|Currency: Change Franc Pacifique (XPF)||Eco-Lodges|
|Size: 4,167 km² / 1,609 mi²||Favorite Restaurants|
|Landscape: atolls, lagoons, beaches, mountains, rainforest||Eco Tour Operators|
|Activities: hiking, diving, snorkeling, wildlife watching, swimming, surfing, sailing|
Although most people think only of Tahiti and Bora Bora, French Polynesia is five separate regions encompassing 118 islands and atolls that cover an area as large as Europe. Rough beauty and cragged mountains await visitors in the remote Marquesas Islands, whereas the Tuamotus consist of flat atolls and attract mainly divers. The little visited Gambier Islands and Austral Islands are very different to the popular Society Islands, which include Bora Bora and the main island of Tahiti. But there’s one thing they all have in common — the friendliest people on Earth who are proud of their heritage and keep traditions and their native language alive!
TOP SPOTS IN FRENCH POLYNESIA
The biggest and most well-known island in French Polynesia, Tahiti is often neglected by visitors and only used as a gateway to the more undeveloped islands and atolls here. However the learned traveler knows that Tahiti has lots to offer, including bustling markets, world-class surfing, metropolitan culture and cuisine and unique natural attraction that are either not found or not accessible on the other islands.
Moorea, just next door to Tahiti, features a stunning landscape of steep, jagged mountain ridges, dense green foliage and a dazzling cerulean lagoon. Enjoy an incredible view of the island’s north coast from Belvedere Lookout, explore ancient temple ruins in the jungle, or visit small, local settlements. You can snorkel in the lagoon with cuddly stingrays or small black-tip reef sharks, or scuba dive just outside the reef with turtles, Napoleon wrasses and much larger sharks. And for those wanting to relax, there are a number of beaches to choose from. Whatever you decide to do, don’t forget to try the super sweet, locally grown pineapple!
Formerly a vacation place for the royal family of Tahiti, this small atoll that encompasses 12 pristine islands is absolutely breathtaking. Purchased by the late Marlon Brando in the 1960s after he filmed the Mutiny on the Bounty, it remains largely untouched. A birdlover’s paradise, you can also find the elusive coconut crab (large and strong enough to take off a finger if provoked) and whales passing by in season. Home to one of the last pristine old growth island forests in French Polynesia, you’ll also find countless empty sand beaches and a lagoon so blue you’ll have to pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming.
In contrast to the glitz and glamour you find on some of the more developed islands, only pure natural raw beauty awaits visitors in Huahine. Relatively void of large mega resorts, here you can get a taste of Polynesian life unspoiled by foreign influence. Whether you explore many ancient religious sites, get up close to sacred blue-eyed eels, find out how the locals still use ancient fish traps or just enjoy the simple life, this is a great island for those looking for a break from the tourist trail. Other options include a visit to a pearl farm or relaxing day on a deserted beach hunting for shells. Those looking for adventure (and danger) can grab a board and join the locals a surfing session out on the reef.
The second largest of the Society Islands, Raiatea is mainly visited by vacationing sailors picking up their charter boats to explore Raiatea and the neighboring islands of Tahaa, Bora Bora and Huahine. That being said, this mountainous island has some pretty amazing attractions. Dive a 100-year-old wooden ship, explore the only navigable river in French Polynesia, or hike up the steep interior to find “crackling” flowers that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Or, enjoy a little downtime and kick back on one of the island’s white-sand-beach motus after snorkeling an oyster bed learning how this region produces some of the world’s best “black” pearls.
Tahaa is one of the best kept secrets in the whole of French Polynesia. Overlooked by many, if you can only visit one place in this region, this should be your first choice. You’ll find fragrant plantations with real Tahitian vanilla and a pearl farm that cultivates its pearls in the lagoon. A traditional tattoo artist can give you a memory of a lifetime, and a local restaurant offers a unique Polynesian evening with local dishes cooked in an earthen oven, authentic local music and plenty of dancing. When it’s time to relax from all this sensory overload, you can hang out on one of the countless deserted motus or snorkel one of the best coral gardens in the region.
Hearing the words “Bora Bora” often conjures up images of overwater bungalows, blue lagoons and, well, paradise. All true; but the island offers much more, even for those adventurous types. Take a wild ride up a crazy rutted mountain road to visit huge cannons that were installed here during WWII and catch an amazing view of the island and surrounding lagoon, grab a guide and hike the lush interior and iconic volcanic peaks that are the center piece of this island paradise, try your luck and dive for your own pearls at a local pearl farm, snorkel with sting rays and black tip sharks or dive with manta rays and sea turtles.
If you would like to totally relax and unwind, look no further than the atoll of Tikehau. This is the perfect place for those looking to explore countless (sometimes pink) beaches. If you dive, you have found heaven on Earth. The lagoon offers unique manta ray encounters and the only pass in this magnificent atoll will thrill you with healthy, beautiful, colorful hard coral and amazing marine wildlife, such as turtles, stone fish, moray eels and huge schools of fish and sharks.
One of the world’s largest atolls, Rangiroa is not more than a ring of coral reef islets covered in a thin veneer of sand and palm trees. If you look closer, you’ll see the stunning beauty of its beaches and the laid-back lifestyle of its small population that occupies only two of the more than 400 islands here. If you snorkel or dive, you’ll enter a magical world underwater. Beautiful hard coral and big fish including plenty of sharks of numerous species make every underwater exploration an adventure, especially in the two passes that feed and drain the lagoon. No surprise Rangiroa is touted as one of the best dive sites in the world.
The world’s third biggest atoll, Fakarava is a haven for beach bums and divers. The former will find countless deserted beaches with fine, white sand and swaying palm trees, whereas the latter will be amazed by the wonders of the underwater world here. Diving the passes will treat you to dozens of gray, white tip, black tip and elusive hammerhead sharks, as well as incredible coral gardens, huge schools of fish and manta rays.