How to Travel the Cook Islands on a Budget: It’s Possible!

Lagoon in Rarotonga
Lagoon in Rarotonga, the Cook Islands

If you’re looking for paradise, you’ll find it in the Cook Islands.

Yes, after ten years of travel, and 90 countries, I’m calling it: the Cook Islands is the most beautiful place on the planet. And yes, that’s including the Maldives and Bora Bora — Aitutaki blows them both out of the water!

The entirety of this island nation is stunning. Rarotonga and Aitutaki are breathtaking, ringed by turquoise lagoons and swaying palm trees, encouraging you to do little but relax. Lagoon cruises take you out into perfection, where you’ll swim with fish, have lunch on a deserted island, and take so many photos that you’ll be in danger of running out of storage on your phone.

Not only is the Cook Islands beautiful, but it’s easy to travel around, too. The locals are ridiculously friendly and welcoming, and the local dishes are delicious. In short, there’s no reason not to travel to the Cook Islands.

But in case you needed another one: it’s really easy to visit on a budget.

Here’s how to do it.

Lagoon views from Aitutaki
Lagoon views on Aitutaki. Just look at the colour of that water!

How to Find Cheap Flights to the Cook Islands

As I write this right now, my post is aimed solely at those of you who are lucky enough to be in New Zealand. And what that means is that your options for cheaper flights are going to be pretty limited — only Air New Zealand are flying to the Cook Islands right now, so prices aren’t all that competitive. After all, there’s no competition!

Still, I recommend heading to Skyscanner and search for all flights over the space of a month, rather than choosing a specific date (if you have that flexibility, of course). On average you’ll be looking at around $400 (that’s NZD) — $800 return, with the prices dropping to around $350 each way from September onwards.

How Long to Spend in the Cook Islands?

When you’re booking those flights to paradise, you’re probably wondering when you should be looking to return to New Zealand. I recommend spending seven to 10 nights in the Cook Islands.

I spent a week there — three days on Rarotonga; four on Aitutaki — and found it to be the perfect amount of time. In actuality, I would have done my split a little differently and had four days on Rarotonga with three on Aitutaki, simply because the latter is pretty small. Once you’ve seen the lagoon on Aitutaki, there isn’t that much else to do, so you could get bored.

If you had 10 days in the Cook Islands, you’d probably want to go with six days on Rarotonga and four on Aitutaki.

And if you’re planning on spending two weeks in the Cook Islands, I’d recommend taking a look at some of the more isolated islands, like Atiu — I’m going to be checking that one out later this year. It’s expensive to fly to from Rarotonga, as so few people visit, but that’s what draws me to it. I love visiting isolated pockets in the South Pacific that see little tourism.

The lagoon in Aitutaki, the Cook Islands. It definitely has to be the prettiest place I've ever visited
Aitutaki is paradise!

You Can Save Money By Visiting During Low Season

Tourism in the Cook Islands is unsurprisingly pretty seasonal, so if you’re looking to save money, visiting in the rainy season can help you save money. It’s worth mentioning that you run the risk of flying straight into a cyclone when you do so, but those are quite rare, so you’d have to be seriously unlucky for your trip to coincide with one.

I last visited the Cook Islands in January and lucked out when I experienced zero days of rain. Obviously that doesn’t guarantee you’ll also have a dry vacation, but if you’re willing to take the risk, you may find yourself with accommodation at half the price while the weather is nothing but glorious.

My top tip: Plan to Spend Your Trip as Offline as Possible

Free Wi-Fi is challenging to find in the Cook Islands, even in 2023, so I recommend planning to spend the vast majority of your time in the country offline. In a place this beautiful, it’s not much of a hardship to do so.

If you have to be online, you’ll need to opt for buying Wi-Fi vouchers from the overpriced Zenbu or Bluesky — the latter is cheaper and charges $25 for 1.5GB of data. Most of the hotels, restaurants, and cafes on the island use one of these two providers to connect to the Wi-Fi, and most of the connections are, um, usable. Speeds are improving but this isn’t a destination in which to catch up with your favourite Youtubers.

You can also pick up a local SIM card at the airport for $49, which gives you 3 GB of data for 14 days. I’d definitely recommend doing this.

Keep reading to find out how to visit both Rarotonga and Aitutaki on a budget in 2023: 

The main road in Rarotonga
The main road in Rarotonga

Visiting Rarotonga on a Budget

I was surprised by how easy it is to visit Rarotonga on a budget. Hostels exist, public buses are cheap, you can find street food, and tours aren’t crazy-expensive. You don’t have to work all that hard to save money.

How to Save on Accommodation in Rarotonga

Let’s take a look at a map of Rarotonga.

Google Maps screenshot of Rarotonga

If you want to visit Rarotonga on as tight a budget as possible, your best option is to stay in a hostel: I was thrilled to discover that there are several on the island!

There are three main areas for accommodation on Rarotonga.

Aroa Beach, in the Arorangi District that I mentioned above. This is where you’ll find the cheap accommodation and hostels. There isn’t a huge amount to do in this specific part of the island, besides lounge on the sand, but it’s still beautiful, there are restaurants around, and you can easily take the bus to the main town of Avarua or spectacular Muri Beach.

