How to Plan the Best Trip to Rarotonga
Ah, Rarotonga. An isolated island in the South Pacific far from its brethren in the Cook Islands, it only takes 45 minutes to drive around but has oodles of stuff to do… Hell, most people think that Rarotonga is the Cook Islands. (It’s not. There’s more. But you can browse CookIslandsPocketGuide.com to discover more on that subject). If watersports, balmy tropical weather and friendly islanders are your thing, then you might like to visit Rarotonga. It just so turns out that you’re in the right place to plan such an excursion.
In this travel guide to Rarotonga, find out what to do, where to stay, where to eat and how to plan the perfect getaway according to your unique travel style.
Frequently Asked Questions About Rarotonga
We’re here to plan the best trip ever, so we won’t waste any time in this Rarotonga travel guide giving you the questions that most travellers have about visiting.
Is Rarotonga Worth Visiting?
Rarotonga is absolutely worth visiting! The island in the Cook Islands offers a glorious tropical holiday without too much of a “culture shock” as is usually experienced on some of the other South Pacific islands. Getting around is easy, snorkelling from the beach is easy, and you have plenty of watersports and cultural tours to choose from: if you’re looking for effortless, Raro is just that.
How Many Days Do You Need on Rarotonga?
The minimum number of days we recommend on Rarotonga is five days, but there’s enough to do (or not do, if you prefer to relax) for up to 10 days. See some of our sample itineraries to enjoy the island in The Best Rarotonga & Cook Islands Itineraries for 5 Days and The Best Rarotonga & Cook Islands Itineraries for 10 Days.
What Do I Need to Know Before Going to Rarotonga?
Some key things to know before going to Rarotonga include that you’ll need to buy a scooter license if you want to rent a scooter, dogs wander the towns and beaches in droves so it helps to be an animal lover, and that the weather can be very interchangeable. Oh, and that’s just the beginning! See the 30 Tips for Travelling in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for more essential advice.
Which is the Best Side of Rarotonga to Stay On?
Which is the best side of Rarotonga to stay on really comes down to personal preference. The east side and Muri Lagoon is a hub for watersports, the west side offers the best sunsets and places to eat, the north side is close to Rarotonga’s main shops and services, while the south side is the most tranquil side and features the best snorkelling spots. Take your pick!
What to Do on Rarotonga
Highlights of Rarotonga include watersports, such as snorkelling, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and kitesurfing, thanks to the island’s encircling lagoon. It’s highly recommended to add a dose of the Cook Islands culture into your trip with immersive progressive dinner tours, “island nights” and lagoon cruises.
The Top Experiences on Rarotonga
What are the must-dos? Here are some of the Rarotonga highlights:
- Hit the snorkelling hotspots straight from the beach
- Venture through tropical jungle and up volcanic peaks on Rarotonga’s hiking trails like the Raemaru Track
- Experience a Rarotonga “island night”
- Have a close encounter with Raro’s beautiful marine life on a turtle swimming tour
- Join the locals for a progressive dinner tour with Cook Islands Tours
- Jump on a lagoon cruise with Captain Tama’s or Koka
- Shop and try delicious street food at the Punanga Nui Market…
… And the list continues over in our 50 Best Things to Do on Rarotonga or check out the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List!
Rainy Day Activities
Being a tropical island, it’s no secret that it rains on Rarotonga. If you find your trip coinciding with excessive showers, then try these wet weather activities:
- Learn about the history of the Cook Islands at the Te Ara Museum
- Get muddy on the Raro Buggy Tour or Raro Quad Tour
- See wildlife, learn about marine history and more at the Discover Marine Wildlife & Eco Centre…
… And much more that we mention in the 15 Things to Do on Rarotonga on a Rainy Day.
Things to Do at Night
The fun doesn’t have to stop just because the sun has gone down. Rarotonga has plenty to liven up the evenings with experiences such as:
- Partying Pacific-style at Raro’s bars and nightclubs
- Hitting the island’s best sunset spots
- Seeing the Muri Lagoon light up on a night SUP tour…
… And find more after-dark entertainment in the 10 Things to Do in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands at Night and The Ultimate Guide to Rarotonga Nightlife + Happy Hour List.
Where to Stay on Rarotonga
Aside from our top recommendations listed beside this complete travel guide to Rarotonga (or below, if you’re reading this on mobile), we’ve compiled the best accommodations and resorts based on price, suitability for couples or families, as well as more premium offerings. What’s more, each article is written by real travel writers; not some dodgy algorithm!
- 20 Best Resorts
- 20 Best Villas
- 20 Best Holiday Homes
- 10 Best Boutique Resorts
- 10 Best Budget Accommodations
- 10 Best Adults-Only Resorts
- 10 Best Luxury Accommodations & Resorts
- 5 Best Luxury Villas
- 20 Best Family Resorts & Accommodations
- 10 Most Romantic Wedding & Honeymoon Resorts
- 10 Best Self-Catering Accommodations
- 5 Best Motels
And finally, compare them all in a more comprehensive guide, Where to Stay on Rarotonga: The Best Rarotonga Accommodations.
