French Polynesia Travel Guide
French Polynesia is one of the Pacific’s most popular tourist destinations. It’s made up of 118 islands covering over 2500 square miles. Soaring volcanic peaks, rugged cliffs, and emerald lagoons provide some of the South Pacific’s most spectacular scenery. These islands are where you find those picturesque bungalows on stilts over blue lagoons. It’s a tropical paradise. Due to their remoteness and their appeal to celebrities and honeymooners, the islands are an expensive destination to visit. It’s hard to travel here on a budget, but if you have the money, you won’t regret making the trip.
Accommodation – A night in a hostel dorm will start at $30 USD, with budget hotels around $85 USD. Those picture perfect bungalows cost hundreds per night. There is very little budget accommodation to be found in this island chain.
Food – By eating from the local snack bars on the road, you can expect to pay around $10 USD per day for food. A meal in a casual restaurant will cost around $20 USD. If you eat at the resorts and hotels, you’ll pay from $25 or more for a meal.
Transportation – A bus ticket around the island costs around $2 USD. An island hopping air pass is a good option if you’re planning to explore a few of the islands. These vary in price according to which islands you want to visit, but start at around $320 USD from Air Tahiti.
Activities – Diving and other day water activities start at around $100 USD, with a two-tank dive costing about $200 USD.
Money Saving Tips
Cycle around – Most of the islands are perfect for exploring on a bike rather than by car.
Use the free gear – Hostels and hotels often offer their guests free use of kayaks and bikes. Bring your own snorkeling gear to avoid having to rent it.
Taking advantage of Les Roulottes – These are portable food wagons which offer great value meals for less than $20 USD. If you eat at the resorts, you’ll spend double that. Eat the local food, save money.
Travel off-season – For discounts on accommodation and attractions, consider scheduling your visit during the off-season of November-May (excluding Christmas).
Book a package trip – French Polynesia is one of those places where a package might be your best option. Look into getting a combined air and hotel package and you can sometimes save 30% off. Meals are sometimes included.
Top Things to See and Do
Go diving – Rangiroa offers French Polynesia’s best diving. It is the South Pacific’s largest atoll and one of the largest in the world. Hordes of marine life including barracuda, tuna, turtles, and dolphins can be found in the waters as well as hammerhead sharks and manta rays. If you dive, you shouldn’t miss doing so here.
Go surfing – The giant breaks at Teahupoo create amazing waves which can challenge all abilities. There are several surf schools on the island of Tahiti and board rental is available in Papeete. The surf is also good off the coast of Moorea.
Explore Bora Bora – Bora Bora is located about 140 miles northwest of Papeete and is famous for being the ultimate island paradise (and the ultimate place to hurt your wallet.) This is where honeymooners and celebrities enjoy luxurious bungalows with glass bottoms looking into the water. Its famous blue lagoon is the ideal place to try out jetskiing, paragliding or any other water sport. The jungles also offer some great hiking. This place is paradise – it’s a shame that is is just so expensive.
Head to Tahiti – Tahiti is the largest of the French Polynesian islands and is as popular as Bora Bora. In fact, most people combine a trip to both islands when they visit the country. Try to visit the Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands to get an insight in to Polynesia culture. Additionally, Le Merche is the place to try local cuisine and pick up bargains on jewellery and handicrafts.
See the diverse wildlife – Most of wildlife here is found in the lagoons and surrounding waters as there are very few indigenous animals on land. Diving offers great chance to check out the country’s underwater wildlife. On land, bird watchers will not be disappointed with sightings of kingfishers and rate Nuku Hiva pigeons among others.
Make a trip to Fatu Hiva – Fatu Hiva is the southernmost of the Marquesas Islands and is certainly the most isolated. The Bay of Virgins is often described as the most stunning bay in Polynesia. Sadly, there are no beaches on the island. Instead you are met with the rugged beauty of the cliff edges, ravines and jungles. The snorkeling and diving here is some of the best in the island chain.
Take a day trip to Belvedere Lookout, Moorea – Situated on Moorea, Belvedere Lookout offers the sweeping views of the island and certainly warrants the hike up. A number of marae (traditional temples) are scattered in the area just off the main road leading up to the lookout.
Visit a Marae – Marae are Polynesian temples where people came to offer up gifts to the Gods. The most impressive is Taputapuatea on the island of Raiatea but fans of Polynesian archaeology will also enjoy a trip to the Opunohu Valley, which stretches from the head of Cook’s Bay up towards Belvédère on Moorea Island and has marae dotted all over the walking trail.
Go whale watching – June and July are peak whale watching season in the Austral Islands south of Tahiti. Pods of humpback whales swim to Rurutu and Tubuai from Antarctica to bear their young and this makes for one of the most spectacular sights you are likely to see on your travels.
Visit Gauguin Museum – This museum is host to many reproductions of Paul Gauguin’s paintings. His colorful style brought fame to the islands and he lived out his last years here painting traditional life. Though not all the works are originals, if you haven’t seen a wide collection of his work, this is a good place to start.
Wander through Harrison Smith Botanical Gardens – These tropical gardens span over 135 hectares. There are hundreds of trees, shrubs, plants, flowers, and even lily ponds.It is located right next to the Gauguin Museum.
Head to Ua Pou – This dry desert island has oasis-like valleys filled with tropical fruit. There is enough to feed more than ten times the amount of the population. It is just south of Nuku Hiva and is noted as an island rich in culture and arts.
Relax on Mataiva – Although there is little in the way of tourist ‘attractions’ on this island, there are easily accessible beaches, multiple snorkeling spots, and lots of beautiful fish. In the Tuamotus, you will also find a few noteworthy archaeological sites.
Learn about Polynesian History – Accessible from Puamau, Iipona is one of the best archaeological sites in French Polynesia. It’s known for its five impressive tiki figures, the tallest of which is about 10 feet high. Entrance to the site is $3 USD.
Go snorkeling – If you’re not interested in diving, you can still experience the underwater world in French Polynesia by snorkeling. Some hotels and resorts offer free equipment, while others rent it, but you can always bring your own. Rurutu and Huahine are considered two of the world’s top spots for snorkeling.