Who has never dreamed of discovering these paradisiacal islands? A true paradise on earth located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, French Polynesia, we have to admit, is a dream destination. On the program of a trip to Tahiti you ask: turquoise waters, tiare flower, coconut palms, fine sandy beaches, coral reefs and catamaran cruises. Basically something to enjoy, right? Don’t know what to do in French Polynesia? How to visit it? This page is for you! You should already know that French Polynesia is huge. You don’t believe me? Look at the map below (© Air Tahiti) with Europe in the background!
So, wanting to see the whole of French Polynesia in one trip seems almost unthinkable. The islands and atolls are so far apart that all transportation takes time. Going from island to island requires a certain calculation with flights… and yes, being amazed by the crystal clear water is sometimes to be earned! It’s a bit like if you want to go on a trip to Paris, Stockholm, Moscow and Istanbul, in a week or two?! Does it seem easy to do as a trip? I have also written an article to help you know how to get around French Polynesia between the islands.
Note that the main means of travel between the islands in French Polynesia is by plane, with the local airline company, Air Tahiti. In the vast majority of cases, you will have to return to Tahiti to visit several archipelagos. But it will still be possible to travel cheaply to French Polynesia.
I have also written a complete guide on what budget you’ll need for a trip to French Polynesia.
I have the opportunity, currently living here, to visit many islands, in the 5 archipelagos of French Polynesia. The whole territory is very varied and you will have enough to occupy yourself between hiking, visiting archaeological sites, snorkeling, scuba diving, relaxing, discovering the local culture and Polynesian history.
Without talking about budget here, I present to you my optimal ideas of itineraries according to the time you’ll have on site and also to see an overview of what the country has to offer. Visiting French Polynesia requires some organization and your tour in this idyllic setting should at least be prepared in advance (unless you have time).
The objective therefore of this article isn’t to give you details of what to do in French Polynesia, but to give you some ideas of itineraries on the islands of French Polynesia (well, according to my vision of things!). You should know that it clearly is possible to make this dream trip without a travel agency (a lot of you ask me this question). For those who do not feel comfortable planning the entire itinerary, you will find countless agencies that prepare tailor-made trips to these Pacific islands, both in your country probably and locally. If you’re looking for a serious local agency, I can give you a good contact. Don’t hesitate to contact us.
Note that it is also important to think that there is a period more favorable for traveling to French Polynesia. I wrote a full article on the subject available on this travel blog. Remember that the best season remains the dry season, roughly between May and November.
For those who are preparing for their trip to French Polynesia, I advise you to look at this comparator to find the cheapest flights from where you live to Papeete.
For Canadians and Americans, I recommend taking a flight from any city in the country to San Francisco, then take a flight from SF to Papeete with French Bee or United. This is the cheapest solution I’ve found.
Well let’s face it, a week is too short! But some of you passing through, because you’re on a round-the-world trip for example, will not stay any longer than that. Not to mention that French Polynesia, on a trip around the world, is a bit of a drag on the budget. I reassure you, there are possibilities for a cheap stay in French Polynesia (but let’s not get carried away though, it’s not Phuket in Thailand we’re talking about).
Therefore in one week, I will prefer to stay on the Society Islands:
Tahiti (1/2 days)
Moorea (2 days)
Option 1 : Maupiti or Bora Bora (2/3 days)
Option 2 : Huahine or Tahaa (2/3 days)
- Tahiti: upon arrival, you are generally greeted with a flower necklace! Spend a day to get inspired by local life, go to the market, eat at the “roulottes” (food trucks), tour the island (car or scooter for rent), get some fresh air on the peninsula, why not observe the corals in masks and snorkel by the sea if you have time. For sleeping in Tahiti without ruining yourself, this is the way.
- Moorea: the sister island as we call it. A 1-hour ferry ride from Tahiti, this is the postcard you were dreaming of before even coming. Enjoy these beautiful beaches, magnificent views, good little snacks that serve raw fish by the sea. An exotic bath as we like it. Take advantage of this moment to have a drink in one of the island’s beautiful hotels;
- Maupiti: the most beautiful islands in French Polynesia, you ask? Maupiti, one of my favorite places here with its magnificent white sandy beach. Everyone says that it is Bora Bora in the years 40′ (before the arrival of the Americans). In short, you have the whole atmosphere of an island but without tourists, an enchanting setting. The must. Don’t miss a tour of the motus and the observation of the local marine fauna (manta rays, sharks, tropical fish, etc.)
