French Polynesia islands can be described in many ways: swaying coconut palm trees, warm, crystal-clear waters, and picture-perfect beaches. The South Pacific imposes itself as a true paradise — and the beautiful island of Bora Bora still represents the ultimate realization of the Edenic ideal.
The incredible scenery alone is reason enough to escape to the islands of French Polynesia. Thanks to their jagged peaks and blue-green lagoons, these South Pacific islands have fascinated people worldwide for decades.
However, sight-seeing is not the only activity you can engage in over there. With their picture-perfect powdery beaches and tropical rainforests, there are a lot of things to see and do in this slice of heaven. Dive with sharks, visit ancient temples or explore the local wildlife! It’s no problem if you’re not the adventurous type because you can always sit back and relax on a beach with a delicious cocktail in hand!
What About The Costs?
While it’s true that most people will envision perfect tropical islands with acres of powdery beaches, palm trees, and azure waters when thinking about French Polynesia islands, you should also consider the financial aspect. After all, French Polynesia has the reputation of being one of the most expensive holiday destinations in the world.
This slice of heaven actually consists of over 200 isolated and far-flung islands. Travel between them as well as accommodation are definitely aspects to consider before embarking on a journey. Hotels, resorts, food, and transportation are the most costly aspects of the beautiful French Polynesia islands. Still, by planning ahead and getting to know the islands, you can reduce the expenses and island-hop this paradise without a worry. This is where we hope our French Polynesia island guide will come in handy!
French Polynesia Islands: A Short Guide
If you were to overlap the map of French Polynesia and Europe, you would come to the shocking realization that they’re roughly the same size. Indeed, this Edenic stretch of the Pacific Ocean is made up of approximately 200 islands divided into 5 main groups: the Society Islands, Tuamotu, Gambier, Austral, and the Marquesas. These groups of islands spread over 4.1 million square kilometers across the South Pacific Ocean and are an exotic mix of low coral atolls no taller than 3 meters and soaring peaks of volcanic islands that rise up to 2,5 km above the sea!
The most popular tourist destination is the Society Islands archipelago. That’s where the island of Tahiti is located along with Papeete, French Polynesia’s capital. The Society islands are mostly tall, volcanic islands with pricey resorts, luxury spas and overwater bungalows surrounded by azure lagoons and spectacular geography. The pricing for amenities in this group is the highest. Also, you can find malls and restaurant chains, ATMs and much more.
The second group of islands, the Tuamotu islands is located in the east. Unlike the Society islands where tourism and accommodations are booming, Tuamotu is mostly small-scale in terms of everything. Accommodations here consist of family-run guesthouses. You won’t find international resorts or hotels over here.
Southeast of the Tuamotu islands we find a group of lush islands surrounded by breathtaking crystal lagoons: the Gambier group. These islands are perfect for hiking and exploring! Further north-east of the Society archipelago you can find the Marquesas. The Austral islands are located to the south-west. These places abound in wildlife, incredible geography and friendly locals. This is the most isolated you can get in the South Pacific!
Now that you have an idea about the layout of French Polynesia, it’s time to check out the top 4 most popular tourist destinations in this amazing area!
Top 4 Popular French Polynesia Islands To See
Home to the capital city of Papeete, Tahiti is the economic center of French Polynesia. It’s also the most westernized destination in the South Pacific. All flights come and go through the Tahiti International Airport (Faa’a International Airport). This is the only international airport in all of French Polynesia. Unlike the rest of the islands, Tahiti is the most developed and vibrant in terms of fun and leisure. This strikes a contrast against the rest of the islands that are more secluded and quiet, though equally beautiful!
Thought of as the heart of the South Pacific, Tahiti is the largest island in the group of the French Polynesia islands. Located halfway between LA, California, and Australia, Tahiti shares the same time zone as Hawaii. Besides the incredible vistas, the allure of Tahiti is Papeete, its capital city.
Papeete is a uniquely vibrant and multicultural city with a busy harbor and large boulevards. It also boasts a strong economy thanks to its downtown market, Le Marche, museums and a waterfront promenade that only comes to life after the sun goes down. The nightlife is exciting and there are many places to find affordable meals including pizza, Chinese food, and of course, fresh fish!
Another remarkable thing about Papeete is the fact that it is the cultural hub of French Polynesia. Every summer, in July, the Heiva I Tahiti takes places. It’s a traditional dance event that literally transforms the entire island in a huge festival that celebrates the Polynesian culture. Thousands of people gather to witness this incredible event that takes the islands by storm! Traditional music, beautiful dancers and delicious street food!
However, beyond the tropical cosmopolitan vibe of Tahiti, this island also abounds in breath-taking scenery, lush geography, and incredible waterfalls. Hop on a bike and leave the westernized parts of the island behind and you will find yourself immersed in a natural paradise filled with powdery beaches, warm waters, and amazing hiking trails.
Besides partying and lounging by the beach, you can engage in a number of fun and exciting activities on Tahiti: snorkeling, jet skiing, and surfing. This exotic dual nature of Tahiti makes it a perfect destination for a summer getaway!
Bora Bora is, without a doubt, the most popular and well-known exotic destination in the world and the most popular one for honeymooners! Its signature image consists of cute little bungalows that float above aquamarine lagoons. Far in the distance, the iconic peak of Mount Otemanu towers the landscape. As you can tell, it’s very romantic.
