Photo Credit: Roderick Eime

Woodcarvings from the Marquesas and coconut oil scented with monoi tiare, Tahiti’s national flower, are just two of the unique items sold only in Tahiti and the rest of French Polynesia. Moorea may offer better bargains, but Papeete offers French Polynesia’s greatest variety of goods. The vendors at the teepee-shaped Punaauia’s Centre Artisinant sell handmade shell jewelry, colorful pareu fabrics, and vanilla beans across the parking lot from Tahiti’s most modern shopping mall, Centre Moana Nui.

Visitors searching for a string of Tahiti’s unique black pearls should first stop at Papeete’s Musée de la Perle Robert Wan, named after one of French Polynesia’s leading jewelry outlets, which sells only jewelry with 18-karat gold settings. The Musée de la Perle Robert Wan not only exhibits some of French Polynesia’s finest black pearls, it also tells visitors how these unique pearls are made and how to make the best selection for purchase. The reputable sellers at Papeete’s jewelry shops usually offer better black pearl deals than the vendors at the city’s Municipal Market or the agents who bombard passengers the minute they enter Fa’a’ā International Airport.

The narrow Quartier du Commerce streets and Pomare Boulevard’s Centre Vaima contain most of Papeete’s jewelry shops. Aside from Robert Wan, Tahiti’s other main black pearl dealers are Sibani Perles Joallier, situated at the Centre Vaima’s second level, Tahia Collins, and Tahiti Pearl Market. Bora Bora’s Matira Pearls and Moorea’s Ron Hall’s Island Fashion Black Pearls also offer good black pearl deals, but haggling is the norm no matter where visitors make their pearl purchases. Shoppers must politely ask for discounts at least once prior to agreeing on a final price.

Many souvenirs sold in Tahiti are actually made in Asia, but visitors are most likely to find authentic local handicrafts at the centres artisinants located in almost all Tahitian villages. Village women still make both the cotton pareu wraparound sarongs worn by nearly all Tahitians and the colorful fabric used to sew these cool garments. The colorful appliqué quilts Tahitian women make and sell are called tivaivai. At the Papeete Municipal Market, the upper stalls mainly sell jewelry while the sidewalk stalls sell cloth goods. Visitors can even get the most permanent souvenir imaginable at the Papeete Municipal Market – a Polynesian tattoo.

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