Wondering what to do in Rarotonga? In October 2019, I visited the beautiful island of Rarotonga, Cook Islands for one week. I was chosen to go on a travel agent trip with Cook Islands tourism as one of their top sellers for the Cook Islands – I recommend it to everyone! The Cook Islands has been my dream destination for years, and I could not have been more excited to finally visit. This post is all about what to do in Rarotonga.
Cook Islands: What to do in Rarotonga
Our feisty group of 12 travel agents were so lucky to go on a variety of day trips and tours. For the first half of the trip, we stayed near Muri Beach. This is a beautiful area perfect for snorkeling, sunset paddle boarding, and lagoon cruises. The last half of the trip, we stayed at the Edgewater Resort. We did all of those activities in the seven days that we had in Rarotonga.
Sunset Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)
On day one, we went for a sunset paddle with Ariki Paddle Tours. The tour starts right in front of Muri Beach Club Hotel. A few people in our group had never done stand up paddle boarding, but we had a little introduction from the guide and everyone caught on quickly.
The tour took us around a tiny island not far from the shore as the sun was setting. It was absolutely stunning watching the sun going down over the ocean, the sky changing colors, as we paddled through the insanely clear and calm lagoon waters. The water was clear enough to see to the bottom, and when we went into deeper waters, we could see coral, fish, and even turtles swimming underneath us!
Rain fell for a short portion of our paddling, which isn’t unusual in the Cook Islands. There was a short torrential downpour, where we all got completely soaked. Though I would normally find this so off putting, I felt so serene, calm, and content, just paddling around this tiny island in the warm and tropical lagoon. At the end of the tour, I felt the whole thing was perfect, and the rain ended up making the whole thing even more fun. I would very highly recommend this tour, as it was one of my most memorable tours of the trip.
What to do in Rarotonga: Punanga Nui Markets
Rarotonga hosts a little farmers market every Saturday in the main township. The stalls include food stalls, jewelry stalls (this is where you can find the famous black pearls!), smoothie and juice stalls, souvenir and clothing stalls. There are performances by local dancers which I really enjoyed, and a beautiful booth touting sugar cane juice, along with signs of its health benefits.
I got hooked on sugar cane juice back when I lived in Thailand, and I can never say no to a freshly juiced glass! This booth even used compostable cups and straws. These markets are a great way to spend an hour or two on a Saturday morning.
Te Vara Nui Village
Te Vara Nui Village is a cultural immersion experience. You can opt to do the village tour, which includes moving as a group from hut to hut while learning about the way of the Cook Islands, past and present. The demonstrations include history lessons, demonstrations of how to open a coconut, and more.
For those interested in culture, this is for you. Personally, I enjoyed the buffet dinner, drinks, and dance experience following dinner the most. The Cook Island locals are amazing dancers. I really enjoyed this night show, I would recommend doing just the dinner and dance show for those not super interested in culture.
What to do in Rarotonga: Koka Lagoon Cruise
On Sunday, our third day in Rarotonga, we booked in for a lagoon cruise. This cruise took us in the morning out to the lagoon and around the reef, stopping off at the best places to snorkel. The snorkeling in the Cook Islands is the best I’ve ever experienced, with so many different fish. This lagoon cruise was the best snorkeling that we experienced in Rarotonga.
We stopped at a little island just off the shore of Rarotonga for a big buffet lunch of barbecue fish, bread, green salad, and potato salad. After lunch, there were a few demonstrations, where the locals showed off skills of climbing the palm trees, and whacking open coconuts. A few of us wandered off and spent our time on the sand and in the water. I’d highly recommend this tour for snorkeling, it was a great trip. If you’re a snorkeler, definitely book in for a Koka Lagoon Cruise!
Muri Night Markets
If you’re looking for a chill, farmers market vibe place for dinner, definitely check out the Muri Night Markets on a Tuesday – Thursday or Sunday. The markets open at 5 PM. Some of the more popular foods – especially the pies and desserts – sell out quickly, so try to arrive at 5PM if possible. There is a great pizza stall, but my favorite was the local selling healthy vegetarian and vegan food.
What to do in Rarotonga: Aitutaki Day Tour
The locals say, if you haven’t been to Aitutaki, you haven’t been to the Cook Islands. After visiting Aitutaki, I realize this could not be more true. Though Rarotonga is beautiful, Aitutaki is next level, like something out of a magazine. A lot of people put this trip off because the day trip isn’t cheap (you have to take a flight from Rarotonga to Aitutaki), it runs about $550 AUD per person.
If you are only going to take one tour in the Cook Islands, I suggest this one.
This tour includes a 1 hour flight each way, a driving tour around Aitutaki, a little introduction to the town, and then a long boat ride through the bright blue waters. The boat takes passengers to a few different islands, stopping finally at One Foot Island, which gets its name from being shaped like a foot. The tour includes live music and a big buffet lunch – the lunch we had on board was some of the best food I had in the Cooks!
Raro Buggy Tours
This tour is perfect for the adventurous traveler. Hop in an ATV and drive through the hills in the middle of Rarotonga, and then switch to a smaller buggy to drive through mud puddles, getting yourself and your passenger absolutely drenched in mud. This tour was so fun and made me feel like a little kid again. Our group of agents had such a fun time here. After the tour, we ran into the ocean to get all the mud off – it goes everywhere. We stopped at the Food Box just next to the Buggy Tour for an easy lunch.
There are so many amazing tours in Rarotonga. I never used to be the type to do tours, but recently I’ve realized that tours help you experience a destination so much more. I’d definitely recommend booking in at least a few activities for your time in the Cook Islands.
Let me know in the comments below which tour sounds most fun to you!