This slice of paradise is hard to forget. As soon as you land there, whether via boat or plane, Bora Bora is impossible to forget. From the day you set foot on this island, you will love it for it’s soaring mountain and turquoise lagoons that invite you to dive in!
While the island is quite far away, you can reach in no time via plane. The island is located one hour away northwest of Tahiti. Upon arrival, beautiful women dressed in traditional clothes will greet you at the airport, dancing and smiling warmly at you. Then, you will reach your resort by boat.
Bora Bora has earned the distinction of the world’s most romantic getaway due in part to its postcard-perfect overwater bungalows and its natural beauty. It’s also the ideal place to live out your honeymoon. It’s bungalows allow for plenty of privacy and intense relaxation. Its numerous luxury spas abound in locally sourced, all-natural ingredients that are put to good use in amazing facials and rejuvenating massages. The food is also delicious, tourists being able to choose between both French and Polynesian cuisine!
However, hitting the spa or making love in your own private bungalow are not the only activities available on the island. This French Polynesia gem allows you to be as active as you want! From shopping the local boutiques to exploring Mount Otemanu, Bora Bora is more than a romantic destination.
You can also visit the main village of Vaitape or go fishing, paddle boarding, and even feed sharks! If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can go parasailing, skydiving, and even tour the island by plane – exquisite activities that will be a veritable shot of awe!
If you’re looking for something incredible, breath-taking and immaculate, then Mo’orea is the place to go. In spite of its awe-inspiring splendor, Mo’orea is a very precious jewel that offers not only uplifting vistas but also a multitude of fun activities. It is dubbed as the most family-friendly South Pacific destination. Mo’orea is a very warm and inviting place for families and even newly-weds.
Located ten nautical miles from Tahiti, the island can be reached either by ferry or plane. One of the strong points of Mo’orea is the presence of international resorts. It is the perfect hybrid between the westernized Tahiti and a virgin exotic paradise. Whether you want to check in at the world-class Hilton hotel or at the very cozy pensions available on the island, Mo’orea has it all. You can even opt for a Bora Bora vibe via the overwater bungalows or stay in a luxurious garden villa with your family. No matter your preference or budget, rest assured, there is a place for anyone on this welcoming island!
Another strong point of Mo’orea is the fact that the island is considered to be a geographical wonder. The unique landscape layout gives this gem the well-deserved reputation of being one of the best islands for adventure and sight-seeing. Eight gigantic mountain peaks tower an azure lagoon. They split the northern shore into two symmetrical bays: Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay. This alone makes any activity on the island a privilege onto itself!
Speaking of fun activities, Mo’orea has a lot to offer in terms of recreation! There are tons of things you can do both on land and water. Most resorts on Mo’orea offer programs and amenities, as well as fun activities for children of all ages such as a trip to the Dolphin Center. The most popular activities on the island though include snorkeling, ray feeding, whale watching, and jet skiing.
If you’re looking for more adventure, you can try helmet diving or sky diving. These activities are instantly taken to the next level thanks to the unforgettable panoramic views of the island and its abundant pineapple plantations! You can also take care of the fun aspect of your getaway yourself by renting a car or a bike. This will allow you to freely explore the beauty of the island at your own pace. For all these reasons, and much more, Mo’orea is the pride and joy of French Polynesia.
If you ever wanted to step foot in the Garden of Eden without leaving the world of the living, then Huahine will rock you to the core. This French Polynesian island is a gigantic tropical jungle. Coconut plantations, vanilla orchids, watermelon fields, and banana groves are everywhere.
While Huahine sees fewer tourists compared to Tahiti or Bora Bora, the locals pride themselves with their island. This is because it remains the most picturesque location in the South Pacific, its beauty reminiscent of early Polynesia.
Located less than an hour’s flight from Tahiti and in relative proximity to Bora Bora, Huahine is an island divided into two beautiful parts: Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti. It is a culturally preserved sanctuary that abounds in sacred temples scattered throughout its lush vegetation.
Mystical and captivating, Huahine is without a doubt, an island that will leave you spellbound! Scholars consider it to be the cradle of Polynesian culture, as well as the home of Tahitian royalty. Huahine has the largest number of ancient temples in French Polynesia, some which date back to 700 AD. This means you can visit the largest stone temple in the South Pacific just outside Maeve Village.
In terms of accommodations, there are a few hotels to choose from. Each has its own unique identity and breath-taking vistas. You can also opt for charming resorts built around a well-preserved ancient village. Recreationally-speaking, Huahine is a very active island, despite the native’s appreciation for a quiet lifestyle. There are outdoor markets, waterfront boutiques and plenty of fun activities. Jet skiing, island tours, sailing and sport fishing are only some of them. Also, if you like surfing, the island of Huahine has the best surf in the South Pacific!
French Polynesia Islands: The Perfect Vacation Getaway
From sandy beaches to azure lagoons, French Polynesia is a sublime stretch of water populated by incredible islands that abound both in natural beauty and exciting life! Whether you’re looking for a more westernized experience on Tahiti or a more laid-back, native island life on Huahine, these French Polynesia islands will surely prove to be an unforgettable vacation destination for you!