoying a picnic lunch at Rangiroa’s Blue Lagoon, there are plenty of free things to do on the islands.
Many hotels have standup paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, and snorkeling gear included for guests. You can easily save around 70-100€ by opting out of a tour and enjoying what’s free for you to use. Spend your day browsing the produce stands, walking along a white sand beach, heading inland for a hike, and visiting a craft market to see artists at work.
9. Use Your Pick-Ups and Drop-Offs Strategically
On islands like Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora, restaurants often offer a free pick-up and drop-off service for patrons. Most restaurant owners are happy to drop you off at a different point than your pick-up location, as long as it’s within their radius. Instead of paying for a pricey car rental or taxi, plan your day around these pick-ups. For example, get picked up from the beach, have dinner, and then get dropped off at your hotel. Tour operators also typically offer this same type of transport service within the Society Islands.
10. Volunteer as Crew on a Yacht
French Polynesia is a major hub for yachts sailing throughout the Pacific, and it’s often the first stop for sailors who’ve come from Panama. Many of these sailboats are looking for volunteer crew, where you’ll assist with day-to-day chores like sailing, cleaning, and cooking, in exchange for accommodation on board. If you have strong skills in any of those areas, you could even be paid a daily rate.
One thing to keep in mind about these sailboats, especially if you’re a solo female traveler, is that captains who take on crew can often be unreliable, unstable, or even dangerous. Be sure to vet every captain thoroughly–consult the ‘black list’ of captains over on Sailing Safety for Women before embarking. Be sure to ask for references, and join the yacht with another friend if you can. Check out this article on tips for keeping safe if you choose to go this route.
11. Splurge On Your Top Must-Sees, Save on the Rest
The Islands of Tahiti might be a once-in-a-lifetime destination for you. If that’s the case, get clear about the things you can’t miss and the things you’re okay with skipping out on. For me, I really wanted to have that iconic Bora Bora overwater bungalow experience. But, I didn’t have $1,500 to shell out each night.
Instead, my friend and I stayed in the cheapest accommodation we could elsewhere in French Polynesia in order to have enough money to spend on an overwater bungalow for two nights at a media discount rate. We also opted to eat many meals at home to save for a select few fancy meals out. Because scuba diving was our priority, we also opted out of plenty of other tours and activities in favor of having more money (and time) for scuba diving. This way, we never felt like we missed out on anything, but we didn’t totally break the bank, either.
12. Research What Things Cost Before You Set Off
Fail to plan, plan to fail. I don’t tend to subscribe to this belief, except for in French Polynesia. If you’re used to traveling throughout Southeast Asia, South America, or even islands like Fiji and Tonga, the sticker prices of French Polynesia are bound to come as quite a shock. But, it’s less painful when you know what you’re in for.
At the time of publishing, 100 XPF = $1 USD or 1€.
Here’s a rough idea of what things cost:
- A cheap meal from a roulotte: 1,500-3,000 XPF
- A meal from a restaurant: 3,000-4,500 XPF
- A sandwich: 700 XPF
- One night in a pension: 10,000-2,500 XPF
- One night in an upscale hotel: 400,000 XPF+
- Day tour: 7,000-15,000 XPF
Ready to take it over to the tropics? Chat with other Tahiti travelers over on our Islands of Tahiti Travel Planning group.