Sara Fondo standing on top of a mountain in Tatra National Park, Zakopane, Poland

Best Hiking Trail in Raiatea: Chasing The Three Waterfalls

The three waterfalls hike in Raiatea, French Polynesia

Come with me on the best hiking trail in Raiatea that will lead you past the three waterfalls. Swing on the vines, take a cold plunge, and break a few rules. This hike has it all for the adventure-seeking traveler!

Now, let me start out be setting the scene; lush greenery, an earthy scent in the air, trickling water, swaying vines, an icy plunge and a curious eel that acted as if it had never met a human before. Add a little rule-breaking, and there you have it – my awesome hiking adventure to The Three Waterfalls.

I don’t usually encourage rule-breaking, but I also think it’s utter bullshit to try to monetize nature, which is exactly what has happened on The Three Waterfalls in Raiatea. So, on this hike, I decided to embody the saying that goes, “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission.” And guess what? It went fine.

Photo of The Three Waterfalls in Raiatea, French Polynesia

In this blog post, I will share with you everything you need to know: how to navigate the new rules implemented on this hike, how to get there, what you need to be aware of, and my own experience of conquering these waterfalls, which includes the story of a curious eel.

You can use the links below to jump to a certain section of the blog post.

Hike Details

How to get there

What you need to know

My experience

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Hike Details

Height profile: You will experience an elevation of approximately 320 meters on this hike.

Hike Distance: The total distance of the hike is 5.15 kilometers.

Hike Duration: You can do this hike in 2 hours, but add some more if you want to take a cold plunge in the waterfall and chill on a rock in the middle of the jungle, taking in the views.

Hike Difficulty: Moderate. I don’t consider this hike to be overly challenging, but if you’re not in good shape, I’m sure you’ll feel your heart pounding a lot of the way. Also, there are some steep sections with ropes, that you will use to climb.

How to get there

To get to the beginning of The Three Waterfalls Hike I took a taxi to “Pension Les Trois Cascades”. This cost 1500 CFP, that’s around 15 USD (on the way back, I hitchhiked).

From here, you start walking up the road. At some point before the trail head, you will encounter a gate. This gate will tell you not to go any further without a guide (read below in “What you need to know” for more information on how to deal with this).

This gate will most likely have a chain around it, that you can easily remove and put back as you’ve entered. Walk straight ahead, until you reach the forest. From here you can keep track of your whereabouts on the map.

As always, I recommend you to get the app Remember to download the map of French Polynesia before heading out, so you can use it offline in case you lose connection on your mobile.

What you need to know

  • DISCLAIMER: YOU NEED A GUIDE. New rules have been put in place, forcing you to get a guide to embark on this adventure, though you can easily do the hike without one. Though I’m all for supporting the local economy, I think it’s bullshit when nature is being monetized, so I decided to say “fuck it,” and go anyway. For me, it worked. But of course, there’s no guarantee that it will every time. Several reviews on AllTrails tell a tale about a cranky lady, living nearby, who won’t let you pass. I was told by a local to just swear at her in French and keep going. But I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether to take the chance and go without a guide or pay your way to be able to see the three waterfalls.
  • Stay on track. This trail is not marked, so you will have to keep your eyes open and/or follow the map on your mobile to make sure, you’re not making the adventure more adventurous than it needs to be by getting lost.
  • To some, this hike might be a little challenging. There are steep sections and uneven terrain. There are also ropes, and it will be slippery from time to time. Take breaks as needed and don’t rush. Also let someone know that you’re going and when you expect to be back.
  • Wear sturdy shoes with a good grip. This is a no-brainer.
  • Check the weather forecast to ensure safe hiking conditions. It will get even more slippery in the rain, and the added force of the waterfalls might affect the trail.
  • Begin your hike early in the morning to avoid the midday heat and have ample time to complete the hike.
  • Bring more water than you think you need – at the very least 1 liter per person.
  • Respect the natural environment and leave no trace. Carry out any trash you generate during the hike.
  • Respect yourself and your limits – it’s essential to be in good health and have a reasonable level of fitness. Always prioritize your safety and well-being.

