The mere mention of Tahiti conjures up images of overwater bungalows dipping over lagoons in dreamy locales like Bora Bora. While the classic thatched-roof ones dotting the island’s turquoise waters (deemed one of the most beautiful lagoons in the world) are the definition of paradise, not every newlywed can shell out a few grand a night for one of these overwater suites. A few years ago, locals started opening up their homes to travelers for a guesthouse-style stay with hospitality on par with that of the island’s finest resorts, but at price points more suited to a newlywed budget. From cliffside lodges sitting at “the end of the world” to beachside bungalows tucked along the sand, here are some of the authentic (and affordable) ways couples can sleep in newlywed bliss without blowing their entire honeymoon budget on a single night’s stay. The only decision couples will have trouble making: which of the 118 islands and atolls you want to call home on your honeymoon.
Where to Sleep:
Dubbed pensions, there are now over 300 of these Tahitian B&Bs scattered across the islands, with nightly rates starting as low as $100. Even better, hosts often serve as local tour guides, taking travelers on sightseeing trips, seaside hikes and island tours where you can even get an up-close look at a working pearl farm (Tahiti’s black pearls do make for a great honeymoon souvenir, after all).
On the untouched Ahe atoll, an hour’s flight on Air Tahiti from French Polynesia’s capital of Papeete, you’ll feel like you’re really on your own private island. Book a stay at Cocoperle Lodge, one of the atoll’s two pensions, where French owner Franck will scoop you up from the airport with his boat for the 20-minute ride across the lagoon. Six thatched-roof bungalows crafted entirely out of local materials face the water, where you’ll find paddle boards and kayaks that are yours for the taking to explore the coastline. When it comes time for dinner, Franck, a former pastry chef, and his wife, Janine, look to the sea to compose an elegant three-course meal of freshly caught fish, homemade bread and the most decadent of pastries. Ignore the concept of calories here; you’re sure to swim them off the next day.
Another lesser-known locale that’s just as stunning as popular neighbors like Bora Bora is Rurutu, nicknamed “the island of whales.” Dotted with cliffs and caves, the northernmost island of the Austral archipelago (just an hour and a half by plane from Papeete) is where you’ll find the most charming of mountainside bungalows like Le Manotel, set amidst a real-life Garden of Eden. This secluded spot sitting along white sandy shores also offers up plenty of opportunities for whale sightings during season from July to October. To really get a feel for the island, explore by horseback on deserted beaches that are about as picture-perfect as can get.
Where to Eat Like (and with) the Locals:
Dining along the water (or on it!) is practically guaranteed in Tahiti, with options like outrigger canoes drifting over to your bungalow with dinner. From the InterContinental Moorea, set off on the lagoon on a whale watching tour (tip: you don’t need to be a guest here to book these excursions) followed by a dip in a shallow section of these waters where you’ll be surrounded by friendly stingrays and blacktip sharks. Then it’s time for an island-style lunch on a private Motu, or small reef island, at seaside shack Coco Beach, where you can sample island faves like freshly made poisson cru (raw fish marinated in coconut milk).
On Moorea, meanwhile, one of the most romantic restaurants is also one of the most casual. Take a seat on the backyard patio at Le Mayflower underneath strings of fairy lights where you’ll be treated to a French-inspired menu with dishes like shrimp and scallops served in a Provençal sauce; Roquefort cheese ravioli; and the most heavenly crème brûlée crafted from vanilla sourced straight from the island. When you’re back on the mainland, locals will guide you to one of the top eateries on Tahiti, Blue Banana, where you can catch the sun setting over Moorea and the lagoon from tables sitting along the restaurant’s pontoon.
If you haven’t had your fill of poisson cru and French fare like crêpes, don’t leave without making a round at the bustling roulottes, Tahitian food trucks that sit along the waterfront in Papeete’s Place Vai’ete. Stroll around the dozen or so trucks before making your pick, taking a seat at the picnic tables and sharing family style while swaying to live music playing in the background.
Getting Here & Around:
The Islands of Tahiti lie halfway between California and Australia with direct flights on Air Tahiti from Los Angeles to Papeete clocking in at just over seven hours. For newlyweds after that exotic locale but who don’t necessarily want to sit for 15 hours on a flight (and then connect on a bunch of tiny hopper flights to finally reach their dream destination), this is the perfect compromise. When you arrive on the mainland, you can easily island hop across the five archipelagos by plane or ferry, with islands like Moorea sitting just a 35-minute, high-speed ferry ride away (and tickets costing only $25 roundtrip). Once you’re in the islands themselves, get a lay of the land driving through traditional Polynesian villages in one of the most romantic ways possible: by scooter.