If you are visiting French Polynesia on a budget, Moorea is the place to be. Moorea is like Tahiti but cheaper and less touristy. It's mostly rural and farming is big. There are chickens everywhere; the roosters crowing at 06:00 can get old after a few days.
Mosquitoes can be a problem away from the coast.
There are only a few banks on Moorea, and they are in the more populated villages. All banks are closed on Sundays. You can make currency exchanges at the major hotels, but at a lower rate. Plan accordingly.
Moorea doesn't really have any "cities" although there are several towns and villages. When entering a village you will see an official road sign stating the name of the village you are entering. When exiting the village, you will see the same sign with village name, but the village name will have an "X" over it.
Cook's Bay and Opunohu Bay are two of the regions of the island.
Everybody speaks Tahitian and French. Anybody working in tourist services will speak enough English to get by, although it's not well spoken by the general public.
Take the Aremiti high-speed ferry from Papeete: 1160 F each way, 4-5 times a day, and takes 30 min (Jan 2019). It's only a couple of bucks more than the slow one, takes half the time, and it's much more seaworthy. The channel between the islands can be choppy.
Air Tahiti - flights are about 15 minutes long, and run back and forth several times a day. Be careful if you get airsick. The planes are small and fly at a low altitude so if there is any rough weather you will feel it the whole ride over.
By car or moped
As the island is administratively a part of France, the roads are surprisingly good. The 62-km main road around the island is all paved and quite wide. The speed limit varies from 30-60 km/h.
You can rent a moped for a day for about US$50 and drive it around the island in a few hours without fear of death. If you don't know how to ride one, take it slow or you will get hurt.
There are car rental agencies at the ferry terminal (Avis and Europcar). A tiny Renault 108 will cost 8000 F (francs) per day, tax and unlimited kilometers included (Jan 2019). The basic insurance has a 100,000 F deductible.
Gas/petrol costs 140 F/litre (Jan 2019).
You can drive around the entire island in a few hours at a leisurely pace with time to stop and admire the view. Plan for more time to take advantage of the spectacular public beaches. Driving in a counterclockwise direction makes it easier to pull off the road when there is adequate space at the side. It may sound like obvious advice, but don't stop on the road – it's dangerous.
After the ferry arrives, one bus leaves from the ferry terminal in each direction around the island (clockwise and counterclockwise). The fare is 300 F.
Hitching works with the usual caveats and risks.
- Belvedere Lookout. You can see sacred Mt. Rotui, Cook's Bay, and Opunohu Bay. There's also the ruins of an ancient temple along the road to Belvedere Lookup.
- Waterfalls. There are several scattered around the island. None are very big. All require some hiking. Some you are supposed to pay a few dollars to see although there may or may not be anybody around to accept payment.
- Jus de Fruits de Moorea. The pineapple juice factory and distillery. Free tours of the factory floor have been discontinued, but the gift shop remains open along with the free sample of various liqueurs.
- The Tropical Garden. A shop selling fresh fruit juice (500 F), jams, vanilla, souvenirs, and clothes, set in a garden with a beautiful view of Opunohu Bay. It's up a steep and narrow road off the main road, and is well signed. On Friday and Saturday (only), they sell a Polynesia lunch from 11:30 to 14:00 for 1500 F including grilled fish, raw fish, taro, plantain, bananas, coconut bread, manioc and fruit juice.
- Snorkeling. You can rent or buy snorkeling stuff but do yourself a favor and bring your own. Just about anywhere in the lagoon is pretty decent. The channel between Motu Fareone and Motu Tiahura off the northwest point is particularly nice. You can swim out to it from the beach but it's a long swim and there are strong currents in this area. Otherwise hire a boat. A good tour to take is Hiro's Tour from Club Bali. It is a reasonable price and you get to do a feeding with sharks, stingrays and also a picnic on a motu.
- Surfing. Reef breaks mostly, not a good place for beginners.
- Hiking. There is a pretty extensive trail network on Moorea. Bring insect repellent and lots of water because it's hot, humid and buggy. It also tends to be muddy.
