The Best French Polynesian Islands have some of the most spectacular beaches in the world. When most people think of the French Polynesia islands, it’s probably honeymoon favorite Bora Bora and its over-water bungalows perched over a shimmering lagoon that spring to mind. But French Polynesia — an overseas territory made up of 118 islands and atolls that belongs to France and covers an area of water roughly the size of all of western Europe — encompasses so, so much more.
From the far-flung islands of the Marquesas, with their rich cultural heritage and tattoo lore, to world-renowned surf breaks on the island of Tahiti and legendary scuba diving alongside walls of sharks in the Tuamotu Archipelago, read on for some islands in French Polynesia you might not have had on your radar. You can visit The Most Beautiful Beaches in French Polynesia here, or visit us on Pinterest.
The Society Islands are the most popular destinations in French Polynesia. Most trips to French Polynesia go here and nowhere else. Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Raiatea, Taha’a and Huahine offer an awesome array of delicious luxury and stunning natural beauty. Come here to relax and lose touch with the rest of the busy planet. Visit our Society Islands Travel Guide to plan your beach vacation to the Society Islands.
For most, Tahiti is a jumping off point. But for those who stick around, there’s plenty to do. Head out on the circle island tour for 70 miles of coastal cliffs, hidden beaches, and high waterfalls. Stop at a remote seaside church. Or head to the capital city, Papeete, for a visit to one of its local markets. In season, you can even go on a whale watching cruise. Visit our Tahiti Travel Guide and Vacation to Beautiful Tahiti! Best Tahiti Hotel: InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa
Welcome to a diving and snorkeling paradise. Warm calm waters wash over a vibrant reef. Spot sharks on nearly every dive. Hear dolphins clicking as they swim by. On land, visit some of the friendly local villages. Or ride a 4×4 to a hidden swimming hole in a back country river. The closest island to Tahiti, in season you can watch whales on a specialized cruise. Visit here for The Best Moorea Travel Guide. Best Moorea Hotel: Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa
Island paradise perfection. Romantics travel the world to see its blue/green lagoon and white sand beaches tucked just-so under the dramatic Mt. Otemanu. This is the most popular destination for over-water bungalows. Pick one with butler service, a plunge pool or even a trampoline to launch yourself high in the air before dropping playfully into the tranquil turquoise sea. Visit The Best of Bora Bora here to start planning your Bora Bora vacation. Best Bora Bora Hotel: The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort
The second largest island in the country, Raiatea is the religious heart of the ancient South Pacific. The island once launched Polynesian voyages to colonize distant lands (like New Zealand). Now it’s the home to the some of the best preserved stone temple ‘maraes,’ or meeting houses. Visit The Best Raiatea Travel Guide to help plan your Raiatea Vacation. Best Raiatea Hotel: Opoa Beach Hotel
Accessible only by boat, this beautiful island produces 80% of all the vanilla in French Polynesia. Its lagoon features many deep bays dotted with deserted motus perfect for romantic picnics. There are very few places to stay here and they are all spectacularly relaxing. Find The Best of Tahaa French Polynesia Here. Best Taha’a Resort: La Taha’a by Pearl Resorts
Made up of two islands and one massive lagoon, Huahine is a tropical garden of Eden. Huahine offers more of an authentic Polynesian experience. It’s home to the one of the best arrays of pre-European stone temple ‘maraes,’ or meeting houses. On the quiet roads, you’ll note a newer tradition– what looks to be over-long newspaper delivery boxes. They are instead where the locals deliver fresh French baguettes twice a day. Head here for The Best Huahine Travel Guide. Best Huahine Resort: Hotel Le Mahana
Charm in Maupiti is reflected in every Tahitian Guesthouse where you will be introduced to the Polynesian lifestyle. Visitors to Maupiti often make it a day trip from Bora Bora. Make sure to visit to the wonderful and picturesque Terei’a Beach. This white sand beach with crystal clear water is as good it gets on the island. At low tide, the shallow water makes it easy to walk to Motu Auria just across the turquoise lagoon. Cliffs, caves and other local discoveries await await you on the Motu. Visit Beautiful Maupiti French Polynesia!
