With over one hundred islands scattered over five archipelagos, this is the ultimate island hopping experience.
French Polynesia, despite what you may think, is a haven for all those that choose to embark upon it. Ranging from exclusive Bora Bora accommodation on the water to your cosy guesthouse on Mataiva; there is space for everyone here.
Ticking all the boxes for your paradise experience, French Polynesia’s islands are characterised by a mix of jungles covering oddly-shaped mountains that hide spellbinding waterfalls, coral atolls and sea life unlike anywhere else in the world. Its islands have been described as “the Garden of Eden” or “the magical island”, and the more remote you go, some of the last paradises in the world. These bold claims are all true.
As the name suggests, your time here will introduce you to a unique blend of Tahitian and French culture and language. However, no French Polynesia tour is complete without getting to know Polynesian history and traditions. All of the islands are peppered with tombs of former leaders and tiki statues that tap into the art and culture of Polynesian people, however, what you will remember the most, is the warm hospitality and fun-loving culture that you’ll experience while here.
Your island experience will be nothing short of dazzling, this is, after all, French Polynesia! This guide will go through the essentials that you need for your trip, as well as some insider information to leave you fully equipped for your French Polynesia tour!
When to Go to French Polynesia
With balmy temperatures at all times of the year, French Polynesia really is the perfect destination. Between June and August, you’ll find that the conditions are just right, however, this is also when the islands are at their busiest, so prices tend to be much higher than normal.
Straddling either side of the busy period, April to June and August to September are French Polynesia’s shoulder seasons and the perfect times to visit. July is considered the wettest and most humid month with high chances of storms hitting the islands, although this has not happened in some time.
Islands to Visit on Your French Polynesia Travels
Visit Bora Bora
The name alone conjures up heavenly images of coral atolls, swaying palms and lush jungle. Bora Bora is where ancient volcanoes covered in a blanket of greenery tumble down to idyllic beaches. What’s more, the tropical wildlife that you can find in the lagoons is unlike anything you have seen before.
This famed island does not come without a price, Bora Bora tourism is as exclusive as it gets. Your days will be spent kayaking, snorkelling and swimming from floating resorts in search of manta rays and sharks – all friendly, of course!
Bora Bora is your little piece of heaven on Earth and a must if you are looking for a luxury trip.
Nuka Hiva and Fatu Hiva Holidays
Rugged, untouched terrain that leaves you weak at the knees. Nuka Hiva and Fatu Hiva are two of the Marquesas Islands that you cannot miss – it’s one of the most isolated archipelagos in French Polynesia.
Although Nuka Hiva is far larger than Fatu Hiva, second only to Tahiti itself, both of these islands boast a kaleidoscope of activity that goes far beyond dreamy beaches. Old jungle-covered volcanoes sit next to limestone karsts that clumsily stand next to each other creating a dreamy landscape to explore on foot. Both of the islands establish their character through the quiet villages that interrupt the landscapes where Polynesian culture is alive and well. If you want to immerse yourself in the age-old traditions of local people – there’s no better place.
A Trip to Tahiti Island
Not to be confused with the Islands of Tahiti, which is the collective name for all of the archipelagos, Tahiti Island is French Polynesia’s largest and home to the capital, Papeete. Holidays on Tahiti island are often given a miss in favour of sought-after locations like Bora Bora – it’s very much used as a stepping stone instead.
However, away from the bustling city of Papeete, you have all that you are looking for in a Tahitian island: volcanoes, coral atolls, empty beaches and opportunities to get in touch with Polynesian culture.
For those that seek an off-road track rather than a well-beaten travel path, a visit to Tahiti might just surprise you. Tahiti Island has two parts: Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti. The smaller of the two, Tahiti Iti, is nothing more than a trekking location, where nature is left to thrive untouched. Tahiti Nui is your perfect mix of local culture, hints of French influence, boundless jungles and beaches that are just moments from Papeete.
Holidays to Huahine and Taha’a
If the simple life is for you, Huahine will seem like your private piece of heaven. Imagine cycling through coconut plantations, picking your own fruit and lazing around on a hammock after a day of snorkelling: this describes just about every day on Huahine.
Tiny Taha’a is the little sister of Bora Bora and neighbour to Huahine, all of which are in the Society Islands archipelago. This gem of an island takes a backseat, however, it still packs a punch. Taha’a has all the coral atolls, lush jungle and island life experiences that you could imagine, with an added scent of vanilla – it’s the largest producer in French Polynesia, and famous for it too.
Offshore, Taha’a is known for its vibrant sea life as you’ll witness in this 6-day Tahiti Hideaway trip. As it is surrounded by a coral reef, the island has better visibility than other islands, where you can see everything from sharks to starry pufferfish. Snorkelling around Taha’a is best at high tide to avoid any injury to you or the coral.
