Right in the heart of the South Pacific Ocean lies the Cook Islands, a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.

With their pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant culture, these islands offer a dreamy escape for adventure seekers and beach bums alike.

In this guide, we’ll take you on a journey through the Cook Islands, from the top activities to the best islands to choose, helping you plan an unforgettable tropical getaway.

Things to Do On The Cook Islands

Dive into Aitutaki Lagoon

When it comes to underwater wonders, few places compare to Aitutaki Lagoon. Imagine yourself snorkeling in warm, turquoise waters surrounded by an abundance of colorful fish and coral reefs. Aitutaki’s lagoon is a natural aquarium that invites you to explore its depths and marvel at the marine biodiversity. Whether you’re an experienced diver or a first-timer, this underwater paradise will leave you breathless.

Explore Rarotonga’s Vibrant Streets

Rarotonga, the capital of the Cook Islands, is a hub of activity and culture. Stroll through the lively streets and discover bustling markets where you can sample fresh tropical fruits, handmade crafts, and traditional cuisine. Engage with the friendly locals and immerse yourself in the island’s rich heritage. Don’t forget to try “ika mata,” a delicious dish of raw fish marinated in coconut milk and lime – a local delicacy that will tantalize your taste buds.

Relax at Muri Beach

For those seeking a laid-back beach experience, Muri Beach on Rarotonga is a paradise on Earth. Sink your toes into the powdery white sand, take a dip in the crystal-clear waters, or try your hand at paddleboarding. Muri Beach is a haven of tranquility and natural beauty, perfect for unwinding and soaking up the sun.

One Foot Island, Aitutaki
One Foot Island, Aitutaki | @passports_and_champagne

Discover One Foot Island

If you’ve ever dreamed of a remote island escape, One Foot Island delivers just that. This tiny islet, known for its pristine beauty, offers a Robinson Crusoe experience like no other. Enjoy a beachside picnic, swim in the warm, shallow waters, and don’t forget to visit the world’s smallest post office, where you can get your passport stamped as a unique memento of your visit.

Venture to Atiu Island

For an off-the-beaten-path adventure, Atiu Island beckons with its untouched landscapes and rugged terrain. Explore lush forests, mysterious caves, and encounter unique birdlife in this hidden paradise. Atiu offers a glimpse into the Cook Islands’ natural wonders and a chance to connect with nature on a profound level.

Escape to Mangaia Island

For a truly remote and authentic experience, make your way to Mangaia Island. Here, you’ll find ancient marae, limestone caves, and an untouched way of life. The island’s isolation has preserved its unique culture and pristine landscapes, making it a destination for the adventurous traveler seeking a genuine experience.

Swimming with whales, Aitutaki
Swimming with humpback whales, Aitutaki | @snapping_wild

Experience Maeva Nui Night Market

Immerse yourself in the vibrant Cook Islands culture by visiting the Maeva Nui Night Market on Rarotonga. This bustling market comes alive with the aroma of local dishes, traditional music, and a colorful array of crafts. Sample dishes like “poke,” a delicious raw fish salad, and shop for souvenirs handcrafted by local artisans. The Maeva Nui Night Market is a sensory delight you won’t want to miss.

Hike to Te Rua Manga (The Needle)

For those craving adventure and stunning panoramic views, Te Rua Manga, also known as ‘The Needle,’ is a must-visit. This challenging hike takes you through lush rainforests and steep terrain, rewarding your efforts with breathtaking vistas of Rarotonga’s landscapes. It’s a trek that combines the thrill of adventure with the beauty of nature.

Relax at Titikaveka Beach

For a peaceful and picturesque beach experience, head to Titikaveka Beach. This unspoiled stretch of coastline offers a serene atmosphere and is perfect for beachcombing, beach games, or simply soaking in the sun. It’s an ideal spot for a tranquil day by the sea.

Explore Arutanga, Aitutaki’s Main Village

Aitutaki’s main village, Arutanga, is a charming and welcoming place to explore. Engage with the friendly locals, sample traditional dishes at local cafes, and discover the rich heritage of the Cook Islands. Arutanga offers a genuine and authentic experience of island life.

Paddle boarding, Cook Islands
Paddle boarding, Cook Islands

Which of the Cook Islands to Choose

Now that you’ve caught a glimpse of the amazing activities the Cook Islands have to offer, it’s time to decide which islands to explore. Each island has its own unique charm and attractions, catering to different interests and travel preferences.


