When it comes to tropical island paradises, you can’t get much better than Tahiti or the Maldives. However due to their remote nature, visiting either is costly and the airplane journey long. So making the right decision between Maldives or Tahiti for your dream getaway is vitally important.
However other than their stunning coastline, these islands are very different. Having spent time in both, we compare Tahiti vs Maldives below, showing you what to expect in each, and some of the best places to visit.
Maldives or Tahiti : Which should you visit?
Expect great beaches and sparkling lagoons in both destinations. However Tahiti is more beautiful when it comes to the landscape, while the Maldives is more breathtaking when it comes to the sea.
In fact the highest point on Tahiti is 2,241 meters – which is also the highest peak in the Society Islands. For comparison’s sake, the highest point in the Maldives is just 2.4 meters!
Therefore a Tahiti holiday is often more than just sunbathing and swimming. It will include hiking and jungle trekking, island hopping to Tahiti’s neighboring islands like Bora Bora, and trying out the local cuisine.
That’s in contrast to a Maldives holiday. The resorts in the Maldives are almost always based on their own private secluded islands. Therefore visiting other areas of the country is much harder, and interaction with the community doesn’t really happen.
A vacation in the Maldives tends to be more expensive than one in Tahiti too. The first reason is that the Maldives focuses almost exclusively on upmarket resorts, and subsequently very few other accommodation options exist. Second, in Tahiti it is easy to leave your hotel and look for other food and excursion options. In the Maldives, you’re essentially stuck with the hotel and its prices. But those hotels will be the epitome of luxury, and the service will be exceptional – it’s what this country specializes in after all.
However if your priority is beaches, then the Maldives is a far better choice than Tahiti. The beaches in the Maldives are world-class, with the nation coated in soft powder-like white sand. It’s the sort of place you can walk around barefoot all day. The beaches in French Polynesia, while stunning too, are not as soft. In fact if you have reef shoes you will use them more in Tahiti and Bora Bora than in the Maldives.
The snorkeling in Tahiti and the Society Islands is very good, with many opportunities to see reef sharks and other underwater life. However the shore snorkeling in the Maldives is exceptional and unparalleled – so if you’re a keen snorkeler or diver, the Maldives is probably the better choice.
In regards to overwater bungalows/villas, both the Maldives and Tahiti have them. However Tahiti’s neighbor, Bora Bora, has the most spectacular ones in French Polynesia. You can see our comparison of Bora Bora and the Maldives by clicking here.
Below we look at both destinations in more detail, before comparing the culture and food in each. Spoiler alert – they’re very different!
Relaxation, calm, isolation, and quiet. That’s what you should expect in the Maldives, a country that specializes in upmarket resorts and honeymoon vacations.
Some of the world’s best beaches happen to be in this nation too. One of our favorites is the powder white coastline at Lhaviyani Atoll where the palm tree lined beaches look like a computer screensaver. We’ve found that the west side of the atoll has wider beaches and softer sand, so is perfect for a day’s sunbathing.
Many of the over 1000 islands in this country are privately owned by resorts, so you may be limited as to where you can go on each island in the Maldives. In general, that’s less of an issue in Tahiti and French Polynesia where it’s easy to roam. However what you will get in the Maldives is an exceptional level of privacy, and a real feeling of seclusion.
Having a resort on a private island also means that you are guaranteed to have a spectacular beach, and a coral reef for snorkeling, right beside your room. When it comes to high-end beach vacations, this country really does excel.
It also excels when it comes to snorkeling, with a spectacular colorful underwater life that can be seen easily thanks to the crystal-clear water. However most snorkeling is done with a resort, due to the privately owned nature of many islands in the Maldives.
One of the best snorkeling spots is Manta Point, which is home to Manta Rays! Also known as Emas Thila, this is probably one of the best places in the world to swim alongside these gentle giants. Just make sure you take a great underwater camera with you – like this one.
For a burst of color, Banana Reef is another great spot to snorkel and dive. Here you’ll see rays, sharks, and many different types of reef fish including Royal Blue Tangs. You might not have heard that name before, but you will recognize the fish if you’ve seen ‘Finding Nemo’ – ‘Dory’ was a Blue Tang!
Often underrated, Tahiti is seen as the gateway or launchpad to the rest of the Society Islands such as Moorea and Bora Bora – which is well renowned for its tropical allure and luxury hotels. But this is an island – and region – that’s perfect for tourists looking for luxury interspersed with a bit of adventure.
Budget travelers will also find options in French Polynesia, with Tahiti offering some backpacker guesthouses with cheaper dorm rooms.
Tahiti has some wonderful beaches, and one of our favorites is Plage de Toaroto. This gorgeous stretch of white sand is a perfect place to relax for the day. The water at this beach is also calm, and a great spot for swimming and snorkeling.
A quirk of Tahiti is the island’s many black sand beaches – a byproduct of volcanic activity. Lafayette beach is one of the best on the island. The sand is soft and comfy, and the beach a real sight to behold.
