With just 17,000 inhabitants across 15 islands, the country is awash in natural options and space for travelers. But don’t get overwhelmed with all your options — if you want to know where to stay in the Cook Islands, you’re in the right place.
We’ll show you the best areas to stay in the islands, why we love each one, what to do and eat while you’re in each, and more to help you get the biggest bang for your buck. Let us be your guide!
The Best Places to Stay in the Cook Islands
Out of the many areas to stay in Cook Islands, the following parts of the islands are among the most popular:
- Te Vara Nui Village: Best for a Picturesque Night Show. On the water near a gorgeous waterfall, this village in Rarotonga puts on a night show with traditional food, dancing, and costumes.
- Aitutaki Lagoon: Best for Snorkeling. 40 minutes from Rarotonga, this lagoon’s tranquil and turquoise waters plays host to a variety of marine life, including a variety of sharks, turtles, rays, and bluefin.
- Maire Nui Gardens: Best for Local Plantlife. This garden is seven acres of ponds, ginger, palms, and tropical blooms of every variety. It even has a cafe if you’re feeling peckish from all the wandering.
- Te Rua Manga: Best for Hiking. Located on the north coast, the needle is a relatively narrow, ascending rock that juts up from a sea of green. One of the more famous landmarks in Rarotonga, you can follow the path to the famous Wigmore Waterfall on the Southern coast of Rarotonga.
- Arutanga: Best for Authenticity. There aren’t a lot of tourist attractions on this quiet spot, but you will have a chance to immerse yourself in what island life is really like. The trees and harbor are the backdrop for your exploration, and we highly recommend stopping by the old Christian Church (built in 1828).
Do keep in mind that while we’ve listed 5 areas above, 2 of them are best for day trips. This guide is aimed at helping you find the best areas in which to stay, of which there are 3; we’ll each cover each of these in detail below.
Where to Stay in the Cook Islands: Best Areas & Hotels
It’s hard to go wrong on the Cook Islands, no matter where you stay. We’ll look at not only the parts of town that jump off the page for tourists, but which budget, mid-range, and luxury hotels rank above the rest.
1. East Coast of Rarotonga
Home to Muri Beach, the east coast of the main island is a palm-lined paradise. Set amidst unforgettable colors and tropical foliage, Muri Beach is a beautiful place with truly unforgettable scenery.
Muri is one of the most popular areas for resorts, but there’s a reason for that. The number of commercial amenities, including car rental places, convenience stores, and bars, make it easy to try several places without having to hop a flight to get there.
Other highlights in Muri include shopping at the cultural market and the local specialties. Browse handmade clothing and quilts for your newest treasure, or try a local dish like ika mata.
This raw fish dish is made brighter and more flavorful after marinating in coconut milk and lime. This is also an excellent place if you’re looking to hike in the rainforest.
There are plenty of trails that surround the waters, and it’s far easier to spot the many winged creatures, including cuckoos and butterflies, along the way. In addition to the markets and restaurants, you’ll find scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities at nearly every turn.
The coral reefs and marine life in the shallow waters are a truly incredible sight to behold, but what it’s really known for is the sharp drop offs if you choose to venture further off the coast.
For scuba divers, there are few things more exciting than that moment where you cross over into the depths of the ocean.
During the height of the tourist season, these beautiful beaches can get crowded, so keep that in mind before you start making plans. This would not be a good place to stay if you’re looking for 100% authentic island life, nor would it work for someone who wants that deserted island feeling.
Also, many of the resorts here are famously adult-only, meaning most people come here for the romance as opposed to the family-friendly atmosphere.
Best Hotels on the East Coast
Muri Beach Budget Hotels
- Muri Lagoon View Bungalow: Located just a few minutes’ walk from the water and a 15 minute drive from Wigmore Waterfall, the self-contained bungalows offer partial views, kitchens, mosquito nets, air conditioning, and a private bathroom. Though high on a hill, it is close enough to walk to all of the major shops, restaurants, and cafes.
- Ariki Bungalows: This adults-only motel offers balconies where you can see the ocean and lagoon. Use the BBQ facilities for fresh-caught fish or other market delicacies, and flip on the flat-screen TV at night when you’re ready to unwind. Located just 10 minutes on foot from Muri Beach and 20 minutes by car to Rarotonga International Airport, the bungalows come with a stovetop, fridge, microwave, and en-suite bathroom.
Muri Beach Mid-Range Hotels
- Muri Villas: Close to the night markets and beach, Muri Villas come with air-conditioning, balconies, and a terrace. This place is located just close enough to be a part of the action, but far enough away if you’re looking for a little seclusion and romance.
- Kura’s Kabanas: On the north end of Muri, this secluded beachfront offers included parking, kitchens, private bathrooms, kayaks, snorkels, and outrigger canoes. The staff is friendly and accommodating, and the accommodations are comfortable.
Muri Beach Luxury Hotels
- Te Manava Luxury Villas & Spa: With its private pool and patio, guests get to relax in an oasis that overlooks Muri Lagoon. Make use of the free kayaks, in-house movie channels, and a full kitchen. Get a pedicure from the spa, or order grocery delivery when you’re in the mood to cook.
- Pacific Resort Rarotonga: Pacific Resort has 64 suites surrounded by acres of tropical gardens. All suites have flat-screen TVs and coffee makers, and guests can choose between a beachfront or garden suite. The breakfast buffet is included for all guests, and the resort’s restaurant offers a variety of international cuisine.
