French Polynesia Guide
Five Things First Time Travellers To French Polynesia Should Know
- Save money and book a packaged trip. French Polynesia is a destination where it often works out cheaper to opt for a combo deal. Look out for hotel packages that include meals or tours, and save up to 30%.
- The official languages in French Polynesia are Tahitian and French. However, you'll find that most hotel staff and tour guides can speak English.
- You'll need to exchange your money for the French Pacific Franc. You won't be able to pay for your hotel room or activities in any other currency. It's also a good idea to have a mixture of cash and card on you as the ATMs aren't always working or nearby.
- Bring your own toilet paper. While the restrooms will range from rustic outhouses to the more modern kind, the majority won't have toilet paper for you to use. It's also polite to buy something from the restaurant or petrol station if you use their facilities.
- The tap water is safe to drink on developed islands. If you're visiting the outlying islands, it's safer to buy the bottled water. Pack some water purifying tablets and keep them in your bag in case you don't have access to clean water.
Best Time To Visit French Polynesia
The best time to visit French Polynesia is between May and October. These winter months are more bearable with less humidity and a lower chance of rain. Temperatures range from 15°C to 25°C, giving travellers idyllic weather for days at the beach or outdoor activities.
July is also the festival month for French Polynesia. If you want to experience the best of the island's cultural celebrations, plan your trip around Heiva i Tahiti. Each year, the best chant and dance groups compete, a tradition that dates back to 1881.
The winter months are also peak tourist season. Expect thicker crowds and hotel prices to be higher than usual.
November to April is the island's wet season. These summer months are hot, humid and full of rain. If you want to avoid the downpours, book around December and January. These two months see on average 12 inches of rain and are the worst time to go if you want perfect island weather.
Despite technically being French Polynesia's low season, hotel rates don't drop. Prices stay high throughout the islands long summer. Another thing to keep in mind is the school holidays. During this period, inter-island flights can be hard to book last minute and might leave you stranded if you don't plan your trip in advance.
French Polynesia Cities
Located on the main island of Tahiti, Faa'a is the largest commune in French Polynesia. It houses the only international airport and is the gateway to exploring the region.
While there isn't much to do in the city, you'll only be a short drive away from attractions like Tahiti Lagoon Paradise and Mount 'Orohena.
Papeete is the capital city of French Polynesia. While it's not a sprawling metropolis, the city is lively, and its markets are vibrant.
Stop for a coffee at the Parisian-style cafes, sample the local cuisine at a roulette (mobile food van) and explore the nearby Pa'ofa'i Gardens. Once you've had enough of the city, hop on board one of the boats at the harbour and take a trip to the outlying islands.
Top Attractions in French Polynesia
Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands
If you want to learn more about French Polynesia's rich culture and history, block out a few hours for the Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands. Located 15 km from Papeete, the museum features four sections: geography and natural history; pre-European culture; the European era; and outdoor exhibits.
You'll need at least an hour to make your way around the entire museum. Keep a lookout for the displays on traditional weapons, weaving and literature.
There's also a beautiful garden that you can explore. It leads out to the water's edge where you can watch surfers tackle Tahiti's most popular breaks.
No visit to French Polynesia would be complete without a visit to Bora Bora. Located 220 km from Papeete, the Jewel of the South Seas is the ultimate island paradise. Each year, celebrities and honeymooners flock here to stay in the luxurious water bungalows.
Visit the famous blue lagoon and spend your days paragliding, jet skiing and diving to your heart's content. The nearby jungle offers some of the region's best hiking and the adventurous can even skydive over this tropical wonder.
The only downside to Bora Bora is the hefty price tag. It's in no way a budget destination, but if you do decide to splurge it's worth every penny.
Fatu Hiva is part of the Marquesas Islands. It's one of French Polynesia's most remote destinations, and its lack of development reflects that.
If you do decide to make the trip, your eyes will be in for a visual feast. Fatu Hiva is fringed with rugged cliffs, crystal clear water and the iconic Bay of Virgins.
For divers and snorkellers, the island boasts some of the best conditions in Polynesia. On land, you'll find the biggest petroglyphs in the country and two small villages that have maintained their way of life without much interference from the outside world.
It's the perfect destination for travellers who want to get off the grid and live a simpler life for a few days.
Iipona is Polynesia's most impressive archaeological site. It houses five remarkable tiki statues, with the tallest standing at 10 feet high. Said to represent a powerful chieftain and warrior, the locals believe his spirit is now the guardian of the valley.
The most mysterious of the sculptures is Maika'i Taua Pepe. At the base carved into the relief is what looks like a llama, an animal only found in South America. Some believe this proves a cultural link between the two regions.
To reach the site, you'll need to catch a flight from Tahiti to Puamau, Hiva Oa. Once there, follow the track from the seafront for about 1.5 km. At the entrance, you'll need to pay CFP 300 to the person who maintains Iipona.
Botanical Gardens and Gauguin Museum
For botanists, a visit to the Botanical Gardens is a must. Located next to the Gauguin Museum in Tahiti, the gardens were created by Harrison Smith.
After purchasing 137 hectares of land, he spent the next few years planting exotic flowers and trees. Today, visitors can walk through the tropical gardens, past hundreds of shrubs, flowers and lily ponds.
After admiring the natural beauty, head next door to the Gauguin Museum. It houses many reproductions of Paul Gauguin's painting that were inspired by his 12 years living on the islands of Tahiti and Marquesas.
Major International Airports in French Polynesia
- Faa'a International Airport