Tahiti is also well-known for Teahupoo Lagoon, where the world’s most prolific surfers come to test their skills on the island’s famous sharp reef breaks.
However what sets Tahiti apart from the Maldives is the landscape away from the coast. This volcanic island is perfect for jungle trekking, hiking up mountains, and swimming in waterfalls.
One of our favorite hikes is Aorai Mountain, although it’s recommended for experienced hikers only. However throughout the island are great trails to explore. A trip to nearby Moorea will expose you to countless waterfall trails too. One of the best is the beautiful Afareaitu Waterfall (Vaioro Falls) which is tucked behind lush mango trees and ferns. (Recommended: Walking and hiking in Tahiti).
Back on Tahiti, make sure you visit the mysterious Mara’a Grotto, a cave with a rock pool. The cave seems like it rains on the inside, which is the water seeping through from the mountain above.
Maldives or Tahiti: Explore the sights and experience the island
The resorts in the Maldives are more isolated and secluded than in Tahiti, mainly due to how spread out the country is among so many islands. Therefore interacting with the local community, as well as joining events and excursions happening outside of your hotel, is typically hard.
In Tahiti it’s much easier to explore the local community, try street food, visit museums and experience the culture.
As a majority Muslim country, the Maldives is a conservative nation, although within resort complexes you are free to act as you would in any liberal Western country. However if you plan to make any excursions into population centers – like the capital Malé or public beaches – then be sure to dress conservatively, and avoid things such as alcohol.
The culture in the Maldives is vibrant, interesting, and definitely worth discovering though.
Bodu Beru is a traditional rhythmic dance performed by upwards of 15-20 people, and was introduced to the Maldives around 1000 years ago. Its been a tradition here ever since, and many resorts have cultural nights where dancers perform.
If venturing into Malé, a visit to the Maldives National Museum is a must. Not only does it give an insight into the history of this nation, but it also has a great collection of historical artifacts from the region, some several centuries old.
Visiting French Polynesia affords visitors a unique opportunity to delve into the lives of early settlers and learn more about the arrival of Europeans. From the famous story of the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ to the oral history shown through dance and song, you can learn a lot through the cultural experiences on offer in French Polynesia.
On this island you can try your hand at spearfishing and learn the incredible meanings behind traditional Maori tattoos. You will also find dance performances of the traditional ‘Ori Tahiti’, and there are places where you can take lessons with locals.
Tahiti is awash with museums which include the Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands, which focuses on the island’s Polynesian history.
The James Norman Hall House – the house of the island’s most famous author who co-wrote Mutiny on the Bounty – has a 1920’s garden tea-room and library that’s worth visiting too.
For a glimpse of the oldest Catholic church in Tahiti, visit the Notre-Dame Cathedral in its capital Papeete which is an example of the old colonial-style architecture that came with the Europeans.
While in Papeete, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Papeete Street Market. It’s the perfect place for picking up souvenirs!
Maldives or Tahiti: A taste of island life
With both being tropical island paradises, expect an abundance of fruit, coconuts and fresh fish. Still, there are some local dishes which might surprise you!
Considering the first settlers to the Maldives came from India and Sri Lanka, a lot of the food here has an Indian twist.
Curry is therefore one of the most popular dishes. We recommend trying Mas Riha. Made with freshly caught tuna, coconut, and a good number of chilies, this is a truly unique and delicious Maldivian dish.
Seafood is also popular and traditional dishes include Garudhiya (a type of fish soup) and Kulhi boakiba, which is a fish cake made from smoked tuna, coconut, ginger and rice.
As for what to drink, resorts in the Maldives have countless number of cocktails to try. However the coconut water in the Maldives is delicious and refreshing – especially when drunk direct with a straw.
In Tahiti, the food is mainly seafood based. Try raw fish with coconut milk. Usually, this is made from tuna or bonito fish. It is sliced into cubes and marinated in coconut milk, lemon juice, onion, cucumber, tomatoes, garlic and spring onion.
With such a big Chinese-Polynesian population, there is a wonderful fusion of cuisines on French Polynesia. Chao men (fried noodles with vegetables, meat and shrimp), chicken with lemon sauce, chao chap (roasted duck), and mapo tofu are popular dishes on the islands. Raw fish is also very prominent in Chinese cooking on French Polynesia.
A notable French influence in Tahiti also shines through in sweet treats such as firi firi (Tahitian doughnuts) and banana crepes. A favorite breakfast food is coconut bread!
Maldives or Tahiti: Which is the better choice?
The Maldives is all about relaxation and the sea, so if you want to spend as much time as possible on the beach and in the water then the Maldives would be a better choice than Tahiti. The landscape isn’t as breathtaking as French Polynesia, but the beaches and snorkeling are world-class.
Tahiti and the Society Islands are perfect for tourists who wish to relax in stunning surroundings, but also want to do a little bit of exploring and island hopping. With the resorts and hotels in Tahiti being more integrated into the community than the Maldives, it’s also possible to eat out at different restaurants, or go on a variety of excursions.
Recommended for your trip to the Maldives or Tahiti
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