Papeete is the bustling capital of Tahiti and her islands, and contains the government offices, gendarmerie, hospitals, clinics, banks, telecommunications centres, airline, travel agencies, boutiques and black pearl shops.
With a distinct colonial feel, Papeete’s CBD is designed for walking despite the city’s rapid growth in recent years.
The city curves along the Boulevard Pomare waterfront and sprawls several blocks inland. The sleepy ‘Papeete town’ of years gone by has been replaced with a modern municipality, which hums with business and trade activity, with a healthy dose of camaraderie.
Cargo freighters, copra ships, luxury liners and sailing yachts share the harbour where ‘people-watching’ for travellers and residents alike from the many outdoor cafés and bars is still one of the most popular pastimes.
The social set like to linger at lunch, share the latest gossip and watch as gaily painted pareu and tifaifai bed covers are sold at sidewalk tables, amidst the laughing atmosphere of the Tahitian artisans.
Papeete comes alive at night when nightclubs swing into action and the sounds of disco and jazz compete with the pulsating rhythm of the tamure, Tahiti’s tantalising national dance.
Renowned for their natural grace, innate pride, gentle beauty and warm hospitality, the Tahitians know how to live.
Music, flowers, dance and song make up an important part of their lives and dominate the annual Heiva I Tahiti festival. This very popular celebration is also called the Tahiti Festival and is held each July.
Traditional Polynesian competitions are held alongside European sports and Asiatic arts so that a festive carnival atmosphere pervades Papeete for the entire month.
Papeete Public Market or Le Marché is the heart of the city, providing a central marketplace for local Tahitian families.
It is also a photographer’s delight, with colourful displays of ripe fruit, together with chinese vegetables, strings of brightly coloured fish, farm fresh meats, squealing pigs and noisy ducks.
A stunning selection of tropical flowers is on sale year-round, including orchids, anthuriums, marigolds and daisies, red ginger and jasmine, as well as locally made shell necklaces, woven hats and baskets. Upstairs is reserved for artisans selling pareus, tifaifai quilts, cushion covers and other handicrafts.
Papeete offers a wide range of activities for the traveller, spanning the larger island of Tahiti Nui as well as Tahiti Iti, joined to the main island by the isthmus of Taravao. Helicopter and plane tours offer a great way of seeing the two islands. The 4WD tours around the island provide a more complete view of the islands. Explore the breathtaking Papenoo Valley and enjoy a swim in one of its many waterfalls, visit the Vaihiria Lake and the many maraes (Polynesian temples). Take a leisurely bushwalk into tropical jungle featuring giant ferns at an altitude of 1400 metres or climb Mount Marau for a spectacular view of Tahiti’s neighbouring islands.
Tahiti also has a wide range of activities to keep the most active traveller entertained, with hang gliding, bowling and tennis, deep-sea fishing, sailing, surfing, and scuba diving, windsurfing, jet-skiing, waterskiing and snorkelling. The island’s mountainous interior provides challenging and unusual trekking tours into valleys and up mountains, as well as discovering lava tubes, burial caves and hidden grottoes. The islands of Moorea, Bora Bora and Tetiaroa are also all close enough for a day trip from Tahiti.
When early explorers first landed on this island, it was close to Papeete and realised that the place has a bay that is a natural harbor and is perfect for big boats and ships. Today, Papeete is a major harbor and port in the region.
The waterfront has been renovated to make a long walkway and promenade. Evenings are quite pleasant here with the sea breeze blowing in, and is a great time to go for a walk and enjoy the waterfront views.
The town can get really expensive when it comes to eating out at proper restaurants and fine dining establishments. There are places where you will have to shell out US$30 for just a hamburger and US$10 for a pint of beer. Microbreweries may charge close to US$35 for a small jug of their brew. Hinani beer pitchers will help you cut costs on drinks. Mid range restaurants charge between US$20-30 for a meal, with a lot of options in Chinese food.
There are shops all over the town that sell black pearls. However, there are some shops that sell fake pearls made of glass or fiberglass as authentic black pearls, so beware. The best way to avoid being cheated by such shops is to look for authentication certificates at the entrance of the shops or refer to travel blogs and books for popular recommendations.