Learn all you need to know about backpacking Rarotonga on a budget while in The Cook Islands. I will be giving you all the information you need to know such as costs, getting around, accommodation, what to do and so much more!
Rarotonga is often a country associated with honeymoons, romance, and family getaways. Though, I made my way over there to find out about backpacking Rarotonga on a budget, making sure I live cheaply without skimping on experiences and eating the best the island had to offer.
Sure prices are similar to countries such as New Zealand or Australia. Though they can be backpacker-friendly, can Rarotonga? Would there be affordable accommodation for those not traveling as a couple for hundreds per night? How about cheap and easy meals without those pricey sunset beachside views and some free things to do in Rarotonga?
Rarotonga is a beautiful island within the Cook Islands. Surrounded by a coral reef and a mountainous interior it certainly is an amazing place to explore. The locals are friendly and the food is great, especially when you pair it with some impressive views of the waves breaking on the reef.
So, get ready as I let you how it is possible to travel around Rarotonga on a budget. From affordable accommodation, cheap eats, and activities to keep you entertained. I will let you know where it is worth spending more and how to save on your backpacking Rarotonga adventure.
Everything You Need To Know About Backpacking Rarotonga On A Budget
- How Many Days To Spend In Rarotonga
- Cost Per Day To Travel Rarotonga
- When To Visit Rarotonga
- Where To Stay While Backpacking Rarotonga
- Where To Eat In Rarotonga
- Markets In Rarotonga
- Getting Around Rarotonga
- Safety In Rarotonga
- Things To Do While Backpacking Rarotonga
How Many Days To Spend In Rarotonga
If you are looking for a nice place for relaxation and the definition of a holiday you will want to spend a week backpacking Rarotonga. Personally, I have visited Rarotonga on 3 different trips, each one I would stay a week or 7 days. For me this allowed me to get over the small amount of jet lag I had and just get into the swing of a much more chilled lifestyle. Raro time is a legitimate thing!
If you are thinking that is too much time to spend in one place, don’t worry! There is plenty of things to do in Rarotonga which I will cover further down. You also may want to break up this time with a trip over to one of the neighboring islands as well. Though if you are planning to leave Rarotonga this will substantially increase your budget. Unfortunately, flights nor accommodation are not cheap.
Cost Per Day To Travel Rarotonga
Honestly, the thing which will affect your Rarotonga travel budget the most is your accommodation, which I will cover the approximate costs further down below. There are a couple of hostels which are the cheapest things, you’ll find starting from $20.00 per night. A private room in one of these hostels generally starts at around $40.00 depending on the shared bathroom etc. Though their prices seemingly increase quite quickly. Hotels then start at around $120.00 per night depending on quality and facilities.
Luckily, there are plenty of affordable restaurants, food shacks, and cafes in Rarotonga where you can find some awesome food deals. Happy hours aren’t just for cocktails over here! There is also a large supermarket in the main township of Avarua. Prices there are relative to those in New Zealand. Though it is more expensive for yogurt, dips, cheese, and chips (basically those luxury items).
Overall I would budget approximately $100.00 to $130.00 per day for backpacking Rarotonga to stay on the safe side. This will allow you to splurge on certain activities, have a somewhat decent bed to rest in, and have delicious meals.
When To Visit Rarotonga
Honestly, the weather itself in Rarotonga can be a bit hit or miss. Basically, you just leave it up to the gods. Though even if it is raining the temperature will be warm and there will be no reason to bring over your winter woolies.
February: This was my first trip to Rarotonga and the worse weather I experienced. The days were warm and humid, though it rained every single day. In saying that it didn’t rain all day, but either in the morning or the afternoon. It made some activities like quad biking super fun. Though for the lagoon cruise, it would’ve been nice to have the sun out when swimming.
June: I somehow, thank you, gods, managed to get all sunny days on this trip! Incredible I know. Though each side of the week I visited was raining, so it seemed to be a matter of luck. 26-degree Celcius days, no wind, and clear skies. I certainly was in paradise.
November: The weather in November was a mixture of the above. We said some fabulous clear days as well as a couple where it just constantly rained. Nevertheless, we made the most of it a ventured out no matter what the skies were doing.
As you can see it can really be a bit hit or miss what the weather in Rarotonga will be like. It is said that from April to November expect temperatures of 25-28⁰C. November through to March are warmer again with higher humidity and tropical showers typically in the morning or afternoons.
