We have found paradise in French Polynesia… It is a destination of our world tour for which we had a lot of expectations, and we found so much more! Do not wait to win the lottery to go on this trip! Although it is a distant journey where the cost of living is high, it is possible to make this dream come true for a reasonable budget (see our article: French Polynesia on a budget). Moreover, as it is often the case in travel, you will discover much more of French Polynesia in a local pension than in the huge luxury hotels.
As per the tradition, you will be greeted with fresh flower necklaces and receive shells necklaces when you leave.
Please note, our recommendations are limited to the islands of the Society Archipelago. Unfortunately we did not have time to visit more than 5 of the 118 beautiful islands making up the whole of French Polynesia.
Tips to get ready before going:
- Pick the season: we took the risk of visiting French Polynesia during the rainy season … and we were incredibly lucky with beautiful weather almost every day and temperatures not too high. The rainy season (which corresponds to winter in the Northern Hemisphere) is also the low season. This means, in addition to the low prices, that we shared our dream places and our accommodations with very few other tourists. The “between seasons” moments (Spring and Autumn) may be a less risky bet in terms of the weather. If you want to see whales it’s only between July and November.
- Pack: your good mood, biodegradable sunscreen, closed shoes to swim and walk in the water (beware of sea urchins and fish very poisonous) and place to bring back monoi and all your necklaces of shells .
- Search how to spend less: we found this topic so important we made it a blog post.
- Learn essential Tahitian words (spoken in the Society Islands):
‘ia ora na (hello), nana (goodbye), māuruuru (thank you) and maeva (welcome)
International flights stop on the island of Tahiti
All international flights go through Papeete airport. We advise you to stop in Tahiti (an island which is sometimes overlooked by visitors). It is a good starting point for your Polynesian discoveries.
Upon our arrival, we were already in the mood. Indeed, we were greeted at the airport with Tahitian music as well as a bright sun! Our travel agency, Easy Tahiti, sent someone to greet us, who gave us all of the necessary information and beautiful fresh flower necklaces. All very appreciated after the night on the plane from Los Angeles (where we had a weekend stopover after our road trip in Costa Rica).
Our accommodation was in the heart of the capital: Papeete. We stayed on the island of Tahiti in Fare Suisse. A very peaceful pension despite its central location allowing to visit the city of Papeete by foot. However, for a stay of more than 24 hours we would advise to stay outside the city. Unless you are simply in transit, if you want to take full advantage of the island of Tahiti, preferably choose a hotel or a pension by a beach (or in the beautiful valleys for a more isolated and unusual experience).
Visit of Papeete: French Polynesia capital
The capital of Polynesia is an interesting but not essential visit. Half a day or a day seemed sufficient to tour the main attractions.
Our first stop was the Papeete market! A colourful market full of aromas, recommended for both souvenirs and food. We then strolled to the building of the French Polynesia Presidency and observed the impressive facade. From there, it is very close to the beautiful gardens of Queen Aimata Pomare IV, former park of the queen’s palace. Be careful, the entrance is a little hard to find: it is at the French Polynesia assembly. Another point of interest is the visit of the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Papeete which is close to the market.
Finally, plan to visit the Pearl Museum. We learned all there is to know about Tahitian pearls. It is also interesting to visit some pearl jewelers for your eyes pleasure (but not your wallet’s). We recommend the Pearly Shell shop. We had a nice chat with the owner. He showed us the thickness of pearl with X-rays (although we were honest about the fact we could not afford to shop there). Clémentine loves pearls and thought she would have to give up on her dream of bringing back one when she saw the prices in Papeete. However, she was lucky later to find one later in Huahine.
In the evening, from 6pm, you have to go to Vai’ete square to taste the delicious local dishes from the ‘roulottes’. An excellent affordable meal with ocean views. Clémentine had a tuna tartare on a bed of pineapple and shrimp and for Nicolas it was raw fish with coconut milk.
