It’s easy to tick some countries off of your travel list. After all, the European countries are basically all connected by train, Canada and Mexico are just a hop over the border from the United States and if you’re going to hit one country in Asia, you might as well hit them all. But there are some countries that take effort to reach, and you have to be motivated and interested in visiting them.
The Cook Islands is one such destination. Far from anywhere, the 15 islands that make up this South Pacific nation are very much worth a visit in my opinion. But because they aren’t as heavily visited by travelers as many countries in the world, it can sometimes be hard to find information about them. If you’re thinking of visiting the Cooks Islands, I’d like to offer the following tips, which I picked up during my week-long visit:
Pack flip flops. They may be the only shoes you’ll wear. On the beach, out to dinner or around your hotel … wherever you go, flip flops are totally and completely acceptable. I usually pack flip flops for beach wear and then a pair of sandals for general wear, but I spent my entire trip in the Cooks wearing my flip flops and the sandals never made an appearance. In fact, many locals wander around barefoot, so wearing flip flops is almost overdressing!
Life is laid back. This is a country with 20,000 people spread out over an area the size of continental Europe. There are no traffic lights. Everyone knows everyone. Take your time as you enjoy a leisurely dinner on the beach. Instead of rushing through a trip with a local tour guide, ask questions and get to know the people who welcome you into their country. Life takes a leisurely pace, but the people and experiences are genuine, so revel in this authenticity.
Pack everything you need. Running down to the local market to pick up something small that you may have forgotten is not necessarily an option in the Cooks. Double check to make sure you have all the electronic components you might need for your tech gear and any toiletries or medications you need for your visit. The electricity in the Cook Islands conforms to New Zealand standards, and the outlet converter you need may not be built into your so-called “universal” outlet tool.
Eat the seafood. Many island nations offer incredibly fresh seafood dishes, and the Cooks are no exception. The local dish is ika mata, which consists of yellow fin tuna lightly marinated with lemon, herbs and coconut cream. Every restaurant offers its own variation but all are delicious and incredibly fresh.
Wear bug spray. Though sand fleas don’t seem to be a problem, if you get into the interior of the islands (to hike or explore caves, for example), the mosquitoes are thick. I made the mistake of slathering myself in bug goop, wading in a swimming hole and then getting out of the water and not reapplying the bug goop. The result was 106 mosquito bites below the knees.
Don’t count on internet service. Free wifi is definitely not a given at hotels in the Cook Islands. You will need to pay for the privilege of using bandwidth, and it doesn’t come cheap. Think twice before logging on because it’s easy to rack up an internet usage bill quickly.
Don’t miss your flight. If you are flying from the United States, there is one flight a week that goes from Los Angeles to Rarotonga, the most populated island in the Cook Islands. It is on Air New Zealand, which then continues on to Auckland after leaving Rarotonga. There is also only one flight from Rarotonga to L.A. each week. Do not miss your flight, because you won’t be able to catch another flight for another seven days.
Take advantage of island hopping. There are small island hoppers that go from Rarotonga to some of the other islands in the Cooks. There is limited tourism infrastructure on a few of the other islands (I visited Aitutaki and Atiu), but even if you don’t want to stay on the other islands, there are a few day trips that allow you to fly to another island, visit for the day and fly back to Rarotonga in the evening. Each island is significantly different from the others, so this additional expense is worthwhile.
Tell others about your experience. If you enjoy your trip to the Cook Islands, tell other people about it. The Cooks are often overshadowed by Fiji and Tahiti, but the country relies heavily on tourism, so letting others know about this oft-overlooked country helps it continue to survive and thrive.
My trip to the Cook Islands was paid for by the Cook Islands Tourism Board, but all opinions are my own.