Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
Visit French Polynesia
French Polynesia is an overseas collectivity of the French Republic. This ensemble of 118 beautiful islands and atolls in the South Pacific Ocean, halfway between the USA and Australia, is well known for its exotic atmosphere, turquoise waters, and relaxed lifestyle.
Few places in the world have a more exotic feel to their name than French Polynesia. Some of these French Islands, like Bora-Bora, Mangareva, Moorea, or Rangiroa, are among the most scenic islands in the world, and it is no wonder that people like Paul Gaughin or Jacques Brel once called them home.
This French Overseas territory is made up of five archipelagos: the Marquesas Islands, Society Islands, Tuamotu Archipelago, Gambier Islands, and Austral Islands. If you are still trying to decide where to go in French Polynesia, click here for the best French Polynesia islands for every kind of traveler.
Tahiti (Society Islands) is the most populated island in French Polynesia, and the Tahitian city of Papeete is the capital.
The official language in French Polyesia Islands is French, but there are other recognized regional languages. The official currency is the CFP franc (XPF), and the time zone varies from UTC-10:00 to UTC-09:00, depending on where you are.
Best Time to Visit French Polynesia
It is possible to visit French Polynesia all year round, but the best time to visit is in May and September, two months with good weather and without the peak season crowds.
The months between June and August are the driest, with temperatures sitting between the high 20s to mid-30s Celsius, but this is also the period with more crowds.
The months of November to April see tropical showers, and the weather is more humid and uncomfortable.
TIP: try to visit French Polynesia with the full moon; the lagoons and inlets are particularly charming when illuminated with the moon’s light.
How to Get to French Polynesia
Being a French Overseas territory under the French Republic constitution means that arriving in the French Polynesia Islands is just as simple as arriving on France Mainland.
Flying is the only way to arrive in this paradise. The only international airport here is Fa’a’ā International Airport (PPT), located just outside Papeete on Tahiti. Fa’a’ā is one of the most remote French airports, only served by 9 international airlines in France, New Zealand, Chile, and the US :
- Air France (SkyTeam): Los Angeles Lax, Paris Charles De Gaulle.
- Air New Zealand (Star Alliance): Auckland.
- Air Tahiti: Rarotonga Cook Island.
- Air Tahiti Nui: Paris Charles De Gaulle, Tokyo Narita, Auckland, Los Angeles Lax.
- Aircalin: Nouméa.
- French Bee: San Fransisco, Paris Orly Airport.
- Hawaiian Airlines: Honolulu Hawaii.
- LATAM Chile (OneWorld): Easter Island, Santiago de Chile.
- United Airline (Star Alliance): San Fransisco.
Where to Stay in French Polynesia
Being French Polynesia a paradise destination, no wonder that some of the world’s most stunning hotels are located here.
If you are looking for the best accommodation in Moorea, head to this article. But you will find beautiful resorts with amazing facilities everywhere, usually located on the most popular islands.
- Four Seasons Resort – Bora Bora
- The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort – Bora Bora
- Raiatea Lodge Hotel – Raiatea
- InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa – Tahiti
- Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa – Moorea
- Hotel La Pirogue Api – Raai
Getting Around French Polynesia
Once you arrive in Tahiti, there are boats and local flights to travel between the same archipelago islands and local flights to travel between different archipelagos.
When traveling from one archipelago to another, you will have to transit through Tahiti, and often you will have to stay a night in Tahiti before the next flight.
Flights to smaller islands and atolls are often booked out months in advance.
The best way to explore the bigger islands is by car or two wheels. You can rent your car at the airport of Papeete (PPT), at Moorea Airport (MOZ), and in the main cities.
Best Things to Do in French Polynesia Islands
Visit the Paofai Gardens in Papeete
One of the most beautiful places to visit in French Polynesia is the Paofai Gardens, a delightful place to explore in Papeete, far from the city’s hustle and bustle. The gardens stretch for around 4.5 hectares all along the waterfront, and they have more than 400 trees and plants from all around the five archipelagos of French Polynesia.
The Paofai Gardens is also a popular place to hang around for locals, a social spot in the city for relaxing strolls, picnics with friends, or an evening run.
Look for the Perfect Wave in Tahiti!
