With its sparkling blue water, dramatic landscape, and palm trees waving happily in the breeze, Tahiti is the stuff dreams are made of. But what’s it like to live there? Read on to learn about the culture and cuisine of authentic Tahitian life.
The Life of a Gem Farmer
Does it get any more exotic than being a pearl farmer? Farming pearls is a real job in French Polynesia, and you can visit a farm as part of your trip. The star of the show in Tahiti is the black-lipped oyster. These special oysters create an amazing array of pearl colors ranging from green to purple to black. Besides taking two to three years to grow, the unique hues of Tahitian pearls make them extremely rare and precious. Mahini Atoll is the epicenter of pearl farming in Tahiti. While it is interesting to visit a pearl farm year-round, you may want to keep in mind that pearl harvesting typically occurs between May and November. Looking for a unique memento of this very special place? A large, perfect pearl can run $1,000 or more, but here’s a savvy local shopper pearl-buying tip: artisan markets located around Tahiti will have smaller, less expensive pearls on offer.
The Foodie Life
As you might expect, seafood and fresh produce are available in abundance in Tahiti. If you take a ride out into the countryside, you will undoubtedly pass many roadside stands selling mangos, bananas, breadfruit, and the like. It doesn’t get much fresher than this! Be sure to try the national dish, poisson cru, aka, raw tuna marinated in coconut milk and lime juice, much like ceviche. Many restaurants and bars are open-air, making the setting as lovely as the food. Food trucks, known locally as ‘Roulottes’ are another standard in Tahiti, and offer a variety of affordably-priced options. They are a favorite with the locals and give visitors an authentic experience of Tahitian life.
The Leisure Life
Being surrounded by water, it should come as no surprise that Tahitians love their water sports. Swimming, snorkeling, paddleboarding, and canoeing are all very popular among the locals. You’ll want to watch a tipairua (canoe) race while you’re on the island. If you feel inspired to try it out for yourself, you might take out a smaller va’a canoe. Cycling is another rewarding island experience, and the country roads are much less crowded in Tahiti than on many other tropical islands like Hawaii. For this and so many more reasons, Tahiti is an ideal choice for a destination wedding.
Tahiti is a volcanic island, and its beaches are mostly made of exotic black sand. There is nothing quite like viewing the sunset on a black sand beach. Venus Point is one place that the locals particularly like to go. For white sand beaches, head on over to the west side of the island. Can’t get enough of the sugary white beaches? Yet another option is to take a short boat ride over to the nearby island of Moorea.
Tahitians have a unique way of signaling if they are in a relationship or spoken for. They wear the national flower, a beautiful white gardenia (locally called tiaré), behind their right ear if they are free, and their left ear if they are taken.
The Arts Life
Dance and music are an essential part of Tahitian life, and not to be missed when you visit. Traditional instruments include flutes, conch shells, and drums. While musical performances include traditional songs, Tahitians will also play contemporary music like you might hear on the radio in the US.
Tattoo aficionados take note: tattoos originated right here in French Polynesia. Tattoos in Polynesian culture denote social status, spiritual beliefs, and clan membership. In the past, Polynesian warriors would also tattoo their faces as a way to intimidate enemies. Our word tattoo comes from the Polynesia word tatua which means to ‘tap lightly;’ the original tattoo needles were made from shark’s teeth or bone. While tattoo artists abound in Tahiti, finding one who practices the traditional style artwork (done with standard needles, not shark’s teeth) can be more challenging, so ask around for recommendations. Tahitians are extremely friendly and helpful.
Local Life Essentials
Modern life in urban areas of Tahiti is quite Westernized, complete with McDonald’s, SUVs, and even AirBnBs (although no Uber). Pensions are the local secret — and affordable — version of a bed and breakfast, and a great way to get an authentic taste of Tahitian life. Tahiti is split into two areas: Tahiti Nui (Big Tahiti) and Tahiti Iti (Small Tahiti). Most first-time visitors opt for Tahiti Nui because it’s where most of the main attractions are located, but if something off the beaten path is more your style, Tahiti Iti is the place to go.
Knowing a little French will be very helpful for your visit to Tahiti, although local kids are very eager to test out (and learn more) English. Hotel front desk staff all speak English, although the maids may not.
It is always warm in the South Pacific. The rainy season lasts from November to April, with the wettest time lasting from the end of December into February. Although the occasional typhoon does roll through, Tahiti is mostly spared from seriously bad weather. For those who want to experience an off-the-beaten-path part of French Polynesia, Tahiti is a fabulous and rewarding destination!