Vacation paradise of the luxury class? That's French Polynesia. In the middle of the South Pacific, Bora Bora, Tahiti and Co. inspire with exotic culture, secluded dream beaches, breathtaking diving grounds and glamorous resorts.
The island paradise of French Polynesia in the South Pacific is one of the ultimate luxury travel destinations on earth. Its 118 islands are located between Australia and South America, far away from stress and hustle and bustle, and welcome mainly well-heeled vacationers, because the journey alone requires a tidy little sum of travel budget.
But the lonely bays with miles of dazzling white sandy beaches between an emerald green palm belt and the crystal clear sea make you forget all the hardships of the long journey (from Central Europe it takes a good 24 hours by plane).
Our top 10 sights of French Polynesia are spread over several islands, with most of them on the largest island of Tahiti. For swimming vacations in the South Seas with unforgettable relaxing days on the beach, they are definitely all suitable!
Table of contents
Bora Bora lagoon
About 260 kilometers from Tahiti, Bora Bora is one of the absolutely most beautiful and also most expensive vacation islands in the world. Its gorgeous lagoon surrounds the entire island and is one of our top 10 sights of the South Seas. No wonder - Bora Bora is the epitome of a tropical paradise with snow-white beaches, turquoise sea and lush vegetation stretching up the flanks of a central mountain range.
The numerous hotels also make the breathtaking beauty of Bora Bora pay - you can hardly find a room here in the double-digit euro range. However, the effort pays off, because service and view are absolutely fantastic and the location could hardly be more idyllic. Some of the bungalows are located in the middle of the sea and have a window into the dazzling underwater world of the South Seas through a glass floor.
PICTURES: Bora Bora lagoon
Dream vacation in Bora Bora
Bora Bora is 38 square kilometers in size and has the classic shape of a South Sea atoll: the central mountain in the middle (the 727m high Otemanu) is surrounded by a reef and numerous small reef islands, the so-called motus. Several luxury hotels have been built on these mini patches of land, with prices per night consistently in the three-digit euro range.
However, the beauty of the Bora Bora lagoon is well worth this price. Its turquoise blue, crystal clear waters offer fantastic views of its rich underwater world and fine sandy white seabed.
Many of the hotels have water bungalows built on stilts directly over the lagoon and equipped with glass floors. In some, even the tables are made of glass, so that you can already observe the animal inhabitants of the lagoon during breakfast, which is delivered by canoe.
To explore the entire lagoon of Bora Bora, a tour of the island is a good idea. This can be done by "Le Truck", a truck converted into a public bus. However, most, both locals and tourists, prefer the bicycle or the moped. Without a door and roof, just blown by a gentle sea breeze, the breathtaking beauty of Bora Bora's lagoon is simply best enjoyed.
Diving and snorkeling in Bora Bora
Those who can't afford such an expensive water bungalow still don't have to miss out on Bora Bora's underwater world. The numerous beaches offer perfect diving and snorkeling spots, where you feel like you are in a huge aquarium. Also trips with the glass bottom boat are offered, which by the way was used on Bora Bora for the first time.
In the deeper waters of the lagoon, in addition to thousands of colorful coral fish, also barracudas and small sharks cavort, which are attracted by food on the guided diving tours. Thus, even beginners can get up close and personal with these fascinating sea creatures.
On the "Stingray Strait" the diver encounters - as the name suggests - countless magnificent specimens of the fascinating rays. Swarms of up to 100 manta rays and leopard stingrays make their majestic circles here, which made the ray road a world-famous diving attraction.
In the multicolored waters of the lagoon, besides diving and swimming, sailing and jet skiing are also possible.
No matter where you spend the night in the lagoon of Bora Bora, it is fantastically beautiful! Well, maybe not quite no matter where, because....
Matira Beach on Bora Bora
In the already overwhelmingly beautiful lagoon of Bora Bora, Matira Beach is once again to be specially highlighted. The beach paradise of the extra class surrounds the southern tip of Bora Bora and is repeatedly voted the most beautiful beach in the world. Miles long, with dazzling white sand, turquoise blue sea and lined by a lush green belt of palm trees, behind which dark green mountains rise - a picture for gods!
To the east are several luxury hotels whose water bungalows offer effortless views of the South Pacific. The western section is known for its spectacular sunsets. To the right and left of Matira Beach are other dream beaches, but these are not open to the public.
Tip: At low tide, the water is so shallow that you can walk right up to the reef!
Belvedere Lookout on Moorea
All the splendor of the South Seas: An unforgettable panorama is offered by Belvedere Lookout Point, located in the middle of Moorea on the highest elevation of the island. From the viewing platform on the 1,207 meter high Mount Tohivea, the view falls on the striking Mont Totui and the two bays Cook's Bay and Opunohu Bay.
Belvedere Lookout can be reached on foot or by car from both bays. The guided quad tours on Moorea also pass by here. On the way, one or the other stop at historical ruins, the so-called marae, is worthwhile.
