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Dreaming of an idyllic island paradise for your next getaway? Consider visiting the gorgeous islands of French Polynesia!
This island nation is located in the South Pacific Ocean, almost directly south of Hawaii. It first became an Overseas Territory of France in 1946 and is now a French Overseas Collectivity as of 2003. While these Polynesian islands definitely have a French influence, they have their own currency, parliament, and language – though a vast majority of residents also speak French.
French Polynesia is made up of five island groups consisting of islands, islets, and atolls. There are 75 inhabited islands – the most popular to visit include Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Nuku Hiva, and Fakarava.
Now, what makes this place the perfect destination for an island vacation? For starters, the French Polynesian waters are some of the clearest I’ve ever seen. It’s so easy to enjoy the colorful marine life, whether you’re just snorkeling, scuba diving, or jet skiing.
On land, enjoy the stunning landscape on an ATV tour while exploring breathtaking waterfalls, secret grottos, and so many incredible views. And, of course, if you’re staying in an overwater bungalow, spend the day in your own private oasis.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit French Polynesia several times, and it never disappoints. I try to visit a new island each time, but there are still many left to check off on my list. Let’s get into some of my favorite islands, along with some I’m still eyeing, on this comprehensive list of the best islands in French Polynesia to visit!
TL;DR Best Islands in French Polynesia To Visit
|Tahiti||Teahupoo, Grottes De Maraa, Museum of Tahiti and the Islands||Easily accessible, lots of accommodation options, lots of activities and things to do||Most touristy, most crowded, you will need to rent a car|
|Bora Bora||Mount Otemanu, many snorkeling spots, Matira Beach||Epitome of luxury, very relaxing, lots of activities if staying at a resort||Most expensive island, very few affordable accommodations|
|Hiva Oa||Largest tiki statues in the Pacific, historic archaeological sites, diving at Kiukiu Point||Rugged, very few people have visited, untouched natural beauty||Not easily accessible, not many hotels|
|Rangiroa||Domaine Dominique Auroy winery, scuba diving||Best scuba diving in the world, not too remote, quiet and not crowded, friendly people||No luxury accommodations|
|Moorea||Tipaniers Beach, lots of hiking options, Green Pearl Golf Course||A good middle ground between Bora Bora and the outer islands, lots of water activities||Somewhat expensive and not many food options|
The Island Groups of French Polynesia
French Polynesia is made up of five main island groups – the Society Islands, the Austral Islands, the Marquesas Islands, the Tuamotu Islands, and the Gambier Islands. Each island group shares similar features and is grouped by geographical location.
The Society Islands is the most populated and most visited island group. The group is further divided into two sub-groups – the leeward islands (including Bora Bora, Huahine, Raiatea, and Tahaa) and the windward islands (including Tahiti, Moorea, and Tetiaroa).
The Austral Islands, also called the Austral archipelago or the Tubuai Islands, is the southernmost group of French Polynesian islands, located 400 miles from Tahiti Island. This island group is renowned for its archaeological sites, prime humpback whale-watching locations, and untouched natural beauty.
The stunning Marquesas Islands is famous for its rugged landscape, black sand beaches, and its resident wild horses. The Marquesas archipelago lured European explorers and artists for centuries due to its location and untouched beauty.
The Tuamotu archipelago is made up of 76 atolls or “low islands” and features incredible biodiversity and some of the best scuba diving spots in the world. To the south of the Tuamotu Islands is the Gambier Islands – some of the hardest-to-reach islands of French Polynesia.
Best Islands in French Polynesia To Visit
Tahiti is the main island of French Polynesia and is considered the “big city”, though it very much makes me feel as if I had been transported back in time to Honolulu 100 years ago. Artists and creatives like Paul Gauguin have been drawn to this island and its beautiful scenery for centuries.
It’s one of the only islands in the country that I would recommend renting a car for, because it’s quite a large island. There a lot to see and do on all parts of the island.
One of my favorite parts of Tahiti is the black sand beaches, which you can find on the north side of the island. The easiest one to access is Pointe Venus in Māhina. Another spot not to miss is Teahupoo, home to the most famous waves on the planet.
I could honestly go on and on about all of my favorite things to do in Tahiti, but here are some of the highlights:
- Snorkel in the clear waters of the lagoon – my favorite spot is off of Punaauia.
- Go shopping for local products and souvenirs at Vaima Shopping Center.
- Check the waves at Teahupoo, one of the most famous surfing spots in the world.
- Enjoy a private tour of the entire island.
- Admire the panoramic views of all sides of the island from the Belvédère de Taravao lookout point.
- Visit the Museum of Tahiti and The Islands to enjoy incredible works of art and learn about the history of the islands.
