French Polynesia Travel Guide

Deane AndertonLauren Kania
By Deane Anderton  - Travel Guide Manager Lauren Kania  - Junior Travel Editor 14 Min Read

Follow in the footsteps of centuries worth of adventurers, artists, and those looking for serenity, and discover what French Polynesia has to offer.


Sculpted by the moss-green peaks of dormant volcanoes that drop dramatically to vividly turquoise lagoons, infiltrated with such colourful species you’ll feel you’ve been transported to another universe, French Polynesia is a place of pure tropical fantasy. 

French Polynesia consists of five archipelagos in the South-Central Pacific Ocean with over 118 scattered islands throughout. The energetic capital, Papeete, is located on the largest and most popular island, Tahiti, which will immediately thrust you into the pounding heart of Polynesian life and culture – a culture that was the birthplace of the overwater bungalow, surfing, tattoos, and even the modern-day food truck. 

The sultry and intimate islands are protected from the force of the sea by barrier reefs that encircle the land almost completely, allowing for all sorts of wildlife and ecosystems to thrive in this uniquely diverse landscape that has inspired movies, artists, actors, and all those seeking a lethargically romantic experience. 

Take it slow and lounge in a hammock overlooking brilliant white coral sand beaches, go on an adventure and hike or even horseback ride through lushly vegetated mountaintops, or strap on your goggles and fins to spend an afternoon snorkelling through the lagoons and swim alongside the nation’s official animal:  
the sea turtle. 

Polynesian culture has existed and flourished for centuries, culminating in a radiant history that invokes the traditions of the environment and the people within. Everything from brightly dressed Tahitian dancers to delectable cuisines that blend authentic Polynesian heritage with a French twist, French Polynesia offers an experience that would make anyone fall unapologetically in love with the islands. 

Because of the unparalleled beauty that the islands and atolls have to offer, ensuring sustainable and ethical tourism is an incredibly important factor for those who call the islands home. Many of the hotels and tourism services dissipated throughout French Polynesia place an emphasis on ecotourism and the ways in which they can guarantee that their everyday practices all contribute to the well-being and conservation of the ecosystem. 

This globally renowned destination is considered a slice of heaven on Earth. With the scent of vanilla bean lofting in the air, there are endless arrays of adventure awaiting those looking to step directly into the watercolour sunsets of French Polynesia.   




Set on a hill approximately 2,000 feet above the capital of Papeete, O Belvédère is the place both locals and tourists alike go for great food and stunning scenery. 

With thrilling views of the sea and the island of Moorea, this restaurant and bar has the feel of a treehouse, seeing as the outdoor terrace is built around a tree trunk, with a swimming pool on the hill below and occasional live music to add to the ethereal appeal. 

Discover mountain cuisine, Savoyard specialities, and a friendly atmosphere while overlooking the turquoise lagoon of Tahiti. 


The island of Tahiti has inspired a plethora of popular ideas in modern culture, one of which is the food truck. 

Dozens of years before food trucks became popular, Tahiti had roulottes, trucks that serve everything from traditional island cuisine to pizzas and Chinese food. These trucks aren’t just a trend here but a staple of everyday life, known for the fresh ingredients, large portions, and low prices. 

Found all around the island, these colourful trucks mostly congregate at Vaiete Square in Papeete and are absolutely worth multiple visits to get the opportunity to experience a litany of incredible dishes. 



Reserve a trip with Bora Bora: Eco Shark and Snorkelling Safari for a two-and-a-half-hour journey where you can explore the vibrant underwater life the island has to offer.  

Specifically, these waters are known for the stunning, yet shy, black-tip reef sharks who mill around the reefs like protective watchdogs, and families of sting rays who blanket the sandy floor and are unafraid to glide right beneath your feet. 

With extensive barrier reefs, nearly 700 species of tropical fish, sea turtles, dolphins, and more, this experience allows you to marvel at an underwater world unique to any other. 


Whether it’s via an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or hiking, visiting the top of Belvedere Lookout is a must when traversing the island of Moorea. 

If you are feeling up for an adventurous nature trek that takes you through waterfalls and up winding trails, or alternatively if you’re more about the destination rather than the journey and would rather take a car, you will be rewarded with views of Cook’s Bay, Opunohu Bay, Mt. Rotui, and the fertile Opunohu Valley with its many pineapple plants, craggy peaks, and gentle slopes. 

This magical mountain is the perfect place for a bird’s-eye view of the island. 



In Tetiaroa, a quiet atoll, a renowned resort thrives in harmony with nature. 

The Brando, named after the late Marlon Brando and inspired by his vision to preserve sanctuaries and raise awareness of the environment, is a non-profit and luxury resort that is singularly focused on one mission: zero carbon. 

