All About the Island of Tahiti

What you need to know to plan a visit to Tahiti's gateway and largest island

Canoe room service for the overwater bungalows, Le Tahaa Resort, Tahiti
••• Canoe room service for the overwater bungalows, Le Tahaa Resort, Tahiti. Laura Grier/ Getty Images

Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia, gives the country its more familiar name. As home to both the international airport and capital, Papeete (pronounced Pa-pee-yet-tay), it is the gateway for practically all visitors, many of whom spend a day or two exploring its colorful markets and photogenic interior before or after visiting smaller, more remote isles.

Nicknamed the "Queen of the Pacific," it is lush and green with soaring peaks, rushing waterfalls and an abundance of beaches.

But is it also the most densely populated of the islands, serving as both the seat of government and the hub of transport and commerce.

Size and Population

At 651 square miles, Tahiti is home to about 178,000 people, or about 69 percent of the nation's quarter million residents.

Airport

Both international and domestic flights arrive at Faa'a International Airport (PPT), located just outside Papeete. There are no jet ways and passengers deplane via stairways (with about 30 steps) onto the tarmac and then follow the welcoming sound of Tahitian music into the open-air terminal, where a fragrant Tiare blossom lei is placed around their necks.

Transportation

Many international flights arrive in the evening, so visitors staying on Tahiti upon arrival should pre-arrange transport with their hotel or tour operator. Most of Tahiti's resorts are located within five to 25 minutes of the airport.

Taxi service is available and can be arranged by your hotel concierge.

Public transport options around the island include Le Truck, colorful and affordable open-air truck-buses frequented by locals that make numerous stops, and large RTC motor coaches that offer more conventional seating.

Depending on their arrival time, travelers continuing to other islands, such as Bora Bora or Moorea, can connect at Faa'a International Airport for Air Tahiti or Air Moorea flights.

Passenger ferries to nearby Moorea depart regularly from the waterfront in downtown Papeete.

Cities

Papeete, located on Tahiti's northwest coast looking toward Moorea, has a population of about 130,000 and is the only urban area in French Polynesia. With its mix of colonial and mid-20th-century architecture, it is home to the bustling, pareu- and souvenir-filled market, Le Marche, and the atmospheric waterfront wharf with its nightly open-air food court of wheeled catering trucks called "roulottes."

Geography

Ringed by both white- and black-sand beaches, Tahiti, shaped like the figure eight, is comprised of two separate areas. The larger, Tahiti Nui, is where most resorts and the capital, Papeete, are located, while the smaller loop, called Tahiti Iti, is tranquil and sparsely populated with dramatic cliffs that plunge to the sea. The island's highest point is 7,337-foot Mt. Orohena. A circle-island tour, which takes several hours and covers about 70 miles, is a great way to see the sights.

Retail Hours

Shops are generally open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with long lunch breaks taken at midday, and until around noon on Saturdays. The only shops open on Sunday are located in hotels and resorts.

There is no sales tax.

About the Author

Donna Heiderstadt is a New York City–based freelance travel writer and editor who has spent her life pursuing her two main passions: writing and exploring the world.