Where To Stay While Backpacking Rarotonga
Looking on major accommodation booking websites such as booking.com and even hostel world will show very limited affordable accommodation results in Rarotonga. Though trust me they do exist and just take a little extra effort to find. This may be a matter of simply googling “hostels in Rarotonga”. But if you are planning on staying in a hotel or resort all the main ones can be found on booking.com.
Let me just say that even 5-star resorts in Rarotonga don’t actually look too great so adjust your expectations accordingly. This is an island with limited resources and seems to be a few years behind New Zealand, which is again, a few years behind the rest of Oceania. As a result, rooms can look quite dated, think floral prints from the ’70s, though that’s just the atheistic on the island.
Beach front location with affordable bungalows from $105.00 per night.BOOK NOW
With standard rooms from $130.00 you can enjoy life on the beach at an affordable price.BOOK NOW
Romantic adults only resort. With rooms from $230.00 per night enjoy luxury in peace.BOOK NOW
Set on a private beach this 4 star resort is the perfect getaway from $190.00 per night.BOOK NOW
Hostels in Rarotonga
I am not sure if it is because of the limited internet access, but some of the affordable accommodations aren’t listed on major third-party booking websites. A simple Google search for ‘backpackers in Rarotonga’ or ‘hostels in Rarotonga’ will bring up a couple of results, and this is basically all there is.
Now your choices may be limited but that does not mean that they are bad. The hostel that I stayed in, Rarotonga Backpackers, was cheap and had good amenities. Rooms were basic with just a fan and bed, honestly, it looked like a sort of converted house, but sometimes that’s all you need to get yourself into the island vibes. There was a pool which we enjoyed throughout the days and best of all it was on a beachside location. The fellow backpackers there were great fun, and often times the majority were on a working holiday visa in Australia or New Zealand. They proved to me that it was possible to backpack in Rarotonga on a budget, making your island getaway an affordable experience.Just set your expectation accordingly. This was the most basic hostel I have actually stayed in. Though places in Southeast Asia where I typically travel are incredible value for money for what you get in a hostel.
There are two individual backpackers, the one mentioned above and Backpackers International. The second one can be found on third-party booking websites, though simply through checking out reviews it does not seem too great.
Apartments In Rarotonga
If you aren’t traveling solo, and rather in a couple or with some friends why not check out a privately owned property or Air BnB? They have some great options listed online with some houses listed from $50.00 per night. Split this between a couple of people and you will have your own private relaxing space right in paradise!
I have stayed at Avana Waterfront Apartments and it was a great stay. Having a kitchen made a huge difference to our food budget as we didn’t have to eat out all the time.
Hotels In Rarotonga
I have stayed in a few different hotels in Rarotonga and I will be first to say quality does differ between them so please make sure you shop around. Though it’s great having the luxuries of onsite dining, snorkeling gear rental, and room service.
On my most recent trip, we stayed at The Rarotongan and absolutely loved it. We found it excellent value for money and it is situated in front of one of the best swimming spots on the island. You bet we spent our days relaxing on the beach chairs and having cocktails!
Where To Eat In Rarotonga
One of my favorite parts of exploring any country is the culinary experiences they offer, so I was more than willing to find this out for you!
Before traveling to Rarotonga I imagined gorgeous beachside restaurants attached to 5-star hotels with views out to the stunning sunset and prices to match. Though, I was pleased to find there was something for every budget. There is actually a wide variety of places to eat in Rarotonga, perfect for any budget.
Make sure to check out my post on Where To Eat In Rarotonga for exact locations!
Dotted along the coast you will find delicious food trucks serving up fast meals. This is the perfect option if you are craving a burger and trust me, there are some amazing options. Eating at food trucks is the perfect way to save money if you are on a budget. Plan to spend approximately $10.00 for a basic burger and soda. The burger pictured below costs $15.00 from Palace Takeaways.
For the best coffee and iced drinks stop in at LOVE Cafe which has a couple of locations around the island. I am a sucker for their iced chai lattes.
Locals in Rarotonga seem to love their burgers and fried chicken. James was in food heaven, though being a vegetarian I was not.
Now being a bit of a foodie myself I can vouch that Rarotonga has some delicious cafes. Make friends with the numerous chickens hanging out in front and enjoy the slower-paced island life while you sip on your morning coffee. My favorite cafes include Deli-Licious and LBV both located in Muri Beach. Plan to spend $15.00 to $20.00 for a meal at a cafe including a drink.
