Doesn't it feel like there are very few places on Earth that are simultaneously untouched, worth visiting AND safe?
I know I felt that way… Up until the Cook Islands tourism board invited me to come experience their paradise. And, well, I'm here to report back that I found a place that hits all three of those criteria.
After a week in the Cook Islands, it quickly skyrocketed to one of my top 10 destinations in the world. Its natural scenery, untouched beauty and delicious cuisine are simply unmatched.
So, if you're looking for an off-the-grid, relaxing vacation in the tropics, look no further than the Cook Islands. Here's what you need to know:
Best time to visit: April through November
How to get there: There are direct flights to & from Los Angeles, Sydney and Auckland.
Getting around: Once in the Cook Islands, you can fly between islands on Air Rarotonga.
Planning Your Epic Itinerary
While in the Cook Islands, I recommend splitting your time evenly between the islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Both are a must. If you have more time, add on Atiu for a few days.
Bora Bora, Fiji and Tahiti are also nearby, and would all make for a great addition to your South Pacific vacation.
Rarotonga is the “largest” island and the one that you will fly into. I put the word ‘largest' in quotes because the island is small – only 41 square miles and takes about 30 minutes to drive around the main perimeter road.
For how small the island is, though, there is so much in the way of accommodation, food and activities…
Te Vakaroa Villas. Te Vakaroa has six suites on the property with private outdoor lounge areas, located right on the beach. The suites share a pool. Te Vakaroa Villas is a great option if you're looking for a no fuss, family-oriented accommodation.
Ikurangi Eco Retreat. A luxury glamping experience on Rarotonga. If you want something a little more adventurous, but still luxurious and unique, I'd recommend this retreat. Keep in mind it's located in-land, not on the beach.
Rumours Luxury Villas & Spa. The ultimate in romantic luxury on Rarotonga, Rumours has private villas with pools.
Hike. Before going to Rarotonga, I completely underestimated the beauty and sheer size of the mountains on this tiny island. Going hiking on Rarotonga is a must. There are many hikes, ranging from easy to very difficult.
The two most popular moderately difficult hikes are the Cross Island Trek and the Needle hike (half of the Cross Island trek – you can choose to continue on for the full Cross Island from here). We did the hike to the Needle and it was epic. If you want to see how the hike really looks, check out my Instagram Stories on the “Cook Islands” highlight.
Beach. You're on a beautiful island paradise in the middle of the Pacific, so of course this is a must!
The food on the Cook Islands is good, so indulging in some epic meals should absolutely be on your to-do list when in Rarotonga.
For coffee and an acai bowl, Ariki is your go-to spot on the island. It's a cute, colorful shack on the side of the road right up the street from Te'varakoa Villas. I also recommend LBV, which doesn't have great coffee, but shines when it comes to hearty breakfasts like egg + prosciutto and Eggs Benedict.
For lunch, I absolutely recommend Michele's Cafe above anything else. The restaurant is in an unassuming colorful shack and serves up the BEST ceviche and fish carpaccio. I recommend the Pape'ete – tuna sashimi with a garlic, ginger, caper and soy sauce.
For dinner, check out Muri Night Market for a casual dining experience with both locals and tourists. This is a market open Tuesday – Thursday and Sunday with 15+ booths serving up everything from smoothies to curries and fish dishes. I got Boneless Chicken with Rukau (steamed taro leaves) and raw taro on top, and it was one of the most unique & delicious meals I've ever had.
Antipodes is also a great option for dinner. The restaurant is set up on the hillside with awesome views of Rarotonga and the ocean. The food is Mediterranean and really delicious.
After a few days in Rarotonga, head to Aitutaki.
Aitutaki Escape. If you want a low-key, secluded experience on Aitutaki, I can't recommend this hotel enough for you. With only three bungalows, Aitutaki Escape has beautifully appointed villas and will provide you with a luxurious, yet unfussy stay.
Aitutaki Lagoon Private Resort. If you want to stay somewhere that will give you a more bespoke experience, I'd recommend Aitutaki Lagoon. The property has over-water bungalows, something you can't find anywhere else in the Cook Islands.
Pacific Resort. This property is your best option on Aitutaki if you're looking for a more traditional, 5* star resort experience.
Lagoon tour. This is an absolute MUST while in Aitutaki. As you can see from the images below, the island of Aitutaki itself is set within a beautiful, bright turquoise lagoon with many atolls, sandbars and tiny islands. A lagoon tour will take you to all of these places, giving you the chance to relax in the sun and spend time on various islands.
I recommend Bishop's Cruises for your tour. Make sure you tell them you want to visit both Honeymoon Island, One Foot Island and the sandbar off the coast of One Foot Island. They also give you a passport stamp on the island, so make sure you get one of those as well!
Relax on the beach. But of course! There are many public & private beaches on the island that make for perfect places to spend the day.
Koru Café. This is your go-to breakfast spot on Aitutaki. They have the best coffee (chai, long blacks, iced lattes, etc.) and great breakfast options as well. They do serve lunch as well, which I'm sure would also be worth the visit.
Pacific resort. In addition to being a fantastic place to stay, Pacific Resort also has (from my experience) the best restaurant on the island for dinner. It's an open-air dining experience with 5* service and a menu to match. I recommend getting there an hour before sunset, ordering some drinks on the beach & enjoying sunset and then heading up to dinner.
Have you been to the Cook Islands yet? If not, how high is it on your list after reading this post? 😉
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