Tips to travel cheaply in French Polynesia - A little paradise in Oceania
Indeed, French Polynesia is renowned worldwide for being a luxury destination for honeymooners, luxury cruises, and 5-star hotels. Most people who set foot in French Polynesia are not backpackers with small budgets, but rather “foreigners” with fairly large budgets. However, it is possible to visit the country in a simpler way, without having to leave all your savings behind. Here, I give you my best tips for traveling cheaply in French Polynesia! Everything will of course depend on your budget for the trip but also on your itinerary in French Polynesia. Because, going to the island of Moorea is very nice and economical. Going to the Gambier Islands is a guaranteed change of scenery, authenticity as we seek it, but it will cost you more.
People wishing to spend a family vacation in French Polynesia are finally quite rare, because between the price of the flight to Papeete, accommodation on site, transportation between the islands, etc. the trip can be very expensive. So yes, French Polynesia is paradisiacal, but compared to other destinations, these Pacific islands are still very expensive to visit and if you’re not careful, expenses can be important. In this article, I will try to give you tips for a budget-friendly trip to French Polynesia.
Travel for cheap to Tahiti - discover the end of the world
A cheap flight to French Polynesia
Of course, it all depends on where you actually live. For people living in Europe, the price of flights will be an important part of your budget to travel to French Polynesia. On the other hand, if you live in the USA or New Zealand, it will be possible to find cheap flights.
From Europe, don’t expect any miracles, but with a few tips, stopovers, and depending on the season, you might be able to find a plane ticket from 850/900€. It’s not so bad considering the distance! Since the end of 2017, the French low-cost airline company French Bee has been flying to French Polynesia from Europe (via the USA) and from San Francisco direct to Papeete.
Some additional information you should be aware of to discover the South Pacific for cheap:
- Il n’existe pas de vols directs vers la Polynésie,
- Tous les vols internationaux depuis la France font escales au USA pour la majorité
- There are no direct flights to French Polynesia from Europe.
- The only existing direct flights to French Polynesia are from Auckland (New Zealand), San Francisco (USA), Hawaii, Japan, the Cook Islands or New Caledonia,
- All international flights from Europe mostly stop over in the USA,
- Air Tahiti Nui, French Bee and Air France are the three main airlines operating to French Polynesia,
- The time difference with Europe is 11h or 12h depending on the season,
- The ticket price may vary according to the rainy and dry seasons, but there aren’t really any cheaper periods to go to Tahiti (outside of school holidays),
- Allow 20/22 hours of flight from Europe to Papeete,
- Think of looking on a round-the-world ticket if French Polynesia is not part of it,
- Avoid one-way travel, which is far too expensive, and prefer a return flight no matter where you are coming from.
If you are traveling around the world, you can also go to French Polynesia for cheap (well cheaper), from New Zealand, New Caledonia, Easter Island, the Cook Islands or Hawaii… flights from South America (Chile) are still expensive (around 1000€).
Finally, in addition to this article, there are always a few great tips to know that are still valid for finding a cheap plane ticket. I’ve summarized it all in an article that will surely help you save money on your plane ticket!
The goal is therefore to prepare in advance (at least 2 to 3 months) and don’t hesitate to use a flight comparator, day after day. I recommend Skyscanner, it’s the one I’ve used the most (and still use today to find tickets).
Transport: getting around French Polynesia for cheap
It’s fine once you get there, but you probably won’t want to spend 3 weeks on the island of Tahiti would you? The goal is therefore to find a way, tips to travel cheaply in French Polynesia, between the different archipelagos and islands.
I’ve written an article that explains all the possibilities for getting around French Polynesia, between the islands and on the islands, while saving money.
A cheap stay in French Polynesia, worth remembering:
- Traveling by boat will cost less than by plane (if you have time). There are a few cargo ships that take passengers between the islands, but if you are on vacation for a few weeks, it might take too long,
- Try to plan an itinerary for your trip to the islands, so that you can organize things regarding plane tickets;
- Prefer to buy your plane tickets on the Air Tahiti website (or on site at the agency), rather than on a comparator (as some special fares don’t seem to be displayed…);
- For those who will choose to fly and visit several islands, buying Archipelago / Inter island passes with Air Tahiti is a great idea to save money. Island hopping is good value for money with the Passes.
- Use the ferries as soon as possible, for example between Tahiti and Moorea, which is much cheaper than the plane;
- In the islands, privilege the cheapest way to travel (hitchhiking, walking, scooter rental, biking). On Tahiti however, it is possible to rent a car without ruining yourself.
- Be careful with your itinerary, some islands are served by regular flights (the Leeward Islands several times a day, the Marquesas Islands once a day, etc.), but others are more complicated to reach (Eg: Maupiti with 2 flights a week on average),
- Ideally, you can find good deals for moving around the islands at the Papeete Tourism Fair (February/September). However, you will need to know someone locally to advance the money and book for you (this fair normally being reserved for locals);
In any case, domestic flights in French Polynesia are not cheap, so any small savings are good to make!
