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  • Writer's pictureJenna

French Polynesia Guide

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

LA ORANA! That means "hello" in Tahitian, and you'll use it a lot. (pronounced yo-rah-nah)

Congratulations on finding this page! As that means you may be planning a trip to one of the most surreal destinations in the world, the French Polynesian Islands.

French Polynesia is one of the world's most sought after travel destinations, cue the Movie: Couples Retreat, filmed in Bora Bora. Countless celebrities have vacationed here, and it's on the bucket list for many people.

French Polynesia is an area located in the southern hemisphere in the south pacific ocean, composed of 118 islands and atolls stretching over 1,200 miles (2,000km). Of the 118 atolls, 67 are uninhabited, with 69% of the French Polynesian population being situated on the biggest island of Tahiti. The French Polynesian islands are remote, and boast the most breathtaking landscapes including emerald lagoons, crystal clear waters, coral reefs, volcanic peaks, rigged cliffs, and more.

French Polynesia is divided into 5 groups of Islands:

  1. The Society Islands archipelago, composed of the windward and leeward islands

  2. The Tuamotu Archipelago

  3. The Gambier Islands

  4. The Marquesas Islands

  5. The Austral Islands

Of these island groups, the society islands are the most frequently visited, and include the popular Tahiti and Bora Bora islands. The official language is French, although Tahitian is also spoken. English is widely spoken as well.

French Polynesia is where you'll find those Instagram-worthy bungalows with glass bottoms on stilts over beautiful lagoons. It's a romantic paradise, and the remoteness just adds to the sweet serenity of French Polynesia.

Now, let's get to the good stuff.

Guide to French Polynesia


1. TEN Best Islands to visit in French Polynesia

  1. Bora Bora, society islands - Bora Bora's turquoise lagoons, soft white sand, and sunkissed sunsets make this island the #1 destination in all of French Polynesia. You'll feel like the only ones on the island. Remote, romantic, paradise. Need I say more?

  2. Mo'orea, society islands - Just a short boat ferry ride from Tahiti, Mo'orea shows off its immaculate beauty as you approach. Beautiful waters and scenic hiking, this island is the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure.

  3. Rangiroa, Tuamotu archipelago - Rangiroa is essentially an endless lagoon, remote and secluded. As the second largest coral atoll in the world, this island should be at the top of every divers bucket list.

  4. Taha'a, society islands - The vanilla island. The vanilla scented air wafts throughout the island as the vanilla bean capital of French Polynesia. Life slows down on Taha'a island. Lush landscape, stunning beaches, remote, and quiet.

  5. Nuku Hiva, marquesas islands - Surrounded by steep cliffs, Nuku Hiva looks intimidating as you approach from the sky. This island houses the tallest waterfall in all of French Polynesia. Looking like a scene from Jurassic Park, Nuku Hiva is an adventurer seekers dream.

  6. Maupiti, society islands - A small coral atoll surrounding a volcanic island, Maupiti will seduce you with its off the grid lifestyle. Say bye bye to brand name hotels and say hello to the ebb and flow of living like a local.

  7. Huahine, society islands - From the moment you step on the island, Huahine dazzles you with its lush forests, untamed landscapes, and huge crystal clear lagoon. You will feel like you are in the Garden of Eden.

  8. Raiatea, society islands - Raiatea, meaning "faraway heaven," is recognized as the most sacred island in the region. Kayak through the lush jungle via the Faaroa river for unforgettable sights. Adventure awaits in Raiatea.

  9. Fakarava, tuamotu islands - The second largest atoll in French Polynesia will draw you in with its enormous emerald lagoon. Fakarava is not frequently visited by tourists, so you will have the entire island beauty all to yourself.

  10. Tahiti, society islands - The largest island in all of French Polynesia doesn't necessarily boast the most beautiful beaches, but it is home to some of the best hiking trails. You'll likely have to fly in to Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, so take some time to explore the main island and what it has to offer.

2. Top things to do and see in French Polynesia

There are many island-specific things to do, but here is a list of general activities and things to do/see throughout all of the French Polynesian Islands:

  1. Hiking, specifically in Tahiti and Mo'orea

  2. Watersports are unlimited in FP - snorkel, scuba dive, paddle board, jet ski, water ski, surf, wind surf, tubing, etc...

  3. Fishing, local and deep sea

  4. Relax in endless lagoons

  5. Biking, especially ring road in Mo'orea

  6. Find a hidden beach

  7. Shop for local Tahitian goodies

  8. Fly to multiple islands for a change of scenery

  9. Attend a French Polynesian Pig Roast

  10. Swim with sharks and stingrays

  11. Have a local make you a flower crown or lei

  12. Get a relaxing massage

  13. Eat the local cuisine - you can find food trucks and shacks on some islands

  14. Take a tour of a pineapple or vanilla bean farm

3. Getting there - Airlines and costs

The default major airport when flying internationally into French Polynesia is Tahiti Faa'a International Airport, located in capital city, Papeete, Tahiti. If you are flying to an island other than Tahiti, you will likely land into Tahiti first, then transfer to another flight to hop from island to island.

