The Tuamotu Archipelago is a collection of mostly atoll structured islands, spanning over an area of 850 square kilometers. They are one of five such island groupings that make up the country of French Polynesia. Relatively unknown outside of the diving community, backpacking the Tuamotu Islands is a new thing, making the Tuamotus unique.
Arriving to the Tuamotus
You can arrive to this distant island chain via cargo boat that departs from Tahiti once every couple of weeks, you could take one of the almost daily flights or attempt to sailboat hitchhike.
For most backpackers the cargo boat option will be the most budget friendly way. The only boat company I was able to find and talk with was the Saint-Xavier Maris Stella. They provide passage for 10 people, at a cost of 7,000 XPF including food to the first stop of Rangiroa. It takes 2 full days to arrive to Rangiroa and a spot in person can only be reserved in person.
After unloading cargo for the scheduled stops the Saint-Xavier then returns to Papeete to reload, it will next be in the Tuamotu islands in roughly 15-19 days. Exploring the Tuamotus this way leaves you with spending less than 24 hours at each stop or you could decide to be dropped off on an island and picked up 2 to 3 weeks later on the next rotation.
- Wild Tip: If you decide to get dropped off on an island make sure you book your return ticket beforehand, boats fill up fast. If you want to visit other islands on the Tuamotu archipelago the inter-island travel is now up to you to figure out.
For flying, you can take individual flights to one or multiple islands or if you know you want you want to see, look into getting the Air Tahiti Air Pass. The air pass will save you money if booking multiple flights.
- Wild Tip: What I recommend is to pick one island that you really want to see and depending on the boat schedule either fly there or take the cargo boat one way and then do the opposite on the way back. This saves you some money and it also allows you to somewhat structure how many days you plan on spending in the Tuamotus.
Sailboat hitchhiking is going to be the cheapest way around the islands but it is also very hard to find without experience or contacting boats ahead of time, even during high season. Most boats already have a dedicated volunteer crew. If you come across one that has space or needs help make sure you cover cost and duration, along with what is required of you.
Camping on the Tuamotus
Aside from sailing, there are 3 islands that you will visit in the Tuamotus and these islands all provide camping. As you might know, camping on French Polynesia is only allowed on private property. When camping you are charged per person not per tent. It is possible to ask around and see if you can camp on someone’s land, odds are decent, but most will only offer one nights stay.
Rangiroa Plage – This small guesthouse and campground is not managed or up kept well and we actually cut our camping stay short because of it. The owner has no real interest in her guests once the room is booked. She is mostly focused on her restaurant business which shows in the disrepair and state of the guesthouse facilities.
The cost for camping is 2,000 XPF per person, Shared dorm room goes for 3,700 XPF per person and a private room 8-10,000 XPF for two people. With all of these you have access to a very neglected kitchen and 2 cold water bathroom/shower stalls that have not been well taken care of. Besides those two things nothing else is provided for free, even a half broken, rusted bike come with a price tag.
The only positive thing about this campsite is that you are provided a thick plastic mat for underneath your tent, protecting it from the extremely rocky beach.
Pension Coconut Beach – This guesthouse is nicely run by an energetic Jean-Louis and his two small dogs that never leave his side. Jean-Louis is all smiles and actively likes to share stories. His basic house turned pension is full of memorabilia and is clean and well kept.
You have the option to camp on his nice private beach for 2,250 XPF per person or a room is available for 7,000 XPF.
Jean-Louis provides a great hand made breakfast along with shared bathroom and warm water. You are lacking use of a kitchen but alongside rides in his small pickup you can freely use one of the two rusty bicycles to explore around this small section of the atoll.
Fakarava has two campgrounds on the atoll. One in town, Relais Marama and one located about 7km away from town, Camping Tekopa Village.
Relais Marma – Is where I camped and I highly recommend it. Jacque, the owner is very friendly and keeps a well maintained property. Relais Marma is big enough for everyone to have their own space, there is plenty of shade and it is well set up with hammocks and an covered living room area.
For 3,000 XPF per person you can camp or for 7,000 XPF per person you can enjoy one of his nice bungalows. Everyone gets the same access and use of all facilities. You have you pick of over a dozen well kept bicycles to explore the island. There is a well stocked and clean kitchen for use, with 2 fridges to store food or drinks. A secure room for electronics and belongings that you want stored securely is provided. You have access to free filtered rain water, for drinking, and a nice breakfast of eggs, toast, jam, butter, tea and coffee.
Camping Tekopa Village – I cycled the 7 km’s out to Camping Tekopa Village during my second day on the island because the camping price was cheaper and I wanted to see if it was worth switching, unfortunately I don’t believe it is worth it to stay out here.
Located on a rocky beach Tekopa Village is completely open to the elements and the property itself is in not great condition. With the lack of amenities and extra cost to use the rusted bicycles, airport transfer fee, plus the distance from town, the cheaper rate does not make up for lacking comfort and amenities.
Camping is 2,000 XPF per person, not including breakfast, but you are able to use a small kitchen area. Bungalows run from 6,000-8,000 XPF, 3 nights minimum stay and it includes breakfast. The cost for renting a bicycle, they only have 2 total, runs 1,500 XPF per day and it will run you 1,000 XPF to be picked up from the airport.
What to do on an Atoll
Rangiroa is the most tourist and developed atoll in the Tuamotus. If you are camping at Rangiroa Plage you will be staying in the town of Avatoru. This is unfortunately on the wrong side of the island for most of activities. There is some okay snorkeling directly off of the campground itself but other than that there is not much on this part of the atoll and you must watch out for the upper pass, if swimming.
Lacking a true beach, scuba diving is the main reason to visit Raingiroa. If you are not planning to dive, there is really not much reason to visit. If you are going here and you have free time, check out Gauguin’s Pearl farm, to learn how black pearls are designed and harvested. This is free and they will pick you up. You can try a bottle of coral wine, made on the island. If you make your way to the bottom side of the atoll around sundown you might catch a glimpse dolphins playing in the pass!
Coming in a bit smaller than the other atolls Tikehau is becoming the hot stop on the Tuamotu experience. Diving is again at the top of the list but Tikehau also provides a quiet space to relax. The main island is small enough to bike around and the island has a nice stretch of beach to soak up some sunshine. Being smaller than the rest, supplies on the island are more limited but there are a few evening food stands and plenty of fish to catch!
Relatively unknown outside of the diving community this atoll is quite the hidden gem. But as the word spreads the tourism infrastructure is slowly developing. Right now Fakarava still holds onto its natural feel. Fakarava is extra special, because it is categorized as a UNESCO marine biosphere, making it a healthy underwater paradise. The diving here is out of this world and snorkeling is so abundant all you have to do is step off anywhere on the island to find healthy coral full of fish.
Less populated than Rangiroa, Fakarava still has enough amenities for the average backpacker to get by. It has a few great stretches of beach to hang out on, most notably, PK9, which is located past the airport, 9km away from town.
Of the 3 main Tuamotu islands that you will most likely visit, each has their own appeal but Fakarava is my standout favorite. Honestly if diving is not your thing, Fakarava is the only island worth spending time on but if you are trying to backpack on a budget it might be best to skip the Tuamotus and stick around Moorea and the Society Islands.
I hope this post helps you when backpacking the Tuamotu islands! Make sure to check out the Destination French Polynesia page to learn more or visit my Backpacking the Society Islands on a Budget post.