There are two hostels in Arorangi:

I stayed at Rarotonga Backpackers, which cost $28/night for a dorm bed and $40 for a private single room ($55 for a private double). It’s not just me that loves it here, either — it gets a rating of 4.4 out of 5 on Google. The staff were so wonderful and friendly, it was easy to meet people and make friends — even as a solo traveller — and there was a lovely swimming pool, barbecue area, and a gorgeous beach beside the adorable huts. I thought it was great value for money! They aren’t listed on any of the booking sites, so you’ll need to fill in a request through their contact form.

As an alternative, Backpackers International is by far the cheapest hostel on the island, with dorms coming in at $20 a night and private rooms at $35/night for a double. I haven’t personally stayed here, and they receive worse reviews than Rarotonga Backpackers, so I’d only consider staying here if you’re on a very tight budget. Otherwise Rarotonga Backpackers is the way to go!

The other area you might want to consider staying in is Avarua, in the north, which is the capital of the island and has tons to see and do. This is the area to opt for if you’re not a fan of lying on the beach and doing nothing. If you love museums and culture and enjoy having a wide variety of restaurants to choose from, this is the spot for you.

You’ve got one main option for affordable accommodation here:

Central Motel: This is the cheapest option in Avarua, coming in at $125 a night. While the sound of staying in a motel might put you off, it’s a motel with a swimming pool and a lovely owner, so it’s got plenty to offer up. The property is in a great location, close to a supermarket, restaurants, and the airport, with air conditioning and hot water showers. This would be a great budget option if you’re flying out the next day and want to stay close to the airport the night before.

And finally, the third region of the island that you should consider staying in is Muri Beach, in the southeast, which is the most popular part of Rarotonga. And for good reason: it has the prettiest beach on the island! It’s a breathtaking part of Rarotonga, so if you’re keen for that pristine beach holiday, this is the area to look at. The only downside? It’s where all of the expensive resorts are! For that reason, it can be a little pricey.

I stayed at Raina Beach Apartments in Muri for my second visit to Rarotonga. It was much pricer at almost $120 a night, but Muri is the most expensive area in Rarotonga. My apartment was spacious, with a large balcony overlooking the lagoon, a fully-equipped kitchen, and plenty of space to work from, so it didn’t feel like I was being ripped off. It was in a great location, had great staff, and plenty of cheap eats nearby: it was perfect! If I’d been travelling with somebody else to split the costs with, I’d have happily stayed here the entire time.

When I next return to Rarotonga, though, I plan on staying in Aremango Guesthouse, which is also in Muri. At $46 a night for a solo traveller and $53 a night for a double room, it’s the cheapest guesthouse in expensive Muri. Not only that, it also receives great reviews for pretty much everything.

Tropical Sands is another great option for Muri Beach. Well, it’s a five minute drive, or 30 minute walk, from beautiful Muri Beach, which is why it’s $150 a night and not double that. But it receives exceptional reviews and is easily one of the best value, nicest properties on the island. If it’s within your budget, I would book here over everywhere else mentioned in the article.

And a final note here: annoyingly, half of the accommodation in Rarotonga requires you to stay for a minimum of three nights. This isn’t awful, as Rarotonga is beautiful and well worth exploring, but if your plan was to fly into Rarotonga, spend a night, and then head to Aitutaki, you won’t have as many options for accommodation. If you’re searching for hotels and struggling to find any, adjust your search to three nights and whole bunch of other places will pop up for you to book.

Let’s move on to transportation.

Rarotonga's airport
A view of Rarotonga’s airport from the road: it was so jungly!

Getting Around Rarotonga on a Budget

As you can tell from the Google Maps screenshot above, Rarotonga only has one major road; a loop that traces the coastline for 20 miles, so walking everywhere isn’t a realistic possibility. Taxis are expensive, too, and there are only a couple on the island; I didn’t see a single one while I was there.

The cheapest way to explore Rarotonga, then, is by bus. There are three buses in the entire country[!], and in Rarotonga, one of them runs clockwise and the other anti-clockwise. A single ticket costs $5 or you can buy a full hop-on, hop-off day pass for $16. You can view the 2023 schedule on their website, but in general: the bus runs every hour both clockwise and anticlockwise for much of the day — excluding Sundays, when it doesn’t run at all — so you’ll never have to wait too long for one to swing by.

I also recommend taking the bus over the airport transfers offered by the hostels and guesthouses to save $10-25 each way. Most accommodation providers don’t offer up a free airport transfer, so if you’re not in a rush to get to your room, it’s worth waiting around for the bus instead.

The Cook Islands is famous for their motorbike driving licenses, which make for a particularly fun souvenir. A 10-minute driving test and $20 ($10 for the theory test; $10 for the practical) is all it takes to get yours, and this then allows you to hire scooters and ride around the islands. All you need to do is turn up to the police station in Avarua. There, you’ll show your passport, fill in a short piece of paperwork, pay your fee, then get down to action. Answer a simple quiz full of easy, common-sense questions, then drive up and down a short alleyway, showing you can weave through some cones and indicate when turning. You’ll then have your driving license!