Where to Eat on Rarotonga
Considering nowhere is too far on Rarotonga, there’s no excuse not to indulge in its eclectic dining scene. While the self-catering holiday is a popular way to experience Rarotonga, you won’t want to miss the quaint cafes or restaurants on the beaches, while the food trucks and markets mean that most budgets are catered to. See what to sample in the 10 Foods to Try in the Cook Islands and check out our complete guide, The Food Guide to Rarotonga: Places to Eat & Food Tours curated especially for foodies.
The Best Cafes and Restaurants on Rarotonga
- On The Beach (OTB) Restaurant & Bar (Manuia Beach Resort, Arorangi)
- Wilson’s Beach Bar & Restaurant (Castaway Resort, Arorangi)
- The Cafe (Avarua)
- Beluga Cafe (Arorangi)
- Antipodes (Nikao)
See complete listings of our top dining recommendations in the 10 Best Cafes on Rarotonga and The Best Places to Eat on Rarotonga: 10 Best Restaurants.
Things to Do on Rarotonga for Foodies
- Watch a cultural show complete with an “umu” buffet
- Prepare your own umu with Tumutoa Tours
- Make some “fruitful” discoveries on an inland walk with Ariimoana
- Hit all of the hottest cocktail spots with Tik-ebikes & Tours
- Have the ultimate street food experience at the Muri Night Market.
Learn more about each activity and more in the 11 Best Foodie Experiences on Rarotonga.
Self-Catering on Rarotonga
Rarotonga has several options for large supermarkets, as well as many smaller convenience stores, the majority of which can be found along the main road (Ara Tapu). Grocery stores are typically stocked with imported brands from New Zealand, as well as local fruit and vegetables. Produce can also be purchased from roadside market stalls and other weekly markets on the island.
Note that most shops close on a Sunday, with the exception of a Wigmore’s Superstore and Super Brown.
See a full list of grocery stores, as well as other useful services such as banks and WiFi hotspots in our guide, Information, Shops & Services on Rarotonga.
Prices are similar to supermarkets in New Zealand but more expensive than what you might experience in Australia and the US. See typical grocery prices in The Cost of Food in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands, as well as more advice for self-catering in A Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping in the Cook Islands.
Budget Holidays on Rarotonga
At first glance, Rarotonga seems like a holiday well out of reach for backpackers and budget travellers, but with a little more know-how, you’ll discover that a budget getaway to Raro is absolutely possible! The odd guesthouse and backpacker hostel offer irresistible prices, while the array of natural and historical attractions sprinkled along the main road (Ara Tapu) and the historic inland road (Ara Metua) are 100% free to admire.
Get money-saving tips and advice for planning an affordable Raro getaway in The Complete Travel Guide to Rarotonga on a Budget.
Things to Do on Rarotonga on a Budget
- Hit the free snorkelling spots like the Fruits of Rarotonga site
- Do stunning hikes like the Cross-Island Trek
- Scout out the historical maraes, migration site and more
- Experience the singing of a Sunday church service
- Explore the Mairie Nui Gardens.
Find out more about each activity in the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Rarotonga.
Cheap Accommodation on Rarotonga
Admittedly, cheap accommodation on Rarotonga is rather elusive, with a few exceptions such as backpacker hostels, cheap motels and units. Explore all of your options in the 10 Best Budget Accommodations on Rarotonga.
Luxury Holidays on Rarotonga
With a backdrop of verdant volcanic peaks and stretches of pepper-white sand as far as the eye can see, Rarotonga certainly sets the scene for a luxury retreat. Combine that with the lavish villas spilling onto the sands, as well as experiences to pamper and indulge, and you know you’re in paradise. Whether you’re in Raro to celebrate a special occasion or are seeking luxury “just because”, plan the perfect luxury escape using The Luxury Guide to Rarotonga.
Luxury Activities on Rarotonga
- Unwind at Rarotonga’s spas
- Be treated to a private dinner on the beach
- Get some retail therapy (and shop for black pearls)
- Have an elevated snorkelling experience on a private tour with Snorkel Cook Islands or Charlotte Piho Photography Tours
- Explore the historical sites and hidden gems on a private island tour with Raro Tours or Cook Islands Tours…
Discover more about each experience in our 8 Best Luxury Experiences on Rarotonga.
Luxury Accommodation on Rarotonga
Luxury accommodation is where Rarotonga truly shines. Boasting chic villas with private pools and design-driven boutique resorts, the memories of your luxury stay on Rarotonga will stick with you for years to come. See some of your most luxurious options in the 10 Best Luxury Accommodations & Resorts on Rarotonga and 5 Best Luxury Villas on Rarotonga.