Recognised as a leader at the forefront of sustainable luxury travel and renewable resource innovation, The Brando has been carefully planned to tread lightly, with 35 private villas that rest on stilts and are gently nestled among the existing landscape, mindfully built into, not on top of, the fragile ecosystem. 


The Manava Beach Resort & Spa Moorea offers 91 units scattered throughout the garden, beach, and water. Most notable are the bungalows that are said to be built on a mythical location, such as the first hotel of the “Bali Hai Boys” who invented the water bungalow. 

Decorated in the most authentic Polynesian style, the hotel offers a wide range of accommodations, a world-class restaurant, a spa, and plenty of exciting activities. 

In addition to ensuring a memorable and relaxed trip, Manava Beach Resort has been working with the non-profit organisation, To’A Nui, to preserve the coral reef close to the hotel, thus being awarded the Silver Label by EarthCheck and the local ‘Bronze Turtle’ prize.   


Rising out of the sea like that of an ancient edifice with green spires so high they pierce the clouds, Moorea, an island next to Tahiti, will renew your belief in the magic of nature.

The island of Moorea has been a source of inspiration for an array of artists over the decades, with painters, carvers, jewellers, and tattoo artists taking their time to try and capture the island’s unparalleled tranquillity and find the inspiration that the incomparable landscape offers. 

With peaceful meadows, stunningly blue lagoons, pastel-painted homes, and gardens of tropical flowers, Moorea is known as one of the most memorable locations in French Polynesia, with a unique beauty you won’t forget anytime soon. 

Because of the quiet lagoon waters and the annual trade winds, there are many different activities that visitors can partake in, from kiteboarding and water skiing to hiking and horseback riding. However, many consider this island a haven for scuba diving and snorkelling, as the varied coral reef ecosystem boasts striking marine life and waters that encompass every shade of blue. 

On the mountainside, there are eight summits that feature a once-active volcanic crater that has now grown into an emerald-green valley, perfect for exploring and reconnecting with the simple pleasures of life. A joy for all the senses, you’ll relish the enchanted moment of strolling between gardens and white sand beaches, flower and pineapple plantations, and listening to the sounds of the ukulele being carried along the breeze. 

La vie heureuse, as they say in Tahiti, meaning the happy life, is a mindset that Moorea exudes for all those who visit this geographical marvel.   



After being extensively restored in the early 1990s, Iipona, some 1,500 metres from the centre of Puamau, has become known for being one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in French Polynesia. Boasting five of the largest tikis in the archipelagos, this religious sanctuary perpetuates an eerie and mythical feel that is sure to transport you back in time. 

Papeete Market

As one of the oldest surviving institutions on the island of Tahiti, this indoor market is the best place to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of authentic Polynesian life. Known as the commercial and social hub of the capital, you can find everything from fruits and vegetables to locally made textiles, oils, and handcrafted jewellery. 

Coral Garden

Located in one of the largest lagoons of Polynesia, the Coral Garden is the most renowned snorkelling spot in Tahaa, with crystal waters that allow you to drift idyllically over colourful coral, schools of butterfly fish, giant sunbathing clams, and more. Take the afternoon to lather on some sunscreen and admire the unique natural beauty of this lagoon. 


As French Polynesia is a collection of approximately 118 remote islands located in the southern part of the Pacific Ocean, halfway between California and Australia, travelling there takes a bit of effort. 

However, the reward is well worth the extensive travel, as the idyllic lagoons, colourful reefs, and sprawling mountains draw visitors from all over the world. 

The majority of travellers arrive by air, with the only international airport, Tahiti-Faa’a, residing on the main island of Tahiti, about five kilometres west of the capital, Papeete. From here, you can easily hop on flights with airlines like Air Tahiti or Air Moana to go to nearby islands and atolls to explore the various regions. 

Another popular option that ensures you can visit multiple islands and experience French Polynesian culture is booking an island-hopping cruise that begins in Papeete and takes you through the captivating isles via crystal blue waterways. This may allow for less independence, but you’ll be able to take comfort in all-inclusive amenities and a well-organised itinerary. 

Once ashore the main island of Tahiti, public transportation is widely available, with a bus system, taxis, and ferries that run consistently throughout the day. On the outer islands, public transport is less common, and it is highly recommended to use rental cars or motorcycles, or even your own two feet if you are up for a scenic adventure. 

French Polynesia is a mythical destination with islands like Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, and the untouched Marquesas Islands that cannot be missed. There is no wrong time of year to go, as the islands bask in nearly 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. Those who take the time to travel  to this unique paradise are rewarded with experiences and scenery that are unlike anything else. 


Read Issue 15 of Outlook Travel Magazine
By Deane Anderton Travel Guide Manager
Travel Guide Project Manager