Travel to the deep blue waters of French Polynesia

Scattered across the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, about 10,000 miles away from the UK, the five archipelagos of French Polynesia are nothing short of an untainted paradise. Images of wooden bungalows perched on stilts above a turquoise sea are now famous worldwide and consistently associated with this stunning holiday destination. Ideal for romantic getaways and lazy holidays, the 118 islands and atolls also offer lots of activities for sport and nature lovers such as hiking, swimming and sunset picnics. There are also lots of exotic deserted beaches to explore in complete tranquility. Polynesia can be explored by boat, on horseback, on foot or by 4x4, you just need to decide where you'll head first!
  • French Polynesia
    Martin Valigursky / 123RF
  • French Polynesia
    Deborah Kolb / 123RF
Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Expert destination French Polynesia

Tempting Tahiti

As the largest island and one of the most popular spots in French Polynesia, Tahiti is the perfect location for both honeymooners and families on a relaxing vacation. As soon as you reach the island you can imagine why British and French explorers never left after coming across the groups of islands. One word immediately springs to mind: paradise. There is a lot to do in Tahiti, as well as obviously just lounging in the clear waters and lazing on the beach, which are some of the most enticing propositions. The terrain is unbelievably green and mountainous, so there is a lot of hiking and cave exploration to dabble in. In particular, Mount Marau which is an extremely high point on the island at which you can see the entirety of the stunning Punaruu valley and the coastal surroundings. Once a fortress built by the French during the Tahitian uprising of 1844 to 1846, there is history to learn and enrich your trip with. The further up you trek, the better the view. From the top of the island's peaks you will experience the magnificent panorama views which will make you pinch yourself to believe it's real. Tahiti is where the most locals live so you can walk around the small ocean-side towns to try to understand the French Polynesian way of life.

The mighty Marquesas

The Marquesas are probably the most beautiful spot in the whole of French Polynesia, if that is even possible to define. Nature worked its magic in this area of the world, creating tall rock pinnacles jutting out of the cobalt blue ocean, covered in the luscious green grass and trees that contrast the bright sea. Waterfalls gush down the interior of the valleys into lagoons, which make perfect locations for a little pit-stop on an arduous hike. The dramatic appearance of the islands only make The Marquesas even more mysterious, including the interesting traditional dances and powerful history of the island, where many archaeological excavations have taken place to find remains dating back to pre-European times. Despite the beauty of the islands, this is not the location for a beach resort holiday; rather this is an eco-tourist's dream.

Bora Bora

The ultimate honeymoon getaway has to be Bora Bora, the place that boasts dreamy bays sweeping around the small islands. Wooden huts stand in a shallow lagoon and become your home for a week or two, while your view consists of the clearest ocean and beautiful flowers growing off the trees. There is plenty of wandering to do around the rainforest terrain, along with diving, snorkelling, parasailing and boat tours, which means it is so much more than just a romantic retreat. You will never tire of the magical views; they are too incredible to take for granted.

Pearly whites

Pearl farming is a wonderful industry that makes up French Polynesian culture, and there is one particular island that is famous for the lovely pearl farms. Huahine is home to the farms, where you can be taken for a tour and be shown a demonstration of the pearl farming process itself. The stunning pearls found in French Polynesia are very well priced. The island is very isolated and just as beautiful as the other islands that make up the archipelago, just far less visited.

French Polynesia : travel tips

As it is still a French possession, the spoken languages are French and Tahitian, but in most places a considerable amount of English is spoken.

The traditional bungalows that teeter above the water on wooden stilts have become symbollic of French Polynesia. Their luxurious interiors satisfy even the most demanding of visitors but their straw roofs remind us of the history of Polynesian culture that is still a huge part of daily life. Traditional life is very much preserved in French Polynesia; locals still use boats with straw-covered roofs rather than succumbing to the less-than-serene speedboats paraded by the mega-rich. A peaceful boat ride is a spectacular way to admire the idyllic landscape.

Lesser-known than the famous Bora Bora or Tahiti is the Fakarava atoll that offers untouched white beaches and transparent blue sea. With only 855 inhabitants, visitors can peacefully marvel at its sprawling UNESCO-listed lagoon.

