Mo’orea: is it possible on a budget?

My round-the-world trip has officially begun, and what better place to start it than in the middle of absolutely nowhere on a beautiful island? I booked a one way to Pape’ete, French Polynesia from Newark, New Jersey on January 15th, 2019, and off I went.

After a brutal long travel day and jumping through a few time zones, I landed in Pape’ete to spend a day before heading off to Mo’orea (Pape’ete post can be found under “French Polynesia!”).

After a short ferry from Pape’ete (45 minutes maximum), I arrived in beautiful Mo’orea. I had previously messaged my AirBnb host to ask what was the best way to get to the place I’d be staying and he promptly replied, “hitch hiking.” Hm, okay then.

I saw a line of taxis and opted to take one. It was the equivalent of about $35 for a ride under twenty minutes, which leads me to telling you this fun fact:

Mo’orea is NOT cheap. There are eight hotels on the island, with the cheapest running somewhere between $300-$400 a night, and the most expensive running $800-$900 (The Sofitel). Most of these hotels include private over-water bungalows, and some even include a personal chef. If you have that kind of money, go for it! But if you are an average, or below average, folk like me… keep an open-mind. Let me explain.

I booked the absolute cheapest AirBnb I could find because French Polynesia would be my first stop on a journey with an unknown amount of time, and it was the first time in at least ten years that I had no income. The AirBnb I found seemed to be the closest thing to a hostel as it was a “shared space / room” and ran me only $17 a night. Deal.

I arrived to the AirBnb and…well…it was a literal hut. There were no doors, there was a mosquito net over my bed (which was comforting, to be honest), and of course, there were several other backpackers there (only about 6, which is pretty small for a hostel-type situation).

I immediately became uncomfortable. It was 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Mo’orea and I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I frantically began searching hotels and thought I would lose the money I had put down for the few nights. This is something I go through often; hostels immediately trigger my social anxiety; in Finland I ended up booking THREE DIFFERENT HOTELS and still stayed at a hostel (giant loss of money). It is not a normal habit and I have been working on learning to breathe before jumping the gun. I remembered this in this situation, took a deep breath, and before making any irrational decisions, I decided to head to the beach.

Ah, now here’s where hostels get fun. There’s always one (at minimum) extra chatty, travel-expert, “oh, you’re only here for 5 days?” person in a hostel / shared space who, no matter what you say or how experienced you are in something, knows more than you. In this case, a British chick who had been in French Polynesia for two months.

“I wouldn’t stay in the hotels even if I had the money.”

“I would,” I laughed.

Listen, it’s okay to be different, but why impose your every belief / opinion onto everyone around you? Let people be who they are going to be. Yikes.

I made the mistake of saying out loud that I would be heading to the beach, and Miss Chatty British decided she wanted to join me. To be honest, I already had a bad taste in my mouth over her, and I was already on edge from traveling / seeing my sleeping accommodation for the next few days, but I wasn’t exactly in the situation where I could say “no” (I digress; you can always say no, but in this situation it seemed as if it would have been incredibly rude), so I waited for her to get ready. I was completely ready to go and she began to paint lipstick and curl her hair (we were going to the beach). Did I mention this is where they get fun?

Her and I headed to the beach and I tried to keep an open mind, but the conversation was painful. Once we got there, I swam away (far far away) and GoPro’ed the hell out of this beautiful little beach in Mo’orea. I put the camera down and stared up at the cloudless sky, looked down at the pristine blue water and had a little cry. I had been talking about quitting my job and traveling the world for years, and…here I was. It was a surreal moment.

But alas, British girl started saying she was hungry and insisted I needed the best bug spray one could find (she was not wrong, but I don’t like being told what to do), so we hitch-hiked to the pharmacy…which brings me to point number 2.

There is almost NO public transportation in Mo’orea. If you want to get around, you should either rent a scooter (about $50 a day), a car (I am unsure of the price), wait for a bus that has absolutely no schedule, pay out the ass for cabs, or… hitch hike. I ended up hitch hiking my entire time in Mo’orea and though I had no problems, always go forward with caution (don’t get in the car if there’s a beer in a cup holder at 9am, for example *real thing that happened to me*).

After spending $35 on excellent sunscreen and bug spray (more than I’d usually pay but I wanted quality; I was already sunburnt to shit and mosquitos think I’m delicious), we headed to the grocery store. Staying in a place (hut) like the one I was staying at was helpful in the fact that it had a mini kitchen so I wouldn’t be spending tons of money on outside food. I bought a baguette, an avocado, a six pack of Hinano beer, some cheese, chocolate, frozen shumai, and a pre-cooked rice / chicken dish for somewhere around $30 (an average meal out in Mo’orea is 35 plus, so the one thing I managed to save money on was food, though I wasn’t exactly eating like a queen).

I managed to live off of this food for the majority of my trip, however by the end I did treat myself to one meal out at Moorea Beach Cafe ($34 on wasabi-crusted tuna with coconut mashed potatoes, and worth every penny), and a veggie burger on my last day (only $9!). So, if you play your cards right and are okay with not eating out for every single meal, it is definitely possible to keep food under a tight budget. And I use the word “tight” loosely because I lived off of bread, fruit, and beer to save money.

worth it

Another thing you will probably want to invest a little bit of money in is some type of excursion. Any chance I have to swim with animals, I jump on immediately. I looked on Viator and saw a day trip which included lunch, swimming with black tip reef sharks and stingrays, learning how to open a coconut and make the nation’s famous dish poisson cru, and a tour of the two bays (Cooks and Opunohu) for $95. It seemed worth it, though on the steeper side of what I’d usually pay for a tour. Considering there’s not a whole lot to do in Mo’orea, I thought, it should be money well spent.

And it was! It was probably my favorite day I was there (though another excursion beat it out, continue reading…). All of the above mentioned was included, and I met a lovely couple from Texas whom I shared drinks with afterward that an older couple from Oregon bought for us (thanks! I’m poor!).

swimming with black tip reef sharks


and they gave me a hat!

Poisson Cru fresh out of a coconut

beer was included!

You can find the tour here:

After I was done with the tour, I went back to my hostel / hut / airbnb / whatever you want to call it, did some writing, and admittedly, let out a good cry. It can be overwhelming to think of what your life is when you have given everything up to be in the very place you are; hardly tears of sadness, more so tears of realization / reality.

Another excursion I spent money on was, hands down, my favorite thing I did the entire time I was there. I found this lovely group of young men who started a company called “Coral Gardeners.” They plant coral in Mo’orea and encourage locals and tourists alike to get involved for a small donation of 50 euro. I have an entire separate post on this as I believe it deserves a platform of its own (if there’s one thing I’m passionate about, it’s saving our damn planet).

In conclusion, is Mo’orea doable on a budget? Yes, but hardly. If I had it my way, I would’ve had a scooter everyday, at the very least (maybe even a car), I would’ve gone out to more restaurants (not for every meal but for at least more than one), I would’ve stayed at least one night in a nicer hotel to experience it (though, the hut was quite a trip and I have no regrets doing it). I hate to say money had burden because I want to promote the idea, which is true, that every place can be done on a budget. You just have to do some research prior, because some countries just cost more money for the basic necessities (food and lodging). All in all, I managed to keep everything under $500 (not including flight / airbnb), so $500 for a week in paradise? Yes, it’s doable on a budget, just be willing to make sacrifices along the way.

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