- 4x4 off-road tour. These are guided tours of Moorea's amazing interior. Trips will vary based on the tour company. Most trips are about 4 hours in length and will travel to four distinct locations. Some of the locations visited are listed in the previous section. This is an easy method for visiting multiple locations in a short period of time. US$50/person.
- Horseback riding. This is a great way to see the beautiful interior of the island. Your guide will pick fresh fruits from trees and pineapples from the ground for you to eat when you reach the high lookout point. Wear jeans and good shoes. US$55 per person.
- Tiki Village. Instead of paying for your hotel's Tahitian buffet and show, spend the money and go to the Tiki Village for a much better dinner and show. You will be shown around a replica of a traditional Tahitian village, educated about the local Polynesians' way of life, served a buffet dinner, white and red wine included, then entertained by a talented 60-person troup of dancers, singers, and musicians. Transportation and tickets arranged by your hotel activities desk. US$120 per person.
- Moorea Store (Shopping), B.P. I380/98729 Papetoai/Moorea. The Moorea Store offers many things from souvenirs, to lotions to Black Pearls. Xavier and his partner own the store and are very friendly and helpful. This store is across the road and to the right of the Intercontinental Resort and Spa. Tuatini Activities is also operated by Xavier and his wife Taina, they provide sunset cruises, private tours, Motu transfers with picnic, motu rental, fare rental, wedding and glass-bottom boat. Tel +689 74 32 50 and email Irioa@mail.pf
The humid climate can cause a decrease in appetite. Thus locals tend to have many small meals or snacks through out the day.
- Poisson cru is the way to go. Food trucks (roulottes) are also present though not like in Papeete.
- Dairy products - Milk is not pasteurized and thus cheeses and yogurts are more flavorful.
- Across the road from the ferry station is a pizza place well worth a visit. It's run by a French couple that speaks no English, but the menu has English explanations and the ham and pineapple are highly recommended.
- There are also great pizza places just up the road from Club Bali and the Moorea Pearl Resort. Both are reasonably priced and you will get your money's worth.
- Baguette. The local bread. Make a sandwich with meat, cheese, etc. Nothing fancy. Very portable. Along with a beer, this makes for good eats on the beach. 100 F.
Every hotel has a bar and there are lots of little bars and restaurants around. But drinking in bars in French Polynesia is damn expensive. Your best bet is to buy some Hinano bombers at the store and drink on the beach.
You will be charged an additional 60 F deposit fee when purchasing Hinano bottles larger than 355 ml (12 oz). You can redeem your deposit at any location that sells Hinano. The larger bottles are sent back to the Hinano brewery for reuse/refill.
Tabu is another local beer, only available in 355-ml bottles and slightly more expensive compared to a 355-ml bottle of Hinano. Tabu is better tempered to the Tahitian heat. Unlike Hinano, Tabu is very drinkable at all temperatures: cold, slightly chilled, or room temperature.
There are only 3 really cheap places on Moorea and they are all nearby at the northwest corner of the island. Well there are a couple other cheap places that aren't on the beach and where you might get carried away by the mosquitoes.
- VAI Moorea Budget Bungalow, Tiahura, Haapiti (7 minutes walk from Le Petit Village, 2 minutes walk from the beach of Ancient Club Med), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. The bungalow is clean, has a new bed, big fridge, small cooking oven, a TV, a shower, a toilet and is 2 m from the water and your own private beach. The price per week for the bungalow is US$590 and per night is US$89..
- Moorea Camping (Camping Moorea?), Tiahura, Haapiti, ☏ , email@example.com. Cheap and right on the beach. It's a nice beach too, good sand, in the lagoon, palm trees, the whole megilla. Great reef snorkeling. Nice grounds with trees and flowers. Tent camping is available, as are dorm style, and motel style rooms. Kitchen facilities. Shared bathrooms, cold water (you won't want hot water anyway). Very basic accommodation, bring your own soap, TP, etc. No mosquitoes. Very social. Definitely the backpacker spot. US$12 for dorm.