Family Holidays on Rarotonga
Kids love Rarotonga and parents won’t find it half bad either with many accommodations allowing kids to stay for free! The circling lagoon means that most of the island’s beaches are safe for swimming, while the cheeky locals on the lagoon cruises or the resorts’ kids’ clubs will no doubt enchant the little ones. Whatever your family’s preferred way to travel, you’ll find all you need to know in The Complete Travel Guide to Rarotonga for Families.
Family Activities on Rarotonga
- Jump on a lagoon cruise with Captain Tama’s or Koka
- Be mesmerised at an island night at Te Vara Nui Village
- Check out the underwater world and a shipwreck on the Raro Reef Sub
- Have a swim at the Papua Waterfall
- Enjoy a thrill ride on Rongohiva Watersports’ banana boat.
Learn more about each experience and much much more in our 30 Things to Do on Rarotonga with Kids.
Family Accommodation on Rarotonga
From resorts offering educational and fun kids’ clubs to holiday homes giving your family its own slice of tropical paradise, there are stays on Rarotonga to suit a range of tastes and budgets. Check out your options in the 20 Best Family Resorts & Accommodations on Rarotonga. Note that quite a number of accommodations on Rarotonga don’t accept guests under 12 years old, so be sure to check this before booking.
Weddings, Honeymoons and Romantic Getaways to Rarotonga
With a significant number of resorts exclusively for adult guests, as well as most having fewer than 20 rooms or bungalows, Rarotonga certainly sets the right tone for a romantic tropical getaway. When it comes to experiences shared, couples can adventure together with the array of watersports and island hikes available or, you know, unwind with couples’ spa treatments or simply enjoy being together in paradise – or all of the above! Plan the perfect romantic retreat or special occasion using The Wedding, Honeymoon & Romantic Getaway Guide to Rarotonga.
Romantic Activities on Rarotonga
- Be treated to a “his and hers” massage
- Celebrate a special occasion with a private dinner on the beach
- Team up in a double kayak to explore the lagoon
- Stargaze some of the clearest skies
- Buddy up on a scuba diving trip with Dive Rarotonga or Pacific Divers.
Get more information and ideas in the 16 Most Romantic Things to Do on Rarotonga.
Romantic Accommodation on Rarotonga
From five-star adults-only resorts to self-catering boutique beach bungalows, Rarotonga’s accommodations effortlessly set the scene for a romantic holiday. Some providers also have honeymoon packages to up the romance. Be inspired by the 10 Most Romantic Wedding & Honeymoon Resorts on Rarotonga.
Weddings on Rarotonga
Both dedicated wedding planners and resorts offer wedding packages and glorious venues across the island, making planning a wedding on Rarotonga as easy as an island breeze. Check out the hottest venues in the 10 Best Wedding Venues on Rarotonga and choose from a selection of packages in the 10 Best Wedding Packages for Rarotonga. The rest of your wedding formalities are covered in How to Plan a Wedding in the Cook Islands.
Adults-Only Holidays on Rarotonga
Most resorts and villas here on Rarotonga have policies of allowing no guests under 12, 16 or 18 years old. Even those that welcome younger guests tend to keep groups separate with adults-only bungalows on the beachfront and families by the pool. Wherever you decide to spend your time in paradise, be reassured that said time will go undisturbed. Plan a couples’ retreat, a getaway with the girls or an adults-group vacation using The Adults-Only Travel Guide to Rarotonga.
Activities on Rarotonga for Adults
- Boost your zen with a SUP yoga session with KiteSUP
- Hit the Rarotonga nightclub scene
- Swim with turtles on a group tour with Ariki Adventures or a private tour with Charlotte Piho Photography Experiences
- Catch a South Pacific whopper on a private fishing charter
- Tee off at Rarotonga’s golf course.
Find out more about each activity in our list of the 10 Adults-Only Activities on Rarotonga.
Adults-Only Accommodations on Rarotonga
Couples and adult groups won’t have too much trouble finding resorts and villas that are specially catered to the more mature crowd. Most of Rarotonga’s most famous accommodations are, indeed, adults-only. Check them out in the 10 Best Adults-Only Resorts on Rarotonga.
More About Rarotonga
That’s it for the complete travel guide to Rarotonga but by no means the end of our Rarotonga advice! Check out the following guides for more Raro goodness:
- 10 Best Beaches on Rarotonga
- 10 Best Tours of Rarotonga
- Sightseeing on Rarotonga: Top 10 Sights on Rarotonga
- 10 Best Cultural Activities in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- 10 Best Adventure Tours in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- 10 Most Unique Things to Do in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- 10 Biggest Festivals in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
Finally, for even more tips, check out The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide and 30 Tips for Travelling in the Cook Islands.