- Admire the waterfalls at La Cascade de Pape’ana’ana, and make sure to pack mosquito repellent!
- Check out the lush Grottes De Mara’a, one of my favorite parts of the island and certainly one of the most beautiful.
Accommodations in Tahiti range from charming bed and breakfasts to luxurious overwater bungalows. Here are some of my favorites:
- Te Moana Tahiti Resort
- InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa
- Hilton Hotel Tahiti
- Polynesian Cabins by Kon Tiki
I’ve never visited a place more beautiful than Moorea Island. Never.
The warm waters, welcoming people, and white sand beaches captured my heart as soon as I stepped off the ferry from Tahiti. This island is much like Tahiti but even less crowded and has much more of a chill vibe to it.
Moorea is small, so I don’t suggest renting a car. Instead, take a taxi from the ferry or airport to your accommodation. Many hotels offer bicycles to use during your stay, or you can call a taxi as needed.
This stunning island is known for its outdoor activities – so make sure to pack lots of swimsuits, activewear, and energy. You’ll end each day exhausted but so, so happy. Here are just a few things to add to your Moorea bucket list:
- Swim with the most breathtaking marine life, including humpback whales, dolphins, sharks, and stingrays, on this half-day tour. Don’t forget a GoPro!
- Chill out on the beach as you admire the crystal-clear lagoons. My favorite is in front of Les Tipaniers Hotel in Tiahura! Its shallow waters are perfect for lounging and sipping piña coladas.
- Enjoy the gorgeous scenery during your island vacation on this half-day quad excursion.
- Take a jet ski tour around the island and take in the rugged landscape of Moorea from the sea.
- Watch the most incredible sunsets from the shore or on this lovely sailcat!
- Hike up to the Three Coconuts Lookout for amazing views of Moorea’s mountains.
- The most amazing snorkeling can be found at the Jardin de Corail on a little island off the southeastern coast of Moorea called Motu Ahi.
- Golf while being surrounded by gorgeous scenery at Green Pearl Golf Course.
Just like Tahiti, Moorea offers stunning overwater bungalows, luxurious villas, as well as modest guest houses. These are just a few of the best places to stay in Moorea:
- Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort
- Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa
- Moorea Beach Lodge
- Eco Lodge Village Temanoha
3. Bora Bora
With its incredible turquoise lagoon, overwater bungalows, and luxury resorts, the romantic island of Bora Bora is the most famous island in French Polynesia. This mythical destination is located to the north of Tahiti and is one of the main islands in the country.
Bora Bora is famous for its breathtaking vistas – making it a sublime honeymoon destination for lovers across the globe. Aside from its famous lagoon, Mount Otemanu stands tall and makes a striking statement against the clear blue skies.
While this magical island is primarily known as a honeymoon destination, it’s also perfect for families as well as empty nesters looking for a quiet getaway. While I highly recommend lounging around – preferably on the deck of your own private villa, here are a few other ways to enjoy this tropical paradise:
- Go on a full-day lagoon safari. Swim amongst tropical fish, reef sharks, and stingrays and enjoy lunch on a private motu (tiny island).
- Hike up to the Mount Pahia Summit. This is a challenging hike that takes around six hours round-trip, so be prepared with lots of water, snacks, sun protection, and good hiking shoes.
- Spend a day swimming and snorkeling at Matira Beach. This is the best beach on the main island and is known for its shallow, calm waters.
- Enjoy a romantic candle-lit dinner at Restaurant Saint James, touted as one of the best restaurants in the country.
- Go shopping for souvenirs in Vaitape town. You can find many art galleries featuring local artists as well as shops selling gorgeous Tahitian black pearls.
- Try an introductory scuba diving lesson in one of the most incredible diving spots in the world!
Most hotels in Bora Bora are luxury resorts, making it the most expensive island to visit in French Polynesia. There are a couple of affordable accommodation options, but this is one of those places that is worth the splurge. Here are some of my faves:
- Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora
- InterContinental Bora Bora & Thalasso Spa
- Royal Bora Bora
- Conrad Bora Bora Nui
If your idea of a perfect adventure getaway includes fabulous blue waters and tropical jungles, the island of Huahine in French Polynesia’s Society Islands should be at the top of your list. The dense jungle is awesome for adventure seekers who aren’t afraid of getting dirty while on vacation.
After adventuring in the tropical forest, you can cool off in the waters surrounding the island or continue the adventure by exploring ancient temples and ruins. This island has the highest concentration of preserved marae, or ancient temples, in all of French Polynesia.