Now if you are willing to splash out on a meal or two you will find plenty of restaurants happy to serve you. From the fancy restaurants attached to 5-star hotels to the beachside bar style eateries with ocean views. Prices here vary widely but expect to spend at least $20.00 on a main. Also if you are craving a good pizza I cannot recommend Trader Jacks enough.
Markets In Rarotonga
Now you cannot visit Rarotonga without checking out its markets. These are the places where you will find the best souvenirs, fresh fruits, and home-cooked meals. They are the perfect place to grab a fresh and affordable meal helping keep your Rarotonga budget low.
Te Punanga Nui Market
The Te Punanga Nui Market is best to visit every Saturday morning between 8 am and 2 pm this is the place where you will find all the tourists and locals alike. Serving up perfect breakfast meals such as waffles and smoothies to the lunchtime favorites of burgers and fried chicken. There’s something for everyone here, whether you are on a bit of a health kick, or you are craving some greasy goodness.
Muri Beach Night Market
The Muri Beach Night Market is a hot spot for all the tourists while it is open on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights from 5 pm. Exclusively selling food this empty space quickly becomes packed as the ultimate dinner spot. You will find everything here from burgers, hot chips, local curries, and even international cuisine. Also, don’t worry about dessert as there are plenty of mouth-watering cakes and sweets available to buy.Just make sure you head there early to snag yourself a seat!
Getting Around Rarotonga
Now Rarotonga is not a large place, actually, the whole island is only 32 km in circumference and its outside road is relatively flat. This means if you have a lot of energy to burn you can chuck on your running shoes and explore at your own pace, perfect for backpacking Rarotonga. Though, if you are not an energizer bunny, don’t worry! There are plenty of other options to travel around Rarotonga as detailed below.
Also, make sure to download the offline map of Rarotonga on the Maps.Me app. This way you don’t have to stress about getting lost and don’t need an internet connection (data & wifi are freakin expensive in Rarotonga!)
A super easy option to travel around Rarotonga is by taking the bus. It travels around the outer road of the island and completes a full circle essentially every hour. Though, do be aware things here run on island time. The drivers always are super friendly and will happily advise which stops to get off at.
The downside to the bus is if you plan on traveling around the island fairly often the ticket costs can add up very quickly. A single journey will set you back $5.00 NZD and there is a 10-journey multi-pass costing $30.00 NZD. Tickets can be brought from the driver and just make sure you check out the schedules for times as on certain days (eg Sundays) there are limited departures.
Another alternative for getting around Rarotonga is by hiring a scooter. Now just so you know you will need to sit a test that is both theory and practical. This will give you your Rarotongan scooter license which is valid for 30 days. The cost of sitting this test is approximately $40.00.
The roads in Rarotonga are not the best, and as a result, I would not advise inexperienced scooter drivers to learn there. Potholes are abundant, street lights are minimal come night and there is plenty of loose gravel to skid out on.
Now, if you feel confident about driving a scooter you will have no problem finding somewhere to hire one in Rarotonga. There are plenty of specialist stores around the island and many hotels also hire them as well. While there I did a weekly special for their scooter hire which was somewhere between $90.00NZD to $110.00NZD
The plus side of hiring a car in Rarotonga is that there is no special license needed and you should already know how to drive one. Though, one major negative is that they can be quite expensive to hire. Running for about $50.00 NZD per day would not be the smartest decision for one person, though if you are traveling in a group and plan on splitting costs this could be perfect! Also, be aware that they drive on the left-hand side of the road.
I hired a car on my last 2 trips to Rarotonga and it certainly was a comfortable way to travel around, especially with air conditioning. We booked both times through Polynesian Rentals and had no issues.
Also, just make sure to get travel insurance which will cover you in case of an accident!
Safety In Rarotonga
Rarotonga is a super safe place. Though you should always use your common sense to keep yourself and those around you safe. Scams and petty theft are unusual here thanks to the close island community. Nevertheless, look after your belongings and don’t tempt fate.
Don’t drink the water straight out of the tap unless you know it has been filtered or treated in some way. Bottled water is plentiful here and they even have their own brand. Unfortunately, I got Campylobacter on my first trip, though whether that was from the water or food is unknown. All I know is it was the worse case my doctor had ever seen and I had to have multiple weeks off work (I have a very bad immune system so my body struggled to fight it). I also wasn’t expecting to receive a big letter from the Ministry of Health in NZ with a bunch of questions about how I contracted this disease (the joys of traveling).
