French Polynesia travel guide

Parau api? Parau api?” The cry goes up from Tahitians asking for news; and as you disembark and search for the nearest crepe caravan or seafood stall you’ll smile and wonder whether you’ve become a source for the gossip grapevine. Of course, if you chose to travel onboard a cargo vessel then you’ll already be well aware of what news has been brought from neighbouring islands but you’ll still long to impart your own adventures just as soon as you find the nearest internet cafe and work out that pesky French keyboard.
With more than 50 airports, only one of which serves international flights, French Polynesia is an accessible island nation but still relatively untouched by mass tourism.
Thrilling whale encounters off Moorea, that incredible church on Tahuata, or an enthralling traditional Bird Dance on Ua Pou; whatever experiences form your front pages they’re bound to remain indelibly printed. From ancient carvings and sacred symbolism to snorkelling, swimming and sniffing for slowed cooked pig (hima'a), French Polynesia is well worth the column inches.

Find out more in our French Polynesia guide.

French Polynesia is...

a chance to practise French amongst the brush strokes of Paul Gauguin.

French Polynesia isn’t…

just another destination for coral destroying cruise liners.

French Polynesia map & itineraries

Leave the massive ferry from Tahiti behind as you begin a voyage of discovery amongst a volcanic archipelago consisting of 118 islands and reefs, around half of which are inhabited. The island clusters that make up French Polynesia are Society, Tuamotu, Gambier, Marquesas and Austral, all of which can be found scattered across some 2,000km of Pacific Ocean. Each island boasts its own unique tropical landscape with secluded bays, waterfall scarred cliffs and sacred stone sites adding to the thrill of wet landings and traditional welcoming ceremonies. From the immense, sculptured tikis on Hiva Oa to the underwater treasure trove around Rangiroa, French Polynesia delights and fascinates in equal measures.
Bora Bora

1. Bora Bora

Swathed in a kaleidoscope of tropical colour and surrounded by tiny idyllic islets and sparkling coral lagoons, Bora Bora is the talk of the Society Islands and the perfect place to relax on snow white sands or snorkel over crystal clear shallows. Tourism and Bora Bora inevitably stroll arm in arm with stilted, over-water bungalows and towering tropical backdrops tempting honeymooners the world over.
Fatu Hiva

2. Fatu Hiva

Fatu Hiva is a center for Marquesas craftwork as well as one of the most naturally beautiful islands in French Polynesia, with the northwest coastline absolutely no exception. Rainforests, high grasslands and pandanus trees form much of Fatu Hiva's central plateau with a tough 16km trek from Omoa village to the Bay of Virgins showcasing spectacular scenery over towering cliffs and cascading waterfalls.
Nuku Hiva

3. Nuku Hiva

Follow in the footsteps of Herman Melville as you wind your way over a rugged 25km dirt road en-route to the village of Hatiheu in the Taipivai Valley, where sacred me’ae (ritual sites) and paepae (stone platforms) dot the landscape overlooking the bay beyond. Known as the ‘Roof of the Gods’, Nuku Hiva is dominated by Mount Muake and Cascade Tevaipo with numerous walking trails to complement the views.
Rangiroa Atoll

4. Rangiroa Atoll

The second largest coral atoll on the planet, Rangiroa draws in snorkellers and divers from across the globe and is well known for bottlenose dolphins that welcome small ships entering through the Tiputa Pass. Pearl breeding is the main activity for local families and visiting a pearl farm allows you to find out more if you fancy an alternative to white sand beaches and translucent blue lagoons.

5. Tahuata

Exploring the little leaf shaped island of Tahuata is a real blast for the senses with snow white frangipani and tiare tahiti flowers adding tropical fragrance to the warming breeze skimming off the Pacific. Although Tahuata is the smallest of the Marquesas it's steeped in history and features a massive church displaying decorative carvings and stained glass windows depicting the Marquesan cross.
Ua Pou

6. Ua Pou

Four volcanic monoliths tower above Ua Pou like ancient temple ruins and produce the highest point in the Marquesas at just over 4,000 feet. Entering Hakahau Bay is quite breathtaking and leads to the main village of Hakahau where you'll find several handicraft stalls located on the beach as well as restaurants serving the freshest poisson cru (raw fish) and traditional goat curries.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about French Polynesia or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Arnaud Abadie] [Island view: dany13] [map topbox: Olivier Bruchez] [Over-water bungalow: Hervé] [Fatu Hiva: Hervé] [Nuku hiva: Hervé] [Dolphin: Marty B] [Church: prebano66] [Ua Pou: Angela K. Kepler]