8 Can’t Miss Cultural Experiences in Tahiti

A visit to Tahiti is about more than just chilling on the beach or swimming in a tropical lagoon, although both are possible. It can also be a culturally rich experience, offering visitors an opportunity to learn about Polynesian culture from ancient times to modern day. So whether you want to experience the power of dance or get a tattoo in the place the art form evolved from, Tahiti offers all kinds of cultural immersion.

Vallee de Papenoo, Hitiaa O Te Ra, French Polynesia
Also known as the Papenoo Valley, the Maroto Valley is a magical place once inhabited by ancient Polynesians. If you go with a guide -- I recommend Marama Tours -- you’ll be able to learn about the history of the area as well as learn to forage like they did in the past. The above photo is of a local fruit called noni, whose juice gets rid of mosquito bite itch. A few other natural remedies the group learned include lime can be a deodorant, coconut juice aids digestion and taro is good for strong bones and teeth.
Pape'ete, French Polynesia
The Pearl Museum is the only museum in the world devoted entirely to pearls. The unique presentations describe and demonstrate the history and practice of cultivating pearls as well as their place in art, history, mythology, and religion. You’ll also see a collection of pearl producing oysters and shells.
Pā'ea, French Polynesia
Life across Polynesia was once defined by ritual power. In many places, chiefs were too sacred to actually look at, and if you helped bury a chief, you’d not be allowed to utilize your hands for nine months or more. The 'Ārahurahu Marae, a sacred structure of black stone, was built solely for rituals. Nicely restored, the 'Ārahurahu is set at the foot of a cliff, surrounded by jungle. A trail lined with tikis leads to the three-story marae, which is still in use, revived as part of the Polynesian Renaissance. The marae is worth a visit: Soak up the place to get a feel for a time when this was the island’s heartbeat.
Rue Cook
If you are planning a visit in July, make sure it corresponds with the annual Heiva, which started back in 1881. The festival, which runs for a week and is held at Place To’ata in Papeete, is an iconic Polynesian cultural event showcasing dance, music and traditional sports, all of which have always held an important place in Polynesian communities. In ancient times, they were essential components of religious and political ceremonies. Dance was one of the most sophisticated and ritualized art forms performed in groups or individually. The dances performed during the week long event highlight the drama of an opera and the distinct imprints of an ancestral tradition. The dances are unique creations, for which the dancers train for six months or more. Text music, choreography and costumes are based on a historical or legendary theme and are often quite elaborate.
Avenue du Maréchal Foch, Papeete, French Polynesia
Inside Papeete’s Vaima Center, the new Museum of Street Art Tahiti is dedicated to graffiti and other street art. Sarah Roopinia and Jean Ozonder curated the museum. The duo also founded Festival Ono’u, Tahiti’s international street art event, held over three days in October. Papeete has quite a vibrant street art scene with some 30 different murals created by world-renowned graffiti artists since the project began in May 2014. Head to the museum and festival website for a walking tour map. Many of the murals are truly impressive and have brought a colorful façade to a once grey walled capital. .
PK7, Fa'a'ā 98702, French Polynesia
Tahitian dancers, known the world over for their passion and energy, are mesmerizing to watch whether the dance is slow and graceful or fast and rhythmic. Though dancing is a national pastime in Tahiti, the many dance schools rarely take drop-in students. Don’t let that stop you. Traditional Polynesian dance performances are fantastic. Te Tiare Restaurant, at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa, offers Tahitian dance performances during dinner service on Friday nights. (If you catch the Tahitian dance fever, make plans to come back for the weeklong dance festival Heiva I Tahiti, held every July.
Rue Albert Leboucher
The tattoo art form was invented in the Islands of Tahiti, and today many Polynesians sport beautiful work of art tattoos as symbols of their personal identities. If you’d like to remember your trip with a tattoo of your own, there are many options on Tahiti. In Papeete, pay a visit to Manao Tattoo. The artists here offer a number of traditional Polynesian patterns as well as creative original designs.
French Polynesia
Dedicated to Paul Gauguin’s life during the years he lived on Tahiti and in the Marquesas, the Gauguin Museum sits within the beautiful Harrison Smith Botanical Gardens and features exhibits and memorabilia from the late painter himself, including sketches, copies of documents, block prints, and reproductions of many of his most famous paintings. Make sure to stroll through the windy paths, past ponds, palms and a bamboo thicket in the gardens as well. They were created in 1919 by an American named Harrison Smith who introduced many plants to Tahiti including the grapefruit.
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