I have finally just finished publishing my article on the island of Raiatea, the last island of the Leeward Islands that I had not yet written an article about. I must admit that like some of the other islands of the archipelago, I had to go back there several times to collect enough information to write a complete article.
Indeed, this article is timely, as more and more of you are asking us by email for advice on a more global itinerary for French Polynesia. The fact that French Polynesia is composed of 120 islands and 5 archipelagos doesn’t make it easy and you can’t really organize a trip on the territory like for two weeks in Iceland. You have to make choices between all these islands and I must admit that when you live far away from Tahiti and you don’t know the islands, it’s not that easy.
I had previously tried in another article to offer you my opinion when trying to choose between the island of Bora Bora or the island of Maupiti, a recurring question I get by email. As soon as I have the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of the atoll of Fakarava, I will write an article entitled “Rangiroa, Fakarava, Tikehau, which atoll to choose”, because it is a question that occurs frequently as well.
So today, in this article, I will discuss the Leeward Islands archipelago. It is the archipelago (by far) the most visited by tourists who come to French Polynesia. On the program “5 classic islands” that everyone wants to visit more or less. This article is not to create an itinerary set in stone but rather a guide and personal opinion on which islands you could visit in the Leeward Islands. Come on, let’s go on a trip!
Of course, if you ask several people which islands in the Leeward Islands they prefer, you will never get the same answer, and luckily I should say…I am only giving you my vision of things and my reality, which may differ according to your desires, wishes, budget, etc. Ideally, if you had the time, I would advise you to visit all of them, but many of you will not have this luxury or will also prefer to discover the Tuamotu atolls (especially Rangiroa and Fakarava for scuba diving). I also include for each island the link to the corresponding detailed article.
I begin with the famous “Pearl of the Pacific”, the most renowned island in French Polynesia and one of the most well-known islands in the world. Everyone will have his or her own vision of Bora Bora. I, for one, was initially convinced that it was full of 5-star hotels and tourists who spend their time on a deckchair sipping cocktails. And then, after several visits to the island, my vision of the island evolved. So yes, Bora Bora is the most visited island in French Polynesia and it is touristic, but you really have to put it into perspective. It is nothing compared to what you will find on the French Riviera in France, in Phuket in Thailand or in the Maldives.
You have many ways to see and visit the island of Bora Bora. You can stay in a luxury hotel off the main island on a motu and have a good time. You can also find very nice hotels on the main island of Bora Bora: I stayed for example at the Maitai Bora Bora, my first time in a bungalow on stilts. It was superb. You can also sleep in guesthouses, Airbnb and even pitch a tent on the island. So, there is something for everyone. Many will choose it to spend a few nights in a beautiful hotel on stilts but be aware that you can also have this experience on other islands.
Still, in my opinion and my experience in the Leeward Islands, Bora Bora remains among the most beautiful. The lagoon is superb, the most beautiful from my perspective. You can discover it by hiking in the highlands, by sailing on the lagoon or by flying over it in a seaplane. Between us, it remains the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in Polynesia, flying over Bora Bora and Tupai atoll in a seaplane. In short, personally, I’ve learned to love Bora Bora, and it’s an island where you feel good for a few days. Should it be part of your stay, for me it’s an obvious one.
This is Bora Bora’s little sister, the one that has been getting more and more attention lately. She is often said to be a “little Bora Bora” but in the days of Bora Bora in the 50’s, before the arrival of the big hotel chains. It is personally my favorite island in the Leeward Islands. It corresponds a bit to what I imagined from the Polynesian postcard before coming here: a beautiful white sand beach almost deserted (without hotels), a human-sized island, a beautiful lagoon, diving possibilities, a superb hike to the top, in short, I love it.
Some people, on their honeymoon in particular, will not choose it because there are no hotels on the island, nor are there bungalows on stilts. For me, it’s a bit anecdotal, because you don’t come to Maupiti for the luxury. However, I understand why some tourists make that choice. Your accommodation options will be between pensions on the main island or on the many motus off the lagoon.
It’s often an island that I recommend because it stays close to my heart and it’s where the blog came to be, at least the idea of it. Being able to walk around the island on foot (or by bike for the lazy ones) is really a big plus in my opinion. The beach of Tereia is beautiful and not ” contaminated ” by snacks/restaurants/hotels… An excursion on the lagoon to discover its wonders (natural aquarium, Manta rays, etc.) is a must. The view from the top of the island to the pass will be engraved in your memory!
The only hitch, so to speak, is accessibility. A lot of you are sending me emails telling me there is no more room on the planes and asking me how you can get there. Indeed, there is no official connection between Bora Bora and Maupiti by boat and the seats on the flights are booked months in advance. So be careful therefore to organize it at least a few months before coming. The only other possibility that I know, but which is more costly, is to take a day trip from Bora Bora by seaplane to discover the island. You combine a wonderful flight over the lagoons and the discovery of Maupiti. It’s simply magical from what I’ve been told. I particularly recommend booking through the Manawa website.
For all those who are looking for a still authentic, local island, with guesthouses and small snack restaurants, it is my ideal island of the Leeward Islands.
The island of Huahine is also an island that I appreciate and that I have had the opportunity to discover a few times. We talk about the island of Huahine but the island is actually composed of 2 islands: Huahine Nui (the big one) and Huahine Iti (the small one), both being connected by a bridge. The island is much bigger than Bora Bora or Maupiti and I often recommend renting a car, or a scooter at least to get around. Huahine, on the other hand, has many beautiful white sandy beaches, unlike the last two islands mentioned above.