Imagine seeing rays of sunshine filter through the clouds over sharp mountain peaks, creating a scene you’ve only experienced in a photo or painting. Luscious islands emerge from the Pacific Ocean, a land of history and legends, each one more fascinating and unforgettable than the last. Welcome to the magnificent Marquesas Islands. The Marquesas are an archipelago located 932 miles northeast of Tahiti and spread out over 12 islands, of which only six are inhabited. Visit The Best of the Marquesas Islands, and plan your beach vacation to the Marquesas Islands.
The legend of the Marquesas Islands tells the story of how God made a “big house” represented by the Marquesas Islands, the largest of them – Nuku Hiva –at the top of them all. Its own universe, the staggering volcanic peaks and amazing slopes blend with the blue of the Pacific Ocean. The archipelago’s regional capital, Taioha’e, is situated on a past volcanic crater. A bay by the same name was formed when part of this crater broke apart into the ocean. With amazing views, endless artifacts for history buffs, and a jovial community with a colorful culture, Nuku Hiva is a can’t miss on any visitor’s to-do list. Best Nuku Hiva Accommodations: Pension Mave Mai
Today, this island, Hiva Oa, is commonly referred to as the “Garden of the Marquesas” thanks to its fertile and lush land. The island could be referred to as rugged, and if you’re lucky, you could stumble along one of the many archaeological sites that remain tucked away, even after hundreds of years. Although its coasts are lined with beaches and diving cliffs, Hiva Oa feels remote and secluded. There are areas where visitors cannot see any signs of civilization, perfect for a hike away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. This island is also home to the largest tiki statues of The Islands of Tahiti.
Ua Huka symbolizes the “food basket” of God’s house in the legend, and features even more untouched beauty and is renowned for its dry soil and landscapes. The island itself is shaped very much like a crescent. Wild horses gallop as far as the eye can see around this desert-colored land. Goats climb up on the island’s high plains. Peaceful and mystical, Ua Huka invites the traveler to discover a secluded universe, where the island’s ancestors are not just a part of the past, but still very much part of the islanders’ everyday life.
The only access to this remote island is by sea from Hiva Oa. The island offers charming discoveries to the privileged traveler. From its fertile valleys to its crystal-clear bays, Tahuata is an exquisite haven of peace, and a place of history and creativity. Most inhabitants make a living out of their remarkable fine artwork, such as carved bone and rosewood – or miro (the Portia tree) carving. Mono’i, or sacred oil, is made following the scents of traditions and secrets, like an invitation to a mesmerizing perfume beautifully named “love potion” by the islanders. The creation of these perfumes is an art that spans thousands of years and is unique to these islands.
Fatu Hiva will mesmerize you. Streams cut through valleys and cliffs drop into the sea, making views from any angle on the island nothing short of dramatic. In 1937, the explorer and author Thor Heyerdahl and his wife, in quest of a genuine return to nature, set foot on the island to live like at the dawn of the new world. He later wrote a book about his experiences, titled after the island. Not much has changed since then. Today, most local people live around the village of Omoa, a beautiful harbor, where they make traditional and renowned tapa out of tree bark. The area of Hana Vave is sheltered within an amazing bay: the Bay of the Virgins, probably one of the most beautiful bays on Earth, especially at dusk when the light blazes through the volcanic peaks.
In the islands’ legend, Ua Pou symbolizes the entrance pillars to God’s house and is the third largest of the 12 islands. Huge basaltic columns reach to the sky and hold the names of legendary warriors: Poutetaunui and Poumaka. The highest of these pillars, and the highest point in all the Marquesas Islands is Mount Oave. In 1888, these pillars inspired poet Robert Louis Stevenson, who referred to them as “volcanic arrows looking like a church bell tower.”
