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Where to Stay in the Cook Islands in 2023 | 3 Best Areas

Where to Stay in the Cook Islands in 2023 | 3 Best Areas

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!

Why You Should Visit the Cook Islands in 2023

Papau Waterfall on Rarotonga, one of the best places to consider when thinking about where to stay in the Cook Islands

Darren Tierney/Shutterstock

Known for its white beaches and verdant mountains, the Cook Islands in the South Pacific are a haven for discovery. However, it’s also one of the more remote places to travel, which can make it a bit of a challenge to get around.

The hub of the islands is Rarotonga, with its largest town being Avarua. If you want to get to other islands, you’ll need to fly from the international airport.

(Ferries may also be available but are generally time-consuming and challenging on a number of levels.)

If you’re looking to visit the Southern Group of isles, you should be able to find flights in and out of places like Mauke and Mitiaro. Its Northern Group of islands is far more difficult to see, and requires a private charter plane.

The 5 Best Parts of the Cook Islands

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

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

Kayaks on the gorgeous and picturesque Muri Beach on Rarotonga, one of the best options for those considering where to stay in the Cook Islands

BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock

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.

Things to Do

  • Play a game of putt-putt and drink a beer at Cocoputt and Ale House. Challenge your loved ones as you savor every moment in paradise.
  • Take a glass-bottomed boat through the lagoon. This is a gorgeous and less soggy way to catch a glimpse at all the sea has to offer.
  • Snorkel at the marine reserve and try to spot as many different types of sea life. Do a little research on the types of coral and how to respect your environment while exploring.
  • Support the local artisans by shopping at Punanga Nui Market. Known for its handicrafts, clothing, soaps, and perfumes, this is also a great way to start a conversation with the locals about island life.
  • Get a massage at one of the many spas around the island. If you’re going to commit to a vacation, you might as well go the extra mile.

Where to Eat

  • Le Bon Vivant: Best for Donuts. Otherwise known as the breakfast of champions.
  • Mooring Fish Cafe: Best for Fish Tacos. Enjoy some of the freshest fish you’ll ever have in any form you want.
  • Tamarind House Restaurant & Ukulele Bar: Best for Dinner and a Show. Take part in local customs and enjoy a feast for the eyes and taste buds alike.
  • Shipwreck Hut at the Aro’a Beachside Inn: Best for Island Vibes. Indulge in a castaway fantasy as you sip on some cocktails.
  • The Rickshaw: Best for Pork Wontons. These flavorful bites are far from the only good thing here, but should definitely be included when you order.

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.

See All Hotels in the Cook Islands

2. Southeastern Coast of Rarotonga

Aerial image of a lone person walking along the white-sand beaches of Titikaveka in Rarotonga, one of the best places to stay in the Cook Islands

Darren Tierney/Shutterstock

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.

Things to Do

  • Visit Titikaveka CICC Church to hear the heavenly voices of the choir. This is a welcoming place for services, no matter what faith you are.
  • Grab your snorkel gear and look for turtles in the lagoon. Titikaveka is known for its seclusion, so you shouldn’t have to fight for space.
  • Tour the Maire Nui Botanical Gardens. Mentioned above, we highly encourage you to wander its grounds if you visit the Southeast section of Rarotonga.
  • Take the road less traveled on an exhilarating buggy tour. These tours are offered through various operators and they take you to some stunning sights you likely would never have found on your own.

Where to Eat

  • Charlie’s: Best for Fish Sandwiches. You can also grab a burger, milkshake, or smoothie to go along with your meal.
  • Vaima Polynesian Bar and Restaurant: Best for Key Lime Pie. There are plenty of dishes here to sample, though you wouldn’t go wrong if you were just here for dessert.
  • Moana Restaurant: Best for Breakfast. Located at the hotel of the same name, the Moana Restaurant offers Pacific-inspired cuisine as well as child-friendly meals.
  • Little Polynesian: Best for Steak. If you’re ready for a meal that didn’t come from the waters, Little Polynesian can satisfy your cravings for meat.

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.

See All Hotels in the Cook Islands

3. Aitutaki Island

Picturesque view of above-water bungalows on Aitutaki Island, one of the best places to stay in the Cook Islands


Aitutaki is around 7 sq. 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.

Things to Do

  • Kayak to Motus Ee and Mangere and explore the rockpools. Both of these islets (or motus) can be kayaked to if you’re feeling up to the task.
  • Catch, prepare, and eat seafood with the locals. The locals are happy to teach you their secrets, and they welcome you to take part in their daily life.
  • Picnic on the secluded beaches of side-by-side Motu Rapota and Motuakau. There are few things more satisfying that this scenic place to enjoy your lunch.
  • Walk on the sand strip of Honeymoon Island or try your hand at surfing from spring to fall. Known for its breathtaking views, this is a place to fall in love.
  • Swim alongside the Giant Trevallies. These large black fish are friendly to snorkelers (though that’s not to say the rest of the marine life will be hostile).

Where to Eat

  • Rapae Bay Restaurant: Best for Local Ingredients. If you want to sample meals that are inspired by what’s on Aitutaki, this is the place to be.
  • Koru Cafe: Best for Pastries and Coffee. When you need a pick-me-up, you’ll find quality at this quaint cafe.
  • Boat Shed Bar & Grill: Best for Cold Beer. Sometimes you just need a casual place to grab a beer and some unpretentious grub.
  • Blue Lagoon Restaurant: Best for Fish and Chips. Enjoy the best take of this classic dish and enjoy the views.

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.

See All Hotels in the Cook Islands

So, Where Should You Stay in the Cook Islands?

🥳 Best area for nightlifeMuri Beach
🚤 Best area for watersportsTitikaveka Beach
🛍️ Best for ShoppingPunangi Nui Market
💸 Most budget-friendly areaHobart
🌹 Best for RomanceHoneymoon Island

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. Muri Beach is known for its nightlife, while areas like Titikaveka and Aitutaki are known for being a bit more off the beaten path.

If you want to limit your travel and save a little money, you’re better off staying in the more populated areas of Rarotonga. Our picks for the best spots are merely a jumping off point for you.

Plenty of couples find that they don’t need to be on a literal deserted island off the coast of Aitutaki to find romance. You might also find you get the same vibes in Titikaveka, just a 1.5 miles from the hubbub of Muri Beach.

Some visitors prefer staying close to where all the action is on Muri, particularly when they need something specific (e.g., a car rental, etc.).

The most important part of the equation is figuring out when you want to stay and during what months. Hotels book up fast, so you may want to plan ahead if you don’t want to overspend.

The best times to find a deal are during the low season, otherwise known as July and March. No matter when you visit, though, the weather will be warm enough to give you that tropical sensation for the whole trip. Happy travels!