With tall palm trees swaying in the breeze, plentiful fresh tropical fruit and – naturally – an abundance of beautiful beaches, Rarotonga is an ideal destination for a tropical holiday. 

The water here in the Cook Islands is typically calm and clear, with long stretches of white sand perfect for sunbathing and relaxing. There are also sections of reef that make for good snorkeling, with schools upon schools of colorful fish.

Naming the best beach in Rarotonga would be impossible, but you can pick the best one for you depending on the type of trip you have in mind. Here are six of our favorites. 

Which side of Rarotonga has the best beaches?

There are jaw-dropping beaches all around Rarotonga, but there are a few areas that aren’t as safe for swimming or snorkeling. Some coastal zones have deep passages running from the shore to the ocean, which can cause strong currents; these passages are well marked, with posted warnings telling you not to swim. In Rarotonga, there are five such passages, mostly located in the southern part of the island, so the safest beaches tend to be on the western and eastern coasts. 

A man stand-up paddle-boarding on the crystal clear water of Muri Lagoon, with a small boat in the background
Muri beach is a hub for water activities, from kayaking to kitesurfing to stand-up paddleboarding © Getty Images

Muri is the best beach for water sports

A calm lagoon on the southeastern side of Rarotonga, Muri beach is a hub for water activities, from kayaking to kitesurfing to stand-up paddleboarding. The waves are generally calm and safe, making this an excellent place for beginners to dip their first toe in the water. 

There are several restaurants, bars and cafes right by the water, with more shops and eateries just a few minutes' walk inland. Numerous resorts line the beach as well, so sand and surf are both easily accessible if you choose to stay in the area.

As the sun begins to set, head to the village for the popular Muri night markets, which cater to a mix of locals and tourists with food trucks, stalls and stands serving seafood, barbecue, drinking coconuts and more. The markets open from 5pm and are closed on Monday and Saturday evenings.

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Black Rock is the best beach for catching a sunset

Black Rock is on the western side of Rarotonga, just a bit north of some of the island's most popular resorts. As the name suggests, it's known for the large, black volcanic rocks strewn over the sand, and it's a dramatic part of the coast, where you can climb the rocks and stage photo shoots or simply sit back and enjoy the scenery – especially the sunset. 

Black Rock is a calm spot that sees fewer tourists than many of the other beaches on this list. Despite occasionally strong currents, it's also a good beach for swimming, and its rock pools are fun for younger visitors to explore. For a quick post-sunset snack, check to see if there are food trucks parked nearby at the Nikao Social Centre.

Woman relaxing in a hammock under palm trees on a tropical white-sand beach in Rarotonga
Titikaveka is a nice spot to spend time relaxing, with the occasional dip in the sea © Matthew Williams-Ellis / Getty Images

Titikaveka is the best beach for relaxing

If you’re looking for a quiet and pretty place to kick back, head to Titikaveka, just south of Muri, where you’ll be greeted by towering palms, clear waters and a long stretch of white sand. With some shady areas and good swimming at both low and high tides, Titikaveka is a nice spot to spend time relaxing, with the occasional dip in the sea.

Looking to break up your day with some snorkeling? You’ll need to swim into the deeper waters off the eastern parts of the beach. In Tikioki, you’ll find a marine park called Fruits of Rarotonga (not to be confused with the café of the same name);  renowned for its coral, canyons and colorful tropical fish, it's one of the island's best spots for snorkeling. And when you're done with the water, peaceful Tikioki beach is just a leisurely stroll away.

Nikao is the best beach for families

A local favorite, Nikao Beach is situated near the airport in a slightly off-the-beaten-track location. The lagoon here is protected and shallow, which makes it a wonderful place for children to play – and, like the other beaches on the west side of the island, it’s also a great place to watch the sunset.

If you’re visiting Rarotonga between July and October, you may even be lucky enough to see whales swimming beyond the reef, and this is one of the best beaches in Rarotonga to catch a glimpse.

People swimming in the pool at Rarotongan Beach Resort on a clear day
If Aroa's currents are too strong for snorkeling, there's always the pool at Rarotongan Beach Resort © Holger Leue / Getty Images

Aroa is the best beach for snorkeling

If you enjoy swimming with tropical fish, Aroa is the place to be. This area is part of a marine reserve, and you don’t need to swim out very far before you’re surrounded by gorgeous coral in clear waters revealing a range of sea life, including moray eels, zebrafish and pufferfish.

Shallow and protected, Aroa is also a good place to snorkel with children. The busy Rarotongan Beach Resort is also on this stretch of sand; the currents in front of the resort are a bit strong, however, so wear flippers when snorkeling.

Koromiri has the best secluded beach

In Muri lagoon, there's a handful of motu (small islands) easily reached by kayak, but you should paddle for Koromiri, which has one of the best beaches in Rarotonga. Swim on the part of the islet facing Muri beach, as the water can be a bit rough on the other side.  

Alternatively, you can visit the motu on a lagoon cruise, which takes place daily and can be booked online or through your hotel. Leaving from Muri beach, these cruises allow visitors to explore the waters and islets of Muri Lagoon, usually in a glass-bottomed boat, and after a stop for snorkeling in the marine reserve, they often finish at Koromiri with a BBQ fish lunch. If you’re traveling independently, plan your visit so you don't arrive on the island at the same time as a cruise, and you’ll have the pristine beach all to yourself. 

 The Cook Islands are on our 2022 Best of Travel list. For more stories from some of the world’s most exciting destinations click here.

Safety recommendations and restrictions during a pandemic can change rapidly. Lonely Planet recommends that travelers always check with local authorities for up-to-date guidance before traveling during COVID-19.

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