It costs around $15 a day to rent a scooter, or $7 for a bicycle. On an island that’s so quiet, you don’t have to worry about traffic and accidents — this is a place where everyone goes slow.

Cheap eats in Rarotonga, the Cook Islands
Cheap eats in Rarotonga

How to Save money on Food in Rarotonga

It’s far easier to eat on a budget in Rarotonga than it is in Aitutaki, thanks to the street food carts and night markets you can find dotted around the island. Look for small shacks selling fish sandwiches by the side of the road for the best bargains, and if there’s a queue of locals outside, it’s a sign it’ll be delicious.

If you spend any time in Avarua, the row of shacks pictured above is the place to be for enormous seafood platters for $7-10. They’re located alongside the lagoon close to the market and have tons of options.

In Muri, The Mooring Cafe is always full of locals and super-popular for lunch. The fish sandwiches ($8.50) are so delicious that I ate there everyday. Muri’s night market is your best option for cheap dinners, offering generous portions of local dishes and live music on most evenings. I highly recommend checking it out for both a cultural experience and to save money.

Rarotonga cemetary
Rarotonga cemetary

What to Do While You’re in Rarotonga

If you’re on a strict budget and don’t want to spend much money on activities, there’s plenty to keep you busy on the island for free. Sunbathing on the beach is, of course, what most people come to the Cook Islands for and most guesthouses will have snorkels you can use out in the lagoon, too.

The centre of Rarotonga is all about the mountains, giving you tons of options to hike up to viewpoints all over the island. While you should hire a guide if you want to walk across the centre of the island — you can do this through your accommodation — it’s not necessary if you just want to get up high. Some of the easier (2-3 hour round trip) hikes are the Wigmore Falls track, the Avana Valley track, and the Raemaru track.

One of the best ways to explore the Cook Islands is by water, and a lagoon cruise in Muri is the way to go. Captain Tamas runs tours of the lagoon ($89) and is the highest rated tour company on the island. If you only do one activity while you’re in Rarotonga, this is the one to splurge on.

Island in Aitutaki Lagoon
Island in Aitutaki Lagoon

How to Get From Rarotonga to Aitutaki and Back

There’s only one way to get from Rarotonga to Aitutaki and that’s to fly with Air Rarotonga. Unfortunately, their prices are ridiculous and there are currently no ferries.

The best advice I can give is to book as early as possible, as soon as you buy your flights to the Cook Islands. I booked my flights less than two weeks before arriving and ended up paying $200 each way. For a thirty. minute. flight. A quick look at Air Rarotonga’s website shows the prices drop the further out you book, with flights in a few months’ time coming in at $120 each way. Still pretty expensive, but more affordable than a $400 round-trip that I had to pay for!

The other alternative is to just turn up in Rarotonga, head to the Air Rarotonga office and book through them. There are reports of people getting fares for half the price by booking last-minute, but you do run the risk of there being no availability on any of the flights. Or the flights being really expensive.

And you really do need to head to Aitutaki. If you only visit Rarotonga, you’ll be missing out on what makes the Cook Islands so special.


How to Visit Aitutaki on a Budget

Aitutaki is paradise and paradise doesn’t come cheap. From my initial research, I could immediately tell that this was going to be a splurge destination, but once I arrived, it actually wasn’t too bad at all.

Budget Accommodation Options on Aitutaki

There aren’t any hostels in Aitutaki, but there are a few affordable guesthouses. I stayed in a few different spots around the island and my favourite was Gina’s Garden Lodges. For $60 a night, I had an enormous bungalow with five beds — a bargain if you’re travelling with a group of friends! Gina was the loveliest human with a fascinating life, and she even gave me a huge hug when she drove me back to the airport. The bungalows were peaceful and surrounded by jungle, which made them particularly cool in my mind.

Another affordable option is Ranganui’s Retreat at $100 a night. I also stayed here, but didn’t like it all that much. The lack of air conditioning meant that my room was like a furnace, and the owner was never around whenever I needed to ask a question or buy a new internet voucher.

But overall, I believe the best place to stay on Aitutaki is the exceptional Aitutaki Budget Accommodation at a price of $70 a night — it receives a rating of 9.7/10 on Booking! Staying here will give you a true local experience, staying with a welcoming family and being accepted into their home. Guests write of the owners cooking dinners for them, inviting them on nights out with their friends, and repairing clothes that got torn. How could you not want to stay here?

Beautiful beach on Aitutaki, the Cook Islands!
Beach on Aitutaki

Getting Around Aitutaki

Aitutaki is much smaller than Rarotonga and you can easily explore the entire island in half a day. Bicycle rentals are either free to use from your guesthouse (although likely to be awful — my hands were sore for days afterwards), or around $5 a day. Scooters are $25/day. There aren’t any buses or taxis on the island.

You’ll need to organise an airport transfer with your accommodation, which will come to around $10-20 each way depending on how far you’re staying from the airport.

Views from the boat on my lagoon cruise

What Can You Do in Aitutaki?

