The best activities to do in French Polynesia for a successful trip
Considered to be paradise on earth, the Polynesian islands are a dream come true for many people looking for an exotic and remote holiday destination. With sandy beaches, turquoise lagoons and tropical forests, their picture postcard landscapes are an invitation to fare niente. And yet, there are so many other things to do in French Polynesia than just sit on the beach with your toes spread out!
Cultural discovery of the Polynesian islands
Apart from its idyllic setting, French Polynesia is also known for its warm culture. Everyone is entitled to a necklace of Tiaré flowers when they arrive at Tahiti airport! Songs, dances, tattoos and culinary specialties are as much a part of the dream as the islands' paradisiacal landscapes. It is therefore essential to immerse yourself in the local culture for a perfect stay!
Polynesian emblematic heritage
As for all countries, French Polynesia has elements that everyone connects to its culture. Indeed, who doesn't think of these beautiful Pacific islands when seeing monoi products, or when admiring a dance performance by vahines? Moreover, attending one of these traditional dance performances is something to do in French Polynesia itself!
No matter which island you visit, you are sure to find a pearl farm. A visit is a must! Pearl farming is part of the cultural heritage of Polynesia, known worldwide for its quality pearls. And if you're not sure which pearl farm to visit, look no further than Tahiti: the main island of the Society Archipelago is famous for its pearl production, including pearls of a superb black colour.
Continuing on to the local production side, many other visits await you: vanilla plantations in Taha'a, rightly nicknamed Vanilla Island; plantations of local fruits such as pineapple (painapo in Polynesian) or papaya, but also a distillery in Moorea where you can taste fresh fruit juices and local alcohols; and for an original visit to French Polynesia, the Domaine Dominique Auroy in Rangiroa, a unique vineyard!
Another must-see place in Polynesia to discover the culture of the islands is the Tiki Village in Moorea: it is a cultural centre offering various workshops, activities and evenings dedicated to cultural discovery. You can attend typical shows (vahine dances, Tahitian warrior demonstrations, etc.) and participate in workshops such as Tifaifai (traditional cloth) making, coconut palm weaving, pareo painting, and many others!
To experience a total cultural immersion, nothing is more authentic than to meet the locals directly and to accompany them in their daily life. They are very friendly and will be delighted to share their culture and traditions with you, while inviting you to join them for a typical meal, or even for a fishing trip in the open sea or underwater hunting, an activity not to be missed in Polynesia!
Historical places to visit in French Polynesia
Rich in history, the Polynesian archipelago has no shortage of historic places to visit. And even if most of them are all marae, ancient sacred places, each one has its own characteristics, as well as a different history! Visiting at least one marae is therefore definitely a must in French Polynesia, as well as listening to a local tell you about the myths and legends of the islands. Even if they are less famous than their neighbours, the islands of Ra'iātea and Taha'a are worth a visit. Indeed, these two islands, which according to myths were once one and the same, are said to be the cradle of the Polynesian people and their culture. Ra'iātea is also known as the sacred island and is home to Mount Temehani, the sacred mountain where one of the rarest flowers in the world, the Tiare Apetahi flower, blooms. So don't hesitate to treat yourself to a cultural break in Ra'iātea and Taha'a during your trip to Polynesia!
As for the marae, there is no shortage of choice, but some are better known than others. For example, in Tahiti you will find the Arahurahu marae, the largest in the Polynesian archipelago; in Ra'iātea the Taputapātea marae, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and you can also visit marae on the Marquesas side where they are called paepae. One of the most famous is the Upeke paepae on the island of Hiva Oa, located in the village of Taaoa. One of the other historical visits not to be missed in French Polynesia is to Bora Bora. As the island was a former US military base during World War II, you'll find several relics from that time, including the airport runway. And if you're a diving enthusiast, another historical visit is hidden under the waters of Moorea, at Papetoai, where 8 Tiki statues representing Polynesian gods are immersed. So there is no shortage of cultural outings in French Polynesia to learn more about its history and customs. Each island has historical sites to visit, and the locals will be delighted to tell you about the myths and legends of the area! Moreover, if you have the opportunity to go to Huahine, don't hesitate to go and meet the famous sacred eels whose blue eyes are very particular.