The Gambier Islands, the archipelago at the end of the world, is a real paradise on earth, where green pastures blend with bright white fine sandy beaches and infinite blue skies. Tourists who set out to discover this secluded paradise cannot help but marvel at the islands. In the center of the archipelago, Mangareva, a small island with an area of 5 mi2, will impress travelers with its beauty and exoticism. With colorful gentle sloping hills, you are guaranteed a change in scenery. The small island of Akamaru is 5 miles from Mangareva and is home to the Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix Church, whose construction was initiated by Father Honoré Laval. History buffs will enjoy visiting this monument, which dates back to 1841. 31 miles southeast of the Gambier Islands, you will find the small island of Timoe; here, you can see platforms made from volcanic rocks and coral, commonly called marae, where ancient Polynesian services were held. Between history and breathtaking landscapes, this colorful Eden will fascinate you. Visit The Best of the Gambier Islands here.
The remote Gambier Islands lie just a little more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) southeast of Tahiti. Polynesian mythology tells of Mangareva being lifted from the ocean floor by the demi-god Maui. The mountains of Mangareva rise over the surrounding islands and the luminous lagoon like a great cathedral. Although once the center for Catholicism in French Polynesia, the people of Mangareva have returned to a more traditional Polynesian lifestyle. The Gambier Islands are an important supply source for the Tahitian cultured pearl industry. Along with the pearl farms and tours of the island by road or boat, travelers can also explore the surprising number of surviving churches, convents, watchtowers and schools from the 1800s. Some structures are still in use such as St. Michel of Rikitea Church where the altar is inlaid with iridescent mother-of-pearl shell.
With no over water bungalows or beach bars, and with an Internet connection that’s barely strong enough for sending emails, a trip to the Austral Islands is a trip back in time. The southernmost archipelago of French Polynesia is packed with adventure and culture for those who seek to get off the beaten track. Perhaps this is the reason why humpback whales like to visit in large numbers every year. Come and see this slice of paradise for yourself with this Austral Islands travel guide.
Rurutu is one of the most surprising destinations in French Polynesia. It is the most visited island in the Australs and for good reason. There’s so much to see and do, from swimming with humpback whales to venturing into bizarre caves and getting to know proud and skillful locals. Rurutu is not your typical Polynesian island. Even its look isn’t quite right. Rather than being surrounded by a turquoise lagoon, it has a fringing reef that gives it a wilder, more changeable beauty. Although its shores are scalloped with sandy beaches, what first captures your eye is the cliffs jutting so high that clouds catch on their peaks. Two things that are amazing here to do: One is the chance to swim with humpback whales, which regularly pass through here with their newborn calves between June and October. The other is the chance to explore the island’s remarkable limestone caves.
Tubuai unveils a unique landscape combining a sapphire blue lagoon with multicolored shades of Tubuai’s sandy beaches. Discover exceptionally preserved underwater marine life in the lagoon. Take a swim with thousands of colorful tropical fish in warm and clear waters. Sports minded addicts will love the kite boarding and windsurfing year round in the lagoon of Tubuai, enhanced by the trade winds. Tubuai’s soil is very fertile with coffee, taro and orange trees in abundance around the island. You also can’t miss the large amounts of bright lilies on the island making Tubuai the capital of the lily!
Majestic Raivavae is renowned for her unique shaped islets (“motu”) forming beautiful natural pools.
Lying in the middle of this circle of “motu” are intriguing mountains dense with lush vegetation. Miles away from the usual tourist tracks, the warm and friendly inhabitants add to this incredible island making your vacation a genuine Polynesian adventure. Basket and hat weaving and traditional porcelain seashell necklaces are all part of Raivavae’s specialties. Those looking for authentic Polynesia will definitely appreciate this trip at the edge of the world!
This amazing isolation is possible thanks to the richness of its land and fishing areas nearby that allowed a life of economic independence for it’s 800 inhabitants. You will discover a particularly rich endemic flora and fauna whose figurehead is the Parakeet of Rimatara, named the Uravaero, famous for its red and green plumage.