The one thing I recommend that everyone do in Aitutaki is take a cruise of the lagoon — it was one of the highlights of my five years of travel! I went with Teking Tours and was thrilled with my experience. They’re one of the more affordable options on the island, with a full day cruise coming in at $70.

Other than that, know that Aitutaki is small and if you plan to spend more than three or four days there, you’re likely to get bored. You can traverse the island within a couple of hours by bicycle, hike up to one of the viewpoints (my favourite was Piraki Lookout, but Maunga Pu was great, too), or sunbathe on the beach (and I actually found the beaches to be better on Rarotonga).

Read more: You Have to Take a Lagoon Cruise of Aitutaki.

Viewpoint in Aitutaki
Piraki Lookout

How to Save on Food

If you’re planning on saving money by cooking, expect to live off of crap food. In Aitutaki, especially, where cargo arrives only once every three months, it’s hard to find good eats as a tourist. In grocery stores, expect to find rows of tinned food and bags of chips and candy, and no vegetables or fresh meat/fish. If you want fresh food, you’ll either have to befriend a local or find out when the market runs and hit it up in the early hours of the day.

When it comes to eating out, lunches will set you back around $15 a meal and dinners $20. An easy way to cut down on costs is to eat vegetarian, which I did for much of my time there. In most restaurants on Aitutaki, the vegetarian options were only around $10.

One Foot Island
One Foot Island, Aitutaki

Paradise Isn’t as Expensive as You Think

Before I came to the Cook Islands, I was under the impression that somewhere so isolated and beautiful would only be for the rich. But just like in the Maldives, I was thrilled to discover that budget travel is a real possibility. Stay in hostels, eat street food, rent bicycles, and there’s no reason why you can’t average around $50 a day while you’re there.

Related Articles on the Cook Islands

🇨🇰 What’s it Like to Travel in the Cook Islands?
🏝 You Have to Take a Lagoon Cruise in Aitutaki
🏖 How to Plan a Budget Trip to the South Pacific

How to visit the beautiful Cook Islands for as little as $50 a day.


  1. May 10, 2016

    Great post! I’ve never EVER imagined that Cook Islands or Maldives would be possible to do without a big budget, your tipps are amazing :)

    • May 10, 2016

      Thank you so much, Ola! I didn’t think it was possible to visit either place affordably either, so I was surprised by how easy it actually has been! :-)

  2. May 10, 2016

    Fantastic profile and amazing photos! It’s great to hear that paradise doesn’t have to break the bank!

  3. May 10, 2016

    $50 is still quite a lot for most budget travellers, but it’s definitely a lot lower than I thought! Those pictures are stunning!!

    • May 10, 2016

      What about budget travellers who visit Western Europe/Australia/New Zealand/Canada?

  4. Lerchan
    May 10, 2016

    Hi lauren, i traveled to maldives after i read your blog, it was one of the best trips i’ve had in life.

    Cook islands will be quite far, i’m from bangkok btw. I’ve been searching for flights everyday but no luck with cook islands yet.

    Have you been to palaw? I’m thinking that should be my next visit. Palaw via tokyo.

    • May 10, 2016

      Oh, that makes me so happy to hear, Lerchan! :-) I haven’t been to Palau yet — I almost visited when I was last in the Philippines, but didn’t have enough time. You’ll have to let me know how it is if you decide to visit!

  5. May 10, 2016

    I am one of the people who got a great last-minute deal flying to Aitutaki — I checked flight prices daily leading up to my trip in March 2013 and noticed that consistently the price would drop about half-price three days out. So I waited until three days before my arrival and I paid $268 round-trip instead of $500 (the going full price at that point in time). Who knows what their current algorithm is, but it pays to play around with dates and check often to see when they drop prices.

    • May 10, 2016

      Oh, nice! Thanks so much for the tip! :-)

  6. May 10, 2016

    OMG, Lauren! I am currently looking for where to go on Christmas break… and your post and pics have totally turned my map (head) around! Cook Islands!!!

  7. May 10, 2016

    $50 a day? Why that’s a great budget! :)

  8. otto au
    May 10, 2016

    Too expensive, no internet, maybe for people who have millions

    Lots of Islands in Australia that are just as good and not 3rd world with fantasy prices

    Glad you enjoyed but not for me

    • May 10, 2016

      lol what? Did you even read the post?

      A place with dorms for $15 a night is for people who have millions? That’s far, far less expensive than Australia, where you’ll pay $50 a night. Also, there’s internet; it’s just not free. Just like in Australia! I had to pay for internet everywhere I’ve been in Australia.

      And if you only limit yourself to 1st world countries, why bother even travelling?

      • Meeny007
        September 19, 2016

        well said!

  9. May 10, 2016

    Intrigued now. After Europe and Morocco I’ve been trying to determine where I might find some good snorkeling so my gear doesn’t get covered in cobwebs. Snorkeling was good right?

    Thanks for the tip. Rarotonga looks peaceful.

    • May 11, 2016

      Well, I actually hate snorkelling, but yeah, it was pretty good. I saw more in the Cook Islands than I did in the Maldives.

