The Best Raiatea Travel Guide is here! Raiatea is rich with cultural and historical significance. Believed to be the original birthplace of Polynesia, this island is a secret garden of ancient myths and hidden temples, with unique and fascinating heritage that gives the island an intriguing sense of place.
Raiatea was once the cultural and religious center of the Society Islands. Many cultures believe that this is where the great Polynesian migration began, from which large double-hulled sailing canoes set out to colonize Hawaii and New Zealand. Believed to also be the final resting place for the spirits of these ancestors, the island has remained a place of pilgrimage today.
Raiatea is the second largest of the Society Islands, next to Tahiti. Flight time is about 45 minutes from Papeete, or just a few minutes from the neighboring islands of Huahine or Bora Bora. The island shares its expansive lagoon and surrounding coral reef with sister island Taha’a. This central location and large, protected lagoon makes Raiatea one of the best islands in French Polynesia for sailing, deep-sea fishing and scuba diving.
Raiatea invites you to immerse yourself in the stories and legends surrounding ancient Polynesia. Whether you are looking to explore her inner jungles or sail the sapphire blue waters on a chartered catamaran, this island will surely deliver on its promise. You can learn more about The Best French Polynesian Islands here, or the Most Beautiful Beaches in French Polynesia here, or on Pinterest.
Raiatea Weather – When to Visit Raiatea
Like all Society Islands, the ‘best’ time to visit Raiatea is during the dry season (May – October). During this time, the temperature is slightly lower and most importantly – there are less rain and clouds. Average temperatures range from the upper 60s to the mid-80s, which is ideal beach weather. Plus, the humidity is at its lowest. It is peak tourist season and hotel prices are high. Keep in mind also, that during these months, the southeasterly wind blows in this direction so the lagoon might be a bit choppy (and chilly at night).
Top 4 Raiatea Area Beaches
Raiatea doesn’t have beaches, so locals and tourists head out to the many motu, or islets for their sand and surf; quite a business has been built around transporting picnicking tourists to them. Some are not quite deserted islands, but they can give a feeling of being on one. Several companies specialize in half-day trips, including one that takes an outrigger-canoe-type craft across the vivid blue and green lagoon. A glass-bottom boat tour of the lagoon offers an easy way to take in the terrific diversity of marine life in what is basically an enormous outdoor aquarium.
Motu Nao Nao is a private island located 1.5 km from the island of Raiatea, only 40 minutes from the airport and the town of Uturoa. The motu has 2 beaches, one of which is more than 800 m long, and 25 ha of lush nature with a great ecological variety. You can stay on this private motu at Motu NaoNao.
Motu Iriru is a small islet (motu) near the east coast of Raiatea. This is rather unique place. In fact, it’s a paradise uninhabited island without any commercial services. But on the other hand, it is equipped with a full set of luxury amenities – shower, toilet, picnic tables and sheltered spots. And all of this is for free!
Marae Taputapuatea is a beach in the east of Raiatea. While sunbathing is good enough, the swimming is almost not possible due to the rocky bottom. Marae Taputapuatea is the most important temple of Polynesia, a religious complex consisting of several ceremonial areas built of stone and coral, dedicated to Oro, the god of war.
Sunset Beach is a resort beach in the north-west of Raiatea. The place is beautiful, but swimming from the shore is not possible due to the rocky bottom. Instead, you can dive from the pier, where the depth is deep enough. There is also good snorkeling here. You can stay at the Sunset Beach Motel while here. Beach Bungalows start at US$140 per night. This is not cheap, but the rooms are very nice. They also provide free airport transfers there and back.
Raiatea serves as the nautical center of French Polynesia. The island is home to nearly all sailboat and yacht charter companies in the region, including Tahiti Yacht Charter and Archipels Cruises. You will find them in the main town of Uturoa, a sleepy waterfront village reminiscent of Papeete from years past. Raiatea is also the only island in Tahiti with a navigable river. The Faaroa River curls through its lush rainforest, providing a great way to explore the island via powered outrigger canoe, kayak or motorboat.
Mount Temehani, the Polynesian equivalent of Mount Olympus, towers over the northern part of the island. You can hike to the top of this extinct volcano and encounter the rare and sacred Tiare Apetahi. This delicate flower only grows in Raiatea and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Polynesians will share with you a popular legend to explain this phenomenon, but it remains a botanical mystery. In addition, there are over two dozen other plant species indigenous to the island.
Marae Taputapuatea, on the southeast coast of Raiatea, is the largest outdoor marae (temple) in French Polynesia. You can embark on a Jeep Safari tour into the island’s interior jungle and pay homage to this massive archaeological site, discovering other small historical remnants along the way.
Best Raiatea Restaurants
Chez Annette & Norbert $11 – 30
You gotta love a shack decked out in thatch and Polynesian fabrics that sets up camp right behind a chichi resort. Guests at Le Taha’a looking for the authentic can dine here for a fraction of the cost of the resort’s restaurants. It’s also adjacent to the Motu Tau Tau coral gardens. Telephone: 87 23 97 10
Opoa Beach Hotel $30 & Over
At the Opoa Beach Hotel, this is Ra’iatea’s most glamorous dining spot. The chef earns raves for her high-flying creative dishes combining fresh produce (fish and shellfish in particular) and spices. The menu changes daily. The decor is elegant and the tables are candlelit, which is perfect for a tête-à-tête. Hotel guests have priority, so reserve early. Telephone: 40 60 05 10
Tahaa Maitai $11 – 30
Everyone recommends this restaurant right on Haamene Bay, not only for its fabulous views but also for its delicious cuisine. The menu features lots of fresh seafood, local fruits and vegetables and delicious French desserts. There’s also a long cocktail list, making this a popular local watering hole. Telephone: 40 65 70 85
Vai Nui Restaurant $11 – 30
This lovely little restaurant with views over the water (there’s not much of a beach) is worth the drive. Choose from a more upscale, tasty menu of classic French Polynesian dishes such as grilled meat or fish in Roquefort or vanilla sauce (among many other choices) or more simple dishes such as chow mien and poisson cru (raw fish dish). Portions are huge. Telephone: 40 66 30 96
La Plage $11 – 30
You havAt Le Taha’a Private Island & Spa, ‘The Beach’ is open to non guests if it’s not full (call ahead). Enjoy the incredible beach setting while savoring a local smoked fish salad or grilled delicacies – which cost the same as the very expensive burgers and sandwiches. Take the 11.30am shuttle at Tapuamu then spend the rest of the afternoon snorkeling. Telephone: 40 60 84 00