Ultimate Travel Guide to Moorea: French Polynesia’s Most Underrated Island
Imagine an island where the mountains meet the sea, creating landscapes that seem to leap out of a dream. Welcome to Moorea, the heart of French Polynesia, a paradise that’s more than just stunning beaches and crystal-clear waters. We just got back from our honeymoon on this beautiful island and we were absolutely blown away.
In this guide, we’ll explore the best of the Tahitian island of Moorea, offering insights and tips tailored for all adventurous travelers. We’ll go over everything from where to stay on Moorea, to the best things to do, to things you need to know before you go. We spent a few days on the island as we were island hopping around French Polynesia, and can honestly say it was our favorite in terms of things to do! Let’s dive in!
Why Moorea Over Other Tahitian Islands?
Nestled in the Pacific Ocean, Moorea is a volcanic island known for its breathtaking landscapes. From jagged peaks like Mount Rotui to the serene Opunohu and Cook’s Bays, the island’s natural beauty is unmatched. The climate here is tropical and welcoming, perfect for year-round exploration.
Not only is Moorea a tropical escape, but it’s also much more affordable compared to it’s sister islands of Bora Bora and Tahiti. The overwater bungalow experience is a fraction of the cost of what it is on Bora Bora. That being said, you do need to stay on top of making your hotel reservations because Moorea has fewer hotel options and is much smaller.
Additionally, we personally thought the island had much more to do in regards to adventurous activities if you’re the “go go go” kind of traveler on vacation, while also offering a nice mix of peaceful relaxation if you desire. From swimming with humpback whales, to ATVing, to hiking to jaw dropping viewpoints, there is a lot to do around the island.
Planning Your Trip to Moorea
When is the Best Time to Visit Moorea?
The ideal time to visit Moorea is during the dry season from May to October. You’ll enjoy sunny days perfect for outdoor adventures. During these months, the weather is more favorable with less rainfall, lower humidity, and comfortable temperatures, making it ideal for outdoor activities and exploring the island’s natural beauty.
However, it’s worth noting that this is also the peak tourist season, so you might encounter more crowds and higher prices. If you prefer a quieter experience and don’t mind occasional rain showers, visiting during the shoulder season (April or November) can be a good compromise, offering a balance between pleasant weather and fewer tourists.
Best Time to Swim with the Humpback Whales in Moorea
Now, if you are visiting specifically with the goal of swimming with the humpback whales, you have to time your trip to Moorea correctly. The opportunity to swim with humpback whales typically occurs during the whale migration season, which usually extends from August to November. This is when humpback whales migrate to the warm, shallow waters of Moorea and surrounding islands to breed and give birth. As of 2024, only tours booked between August 1 – November 11 are permitted to swim with the whales per new government regulations.
During this period, the chances of encountering these magnificent creatures are higher, and various tour operators offer guided whale-watching and swimming excursions, adhering to strict regulations to ensure the safety and well-being of both the whales and participants. We opted to visit during the second week of October, and had perfect weather and saw a ton of whales!
How Long to Visit Moorea
We would recommend spending at least 3-5 days on the island of Moorea. If you are planning an island hopping trip around the Society Islands of French Polynesia, we would recommend spending more time on Moorea than on Tahiti (in our opinion).
How to Get to Moorea
Taking the Fast Ferry from Tahiti
The ferry departs from Papeete, the capital city of Tahiti, located at the ferry terminal in the downtown area. There are two main fast ferry operators, Aremiti and Terevau, offering regular services between Tahiti and Moorea. Ferries typically run multiple times a day, with the journey taking about 30 to 45 minutes.
It’s advisable to check the latest schedules on the operators’ websites as they can change. Tickets can be purchased either online in advance or directly at the ferry terminal, and they cost about $12 per adult each way. During peak travel times, it’s wise to book in advance. If you are traveling to Moorea on a budget, we’d recommend taking the ferry.
Flying from Tahiti to Moorea
There are no direct international flights that fly into Moorea. No matter which airline you book, you will have to transit through Tahiti’s airport and clear customs before continuing to Moorea. This is the option that we personally opted for. We purchased an inter-island flight pass from Air Tahiti so we could easily fly between a ton of different islands seamlessly. Ours cost about $600 and we were able to use it to hop between five different islands. If you are visiting fewer islands, it will probably range between $300-$500 per person. You have the option of booking flights from either Air Tahiti or Air Moana. Flights depart from Faa’a International Airport in Tahiti and typically run a few times a day.
Whether you choose the quick flight or the scenic ferry ride, traveling from Tahiti to Moorea is a straightforward process, offering you a glimpse of the stunning beauty of French Polynesia right from the start of your journey.
How to Get Around the Island
Once on the island, renting a scooter or car is the best way to explore at your own pace. Keep in mind, the island is very small, and has very few rental cars available. And there are even fewer rental cars with an automatic transmission. If you want to book one, make your reservation several months in advance. You can book via EUROPCAR or Avis.
Or, perhaps, you might get lucky with the Hello Car app like we did. Make sure to download this before you arrive. This app is similar to Lime Scooters or Bird in which you can rent the car for a few hours a day. Keep in mind, they are typically only Manual transmission cars, not automatic.
If you don’t choose either of these options, you will be at the mercy of hiring taxis or tour operators to get around and there are not many on the island. In this case, we’d recommend arranging airport pickup and drop off through your accommodations if possible as well. Make sure your phone works while visiting Moorea, we’d recommend getting an E-SIM at the Tahiti airport!
