My ultimate beach destination includes these characteristics: an island, good snorkeling, and mountains (I love hiking in lush jungles – that are safe 😉). Rarotonga checked off all 3 and it is surrounded by a reef for the icing on the cake.

Rarotonga is one of the 15 beautiful islands that make up the Cook Islands with majority of the population residing on this island, and the one you will fly into. Many have not heard of the Cook Islands let alone Rarotonga but 150,000 tourists a year visit this paradise. It is one of those places that has everything that you need, nothing that you won’t while staying true to its beautiful culture.

The island is covered with lush dense jungles with a few mountains you can conquer for the perfect view. On the outside, the island is surrounded by a reef creating the ultimate turquoise lagoon playground for all of your water activities.

How does that look?

Catching the sunrise over Rarotonga, Cook Islands 😍

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Being a 4 hour flight from Auckland, New Zealand, Raro has been long enjoyed by Kiwis. Since 2017 Air New Zealand has a direct, 9.5 hour (not bad eh??), flight from Los Angeles for us North Americans to have our breath taken while sipping on New Zealand wine.

Rarotonga can be considered a luxury destination but it can accommodate all wallets; including a couple of hostels, hotels, and AirBnb. You will have a good selection of places to satisfy your palate as well, including: local markets, grocery stores, and fantastic restaurants. If you like fresh fruit, seafood, and coconuts you won’t be disappointed.

Let’s dive in.

Culture

Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, a Portuguese captain, made the first recorded European landing in the islands when he set foot on Rakahanga in 1606, calling it Gente Hermosa (Beautiful People). He was probably right back then and it still stands true today.

The locals (Cook Island Maori) are very friendly, love to laugh and very easy going. The island is very safe.

It has always fascinated me how people came about to live in the Polynesia and thrive. There are a few cultural shows on the island you should attend to learn about their rich history – past and present.

One thing you notice is how many dogs are out and about. Expect a few to join you on your walk along the beach. Equally surprising is how well behaved they are. According to archaeology, in the Cook Islands, dogs predate humans – figure that one out.  As a dog lover I really enjoyed having them around.

Transportation

Raratonga is very easy to get around, literally, it has a main 32km road that goes around the whole island in a circle. You can’t get lost 😉

There are 2 buses that go around the island: Clockwise and Anticlockwise – I haven’t taken them but I’m sure they run on island time.

I would highly recommend to rent transportation so you can explore the island better. You can pretty much rent anything: cars, mopeds (scooters), and bicycles. The cost is very reasonable, in-fact, our car cost the same as a moped in St.Kitts.

Food Scene

As you would expect there is plenty of delicious seafood (but not any really good sushi). If seafood is not your thing, don’t worry there is no shortage of other options at restaurants and markets.

On Saturday morning, downtown, there is the Punanga Nui Cultural Market which has everything from local fresh food to pearls, and souvenirs. It is THE thing to do on Saturday AM and some businesses are open later because of the market.

Muri Night Market is at 5 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday is another very popular spot. It is a primarily food market focused on local dishes and fresh fruit.

Being within close proximity to New Zealand has its benefits – you run out of wine!

Hiking

Rarotonga has no shortage of adventures including a number of mountains to explore. The trails are pretty clearly marked and there is nothing in the jungle that can eat you. Just remember as it is a tropical rain forest you can expect rain which created messy and difficult conditions for hiking.

The hikes are clearly marked as ‘Tracks’ on the map.

You can also do a guided cross-island walk, highly recommended by people who did it. If you are not an experienced hiker I always recommend using a guide – it’s safer and you get to learn about the flora and fauna.

Snorkeling

I spend so much time in the water I think one day I will develop gills (Anyone seen Waterworld?). I love snorkeling!

Most of the coral inside Rarotogna’s lagoon is dead however, a strong reminder why protecting our environment and oceans is important. Even so the ocean life is rich; expect to see lots of exotic fish, some get pretty big in size.

Snorkeling in Rarotonga is safe for all levels but there are 5 passages that go into the Pacific with strong currents that can get you in trouble. For strong swimmers I would highly recommend taking a guided tour to the areas around the passage; the coral is beautiful and you will see marine life you won’t see else where.

If you do, say hi to my friend for me 🙂

We have the same eyes 👀🐢😂

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