Papenoo Valley exploration
Even if you come to Tahiti for the beaches do not miss to visit the island inland. Tahiti is a beautiful island very few people take the time to explore. However, the landscapes are really worth the detour. We fell in love with the Papenoo Valley after our day there. This valley was, for example, one of the filming locations of the first Jurassic Park movie as well as the famous shower gel advertising.
We did a 4×4 expedition in the Papenoo Valley, in the heart of the island, with Teiva from Tahiti Discovery. An authentic experience guaranteed. You will see vertical mountains, numerous waterfalls and abundant vegetation. All with the explanations of Teiva who also tells how he has seen his land change since his youth. Consequently we learned a lot about culture, history and the beautiful Tahitian legends. Teiva also informed us about the trees, fruits and flowers on our way. All with some beauty, health and culinary tips. The tour also included bananas freshly picked on the way. Finally, we were able to swim in a waterfall and a beautiful stream.
Tahiti’s beaches and luxury hotels
Quite easily accessible from Papeete, where we stayed, we took advantage of the beautiful beach behind the Méridien hotel. We also went to the Intercontinental Hotel to see the Marquesas dance show. Every week there are themed nights at the Intercontinental hotel and in the other big hotels. Rather than the very expensive buffet show, we simply had a drink at the bar without even paying for the “show seats”. Arriving early allowed us to enjoy very good spots. More information on how to travel cheaply in French Polynesia on our article French Polynesia on a small budget.
Advance booking with a local travel agency
Polynesia is our only world tour destination for which we went through a travel agency for our accommodation and transport. We chose the excellent local agency Easy Tahiti , with whom we had been in contact to build a perfect itinerary within our budget limits.
Some agencies told us it was not possible to work with our budget. Others tried to convince us to spend more. The experts from Easy Tahiti immediately made us feel comfortable and assured we could plan out an incredible experience without exceeding our budget.
To visit French Polynesia it is not essential to go through an agency. However, be careful to book your accommodations in advance, especially in high season. Booking transportation between islands can also be a tricky. We think the help of the agency has allowed us to travel peacefully without risking exceeding our budget. Moreover, we are convinced it is always best to go through a local travel agency or one specialised in your destination.
Ferry transfer and idyllic accommodation
We chose to transfer from Tahiti to Moorea by boat, rather than with a flight as many agencies offer. The view from the ferry is superb.
We stayed at the Hibiscus Hotel and were well received for our honeymoon. The bungalows are all very pleasantly located a few steps from the beach as well as the hotel restaurant (sunset) where we had our breakfasts. There is also a small kitchen in the bungalows which allowed us to save money. It is possible to snorkel and rent kayaks from the hotel. Heaven!
The restaurant is a few minutes walk from a small village with a few shops, a pharmacy, convenience stores (very small, we recommend stocking up beforehand in a supermarket), ‘roulottes’ and restaurants. We tried the dishes from the Sea You Soon Moorea – le HQ, a real treat for a reasonable price… considering the portions enough for two meals.
As everywhere in Polynesia, chickens and roosters roam freely on the island. It should be noted, however, the cocks seem out of order in Moorea and are heard at all hours of the day and night (subject which is even the topic of local legends). Do not forget your ear plugs!
Nautical activities in Moorea lagoon
The water is beautiful and it is possible to snorkel from the beaches without having to swim far in Moorea. The lagoons are rich in marine activities, it would be a shame not to see the coral gardens and their inhabitants.
We snorkeled from the Hibiscus Beach and Ta’ahiamanu public beach. The equipment was loaned by our hotel (as it is often the case) and it is possible to buy a mask and a snorkel in most shops you will come across.
We rented a kayak for half a day from the Hibiscus hotel. This is an activity we highly recommend even if you do not stay at this hotel. Please note kayaks are only accessible when the restaurant is open.
We explored the surroundings of the Fareone and Tiahura motus. On the way, we had the chance to see turtles and many rays. We snorkeled between the two motus. We just let ourselves be carried by the current after a short walk by the water’s edge. The colors are beautiful! We recommend exploring the lagoon wherever you are on the island, it’s so beautiful! Going to the uninhabited motus for a picnic or a snorkeling session will definitely give you the adventurer thrill.