Like any other of the Society Islands, Huahine can easily be enjoyed by simply lounging on the beach all day with a Hinano beer in your hand. But if you prefer a bit more activity on your vacation, here’s what I suggest:
- Go snorkeling at the Jardin de Corail, or coral reefs, off the coast of Maeva. The shore can be somewhat rocky, so it’s best to wear a pair of water shoes here.
- Take a private 30-minute flight over the entire island. You can’t beat the views!
- Learn more about Polynesian islands and culture at the Fare Pote’e Museum. This museum is housed in a former meeting place of the Maeva village and showcases preserved pieces from Tahitian history.
- Visit the Huahine Pearl Farm to buy authentic Tahitian pearls and locally-made pottery.
- Enjoy panoramic views of the lagoon from the Panorama de Tefarerii lookout point.
- Visit Anini Marae, located in the south of the island. This is one of the best-preserved ancient temples in Huahine.
Raiatea is the second largest of the Society Islands after Tahiti. This tropical island is known for its precious archaeological sites, ancient petroglyphs, and lush landscape.
The Marae of Taputapuatea, an ancient religious center, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important religious sites in the Polynesian Triangle. It’s definitely worth an hour or two of exploring!
Raiatea’s natural beauty is best experienced through its numerous hiking paths. There are several paths with panoramic views on the south side of the island. Around the island, there’s no shortage of gorgeous places to dip your toes in the warm waters. These are just a few of the best things to enjoy while on Raiatea:
- Visit the Marae of Taputapuatea – a definite must!
- The Jardin Botanique de Faaroa is every photographer’s dream – so many gorgeous tropical plants to admire!
- The Te-Ara-Hiti-Ni’a path is just next to the Marae and features spectacular views of the glistening lagoon as well as the neighboring leeward islands of Huahine and Tahaa.
- Kayak up the scenic Faaroa River. This is the only navigable river in the country, and while it is very calm, it’s still a good idea to pack your belongings into a dry bag.
- Hike to the summit of Mount Temehani. There is a species of Tiare (gardenia) flower that only grows on this mountain.
- Bonus: Take the short boat trip to Tahaa! This tiny island is known for its vanilla production and incredible lagoon, as well as an incredibly luxurious resort.
- The deep lagoon between Raiatea and Tahaa makes this one of the best places in the world for sailing.
Raiatea does not have any chain hotels, but there are several small hotels and bed and breakfasts. Here are some lovely options:
6. Nuku Hiva
If you’ve already visited French Polynesia’s more popular destinations like Tahiti and Bora Bora, check out wild Nuku Hiva for your next Polynesian adventure. This rugged island is all about natural beauty – from Vaipo Waterfall, one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, to the stunning Anaho Bay, you’ll never run out of beautiful places to explore.
The easiest way to get to Nuku Hiva is on a flight from Tahiti – there are multiple direct flights daily. Air Tahiti also has flights between Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa, so you can visit both of these Marquesas Islands on a single trip.
Nuku Hiva is the perfect destination for any adventure traveler looking for somewhere off the beaten path. Enjoy your time exploring some of Nuku Hiva’s hidden gems, such as:
- Vaipo Waterfall – the tallest waterfall in the South Pacific Ocean.
- Stroll down the streets of Taiohae to enjoy local crafts, jams, and fresh produce.
- Hike to Anaho Bay, one of the most picturesque scenes in all of French Polynesia.
- Explore the island on a horseback riding tour.
Accommodations on this remote island are quaint and charming, either run by locals or those who have been drawn to the beauty of Nuku Hiva. Options are limited, so be sure to book early. Here are a few options:
7. Hiva Oa
Another majestic Marquesan island to visit is Hiva Oa. This island is known for being the final resting place of famous French painter Paul Gauguin and Belgian singer Jacques Brel. These men, like many others, were immediately drawn to the immense beauty and mysteriousness of this island.
Hiva Oa is often called the “Garden of the Marquesas Islands” due to its lush landscape and green mountains. The volcanic soil makes for impressive black sand beaches and showstopping craggy cliffs.
This island is home to the largest tiki statues in the French Polynesia islands, as well as many archaeological sites. While on Hiva Oa, you should:
- Visit the village of Atuona. This is where Gauguin and Brel are buried and where you can find several of their personal works.
- Trek up in the valley of Puamau. Here, you will find the historical site called Lipona, which is home to the largest tiki statues in the country.
- Dive amongst the graceful manta rays and other beautiful sea creatures at KiuKiu Point. The Marquesas Islands is home to some of the best diving in the South Pacific Ocean.
Because it is so difficult to get to, this magical island remains one of the least visited places in the entire world. As such, you won’t find many large resorts here. There are just a few hotels and lodges throughout the island’s lush valleys:
Rangiroa is the ultimate destination for epic adventure out on the water. While not technically an island, Rangiroa is the world’s second-largest atoll and home to some of the best scuba diving on the planet –which more than earns its spot on our list.