My experience

Chasing Waterfalls and Breaking Rules in Raiatea

By now, I’ve been on several more advanced, multiple-day hiking adventures around the world; in Panama, in Peru, in Poland. This experience has given me a better idea of when I need the assistance of a guide, and when I don’t. And going on a moderate 5 kilometers hike, is not one of those times, where I find it necessary.

So, when I came by an ominous gate with an obnoxious sign, telling me that I couldn’t go any further on The Three Waterfalls hike without a guide, I did what any self-respecting wanderer would do, and said, “fuck it,” and set off anyway. And guess what? It all went just fine.

Photo of The Three Waterfalls in Raiatea, French Polynesia

Minutes before, a man on a scooter had arrived, and he had left the gate open for me as he passed through himself – this, in itself, felt like a sign. I pushed open the gate, and the 5 dogs that had been following me from the beginning of the road, didn’t turn around. Nope, they happily wiggled along, as we marched forward together, into the jungle.

It made me reminisce on the time, I was backpacking in South America. On basically every single one of my hikes, one or more local – maybe stray – dogs would relentlessly tag along. No matter the weather and difficulty of the hike. I even had a dog in Peru, who went with me on a 6-day hike in the Cordillera Blanca Mountain range, where we climbed a mountain of 5000 meters above sea level.

Friendly dogs that followed me all the way on the hiking trail to The Three Waterfalls in Raiatea, French Polynesia

These dogs were just as badass as their South American counterparts. They became my comrades on this journey, though I have no clue how they managed to keep up. Some inclines were steep enough to make a mountain goat think twice, but these furry rebels were relentless. They made it all the way to the third and biggest waterfall with me, and all the way back down.

The beginning of the trail had me scratching my head a few times, is this the way? I thought, looking to the left, or maybe that’s the way? My mind offered, as I glanced to the right. But luckily, we live in a society where you can pull your mobile out of your pocket and find answers to your questions within minutes; in this case I could open the app, that I use for hiking trails, and the compass would let me know which direction I needed to go, and soon enough, I was knee-deep in this lush, green paradise.

I somehow managed to miss the first waterfall. Maybe it’s simply too tiny to notice? Anyway, the second one was beautiful, and it offers you the opportunity to stand at the top of it, which is pretty damn cool. But the pièce de résistance of this adventure, was the third waterfall. It’s a beast, the granddaddy of them all, and I was determined to face it head-on.

After a strenuous climb, I reached the top, my 5 dogs still going strong, and there it was – a majestic cascade of water that seemed to flow straight from the heavens. The temptation to cool down after crawling and climbing through the humid jungle was too great, so I stripped out of my sweat-soaked clothes and took a frigid plunge into the waterfall’s embrace.

Photo of The Three Waterfalls in Raiatea, French Polynesia
Photo of The Three Waterfalls in Raiatea, French Polynesia

This is where something peculiar happened. As I swam in the little lake formed by the mighty waterfall, I noticed something beneath the water’s surface, nearing in on me. “Eeeeek!” I exclaimed as I made it out to be a black and apparently very curious eel. Yes, an eel, folks! It followed me like I owed it money, its sleek body darting through the dark grey waters. Maybe it was just as intrigued by me as I was by it – I have met remoras in the ocean before, who were extremely curious as to what type of creature I was. Either way, it was a funny encounter, though also a slightly gross one.

I made my trek back, and by the end of the road I bid my doggies farewell. But little did I know that on this day, this hike wouldn’t even be the biggest adventure, I’d experience. Nope, the hitchhiking experience I was about to have, would turn out to be the craziest one, I’ve ever had. But that’s a story for another blog post.

I guess, sometimes breaking the rules, ain’t that bad. At least to me, every step, every climb and that final plunge was well worth a little trespassing. Sometimes life’s too short for money-greedy people trying to monetize nature and caution signs, where there odd to be none.

I hope you enjoyed this guide to the best hiking trail in Raiatea – the three waterfalls! Stay tuned for more unfiltered and honest travel content.

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