- Chez Nelson, Tiahura, Haapiti, firstname.lastname@example.org. The other cheap place. Definitely second best beach-wise, and definitely cleaner than Moorea Camping.
- Club Bali Hai, Cooks Bay, ☏ (from USA), email@example.com. Motel rooms and overwater bungalows. Very scenic location. There is only a small artificial beach here. The water is fine for swimming, warm and deep. It's not very good snorkeling though, it's not so clear and there isn't much coral. Good snorkeling can be found nearby though. There is a decent restaurant and a pool. Rooms are in good condition and have air-con and some have kitchenette. Within walking distance there's only one other restaurant (Italian) and a small bodega. There's no night life. If you get an over-water bungalow, beware of the one closest to the road, it's not over very much water and it's quite close to the road. Friendly staff, decent poisson cru. US$130-ish for over-water bungalow.
- Pensions, Various locations along the main highway. Meaning "boarding house" in French, these are very small no frills lodging facilities. Typically less than 10 rooms or bungalows. Family operated along with a few extra employees. Accommodations will vary among the different pensions. Highly discouraged by travel agents as they do not receive commission on the bookings. Visitors must book their room directly with the pension, but contact info can be very difficult to find. And what little information is available on the internet is not the most reliable. US$130-350.
There are some really fancy hotels and resorts here, although no super-resorts like on Tahiti. Club Mediterranée, once very famous, has been abandoned.
- 1 Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa, firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 11AM. One of the top-rated resorts on the island and frequented by honeymooners. All rooms are bungalows, either "garden" or overwater. The lagoon around the resort are rife with coral & sea-life, making for terrific snorkeling. US$300-800 per night.
- The Moorea Pearl Resort & Spa. This is the cheapest of the high-end resorts. Room types range from motel rooms to overwater bungalows. The views, along with the beach, are not spectacularly and thus the most you should splurge on is the garden bungalow. This redort has more than 80 rooms, and crowds will frequent the common areas. Mainly the pool, bar, and restaurant areas. The resort guest list is a mix of families and couples only. Snorkeling at the resort's beach is not very good. The big buffet dinners are Wednesday and Saturday nights. Wednesday (about US$63 + service fees per person) with song and dance by a local dance troupe. The Saturday buffet (US$76 + service fees per person) concludes with a fire dance. Better non-entertainment dining options are available within walking distance of the resort for half the price. Within walking distance of the resort is a small village. Exit the resort to the main road, turn right, and proceed for five minutes. You will arrive at a market, bank, snack bar, and a pizza restaurant. Exit the resort to the main road, this time turn left, and proceed for ten minutes, and you will arrive at another market with better prices and greater selection. There's also a neighbouring Japanese and seafood restaurants as well. US$300-600 per night.
- The Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort. Quite pricey (more than US$700 for 2 people in overwater bungalow) but is a pristine, beautiful resort with fantastic staff and facilities. Reefs and coral were not as spectacular off the bungalows as they were at Le Meridien on Tahiti, but Ia Ora's has the bonus of having individual stairways to the water at each bungalow.
- The Intercontinental Resort and Spa Moorea. Also lovely and has overwater bungalows, but they were built on sand/rock instead of on docks over the water, so they are only a little over the water. However, they offer the best variety of activities. It is under construction.
Moorea has almost no violent crime. Petty theft can be an issue. Check your valuables at the desk or keep them on you. At least keep them stashed out of sight. Odd things may be taken, like the beat-up old sneakers you left outside to dry the night before you are leaving, forcing you to hitch a ride to the bus stop because you have no other footwear to make the mile walk up the road and the pavement is a million degrees and there's broken glass in the margin, and then buy US$20 flip flops to wear on the plane.
Perhaps due to its lack of reliable public transportation and its outrageously expensive taxi fares, Moorea has a serious drunk-driving problem (with both tourists and locals equally guilty). Take particular care when walking or cycling the island's only paved road after dark; it gets pitch-black and can be quite dangerous away from the main villages (where you'll also be more tempted to walk or cycle in the middle of the road due to the amount of broken glass on the shoulders).
There are a couple of islets around Moorea you can visit.