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Aitutaki, the Cooks’ second-most-visited island, curls gently around one of the South Pacific’s most stunning lagoons. The aqua water, foaming breakers around the perimeter reef and broad sandy beaches of its many small deserted islets make for a glorious scene. From the air or on the water, Aitutaki will take your breath away.

It’s just 45 minutes by air from Rarotonga but it feels like another world. Although there are some impressive, plush resorts, this island is slower and much less commercialised. Many visitors come on Air Rarotonga’s day tour or opt to stay at upmarket resorts, but there are still good-value accommodation options, and it’s worth spending a few days to slow down to island time.

Sunday is solemnly observed as the day of prayer and rest. Take the opportunity to see a local church service, as the singing is spine-tingling. Sunday flights from Rarotonga continue to inspire protest from elements of the island’s religious community, and you may see a few banners and placards when you arrive.

Aitutaki is shaped like a curved fishhook, and you’ll fly into the north of the island near O’otu Beach and the private Aitutaki Lagoon Resort. On the west side are most of the hotels and Arutanga, the island’s main town. On the east coast are the small villages of Tautu, Vaipae and Vaipeka. The motu around the edge of Aitutaki’s lagoon are uninhabited.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Aitutaki.