- Bora Bora: One of the most famous islands in the world. Highly developed by a mass tourism and specialist in luxury travel, this is not my preference, but almost everyone goes there for “the name”. Still, the lagoon is superb there. If you’ve been dreaming of the Intercontinental, the St Regis and others, you’ve come to the right place! You can also find small guesthouses at reasonable prices.
- Huahine : The wild island, much less visited by tourists. Very quiet, relaxing and full of resources with lush vegetation inland. An island that I enjoyed.
- Tahaa : The Vanilla Island, known for its beautiful lagoon and especially its vanilla. A very quiet island, far from the big tourist crowds too. For those who like comfort, the island offers a superb hotel (Le Tahaa Island Resort and Spa) proposing overwater bungalows.
Advantages of this itinerary: it already gives you a good impression of the Polynesian Islands by showing you the high islands of the Society Archipelago but also an idea of the Polynesian postcard (Moorea). You can island hop by plane between Bora/Maupiti and Raiatea/Huahine and then Tahiti. Easy to organize with Air Tahiti and their Inter-Island Passes.
Disadvantages of the itinerary: you will not be able to see here the beauty of the wild archipelagos (as I call them), the Austral archipelago and the Marquesas Islands (let alone the Gambier which is more than 1500 km away!). Another point, if you are a diver, you may be “disappointed” by the underwater world in these islands (let’s say that everything will depend on what you’ve already seen in the past). For information, 1 diving center in Maupiti, several in Moorea.
An alternative itinerary for a week in French Polynesia: 1-day Tahiti, 1 day Moorea and then fly over to Rangiroa or Fakarava (3/4 days – Tuamotu) for a successful diving trip. This itinerary will allow experienced divers to enjoy beautiful dive sites, and get a glimpse (Moorea/Tahiti) of a higher island in French Polynesia.
For more details on how to plan your internal flights and/or boat, check out the post I wrote.
Now it’s starting to get interesting. You will certainly not have time to wander too far from the usual roads, but depending on your desires of the moment and your budget, this will be enough to spend a superb stay in French Polynesia.
For a 2-week trip to French Polynesia, I recommend: Tahiti + 3 high islands + 1 atoll (Tuamotu)
Tahiti (1 day) + Tetiaora (1 day)
Moorea (2 days)
Maupiti (3 days)
Taha’a (2/3 days)
Fakarava / Rangiroa / Tikehau (4/5 days): choose an atoll here (for divers, prefer one of the first 2)
Fakarava: Atoll famous throughout the South Pacific, especially for diving, classified as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, renowned for its famous shark wall (diving), its southern pass and its sublime landscapes. Does a diving trip and heavenly beaches tempt you?
Rangiroa: second largest atoll in the world (after Kwajalein atoll in the Marshall Islands), famous for its blue lagoon, its sublime landscapes on the lagoon side, but above all for the majestic passes of Avatoru and Tiputa. The latter hosts a large reserve of hammerhead sharks and Mantas rays between December and March. Surfers will also benefit.
Tikehau: atoll less famous than the first two (for diving), but it is superb (I spent a week there). Between magnificent beaches, a splendid “ocean” side with rocks of such particular shapes and a lagoon to discover by boat. The atoll is known for being full of fish underwater! Note that you can combine Tikehau with other atolls for a beautiful trip!
Advantages of this itinerary: It allows you to discover the high islands of French Polynesia (Society Islands) and to get a good overview of an atoll and its particular atmosphere (Tuamotu). Ideal for divers who will discover the superb depths of the Tuamotu. You won’t ruin yourself yet by staying “close” to Tahiti!
Alternative itinerary for two weeks in French Polynesia: keep the beginning of the previous itinerary (e.g. Tahiti, Moorea, Maupiti, Taha’a), but opt for 4/5 days in the Marquesas (4 hours flight) instead of the Tuamotus. This itinerary will be more oriented for hikers, but lovers of the “postcard” beach will also be delighted with Moorea (and beautiful beaches on Hiva Oa for example, in the Marquesas). Note that your travel budget will be higher, a return ticket for the Marquesas is worth approximately 550€! Famous via Gauguin and Brel, the island of Hiva Oa remains the best known and most accessible along with the island of Nuku Hiva.
Special remarks:of course, other atolls are possible apart from the three mentioned above. These are the “most famous diving spots” and therefore the most developed atolls (understand “touristic”). I could also recommend the atoll of Aratika and Kauehi, both of which are very beautiful, but require traveling during the week. For those on a long trip, don’t hesitate to take a cargo ship and visit the lost atolls of the Tuamotu.
