Many foreign visitors’ South Pacific experience begins in the capital city. Papeete is where planes land at Faa’a International Airport (research flights) and where cruise ships such as Paul Gauguin embark upon and end their island itineraries.
Some visitors treat Tahiti as a jumping-off point for the rest of French Polynesia, passing the time between flights in Papeete.
Downtown, the capital city entices visitors day and night with shops, restaurants, and clubs. On Friday nights, the dockside area of Papeete becomes an open-air park and carnival, alive with music, dancing, and exotic snacks.
French Polynesia’s best shopping is concentrated in the center of the capital, near Marché Municipale (city market). The marché itself—a gracefully sky-lighted, indoor arcade--delights browsers and bargainers.
Use French Polynesian francs for deals on Tahitian black pearls, gardenia-scented “monoi” beauty oil, and Polynesian tchotchkes handcrafted of shells and wood. Nearby Papeete streets are lined with boutiques and upscale pearl shops.
The urban attractions of the Tahitian capital include several worthwhile museums. The Paul Gauguin Museum memorializes the visionary French painter who lived on Tahiti in the 1880s, when it was a busy French colony. Next door is the Harrison W. Smith Botanical Gardens, planted by an MIT physics professor who moved to Tahiti. and became a botanist.
Just beyond Papeete, Polynesian villages hug inviting coves including Matavai Bay, where the actual Mutiny on the Bounty took place n 1788. Today, Tahiti’s crystalline coastal lagoon hosts safer watersports of all kinds.
Beyond the shore of the capital city, emerald hills ascend to soaring peaks. “Mountain safaris” and eco-tours beckon adventurers to discover Tahiti’s lush valleys, rivers, waterfalls, and wildlife.