Remember to apply a lot of sunscreen (preferably biodegradable) and to bring a hat, your snorkel gears, lots of water and snacks.
We had the opportunity to try our first paddle board session with Fenua Stand Up Paddle on Ta’ahiamanu public beach. Initiation classes are offered but we preferred to jump into the water with one hour of renting on our own.
You will probably not go as far as with kayaking but it is a relaxing activity while being good exercise. Be careful of body aches afterward! We advise you to start with an hour or two, you will be surprised at the speed at which it tires you! The good news is it is easier than it seems and does not require any special training or experience. An original way to enjoy the beautiful coastal landscapes.
Scuba diving in Moorea
Diving is not an activity accessible to everyone and requires a certain budget. However, French Polynesia is an excellent place to practice with dives for all levels. If you are not yet certified, it is also an opportunity to make a baptism. If you are a true diving enthusiast, you will have multiple opportunities to dive into different environments on all islands. See our article about our diving certification.
The Moorea’s surroundings offers so many beautiful dive opportunities. We did a double dive with Moorea Blue Diving. Our first dive was at the Mamaru spot where we saw lemon sharks and blacktip sharks. We did a second dive at Coral Wall where we closely watched turtles resting and getting their shell cleaned by the fish. We also encountered some sharks there. We were very lucky and also saw dolphins between the 2 dives during our stop in the bay of ‘Opunohu. To get a 10% discount on your diving with Moorea Blue Diving, mention our blog “Voyage de Miel” when booking with Diane or Stéphane.
Exploring Moorea island
As for Tahiti, we wanted to explore the center of the Moorea island (difficult to access without adapted vehicles). We decided to take a tour with Francky Frank. Franck picked us up at our hotel to explore the island with a very friendly group. Franck is a Frenchman who fell in love with the island of Moorea (we understand this) and who offers a discovery tour aboard his pick-up. He is very funny and the good atmosphere is guaranteed in this tour.
Franck took us to explore the magical mountain with its stunning views, sample local Manutea Tahiti liquors at the juice factory and the distillery, visit a pineapple plantation, a vanilla plantation and a tropical garden. We ended up with the magnificent view from the belvedere (lookout). As a bonus gift, we saw dolphins in the lagoon on the way. An excursion we absolutely recommend.
We also visited the Tiki Village by ourselves (hitchhiking, learn more about this by reading this article). We unfortunately did not have the opportunity to attend one of their shows which are renowned but expensive.
Sleep in a traditional bungalow
Huahine is a small island which is less touristy, more intact and authentic. The locals are very welcoming and warm. According to them “living here is like being always on vacation”. Tempting isn’t it?
We took a very short flight (25 minutes) between Moorea and Huahine. Our accommodation at the Tupuna pension was the most typical of the trip. The Polynesian style bungalows are built with traditional materials. In our opinion, this is close to the popular “glamping” (glamorous camping): a comfortable room open on the outside and the nature. Do not worry about insects, the beds are equipped with mosquito nets giving a princely canopy bed look. Our bungalow also had a bathroom decorated with seashells.
The place is beautiful, remote and quiet. Our bungalow overlooked the lagoon (no beaches here but a great view). It was also close to the beautiful tropical fruit and vegetable garden maintained by the owners. It is strongly recommended (due to the isolation of the accommodation) to book for breakfasts and dinners there, especially as those are incredibly delicious and prepared with fresh products from the garden. A golden opportunity to discover new flavors. You can also stock up at the Super U on the way to the airport and use the pension fridge. Kayaks are available free of charge. Although it takes effort and a certain level of fitness, we were able to go for most incredible kayak expeditions.
To visit the island of Huahine, we booked a tour with Henri from HineOraVai Island Tour (website in French). Very convenient since Henri came to pick us up at the pension. As a welcome gift, according to custom, Nicolas was treated to a tiare flower bud and Clémentine to a beautiful wreath of fresh flowers. We explored the island of Huahine in a pickup truck.