Polynesian culinary specialities
Travelling to French Polynesia also means discovering new flavours on your plate! Traditional Polynesian cuisine, also known as ma'a Tahiti, is an integral part of the culture of the islands and has developed over time with the many influences from the West, but also especially from Asia. The most famous dish in French Polynesia is raw fish à la tahitienne, with coconut milk. Most of the time it is raw tuna, but the dish can be made with many other fish caught in Polynesian waters. Indeed, there is no shortage of fish there! That's why you can find other typical fish dishes such as ina'a fritters, small fry caught at the mouths of rivers, or grilled mahi mahi, the emblematic fish of Polynesian waters. Let's not forget to mention fafaru, tuna served in sea water where shrimp heads have been fermented for several days! Apart from fish, you can also find local dishes cooked with meat: fafa chicken (fafa is a leaf from a variety of taro), chao men (an Asian-inspired noodle-based dish), ma'a tinito (pork with beans), and many others! In Tahiti, don't hesitate to go to the "roulottes", Polynesian food-trucks that will make you discover different typical Polynesian dishes!
And if you're hungry or want to finish off a good Polynesian meal, don't hesitate to try other local specialities such as coconut bread ('Ipo), a must; firi firi, especially for breakfast, a kind of churro with a coconut milk flavour; po'e, a papaya or banana dessert often served as a dessert; etc. You can enjoy all these good things with a fresh fruit juice, or why not a local beer, the Hinano!
When you want to discover a culture, a passage through the culinary field is mandatory. And when the country you are visiting is an archipelago made up of multiple islands, you are not close to having seen everything! Indeed, depending on the island you visit in Polynesia, and even depending on the family you share a meal with, you will have the opportunity to taste multiple recipes declined in all sauces. One thing is sure, you will find at least one to your taste!
French Polynesia, a paradise for nautical activities
Made up of islands and atolls with turquoise blue lagoons, the Polynesian archipelagos invite you to go swimming. With warm, crystal-clear water at all times, as well as many activities to enjoy, it's hard to resist stepping in! And that's without counting on the rich and unique biodiversity that inhabits the seabed of French Polynesia: an incredible universe waiting to be discovered!
Snorkeling in the Polynesian lagoons
French Polynesia is famous for its lagoons with translucent waters through which it is easy to observe underwater life. Snorkeling is therefore an activity not to be missed there, especially as it is accessible to all! Whether the water is deeper or shallower, you will always be able to see stingrays, black tip sharks and all sorts of small fish in Polynesian waters.
Among the Leeward Islands, snorkeling in the lagoon of Bora Bora is one of the most popular because it's easy to swim close to stingrays and black tip sharks, the stars of the lagoon. But if you are more comfortable with small fish, drift snorkelling at the Coral Garden of Taha'a will offer you some great encounters: clown fish, butterfly fish and many other colourful species!
On the Windward Islands, Moorea offers some nice snorkeling spots, including Tiahura beach where you can see green turtles. Then, between July and November comes one of the most popular activities in French Polynesia: snorkeling with whales in Moorea! Of course, the outings are all done with the greatest respect for these animals that you will have to observe from a certain distance so as not to disturb them. But the experience is always extraordinary!
The best snorkeling spots in French Polynesia are mostly located in the Tuamotu archipelago. Rangiroa atoll, the most visited, is well known for its Blue Lagoon where you can swim with many black tip sharks, but also for its Tiputa pass allowing drift snorkeling. The concept? Let yourself be carried by the current to the interior of the lagoon and observe impressive animals: you can see hammerhead sharks, manta rays, but also dolphins in the Tiputa pass! The Fakarava atoll also has a channel known for its large Napoleon fish: Tumakohua channel, next to the island of Tetamanu.
If you want to go snorkeling in French Polynesia, the Society Archipelago and the Tuamotu Archipelago are the best places to go, especially the Tuamotu Archipelago if you want to try drift snorkeling! Snorkeling in Rangiroa is undoubtedly one of the most incredible activities to do in French Polynesia!
The thing to do in French Polynesia without hesitation: diving
While snorkeling already offers the opportunity to see many fish and corals, diving will allow you to discover even more of Polynesia's pelagic species. Whether you are a beginner looking for your first dive in a paradise location, or a seasoned diver looking for new dive spots to explore, Polynesian waters will provide you with an unforgettable underwater experience!
