top of page

FRENCH POLYNESIA ON A BUDGET

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

Some tips on how to make this dream destination affordable



French Polynesia is pretty much one of those places where you get the desktop wallpapers. And with 118 islands to choose from, you can get all sorts of diverse landscape, from mountains to coral atolls and pineapple to vanilla plantations.


They are commonly reffered as the Islands of Tahiti but in reality Tahiti is only the main island where you will be landing internationally.



Although most of the people heard of Bora Bora, I would like to emphasize the fact that French Polynesia IS NOT ONLY Bora Bora! It is so much more than that! And there are so many places around which are underrated but simply breath-taking and they cost not even 25% of what you would be paying in Bora Bora.

I felt a bit pissed off about the fact that a lot of people didn`t know much about where is French Polynesia but they immediately associated it with Bora Bora.


Also, I heard that the tourism agencies ask for huge prices when it comes to this place. In reality, with a bit of research and lowering a bit your accommodation expectations, this place can be pretty affordable.


What to expect


The main language is French, some people do speak English, but it is really handy if you know few French words or use a translation app.


Currency - Polynesian Franc ( XPF ). Most of the places accept credit cards but it is always useful to have some cash for activities, gear rental etc. There are plenty of ATMs in Tahiti and a few in Mo`orea as well, but small islands probably don`t have any.

Contactless payments don`t usually work, except for supermarkets.


Get used to the fact that you cannot see everything. Most of the people get to see 3-4 islands. If you are lucky and you got a month, maybe 7-8 islands. And that`s ok!!


Don`t spend too much time in Tahiti. One day is enough.


You need to fly in between the islands and there are only 2 airlines: Air Tahiti Nui and Air Moana. Therefore, the prices are not so cheap, varying between 150-300 $ round trip.


You will waste quite some time to travel in between the islands. Take that into account.


Prices are similar to France for everything.



Cutting costs


I think the most frequent question that comes to peoples` minds when it comes to this destination is: "how much would cost me?"

Whereas most of the travel agencies ( which, by the way, we never use ) ask for huge amounts of money, there are some cost cutting tips that can help you get there.


First of all, the biggest costs of this trip are:

- flight tickets ( if you come from the other side of the world like we did )

- accommodation

- inter - island travel

- transportation on the islands


Flight tickets price can be lowered by travelling low cost ( see below ) and PACK LIGHT! I cannot emphasize enough how much money and hassle you can save if you don`t take your whole wardrobe with you!! Plus, it`s an island!! You don`t need much apart from swimming suits!!


Accommodation can be lowered by lowering your expectations and looking for underrated good places rather than luxurious water bungalows. 😀

Sounds silly, I know, but, there are a lot of decent places to stay where you can enjoy the island. It doesn`t necessarily have to be on the beach, or have breakfast included, or be fancy. You can get a scooter or a car to go around the island and the job`s done.

You can check out our accommodations below.


Inter - island travel cost can be lowered by either purchasing a flight pass on Air Tahiti ( see below ) or just limiting yourself to fewer islands or just islands that can be accessed by boat , namely Mo`orea and a day trip to Tetiaroa.


Transportation costs on the islands can be achieved by renting an electric scooter in Tahiti and possibly Mo`orea ( which doesn`t require any deposit ) or maybe renting just a single vehicle instead of several, in order to avoid being charged the deposit twice. There is no major cost difference in between a car and a scooter, just the deposit is lower for the normal scooter.


Another cut saving tip: try to go just before or after the main season.




How to get there


The only affordable option that we could find from Europe and West USA is French Bee.

This is basically a French long-haul low cost airline based in Paris Orly.

Although it has many bad reviews and we were scared of flight cancellations ourselves, we had absolutely no problems.


The only difference would make the meal and the checked bags, but if you travel light, like we do, you`ll have no problem. They are quite flexible with the size of yopur backpack.


Also, if you`ve flown Ryanair or Wizzair in Europe, French Bee doesn`t even look low cost anymore. 😂 They have in flight entertainment, reclinable seats, blankets during the night and water free of charge throughout the flight.



When to go


The archipelago has 2 seasons: WET season ( November to April ) and DRY season ( May to October ). In terms of weather, officially, the best time ti visit is between May and September.

At the same time, this is also the busiest time and the prices will be higher.


However, each year, between July and November, humpback whales visit the warm waters of Polynesia to mate and give birth. (Females which mate this year will return next year to give birth.)

It is a unique opportunity to observe and admire them.

Unfortunatelly, we didn`t get this chance as we visited the islands in the second half of April.


Travel requirements - general


Travel is now open to both vaccinated AND unvaccinated passengers.


There are no visa requirements for citizens of the European Union, but non-French citizens who stay longer than 90 days should register with the municipality (Commune) where they live.


For U.S. and Canadian Citizens: passport must be valid for a minimum of three months after the return date. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.



Saving up on accommodation

Appart from the plane tickets, accommodation is the most expensive part of this trip. Now, depending on what your expectations are, you can get a cheaper or less cheaper place to stay.


