French Polynesia Travel Guide
Consisting of 118 islands stretching over four million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean (an expanse greater than the total land area of the European Union), French Polynesia contains many of the vistas one commonly associates with the South Pacific.
Impossibly powder-blue waters, sagging palms, soaring jungle-clad mountains, luxurious overwater bungalows, and laid back islanders are all part of the package here.
While you’ll be spending plenty of time soaking up some rays and swimming amidst dozens of different species of tropical fish, there is also plenty of cultures to discover in this French Overseas Territory as well.
Currency: CFP Francs
What To Do
Start your visit to French Polynesia by spending an hour or so exploring the halls of the Museum of Tahiti and the Islands. Found ten miles south of Papeete in the small surfing town of Puna’auia, it is dedicated to showcasing and preserving the unique culture of Polynesia.
It has four sections: natural history and geography, life before the arrival of Europeans, the colonial period, and one which focuses on the archipelago’s natural wonders.
Despite being in a French territory, displays here are in English as well, making it easy for non-speakers to appreciate the exhibits found here.
Take in the cultural traditions of the Polynesian inhabitants of French Polynesia by attending a performance at the Tiki Village Cultural Centre. Situated over on Moorea, this tourist attraction combines an authentic Polynesian dinner with exciting spectacles which include fire dancing.
While you will love what you see in between bites of suckling pig, don’t be afraid to get up and join the dancers, as audience participation is a big part of the show put on here.
As interesting as the past two attractions are, most visitors book trips to French Polynesia to enjoy its deliciously tropical islands, lagoons, and beaches. While you are here, make taking a tour to Ile aux Recifs a top priority.
While you will want to pack some surf shoes to protect yourself from sharp corals, the beauty of the marine life below the waves, the perfect sandy beaches complete with lazy palms, and crystal clear water will make preparing for this a non-issue.
With the assistance of guides, you may even find some black-tipped sharks (don’t worry, they don’t attack people), making for a unique and thrilling experience.
Want to earn your swim in some of the most beautiful waters in the world? Take on a monumental challenge by trekking up the steep slopes of Mount Pahia. This iconic Bora Bora peak isn’t its neighbour (the higher Mount Otemanu), but seeing how climbing it is forbidden, scaling Pahia will prove to be more than an acceptable consolation prize.
Note that hiring a guide is a requirement before challenging this peak, as there are many dangerous paths which could lead you off a cliff before you realize where you are going.
Many of the best beaches in French Polynesia are fenced off for the exclusive enjoyment of those staying in 4 or 5-star resorts. Don’t despair if you are a budget traveller, though: this part of the world has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to beaches.
When on Bora Bora, spend a day lounging on the sands of Matira Beach. Taking up the last mile of the coast at the island’s southern tip, it has a killer view of the mountains and overwater bungalows which make Bora Bora the most special island in French Polynesia.
At the same time, its gently sloping sandy base is free of hard coral, making it the perfect place for swimmers and families to spend a leisurely day.
Over on Moorea, Temae Beach is the place to go if you are looking for a memorable beach day while in French Polynesia. You can go for a leisurely swim with the locals, or you can swim out to the reef’s edge with a mask and snorkel and watch all the brilliantly-coloured fishes swim amidst the colourful corals.
Finally, make a trip out to Tereia Beach should you find yourself on Maupiti Island during your visit. Here, there is nothing but a pair of simple beachside restaurants, making for a vibe that becomes incredibly sublime come sunset.
What to Eat
Want to sample the national dish of French Polynesia during your visit? Ask for some Poisson Cru when you are out at a local Polynesian restaurant. Basically a South Pacific version of ceviche, it consists of raw tuna which has been marinated in lime juice; paired with a variety of vegetables and coconut milk, it is a tasty meal which will win over many sceptics.
Seafood lover but looking for something cooked instead? Try some Chevreffes on for size. Referring to locally caught shrimp, it is often cooked with coconut milk and vanilla bean, creating an intoxicating sauce which will have you coming back for more.
When it is time for dessert in French Polynesia, many local islanders reach for Poe. Consisting of bananas, cornstarch, coconut cream, sugar, and vanilla bean, it is a delightful way to end any meal in one of the world’s most heavenly places.