The islands of the Society Archipelago are ideal for a first dive in one of the most beautiful lagoons. Whether in Tahiti, Moorea or Bora Bora, you can dive for the first time in turquoise waters populated by stingrays, black tip sharks and colourful reef fish. What's the best part about diving in Moorea? You'll have a better chance of seeing sea turtles!
If you are a certified diver and you want to be amazed, the Tuamotu archipelago will undoubtedly meet your expectations. Whether it's at the largest atoll in the world, Rangiroa, or at Fakarava or Tikehau, the sea beds that await you can only amaze you with their richness! One of the experiences to be had in French Polynesia as a diver is without doubt the exploration dive in the Tiputa pass: grey sharks, hammerhead sharks, bottlenose dolphins and many other pelagic species can be encountered there!
And if you are lucky enough to be able to go a little further afield in French Polynesia, the Marquesas Islands can also offer you some great diving sessions from Hiva Oa. The Austral archipelago, much further south, also offers dreamy diving spots: from Tubuai, you will have the opportunity to swim in slightly colder waters than in the other Polynesian archipelagos, allowing you to meet different species!
With its protected marine areas and exceptional biodiversity, French Polynesia is one of the most popular places for diving. And apart from recreational diving, you can also take PADI or ANMP courses! What could be better than spending your training dives in the dream setting of the Polynesian islands?
All kinds of sea trips on Polynesian waters
With their exceptional landscapes, the Polynesian islands offer incredible panoramas from the sea. Cruising, jet skiing or sea kayaking are among the activities to do in French Polynesia! In addition to taking great pictures of the islands, you can spend an unforgettable moment with a snorkeling break in the lagoon, lunch on a motu, or even dolphin or whale watching in season!
One of the must-do activities in Polynesia is undoubtedly the traditional pirogue excursion. Known as va'a, the traditional Polynesian canoe is the national sport here! Don't hesitate to go and see the Polynesians practice it. And, speaking of local activities, don't be afraid to ask fishermen to accompany them on one of their sea trips! You will experience a unique moment of sharing that will leave you with incredible memories of your stay.
If you're more of a thrill-seeker, jet skiing will give you the adrenaline rush you need in a dream setting. Whether it's simply for an initiation in a lagoon, or for example for an excursion in Cook and Ōpūnohu bays in Moorea, you can enjoy great sliding sensations on magnificent turquoise waters. Alternatively, a boat trip to Tahiti to watch the Teahupoo wave will also give you some thrills!
And for families or groups of friends looking for a quiet time at sea, with beautiful scenery, there is plenty of choice! Excursions are available to almost every island in the Society Archipelago, including visits to the smaller islands of Maupiti, Tupai and even Maiao. In the Tuamotu archipelago, you can enjoy a boat trip to the Pink Sands or the Blue Lagoon in Rangiroa, but also leave from Fakarava to visit other nearby atolls. Whether you are looking for a moment of discovery, relaxation or even sensations, there are many sea trips in French Polynesia that will meet your expectations. And if you are here on your honeymoon, a romantic boat trip to Bora Bora is a must: a must-do activity in French Polynesia for lovers!
Water sports not to be missed in French Polynesia
French Polynesia is known worldwide as a dream destination for surfers. With a coastline offering a large number of spots with different waves, beginners and advanced surfers alike have what they need! It is also an ideal place to practice other sports such as kitesurfing, wakeboarding, or even stand up paddle.
The most famous wave in French Polynesia is none other than Teahupoo in Tahiti, famous for being one of the most dangerous in the world. But that doesn't stop many seasoned surfers from competing against it! If you are not experienced enough or are simply a beginner in surfing, don't hesitate to take a surfing course in Tahiti: the island has several spots adapted to all levels to learn and improve, notably between Pointe Vénus and the mouth of Papenoo in the north-east. Otherwise, don't hesitate to discover kitefoil and wingfoil, other activities that will give you great gliding sensations! For families, stand up paddle is a water sport that allows you to take full advantage of the calm turquoise waters of the Polynesian lagoons, while observing the flora and fauna that are there. A stand up paddle in Bora Bora will give you the opportunity to see stingrays and black tip sharks up close, without having to get in the water! The experience can also be enjoyed on the other islands of French Polynesia, whether on the lagoon of Tahiti or on the sublime Green Lagoon of Rangiroa.