We, personally, tend to run after experiences rather than luxury.

We had a more fancy looking place to stay in Tahiti but we didn`t like the host so much. The view was great, though. We paid around 100$ a night plus breakfast.


We had a cost saving place in Mo`orea - more of a hippie cottage with kitchen and terrace, about 80$ a night, had 2 bikes included free of charge, washing machine ( which is super handy when you have like 5 t-shirts in total 😀 ) a nice place to take typical island breakfast just 100 m away and a lot of crabs in the yard which were so fun to watch.


And finally, we had the best place to stay in Tikehau - super underrated but amazing!! It is a family owned small hotel, just few rooms, in the middle of the ocean, with local food included for breakfast and dinner, kayaks and snorkelling gear included and so many places to explore around. It costed around 200$ a night but it was worth every penny.


Exploring Hakamanu 🩵


Going around: car rental and/or scooter rental


In Mo`orea and Tahiti at least, you will need some kind of transport of your own. It will make your life a lot easier.

In general, there is no big difference in terms of price and deposit if you rent a car or a scooter. BOTH will require a HIGH deposit. ( around 500 € for a scooter and 1000 -1200 € for a car )

The price per day is almost the same - 45 to 60 € the cheapest.


Also, it`s important to mention that, unless you have the motorbike qualification on your driving license, you cannot rent a motorbike/ scooter with an engine greater than 50 cc by law.


However, we found a more simple solution - electric scooter rental - which helped us to get around the island of Tahiti.


There is an app available on both Apple and Android: HELLO SCOOT. They have a lot of electric scooters available in Tahiti and a few available in Mo`orea that can be rented per minute, per hour or per day(s). They don`t charge any deposit and whenever the battery discharges, you go to a charging station and they replace the battery, which takes 1 min.

The only downside is that the engine is limited to ythe equivalent of 50 cc and they don`t have enough power to go on a steeper slope. But we managed to go around the whole island.


In Mo`orea, we chose to rent a car through Europcar, as we needed it for few days and we thought it was better in case it rains. ( which it did )

Europcar was quite all right but they do charge some huge deposit, 150 000 XPF ( almost 1300 Euros ) for a DACIA car, which they only release after a month!! 😱

However, you may try to ask them to take only the card numbers, without charging the money.



Going around by plane


As mentioned before, there are only 2 airlines servicing the islands: Air Tahiti and Air Moana.

The prices are quite high and it doesn`t make a great difference if you buy the ticket in advance or not. However, this is also an advantage, as you can buy last minute tickets.

A return ticket costs in between 150 - 300$ per person.


Also, Air Tahiti offers inter - island passes which can be a real cost saver if you plan on visiting more island. You need to follow certain rules, though.

You can check out their offers and conditions here.


Which islands are the best?


I don`t think there is one island better than other here. There are all beautiful and different. It all depends what you are looking for.



There are THE SOCIETY ISLANDS which feature the famous mountains and blue water. The most famous of them is Bora Bora, which obviously is the most expensive.


MO`OREA is is most affordable one in terms of time and budget, being only 45 min by ferry distance from Tahiti. The landscape is really beautiful and the accommodation is way more affordable than in Bora Bora.


Then, you have the TUAMOTU ISLANDS, which feature turquoise water and coral atolls. Fakarawa, Tikehau and Rangiroa are among the most famous.

We`ve been only on Tikehau and we must say it was the best atoll we`ve ever been to.


Nevertheless, all islands are beautiful and no matter which one you choose, you`ll be impressed anyway.



Diving


Unfortunatelly, the French laws apply which have a lot of restrictions.

First of all, if you don`t have a diving license ( like we don`t ), they will limit you a lot, will only allow you in the lagoon and at the depth not greater than 6 m. The difference is that in other places of the world they will limit you to that depth, regardless of the depth of the water. Here, they only bring you to places where the water is only 6 m deep.

Maybe it sounds a bit irresponsable but we`ve been diving without a license in a lot of places such as Maldives, Philippines, Seychelles, Red Sea and Kenya and we never had problems. More over, in many places we had a pool day before the actual dive where we had to practice all the emergency procedures and the instructors have been really thorough with everything.

In French Polynesia they didn`t do any of that, they just restricted us. Which, I`m sorry to say, but is crap!


We`ve been considering to do our diving licences for a long time and we were even thinking to do it here, but the price is double.



Restaurants


Most important thing: they have the French schedule! As in, everything closes after 2 pm and opens again after 6-7 pm.


Other than that, depending on the island, they serve a combination of fish, sea food, French food and local fruits, fresh juices etc.


Tahiti


Featuring black beaches and tropical mountains, is the place where the main airport is and the place that you cannot skip. However, don`t allow more than a day for this island. We surrounded the whole island in a day by scooter and there are not many beaches to discover.

Our favorite place was Tautira beach. Another beach that we found on the "best beaches" category was Plage de la Pointe Venus, but we personally didn`t like it.