A cheap stay in Tahiti: affordable accommodations and hotels?
For accommodation, French Polynesia is how to say? Generally overpriced? Too expensive for what it is? In short, as you can imagine, this is not the land of cheap accommodation, but rather of large hotels! If you are coming from South-East Asia, you will cry all the tears of your body when you see the prices quoted for guesthouses here. And I’m not even talking about the hotels ;-). You don’t believe me? The little bungalow you discovered during your trip to Thailand at 400 Thb (10€), here will cost 10 000 xpf (80€) and it’s clearly no better…
No seriously, it’s not cheap to sleep here. You’ll have to dig harder for good deals and tips to find inexpensive accommodation… At least compare the prices of guesthouses!
Here I will give you tips on finding cheaper accommodation and saving money when traveling to French Polynesia.
This is one of the options that doesn’t work out so bad, and a good plan for Tahiti and the islands where there are a few people. It will also give you the opportunity to meet the locals on the islands, who can guide you on the things to see, do, not to miss, etc. On the more remote islands, it will be too difficult to find people who offer Couchsurfing. You will have to choose from the options below!
If you don’t have a profile on the website, take 5 minutes to create an account.
- Sleep in Airbnb
Airbnb is also a possibility that remains cheaper overall than any guesthouse in the islands. You will find more than Couchsurfing and this also allows you to be with locals!
Do you want to sleep for cheap when traveling to French Polynesia? Try the Airbnb, I offer you 33€ on your first night
Well yes, you don’t necessarily think about it in this tropical paradise, but depending on the season, you can definitely pitch a tent in the islands. I specify “depending on the season” because from November to March, it is HOT, so you really have to like being woken up by the sun at 5:00 am and the heat and rain but besides that, it’s a good solution!
More seriously, you will find a few campsites in the islands. Even though some guesthouses don’t officially offer camping, it is always possible to ask the owners to pitch a tent. Don’t hesitate to take a look at my full guide to camping in French Polynesia.
Example of Camping (there are others) in Moorea (Camping Nelson), Fakarava or Raiatea!
Also note that you can use Facebook groups (usually in French), which are common in Tahiti, to ask for the possibility to camp with individuals, in exchange for a small amount of money. Some have tried it and it works very well. Just post an announcement (in French) with your arrival dates, number of nights and the island where you want to stay! Then you just wait for responses! I would like to make it clear that the purpose is not to sleep for free at the local resident’s house, do we agree?
You can also find campsites via the Airbnb website.
- Know someone locally
Indeed, this is still one of the best solutions to save money on your accommodation. The idea is not to crash (unscrupulously) at someone’s place, but spending a few nights at an old acquaintance’s or a friend’s place can always be a good way to save some money. It will also allow you to have a chat with someone who lives there and knows the place well!
- Sleep in a guesthouse rather than a hotel
Sleeping at the Sofitel in Moorea and admiring a sunset is nice, but it’s not very cheap. I won’t list here all the guesthouses I recommend, since it will be done in each article related to the islands I had the opportunity to visit.
You can however take a look at the different guesthouses, read other people’s opinions and also book through the live site:
- On the island of Bora Bora;
- On the island of Moorea;
- On the island of Huahine;
- On the island of Raiatea;
- On the island of Rangiroa;
- On the island of Tahaa;
…and opinions in general on all guesthouses throughout French Polynesia
For those who prefer to sleep in a hotel, you can look via this link for reviews, prices of accommodations and availability on the desired dates. Please note that prices are often interesting and there are some great promotions to explore for those interested!
It is also a solution that can work very well in some islands, even outside of French Polynesia. People often go on vacation during the holidays and do not wish to leave their homes empty. They prefer someone to look after the place while they’re away. This can be a great way for you to get free accommodation in exchange for some services (taking care of the animals, garden, etc.).
Several sites have specialized in this field, in particular Nomador.
I also recommend you take a look at the local newspaper classifieds sites (petites-annonce.pf, paruvendu.pf, big-ce.pf, etc.). There is always a section with these types of ads. You’ll then have to search and find the right ad.
- Home exchange
This is also another possibility. The concept is simple, exchange your usual house with a house of your dreams in French Polynesia.
There are many sites where you can offer your house/apartment in exchange for another home in the location of your choice.
To name just a few: trocky.com, guesttoguest, homeforhome,
- Privately-owned rentals
Last but not least, take a closer look at the local newspaper ads that work very well.
You will find a very large number of private individuals who rent per night, week, sometimes month, their accommodation, part of their accommodation, their bungalow in the garden, etc.
The prices can be very interesting knowing that you will not be in a guesthouse nor in a hotel! It is also a solution to travel cheaper in French Polynesia and discover the Polynesian culture.
Take a look here: petites annonce.pf / paruvendu.pf / big-ce.pf
Cheap holidays in French Polynesia: food
This is also one of the important things to think about, especially as a Frenchman!
