A few months ago, I found some cheap fares to Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands. Kim and I decided to spend our thanksgiving there, and had a great time.
Rarotonga feels to me much like Hawaii in terms of the ocean life and the geography and plant life, though it's much smaller than most of the Hawaii islands we all think of. It's surprisingly undeveloped, no big hotels, no golf courses, I didn't see a single chain store or restaurant I recognized, and mostly pretty affordable, with the exception of food, which is mostly imported and expensive. Our guesthouse was simple, but clean and filled with a great bunch folks (about 9 rooms total). It had a full kitchen and some nice sitting areas, so we ate breakfast and lunch there most days. It was steps from the lagoon/beach, and only $45/night! Included use of the Kayaks and the bikes too.
One day, we were kayaking in the lagoon, and met a woman collecting food in the shallow areas. Kim asked her about it, and she was super nice. She showed us what she was doing, shared her food with us to try, and answered tons of questions. Nearly everyone we met was like this, just super friendly.
Kim finished the PADI open water certification, congrats cutie. We spent several days diving afterwards, and had a great time. Pacific Divers there is a top notch operation, with the best dive boat on the island. Lot's of time snorkeling too.
If you were looking for Cancun style resorts, bars and shopping, you'd have a tough time in Raro. If you wanted Golf courses and fancy hotels like Hawaii, you'd have to readjust your expectations. But if you're ok with a one road island, amazing water and nice beaches, snorkeling and hanging out, kicking back, eating at a local market, and just enjoying being on an island filled with friendly chill folks, Raro should go on your list. Kim and I loved it.
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