A 19th-century European merchant wrote of the Tahitians, "Their existence was in never-ending merrymaking." In many respects this is still true, for after the sun goes down, Tahitians like to make merry as much today as they did in the 1820s, and Papeete has lots of good choices for visitors who want to join in the fun.
Tahitian Dance Shows
Traditional Tahitian dancing isn't as indecent as it was in Captain Cook's day, but seeing at least one show should be on your agenda. You'll have plenty of chances, since nightlife on the outer islands consists almost exclusively of dance shows at the resorts, usually in conjunction with a feast of Tahitian food.
Each of Tahiti's big resort hotels has shows at least 1 night a week. Not to be missed is the Grande Danse de Tahiti troupe, which usually performs at the InterContinental Resort Tahiti (tel. 86.51.10) on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings (the Sat show is a reenactment of the dance that seduced the crew of HMS Bounty). Call the resort to confirm the schedule. Another good place to catch a show is the Captain Bligh Restaurant and Bar (tel. 43.62.90), which usually has them on Friday and Saturday at 8:30pm. Expect to pay from 5,000CFP (US$63/£32) for the show and dinner at the Captain Bligh to 8,500CFP (US$106/£54) at the big resorts.
Papeete has a nightclub or watering hole to fit anyone's taste, from upscale private (privé) discothèques to down-and-dirty bars and dance halls where Tahitians strum on guitars while sipping on large bottles of Hinano beer (and sometimes engage in fisticuffs after midnight). If you look like a tourist, you'll be allowed into the private clubs. Generally, everything gets to full throttle after 9pm (except on Sun, when most pubs are closed). None of the clubs are inexpensive. Expect to pay a cover of at least 1,000CFP (US$13/£6.50), which will include your first drink. After that, beers cost at least 500CFP (US$6.25/£3.15), with most mixed drinks in the range of 1,000CFP to 1,500CFP (US$13-US$19/£6.50-£9.50).
The narrow rue des Ecoles is the heart of Papeete's mahu district, where male transvestites hang out. The Piano Bar (tel. 42.88.24) is the most popular of the "sexy clubs" along this street, especially for its late-night strip shows featuring female impersonators. It's open daily from 3pm to 3am. The multistory Mana Rock Cafe, at boulevard Pomare and rue des Ecoles (tel. 48.36.36), draws a more mixed crowd to its bars and discothèque (you can check your e-mail between sips here).
You're unlikely to be groped or get into a fight at Hotel Le Royal Tahitien, in Pirae (tel. 50.40.40), where a live band plays Tahitian music for dancing on Friday nights. It's a much better behaved version of Quinn's and Tahiti's other infamous old joints. The moderately priced seaside restaurant here has very good food for the money, so you can make Friday a dining-and-dancing evening. General Manager Lionel Kennedy, who came here as a drummer in a rock band in the mid-1960s and never went back to Australia, revives his skills during the hotel's Wednesday night jazz jams.
You don't have to pay to be entertained on Friday, which is "cruise-ship day" on the Papeete waterfront. Arts and crafts are on display, and Tahitians make music from 8am to 5pm at the Tahiti Manava visitors bureau at the foot of rue Paul Gauguin. Tahitian bands perform afterward out on Place Vaiate by the cruise ship docks.
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.