On the program, going around the small and large part of the island:
- observation of the lagoon and the beaches with superb view points
- visit of plantations
- discovery of marae (one of the most impressive of the archipelago) which are the remains of traditional places of worship
- painting trial on pareo at the workshop la passion du pareao
- Sacred blue eyed eels (the most impressive eels we have ever seen)
- passage on the bridge connecting the small and large island
- view from the belvedere (lookout)
- fish traps
- boat to visit the pearl farm Huahine nui pearls & pottery
The tour is very complete and we took our time to observe the beautiful landscapes while learning a lot about local legends and customs. Henri, who is very kind, patiently answered all our questions. In addition, we tasted delicious fruits from his mother’s garden.
Polynesia is one of the best place for pearls. On each of the islands you can go shopping in the many jewelry shops. To reduce the price, it is possible to buy naked pearls and to mount it on jewels when you return home. Do not neglect to take a look at the character pearls with “defaults”. Prices vary widely and depend on the size, colour, shape and appearance of the pearl.
Clémentine looked in vain for a cheap pearl until she fell in love with a beautiful pearl mounted (with some almost invisible flaws) for a derisory price at the pearl farm of Huahine.
To eat on Huahine we will recommend again the pension Tupuna. Also, we have not personally tested it but heard a lot of good things about Chez Tara where the food is made in the traditional Tahitian oven on Sundays.
Kayak to an abandoned beach
Thanks to the kayak available at the pension Tupuna we were able to go to the abandoned beach of the former Sofitel hotel. First stop of our expedition was the Motu Vaiorea to snorkel in the coral garden. We even encountered some small blacktip sharks.
A few strokes of rowing (and a little elbow grease) and here we were alone on a beautiful white sand beach. This was the place of one of the 10 most beautiful hotels in the world, which was destroyed by a cyclone a few years ago. The beach guard joined us quickly and we went on a coconut hunt with him. He showed us how to choose and open them and there we were with a real feast!
He also taught us how to make pretty jewels out of shells and seeds while sharing some very interesting stories about his life and the island. We learned, for example, that when Barack Obama came with Michelle on vacation he went to greet our friend on his beach. From the edge of the beach we can swim with our snorkels in the corals and fishes.
It took about 30 minutes kayaking to get to the beach of the pension. We advise you to bring a picnic, there are no better places to eat and it will be welcomed after the effort. You can also go to this beach by boat via organised tours.
Catamaran Cruise from Raiatea to Bora Bora
Rather than taking other flights we let ourselves be tempted by the experience of a catamaran cruise between the islands of Raiatea and Bora Bora with Dream Yatch Charter. Absolutely extraordinary and cheap considering the price includes our transport, our accommodation, all the delicious meals (including snacks), the most incredible views and water activities at any time.
We flew for another ridiculously short flight between Huahine and Raiatea where we had a few hours to visit downtown Uturoa. There is a delicious bakery Patisserie Bon Apetahi. The other point of interest is the covered market. There are also plenty of shops on the premises if you need to stock up on toothpaste or sunscreen before you leave on the cruise.
Three days of pure relaxation without wearing shoes. A real feeling of freedom in front of the sublime landscape. At each stop we could jump into the water, snorkel or go kayaking in the turquoise waters … Here are more details:
We embarked at noon for our long-awaited cruise aboard a catamaran with 12 seats. Luckily (this is very rare according to the captain), only another couple were traveling with us, the benefits of the rainy season! We headed to Tahaa Island north of Raiatea to discover the coral garden of the Tautau motus. On the spot, we did a small walk before throwing ourselves in the current and let us being carried in the path traced through the coral. It’s so magical we did it a second time. We spent the night off Tahaa.
The next day we sailed to Bora Bora after a short swim and a breakfast. We let ourselves be carried by the winds and were joined by a group of dolphins upon our arrival in Bora Bora. The dream! We used the kayaks to explore the surroundings.