2. Southeastern Coast of Rarotonga
Located on the southeastern side of Rarotonga, the Southeastern coast of Rarotunga is home to Titkaveka. A much smaller village than Muri Beach, the quiet vibes, warm water, scenic bungalows, marine life, and small shops are what make this area popular.
In fact, you may find yourself living the deserted island life if you come at the right time. Snorkel out into the reefs or take a scuba dive out to see the coral, urchins, crabs, and clams that dot the waters.
You’re also welcome to paddle board, kite surf, sail, or just plain swim. For those who want to work on their tan, there’s plenty of sand to nestle into as you soak up the sun.
If you want to stray from the waters, you’ll find inland hikes that head out to a variety of landmarks, including waterfalls and lookout points. As with many of the other parts of the islands, Titikaveka has been influenced by the Christian missionaries that came from the mainland.
Some of the churches are from the 1800s and still stand today. The majority of Cook Islanders are protestants, and they hold a variety of ceremonies and services for their inhabitants.
They welcome visitors who come to worship or to simply observe the customs and traditions of the natives. Titikaveka is not far from Muri Beach, but there’s definitely a lot less excitement here. If you came for at least a little nightlife, you’d be better off heading due east.
Best Hotels on the Southeast Coast
Titikaveka Budget Hotels
- Moana Sands Beachfront Hotel: This hotel offers air-conditioned rooms, lagoon views, kitchenettes, and a full restaurant on site. If you’d prefer to cook for yourself, use either the kitchenette or the beachside BBQ facilities. If you want to make your airport transfers a breeze, you can arrange them through the hotel for an extra cost.
Titikaveka Mid-Range Hotels
- Little Polynesian Resort: This small hotel boasts an infinity pool next to a beautiful beach. The bungalows are surrounded by gorgeous gardens and white sands. All units include air conditioning and outdoor showers. You can also choose studio-style accommodations with kitchenettes if you’d like more amenities. Use the free kayak equipment and snorkel gear for a truly memorable stay.
3. Aitutaki Island
Aitutaki is around 7 square miles and the second most visited island behind Rarotonga. Though it doesn’t have as many amenities as the main island, the beauty and laid-back vibes of the place are enough to tempt people to make the extra flight.
The most heavily trafficked areas are around its lagoon, which you can get a better glimpse at either by boat or kayak. Aitutaki has 14 small islands that surround it, also known as islets.
It is not quite an atoll, but pretty close to it. (In 2006, the islets Motu Rapota and Motuakau were even featured on Survivor, and there are a few remains left behind by the cast and producers).
Two of the major islets are One Foot Island and Motu Akaiami where it’s even possible to spend the night. While these are very small and largely deserted, it’s much like having your own private island if that’s the vacation you’re going for.
The other major draw of this island is the opportunity to speak to and learn from the friendly inhabitants.
They are more than willing to share their secrets with mainlanders, and happy to host people from all walks of life. Aitutaki is undeniably beautiful, but it’s also an extra expense for travelers and doesn’t have as many services or amenities as Rarotonga.
Best Hotels on Aitutaki
Aitutaki Budget Hotels
- Sunny Beach Lodge: Just a 9 minute walk from Aititaki Beach, Sunny Beach Lodge features a free shuttle, balconies, and a private bathroom. Use the tea pot for a delicious treat in the morning or the stovetop when you’re feeling inspired by the fresh ingredients on the island. The view of the gardens are lovely, and the staff are happy to help.
- Matriki Beach Huts: This property has four rustic, self-contained beach huts, all with their own open-air shower, terrace, and minimal cooking area. This is a shared bathroom facility for the huts, though there is a garden unit with its own en-suite bathroom. Guests are free to use the BBQ areas and outdoor tables, and you can also rent bikes or automatic scooters.
Aitutaki Mid-Range Hotels
- Ranginuis Retreat: Ranginuis makes it easy around with island, with its free shuttle service to and from the airport, along with free use of kayaks. There are budget rooms and bungalows available, but all accommodations feature a private bathroom, a coffee/tea-maker, toaster, and refrigerator. There’s also an outdoor swimming area and BBQ facilities.
- Tamanu Beach: Tamanu Beach boasts two swimming pools plus a weekly show with authentic fire dancing and music. Relax at the restaurant with a cocktail or make use of the hotel’s free snorkeling and kayaking equipment. If you want to book a kite surfing, fishing, or market trip, all you need to do is step up to the tour desk.
Aitutaki Luxury Hotels
- Pacific Resort Aitutaki: Known for its 5-star accommodations and service, this luxury resort in the small town of Arutanga features a both standard accommodations as well as larger villas with a private garden bathroom. A full breakfast is included as is a private sun deck and beach shower in every room. The hotel offers Pacific cuisine at its first-class restaurant as well as themed buffets in the evening with live entertainment.
- Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort: This hotel is a luxury resort that overlooks the lagoon. Guests have free access to kayaking, paddle boarding, and snorkeling equipment. There’s also a continental breakfast served every morning, as well as the Flying Boat Beach Bar & Grill where you can enjoy the sunset over a plate of tropical cuisine.
So, Where Should You Stay in the Cook Islands?
It’s clear that you won’t have a difficult time finding a beautiful place to stay on the Cook Islands. The much bigger question is what you’re looking for.
|🎆 Best for Night Show
|Te Vara Nui Village
|🤿 Best for Snorkeling
|🌱 Best for Plants
|Maire Nui Gardens
|🥾 Best for Hiking
|Te Rua Manga
|🏛️ Best for Authenticity
No matter when you visit, the weather will be warm enough to give you that tropical sensation for the whole trip. Happy travels!