French Polynesia Travel Guide – Top Things To Do
Welcome to French Polynesia, one of the most beautiful places in the world lost in the middle of the Pacific ocean. I’ve just come back from a 3-weeks trip over there and want to share with you some great travel tips for French Polynesia
Before you plan your trip
Planning a trip to Polynesia can seem like a tedious task! There are so many islands to choose from and it can be hard to find out which ones to visit first and what to do. In this article, I will share with you my insight on how to travel in Polynesia, what to do, which islands to visit Polynesia (should you go to Bora Bora? What about Moorea?) and where to sleep. I’ll also give my honest opinion on organizing the trip yourself vs hiring a French Polynesia travel agency.
Before we get any further you can watch this video I made on the trip to French Polynesia to get you inspired!
French Polynesia Video Guide – Top Things To Do
What To Do In French Polynesia
Before we get into the detailed travel tips for Polynesia, here are my top 5 things to do in French Polynesia to get you inspired for your next trip!
#5 Explore Tahiti Inland
Most travellers will overlook the main island of Tahiti but I highly recommend you not to. When you land for the first time in French Polynesia, this is where you will arrive, so why not spend a few days exploring the main island?
Tahiti has a ton to offer for those seeking adventures. For example, you can drive (or bike) all around the island in a full day. This will give you a great idea of the diversity of the landscapes. The island has very steep mountains that offer breathtaking views and waterfalls. The north has a valley called Papeenoo that you can drive into to explore inland. Surrounded by high jungle dense mountains you will feel like you’re in Jurassic Park!
The South of the Island is know for Teahupo’o, one of the most famous big-wave surfing spot in the world. It also host a complete wild side of the island that has no road access. A few guest houses even exist in parts where you can only access by boat! (note: I did not get to go there, make sure you read reviews before booking an accommodation there… some are pretty old!)
All in all, Tahiti has a magical feel to it if you can get off of the busy Papeete area! It would be a shame not to see it, even if you were to rent a car just for a day to drive around.
#4 Enjoy Sunset & Sunrise
This might sound super obvious but French Polynesia has some of the best sunsets and sunrises I’ve ever seen in my life! Not much more to say about this, just make sure you are up for sunrise and for sunset! Grab a cocktail or go on hike to enjoy the view!
#3 Stay in a water villa
French Polynesia is a country with tons of paradise islands and lagoons. My recommendation is to save up some money in your budget to splurge on a water villa for a few days! You will be sleeping over the lagoon with your feet in the water. Imagine how it feels to wake up and go to bed with the marine life and the best views ever! If you know us, you must have realised we always try to spend a few days in water villas when going to places surround by water – like we did in the Maldives!
I stayed in a beautiful hotel called Le Taha’a island resort & spa (see details), located on a private island next to Taha’a Island. I landed in Raiatea and was transferred by boat to the resort. It was an amazing experience, the place is magnificent, the food delicious and there is a coral garden that you can swim through to admire the beautiful marine life. What an experience!
While in Le Taha’a, I had a chance to chat with the manager, Laurent, who explained to me that they are growing a lot of their food on the island and are doing huge efforts to become self-sustainable energy and food wise. It’s a lot of work for them but pays off by reducing their carbon footprint and reducing plastic waste. He even showed me that all their straws were made from compostable corn starch! Beautiful views, delicious food, and amazing corals to swim through – it can’t get any better! Last but not least you also get an incredible view on Bora Bora from this island!
Note: French Polynesia hotels are not on the cheap end so choose wisely! We’ll discuss Bora Bora hotels and lodging in the French Polynesia travel tips section.
#2 Diving & snorkeling in Polynesia
French Polynesia is one of the most famous place in the world for its splendid marine life. From whales to sharks to dolphins and corals you can find it all! You don’t want to miss exploring the marine life in Polynesia.
You can either go scuba diving or simply go snorkeling in the lagoons. Both options will give you very different experiences but each as good as the other!
I went diving with Top Dive Polynesia on several islands. I had a great time and loved the fact that they were located on different islands, which meant I could organise all the dives with only one company. Here is a little preview of what I go to experience:
- Diving on plane wrecks and ship wrecks in Tahiti
- Diving with sharks and eagle rays in Bora Bora
- Diving with dolphins and Barracudas in Rangiroa
If you’re not feeling like diving no problem! Snorkeling can get you the best experiences of your life as well! Imagine being in waist deep water and having rays and shark surround you (in a friendly way)! Or simply letting yourself drift through a wonder world of corals and fishes!
#1 Adopt & Plant your own coral!
That one is very unconventional! Imagine if you could adopt and plant your OWN coral that will grow for your future generations to see! Not only is this the best feeling in the world but it’s also great for the earth! Let me explain.
Imagine if one day you woke up and realized that the corals around you were dying at an alarming rate. The very corals you’ve been living with since you were a kid – heck you can’t even remember not seeing them!