If you’re seeking a romantic getaway or honeymoon, Aitutaki’s stunning lagoon and overwater bungalows provide the perfect backdrop for a couple’s retreat. The island’s tranquility and natural beauty make it a top choice for lovebirds.


As the capital and largest island, Rarotonga offers a vibrant mix of culture, adventure, and relaxation. It’s a great starting point for your Cook Islands journey, with easy access to a range of activities and amenities.

Aitutaki | @airrarotonga


For those who crave adventure and off-the-beaten-path experiences, Atiu’s rugged terrain and unique caves offer a journey into the heart of the Cook Islands’ natural wonders.


Mangaia’s remoteness and untouched authenticity make it a destination for the adventurous traveler seeking a genuine cultural and natural experience.

Palm lined beaches in Aitutaki
Palm lined beaches in Aitutaki | @kyle_hunter

How to Get Around The Cook Islands

Getting around the Cook Islands is a breeze, thanks to its well-developed transportation options. Here’s how to navigate these stunning islands:

  • Rental Cars: Renting a car is one of the most convenient ways to explore the larger islands like Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Rental agencies are readily available, and you can pick up your vehicle at the airport or various locations on the islands. Driving is on the left side of the road, and roads are generally in good condition, making it easy to traverse the islands at your own pace.
  • Scooters and Bicycles: For a more adventurous way to explore Rarotonga, consider renting a scooter or bicycle. These smaller modes of transportation provide a unique sense of freedom and are perfect for exploring the island’s hidden gems. Just remember to wear helmets, as they’re mandatory.
  • Public Buses: On Rarotonga, you’ll find a reliable bus system that circles the island in both directions. The buses are a cost-effective and eco-friendly way to get around, with regular stops at key attractions and accommodations. They’re a great way to meet locals and fellow travelers, too.
  • Taxi Services: Taxis are available on the larger islands, primarily Rarotonga and Aitutaki. While they are more expensive than other forms of transportation, they offer the convenience of door-to-door service.
  • Inter-Island Flights: If you plan to hop between the Cook Islands’ different islands, inter-island flights are available. These short flights are a quick and efficient way to explore the archipelago and make the most of your visit.
  • Ferries: On select islands like Aitutaki, you can use ferry services to explore nearby islets or islands. This is a great way to access remote and less-visited locations.
One foot island
One Foot Island | @airrarotonga

Where to Stay on the Cook Islands

The Cook Islands offer a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference. Here are some choices to consider:

  • Luxury Resorts: If you’re looking for a lavish and indulgent experience, the Cook Islands have no shortage of luxury resorts. These resorts often feature overwater bungalows, world-class dining, and spa facilities. Aitutaki, in particular, is renowned for its luxurious offerings.
  • Beachfront Villas: Many accommodations on the islands offer beachfront villas or cottages, providing direct access to the pristine beaches. Falling asleep to the sound of waves lapping at your doorstep is an experience like no other.
  • Mid-Range Hotels and Motels: For those seeking comfort and affordability, mid-range hotels and motels are available. These accommodations offer clean and comfortable rooms with essential amenities, making them ideal for families or budget-conscious travelers.
  • Guesthouses and Bed & Breakfasts: For a more intimate and local experience, consider staying in guesthouses or bed and breakfasts. These options allow you to connect with locals and gain insights into the island’s culture.
  • Holiday Homes and Rentals: If you prefer a home-away-from-home experience, you can find holiday homes and rentals on the islands. These are perfect for longer stays and larger groups, offering full kitchens and private spaces.
  • Camping and Backpacking: Camping is permitted on some islands like Atiu and Mangaia. Backpackers can find affordable accommodations with communal facilities.
Little Polynesian Resort, Cook Islands
Little Polynesian Resort, Cook Islands

How to Get To The Cook Islands

Getting to the Cook Islands is an exciting part of your journey. Here’s what you need to know:

  • International Flights: To reach the Cook Islands, you’ll most likely take an international flight to Rarotonga International Airport (RAR). Several airlines, including Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia, offer regular flights to Rarotonga from major international hubs such as Auckland, Sydney, and Los Angeles. Be sure to check flight availability and schedules, especially during peak travel seasons.
  • Domestic Flights: If you plan to explore multiple islands within the Cook Islands, you can book domestic flights from Rarotonga to other islands like Aitutaki, Atiu, and Mangaia. These short flights provide easy access to the various destinations within the archipelago.
  • Entry Requirements: Visitors to the Cook Islands typically do not require a visa for stays of up to 31 days. However, you will need a valid passport, proof of onward travel, and sufficient funds to cover your stay. It’s advisable to check the latest entry requirements before your trip.
  • Customs and Biosecurity: Upon arrival, you’ll go through customs and biosecurity checks. The Cook Islands have strict regulations to protect their unique ecosystem, so be prepared to declare any food, plants, or animal products you may be carrying.
  • Airport Transfers: Many accommodations offer airport transfers, so be sure to arrange this with your chosen place to stay in advance. Taxis and shuttle services are also available at the airport for convenient transportation to your accommodation.
Island paddle boarding
Crystal clear waters off the Cook Islands

Best Time to Visit The Cook Islands

The Cook Islands enjoy a pleasant tropical climate, making them a year-round destination. However, the best time to visit may vary depending on your preferences:

  • Dry Season (May to October): This period offers lower humidity and less rainfall, making it ideal for outdoor activities such as hiking, snorkeling, and beachcombing. The temperatures are comfortable, ranging from 20°C to 28°C (68°F to 82°F).
  • Wet Season (November to April): While the wet season brings occasional rain showers and higher humidity, it’s also the time when the islands are lush and vibrant. The rainy season rarely disrupts travel plans, and it’s perfect for those looking to experience the islands’ lush greenery and vibrant flora.
  • Festivals and Events: Consider timing your visit to coincide with cultural festivals like the Te Maeva Nui celebrations in July or the Vaka Eiva outrigger canoe race in November. These events provide unique insights into Cook Islands culture and traditions.
Cook Islands - A slice of paradise
Cook Islands – A slice of paradise | @torz_t

Tips for Your Visit:

  1. Pack Light and Smart: When packing for the Cook Islands, think light and practical. Bring comfortable clothing, swimwear, sun protection (hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen), and insect repellent. Don’t forget a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated, as tap water is safe to drink.
  2. Currency and Payments: The currency used in the Cook Islands is the New Zealand Dollar (NZD). Credit cards are widely accepted in larger establishments, but it’s a good idea to carry some cash for smaller shops and markets.
  3. Stay Connected: Most accommodations offer Wi-Fi, and you can purchase SIM cards for local mobile networks at the airport. Stay connected to share your incredible experiences with friends and family back home.
  4. Respect Local Customs: The Cook Islands have a strong cultural heritage, so it’s essential to be respectful. Dress modestly when visiting villages and attending church services. It’s customary to remove your shoes when entering someone’s home.
  5. Language: English and Cook Islands Māori (Rapa) are the official languages, and most locals are bilingual. Learning a few basic phrases in Cook Islands Māori, such as “Kia Orana” (hello) and “Meitaki” (thank you), can go a long way in building rapport with the locals.
  6. Support Local Economy: Whenever possible, support local businesses, from dining at family-owned restaurants to buying handmade souvenirs. This not only enriches your experience but also contributes to the island’s economy.
  7. Health and Safety: The Cook Islands are generally safe for travelers, with a low crime rate. However, take precautions such as securing your belongings and avoiding isolated areas at night. Mosquito repellent is recommended due to the presence of mosquitoes, especially during the wet season.
  8. Environmental Responsibility: The Cook Islands’ natural beauty is a precious resource. Practice responsible tourism by avoiding activities that harm the environment, such as disturbing coral reefs or littering. Be mindful of your environmental footprint and help preserve this paradise for future generations.
  9. Local Food: Don’t miss the opportunity to try traditional Cook Islands dishes like “umu” (earth oven-cooked feast) and “ika mata” (raw fish salad). Explore local markets and street food stalls for authentic culinary experiences.
  10. Weather Preparedness: While the Cook Islands enjoy a tropical climate, weather conditions can change. Stay informed about weather updates, especially if you plan water-based activities. Always follow safety guidelines and instructions provided by tour operators.
  11. Relax and Unwind: The Cook Islands are all about relaxation and embracing the island’s slow pace. Take time to unwind, read a book, or simply soak in the natural beauty. Embrace the laid-back island lifestyle.

The Cook Islands are a tropical paradise that attract travelers with their beautiful landscapes, rich culture, and friendly people. Whether you want adventure, relaxation, or a mix of both, these islands have something for everyone.

When planning your trip, remember these tips for a smooth and enjoyable visit. Respect the local customs, support the local economy, and make a positive impact on this amazing destination.