From budget-friendly hostels to luxurious overwater bungalows, Moorea caters to all preferences and budgets. Traveling to Moorea truly doesn’t have to break the bank. You can save a ton of money by staying in guesthouses or bed and breakfasts! There are several great VRBO options with fantastic views of the island and gorgeous pools and amenities.
Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort
We opted to stay at the Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort. We had an amazing experience at this resort. The staff were incredibly friendly, the overwater bungalows were absolutely stunning, and they had Temae Beach and the airport super close by! The water was truly so blue and turquoise, it was jaw dropping and the beach was beautiful. They provide kayaks, paddle boards, and snorkeling equipment for you as well since there is a ton of great snorkeling on the property.
The only cons of staying here are that it’s further away from town than other resorts on the island so if you don’t have a rental car, you might be spending a bit more on getting in/out of town for dining or shopping. The food here was decent, but not amazing, so just keep that in mind! Because of the location, we ate here a lot, but if we were to do it again we would avoid the French Polynesian buffet night and eat more at the restaurants in town.
You can check out our full review and experience on the hotel below!
Top Things to Do in Moorea
Swim with the Humpback Whales (Seasonal)
As we previously mentioned, Moorea is a haven for humpback whales during late summer into early fall. We opted to book two different humpback whale experiences so we would theoretically have better chances of seeing them out in the open. Since there’s no guarantee you will see them when booking a tour, we’d recommend booking at least two options to increase your odds. We booked both a private and a public tour with Moorea Moana Adventures and we highly recommend them to anyone wanting to do this experience for a fun, ethical company.
That being said, we were able to swim with a few different sets of mom and calf whales both times we went out on the water! It was truly the most breathtaking experience ever. Swimming with these majestic animals was one of the highlights of all of our travels.
In order to do this activity, make sure you are able to swim in open water at least 100yds, as you will have to swim to the whales when they breach since the boat has restrictions on how close it can get to them.
Head Out on an ATV Tour
Doing an ATV tour was definitely one of the highlights of our time on Moorea. It was about a half day tour and the guides take you around to see the island’s best viewpoints.
You will start out on your ATV exploring the sprawling pineapple fields around Moorea. Then, you head towards the Belvedere lookout and can enjoy the amazing views of the Cook’s and Opunohu Bays. We opted for the longer tour so we got to go to the Rotui juice factory and had a snack, and ended the tour by heading up to the most beautiful viewpoint of the island, the “Magic Mountain”, for sunset.
You can book the exact tour we did here!
There are a ton of scuba diving shops around the island if you are scuba certified or are interested in getting your PADI certification! We saw a ton of sharks, beautiful colorful coral reefs, eagle rays, and an abundance of unique tropical fish. We loved our 2 tank dive with Ia Ora Diving, which you can book online in advance or at the dive shop on the Sofitel’s property.
Swim with Stingrays and Sharks
Moorea is home to some incredible snorkeling areas bustling with sea life! We highly recommend getting out on the water and doing some sort of tour where you are able to swim with all of the reef sharks and stingrays. Don’t worry, they are not dangerous! In fact, the stingrays were so playful and loved getting pets from everyone on the tour.
Go Hiking Around the Island
This is an easier hike, about 1 mile long, leading to two beautiful waterfalls. The trail can be rocky and slippery, especially in the rainy season, so good hiking shoes are recommended. The larger waterfall is about 100 feet high, offering a spectacular view and a refreshing swim
While many drive or ATV to this viewpoint, hiking to Belvedere Lookout offers a more adventurous experience. The hike is moderate in difficulty and the length varies depending on your starting point. The trail goes through the jungle, offering shade but can be steep, rocky, and slippery. The lookout provides stunning views of both Opunohu and Cook’s Bays and Mount Rotui.
This hike is relatively easy but includes some steep sections. You are following a road most of the way. It takes you to a lookout point with stunning views of Opunohu Bay. The trail is about 2 miles long and takes around 30 minutes to one hour to ascend. There’s a small $2 fee for the hike, payable at the nearby restaurant so make sure you have cash on you. This hike is suitable for those with a decent fitness level and is also family-friendly
Three Pines Trail
This hike is a beginner to intermediate hiking trail. It’s about 1.9 miles round trip with 493 ft of elevation gain, so it’s moderately steep. You can find all of the trail data here. Parking can be a bit tough because of the small amount of spots by the trailhead, so make sure to get there early! Keep an eye out for a fun scenic swing at the end of the trail. If you’d like to go with a guide, you can book this hike here.
Three Coconuts Trail
This beautiful Moorea hiking trail is more geared toward intermediate and advanced hikers. It’s a longer 4.1 mile day hike round trip with almost 1000 ft of elevation gain. For the full trail data on All Trails, click here. The trail is fully carved out for you, but it does have a few stream crossings, so make sure to wear good waterproof hiking shoes. There are a few more technical sections with ropes, similar to hikes in Hawaii, but they really are just there to help you in the event that the trail is muddy.
Go Paddle Boarding near Temae Beach
Paddle boarding on Temae Beach was a peaceful, beautiful experience! We opted to rent the paddle boards offered by the Sofitel and took them out for about an hour. There’s a ton of coral in the area you can see from above and the water is absolutely stunning in this area.
Ready to head out to Moorea?
Moorea is a treasure trove of natural beauty, cultural richness, and adventure. Whether you’re seeking relaxation or thrill, this Polynesian paradise has something for every traveler. Have any Moorea stories to share or questions to ask? Drop them in the comments below! And don’t forget to check out our other French Polynesia travel guides for more inspiration.