Papeete is not a tropical paradise. It is a typical government center and industrial port with small doses of French and Polynesian charm. It has shopping, eating, and drinking, but very little sightseeing for a capital city and even fewer top-class hotels. The residents speak French and Tahitian, although English is spoken by many in the tourist trade. The people-watching is superb.
Fa'a'ā International Airport (PPT IATA), in the district of Faaa, is the principal airport from French Polynesia. It has shops and services and an ATM. There is a luggage storage office that charges 600-900 F per bag.
A taxi to the city is a fixed rate of 2000 F (francs) from 06:00-20:00 and 2700 F at night (Jan 2019). The prices to destinations around the island are posted by the taxi stand.
Buses to the city cost 200 F (340 F for an aller-retour (round-trip) ticket) (Feb 2019). They run every 15 min or so and take 20 min. Outside the terminal, cross the car park and go up the steps to the main road. Corsa the road and look for the square blue sign with a white bus on it. All buses go into the centre. To return to the airport, take a bus toward "Faa'a" from the stop by the large Vodaphone shop near the Papeete market.
There is a motel beside the airport. See the listing in the Faaa article.
Papeete is a walking town. Drivers stop for pedestrians at crosswalks (zebra crossings). It's really too small to bother with any other form of transport, unless you are going out to the fringes, or would simply like to experience the famous le truck for fun (hop-on, hop-off, anywhere in the city centre for about 100 F) Bring a water bottle: it can be quite hot and humid.
Taxis cost 1000 F plus 130 F/kilometre 06:00-20:00 (230 F/km at night) anywhere on the island, so they're extremely expensive to use within the city. They can be very hard to find after 18:00, apart from two taxi stands along the waterfront. Meters are unheard of, so confirm the fare (in French, if possible) before getting into a taxi, and don't be afraid to protest or refuse if you think the fare too high; as a general rule, you should never have to pay more than 1500 F for a journey from one side of the city centre to the other. Fares are posted at the waterfront taxi stands.
Many drivers distribute calling cards when you disembark; if you'll be relying on taxi transport for whatever reason during your stay, it's worth becoming a repeat customer with a driver you trust and who will give you a good deal.
Le Truck will take you to other parts of the island and around town quite cheaply.
- The waterfront. Papeete has redeveloped its waterfront into a long park, with foods and carnival-like attractions.
- 1 Robert Wan Pearl Museum, 56 Avenue du Commandant Destremau, ☏ . A museum displaying exhibits on pearl farming and the history of pearls on one side and a pearl shop on the other. Free.
- Assembly of French Polynesia (Assemblée de la Polynésie française), 21 Rue du Dr Cassiau at Rue du General de Gaulle. Small but beautiful gardens around a pond. Plaques tell the history of the site as a royal palace, and of the plant life in the garden. Free.
Black pearls abound. There is just about every kind of store here, including some (particularly near the Marché) who have no problem selling you imitation balls of black glass or fiberglass at market prices. Be sure to look for a certificate of authenticity on the wall of the shop, and trust your guidebook for recommendations.
Eating out can be very expensive. There are some fine restaurants but expect to pay US$30 for a hamburger at a hotel restaurant or other proper sit-down establishment.
There are a lot of midrange places where you can expect to pay US$20-30 for your whole meal. French and Chinese cuisines are well represented here. Look for the word "Snack" in the name of the restaurant. There is also a conveyor belt sushi place that's very good, and the chefs are quite friendly there.
- The best deal in town is the roulottes, the food trucks that set up shop every evening in the big square in the waterfront park. Every day they begin setting up around dusk. Chinese, French, and Tahitian cuisine are all well represented. You can get chow mein, poisson cru, crepes, pizza, ice cream, and because this is France, everything comes with bread. Expect to pay 1500-2000 F for your meal, although you can get a couple of crepes and a drink for 1000-1200 F (Jan 2019).
- Food stands in the public market (marché) will charge 700-900 F for a Chinese fish with rice, and there are lots of baguette sandwiches available.
- 1 l’O à la Bouche, BP 343, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. French with a Polynesian twist. The interior is a bit dark.
You can expect to pay upwards of US$10 for a pint of beer. A (small) jug of microbrew will run you US$35. Buy pitchers of Hinano to keep the costs down.
- Chaplain's (Downtown on the waterfront). The decor is a tribute to silent film star Charles Chaplin. Expect loud French rap. Keep an eye on your tab.
- Mana Rock Cafe (Downtown on the waterfront). This open-air pub is a good place to sit outside in the shade and have a cold beer on a hot afternoon.
- Les 3 Brasseurs (Downtown on the waterfront). The only microbrewery in French Polynesia. The beer is certainly better than Hinano, but you do pay a premium for it, and it pales in comparison to U.S. microbrews. US$35 for a 3.5 L glass jug.
- That tiki-bar near Les 3 Brasseurs (Downtown on the waterfront). Its name doesn't really matter; it's the only other bar along this stretch. Some sidewalk seating and very limited indoor seating. There's a sweet little dog that hangs out here. If you pet her, she will bark at anybody who gives you trouble for the rest of the night. Also remember to tip the bouncer extra when you want to get into the bar's "underground" club every night.
- Hotel Tiare Tahiti, Boulevard Pomare. Simple, spacious, clean rooms with AC. Generous breakfast 10,000 F. Friendly staff. The "sea view" rooms look across a six-lane road to a busy harbour. Wifi is 400 F extra, but is slow and unreliable, and no refunds are provided if it doesn't work. 135,000-150,000 F.
See #Get in.
If you have the time, take the ferry over to Moorea.