Tip: Be sure to bring mosquito repellent! On the way up, you will be accompanied by various flying pests that feel right at home in the damp jungle.
Marae of Taputapuatea on Raiatea
Speaking of marae, Taputapuatea on the southeast coast of Raiatea is home to the first and largest marae in French Polynesia. Marae" are ancient sites or platforms of South Pacific cultures, usually demarcated by stones, that served religious and ceremonial purposes.
Once the first marae of Taputapuatea were considered the central temple and religious center of eastern Polynesia. They were built around 1000 BC. "Taputapu", by the way, means something like "the holiest" and "atea" can be translated as "great".
Seafarers and priests gathered from all over the Pacific to sacrifice to the gods and share their knowledge of the oceans. Gradually, all the islands in the area were discovered and navigated. Thus, the marae came not only to French Polynesia, but also as far away as Tonga, Hawaii and New Zealand. Each of these sacred sites contains a stone from the "origin" marae on Raiatea to provide a spiritual link.
The marae were brimming with spiritual power and were given a "taboo", untouchability. But soon the first battles began among the tribes and the peaceful explorations of the island worlds in the South Pacific came to an end. The marae were no longer maintained and were slowly but steadily reclaimed by nature.
Precursor of the royal thrones
The marae were the first sacred areas that assigned a raised backrest to the place of honor. In their beginnings, a stone tablet was placed at the chief's place in the assembly round, against which he could lean. Gradually this place was elevated by mounds of earth and soon steps were added - resulting in the thrones of kings that are now common throughout the world. On Tahiti and Hiva Oa, such rulers' seats can still be seen.
Discovery and restoration of the marae of Taputapuatea
In 1994, the remains of the Marae of Taputapuatea were discovered and restored. The Na Papa E Va'u Raiatea Association of Opoa took on the preservation of the historic ceremonial site and submitted the Marae of Taputapuatea as a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage.
The marae of Taputapuatea on Raiatea represent the largest historical temple complex in Polynesia with a total area of 300m². They were dedicated to the warlike Oro, the highest Polynesian deity. Around the marae are some trees that were associated with the ceremonial platforms due to their frequent growth around marae, such as the paper mulberry tree or the auspicious Ti plant.
Even today, the marae of Taputapuatea are respected by the Polynesians. None of them would even think of moving a stone of the marae, let alone take it with them or leave trash lying around. Tourists should also pay this respect to the formerly sacred sites.
Mont Orohena in Tahiti
Mont Orohena in Tahiti is the highest mountain in French Polynesia. Its peak rises 2,241 meters above the sea. It is located on the Tahiti Nui peninsula in the west of the twin island. This consists in principle only of the rugged peak of the former volcano.
Mont Orohena can be climbed by experienced hikers accompanied by a knowledgeable mountain guide. The climb to the summit takes about seven hours. Some parts must be overcome with the climbing rope, shelters are not available. An ascent of Mont Orohena should therefore only be undertaken by motivated outdoor activists. The efforts of the ascent are - unsurprisingly - rewarded with a sensational view.
Papeete market in Tahiti
Fruits and vegetables that you have definitely never seen before - this is what awaits tourists at the market in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti. A wide variety of products from all over French Polynesia are on sale here. The market is located two blocks from the coast in the heart of Tahiti's capital.
The "Marché de Papeete", founded in 1869, is mainly frequented by locals who shop here for their daily needs. For tourists, this is a unique opportunity to get to know the colorful hustle and bustle that is so typical of Polynesia.
The market extends over two floors. On the lower floor the stalls bend under the colorful variety of fruits and flowers, the upper floor is reserved for handmade pareos, hats, handbags, blankets, carvings, jewelry and much more. The Papeete market is also a good place to buy the famous Black Pearls of the South Seas.
Pā'ōfa'i Gardens in Papeete, Tahiti
For those who want to spend a few relaxing hours away from the coast for a change from the fantastic beaches, the Pā'ōfa'i Garden in Papeete is recommended. The almost 5-hectare park is located right by the sea and presents the tropical flora of French Polynesia.
Lush green coconut palms and other exotic trees (about 400 in number) provide shade on the paths that wind through flowerbeds, green spaces and ponds. Fountains gurgle merrily, children have fun on playgrounds, and locals gather for picnics, sports, or walks.
Tip: On the pebble beach of the Pā'ōfa'i Gardens are numerous colorful canoes, the so-called "pirogues," with which the local canoe sports clubs train in the lagoon on some afternoons.
Gaugin Museum in Tahiti
Just across from the Pā'ōfa'i Gardens is a Tahitian attraction that is especially appealing to those interested in art. The Japanese-style Gaugin Museum does not have any paintings by the French painter on display, but it does have some reproductions, as well as documents, photographs and unfinished sketches. His artworks are scattered in larger and better-known museums around the globe. This also explains the low entrance fee of only a few dollars.