The Tuamotus are dream South Seas snapshot: the 77 atolls – narrow coral rings encircling turquoise lagoons – that make up this stunning archipelago are flung over an immense stretch of indigo-blue ocean. Life in the atolls is equal parts harsh and paradisaical: hardly anything grows, so there’s little fruit and vegetables, and the only drinking water is collected from the rain. Yet the silence, starry skies, coral beaches, blue lagoons, idyllic motu (coral islets) and languid pace of life captivate nearly everyone who makes it here. Anyone who loves the water will adore the Tuamotus. The vast, pristine marine area offers unparalleled opportunities to encounter the menagerie of marine life. For non divers, fantastic lagoon excursions beckon. Visit The Best of the Tuamotus here.
Fakarava is Mother Nature’s ultimate sanctuary. This protected coral atoll is a natural reserve for many rare species of birds, plants and crustaceans. Just as these exotic creatures have discovered their safe haven, you too can find refuge here. Fakarava is one of the world’s best diving destinations. There are two notable passes that feed into the lagoon. The first is the Garuae Pass, located on the north side, which is the widest navigable pass in French Polynesia. The second is the Tumakohua Pass, located on the south side. This pass is home to a narrow underwater valley known as Shark’s Hole, which is heavily populated with lemon, whitecap and hammerhead sharks.
Stunningly beautiful and refreshingly laid back, Ahe is one of the lesser known atolls in the Tuamotu that is a favorite vacation spot for native Tahitians. This charming atoll enchants travelers with unspoiled nature, crystal clear waters, white sand beaches and amazing underwater scenery. Arguably the main draw of this small atoll is its beautiful interior lagoon. Visitors will be mesmerized by the beauty and the vivid colors as they fly over the atoll on their arrival flight. The lagoon is sprinkled with shallow sandbanks that lie just underwater, creating idyllic picnic spots in this pristine tropical swimming pool that is filled to the brim with abundant marine life and vibrant coral gardens.
Peaceful and serene, Manihi appears to have invented the simple life. Being the least developed of the primary Tuamotu Atolls, this secluded locale is covered in white sand beaches and swaying coconut palms—and not much else. Travelers come here mainly to snorkel by day and stargaze at night. Manihi’s inner lagoon is the ideal environment for the cultivation of the highly prized Tahitian black pearl. Blessed with all the right attributes including temperature, light, density and salinity, coupled with the abundant population of the Pinctada margaritifera—the only oyster in the world capable of creating the rich hues characteristic of the black pearl—the lagoon in Manihi is a natural jewelry box for these precious gems.
Rangiroa is quite possibly the world’s most immense natural aquarium. Blessed with an accessible yet secluded appeal and a large abundant lagoon, this renowned destination should be at the top of every eager diver’s list. The allure is the presence of some impressive diving and snorkeling sites. The Avatoru Pass and Tiputa Pass, both located on the northern side of the atoll, produce currents that are ideal for drift diving or snorkeling. They are also known to attract schools of wild dolphins. The Blue Lagoon, located on the western side of Rangiroa, is a shallow lagoon carved into the reef inside the central lagoon, creating a small natural aquarium no more than 16 feet (5 meters) deep. Boasting a continuous supply of fish, deep-sea fishing is also a popular water activity in Rangiroa.
Tikehau encapsulates the meaning of going off the grid. This small, cherished atoll consists of countless tiny white and pink sand islets engulfed in coconut groves and hidden alcoves. In Tikehau, which actually means “peaceful landing,” you will find nothing but absolute serenity on her calm and graceful shores. As you can imagine, diving and snorkeling are the two main attractions in Tikehau. The best diving is found on the western shore around the Tuheiava Pass, the only navigable entry into the lagoon. You will encounter reef sharks and the occasional manta ray, but the appeal here is the enormous population of colorful fish. Some of the more common species include tuna, snapper, barracuda, lionfish, clownfish and parrotfish.