The atoll’s coral reefs are teeming with colorful fish and otherworldy marine life. While seemingly remote, you’ll definitely find visitors eager to scuba dive or simply snorkel in the pristine waters. At any time of day, you can enjoy the gorgeous “immense sky,” the meaning of Rangiroa in Tahitian.
Diving isn’t all that Rangiroa has to offer. Here are just a few things to check out if you choose to visit this castaway island:
- Take a tour of Domaine Dominique Auroy, a winery right on the atoll. This winery produces fine white and rosé wine made from grapes grown right on Rangiroa!
- Make sure to look out for churches around the atoll. Many of them were built using local coral from the lagoon.
- Take a tour of the atoll by boat. You may even spot manta rays, turtles, and reef sharks!
- Stop by Gauguin’s Pearl to learn the fascinating process of Tahitian pearl harvesting.
- Go diving, of course! The crew over at The 6 Passengers can get you sorted in no time.
Guest houses and small hotels are what you can expect while staying in Rangiroa. They may not be the most luxurious accommodations, but you can find some pretty nice hotels and enjoy all the natural beauty that surrounds you. These are some of the best options in Rangiroa:
Tikehau is a small atoll located to the west of Rangiroa. This tiny island is lush with large coconut groves and white sand beaches. This island is the perfect escape for couples looking to relax in a quiet and tranquil tropical destination.
The main attractions in Tikehau are diving and snorkeling. With some of the clearest waters in the world, it’s incredibly easy to spot a curious stingray swimming by or a reef shark hoping to find its next meal (don’t worry – humans aren’t on the reef shark’s menu). The easiest thing to spot is the colorful array of fish, including parrot fish and triggerfish.
Around the island, you can find several tour companies to take you on excursions and teach you all about Tikehau’s special lagoon. While the atoll is quite small, it has a lot to offer in terms of outdoor adventure:
- Go swimming at Plage des Sables Rose – a stunning pink sand beach!
- Check out the outer reef at La Cloche de Hina.
- Dive or snorkel in Tikehau’s amazingly clear lagoon. You’ll often find reef sharks, stingrays, manta rays, and plenty of tropical fish here.
- Check out Bird Island, a small islet where you can see many of French Polynesia’s native birds. The best way to see this is by going on a guided excursion.
While Tikehau is very tiny, there are a couple of luxury hotels available, making it the perfect secluded getaway for couples. Here are some of the best hotels in Tikehau:
How to Get Around French Polynesia
While French Polynesia is quite a popular tropical destination to visit, it does require some advance planning to get around – especially if you’re visiting any other island besides Tahiti. The only international airport in the country is located on Tahiti Island, with direct flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Honolulu, as well as other international cities.
From Tahiti, you can take flights or ferry boats to the outer islands, though I would recommend opting for a flight for most islands. If you are planning to visit Moorea, the ferry is only one hour and super convenient. Bora Bora is only an hour’s flight – make sure to sit on the left side of the plane for the most amazing views!
Be prepared for longer flights if you plan to visit other island groups. For example, a flight from Tahiti to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands will take just under four hours.
What to Know When Visiting French Polynesia
Overall, when visiting French Polynesia, normal precautions and situational awareness should be practiced as with visiting any other destination. French Polynesia has a very low crime rate and is a safe place to visit. There are just a few specific things to keep in mind when visiting Tahiti and its outer islands:
- The islands outside of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora are a little more conservative in terms of dress and behavior.
- Be sure to be covered (no swimwear) when visiting religious sites, including ancient temples.
- It is a law that you must keep photo identification with you at all times. Both local government rules and French laws apply.
- Outside of Tahiti, basic medical care can be hard to find. Be sure to add coverage for medical evacuation when purchasing travel insurance.
- Insect-borne diseases, including Zika, Dengue, and chikungunya, are common. Be sure to wear insect repellent at all times, especially when visiting the jungles.
- Cyclone season is from May to September, and the rainy season is from November to April. Keep this in mind when booking your travel. I like to visit in March and April.
- Restaurants are very casual in most of French Polynesia. The best options in terms of quality and variety can be found at the resorts, but expect those meals to be expensive.
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Brittney is a lifelong traveler from Oahu, Hawaii. She has visited more than 35 countries and is continually researching new places to explore – even though she hates flying. Her favorite destinations have one thing in common: they’re warm. With expertise in French Polynesia, Hawaii, and the Mediterranean, you can follow along as she checks out the cleanest beaches and clearest water on the planet. Brittney is currently based in the South of France.