  10. May 10, 2016

    Awesome stuff, Lauren. I want to highlight the part about staying offline. I accidentally didn’t turn my phone off when I went to Nicaragua a few years ago. The bill ran me over $2,500 and I didn’t even check my phone once!

    • May 11, 2016

      Oh, yikes! Yes, definitely keep data roaming switched off while you’re travelling!

  11. May 10, 2016

    I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to visit the Cook Islands! Blame the T4 program Shipwrecked – do you remember it? My hubby and I are moving to New Zealand for a few months at the end of this year and plan to spend a month or so exploring the islands when we leave – so loving all the info you’re providing!

    • May 11, 2016

      Yes! I remember. I didn’t realise it was filmed in the Cook Islands, though!

      New Zealand is great for affordable flights to the South Pacific. I also loved French Polynesia and will be writing about it soon! :-)

  12. May 11, 2016

    I hope so, too! $760 isn’t a bad price at all from LA.

    • Chris
      April 17, 2021

      We flew from Seattle to LA on miles , then flew from LA to Rarotonga for 586.00 US each. The exchange rate is crazy good. Stayed on aitutaki for a week. We wanted a cheap Tahiti and got more. Your article is spot on. Way cheaper to get license in Aitutaki than Rarotonga $2 compared to $20. Can’t wait to go back! Super cheap black pearls as well. On Aitutaki if you get to the market around 630 or 700 you can get fresh fish before the resorts buy them up.

  13. May 11, 2016

    Ahhh, yet one more place I now want to visit, thanks a lot! ;) Well, I can’t do it this time around, but maybe on my next wrap around the world.

  14. May 13, 2016

    What a great post! Not many travel bloggers have visited the Cook Islands so it’s great to have a comprehensive post about the islands! Ha, it is unfortunate that there seems to be yet another great place to visit on this planet. Will the list never end?? :)

    • May 14, 2016

      Thank you so much, Dominique! And I know! I can’t believe that the longer I travel the more my list grows :-)

  15. May 15, 2016

    The biiiiig problem for me is that I am based in Italy and the flights would already blow my very meager budget. Perhaps a possibility on my next trip to SE Asia!

    • May 20, 2016

      Oh, definitely. It would be hard to justify travelling all that way and spending all of that money just to see the Cook Islands. So yeah, I’d recommend working it into a trip that has you already crossing the pacific, or visiting somewhere nearby in Oceania.

  16. Maggie
    May 16, 2016

    Absolutely fantastic posting!! Great tip to travel Cook Islands in budget. Good Compilation of details about cook islands and things to do in and around…

  17. Csilla
    May 24, 2016

    Hi Lauren, really like your post. great tip and inspiration also. maybe will go to honeymoon there :)

    • June 16, 2016

      The Cook Islands would be a great honeymoon destination! :-)

  18. May 24, 2016

    This one is being bookmarked for my never ending bucket list of destinations. I’m so surprised at how cheap you managed to do this for- I’ve always associated places like the Cook Islands with expensive holidays. Given the cheap flights from Australia I might be visiting sooner than I think. It would make for a good small trip when I’m done with long travel.

    Is there a specific season that is cheaper or do the prices stay the same roughly all year round?

    • May 27, 2016

      Prices are usually a little cheaper between November and March (excluding the few weeks around Christmas) as that’s the rainy season.

  19. Piotr Kulczycki
    May 25, 2016

    Thanks for sharing your great tips! Your photos are great! Cheers!

  20. john
    May 27, 2016

    nice post and helpfull tips

  21. I had a hard time reading the article because the pictures are so pretty!!

    • June 8, 2016

      Hahaha, thanks! It’s a beautiful place :-)

  22. June 10, 2016

    The Cook Islands has long been on my radar since friends of mine went on their honeymoon there years ago. Never thought of it as a budget destination, but now that I know better, watch out. :)

  23. June 19, 2016

    Thanks lauren.I am planning a trip shortly. It was quite useful to know the options . Happy traveling

  24. Andrea Stefani
    June 29, 2016

    Hi! I am going to Rarotonga in a couple of weeks. I am from Croatia and that is really really far away. At the time of my flight booking I did not have info about Aitutaki, so did not include it in my trip. As if I am staying just 8 days in Rarotonga (leaving it to stay in Samoa other 10days), do you think it is worth it to go just for a day or two in Aitutaki, is there much better and nicer than Raro (as if that short jump will be very expensive)? As far as accomodation location is concerned, would you suggest to sleep the all stay at place you suggested (Raina beach in Muri), like base from where to go around or some other location is more beautiful? Thank you so much for all tips you posted, very appreciated! Andrea

    • June 30, 2016

      Hi Andrea!

      I would recommend going to Aitutaki as well if you can afford it. It’s quite different to Rarotonga and I found the lagoon to be one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. It really is breathtaking. I personally think it’s worth the money to see it (especially if you’ll be unlikely to return to the Cook Islands in the future), but of course, it’s up to you! :-)

      Muri is definitely the prettiest spot on the island, so I’d recommend basing yourself there in Rarotonga.