International Airlines that fly into Tahiti Faa'a International Airport: Air Tahiti Nui, Air France, French Bee, United Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Airlines.

Domestic Airlines from island to island: Air Tahiti is the exclusive airline to get from island to island.

Cost: International flights from anywhere in the world to French Polynesia will start around $700+ round trip. Once you arrive in Tahiti, it's much cheaper to island hop. Air Tahiti flight costs from island to island range from $80 to $250 depending on island distance.

4. Accommodations

One thing to remember is that French Polynesia is expensive. With that being said, there are a plethora of options in French Polynesia for accommodations. A few islands, like Mo'orea, offer very inexpensive options in the form of dormitory-style housing. Some islands offer Airbnb and VRBO options, or boutique style accommodations. Other islands are so remote and exclusive that they only offer high end resorts. Here's the cost breakdown:

  • Cheapest - dorm-style hostels, starting at $32/night. These are available in Tahiti and Mo'orea only. Included: free wifi, shared bathrooms, and community food prep areas.

  • Airbnb/VRBO - starting as low as $50/night for an individual room. You will mainly find these options on the islands of Tahiti and Mo'orea.

  • Budget Hotels/Bed and Breakfasts - starting at $75/night. Quite a few islands offer these budget options. Use to search.

  • High end hotels - starting at $300/night. Available on nearly every island.

  • Villas - starting at $300/night. Available within high end resorts.

  • Beach Bungalows - starting at $500/night. Directly on the beautiful, powdery sand. Available within high end resorts.

  • Over-water bungalows - starting at $700/night. Over the water, some with glass bottoms. Available within most high end resorts.

5. How to get around

Once on the islands, public transportation is virtually non-existent. The most common transportation options include: ferry boat service to/from Mo'orea, airport shuttles, local buses, bicycles/scooters, and walking. You can rent a car on some islands, but this is not very common. Tahiti and Mo'orea are the most common islands to rent a vehicle due to their large size and developed road system. If staying at a resort, some offer complimentary (or a small fee) for airport pick up and drop off. The concierge desk at resorts can also connect you with transportation. Most excursions offer to pick you up from your hotel/resort as well.

6. When to go

The good news is that the French Polynesian Islands stay pretty consistent year round in terms of temperature. Temperature varies just slightly throughout the year with highs of between 84°F-90°F (29°C-32°C), and lows between 70°F-75°F (21°C-24°C). Sea temperatures remain fairly consistent as well, between 81°F-84°F (27°C-29°C).

Seasons - French Polynesia basically has two seasons, wet and dry.

High season falls during dry season, the winter months of June through September, which are the coolest and driest months. This time of year is most populated with families, especially since these months coincide with summer break in the United States.

Shoulder season is April, May, October, and November, where there are some rain showers, slightly less people, and good rates for accommodations. Shoulder season has less rain than wet season, but don't be surprised if you experience a torrential downpour on consecutive days during these months.

Low season is wet season, December through March. This is summer in the French Polynesian Islands, and daily rain storms are to be expected. It is hot, humid, and wet, but that doesn't mean you won't see sunshine and beautiful days! This season is also the best for more affordable accommodations, and smaller crowds.

7. Hiking in French Polynesia

When you think of French Polynesia, what comes to mind? Probably breathtaking beaches, endless lagoons, and maybe a clip from the movie "Couples Retreat" with Vince Vaughn! Although all of these are true, the French Polynesian islands offer a variety of terrain, including lush green jungles and volcanic peaks. This terrain boasts unbelievably beautiful hikes, ranging from an easy stroll to strenuous half day hikes. You can hike volcanic peaks, mountain peaks, waterfalls, and more. Use the ALL TRAILS app to find the best hikes for the islands you plan to visit.

Best Islands for Hiking - Tahiti, Mo'orea, Raiatea, Nuku Hiva, and Maupiti

8. Is it worth it?

Yes. Absolutely. The French Polynesian Islands are arguably the most beautiful, untouched islands in the world. What makes them so unique is the raw beauty without the crowds, due to the islands being difficult to access. My husband and I planned our French Polynesia trip in November of 2016 for our honeymoon. Even though it's a decently popular month for tourists, we still felt like we were the only ones there. We rarely ran into people, other than those in our group on excursions. There are so many islands within the region, so you can really dive into the culture and experience unique terrain on each island. Because the islands are relatively small, you can easily island hop to 3-4 different islands over a 10 day span if you really wanted the ultimate experience. Once we've traveled the rest of the world, we will definitely come back to French Polynesia.

Mauruuru! That means "thank you" in Tahitian, which you'll also use a lot. (pronounced mah-roo-roo)

Check out this French Polynesia Itinerary for our exact day-to-day activities in Bora Bora, Mo'orea, and a short day trip in Tahiti.

Don't forget to subscribe to my email list below for unique guides and tips for subscribers only. Feel free to drop a comment or email me if you'd like to chat about your upcoming trip to French Polynesia!




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