Like Fakarava, Tikehau is a relatively unknown atoll. It is made up of two major islands and numerous islets so there are plenty of untouched idyllic beaches to choose from. An almost continuous coral reef also surrounds the island so no matter where you are the tropical marine life is never far away.

There are most definitely two seasons in French Polynesia, from November to mid-April time the rainy season is in full course, when the rain spells are regular and heavy and the air is exceptionally humid. The worst time of year is December and January, where the rainfall is particularly great. Following the wet half of the year it is very warm and dry, therefore from April to October is the better time to plan a trip. However, the best time to visit is August or September when the weather is particularly gorgeous and it is the best time to do all the activities you may want to do.

The tropical climate of French Polynesia gives way to the abundant marine life that thrives in its warm waters. The islands' coasts are home to 800 species of exotic fish, rays and sharks and each year the archipelago welcomes whales to its bays during breeding season (July-October).

The islands are dispersed relatively far apart from each other so unless you are looking to do a mini cruise for a few days, which many travel companies in the area may offer you, you are better off flying from one group of islands to another. Travelling from one island to the next in the Society islands for example is not quite as easy as you would have thought so be sure to plan your next move quite far in advance so you know how to encompass travel into your plans. On the islands themselves there are some forms of public transports, but they are generally a bit unreliable so you can catch taxis, rent a car or even a pedal bike.

French Polynesia : the key figures

Area : 1609.0 km2

Population : 265000 inhabitants

French Polynesia: about the culture

There are many traditions and cultural aspects in French Polynesia which are interesting to learn about or witness. There are many sacred sites on different islands, such as the Marae Taputapuatea (in Raiatea), which is the most important site of Polynesian mythology, the petroglyphs found in Omoa, and a series of more petroglyphs found on ancient boulders in Huahine.

Each archipelago, or set of islands, has their own, differently choreographed traditional dance which is performed quite regularly and is a source of great pride. Music is also a huge part of their culture, with percussion and guitars taking a prominent position in their orchestras. Tattoos were also a huge sign of identity in French Polynesia, up until they were banned on the Europeans' arrival. However, since the 1980s they have been making quite the comeback which is very special to see when trying to get to know their culture.

French Polynesia : what to visit?

French Polynesia: what to eat?

The cuisine from the small islands is known all over the world thanks to the perfect combination of fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh, tasty fish all prepared with strong French influence and an underlying French Polynesian ingredients. This gives the food a completely scrumptious, original flavour that is savoured by visitors and locals alike. Due to its perfect location, the staple diet for French Polynesians is seafood. On every menu you will find deliciously prepared, lightly marinated fish and crustaceans, especially tuna, mahi-mahi, grouper and bonito. If you are feeling particularly daring you can try more exotic lagoon or deep sea catches like parrotfish, octopus and sea urchin.

Poison cru is the French Polynesian national dish, and it comprises raw red tuna served in a deliciously aromatic, fresh lime and coconut marinate. As well as plenty of seafood, the abundance of bright, exotic fruits is a wonderful addition to the diet.

French Polynesia: what to buy?

Polynesian handicrafts are famous for their diversity and attention to detail. The islands' residents have worked with wood for centuries and are masters in making pearl jewellery. Wooden sculptures of tiki warriors can now be found all over the world, but are native to French Polynesia. In terms of what you should bring home with you, decorative trinkets, pearl jewellery, seashell necklaces, monoi-based cosmetics, the famous wicker hats, wreaths woven with coconut and pandanu leaves, and printed fabrics (usually worn in various styles by the Polynesian women and found in specialist shops across the islands) are all good ideas. Pearls are one of the islands' biggest exports, either sold individually or as part of a necklace or bracelet. Make sure you seek the advice of a specialist pearl-dealer when making your choice. Our recommendation is to go for rounded pearls in category B or C (prices start from around 110). If your budget doesn't stretch to the superior pearls, category A ones are around 20. Another good keepsake is a bottle of vanilla extract, which is small and therefore can be easily stored in your suitcase.

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