Tahiti is a great place for surfers with all levels of experience. While Tahiti is famous for its legendary Teahupoo wave, you’ll find waves of every length, size, and difficulty across Tahiti’s coastline.
Surfing is one of the best things to do in Tahiti for active travelers. If you’re planning a Tahiti surf trip, be aware that there are two surf seasons – Summer (November to March) and Winter (April to October). Check out this Tahiti surf guide for the best surf spots for all levels and other top tips.
Search for Tropical Fishes
Scuba diving and snorkeling are amongst the coolest things to do in French Polynesia islands. You can spot reef sharks, stingrays, and various tropical fish up-close from the water or the boat.
Depending on the weather conditions and time of year, you will also have the chance to spot sea turtles, dolphins, leopard rays, and humpback whales.
- Book your Bora Bora Shark and Snorkeling Safari
- Book your Private Whale Watching and Swimming Tour in Bora Bora
Explore a Pristine Lagoon
Where: Bora Bora, everywhere
Join a lagoon tour on a comfortable boat to explore the pristine lagoons of French Polynesia. These water bodies separate the islands from the South Pacific Ocean, and they create a unique world on their own.
During this unique experience, you can float through the lagoon’s crystal clear waters, snorkel in search of colorful coral, swim with rays, or just relax on the deck.
- Book your Lagoon Boat Tour with Snorkeling in Bora Bora
- Book your Bora Bora Luxury Tour and Beach Picnic
Over Water Activities in French Polynesia
Where: Bora Bora, everywhere
Aside from snorkeling or scuba diving, the French Polynesia islands also offer a plethora of over-water activities. During your stay, you can try kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or fishing.
You can also zip around the lagoons on a jet ski with an experienced guide. These jet ski tours usually stop at a couple of locations where you can jump into the turquoise water for a refreshing swim.
Visit Ancient Temples and Look for the Tiki Statues
Where: Raiatea, Hiva Oa
There are hundreds of ancient temples in French Polynesia, some of them still buried in the jungle waiting to be discovered. The most famous temple is the Marae Taputapuatea on the southeastern coast of the island of Raiatea (Society Islands). This newly listed UNESCO World Heritage Site was once considered an important religious center, and it features several stone sculptures and other interesting structures.
In the remote Hiva Oa (Marquesas Islands), you will find giant tiki, mysterious stone statues guarding the forest permanently. Nobody really knows who built them and their purpose, but now that you have made it to the end of the world, they are well worth a visit.
Find the Perfect Beach
Sometimes, you just need a dreamy beach with turquoise water for a refreshing bath and a nap under a coconut tree. From Tahiti’s black sand to the white sand of everywhere else, French Polynesia beaches are as beautiful as they are printed in travel magazines.
There are lists of the most popular or most beautiful beaches in French Polynesia everywhere on the net, but if you ask the locals, you may find a slice of paradise for the day somewhere else and have it all to yourself!
Hit the Trails
French Polynesia is made of volcanic islands, with many hiking trails of all levels. The list of most popular Polynesian hikes includes Mount Aorai (Tahiti), the Moorea peaks, and Maupiti. Of course, there are many more, but they often require a guide.
Taste the Local Food
In French Polynesia, local dishes have traces of French, Chinese, and Italian cuisine. Locals in French Polynesia often eat breadfruit, pork, seafood, cassava, and many fruits.
If you are a fan of fresh raw fish, you will enjoy Polynesian cuisine: their traditional dish is called Poisson Cru (raw fish), and it is offered everywhere.
Fans of desserts need to taste the Poi – the most popular Polynesian dessert – a kind of taro root pudding, the sweetness of which comes from vanilla, papaya, pumpkin, or banana.
Get Cultured in French Polynesia
Where: Moorea, Marquesas Islands
During your stay in French Polynesia, try to learn more about its rich culture. To do so, there are many fun activities aside from dancing, like learning how to make flower crowns, cooking courses, or a visit to the black pearl farms.
Markets are also a good opportunity to enjoy a glimpse of local life, and if you speak French, it will be easy to chit-chat with locals and learn more about life on the islands.
If there’s one word in the local language to pick up during your stay in the French Polynesia islands, it is surely ‘ia orana’, used to greet each other. Just like the ‘bonjour’ in France, ‘ia orana’ will open many doors to you!