French Polynesia has a wide range of accommodations, from deluxe resort hotels to mom-and-pop guesthouses and dormitories with bunk beds.
Types of Rooms
My favorite type of hotel accommodates its guests in individual bungalows set in a coconut grove beside a sandy beach and quiet lagoon; if that's not the quintessential definition of the South Seas, then I don't know what is! Many of these are super-romantic bungalows that actually stand on stilts out over the reef (although some of these overwater units tend to be close together and thus less private than bungalows ashore elsewhere). Others are as basic as tents. In between, they vary in size, furnishings, and comfort. In all, you get to enjoy your own place, one usually built or accented with thatch and other native materials, but containing most of the modern conveniences. An increasing number of these accommodations are air-conditioned, which is a definite plus during the humid summer months from November through March. All but a few bungalows have ceiling fans, which will usually keep you comfortable during the rest of the year. Hotels of this style are widespread in the South Pacific.
Guesthouses & Family Accommodations -- In general, you'll find a significant difference in quality between French Polynesia's moderate and inexpensive accommodations. Few establishments here are comparable in price or quality to the inexpensive motels found in abundance in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
The local government is encouraging the development of guesthouses and family pensions, of which there are a growing number. Many owners have used government-backed loans to acquire one-room guest bungalows with attached bathrooms. Although the bungalows are identical, the owners have added decorative touches (in some cases quite tasteful, in others barely so).
Tahiti Tourisme inspects these establishments and distributes lists of those it recommends; some are also recommended in this book. Many promote themselves through an organization known as Haere-Mai, whose website (www.haere-mai.pf) is in both French and English, and it gives the current room rates for most properties.
Local families operate most of them, so if you decide to go this route, an ability to speak some French may be essential.
Surfing for Hotels
In addition to the online travel booking sites Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, and Hotwire, you can book hotels through Hotels.com; Quikbook (www.quikbook.com); and Travelaxe (www.travelaxe.net). Frankly, I always go to the hotels' own sites before booking, since many now offer their own Internet specials, which often beat the big-site prices.
One of the best independent websites for South Pacific hotel discount shopping is Fiji-based Travelmaxia.com, where scores of properties throughout the region post their specials. You can search by country for resorts, hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, dive operators, and cruises.
The Australian-based Whotif.com (tel. 300/88 7979, 866/514-3281 in the U.S., 0845 458 4567 in the U.K.; www.whotif.com) discounts rooms in French Polynesia.
Headquartered in London, www.Pacific-Resorts.com often has discounted rates for resorts in the islands.
Other websites have reviews and comments about accommodations worldwide. HotelChatter.com is a daily webzine offering coverage and critiques. Go to TripAdvisor.com or HotelShark.com for independent consumer reviews of hotels and resort properties. (Anyone can post reviews on these sites, including hotel owners themselves and "guests" who have never stayed at a property, so I read them with a proverbial grain of salt.)
It's a good idea to get a confirmation number and make a printout of any online booking transaction.
Many of the international tour operators listed under "Packages for the Independent Traveler," earlier in this chapter, sell discounted hotel rooms as well as air tickets.
Another tactic is to check with the local inbound tour operators. In addition to selling tours and day trips to visitors already in the islands (that is, at hotel activities desks), these companies put together the local elements of tour packages -- such as hotel rooms and airport transfers -- for overseas wholesalers. They have the advantage of being on the scene and thus familiar with the properties. Some sell direct to inbound visitors as well as other tour companies.
Among more than a dozen Papeete-based companies, Easy Tahiti.com (www.easytahiti.com), Islands Adventures/Air Tahiti (www.islandsadventures.com), Marama Tours (www.maramatours.com), Paradise Tours (www.paradistourstahiti.com), Tahiti Nui Travel (www.tahitinuitravel.com), and Tekura Tahiti Travel (www.tahiti-tekuratravelcom) have local packages within French Polynesia.
As always, it's a good idea to get a confirmation number and make a printout of any online booking transaction.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.