They help protect your island coastlines, they are a shelter for thousands of animals, they feed you through the fishes that you eat and make surfing possible! How would you feel?! Pretty bad and desperate I imagine?
Sadly this is what is happening RIGHT NOW for our friends living in French Polynesia. So a group of young Polynesians from the Island of Moorea decided to fight against it and try to save their reef!
The Coral Gardeners (that’s how they call themselves) decided to save corals, replant them in safe areas and to raise awareness on the environmental crisis we are all facing. The way you can support their hard work is through adopting your own coral and if you go to Moorea plant the coral yourself!
On Moorea, take an eco-tour with the Coral Gardeners to plant your own coral, learn more about the ocean and the role of corals in the world. Bonus, those guys are super friendly, you will have a blast and they can show you some great local spots to visit around the island!
It’s a must do in Moorea! So help them save the reef, Book your eco tour through their website. (note: Coral Gardeners is a not-for-profit so all the money goes towards saving reefs!)
What is the best island to visit in French Polynesia
Before visiting French Polynesia, it is important to plan your itinerary right. Whether you choose to do it yourself or choose to use a travel agency (see below for details) you will have to make a choice in which islands to visit. I will give you a few tips on islands I’ve been recommended and what should be taken into consideration when choosing.
Things to consider to choose your islands in French Polynesia
- How far is the island?
It’s easy to get tricked by the distances over there. Going from one island to the other can take hours or days and the cost can be huge.
- Will you fly there or get there by boat?
Some islands have small airports but some don’t. In some cases you have to fly into the nearest island and then take a boat over to your final destination. In some cases you can even take a merchandise boat to get to remote islands. Each scenario will affect the cost drastically and the time. Choose wisely according to your budget and time!
- What is there to do on the island?
Some islands offer almost everything (like Moorea): hikes, white sand beaches, coral reefs, local markets and restaurants. Others are tiny and the only thing to do will be laying on the beach and diving.
- What kind of accommodations are available?
Different islands have different lodging options – some being very expensive. Check with your budget before booking flights over!
List of the Best Islands to visit
I won’t pretend to know it all but these are some of the info I gathered on the different islands based on my own experience and on locals input.
Moorea is the ultimate island for me. It has breathtaking steep mountainous landscape dropping into the ocean. Whether you want to hike up mountains, plant coral, chill on the beach, explore local places or dive with whales and shark – you can do it all there. Bonus, Moorea is a 35 minutes ferry ride from Tahiti! Accessible for cheap! (see hotel prices)
- Taha’a / Raiatea
Want to feel like you’re a small island but not too small and have a good local vibe? This place is for you! Not too far either from Tahiti you can take a short flight in and enjoy a few days. Friends shared with me that driving or biking around the island is fantastic. I didn’t have time yet! (see hotel prices)
I list it because… you’re landing there! So as mentioned above don’t miss the crazy waterfalls and landscapes when around! Explore it for 2-3 days.
Although I did not get to visit the island this time, I’ve been highly recommended to go. Great island to visit with an authentic island vibe and beautiful beaches. (see hotels prices)
The untouched version Bora Bora? I did not know about the island until I went to Polynesia and chatted with locals. They mentioned Maupiti is how Bora Bora was 20-30 years ago – very local, chill, unique and with a gorgeous lagoon! Only guesthouses are available as of today. It’s on my list for my next trip!
- The Tuamotu Islands (Rangiroa, Fakarawa…)
Want to feel far from everything?! These islands are for you! I’ve never felt that remote in my whole life – even after traveling to 50+ countries! These Islands are located far from the main island of Tahiti and the best is to fly in. These are very famous for diving thanks to the abundant marine life! On Fakarava you can dive with a “wall of sharks” – hundreds (if not thousands) of sharks group in the same area and you can safely dive with them. (see hotel prices in Rangiroa)
- Bora Bora
See below for my thoughts on Bora Bora and tips. (see hotel prices)
This list is non exhaustive. There are hundreds of other options… but for a first trip that might be good enough? 🙂
How to travel between islands
I you decide to visit several islands in French Polynesia I urge you to budget for the cost of transportation. A 25 minutes transfer from an airport to a resort can easily add up to a 100usd!
1. Flying between islands
Your best and most time-efficient option is to fly between islands. There is mainly one company offering flights – Air Tahiti. Which means prices are up there since there no competition… Budget before!
Important note: some planes are tiny and as such luggage restrictions will be different from your international flight in. For example, I took a flight that had a max of 5kg carry-on policy! Plan for a bit of extra $ to pay for your extra weight. Thankfully it’s not overly expensive per kg.
2. Taking a boat
Let’s start with the simple one: you can easily take a ferry between Tahiti and Moorea, it’s fast and your cheapest option.
Sailing between islands is possible and can be done as part of a cruise for example. Nothing new here. If you’re slightly environmental conscious, make sure you get onboard a nice sailboat and not one of those massive cruise ship that looks like a tower and destroys the environment.