When hiring vehicles make sure you don’t speed and pay attention to the roads. Potholes are around every corner and there is always some sort of road work going on. Be careful you don’t park underneath coconut trees as insurance is unlikely to cover you for this. If hiring a scooter you always need to wear a helmet when driving.
Things To Do While Backpacking Rarotonga
One great thing about Rarotonga is that is it basically impossible to get bored during your stay! There is such a wide variety of things to do and beautiful sights you will constantly be out exploring. Though, if this isn’t your style and you would rather be lounging around the pool, I won’t judge! Just make sure not to miss out on the opportunity to swim with turtles when backpacking Rarotonga!Also, for a more extensive list be sure to check out my post on the Best Things To Do In Rarotonga.
Across Island Hike
One of the most popular things to do is do the Across Island Hike and visit The Needle. This will take you right into the interior of the mountainous island with some amazing ocean views.
Team up with a bunch of people, tell someone where you are going (in case of an emergency), and download the offline map of Rarotonga on Maps.Me app and you are all good to go.
Now, you can actually book a guided tour with Pa’s Trekking Company sometimes the terrain can be a bit confusing. Though, during my trip, quite a few groups did it unguided with no worries. Just chat with a local first to get an understanding of the track eg muddy slips.
Now you cannot go to Rarotonga and miss out on exploring the incredible ocean life and this can easily be done on a budget, if not for free. Basically, no matter where you are staying on the island the ocean is just a walk away.
Do what I did and bring your own snorkel, or hire your own for a few dollars a day. Honestly, you could spend hours exploring the underwater life and corals (pro tip: the best snorkeling spot is Aroa Marine Reserve behind The Rarotongan beach resort or in front of Fruits of Rarotonga)
Swimming With Sea Turtles
No matter what your budget is swimming with sea turtles is one activity I recommend to everyone visiting Rarotonga. This absolutely, once-in-a-lifetime, experience will have you swimming alongside these majestic beauties. I did this with Ariki Adventures and cannot recommend this enough. Even though you will have a contraption called a ‘sea scooter’ to pull you along the turtle safari should only be done by those who are confident swimmers.As an alternative, they also offer a lagoon safari which I recently did. This is suitable for all ages and is safe for those who are not the most confident swimmers. We saw trevally, pufferfish and so many other marine life which I cannot name.
More of a family-friendly activity is the lagoon cruise. There are a couple of companies you can book with, though we went with Koka Lagoon Cruises. It is a perfect way to get into the Cook Island spirit. With plenty of performances, snorkeling, entertainment, and a delicious lunch it is the ideal way to spend half a day.You will also go snorkeling and meet a few underwater friends. The water is deep though there are cages to stand on. If you prefer to stay on the boat, no worries it has a glass bottom so you can still check out the marine life!
If you are a bit of an adrenaline junkie then quad biking is perfect for you! Head right into the inland area and among the jungle. Explore off the beaten track and get some of the best views of the famous needle which stands high over Rarotonga.This is the ideal activity if it is rainy so you can splash through all the muddy puddles. Nevertheless, they take you far into the interior of the island to discover areas tourists rarely visit.
A more tame activity is checking out one of the evening cultural shows. These are magnificent insights into the Cook Island culture with extremely impressive performances involving dance and fire. A buffet dinner is also included with both Western and local favorites.
I went with Te Vara Nui and had such a fabulous evening. Prior to the show we also did a village tour where we learned more about the history of Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. This provided us with a greater appreciation for the performance and the culture.
Raro Buggy Tours
I have always wanted to do the buggy tour as there is such hype so I booked it on my most recent trip. I remember saying at the start to my partner that we must swap halfway so I get some fun. Though when that time came I was enjoying it so much that I was happy to stay a passenger!
You will get a tour of the interior of the island and learn a bit about its history. Next up is getting absolutely soaked in mud and don’t worry if it hasn’t rained recently, they’ll make their own puddles! Lastly, you’ll wash the mud off with a refreshing swim at Wigmore’s Waterfall.
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Want more Cook Islands inspiration? Check out….
- WHERE TO EAT IN RAROTONGA
- AITUTAKI DAY TOUR FROM RAROTONGA: DISCOVER PARADISE WITH AIR RAROTONGA
- EXPERIENCE THE BEAUTY OF RAROTONGA WITH KOKA LAGOON CRUISES
- HOW TO TAKE THE BUS IN RAROTONGA, COOK ISLANDS
- BEST THINGS TO DO IN RAROTONGA, COOK ISLANDS
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