Original paintings in the Gauguin Museum are by Englishwoman Constance Gordon-Cumming, these depict scenes on Tahiti and Moorea. These are sold in the museum, as well as the works of other Tahitian artists and copies of Gauguin.
Why Tahiti of all places? Gaugin fled by sailboat from European civilization to the Polynesian paradise of the Pacific in 1891. In the first two years of his stay, he created 68 works, which, however, did not help him achieve the recognition he had hoped for in his homeland. Four years later he left France for good and settled in Tahiti and on the island of Hiva Oa. The fascinating landscape of the South Seas and also some - especially female - inhabitants of French Polynesia inspired Gauguin to a large number of his paintings.
The main focus of the museum is therefore on the life that Gauguin led in the middle of the Pacific. From his childhood in France to his death on the island of Marquesas, one can accompany the French artist on his life's journey.
As a starting point for a tour of the museum, the store is recommended, from which it is best to move counterclockwise through the individual rooms.
The surroundings of the Gauguin Museum are also worth seeing. Picturesquely situated on Princess Shore, the museum's site offers a fantastic panorama of the tropical South Sea island. In addition to the breathtaking view, a seat in the restaurant provides the necessary catering. In the garden of the museum you can see some tikis, unique stone sculptures.
Les Trois Cascades - Tefaarumai Waterfalls in Tahiti
Besides its wonderful beaches, Tahiti, hidden in the jungle, has another natural beauty to offer. "The Three Waterfalls" are located about 30 minutes by car from Papeete and have their own parking lot.
After about 5 minutes of walking, the first one already comes into view. The waterfall called Vaimahutu is impressive to look at, especially during the hot rainy season between December and March. For several hundred meters, two other smaller falls plunge over a steep slope into a naturally formed pool, which invites you to jump into the cool water.
About a half-hour hike further up are the enchanting twin waterfalls Haamaremare Rahi and Haamaremare Iti. They are not as spectacular as the first falls, but you are often completely alone here, as the guided tours only stop at the first waterfall. The perfect place to take in the magnificent idyll of the Polynesian jungle!
Tip: Nearby is also the Arahoho Blowhole, where the Pacific Ocean spews geyser-like fountains into the sky, and a small, rarely visited black sand beach.
The Ahe Atoll is a part of the Tuamotu Islands, an almost completely closed ring of coral islands. Surrounded by dangerous reefs, the atoll can only be crossed at one passage. On the hardly inhabited archipelago there is only one village: Tenukupara is located on the island of Teararoa in the southwest of the atoll. The only "road" leads through it: an unpaved dirt road. The main means of transport here is the boat anyway.
The approximately 500 inhabitants live from pearl farming, even tourism is still in its infancy on this dream island. All the more pristine are the beaches, the tropical forests and especially the fantastic underwater world!
What is the best way to get to French Polynesia?
The islands of French Polynesia are located in the middle of the South Pacific east of Australia about halfway towards South America. Due to the remote location, most vacationers arrive by plane.
Arrival in French Polynesia is usually at the airport of Papetee, the capital of Tahiti. Including stopovers, the flight from Europe's major cities to Tahiti takes 20 to 30 hours. From there, the journey continues by small plane or ship to the heart of paradise - to Bora Bora, Moorea, the Marquesas or the islands of Tuamotu.
As an alternative to the airplane, the cruise ship offers itself. Many large shipping companies have the dreamlike vacation islands of French Polynesia in their program. The cruises to Bora Bora, Tahiti and Co usually start in Australia and New Zealand, but luxurious world cruises from Barcelona or Marseille also lead to the South Pacific paradise.
Best time to visit Bora Bora and French Polynesia
The best time to travel to French Polynesia is between April and October. Then there is dry season on the archipelago and the weather is "cooler" and "drier". The maximum daytime temperatures remain below 30°C and at night it cools down to 21°C. Short rain showers are always to be expected, but they are neither as heavy nor as frequent as in the rainy season.
In the other half of the year, from November to March, the air is unbearably humid at over 30°C and around 80% humidity. The most rainfall occurs in December and January, which is why the islands are so lush and green. Cyclones can also occur from January to March.
However, if you are only planning a swimming vacation in French Polynesia, you can do this all year round: the sea is warmest in April and May with 28°C and cools down only to 26°C even after the hot rainy season.
PICTURES: The top sights of French Polynesia
Facts and figures of French Polynesia
|Official language||Tahitian, French|
|Population density||64.0 Inhabitants per km²|
|Currency code||F, CFP|
|Time zone||UTC-10h to UTC-9h|
|Time zone summer time||none|
|Telephone area code||+689|
|International airport||Tahiti (PPT)|
|Average age||30.2 years|
|Life expectancy||76.6 years|
|Infant Mortality||4.8 deaths per 1,000 births|