To reach further islands it gets more difficult by boat and sometimes even more expensive. It can easily take a few days too considering the distances. Other travelers told me they took a commercial ship to go to remote areas – but I’d only advise that is you had a few months in the area… I’m sure you can find more info on specific blogs.
Do you need a travel agency tour to visit French Polynesia?
That’s a great question! The answer is very personal but here are my thoughts. First, let’s mention that French Polynesia’s main language is French. Few people speak English well enough outside of the hotels for a native speaker to have a conversation. Which means that it will change your experience if you don’t speak French.
If I were you I would ask myself the following questions:
- Do I want to explore the local culture or just chill on a beach?
- Do I need someone to make arrangements in French for me?
- Do I want to feel like I’m being taken care of or like I want to do it all by myself?
- Can I afford using an agency?
Answering those questions will quickly guide you towards an option. I personally spoke French and made contacts with locals through my photographer’s work and also Couchsurfing (yes you can couch-surf in Polynesia!).
Some local agencies propose amazing tours taking you behind the scenes of the local culture. I’ve met the founder of Nani Travels who explained she is focused on providing an eco-friendly experience her clients. Their mission is to “reconnect humans, preserve the earth and build a sustainable future”. Activities range from discovering local villages in the mountains, planting corals, kayaking through lagoons, eating sustainable locally grown food and discovering local treasures. You can learn more about Nani Travels here: Nani Travels Website.
Note: I asked for a special discount for you and Nani Travels‘ founder accepted to share with you 10% off all their trips! Just use the coupon PIERRE10 on checkout when booking – you’re welcome! 🙂
So do You need an agency organized tour?
Is Bora Bora worth visiting?
Visiting Bora Bora Island has been my childhood dream! I’ve had posters of it for years as kid. Now that I’ve finally made it happen let me warn you.
Bora Bora is the most famous island in French Polynesia – which means the most touristy! For many not going to Bora Bora is like going to Paris but not visiting the Eiffel Tower.
Now that I have been there let me give you a few tips:
1- Do NOT stay on the main island!
If you want to see the famous postcard photo of Bora Bora you must NOT stay on the main island. All the best photos of Bora Bora are taken from smaller islands around the main one. You cannot see the mountain when you are on the main island – since you’re at the base. So whichever hotel option you’re looking into – don’t stay on the main Island.
Here is an example of what I mean by my friend Amir.
2. Save Money
Since it is very famous and everyone wants to get there – prices are a little higher than usual. So make sure you budget properly before you get if you want to go.
My last tip if you really want to visit Bora Bora is to splurge on a beautiful hotel that has a direct view on the main Island. The Conrad Bora Bora Nui is one of them for example. Since you make the effort of going to Bora Bora make sure you make it worth it. I’ve spent a few nights in a cheap place on the main island and regretted it a lot!
All in all, it is a very beautiful island and the lagoon is very unique. Your experience will be 100% dependent on where you stay in Bora Bora (see options here). I’ve felt that a lot more than on other islands – that is really the only one I would say it is only worth it if you get the best spot!
Where to stay in French Polynesia? Hotels, guesthouses or Airbnb?
When it comes to lodging in French Polynesia, you have a few options. Each comes with a different budget and obviously experience! Let me list a few below:
- Hotels: the most common around world yet not all islands have hotels in French Polynesia (ex: Maupiti). Hotels are a safe bet and on the islands you will usually find the high-end ones. If you want to feel luxurious and have the prime real estate (for example in Bora Bora), this will be your choice. Prices vary a lot depending on the island and the hotel. From $250 up to $3000+ per night.
Check hotel prices for your island here (and check the reviews – I always do!)
- Guesthouses: very popular option for those whose budget cannot stretch limitless. Guesthouses in French Polynesia are a great option for both meeting locals and staying in a place in a good standing. Make sure you read reviews online to make sure the place is in good shape! To book guesthouses you can use booking.com or Airbnb for example. Prices range from $50 up to $200 per night.
Save $40 on your guesthouse with Airbnb! Click here. We use it a lot to stay in places with a more local feel 🙂
- Free housing in French Polynesia: it might sound weird but yes you can stay for free if you are open to the experience. Simply put, you stay with locals who accept to host you. Nothing fancy, usually just a couch but for most that’s enough! Bonus you meet people who live there and usually have a great experience and exchange. When you’re back home you can keep a couch open for a traveller passing by. How to do it? Through Couchsurfing. It also works in French Polynesia! I’ve met great people like that and got way more insight on the local life than I would have normally. It’s an exchange, not just a way to be hosted for free!
To wrap it up, each option has its strength and weaknesses. What I would recommend is to mix things up! Try all of them while you’re there. 🙂
If you have any question regarding your future trip to Polynesia please ask in the comments!
Thank you for reading 🙂
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