A Week in The Cook Islands

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Meet a remote destination in the South Pacific Ocean, with a different vibe and the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in my life – welcome to the Cook Islands, a tiny island country in the Pacific Ocean.

*Recommendation for a destination with a possibility for a low or high budget when it comes to trip costs

The Cook Islands are located in the Southern Pacific Ocean, west of French Polynesia. The country is made up of two groups of islands. The central island is Rarotonga whose main road that encompasses the entire island is 32 kilometers long. Rarotonga is the capital and most of the islands’ population lives there (approx. 15,000 people).



The original inhabitants of the Cook Islands were the Maori, a subgroup of the Polynesians. As you may remember from the post on French Polynesia, the Polynesians left Asia in boats to look for new land and islands around 1500 BCE as well as afterward.

It’s estimated that the Maori settled in the Cook Islands in the 6th century BCE.

The Cook Islands are part of the British Commonwealth and their international relations are taken care of by New Zealand. All of the residents of the Cook Islands hold New Zealand passports but the opposite isn’t true – New Zealanders aren’t citizens of the Cook Islands and need to have a visa to live there.

The islands are named after Captain James Cook, a British explorer and navigator that arrived at the islands in 1773 and 1779.


When to visit:

The best time to visit the Cook Islands is between April and November. Between December and March, there is a chance to encounter tropical rains.

How to get there:

As of December 2022, you can get to the Cook Islands from two places:

  1. Tahiti (French Polynesia) on a two-hour flight. The cost is approximately 140 USD per ticket.

  2. Auckland, New Zealand on a four-hour flight. The cost is approximately 250-450 USD per ticket.

Ideal trip length

Ideally, I recommend visiting the islands for 7-10 days.

If you’re in the New Zealand and French Polynesia area or are looking for an exotic location that is isolated, quiet, and very safe without being very expensive – the Cook Islands are for you.


What to do:

Life on the islands is pretty simple. There are markets, a nice downtown, many restaurants, and fun bars on the water. There’s also the green mountain area where you can hike across almost the entire island of Rarotonga (3-4 hour easy-medium level hike) that ends at the Wigmore waterfalls where you can swim. I’ll admit that despite the fact that I have visited many places in the world, including tropical islands, something in the remoteness of the Cook Islands from the rest of the world, the fact that it’s not a touristy destination, and that it’s located in the Southern Pacific, makes these islands different and special.


Rarotonga is surrounded by a beautiful lagoon where you can scuba dive and snorkel – the underwater life is fantastic. Between July and October, you can even see whales in the area.


On Sundays, there is the local market, and 3 times a week there are local dance shows and other local traditions of the Cook Islands at Umu Experience (you need to make a reservation in advance for this paid attraction).

Here’s the link to make a reservation and more information about the Umu Experience.

Besides Rarotonga, the Cook Islands are famous for the color of the water (that I have never seen in any other place) on Aitutaki Island. You can get to Aitutaki on a one-hour flight from Rarotonga on Air Rarotonga.

The island itself is even simpler than Rarotonga but it has a few beautiful resorts and you can enjoy being completely cut off from the world as well as a few of the most beautiful beaches for snorkeling in the South Pacific – including giant seashells!

If you don’t have time to spend a few days on Aitutaki but still want to experience its unique beauty, it’s possible to do a day trip with Air Rarotonga that includes: the flight, a local guide, a boat trip, snorkeling, lunch, and drinks. You can order the trip on Air Rarotonga’s website here.


What about the nightlife?

There are a few beach bars on the water which you can’t miss on the main road during the weekend. During the week the area is very quiet.


Where to sleep:

The Cook Islands are simpler when it comes to accommodations than French Polynesia. Even the more exclusive resorts don’t provide the crazy luxurious experience that Tahiti and Bora Bora offer.

With that said – the beaches and the water in Aitutaki are more beautiful than in Bora Bora and the cost of a trip to the Cook Islands is significantly lower. A 5-star hotel in Aitutaki will cost approximately 50% less than a comparable hotel in Polynesia.

Where to travel:

The main road that circles the main island, Rarotonga, is only 32 kilometers long, and there is one bus in each direction that stops at many stops along the way. The cost of the trip is 12 NIS, but for 36 NIS you can buy a ticket that is good for multiple trips (I can’t remember if the ticket is good for multiple days or for a few trips only, but in any case, it’s the most cost-effective).

Another option is to rent a car! I was hosted by the Cook Islands Ministry of Tourism who gave me a rental car and that’s how I got around to multiple spots on the island. Note that driving on the Cook Islands is on the left side!


The cost of a vacation in the Cook Islands – the islands are cheaper than French Polynesia and New Zealand. You can find great places to sleep for 700-900 NIS per night (I recommend Sunset Resort) including breakfast.

For the most expensive resorts in Aitutaki (Pacific Resort) we’re talking about 1200-1600 NIS per night and you’re in heaven. To compare, in Bora Bora the prices start from 1000-1200 USD per night.

Looking for something cheaper? You can find hostels for 70 USD.

Wifi in the Cook Islands –

There isn’t a lot of wi-fi and rarely it’s given for free. I recommend buying a local SIM at the Vodafone store, 5GB is about 15 USD.

Don’t forget!

  • COVID guidelines and tests before travel – as of writing this piece, there are no special requirements.
  • You’re welcome to check “Cook Islands COVID-19 entry requirements” on Google for updated information.

  • Don’t Forget to check the visa requirements for your passport.
  • Full disclosure: I was hosted by the Cook Islands Ministry of Interior

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