The Cook Islands might well be Earth’s best-kept secret! It is the island paradise everyone dreams of, but few people actually know about it.
It is a place where you can soak up the sun on pristine beaches, trek through wild tropical mountains, ride the waves, and swim with the turtles. Imagine Hawaii or Tahiti but with almost no tourists. Now, that is my kind of heaven on earth!
This picturesque island nation is made up of 15 tiny islands scattered across the South Pacific. The majority of the islands are extremely remote and only reachable by boat. However, Rarotonga and Aitutaki are both easy to get to and incredibly backpacker-friendly.
Deciding where to stay in the Cook Islands is no easy task. There are so many beautiful places to choose from that each offers something unique. With so many spots to choose from, deciding which is best for you and your travel needs can be daunting.
But don’t worry about a thing. You just focus on the important stuff – like what cocktails you’re going to drink when you arrive (I’d recommend trying the island-brewed Cook Islands Lager!)
I’ve explored this wonderful set of islands and created this guide to help you decide where to stay in the Cook Islands. I’ve compiled my top five areas to stay in and what makes each special. I’ve broken them down by travel style and budget – so I know there will be something in there for you!
So, let’s dive into it.
Where to Stay in the Cook Islands – Our Top Picks
Headed to the Cook Islands and looking for a place to stay? Here are our top overall recommendations for places to stay in this scenic island nation.
Best Bungalow in the Cook Islands: Muri Shell Bungalow
This traditional Polynesian bungalow is an epic spot. It is a charming, one bedroom bungalow, ideal for one or two guests. Make sure you bring your yoga mat, as the garden area is a beautiful place to enjoy a moment of peace. Located at the world famous Muri Beach, this bungalow is ideally located in the heart and soul of the island. Be sure to check out the Muri Night Market, and snack on some tasty local bites.
Best Hostel in the Cook Islands: Backpackers International
Backpackers International is the ultimate budget option in the Cook Islands. We can guarantee that you will not find a cheaper place to stay! With multiple common spaces available, this hostel is a wonderful choice if you are a social butterfly looking to connect with fellow travelers, and make new friends.
Best Hotel in the Cook Islands: Tai Marino – Beach Bungalows
Tai Marino, located on the peaceful island of Aitutaki, is a gorgeous oceanside hotel. You can have your very own private bungalow, but with all the benefits of a hotel. The size of the bungalows vary, and can sleep anywhere between one and four guests. With exquisite sea views, and a large garden to wander around, this hotel is its own little slice of paradise.
The Cook Islands Neighborhood Guide – Places to Stay in The Cook Islands
Rarotonga is home to the only international airport in the region, so unless you are one of the very few people traveling by boat, it is almost certainly where your Cook Island adventures will begin.
Aitutaki is the second most visited island in the Cook Islands, after Rarotonga, and the only other home to a wide variety of accommodation options. Only 50 minutes from Rarotonga by plane, it is most commonly visited by day trippers, but we think that is huge mistake!
Rarotonga is the largest and most accessible island in the Cook Islands. Almost all of the incoming and outgoing flights are via Aukland, but you can occasionally find a direct flight from Sydney.
If you are dreaming of a place that has outstanding beaches, and top notch mountains, look no further! Obviously you are here for the beaches and the island life, but if you are feeling up to it, try your luck at the famous coast to coast cross island trek.
Aitutaki, also known as “Heaven on Earth, is pure paradise, and the ultimate place to relax. This secluded island is smaller and quieter than Rarotonga, and a must visit on any holiday to the Cook Islands! You could easily spend days and days lounging in hammocks and sipping on coconuts. Don’t spend the whole time relaxing though – make sure you explore the incredible turquoise lagoon, and bring your waterproof camera!
The 2 Best Islands to Stay on in the Cook Islands
If you’re looking for a cabin, condo, hotel or hostel in the Cook Islands, let us help you out!
1. Rarotonga – Where to Stay in the Cook Islands for your First Visit
Rarotonga is home to the only international airport in the region. Unless you are one of the very few people traveling by boat, it is almost certainly where your Cook Island adventures will begin. Luckily for you, it is also the best area to start your trip!
You will be surprised by just how much you can see and do on Rarotonga – we are certain, no matter how long you stay, you will leave wishing you had more time. Snorkeling, diving and hiking are just a few of the can’t miss activities.
Exploring is a piece of cake, thanks to the 32 kilometer road that circumnavigates the island, and connects all of the top sites. No matter where you want to go, you will never be more than 30 minutes away by car.
Muri Beach, Aroa Beach, and the town of Avarua are some of the most popular spots for tourists. Thanks to its accessibility, Rarotonga would definitely be our top recommendation of where to stay in the Cook Islands on your first trip.
Best Bungalow on Rarotonga: Muri Shell Bungalow
Nothing personifies island life better than a beach bungalow, and this is the top one on Rarotonga. The charm of this tiny house is in its classic island look and simplicity. Inside the bungalow, you will find a fully-equipped kitchen and a large TV.
Outside, there is a pristine grass lawn which is fabulous for practicing your morning yoga, as well as a covered front patio for escaping from the sun.What really makes this home stand head and shoulders above the competition, however, is its location. With Muri Beach only a one-minute walk away, this is a beach bums paradise.
Best Luxury Villa on Rarotonga: Casa Del Sol
Casa Del Sol, as it is known amongst the locals, is the number one luxury home on Rarotonga! This marvelous villa features a swimming pool, a huge outdoor lounge area, and multiple hammocks hidden around the property.
The stunning interior is incredibly modern and leans into its island roots with a heavy use of wood. With three bedrooms and four bathrooms, this is a lavish option for families or large groups. Kids especially will love this home thanks not only to the pool, but the on-site trampoline and playground as well!
