With over 100 islands spread throughout five archipelagos, French Polynesia is as varied as it is exotic. Island hopping allows you to see every landscape, from geometric ridges strung with waterfalls on the high islands to flat, desert-like atolls where lagoons far outsize the landmass. Spanning an area as large as Europe, French Polynesia can be intimidating to the first-time visitor. Technically an overseas collectivity of France, this globally renowned destination is considered by many to be a slice of heaven on earth. With its idyllic beaches, postcard-worthy sunsets, and incredible turquoise waters filled with abundant marine life, French Polynesia’s Society Islands, most notably Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Raiatea, and Taha’a, attract the majority of the region’s visitors. Yet there’s all this – and more – to discover in these halcyon isles.
Sculpted by sky-piercing, moss-green peaks and lined with vivid turquoise lagoons, sultry French Polynesia is a place to take it slow and experience warm, laid-back island culture. The slim stretches of white-, pink- and black-sand beaches in French Polynesia are really just pretty springboards into the real draw – the lagoons. Most high islands are surrounded by a fringing reef that creates a protected swimming pool of the most intense aqua imaginable. Coral atolls have this same calibre of lagoon minus the big island in the middle. Fish, dolphins, rays, sharks, turtles and more inhabit these clear-water coral gardens that are as excellent for snorkelling as they are for diving and swimming. Surfers ride glassy wave faces at reef passes while kitesurfers fly across the water with the trade winds.
Top 10 Places to Visit in French Polynesia
1. Opunohu Bay (Baie d’Opunohu) – Opunohu is a beautiful narrow bay surrounded by the green, lush, and jagged Mount Tohiea and littered with sailing vessels. The bay is located 20 miles west of Papeete in Tahiti and also serves as a historical landmark because here is where the HMS bounty moored to search for breadfruit.
2. Faanui Bay and Church – Faanui Bay is located in the northwest part of the main island in French Polynesia – Bora Bora. Faanui is a small and charming village overlooking the breath-taking bay with the same name, which features a sparkling and turquoise water that is perfect for swimming and diving. In this area is where you can explore the remains of a U.S. naval base since the bay was used by the American army between 1942 and 1946. Near the Faanui Bay is where you will find the iconic light pink church with lush mountains as a background.
3. Belvedere Lookout – Belvedere Lookout is a great hiking opportunity in Moorea, French Polynesia, which promises the rewarding experience of enjoying some of the best views in the area, overlooking Cook’s Bay, Opunohu Bay, Mount Rotui, and the fertile, lush, and green Opunohu Valley and its many pineapple plants, rugged cliffs, and gentle slopes dotted around. The many ways to reach to Belvedere Lookout including uphill hiking, ATV, scooter, or a car for the less adventurous ones who still want to enjoy the jaw-dropping views.
4. Marche de Pape’ete (Municipal Market) – Municipal Market is the main market in Papeete and it offers you a deep and enjoyable dive into the local culture and lifestyle with its all authentic flavours, smells, sights, and sounds. Marche de Papeete is the commercial and social hotspot in the relaxed and charming capital of Tahiti. Nowadays, Marche de Papeete is housed in a large, modern, open-sided building and it is the oldest surviving institution on the island.
5. Cook’s Bay – Cook’s Bay is the main tourist attraction in Moorea and there is no wonder why. The beautiful bay will win over your heart with a laidback vibe, surrounded by rugged mountains that seem like reaching up right from the crystal clear water. You will be able to explore around and reach to some very beautiful and relaxed beaches and charming streets without the huge crowds.
6. Black Pearl Museum – Musee de la Perle or the Black Pearl Museum is one of a few museums in the Tahiti’s capital Papeete and it definitely deserves your attention. The museum showcases all aspects of pearl culture, including the pearl art, history, literature, and the past of religious and spiritual symbol. The museum is established by the local entrepreneur Robert Wan. The highlight of the museum is the black pearl, which rear beauty simply mesmerizes.
7. Cascades de Faarumai – There is a serious number of beautiful and majestic waterfalls around Tahiti but most popular and easily accessible three out of them all are the waterfalls at Faarumai that are also known as the Cascades of Faarumai. The first cascade is just a 5-minute walk away from the main coastal road and is called Vaima Hutu. The other two cascades, Haamaremare and Haamaremare iti, are not more than a 30-minutes walk away.
8. Matira Point and Beach – Matira Point is the only public beach in Bora Bora. The beautiful stretch of land boasts 2 kilometres of the finest white sand, coconut groves dotted around, and the turquoise and sparkling water from your dreams. The beach opens onto a shallow lagoon, which offers the perfect opportunities for diving and snorkelling. This area is often called the “Aquarium” because here swimmers can enjoy a great variety of corals and tropical fishes.
9. Coral Gardens – Bora Bora is the main island part of French Polynesia. It attracts thousands of tourists and visitors every year because of the breath-taking beauty of the surrounding lagoon and coral reef, which ensure great opportunities for diving and snorkelling in the calm waters. Across from the main island is where you can explore and enjoy the Coral Gardens, a shallow coral reef that is a home to a variety of colourful corals and exotic fishes including butterfly fish, parrot fish, puffer fish, and more.
10. Magical Mountain – Magical Mountain is located on the Moorea island in French Polynesia and despite not being extremely high, the mountain offers some amazing views from its lush and rugged cliffs and peaks. Thanks to its amazing location along the exterior part of the island, Magical Mountain offers jaw-dropping 360-degrees views of the whole island and the surrounding turquoise waters of the ocean.