When French Polynesia comes to mind, we think of jagged mountain landscapes that spring up alongside deserted beaches and waterfalls appearing as if from nowhere: this is Mo’orea!
Sitting next to Tahiti island, Mo’orea is a popular choice for those with a short amount of time in French Polynesia, and it delivers! Mo’orea vacations are typically characterised by pineapple plantations, scenic hikes to ancient temples and seemingly endless beaches.
In between your days spent by the pool or on the beach, you can explore Mo’orea on land, by ATV or on water, in a glass-bottom kayak to explore the many lagoons surrounding the island. The island is known for allure and beauty, a day spent here and you’ll be hooked!
Holidays in Tikehau and Mataiva
Two atoll islands that you must see to believe are Tikehau and Mataiva!
Long stretches of pink and white sand beaches make up Tikehau, which has just a few villages to its population. The atoll island is the result of a barrier reef sinking below the surface, leaving a thin rim of sand and foliage that sits above the surface of the water.
Tikehau holidays are best spent relaxing. The atoll has a reputation for diving, however, if you don’t know how to then you can spend your time here kayaking or head out on a boat to explore further.
Mataiva atoll very much remains a secret. Although the atoll has more vegetation and ‘land’ than Tikehau, its accessibility makes it one of the best-kept beauties in French Polynesia. As part of the Tuamotu archipelago, Mataiva is the furthest away from Tahiti. Holidays in Mataiva are spent constantly surrounded by lagoons that are in that dreamy shade of blue that you had been hoping for when coming to French Polynesia.
What stands out about Mataiva the most is the irregular shapes that the atoll has formed creating thin slices of islands and bubble-like lagoons attaching to each other to create light blue pools.
Holidays to Raivavae
Forming the south of French Polynesia in the Austral Islands is where you’ll find Raivavae.
Where adventure musters up in the most curious ways, in Raivavae you’ll find yourself hiking through the jungle one moment and watching small clusters of whales breaking the waters the next. To complete this unique experience, Raivavae’s tight-knit community are always eager to welcome those who choose their island. Of all French Polynesia’s islands, Raivavae is the last Shangri-La for those that choose to make the journey.
How to Get Around French Polynesia
By far the most luxurious way of getting around, French Polynesia’s most exclusive islands offer the chance to see the islands from a different perspective by connecting on a seaplane! Tahiti Air Charter was one of the first companies to offer this service, it is particularly popular for those looking for all-inclusive trips to Bora Bora.
The cheapest way to get around French Polynesia is by boat. With over a thousand islands, the length of the journey and frequency of the boat services will vary. Naturally, if you choose a popular destination like Tahiti or Moorea, you’ll find regular services throughout the week. Less common islands will have services as little as twice a week and very long distances to match.
The most popular and easiest way of getting around French Polynesia is flying. With airstrips on 48 islands that covers every archipelago in the region, flight services are often more frequent than boats.
There is only one international airport in French Polynesia which is in Papeete on Tahiti Island. If you choose to hop between islands by plane, most services will take you back to Papeete before you go to the next island. Domestic flights are arranged through Tahiti Air Charter, the flight frequencies are dependent on the popularity of the island.
Where to Stay in French Polynesia
As French Polynesia’s most famous island, Bora Bora is bursting with exclusivity. The island’s resorts never fall short of luxury with balmy locations on the smaller islands of Bora Bora as well as isolated outposts floating on the clear waters.
Accommodation in Bora Bora is strictly reserved for the high-end budget, perfect for honeymooners and couples looking for that once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Moorea is by far the most accessible of French Polynesia’s islands with accommodation for every budget. Moorea allows everyone to enjoy paradise with an impressive, and surprising, variety of accommodation options that range from budget guesthouses and dormitories to high-end beachside hotels and retreats.
As the main island of French Polynesia, Tahiti is home to a wealth of accommodation in and around Papeete and beyond. The best part is that most see Tahiti as a stopover island for famed locations like Bora Bora and Moorea. Accommodation options will suit the mid-range travellers with some surprisingly exclusive options for high-end travellers. Particularly in the north of the island, away from the city.
Volcanoes, coral atolls, abundant sea life and white sand beaches are guaranteed in French Polynesia’s lesser-known islands. The best part is, it doesn’t have to be an exclusive experience. Taha’a, Faka Rava, Raiatea and many more of French Polynesia’s occupied islands have an impressive range of accommodation available to just about any budget.
It’s worth noting that the transportation times for these islands are limited with some only operating boat services once or twice a week. Your Local Designer will be able to help you to choose an island that matches your budget with the hotel costs and boat regularity.
What to Eat in French Polynesia
In French Polynesia, the tastiest dishes are cooked ahima’a, which is a Neolithic method of cooking. A big hole is dug in the ground and coals placed in, the food is then cooked in banana leaves for a long period of time to secure all of the flavours. This method is a staple of all traditional homes.