Now, here we begin to get into the serious business. One month on site will not be too long to discover the whole of this territory which is as big as Europe! Are you wanting to discover the most beautiful islands of French Polynesia? You’ll have enough to go around in a month or more!
For a trip of this length, and not to mention budget, you have plenty of time to do what you want… Several itineraries can be proposed and several options are possible. Only the budget will limit you here!
Option 1 : The “I have a large budget” option
Tahiti (2 days) + Tetiaora (1 day)
Moorea (2 days)
Maupiti / Bora Bora (for those looking for the “name”) – 3 days
Tuamotu (1 week): 1 or more islands
Marquesas (1 week): 1 or more islands
Austral (1 week): 1 or more islands
Gambier = FREE
Tetiaroa : The only atoll in the Windward Islands archipelago, known to have been owned by Marlon Brando. You will discover beautiful white sandy beaches, clear turquoise water and a good boat trip. Several providers in Papeete offer a day tour by boat (approx. 100-120€/day, meals included).
Advantage of this itinerary: You’ll discover all 4 archipelagos of French Polynesia and Air Tahiti will offer you the 5th*. This itinerary is suitable for people with a large budget as the cumulative “flight to the Marquesas and Austral Islands” will already cost you about 1000€ round trip.
* Air Tahiti offers a very interesting pack of 5 archipelagos. For those planning to visit 4 archipelagos, the company offers you the 5th one. The technique is to keep the farthest and most expensive for the end, either the Marquesas or even better the Gambiers, 4 hours flight and 1600 km from Tahiti. In theory, this is only reserved for the locals, but if you’re on site, you can definitely take it!
You can also go to the Marquesas by your own means.
Interesting : You can combine flights Tahiti -> Maupiti -> Bora (e.g.) and fly to Rangiroa (Tuamotu)
On this recommended itinerary, you will discover the Leeward Islands and the beauty of the lagoons (Maupiti, Moorea), the joys of living for a week on an atoll, 2m above sea level (diving, snorkeling, lazing around, boating), the very special atmosphere of the Marquesas (culture, marae, sublime landscapes), and the beauty of the Austral Islands. You will finally discover the Gambier archipelago, our favorite of French Polynesia.
Disadvantage of the itinerary: You will need to have a solid budget to pay for flights to the Leeward Islands, Tuamotu, Marquesas and Austral Islands. For just the flights, you can count at least 1500 € (with Air Tahiti Passes). I wrote an article that summarizes the possibilities for traveling between the islands in French Polynesia.
Option 2: the option “I want to discover French Polynesia without ruining myself”
Tahiti (2 days) + Tetiaroa (1 day)
Moorea (3 days)
Maupiti (3 days)
Taha’a or Raiatea or Huahine (3 days)
1 atoll (1 week)
1 distant archipelago (10 days)
Advantage of this itinerary: It allows you to stay on a more “acceptable” budget by limiting yourself to a distant archipelago only. Besides that, you will discover everything you came for: the postcard (Moorea, Tuamotu atoll, Tetiaroa), hiking (Moorea, Tahiti, Maupiti, Marquesas), Polynesian culture present in all the islands, diving (Tuamotu).
Personal opinion on the choice of the distant archipelago: If I had to choose only one, I would choose the Gambiers which are my favorite, followed by the Marquesas and then the Austral Islands. I love all 3 archipelagos, they are very different, but the Gambier archipelago really gives off something, a good mix of the authentic Polynesian dream. If it wasn’t so far away, “cut off from everything”, and there was work, I would spend my life there.
There you go, I think I’ve covered everything on the recommended itineraries in French Polynesia, at least from my point of view!
Other articles will follow, including good reasons to visit French Polynesia, the islands I absolutely recommend visiting, how to travel between the islands in French Polynesia or tips to travel cheaply in French Polynesia.
For those wondering about car rentals, I often use this very good comparator to find the best prices. In Tahiti and Moorea, I particularly recommend this site. For Bora Bora Island, I usually book through this website when I visit the island.
I hope that this article will help you prepare for your trip to French Polynesia. If you have the slightest doubt about a choice of itinerary, island or archipelago, feel free to post a comment. I would be happy to help you.
If you have not yet purchased your flight tickets to French Polynesia, please do not hesitate to read the article on how to get to French Polynesia. It will also be necessary to ask yourself when to travel to Tahiti.
I look forward to seeing you soon for a new article.