The 118 islands of French Polynesia, which include Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora, are the stuff dreams and bucket lists are made of.
Treasured for its exclusivity and remote locale, French Polynesia has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But this “remote paradise” is not as far away as you might think: It’s just a 7 1⁄2-hour flight on Air Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles, a small price to pay for the exquisite beauty, uncompromised luxury and near magical tranquility that await you.
It’s impossible to visit every island, so just focus on a few. Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti would be an excellent start.
Don’t forget to pack
-Underwater camera – The friendly sharks, rays and fish are plentiful.
-Water shoes – Lots of coral can be found under the sea.
-Hiking shoes – Explore the rugged islands.
-A light rain jacket – It gets hot and sometimes sprinkles, but not for long.
You can begin your adventure by flying into Tahiti and catching a quick connection to the 11.3-square-mile island of Bora Bora, where you can stay at the Bora Bora Nui, which looks exactly like a screen saver: crystal blue water, over-water bungalows, pristine white sands and swaying palms.
Thanks to its mild weather and calm waters, French Polynesia is one of very few places with over-water bungalows, and you’ll find them at a number of resorts, including the Bora Bora Nui and the Moorea Hilton. Staying in one is like living on a boat docked in the perfect harbor.
You could spend all your time at the Bora Bora Nui lounging on the beach or getting pampered in the spa at the top of the hill, which boasts sweeping South Pacific views. But you’ll want to spend at least one day swimming with the sharks and the rays. Hire a guide who will take you by boat to the perfect spot.
You can also relax on the hotel’s private island of Motu Tapu, another short boat ride away. The resort will set up a table in the surf, complete with silver, china and a white linen tablecloth, so you can sit with your feet in the water as you sip champagne and dine on lobster and other fresh seafood.
Back at your bungalow, you can snorkel and swim right from your private dock or dangle your feet in the water and feed the waiting sea creatures. The longer you linger, the more varieties will appear, from trumpetfish and Picasso fish to sharks and rays.
When it’s time to move on, take a short flight from Bora Bora to the larger, 52-square-mile island of Moorea on Air Tahiti, the only domestic airline. The Moorea Hilton offers compelling vistas and over-water bungalows with glass floor inserts and end tables you can peer through to see the life below.
Don’t miss the Hilton’s Toatea Bar & Creperie, an over-water restaurant with a school of sharks that swims around it all evening, especially when the chef comes out to feed them.
Make sure to tour the island and see all its tropical glory. You can rent a car or take a 4x4 to visit Belvedere Lookout, which offers incredible island views and a magnificent sunset.
And if you’ve ever wanted to learn about the elusive black pearl, you can visit Ron Hall Pearls, where the owner’s son will teach you how they grow and how to judge a pearl’s worth.
When you’ve had your fill of Moorea, you can catch a 45-minute ferry to Tahiti, which is more urban than the other islands and feels enormous at 403 square miles. The island is rife with lush, natural beauty, with a fiercely green rain forest and a magnificent waterfall.
A visit to the home of Mutiny on the Bounty author James Norman Hall, which has been converted into a museum, is well worth your time, as is a trip to “Le Marché de Papeete” (the market), where you can wander through aisles of local handcrafts, fresh fruits and fragrant manoi oils.
Wherever you go in French Polynesia, don’t miss the delicious poisson cru, a ceviche-like raw fish dish made with coconut milk and lime. Order it with french fries, because there’s something about the cold, fresh fish mixed with the hot, salty, crisp fries that takes you straight to heaven.
As I boarded my flight back to the U.S., I could still smell the flowers that had adorned my hair and been draped around my neck just hours earlier. The mother of a friend I made in Tahiti had woven them for me from the red flamboyant, yellow tipanie and white tiare Tahiti flowers and green auti leaves so I could wear them to the Hura Tapairu, the local annual dance competition.
That loving gesture served as a tiny glimpse into French Polynesia’s rich culture and the kindness and generosity of her people.
You don't go to French Polynesia; you go home. The islands envelop, embrace, enthrall and enchant you. You may leave her, but French Polynesia will never leave you.
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