Then we had lunch in the lagoon before swimming with sharks and rays. We specifically asked the captain not to feed them and everything was going well until another boat comes and baited them. The sharks and rays began to panic and moved very close to us. It is very impressive and we were not totally reassured. We then toured the island and observed the different turquoise tones of the lagoon and the luxury hotels on the way (which did not made us jealous at all!). We anchored between the island and the atoll.
We left in the morning to explore the coral garden behind the motu Piti ‘U’u Uta. The colours were beautiful. Then we headed to the tip of the motu Piti A’au to see the leopard rays and ate a Tahitian barbecue on the beach. We must admit we were a little disappointed with the barbecue as the food on board was so delicious, it is not an unmissbale activity according to us. We observed the graceful rays by swimming back to the catamaran. Finally, we went around the island to reach our anchorage for the night near To’opua. We are enjoyed our last night.
We spent 2 more days in Bora Bora after the cruise. It is on this island that we tested the experience on stilts with direct access to the lagoon and the coral below. We stayed at the Maitai Polynesia hotel which is well located with ‘roulottes’ nearby and a nice beach. The rooms are comfortable and we loved the window overlooking the lagoon.
Unfortunately the rainy season finally caught up with us and we had 2 days of rain and wind. We could not enjoy it as much as we wanted to.
However, we did a dive with Eleuthera Bora Diving Center and had the chance to observe a bench of 40 to 50 leopard rays (also named eagle rays). It was magical to see them fly / swim gracefully above us. It is also possible, depending on your dive level and weather conditions, to observe manta rays in Bora Bora. Eleuthera arranged for us to be picked up from our hotel and the atmosphere was excellent at the club.
We also took advantage the Intercontinental Hotel proximity (accessible by foot) to attend another traditional dance show. Between the Intercontinental Hotel and the Maitai Polynesia do not miss the ‘roulottes’ offering local dishes at affordable prices.
Gastronomy in French Polynesia
French Polynesia is known for its heavenly beaches and lagoons with incredible colours. It is a little less known for its very tasty and colourful cuisine. Yet the islands are teeming with delicious tropical fruits and vegetables and the sea with a multitude of fish and shellfish.
As for drinks, fruit juices are served fresh and are refreshing and full of flavors. As for the alcohol, you will not miss to taste the famous local beer: the Hinano. If you are more fond of cocktails than beer, there are many choices as well. We recommend the Maitai cocktail with rum and local flavors: vanilla, mango, papaya, passion fruit and orange. As for restaurants, there is something for every budget. For a traditional, local and affordable experience, eat in the ‘roulottes’. You will find the best prices, it is sometimes cheaper than buying products at the supermarket and cook yourself. If you are lost while reading the menu during your stay in French Polynesia here is a small list (not exhaustive) of must-try dishes:
- The ‘poisson des dieux’
- Vanilla sauce: a sweet & sour mixture that may surprise at first sight but is a real delight!
- The half-cooked tuna
- Raw fish with coconut milk or Chinese sauce: an excellent example of fusion.
- Parrot fish with a very melting flesh cooked to smother it with lemon and ginger.
Finally, for desserts, there are of course tropical fruits: pineapple, coconut, mangoes, guavas, passion fruit, mape, noni, bananas, papayas… But also some delicacies such as banana poe or soursop ice cream, as well as many pastries and cakes.
Clémentine’s Reading and Movies list
- The Lonely Planet Tahiti & French Polynesia travel guide
- The Disney movie Moana
- The novel chronicling the historical mutiny The Bounty Odyssey (Volume 1 to 3) by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. You can also watch one of the movies produced on the subject.
- The breadfruit tree (first volume of a triology) by Celestine Hitiura Vaite. An award winning novel (and very funny) about a family’s life in Tahiti.
French Polynesia was the most magical destination of our world tour (so far). We are already dreaming of having the chance to go back and visit the other archipelagos. An incredibly rich experience in discoveries but also very relaxing. An excellent stop between America and Oceania for our world tour.