Check out our 9 favourite resorts in Rarotonga as well as the best places to stay, from luxury accommodation to budget hotels.
Rarotonga Travel Guide
Welcome to Rarotonga
Iridescent, sapphire-blue water encapsulates the remote island of Rarotonga. Uninterrupted, white-sand beaches frame sprawling, tropical forests and a lone, active volcano. Despite it’s rugged, yet paradisaical, beauty, the Cook Islands are a humble place where you can expect to find grinning locals behind every palm tree.
The island runs by its own clock, with a timezone called Island Time, buses arriving at less-than-regular intervals, and nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow. Once you settle in to Rarotonga’s informal pace of life, you’ll get to truly relax and experience the Cook Islands’ Maori culture.
This in depth travel guide to Rarotonga offers everything you need to know for a relaxing holiday on the postcard-perfect beaches of Rarotonga; from Cook Islands travel tips, to the best time to visit, and the best things to do in Rarotonga. Read on & plan an unforgettable trip to Rarotonga.
Rarotonga Travel Guides
Few places in the world are easier to travel to than the Cook Islands. Still, it certainly pays to be prepared! Our comprehensive Rarotonga travel guides will assist you in planning the ultimate island getaway. We’ll make sure you’ve packed everything you need (and nothing you don’t ), you’re prepared with the best snorkelling spots in Rarotonga, and that you have plenty of things to do in the Cook Islands.
A complete list of everything you need to pack for a trip to Rarotonga (& what you don’t need to bring).
A comprehensive list of our 15 favourite things to do in Rarotonga. Find out the best snorkelling spots, tours worth doing & the best markets in the Cook Islands.
Rarotonga Travel Bubble
According to the New Zealand Government, New Zealanders can travel freely between the Cook Islands and New Zealand without quarantine or isolation in either country. There are a few Cook Islands travel restrictions so it pays to check the official recommendations before travelling or booking any flights.
Don’t forget to wear a mask on the plane and don’t travel if you’re feeling unwell.
A definitive guide to the 15 things you HAVE to do when visiting Rarotonga.
From where to go snorkelling to which tours are worth paying for, and where you can find the absolute best burgers on the island (maybe even the world!). You won’t want to miss these.
Te Manava Resort Rarotonga
Te Manava is one of Rarotonga’s most luxurious resorts. The rooms are beautiful and the resort comes with everything you would expect from a 5-star resort. Most importantly, it’s located perfectly on Tikioki Beach, one of the best beaches on the island for both snorkelling and relaxing.
Palm Grove is our top mid-range pick for resorts in Rarotonga, especially if you’re travelling with kids. Some rooms are by the beach and there is a kids’ pool.
Rarotonga Backpackers comes with all the perks of staying on the beach at a great resort, but without some of the outrageous prices. Obviously, you won’t find a beachfront bar or restaurant, but a short stroll along the beautiful beach will take you to numerous beachfront bars and restaurants.
For more suggestions, make sure to check out our article reviewing the 9 best resorts in Rarotonga.
Getting Around Rarotonga
Two public buses run a full, 45-minute loop around the island in opposite directions.
The clockwise bus departs hourly from 7am to 11pm Monday to Saturday, and from 8am to noon and 2pm to 4pm on Sunday. The anti-clockwise bus departs hourly at 30-minutes past the hour, from 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 12.30pm on Saturday, and not at all on Sunday.
The night bus runs at midnight on Friday and 2am on Saturday – if you are out drinking, opt for the bus.
A single ride, one-way costs $5 for an adult or $3 for a child. A return trip costs $8 and $4 respectively. A day pass is a convenient option, allowing unlimited rides in a day for $16. Similarly, the family pass allows 2 adults and 2 children to hop on & off as many time sin a day for $26. A 10-ride concession costs $30 for adults or $19 for children.
Tickets can be purchased on-board. To catch the bus, stand anywhere on the main road and wave to the driver. When boarding, let the driver know where you wish to get off and they’ll try to let you know when you arrive.
Car & Scooter Rental
Visitors from Australia, New Zealand, United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and the European Union, can use their own license to rent a car and drive in Rarotonga. To rent and drive a scooter, you will need to get a visitors motorcycle license and ensure you wear a helmet.
Your accommodation will be able to help you with this, otherwise, it is easy to find rentals all around the island.
Taxis don’t drive around the Cook Islands looking for passengers. It is usually easiest to book taxis through your accommodation. Otherwise, call a company like Raro Tours to book a pick up.
The best time to visit Rarotonga is during the shoulder months of April & May or September & October. You will find warm temperatures, lower rainfall, and significantly fewer fellow travellers.
Despite this, it can be great to visit the Cook Islands year-round – you just need to be prepared. We break down the weather by every month of the year, as well as discuss the cheapest time to visit Rarotonga, the best time to visit for a honeymoon, and the coolest festivals & events that run throughout the year.
Rarotonga Travel Tips
Currency: New Zealand Dollar & Cook Islands coins.
Electricity Socket: 220V AC electricity
Rarotonga Visa: A visa can be easily obtained on arrival for most visitors. It is valid for up to 31 days.
Safety: Rarotonga is a very safe destination. As with anywhere, exercise caution when alone or out at night.
Language: English is widely spoken, however, the official language is Cook Islands Maori.
Rarotonga Capital: The capital of Rarotonga, and largest city, is Avarua, located on the northern side of the island.
Sim Cards: Grab a Visitor Sim from BlueSky for $49. It includes 3GB of data and is the only operator on the island. Service can be sketchy. Stores in Avarua or the Airport.
Water: It is safest to purchase and consumer bottled water, otherwise, ensure you boil any tap water before drinking.
Rarotonga Food - Places to Eat
Vili’s Burger Joint
Vili’s Burger Joint is the best place to eat in all the Cook Islands. Make sure to try their fish burger – it is fresh and delicious. It is conveniently located in the heart of Muri across the road from the Night Market and very close to the beach. In terms of price, you’re looking at about $10-15 for a burger – which is incredibly affordable for Rarotonga.
Muri Night Market
To try affordable, local food make your way down to the Muri Night Market. It is located on the main road just back from the beach and contains a wide range of local vendors selling their specialty dishes.
A local favourite, Trader Jack’s is a beach-side restaurant with good views and delicious food. Grab a drink and enjoy a pizza – pizza’s are $23.
Le Bon Vivant (LBV)
This is a slightly more upscale cafe serving French cuisine. It is a good spot in Muri to stop off for a sandwich and a coffee.
Bring the whanau here for the best pizza in Rarotonga. They offer takeaway, which is great for ordering pizza and enjoying it on the beach or back home.
Located on the west side of the island, Beluga is a trendy cafe and is the perfect spot to enjoy brunch.
If you’re looking for something special, Tamarind House is it. They offer a more formal dining experience overlooking the sea near Avarua, the capital of the Cook Islands. The food is typical European cuisine and will set you back about $90-100 for two people including drinks.