Visitors to the islands of French Polynesia on a Tahiti honeymoon will find the best shopping opportunities in Papeete, the capital city. This charming place, which combines island casual with European flair, is located on Tahiti’s northwest coast.
Marché Municipale (City Market)
The largest selection and best prices can be found at the Marché Municipale (City Market) in Papeete on Tahiti. The building houses dozens of stalls selling locally grown fruits and vegetables, freshly caught fish, and other foods.
Visitors will also find an endless selection of souvenirs both inside the building and lining the sidewalks that surround it. The atmosphere couldn't be more photogenic: Check out the sexy and colorful pareos (sarongs), inexpensive shell jewelry, hand-woven handbags, shell buttons, wooden bowls and tikis (figurines of ancient gods), and tiare- (gardenia), coconut-, and vanilla-scented soaps and fragrances. The surroundings are lively, making shopping on Tahiti fun even for non-shoppers.
The Centre Vaima in Papeete is a Tahitian version of a shopping center. You'll come across both local products as well as international brands (including Bose) in this collection of stores and restaurants located on several levels. Depending on what you're interested in, you may particularly appreciate the coffee shop, French language bookstore, and the pearl jewelry stores, which offer good prices.
Shopping on Tahiti invariably includes browsing for pearls. The French Polynesians are proud of the black pearls that are only grown locally in their warm, pristine lagoons.
Serious pearl shoppers and aficionados in Tahiti should include a visit to the Robert Wan Pearl Museum (Musée de la Perle Robert Wan) on their itinerary. Here visitors can learn about the history of pearls and the process that creates them. Don't miss the largest round Tahitian cultured pearl in existence: a 26mm baroque-shaped Tahitian Silver (grey), of AAA quality and weighing 8.7 gram. The museum also has a large jewelry store. Robert Wan operates shops in several hotels on Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora.
How Do Pearls Form?
It's not entirely natural; there's help from man: The process begins by inserting a spherical nucleus made of mother-of-pearl harvested from the Mississippi River into a black-lipped pearl oyster, which over the course of many months covers the intruder with a lustrous coating. While the result is called a black pearl, the colors vary from nearly black to nearly white, with tints of pink, blue, green, silver, and even yellow.
Each pearl’s value is determined by luster, surface, size, and shape, all of which vary greatly. The magnificent pearls are made into necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, and men’s jewelry, with a vast range of prices.
Pearl shops abound in the rest of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora, with shops located in most large hotels. Jewelry stores with several locations include Virgin Pearls, Sibani Perles, Tahitian Native Jewelry, and World of Pearls. Competition is most fierce in Papeete, where the abundance of fine jewelry stores specializing in black pearls makes it easy to compare quality, designs, and find competitive prices.
The only pearl farm on Bora Bora that is owned and operated by natives of Bora Bora is the Bora Pearl Company. Barbara Tea Suchard opened the farm and jewelry shop in 1977 after studying gemology in France and the United States.
Informative tours are available, in which each step of the pearl-making process is actually demonstrated. In addition to the shop on the premises, Suchard operates a boutique down the road, Keana, which specializes in clothing, creative jewelry, and other gift items.
A Word of Warning
Don't buy the first piece of pearl jewelry that dazzles you; give yourself some time to become educated about quality and price. Tahitian pearls are not cheap, so be certain that you love an item before it becomes a permanent part of your jewelry wardrobe and a thing of beauty that will remind you of your Tahiti honeymoon for many years to come.