Thrill seekers are not left out in French Polynesia thanks to all these water sports activities, whatever their level or age. And for the more adventurous, it is even possible to try flyboarding and hoverboarding in Moorea, an experience that will remain forever engraved in your memory thanks to the paradisiacal setting offered by French Polynesia!
Outdoor activities on the Polynesian islands
Although most of the islands of French Polynesia have small land areas, there are many things to do on them. The beaches are of course worth a visit, but so are the inland areas, in the mountains and in the tropical jungle! This is an opportunity to discover another facet of the islands, including the encounter with a rich endemic flora.
Walking tour to immerse yourself in the Polynesian islands
Hiking is one of the must-do activities of any trip. What could be better than discovering the magnificent Polynesian landscape on foot, at your own pace? It's an opportunity to exercise, while discovering new things after each stride! Rare endemic flora and breathtaking panoramas will make your hike in French Polynesia a unique and unforgettable adventure! The Society archipelago has the largest islands, and the more varied the hikes possible! On Tahiti, the relief offers beautiful routes of varying degrees of difficulty: the most adventurous can try to climb the highest peak in French Polynesia, Mount Orohena, at an altitude of 2,241 m! You can discover beautiful waterfalls in the heart of a tropical forest.
Its neighbour Moorea also offers several hiking routes: the day hike in the Ōpūnohu Valley will allow you to see several of the island's landmarks, while having the chance to be guided by a local who will talk to you about Polynesian culture. Whether it's Mount Rotui and Mount Mou'a Puta, Cook and Ōpūnohu bays, or the 3 Coconut and 3 Pinus passes, you'll be able to admire Moorea's most famous spots, while passing by the unmissable pineapple fields!
The other smaller islands, such as Maupiti, the Marquesas, the Gambier and the Australs, or the Tuamotu atolls, allow you to enjoy beautiful hikes and walks of varying lengths depending on their size. They also have spots not to be missed during a trip to Polynesia! Let's mention Mount Teurafaatiu in Maupiti, Mount Taitaa in Tubuai, Mount Duff and Mount Mokoto in Mangareva, as well as the Vaipo waterfall in Nuku Hiva, the highest in Polynesia (350 m)!
No matter where you are, there will always be a hiking route to make you dream in French Polynesia. Between land and sea, you even have the opportunity to combine your hike with another activity: why not let yourself be tempted by a combined day of cruising and hiking in Moorea to fully enjoy the paradisiacal environment that surrounds you?
Original excursions to discover French Polynesia
If you've done enough hiking and want something else to do, there are other activities in French Polynesia that allow you to explore the islands. Whether it's at a leisurely pace, or with more excitement, there's plenty to satisfy your desire for discovery: quad biking, 4x4, buggy, mountain biking or even horse riding will provide you with a totally different experience!
Adrenaline junkies will find plenty to do with quad biking or buggy tours on the steep dirt roads of the Polynesian islands. The quad ride to Lake Vaihiria in Tahiti is a must-do tour that will take you all the way to the centre of the island, through dense jungle and volcanic terrain! Sensations guaranteed! Other excursions are available, as well as to other islands in the Society Archipelago, including Moorea and Bora Bora, with stops to discover local products and culture under the guidance of a native guide. One of the must-do activities in French Polynesia for families is the 4x4 excursion. Accessible to all, it allows you to spend a convivial moment with your local guide who will be happy to tell you about his island. Don't hesitate to opt for a 4x4 excursion in Huahine to do a complete tour of the island and see the most important places, including the village of Faie and its famous sacred blue-eyed eels! If you feel like being free, mountain bikes can be rented on most of the islands, and even on the atolls, including Fakarava! With or without a guide, you'll love combining sport and discovery in French Polynesia. It is also possible to go horseback riding in the Marquesas, a wonderful way to explore the islands of Hiva Oa, Ua Huka, as well as Nuku Hiva, which will offer you a unique souvenir of your stay in French Polynesia!
Whether it's off the beaten track in the mountains or on the roads by the sea, you'll always find an original way to progress on the Polynesian islands. With the help of a motorised or non-motorised activity, you will enjoy a superb outing that will allow you to quickly tour the island where you are if you don't have much time for a walk!