On the program: tour of the island to enjoy the views of the lagoon, discovery of the beautiful white sand beaches, meeting the holy eels of Faie, visiting a pearl farm, tour of the lagoon, visiting the archeological sites (marae), scuba diving, and pottery workshops, in short, there is enough to fill in 3 days without any trouble.
Personally, I find that the atmosphere on the island is also quite restful and calm. You don’t get stressed out (of course there are not many places where this is the case in French Polynesia). I particularly love the south of the island, the possibility to spend some time camping (Camping Hiva beach) in a heavenly place and to go kayaking on the motus.
It’s an island that is quite visited when I see the itineraries of people and I must admit that for me, it’s an island worth seeing during your holiday.
I might as well say it straight away, even if I enjoy spending a few days there sometimes for work in particular, it’s the island I like the least in the Leeward Islands. I would have a really hard time saying why exactly but the first words that come to mind is: too big, too developed, too many cars, too many people, etc.
It is aside from Tahiti and Moorea, the most developed island in French Polynesia and I must admit that when I am asked for my opinion between Raiatea or another island in this archipelago, I often advise the other one…
Despite everything, there is enough to do to for 2 to 3 days, without any worries. Among the unmissable, going up the Faaroa River is the coolest thing to do and see. You will also enjoy walking at sunset/sunrise on top of Mount Taipioï (if the private access is open), a small peak above the island’s capital, Utoroa. There is also the well-known hike of the 3 waterfalls and other less known ones that I talk about in the dedicated article.
For the rest, you can of course consider the visit of the archaeological site recently classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Marae de Taputapuatea. You can also take the opportunity to do a day trip on the lagoon (you will usually visit Tahaa Island in the same time) and buy vanilla.
Many of you ask me if it is better to stay on Raiatea and visit Tahaa (see below) for a day or do the opposite, stay on Tahaa Island for a few days and forget about Raiatea. Personally, I would choose the option to stay on Tahaa I think, but that’s debatable!
On a more practical point, the island is much too big for a scooter in my opinion and a car rental is required. Another specification, there are no hotels on stilts on Raiatea.
Last island of the archipelago, the island of Tahaa. I have to admit that it’s an island that I like quite a bit too, an island where time seems to just stop. Admittedly, it’s the only island in the Leeward Islands that doesn’t have an airport, and that’s what has preserved it so well. It can only be reached from Raiatea by boat.
The island, on a human scale, is more than calm. You won’t come across crowds of tourists here, even if more and more come for its peacefulness and to enjoy a nice alternative to Bora Bora. Because yes, I know that quite a few visitors come to spend a few days at the Tahaa Island Resort and Spa, a beautiful hotel where I had the opportunity to go (and spend two great nights), located on a motu off the main island. Even if I’m not used to luxury and big hotels, it’s one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. You get to take advantage of the few days in the hotel to stroll on the beautiful sandy beaches and enjoy the coral garden around the back. Here is my opinion on the hotel le Tahaa Resort for those who are interested!
On the island itself, the classics remain the discovery of the vanilla museum, the visit of the island’s rum distillery, the visit of the pearl farm and why not a bit of diving. It is also possible to go hiking (not tried yet). If you are looking for peace and authenticity, the island will suit you without any worries. To discover by bike or scooter.
That’s it for my impressions on these 5 islands in a very summarized way, and I definitely invite you to read the 5 detailed articles to get a more precise idea of the islands according to your desires, budget, etc…
I will not talk about the four atolls that are not accessible. Only the atoll of Tupai, not far from Bora Bora, can be reached through a seaplane or helicopter flight. There is a cost, that’s for sure, but the experience is splendid if you can afford it.
Most of you will reach the Leeward Islands by plane, as it is the easiest and fastest way. The cheapest way is to travel from Tahiti by cargo ship with the Hawaiki Nui, but it is still very complicated to get seats and even more complicated to book. The Maupiti Express has also resumed service between Raiatea and Bora Bora just in case. I talk about it in my article about travelling in Polynesia.
Concerning air travel, it all depends on the number of islands you want to visit. Generally speaking, if you visit more than 2 islands, you will be better off taking an Air Tahiti Pass. It is the cheapest way to travel by plane in this archipelago. For those who do not plan to visit Bora Bora, you can choose the Pass Moana. The Bora Bora Pass allows the discovery of the 5 islands of the archipelago.
For visitors who plan to visit the Tuamotu atolls at the same time, I particularly recommend choosing the “Bora Bora Tuamotu Pass ” which allows you to access the 5 islands mentioned in this article as well as the three well-known atolls (Rangiroa, Fakarava, Tikehau). From Raiatea and Bora Bora, it is thus possible to reach one of the Tuamotu atolls. Please note that there are no direct flights from the Leeward Islands to the Marquesas, Australes or Gambier (you must go back first to Tahiti).
It is difficult to conclude this article as clearly everyone will have their own vision of the matter. It will also often depend on the weather conditions and on your desires. Let’s say that if I had to choose only 2 or 3 islands, I would recommend: Bora Bora, Maupiti and Huahine. These are my 3 favorites in the archipelago.
If you can go around the 5 islands, I really invite you to do so, and I repeat myself, but if it is possible, consider spending 3 days per island at least. It’s a good time compromise to enjoy the island a little bit more and not rush to do everything. Afterwards, I know that many of you will not be able or will not want to spend 15 days on the Leeward Islands (3 days each for 5 islands) and will also want to diversify the types of islands, which I understand.
Well, I’ll stop here, I hope the article has helped you make your choice. If you have already been to French Polynesia, which islands did you prefer? Don’t hesitate if you need an opinion or advice for the choice of islands! In the meantime, I invite you to read my article on itinerary ideas in French Polynesia!
See you soon,