Papeete is not a tropical paradise. It is a typical government center and industrial port with small doses of French and Polynesian charm. It has shopping, eating, and drinking, but very little sightseeing for a capital city and even fewer top-class hotels. The residents speak French and Tahitian, although English is spoken by many in the tourist trade. The people-watching is superb.
Papeete is a walking city. It's really too small to bother with any other form of transport, unless you are going out to the fringes, or would simply like to experience the famous le truck for fun (hop-on, hop-off, anywhere in the city centre for about 100 CFP) Bring a water bottle: it can be quite hot and humid.
Don't bother with taxis: they're extremely expensive and very hard to find after 18:00, apart from two taxi stands along the waterfront. Meters are unheard of, so confirm the fare (in French, if possible) before getting into a taxi, and don't be afraid to protest or refuse if you think the fare too high; as a general rule, you should never have to pay more than 1500 CFP for a journey from one side of the city centre to the other. Many drivers distribute calling cards when you disembark; if you'll be relying on taxi transport for whatever reason during your stay, it's worth becoming a repeat customer with a driver you trust and who will give you a good deal.
Le Truck will take you to other parts of the island and around town quite cheaply.
- The waterfront. Papeete has redeveloped its waterfront into a long park, with foods and carnival-like attractions.
- 1 Robert Wan Pearl Museum, 56 Avenue du Commandant Destremau, ☎ . A museum displaying exhibits on pearl farming and the history of pearls on one side and a pearl shop on the other.
Black pearls abound. There is just about every kind of store here, including some (particularly near the Marché) who have no problem selling you imitation balls of black glass or fiberglass at market prices. Be sure to look for a certificate of authenticity on the wall of the shop, and trust your guidebook for recommendations.
Eating out can be very expensive. There are some fine restaurants but expect to pay US$30 for a hamburger at a hotel restaurant or other proper sit-down establishment.
There are a lot of midrange places where you can expect to pay US$20-30 for your whole meal. French and Chinese are well represented here. Look for the word "Snack" in the name of the restaurant. There is also a conveyor belt sushi place that's very good, and the chefs are quite friendly there.
The best deal in town is the Roulottes, the food trucks that set up shop every evening in the big square in the waterfront park. Every day they begin setting up around dusk. Chinese, French, and Tahitian cuisine are all well represented. You can get chow mein, poisson cru, crepes, pizza, ice cream, and because this is France, everything comes with bread. Expect to pay about 1500 CFP for your whole meal.
- 1 l’O à la Bouche, BP 343, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. French with a Polynesian twist. The interior is a bit dark.
You can expect to pay upwards of US$10 for a pint of beer. A (small) jug of microbrew will run you US$35. Buy pitchers of Hinano to keep the costs down.
- Chaplain's (Downtown on the waterfront). The decor is a tribute to silent film star Charles Chaplin. Expect loud French rap. Keep an eye on your tab.
- Mana Rock Cafe (Downtown on the waterfront). This open-air pub is a good place to sit outside in the shade and have a cold beer on a hot afternoon.
- Les 3 Brasseurs (Downtown on the waterfront). The only microbrewery in French Polynesia. The beer is certainly better than Hinano, but you do pay a premium for it, and it pales in comparison to U.S. microbrews. US$35 for a 3.5 L glass jug.
- That tiki-bar near Les 3 Brasseurs (Downtown on the waterfront). Its name doesn't really matter; it's the only other bar along this stretch. Some sidewalk seating and very limited indoor seating. There's a sweet little dog that hangs out here. If you pet her, she will bark at anybody who gives you trouble for the rest of the night. Also remember to tip the bouncer extra when you want to get into the bar's "underground" club every night.
See #Get in.
If you have the time, take the ferry over to Moorea.