  25. Marketa
    July 14, 2016

    Hi, I found your blog couple days ago and its very usefull as I am just planning my trip to cook islands! Did you book all accomodation in advance or you can easily find something there? Thanks for answer and good luck with your traveling

    • July 15, 2016

      I booked it all in advance. I think you’d be okay just turning up as nowhere I stayed seemed fully-booked and there were tons of options for accommodation on both Rarotonga and Aitutaki. The one thing I would say is that if you go down that route, it’d probably be best to rent a car to drive around and find somewhere, as taxis are hard to find and pricey.

  26. July 23, 2016

    Hi Lauren,
    Just found your blog while doing research for Cook Islands. I read all of it- such an informative article! Really loved your pictures. I have read some books about South Pacific islands to help me choose from. Also browse videos from Youtube and found some Pacific voyages. I have chosen Cooks to go to. French Polynesia seemed rather expensive (flight tickets are more than 2x as Cooks and accomodation is expensive). I have to admit I haven’t read your blog about it yet. I have some questions in mind.
    Gina’s Garden Lodges in Aitutaki- would it be reasonable to share this option with other couple since my fiancee and I are looking for cheaper option but also like privacy.
    Do you happen to know the weather in May, it should be end of wet season- how are prices during that time and is it possible to just show up and ask for accomodation or is it reasonable to book in advance? Would 10days- 2 weeks be too long for Cooks considering if we wanted to stay 3 days in Aitutaki and maybe go to some other islands if it’s possible to find cheaper option there? Where there anybody going to Aitutaki by boat while their voyage across Pacific? We are also backpacking and left our jobs about a year ago. Next stop after Australia will be NZ and from there we want to explore islands. Also thinking about Samoa- have you considered traveling there?
    Hope I didn’t ask too many questions :). Safe travels!

    • July 29, 2016

      Hi Imre,

      Yeah, you’d be fine sharing the accommodation at Gina’s Garden Lodges. It might be a bit cosy, because from memory, three of the beds are in the same room, and there’s a single bed upstairs. So not too private!

      I’m not sure about the weather in May — I visited in January. But a quick Google should tell you what to expect. In general, in the tropics, even in the rainy season, it’s usually limited to a few hours of heavy rain in the afternoon.

      You can show up and ask for availability, and that’d be fine in May if it’s the end of the wet season, but the only problem is that you’d most likely have to rent a car. In Aitutaki, for example, there are no taxis, and the only way to get to your accommodation is via an airport pickup or renting your own car. So if you wanted to get around by foot or on bicycle, you wouldn’t really have any way of getting to the guesthouses to make enquiries. It’d be a long walk from the airport to accommodation (9 kilometres to Gina’s, for example!)

      I think 10-14 days would be a good amount for the Cook Islands, especially if you’ll be visiting more of the islands. For just Rarotonga and Aitutaki, I’d say you’d probably start getting a bit bored after 10 days. Unless you’re beach people!

      I didn’t meet anybody who was sailing across the Pacific, but my friend Torre (author of the travel memoir, Love With a Chance of Drowning, about her voyage across the Pacific) made the trip, so people definitely stop off there.

      I haven’t visited Samoa yet, but would love to head there when I’m next in the south Pacific!

  27. Foud
    August 3, 2016

    Thank you so much for this detailed post Lauren. Thanks to this we’ve made our decision and will be going to the Cook Islands next month! Aitutaki looks gorgeous and I can’t wait for to see it myself.

    • August 8, 2016

      Oh, no way! That’s amazing. Hope you have a wonderful time!

  28. September 10, 2016

    A great read Lauren thank you, i’m looking for somewhere to honeymoon and i’m not into big fancy resorts (well only for a couple of nights ;) This sounds perfect, i’m enjoying your blog so much x

  29. Chickaberta
    December 2, 2016

    We were able to get a great Cyber Monday deal on New Zealand Air from LAX to Rarotonga $498 USD, RT, Non Stop! Thanks for your great article! Loved it and look forward to our upcoming trip!

    • December 3, 2016

      I actually saw that deal! Hope you have a wonderful time there :-)

  30. Nuri
    December 22, 2016

    Now is so many change?
    Dorm $23/p.night
    Scooter license total $90

    • December 30, 2016

      Oh no, really?! I’m shocked it has changed so much as it’s less than a year since I visited.

  31. Annette
    January 5, 2017

    Your blog has me intrigued to include the Cook Islands in my travel this year. Thanks for all yiur info!

    • January 9, 2017

      Yes! I’m so happy to hear that Annette! :-)

  32. Krystal
    February 2, 2017

    Amazing! Definitely looking forward to visit Cook Islands this year :-)

    • March 2, 2017

      You’ll have an amazing time! :-)

  33. Katie
    February 12, 2017

    Hi Lauren,
    My husband and I are planning to go on a vacation in December. We were looking around and have a hard time deciding where we should go. Do you have any recommendations on where we can go for about a week in a half with different activities and not to expensive. Thank you!

  34. Bryce
    February 15, 2017

    Hi Lauren,

    Great blog.