Several tips here to save a little money on this matter:
- If you go to the islands as a backpacker and camper, I would especially recommend that you fill up on food in Tahiti (at the Carrefour or Super U for example). Food in general is much more expensive in the islands and you will have less choice;
- Cook your own food! In fact, in most guesthouses, you often have a small kitchenette available. You can then cook yourself a nice pasta dish, in the evening with friends for example. Savings guaranteed! When cooking, you should always use seasonal and local products. Forget about cheese, yogurt and all the imported products that will cost too much!
- In general, I would recommend you to avoid restaurants as much as possible if you don’t want to spend too much. A dish will easily cost you 2000/2500 xpf (between 16/20€). You can enjoy yourself just as much in small snack bars that offer the same local specialties…
- Prefer “the roulottes”: if you want to go out in the evening, go to the roulottes (food trucks) rather than to the restaurant. Prices are lower, and the quality/quantity ratio is very good. Count at least 1000/1200 xpf (8-10€) for a dish.
For those who don’t want to bother cooking, I would recommend taking half board. It’s the easiest to manage, and you’ll always find somewhere to buy a 400 xpf (4€) snack for lunch on any island. However, there is always the possibility of taking full board in some places.
Activities on site when visiting French Polynesia on a budget
Like everything else in French Polynesia, activities here are not cheap. So here are a few tips to save money while having fun.
- Focus on free activities
Yes, that’s the best advice I could give. You don’t have to go jet-skiing, catamaran sailing, paragliding or skydiving to enjoy your trip in French Polynesia! Take the time to discover the islands and the lush vegetation during hikes for example. Go for a walk on the beautiful beaches of the motu, bathe in the waterfalls or turquoise waters, swim along the coral reef to discover the underwater world, do a bit of lazing around, visit the pearl farms…that’s enough to keep you busy during your trip, without ruining yourself, isn’t it?
So opt for low-cost activities such as snorkeling, hiking, visiting islands/exploring cultural sites on foot, etc.
- For divers
If there’s one activity to try in French Polynesia, it’s diving. Depending on what you may have seen on your previous trips, you may be more or less disappointed, especially when diving in Tahiti.
Everyone agrees that the best spots are in the Tuamotu, Fakarava and Rangiroa, in particular.
To save money, divers can choose between several solutions.
If you want to dive in several islands at the same time, there are two interesting options possible.
# The Te Moana Diving Pass
This is a 10-dive pass, available for 2 people, on 11 islands and 16 dive centers. It will cost you 69 000 xpf (580€). There is of course a resident rate (62 000 xpf). A trick would be to know someone locally who could buy the Pass for you.
# The Top Dive Pass
There are Inter-island GOLD Passes of 10 (90 000 xpf / 750€) or 20 dives (166 000 xpf – 1400€). These are valid on 7 islands and 11 dive centers
The Te Moana Diving package is therefore more advantageous in itself.
If you only want to dive in one island, I recommend you take a 10 or 20-dive pass in the same club. The prices of the dives are of course decreasing. For example, a 10-dive pass on Fakarava costs on average 65 000/70 000 xpf (600€), which is far from being cheap!
Dives in Tahiti are much cheaper than in the Tuamotu. For example, a 20-dive package with Fluid dive center will cost you 88 000 xpf (730€).
By the way, if you are interested in a great diving trip from Tahiti to Moorea, here is a nice story!
- Choose activities at the tourism fair
Indeed, twice a year (September and February), you will have the opportunity to book activities with preferential rates (Tetiaroa excursion, lagoon excursion, whale watching excursion, etc.).
It’s a good plan. The only problem is that you’ll have to find someone locally to make the reservations for you. Because yes, the rates are only valid for locals.
Various tips: tips for traveling to French Polynesia on a budget
Finally, here are some additional tips that will help you save a little money:
- Check out the Facebook groups to look for great house sitting/home exchange deals, private rentals, etc.
- Find someone locally to buy things for you at the tourism fair!
- Buy some stuff at the Duty free when you arrive in Tahiti (alcohol, cigarettes, etc.), no I don’t encourage you to drink, but it’s cheaper there!
- Leave with Euros or dollars from where you live to limit bank commission fees in Tahiti. You will change your money only once in Papeete at a bank. You can of course withdraw on site, but you will quickly be limited by the weekly withdrawals here,
- Finally, choose the islands you wish to visit carefully. The island of Moorea for example, easily accessible from the island of Tahiti, is already a jewel without being costly (boat and camping there).
So here are all the tips to travel cheaply in French Polynesia. I hope that this will allow you to plan your trip a little better and especially save money here, in a country where everything quickly gets expensive. If you want to know more about money, here is the article on the budget for a trip to French Polynesia.
If you have any questions about your itinerary in French Polynesia or how to get around between the islands and on the islands, or any other questions related to the country, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment at the bottom of the article!
See you soon for a new article!