Mahi Mahi with Vanilla Sauce
The pride and joy of Tahitians is mahi-mahi, a giant open-sea white fish that is commonly used in traditional dishes. The fish is known for its texture, which is perfect for serving raw, grilled, seared or ahima’a. A popular way to enjoy mahi-mahi is paired with vanilla sauce where the simple flavour of the fish chimes in harmony with the delicate flavour of vanilla.
French Polynesia is known for having the best vanilla in the world – it’s particularly famous in Taha’a where it grows in abundance. To blend everything together, the vanilla is made into a sauce with a light cream.
A famed dish in French Polynesia is suckling pig. The animal is cooked whole in a closed ahima’a pit, for a long period of time, often days, to cook slowly and steadily creating soft and tender meat. This method of cooking is particularly great for cooking meat as when it is finished, you can eat just about any part of it; it’s roasted to perfection.
French Polynesia’s answer to ceviche is a delight for the senses and the perfect light dish on a hot day. Poisson Cru is one of the national dishes of the islands. The tuna, or often mahi-mahi fish, is marinated for a short period of time in lime juice before being mixed in with a variety of vegetables.
To finish it off, a splash of coconut milk, although for the best flavour, the flesh of the coconut is squeezed over the top for a lighter flavour to balance out the lime – delicious!
This simple chicken dish is often spiced up with spinach and garlic, which are all wrapped up in taro leaves and cooked in a traditional ahima’a. The result is soft and tender meat and vegetables, which are best accompanied by yams, plantain and sweet potatoes.
Dessert French Polynesian style is done with traditional ingredients. With taro as a base, anything can be added to naturally sweeten the deal: banana, papaya or pumpkin. Whatever your choice, this is topped with a coconut sauce!
Festivals in French Polynesia
Chinese New Year
Taking place in the heart of Papeete, Chinese New Year is predominantly celebrated by French Polynesia’s Chinese population who are descendants of those who were brought here as cotton workers in the 1800s.
Chinese New Year aligns with the lunar calendar, so dates change every year. The celebration is spread over five days with fireworks, feasts and colourful decorations. Some of the highlights of the week are the lantern procession and grand ball where cultural performances take place in the city centre.
In the Tahitian language, uru means breadfruit, a national treasure for all that live here and staple in the local diet. Breadfruit has a long history in French Polynesia of being a saving grace among locals for being a source of nutrition in times when few other food sources were available.
To celebrate the breadfruit and all that it has given to the community, the Uru Festival will introduce you to all that you can make from breadfruit: cakes, chips, potato assortments and even beer! The festival takes place over three days where a variety of stalls are set up to taste what this fruit is capable of.
Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro
This is French Polynesia’s biggest surfing competition, and is one not to be missed for all water lovers!
Just off of the island of Rangiroa, the location of the competition is known for its challenging waves and barrels that only the best surfers can take on. The competition is part of the World Surfing League and attracts international surfers to complete.
Heiva I Tahiti
Saving the best until last, Heiva I Tahiti is the biggest event on the French Polynesian calendar – celebrating French Polynesia’s autonomy as a country. The festival takes place on the waterfront of Papeete where Polynesian’s from the five archipelagos come together to take part in a series of competitions including sports, beauty pageants and some more traditional events like palm tree climbing and coconut cracking.
Heiva I Tahiti is a colourful occasion, where dancers dress in traditional clothing and Tahitian music fills the streets. Interestingly, it coincides with the celebration of France’s Bastille Day.
Things to Know Before You Visit French Polynesia
Visa: As French Polynesia has such close ties with France, you can expect similar rules when entering. Most countries have visa exemption, however, it is best to check before you travel.
Currency: The currency of French Polynesia is the French Pacific Franc. At the time of writing, May 2021, 98.50 CFP is equal to 1 USD.
Language: In French Polynesia, people speak Tahitian and French. In hotel complexes, people will speak English, however, if you want to connect with locals, it’s best to brush up on your French and learn some Tahitian.
Wi-Fi: French Polynesia is remote, so connectivity can be limited. If you choose to stay in an up-market hotel, you’ll have Wi-Fi there. The more local or remote the island, the slower the Wi-Fi will become.
Do’s: Tahiti Island is known for the food trucks called Roulettes. They offer gourmet level takeaway food that is a must-try while on the island!
Inspired by This French Polynesia Guide?
Amazing snorkelling experiences and lush green landscapes await! However, with so many islands to choose from it can be difficult to know where to start.
Browse our range of fully customisable French Polynesia tours to get an idea of what is possible in Tahiti, Bora Bora and beyond. If you don’t like what you see, our Local Designers in French Polynesia are at hand, ready to listen, click on ‘design your own trip’ and answer some simple questions related to your travel style and budget. Then, our Local Designers will get to work to create your dream trip!