Travel to Moorea: What’s it like?
Moorea is Tahiti’s more touristy “mini-me” right across the water. While not as familiar as Tahiti or Bora Bora, Moorea boasts an incredible lineup of adventure activities against an idyllic, romantic setting at a budget friendly cost compared to Bora Bora.
Mo’orea is Tahtian for “yellow lizard” originating from a Tahitian legend of a woman who gave birth to an egg that eventually grew into a giant yellow lizard.
How to Get to Moorea
There are two ways for tourists to get to Moorea: ferry and flight. The ferry is approximately $30 and only takes 45 minutes. We didn’t take the ferry, but there’s a more comprehensive Tahiti-Moorea ferry review here. The other option is the flight. The plane is in the air for no more than 10 minutes. While it is more expensive than the ferry, if you already plan to visit Bora Bora or any other island in French Polynesia, the travel cost is comparable when you purchase a multi-island pass. Crunch some numbers and determine what makes the most sense for you.
Should you rent a car in Moorea?
It depends. Where is your accommodation? What is your budget? How much freedom of movement do you want?
The average cost for a rental vehicle in Moorea is around $80-$100 per day. Depending on where you’re staying, you may be within short walking distance to beaches, restaurants, and shops. If you only plan to leave your accommodation for tours or group activities, most companies offer free transfer to the meeting spot for the tour.
Unless you intend to embark on self tours or circle the island, you likely will not need to rent a car in Moorea. We chose to rent a car for our own personal independence and freedom to travel whenever, wherever. We enjoyed driving ourselves to new restaurants and not relying on a tour group’s schedule for pickup. In retrospect, if we wanted to save ourselves the expense, we definitely could have gotten away without renting a car.
In the end, it’s your discretion.
Where to stay in Moorea?
We stayed at Moorea Sunset Beach. Nicely appointed with a small kitchen, living room, laundry closet, and two bedrooms, Moorea Sunset Beach possesses modern comfort just footsteps from the beach. Also a short walk away are a shopping center with multiple restaurants and stores, pharmacy, and park with more beach access. It’s one of Moorea’s newest accommodations, a conglomerate of condos and single bungalows at an affordable price. There’s even a food truck outside of reception every evening. For us, the most important selling factors that made is click “book” were an air conditioned bedroom and in-room laundry. Can’t beat those amenities!
Other options we considered for our Moorea itinerary:
- Hotel Hibiscus
- Hotel Les Tipaniers
- Te Nunoa Garden Bungalow (this is our tattoo artist’s rental property)
Another note: We met a couple on their honeymoon who stayed at Hotel Sofitel Ia Ora Beach Resort. While they liked the facility, their biggest complaint was the distance to get anywhere. Many tours are on the other side of the island which would take anywhere from 30-45 minutes to get there. If they had transportation included with their tour, they’d be the first pickup and spent more time than they’d like in transit, picking up a slew of other guests at different hotels along the way. Just something to think about as your considering your Moorea accommodation and car rental as you plan your itinerary!
Our Favorite Restaurants in Moorea
Some advice to the hungry: restaurant hours and days of operation vary in Moorea. Always look up a restaurant’s hours first. Some of our favorite eateries:
- Sea You Soon | easily our favorite restaurant of all we tried in Moorea! A large, open-air, beachy-vibes bar/restaurant that feels casual but serves some seriously gourmet dishes. Everything we ate at Sea You Soon was delicious at a reasonable price. We tried their pizzas (yum), uru fries, and plenty of beer. At night the place hosts DJs and turns into nightclub. Sea You Soon’s biggest draw? Their stinkin’ cute white kitten with gold dipped ears + tail and hot pink nose. His name is Tiki and yep, he’s a member of the staff serving up the kitten cuteness.
- Restaurant Tiahura | considered the best seafood restaurant in Moorea from many of the locals. My sashimi tuna served in passionfruit was incredible.
- Yellow Lizard | also a food truck outside of Moorea Sunset Beach accommodation.
- Fare Hana at the Intercontinental Resort | when all other restaurants are closed, count on a resort restaurant to be open. Covered outdoor dining with a menu of French Polynesian cuisine, expect fancier fare at an affordable price (for island standards, at least). I ate the lagoon fish with local vegetables smothered with Tahitian vanilla sauce… incredible!
- Snack Mahana | highly recommended by locals and guide books, Snack Mahana is a casual ocean front eatery with a menu full of local cuisine. Pull up a plastic chair in the sand and order an appetizer of poisson cru while watching the reef fish swim by. Oh, and you MUST try their fresh squeezed grapefruit juice if it is in season. As someone who typically turns her nose to this acidic fruit, this was a complete opinion changer.
- Carmeline | the only patisserie in Moorea, stop here for pastries, quiche, cakes, coffee, and more.