Tautira beach


The scenery on the eastern side of Tahiti island

Mo`orea


As opposed to Tahiti, Mo`orea is featuring white sand beaches and looks pretty impressive. The only downside is that there are not so many beaches as one would expect and some of them belong to hotels.

Additionally, there are some treks and/or view points that you can do or see, as well as pineapple plantations. And, of course, the famous mount Rotui.


Don`t forget about snorkelling with the manta rays and sharks!!


Some tips:


Our favorite place to eat in Mo`orea was Snack Mahana. It is a tiny family restaurant on the beach. They serve fresh fish and fresh juices. Their banana flambe is a must try!


Swimming with the mantas and sharks - this place is really close to Plage des Tipaniers, accessible by 10-15 min kayak ride. Of course, they also sell the trips here but the trip is actually a waste of money. During the trip, they only allow about 20 min for this activity and they charge about 90$ per person. It is cheaper and better to just rent a kayak for 2 hrs and go there by yourself.

The place is easily identifiable as there are always people in that area.



Theoretically, Plage des tipaniers is a private beach, but they have a place where you can rent snorkelling gear, kayaks and book day trips. And, by far, this is the best quality of the gear you can ger in this area. If you tell at the gate that your are going for the rentals/ trips, they will allow you in.


Ta`ahiamanu Beach, one of the best

Temae beach, shared with Sofitel - it is close to the airport, so don`t get your hopes up for flying your drone

The beaches on the two Motu islands - be careful of the strong current, if you are using the kayak

On the way to the pineapple plantation - just exploring the island is amazing

This place can be reached by kayak


Belvedere lookout ( Mount Rotui ) on the left and the amazing roads of Mo`orea on the right.

Tikehau


This island is literally a piece of paradise! It is the classical desktop picture cliche and probably the best island we`ve ever been to! And we experienced quite a few places such as Maldives, Seychelles, Zanzibar, Mauritius or Phillipines. But French Polynesia is special.

And our whole Tikehau experience was enhanced by the fact that we randomly discovered this lodge - Hakamanu Lodge - that I mentioned before, which was such a special place.

We had the opportunity to stay in a sustainable place which was really comfortable but super remote, in the middle of Tikehau, far away from everything. The fact that the lodge only had 4 or 5 rooms provided such an exclusive experience, so different from the classic hotels. We had the opportunity to taste local food cooked by the hosts and to explore all the small beaches and lagoons either by foot or kayak with no one around.

And the price of this lodge was totally affordable.






Trip to Tetiaroa - the island bought by Marlon Brandon


This island looks incredible from the pictures but it is super exclusive. It is a private island, bought by Marlon Brando, few tens of years ago and now it`s featuring a 5 star hotel: The Brando.


Currently, there are 2 options of going there: either staying at the Brando ( but this costs around 3500 - 4000 $ a night and there is a minimum number of nights requirement as well ) or you can book a day trip from Tahiti which costs around 200 $ per person.


We tried to do the trip, however, this has to be reserved well in advance and it depends on the number of people and the size of the waves in order to get past the coral reef over there.

Unfortunatlety, our trip got cancelled due to weather a day before but the company we used was really resposive and released our money straight away.

So, based on the communication that we had, we could definitely reccommend these guys.

Maybe you are luckier with the weather!

The company is called Tahiti Voile et Lagoon and this is their website.


Other options could be: Poe Charter and L`Escapade Charter.

All of them request payment in advance and reserve the right of cancelling the trip due to weather or not enough people.


However, probably the downside of this trip is the fact that you don`t have exclusivity, there are going to be minimum 8 people on the boat and you get only few hours there.


Usually the journey starts at 5 am and returns at 7 pm, taking about 3 hrs to get there.


The only way we could see Tetiaroa - from the plane, on the way to Tikehau

Next, hopefully our gallery will inspire you to travel to this amazing achipelago.

We used our Sony A7III and A7IV cameras with the following lenses:

Sony 35 mm F1.4, Zeiss 55 mm F1.8, Sony 85 mm F1.8 and Sony 135mm F1.8.

For the underwater photography we used the Sony A7IV with the 35 mm lens and an underwater case from Sea Frog.

The aerials are taken with our new drone DJI Mavic III Classic.



On the way to Tautira beach, Tahiti

Mo`orea from our accommodation in Tahiti

First sunset in Tikehau

Mo`orea from Ninamu Pearl guesthouse

Tautira beach, Tahiti

On the way to Tautira, Tahiti

Diving in Mo`orea

The Motu islands in Mo`orea

The northern side of Mo`orea, Plage des Tipaniers

Temae beach, Mo`orea

Snorkeling in Tikehau


Tahiti seen from Mo`orea

Tikehau lagoon

The southern side of Mo`orea

Kayaking to Motu islands

Tikehau

The middle of Tikehau atoll

The northern part of Mo`orea

Temae beach

Tikehau lagoons

Tikehau

Mo`orea

Black beach - Plage de la Pointe Venus in Tahiti - not so nice

Reef sharks in Tikehau

Hakamanu lodge

Plage des Tipaniers

Hakamanu surroundings

Comments


bottom of page