Best Hostel on Rarotonga: Backpackers International
Backpackers International is both the longest running hostel on Rarotonga, and the highest rated! For those true down and dirty backpackers out there (you know who you are!), this is the ultimate budget spot on the island.
You can choose between a double room, twin room, three bed dorm, or six bed dorm. The common room is a place of legend amongst past guests, and where many life long friendships have been forged. Feeling adventurous? Join one of the many activities and tours that the hostel runs for its guests.
Best Hotel on Rarotonga: Magic Reef Bungalows
This resort is home to nine fully-equipped beachfront bungalows, all of which have beautiful beach views. The bungalows are made in a traditional Polynesian style, so you can feel like you are living like a local during your stay.
All the bungalows come with their own private balconies, which are ideal for hiding from the sun, or taking in the sunset. The swimming pool is in the shape of an old pirate ship for a fun and creative flare. The hotel also provides bikes and snorkeling equipment free of charge.
Things to See and Do on Rarotonga
- Scuba dive in world class locations
- Snorkel the magnificent reefs
- Hike one of the many mountain trails
- Grab a local bight at the Muri Night Market.
- Take a walking history tour of the island
- Explore on a glass-bottom boat
- Catch some waves and surf at one of the local breaks
- Enjoy cocktails at sunset on the beach
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2. Aitutaki – Where to Stay in the Cook Islands for Epic Diving
Aitutaki is the second most visited island in the Cook Islands, and the only other spot with a wide variety of accommodation options. Only 50 minutes from Rarotonga by plane, it is popular with day trippers, but we think it deserves a longer stay.
Even though it’s a small island, it has so much more to offer than can be seen in one day. With a nickname like “Heaven on Earth,” and why would you only want to stay for one day?! You will find some of the coolest places to stay in the Cook Islands here!
Aitutaki is made up of the main island, a handful of small islands, a lagoon and a reef. The lagoon is the star attraction, and has past been voted “the most beautiful lagoon in the world.” In the lagoon, they have world class snorkeling and diving, where you are sure to find coral reefs, hundreds of species of fish, and giant sea turtles!
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Best Bungalow on Aitutaki: Peaceful Bungalow with Sea Views
This tranquil bungalow is located on the east coast of the island, and is a marvelous home base for any stay on Aitutaki. The outside deck has a spectacular ocean view, and is an amazing spot to take in the sunrise.
This cozy one bedroom bungalow is ideal for couples or solo travelers who are looking for a private beach getaway in an exceptional location.
Best Luxury Villa on Aitutaki: Tavake Villa
If you are on the hunt for a luxury beachfront bungalow, then Tavake Villa is the spot for you. Located only steps from the beach, this is an unrivaled place to relax and live on island time. The large covered patio is a tremendous location to watch the sunset before settling into the king-sized bed, and letting the sound of the waves lull you to sleep.
You can find many delicious restaurants just a few minutes away in town, as well as car rentals, grocery stores, and whatever else you may need. Without a doubt, this is one of the coolest places to stay in the Cook Islands.
Best Hostel on Aitutaki: Gina’s Garden Lodges
Gina’s Garden Lodges is our top budget accommodation recommendation on Aitutaki. Instead of dorm rooms, this hostel offers charming individual lodges. They vary in size, and can sleep anywhere between one to four people.
Every lodge includes its own private bathroom and private kitchen. There is a large pool with wooden sundecks that is open year-round. Gina’s is great for longer term guests, as they have a running promotion of one night free out of every 7 days you book with them.
Best Hotel on Aitutaki: Tai Marino – Beach Bungalows
In place of normal hotel rooms, Tai Marino provides each of its guests with their very own private beach bungalow! The bungalows have all been renovated, and each bungalow has a giant front deck with spectacular ocean views.
The decks are furnished with tables and built in sofas, and are a stellar spot to enjoy the complimentary breakfast. Take an afternoon nap, or sip on a cold beverage while watching the sunset. Interested in doing a tour, or renting a boat? You will be able to book anything you want to do directly through the hotel concierge!
Things to See and Do on Aitutaki
- Snorkel or dive in the coral reefs
- Go on a lagoon cruise
- Rent a bike and explore every nook and cranny of the island
- Kayak in the crystal clear lagoon waters
- Relax on the beaches and soak up the sun
- Visit the lookout points around the island for spectacular views.
- Get your passport stamped at One Foot Island
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What To Pack For Cook Islands
Pants, socks, underwear, soap?! Take it from me, packing for a hostel stay is not always quite as straightforward as it seems. Working out what to bring and what to leave at home is an art I have perfected over many years.
Snoring dorm-mates can ruin your nights rest and seriously damage the hostel experience. This is why I always travel with a pack of decent ear plugs.
Hanging Laundry Bag
Trust us, this is an absolute game changer. Super compact, a hanging mesh laundry bag stops your dirty clothes from stinking, you don’t know how much you need one of these… so just get it, thank us later.
Sea To Summit Micro Towel
Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight, and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
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Grayl Geopress Water Bottle
Always travel with a water bottle! They save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. The Grayl Geopress acts as a purifier AND temperature regulator. Boom!
Check out my definitive Hotel Packing list for even more top packing tips!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance for Cook Islands
ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.
They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.
SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!
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Final Thoughts on Where to Stay in the Cook Islands
The Cook Islands are one of the most beautiful and spectacular places on the planet. We guarantee you will not regret visiting this island utopia, and will remember your time here forever. As you can see, there are so many accommodation options, no matter what you are interested in, or what your budget may be.
We hope that this guide has helped you decide where to stay on your next trip to the Cook Islands. Let us know which place to stay has peaked your wanderlust!
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!