5 DAY MOOREA ITINERARY
This Moorea itinerary is merely a suggestion. Depending on what days of the week you’re in Moorea and tour availability, you may want to rearrange the itinerary below as it makes sense for you. I highly recommend booking tours in advance. And don’t overbook yourself — you’re on island time, remember?
Moorea Day 1: Get Acclimated
Welcome to Moorea! What’s the best thing to do in paradise? Absolutely nothing. I always suggest making your first day in a new place a day of orientation: get your plans situated, find your accommodation, take note of recommendations from locals. If you’re not renting a car, enjoy your day lounging at the beach or rent a bicycle to navigate between small village centers.
Spend your day circling the island if you decide to rent a car. The southern part of the island is beautiful and sweeping with nature, but note that the tourism infrastructure is concentrated to the north. Here are some places to stop at, going clockwise from the airport:
- Lagoonarium de Moorea: best for snorkeling, but also worth stretching your legs and enjoying the views if you plan to save snorkeling for another day.
- Pineapple Beach: Near Fare Edith, this beach has a large wooden statue of a tiki holding a pineapple.
- Tiki Village: If you don’t plan to go to Tiki Village for one of their dinners or shows, stop in to visit the gift shop and wander around the village replica.
- Tiahura: mosey around Tiahura, a small village in the northwest of Moorea. There’s a public access park/beach, and a concentration of of shops and restaurants to explore.
- Moorea Dolphin Center: Hosted at the Intercontinental Resort and Spa, the dolphin center is the opportunity to get up close to dolphins in care by veterinarians and marine biologists. When we visited, there was a dolphin in residence who served during WWII as a military dolphin.
- Magic Mountain Viewpoint: you’ll go here if you book an ATV tour with Albert Tours, but if this isn’t on your radar, take the opportunity to hike up for amazing views of the ocean and the mountains of Moorea.
- Manutea Tahiti – Rotui Juice Factory & Distillery: Definitely stop in here for a tasting of the juices and liqueurs created right there in Moorea.
- Wander Maharepa: One of the largest villages in Moorea, Maherepa is an ideal stop to grab some refreshments and wander around the shops.
- Toatea Lookout: Enjoy incredible vistas of the ocean, overwater bungalows, and island of Tahiti in the distance.
Moorea Day 2: Experience Polynesian Culture
“A profound sadness took possession of me. The dream which had brought me to Tahiti was brutally disappointed by the actuality. It was the Tahiti of former times which I loved.” These words, written by Paul Gauguin in his travel journal, Noa Noa, resonated as I wrestled with the stereotypical idea of Tahiti compared to the modern Tahiti before me. “But how was I, all my myself, to find the traces of this past if any such traces remained?” “How to relight the fire the very ashes of which are scattered?” Written in 1891, the sentiment couldn’t be truer over a century later.
Side note: I highly recommend reading Noa Noa prior to your trip or on the plane ride to Tahiti. This beautiful prose paints a lovely, idyllic mental image of French Polynesia.
How to relight the fire of Tahitian culture from the past? Experience the music, customs, and language of Tahiti by participating in various cultural activities.
Get a traditional tattoo. I know, sounds a bit extreme. If you’re a tattoo aficionado or have ever contemplated getting a tattoo, consider booking an appointment here in Moorea. While traditional Tahitian tattoo artists are limited, Moorea is home to quite a few who still practice the indigenous tradition of tapping ink into your skin from a whittled boar tusk. Why get a tattoo in Tahiti? The word tattoo’s etymology is rooted in the Tahitian language, formerly ta-tau, meaning to tap or strike. Tattooing is an evocative Polynesian tradition; experiencing this tradition first-hand will be very profound and significant. If you intend to get a tattoo, book well in advance and plan to spend many hours at your tattoo appointment.
Honestly, it’s sways kitschy and over-the-top touristy, but a visit to Tiki Village will satisfy any itch to encounter multiple facets of traditional Tahitian culture in one place. There’s the Paul Gaugin house with replicas of his paintings, exhibit of beautiful Tahitian women by famed photographer Adolphe Sylvain, and demonstration of traditional Tahitian instruments and songs. You’ll hear the tale of the black pearl, witness a classic Tahitian oven, and learn how to tie a pareo. For dinner you’ll indulge in native Tahitian cuisine. The true highlight happens after dinner, with a show culminating in rhythmic drumming, energetic dancing, and precarious fire throwing.
During the show, I thought of the words in Paul Gauguin’s Noa Noa and imagined the former Tahiti he loved. Those traces of the past? They were here at Tiki Village.
Moorea Day 3: Let your tastebuds be your guide
Add some flavor to your Moorea itinerary. Book a food tour with Moorea Food Adventures to get a local’s perspective on the food culture and food history of the islands of Tahiti and French Polynesia. This is one of the best tours in Moorea and the first food tour in French Polynesia. Worth every penny, guests leave with a full belly and confidence to taste new locals foods. It feels less like a structured excursion full of snap-happy tourists and more like a new friend whisking you around to his favorite haunts on Moorea. The food tour varies, as different establishments are open on different days. During my particular tour, we learned how to make coconut milk, visited random fruit stands, and tried a traditional plate of Polynesian cuisine among many other appetite inducing stops. On Sunday, you can sign up for the Moorea Food Adventures breakfast experience, something I wish I would’ve had time to try!
