Papeete was first settled by British Missionaries at the beginning of the 19th century. The Queen of Tahiti, Pomare IV, moved her court to the city soon after the arrival of the missionaries, and Papeete remained as Tahiti’s capital after the French took control in 1842. Over the years, Papeete has been the home of notables like the French artist, Paul Gauguin, the author of Mutiny on the Bounty, James Norman Hall, and the famous Scottish novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson. A decade ago, in protest of the French nuclear detonation tests off the shores of Moruroa, Papeete was the scene of a violent riot that injured 40 people. The incident damaged tourism in Papeete, but it appears tourism has more than recovered since.
The heart of Papeete is perhaps its waterfront and port with its rows of docked boats. There is a walk-able promenade along the port, and this is the scene where many of the city’s festivals take place. At night, the waterfront often plays hosts to “roulottes” or Tahitian dinners accompanied by festival-like, Polynesian performance shows.
Papeete is also home to many sidewalk cafes and multicultural restaurants – cuisines from Tahitian, to French, to Asian. Besides fine restaurants, the city also boasts a number of luxury resorts, spas, bars and clubs, chic shops, flea markets, and boutique French stores. Le Marché (“Municipal Market”) is perhaps the most famous of Papeete’s shopping ensemble. Hundreds of stands fill this public market selling everything from fruits, flowers, jewelry, shell necklaces, souvenirs, to Tahitian crafts and Tahitian oils. The market is very lively, and is definitely the place where all the action is.
In Papeete, like in other places in French Polynesia, you can enjoy the array of tropical activities from swimming, beach tanning, to surfing, sailing, snorkeling, and diving. The Bain Lot is a particularly popular beach in Papeete. The city is also a great base to go on excursions into the interiors and suburbs of Tahiti.