We were lucky to spend a year in French Polynesia, a beautiful and widespread collection of islands and atolls. While we didn’t improve our French language skills, we loved the excellent diving, hiking, and culture. From the Marquesas to the Tuamotus and the Society Islands, these are our best of French Polynesia.
About French Polynesia
French Polynesia has several island groups, but many visitors only go to the Society Islands. You’ve probably heard of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora. If you can, I recommend exploring the ones you haven’t heard about. The more remote archipelagos of the Marquesas and the Tuamotus are unforgettable. These island chains couldn’t be more different: the Marquesas are lush, mountainous, and full of vegetation. Conversely, the Tuamotus are arid atolls with limited land life and clear waters. We didn’t even make it to other parts of French Polynesia like The Gambiers and Australs. Read on for which locales we think offer the best of French Polynesia.
Two islands in French Polynesia are our favorites for hiking. If you want to go hiking, visit Ua Pou or Moorea. Nuku Hiva also offers a good variety of hikes.
Some islands are just bad for hiking, full of private land and no paths for independent hikers, or they’re flat and featureless. In good news, most of The Marquesas islands have at least one or two hikes that are worth doing.
Ua Pou is good for hiking independantly, but for the big hike, hire a guide. All the hikes involve altitude, and everyone we know who did the cross-island hike alone got lost. The hills are high and the views are stunning, but there’s not much civilization so packing lots of water is a must for any of these treks.
Moorea, in the Society Islands, was one of our overall favorite islands in French Polynesia, partly thanks to the excellent hiking. The trails are easily accessible, with a wide range and diversity for all experience levels. Most popular are the well-marked network of trails along the Pineapple route. Hiking in Moorea is fun and absolutely gorgeous!
We dove as often as we could in French Polynesia, at almost every island. We had amazing marine encounters with mantas in Marquesas, turtles in Tahiti, and a cool octopus in Tahuata, but diving in Fakarava is unbeatable. The massive amount of sharks in the south pass, the awesome drift dives, and the excellent visibility made Fakarava our best of French Polynesia for scuba diving.
Best of French Polynesia for Provisioning
With all the mega-supermarkets, Tahiti is by far the best of French Polynesia for provisioning. We also really liked Hiva Oa in Marquesas, with two well-stocked supermarkets and rides back to the dock after we shopped. All of the Marquesas was amazing for fresh fruit, once we learned how to find it! For the Tuamotus, a shoutout to the market in Makemo, which stocked great produce and even had chilled oysters for our Christmas dinner.
We loved the art, music, and overall culture of the Marquesas. I don’t think we realized at the time how unique it was to regularly hear guitar and uke players. The musicians regularly played on sidewalks in Nuku Hiva and in restaurants in Tahuata. We often went to performances and rehearsals across the islands, seeing old and young sharing music and dance.
To add to the music and dance, the sculptures and woodcarvings in the Marquesas are really exceptional. Tikis large and small are everywhere, and carvings of marine life and more. The carvings are so esteemed that they import them to Tahiti and elsewhere in the country to sell to the tourists. We haven’t seen the quality and variety since. I think we picked the right place to get our first tattoos.
You really have to get to where the tourists are, The Society Islands, to find the best bars in French Polynesia. It’s not a drinking culture so the bars are for the visitors. In the Marquesas and Tuamotus, you’ll find restaurants and the locals eat out, but many of those only serve soft drinks but allow you to bring alcoholic beverages. Fakarava’s Le Snack de Requin Dormeur was a favorite and a rarity: a beach bar in the Tuamotus!
Best Bars in The Society Islands
Once you get to the Society Islands, bars are everywhere, and on the waterfront. Sometimes it’s nice to get off the boat and be social! We enjoyed happy hours with fellow cruisers at some of the best in French Polynesia.
In Moorea, we loved Fare Maheata in Opunohu and Moorea Beach Café near Cooks Bay. Staff at the café let cruisers use their dinghy dock to shop in town which was really great of them! Both are right on the water with lovely views!
Another favorite bar in the Society Islands is in Huahine. The yacht club had plenty of seating on the water, and it filled up for happy hour with locals and tourists. Good deals in a good location! Of course it’s popular.
In Ta’haa we went to a cool bar, Fare Miti, located on a boat in the bay of Tapuamu. We were underwhelmed by most of this section of the Society Islands from Raiatea to Bora Bora, but this bar made things a little better. We tied up our dinghy there for a few beers or rums at sundown.
Even Bora Bora had a couple of excellent waterfront bars with great views that weren’t too crowded or overpriced. While we weren’t impressed by the famous Bloody Mary’s, we give two thumbs up to Bora Bora Yacht Club and Saint James.
Hopefully you’ll get there and find your own favorite bar in French Polynesia.
One of the benefits to being cruising sailors is that we can spend time off-the-beaten path. For most, it’s too difficult to visit the remote places which make our list of the best of French Polynesia.
Some say the perfect anchorage is a unicorn. It must have calm seas, beautiful water for swimming and snorkeling, within a day’s journey of good provisioning onshore, and not be too crowded. In addition, we love a nice beach nearby, a good internet connection (although less important with Starlink!), and marine life.
Our favorite anchorages include Makemo Northeast, Hirifa, in Fakarava, Point Vaipahu near Opunohu in Moorea, and Hapatoni in Tahuata. We spent lots of time in all of those anchorages, communing with marine life and living it up with other cruisers.
While vacationers mostly stop at Tahiti and Bora Bora, we happily spent months in less visited beautiful islands in French Polynesia.
Our favorite islands are Ua Pou and Tahuata in Marquesas, and Moorea and Huahine of the Societies. From the Tuamotus, we loved Makemo, but spent more time in Fakarava for the variety of the anchorages and the diving. Try one or visit as many as you can!
Best of French Polynesia: Conclusion
As you can probably tell, our year in these islands was special and unforgettable. It’s easier being in English speaking countries, true, but I miss French Polynesia. I miss the warm clear waters and gentle calm nights on board in the Tuamotus. I also miss the fruit of the Marquesas, especially the gigantic and sweet pamplemousse! The tiki statues and ukelele music, and the yummy baguettes! I could go on, but I won’t. We hope you get to experience the best of French Polynesia for yourself. Where would you go first?