You’ll be plenty full after the food tour, but if your appetite so moves you, there are plenty of culinary adventures to take your palette on. Read my Tahiti Food Guide for more information about what kind of food to try while you’re touring around Moorea.
Moorea Day 4: Get Aquatic
Go on a snorkel tour with Captain Taina. To experience the best of Moorea’s marine life from the perspective of a Moorea native, book a tour with Captain Taina. Highly recommended and regarded, when sharing with locals that Captain Taina was on our Moorea itinerary, all responded with a knowing, “Ahh, she’s the best.” After participating on her tour, it’s obvious why hers is considered one of the best snorkel tours in Moorea:
- It’s the only glass bottom boat in Moorea.
- The tour is intimate with only a handful of guests. This fosters one-on-one conversation and an individualized trip. About 10 people joined our tour. When passing the other snorkel tours, about 50 people are crammed into a large boat with a tour operator muffling a memorized script over the megaphone. Yikes!
- Captain Taina is just a complete boss lady who truly cares about her home. She maintains and protects the sites where she takes her guests when other tour operators do not.
- She and her family own a private motu where they cook the most delicious homemade lunch for guests on her day tour.
On the tour, you’ll swim alongside massive sea turtles (some of which Captain Taina rescued and cares for), vibrant violet corals, and tropical fish. She’ll bring you to encounter the friendly sting rays and sharks when the other tour boats have vacated the area. She’ll take you to an artist’s underwater tiki installation and share the interesting story behind their presence.
There are people who will tell you that you don’t need to book a tour to snorkel or see the marine life I mentioned above. This is true. But I implore you, this excursion goes beyond an encounter with sharks. This truly is a special tour. Days of operation and spots are limited, so don’t waste any time securing your spot (you’ll want to book the full day Magic Tour that includes lunch).
Visit any of Moorea’s public beaches. Spend the day lounging around or exploring Moorea’s best beaches.
- Tema’e Beach stretches on the east side of Moorea near the Sofitel hotel.
- Public Beach Ta’ahiamanu (also known as Opunohu Beach): Toward Opunohu Bay, this beach has convenient restroom facilities across the road.
- Haruu Park provides access to the beach in between the Hibiscus Beach property and former Club Med property across from the Moorea pharmacy. There’s easy access parking here.
- Tiahura Beach can be a bit crowded since there are several accommodations in this corner of Moorea, like Les Tipaniers and Moorea Sunset Beach. This beach is where you can access the Coco Beach restaurant located on the motu across the water.
Snorkel in protected marine areas. Moorea is home to 8 marine protected areas. These areas are designated to restore coral and fish populations. It keeps away fisherman and promotes conservation. For you, the tourist, this means the snorkeling is amazing. Remember, if you do snorkel in these areas, keep the environment pristine and avoid harm to the reef and wildlife. Here are five fully protected areas that will be most accessible to you:
- Motu Ahi – this is where the Lagoonarium de Moorea is located
- Nuarei – this is where Tema’e Beach is located
This map is useful to see where the different marine protected snorkel areas are located around Moorea.
Moorea Day 5: ATV Tour
Zoom up the mountains and through the pineapple farms at the heart of Moorea on an ATV. While there are many ATV Tours, we booked with Albert Transportation because we’d read on a few forums that it was the only tour to take tourists up to Magic Mountain viewpoint. The different ATV Tours will have varying stops along the way. For example, the other ATV tour company took their guests to the Rotui Juice Factory (ours did not). This ATV tour was great for seeing places in Moorea we had not yet seen on our trip. We went to the agriculture school for jam tasting (oh, and their coconut ice cream, YUM), Oponohu view point, and Magic Mountain. Tours last 3 hours. The time isn’t entirely spent zipping around the ATV, as there are many stops and photo opportunities along the way.
Advice for your ATV Tour
- You will likely get wet or muddy (especially your feet); dress accordingly. If you have limited clothes/no laundry facilities, book this tour toward the end of your trip.
- If you have a GoPro, ask ahead for a helmet or ATV with a GoPro mount (Pro tip: our helmet footage turned out less bumpy than the ATV mount).
- A water bottle is provided.
- There is a bungee cord/small box that you can use to store your bags on the ATV, but I don’t recommend bringing much.
- Be brave! Be confident! If you feel that you’re lacking the courage or skills to maneuver an ATV through the Moorea landscape, arrive early and ask for a mini lesson prior to the tour. You don’t want to be *that guy* holding everyone up.
Don’t forget to pin it!