    I have a couple of questions regarding the license for scooter hire. Where did you do the test to obtain the license ? Was it at the police station in Avarua ?
    Did you have a existing motorbike license already from your country ?
    What is the test like theory and practical ?
    And I’ve heard it costs around $90 ?

    If you could reply with some more info that would be great.


    • February 15, 2017

      Ah, sorry, maybe it wasn’t clear from my post, but I opted to hire a bicycle instead of the scooter while I was in the Cook Islands. But to answer your questions, you do get the license from the police station in Avarua, and it now costs $90. My friends who took the test said the practical consisted of just driving down the road and making a few turns. I’m not sure if you need to have an existing motorbike license or not — it used to be that you didn’t, but the rules may have changed.

  35. keith petersen
    May 8, 2017

    We did the cook islands in 2005 and i saved a heap by booking everything directly with the establishments online.I had email contact with all accomodation places and airlines as well as tours.we didn’t go the budget options but will have to if we ever go back again. renting private houses is also a great option and is a big saving compared to staying at resorts.That way you can cook as well !! loved the cook islands,my favorite place in the world.the locals are great people and the water is to die for !! good thing also is that even though you aren’t staying at a resort you can still eat and drink at any of them !!

    • May 14, 2017

      Totally agree, Keith! The Cook Islands are paradise! :-)

  36. Aaron
    May 9, 2017

    This is the most detailed and helpful post I’ve found on the Cook Islands on a budget, so thank you for putting it together. You’ve helped me to realise the Cook Islands are actually an achievable target for me next year.

    • June 10, 2017

      I’m so happy to hear that, Aaron! You’ll have an amazing time in the Cook Islands!

  37. Ben
    May 23, 2017

    Is Aitutaki a must-go for cook island?I am on limited budget but i guess i am willing to splurge if it is really worth it. I am planning for 6 nights in cook island.

    • May 23, 2017

      In my opinion, it’s 100% worth it. I’ve been travelling full-time for six years now and Aitutaki’s lagoon is easily the prettiest place I’ve ever been to.

  38. June 14, 2017

    Hey! I came across this when searching in google. :) I’m potentially planning a trip to the cook islands and this post has made me super excited! I was going to ask how long you would need to make it worthwhile, but I’ve just seen you’ve already answered that in your comments. :)

    thanks for the insight! xxx

    • July 18, 2017

      No problem! So glad to hear you found the post helpful, Liberty! :-)

  39. Tam
    August 21, 2017

    I’m in Rarotonga at the moment for a wedding and the group I’m with got motorbike licence for $20 dollars at the police station and If you have a current motorbike licence in another country you don’t need to sit the test hope that helps :)

    • August 22, 2017

      Ah, amazing! Thanks for sharing, Tam!

    • Dvorah
      February 15, 2018

      Hi Lauren,
      I stumbled across this blog by accident. Does there seem to be much commerce opportunity in Rarotonga. After living in Hawaii for 7 years, I feel that I want to move to another part of the world. Would you say that the Cook Islands are comparable?

  40. eliot diamond
    August 31, 2017

    Hi Lauren,

    Fantastic website. So informative and the pix are amazing.

    Just checked airfares and thought I would pass this along.

    Air NZ from LAX has a flight once a week (Sat.) to Rarotonga for $509 (April 2018 departure). Also, a flight from LAX to Aitutaki for $672 (same Sat. flight, connecting obviously in RAR). That is one way. Doing the math that is only $163 more to AIT from RAR. Sounds like a pretty decent way to get to Aitutaki.

  41. November 20, 2017

    Seeing this map of yours,

    Questions :
    1. Can we hire a bike and do the whole radius trip of this whole island ?
    2. Are there good resorts in this whole island too ?
    3. Any issues with drones ?
    4. How did you like the sunrise and sunset there ?
    5. Is December a good time to goto this island ?

    • November 23, 2017

      1) Yep, although it’s fairly big (30 km in circumference) so it’d be a reasonably long day.
      2) Yes. There’s tons of resorts on the island.
      3) No idea. Don’t travel with one and didn’t see any while I was there.
      4) Fairly standard sunrise and sunset that I’ve seen all over the world. It’s much more dependent on weather conditions than location.
      5) December is rainy season, so things will be cheaper, but there’ll be a risk of typhoon and lots of rain.

  42. November 23, 2017

    omgggg I’m currently traveling New Zealand and am dying to go to the Cook Islands! I’m so happy to see this :)

    • November 23, 2017

      Yay! Time to book a trip :-)

  43. January 10, 2018

    Yes I was the 95% that stopped on a round the world ticket at the Cook Islands. At that time Air New Zealand does one stop every week at its Auckland to LA flight. So I had the choice to stay 1 week or extend by a week. At that time I thought I may as well stay 2 weeks is it is an unlikely destination I will return to. Especially when I am based in Europe.

    I did one week of Raratonga and one week of Aitutaki. Yes one week on Aitutaki is long, we ended up doing the lagoon cruise twice as we got lunch and the owners also gave us the leftovers at the end of the trip which was our dinner. It meant the cruise was entertaining and also cheap for us.