Canyoning, the activity to do in Tahiti, in the middle of the tropical jungle
The Polynesian islands and atolls are all of volcanic origin, and yet very different. The Tuamotu archipelago is the oldest, which explains why it is made up of atolls, while the younger Society, Gambier, Marquesas and Austral archipelagos are mainly made up of high volcanic islands. Among these islands, the highest and largest is Tahiti, with Mount Orohena at an altitude of 2,241 m.
Thanks to its environment, Tahiti allows canyoning, an activity in French Polynesia that only it and its sister island Moorea can offer! If there is one thing to do in Tahiti, it is canyoning. The island has a few canyons (Putoa, Vaipurau, Purua, etc.), as well as the lavatube canyon, a mix of canyoning and caving in the lava tunnels of Hitiaa. With the emblematic canyoning activities (jumps, abseils and natural slides), you will have a refreshing time in the middle of the jungle on Tahiti or Moorea thanks to the canyons available there. A nice change from the basic seaside activities! And even if it's not related to canyoning, don't hesitate if you go to the Marquesas to see the "canyon" of Nuku Hiva, an impressive landscape!
Aerial activities in French Polynesia also possible
Even if arriving in Tahiti by plane already offers beautiful images of French Polynesia from the sky, nothing beats an activity dedicated to discovering the islands and atolls in an original way from the air. Whether it's a panoramic helicopter tour, a parachute jump or a paragliding experience, each of these activities will offer you incomparable views of the Polynesian archipelagos!
Polynesian Islands Overflight
Flying over the Polynesian islands and atolls is memorable, but does not allow you to fully enjoy the incredible view of Polynesia from the sky. Fortunately, there is no shortage of aerial activities to admire the paradise-like landscapes of the archipelagos from an aerial perspective!
Among the things to do in French Polynesia, a panoramic helicopter tour over one or more islands is highly recommended. Whether it's a flight over Bora Bora, passing over Tupai, the heart-shaped island, a flight over Tahiti, Moorea or Ra'iātea and Taha'a, you'll be amazed at the shades of blue and green under your feet! Outside the Society Islands, you can also discover Nuku Hiva by helicopter in the Marquesas, a unique experience. And if you prefer not to be locked in a cabin and feel the wind against your face, let yourself be tempted by a tandem paragliding flight in Tahiti! Taking off from an altitude of 837m, you will have a breathtaking view of the lagoon and, in the distance, the island of Moorea. It is also possible to paraglide in Bora Bora, but also to parasail for beautiful panoramas of the island from the sea! Enjoying the enchanting setting of the islands from the sky is something to do in French Polynesia. You will leave this experience with dreamy images in your head! And if you want to live an even more unique moment, you can even do an initiation to flying a plane in Tahiti, an original activity where you take the controls of the aircraft!
Aerobatics and skydiving for a full experience in French Polynesia
For the adrenaline junkies, don't worry, French Polynesia also offers activities for you! In addition to enjoying the thrills, you will have the pleasure of doing your activity in front of the incredible landscapes of the Society archipelago, an unforgettable experience!
Not only is it possible to learn to fly a plane, but also to learn aerobatics in Tahiti! Tonneaux, loops, vertical climbs and flips will offer you a deluge of sensations as you occupy the first seat of the plane, facing the landscapes that will unfold from all angles before your amazed eyes. And for a hair-raising experience, skydiving in Moorea, Tahiti or Bora Bora will satisfy your thirst for adrenaline. At a speed of about 200 km/h, your free fall in French Polynesia will amaze you with the different shades of blue of the lagoons. If you want to add a little spice to your trip to the Polynesian islands, you can do so. Although the sandy beaches and turquoise waters invite you to relax, you can also decide to change the atmosphere and find an exciting sporting activity!
So, are you ready to leave your deckchair and go on an adventure?
Of course, the Polynesian luxury hotels with their overwater bungalows such as the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, the Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort, or the Taha'a by Pearl Resort make you want to stay there and bathe directly in the lagoon waters right under your feet. However, it would be a shame not to take advantage of all the other things to do in French Polynesia that have been mentioned above!
Between cultural and sporting activities, you have the choice to make your stay in French Polynesia an unforgettable trip. All you have to do is not hesitate and dare to walk through the doors of your hotel to see the true beauty of these exotic islands!