    It still is the most beautiful island I have ever stayed at. I am trying to find others that can match it. In 2009 internet was crap and it looks like in 2016 not much has changed. This seems ok as you really need to unplug when staying here.

    • March 22, 2018

      Take a look at the islands of Tonga or French Polynesia — both are similar to Aitutaki.

  44. January 17, 2018

    Hey Lauren! Adam and I are looking at going to the Cook Islands later this year. We were wondering how many days would you suggest? There is a direct flight from LAX every Saturday but with the time change, it only allows 5 nights or 12 nights. We were leaning towards the 12 so we would have enough time on Aitutaki, Rarotonga, and maybe Atiu.

    Is the internet that bad? I just looked up and it looks like I can get a 3GB plan good for 14 days for $50NZ which doesn’t seem bad at all that is if it works…When were you there?

    Thanks for any tips.

  45. Sharon
    March 11, 2018

    Great budget hints on the Cook Islands.

    Really gives you inspiration when you read about the travels of someone who has already done it.

    Thanks for the guidance,

    Cheers Sharon…

    • March 21, 2018

      So happy to hear that! Enjoy your trip :-)

  46. Hridayesh Pokhrel
    June 10, 2018

    hi lauren
    im planning to visit cook island on a budget it was really intresting reading your blogs. i would like to ask you how much financial evidence do i have to so it to immigration to gain entry.thankyou

    • June 10, 2018

      That’s something you’ll need to google. That’s all I’d be doing to answer your question, as I didn’t have to show any financial evidence, that I can remember :-)

  47. Russell Gander
    August 6, 2018

    Hi Lauren. 2-years on from when you posted this and I discovered the blog having asked on Google “day-to-day cost of living in Rarotonga. We are actually booked to fly out of Sydney 7th September to stay with friends in the south-west for 2-weeks.

    I must say that the information in your blog – including your answers to all the questions (I read them all by the way) was brilliant. I know our friends will have the place scoped out very well as they stay there for 6-months at a time, but some of the info from you means we will not only have a great time with our friends, but that we will be able to make our own choices as well.

    Happy traveling and thanks for the blog

  48. September 27, 2018

    Wow Lauren. This places looks similar to Savusavu in Fiji. Gorgeous.

  49. Msafiri
    October 3, 2018

    Hi Lauren & kia orana,i finally made it to Rarotonga from LA on Sept 30th & staying in Muri and having a blast.I’ll be heading to Aitutaki next Friday & looking forward to exploring the island,too. Your blog has really helped me plan this trip & i must say thank you for telling us how to visit the Cook Islands on a budget.I’m writing this after getting back to Aroko Bungalows from Muri Night Market.Will be doing Capt Tama’s lagoon cruise on Wed.Will keep you posted.

  50. October 16, 2018

    What a steal you found, the cook islands are definitely on our list of upcoming places to visit. Thanks for posting

  51. Msafiri
    October 19, 2018

    Kia Orana!Hi Lauren.I was able to get to visit Aitutaki from Oct 5th for 7 nights and explored the island & totally enjoyed my stay.I was staying at Inano Beach Bungalows & took Teking Tours for the lagoon cruise & had a blast.Thank you very much for the ideas and great advice in your travel blog coz i used most of them to make my stay in Rarotonga and Aitutaki a very memorable one.I’ve shared your blog with my coworkers who are so interested in visiting the Cook Islands.

  52. Karen Hunter
    March 9, 2019

    I loved your article on the Cooks! I was there 16 years ago and am going again this spring. I was wondering if you found any apps with offline maps that helped you? Also does buying a SIM card allow you to make interntaional phone calls or just get data? Thanks so much!

    • Martynas
      February 7, 2020

      Maps.Me offline maps are pretty useful at times

  53. Mike Hollywood
    March 26, 2019

    Hi Lauren, enjoyed your take on my favorite spot on the planet the Cook Islands. For those who may want additional information, I wrote three editions of Papa Mike’s Cook Islands Handbook. They are available at Bounty Books in Avarua or the current e-version is available at Amazon for less than US$6. Not trying to self promote, but books on Rarotonga or for that matter Palau are hard to find. Airfare from the US is steep, but once you arrive prices are very reasonable. Thanks for spreading the word Lauren.

    Papa Mike

  54. Kayla Berryhill
    April 4, 2019

    How much money(US) would you recommend taking for a week long trip?

  55. Kat
    October 19, 2019

    Hi are these prices us or nz dollars. Also it says 2019 in title but some comments are from 2016 why is that

    • October 19, 2019

      US dollars. And I originally published the article in 2016 but re-wrote and updated it in 2019.

  56. Nico
    May 7, 2021

    I wanted to book the josies lodge in Aitutaki, but the email doesn’t go through. Anyone knows if the accommodation still exists and how I can book it? Many thanks

  57. Eve
    May 3, 2023

    Hi and thank you for this very informative piece. The costs have increased but overall still a very budget friendly place by the sound of it. Wish more people wrote such informative practical travel pieces.

  58. Anonymous
    September 6, 2023

    Wow! Totally agree with Eve, this is one of the most informative and relatable travel blogs i’ve ever read. Thank you!!

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