TRAVEL TO FRENCH POLYNESIA

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WELCOME TO FRENCH POLYNESIA

The territory of French Polynesia (under French administration) is in the South Pacific Ocean, halfway between California and Australia. There are some 118 islands formed by undersea volcanoes and spread across over 1 930 500 square miles (an area five times as large as France). 

 

There are five archipelagoes Society Islands, Marquesas Islands, Tuamotu Islands, Austral Islands, and Gambier Islands.

  • The capital is Papeete on the island of Tahiti which is the largest of the islands.  

  • Tahiti also has the international airport Fa'a'ā International Airport.

The French Polynesian terrain is a mix of high mountainous islands and low islands surrounded by reefs.  The highest point is Mount Orohena 6790 ft (2241 meters).  There are deep valleys created by rivers and waterfalls, coastal strips with white coral sands, reefs and lagoons.

Society Islands – are the most inhabited western island group.  The islands are divided into the Leeward Islands (Bora Bora, Huahine, Maupiti and Raiatea) and the Windward Islands (Moorea, Tahiti).   These islands are surrounded by coral reefs and lagoons. This island group makes up 40% of the land are area. It is also the most highly populated set of islands with 90% of the population. The landscape is mountainous covered in lush vegetation with deep valleys surrounded by narrow coastal beaches with white coral sands, lagoons or ocean.  There are barrier reefs circling this island group.

  • Marquesas Islands – are the Northeastern archipelago.  Here you will find Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa.  You’ll find steep mountains inhabited by wild horses, goats and pigs.

  • Tuamotu Islands – are a central archipelago made up of low flat islands and atolls.  Rangiroa is located here.

  • Austral Islands – are a small southern archipelago which includes Tubuai Islands and Bass Islands.  These islands were the last inhabited islands and are off the beaten track.

  • Gambier Islands – are located to the south-east and contain Mangareva Island and surrounding islands. 

The population of French Polynesia is 285 000 people, approximately 70% live in Tahiti.  Moorea and Raiatea are the next populated islands.  Nearly 80% of residents are of Polynesian or mixed Polynesian ethnicity, approximately 12% are of European ancestry and 8% Chinese descent.  Most people French Polynesians speak both French and Tahitian which is the dominant Polynesian language.  In some of the more isolated islands older residents speak the local Polynesian language and these can differ from island to island.  Tahitian is beginning to replace local languages as the cultural identity between islands becomes more homogeneous.

Travel information

WHERE TO VISIT IN FRENCH POLYNESIA

Tahiti

Tahiti isn’t your typical beach paradise- instead of white sands it’s got tall, looming mountains, black-sand beaches, lagoons, and a landscape that seems almost out of a movie, as does the abundance of marine life and unique Tahitian fauna. Alongside the Jurassic Park-esque environment is a rich culture, which is shared with Travelers at the many museums on the island. You can also head down to the Municipal Market and enter a plaza bustling with Polynesian craft, food, art, clothing and more to take home and remind you of the truly unique visit. The island is also home to famous surfing competitions, and if you’re prepared to give it a crack yourself then you simply must check out the breaks on the island.  If you’re looking for a place to kickback on the beach with a drink, and head out for a tropical safari the very next day, then Tahiti is the destination for you.  

Popular activities in Tahiti.

Moorea

Moorea is a classic beach holiday. The island is lathered in paper white sand complimented by the clear turquoise water, dense jungle, and towering mountains. It truly is a tropical paradise. Snorkeling spots are plentiful, and with a guide you too can explore every inch of the island for the marine life that inhabits its waters, especially at Moorea’s very own Lagoonarium where you can see some of the most sought after species in French Polynesia. For a fun day out, ATV and Jetski’s are popular day activities, and come the night you can kick back at a beach restaurant for some quality seafood. Through the dense forests are a variety of enticing bush walks that will take you past some of the most breathtaking lookouts, perfect for photos. If you’re looking for a location equipped with perfect beaches, endless activities, and a rich culture, then Moorea is the destination for you. 

Popular activities in Moorea.

Bora Bora

Bora Bora is one of the world’s more romantic getaways, blessed with stunning landscapes and a Hollywood setting.  Spend your days enjoying the white sand and clear waters and come the night you can enjoy the island’s tranquility at a small beach-side restaurant.  It is exceptionally gorgeous at night when the stars come out, as well as the music, drinks, and culture. A trip down here is packed full of the summer essentials- jet skiing, diving, snorkeling, relaxing by the beach, and jungle walks. The island is also home to some unique geological landmarks, such as Mount Otemanu, a 2,400-foot volcanic remnant. On Bora Bora you can also find the Turtle Center, which aims to nurture injured or sick turtles back to good health.

Popular activities in Bora Bora.

Tikehau

If you were to Google beaches, you’d probably see some of Tikehau’s famous landscape and almost Hollywood-esque snapshots. It truly is a tropical paradise and is the perfect escape from the city where you can spend the day how you please doing one of the many activities available. Explore the waters rich with marine life, soar across the waves on a kite board, or hop on a bike and cruise through the breathtaking plant life and stunning villages around the island. Savor the beauty of Tikehau how you please. Stick to the comfort of your resort or head out and meet the friendly locals, the choice is yours. Either way, if you’re looking for an almost untouched beach paradise then Tikehau is for you.

Popular activities in Tikehau.

Raiatea

Raiatea, like most of French Polynesia, is a tropical paradise, and is the second largest Society Island. Steep mountains and reefy lagoons span the landscape, with nature occupying most of the island. Raiatea also houses the Taputaputea Marae- arguably one of the most significant Polynesian temples. While you’re here, you can soar across waves onboard a jetski, explore the bustling marine scene on a snorkeling tour, head out onto the water with a fishing charter, and much more. If you’re looking for an opportunity to learn of French Polynesian culture and have a good time out on the water then Raiatea is the destination for you.

Popular activities in Raiatea.

Fakarava

Come to Fakareva and enjoy stunning stretches of white sand and clear blue water- it’s simply a beach paradise. A trip down here is a breath of fresh air and an aura of tranquility as you enjoy the breathtaking coastal landscape and variety of activities available. Traverse the atoll at high speed on an ATV, or soar across the waves on a speed boat, or charter a boat out to one of the hot diving spots bustling with diverse marine life and coral formations straight out of the movies. Divers come from far and wide to hit these spots- and with a guided tour you can head out to these same sought-after locations for a one of a kind underwater experience. For a perfect summer setting, top notch diving, and bustling culture.

Popular activities in Fakarava

 
 
 
 
 
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POPULAR LOCATIONS

Learn more about the most requested destinations and recommended activity options.

FRENCH POLYNESIA TRAVEL INFORMATION

BEST TIME TO VISIT FRENCH POLYNESIA

Weather in French Polynesia

French Polynesia has a tropical but moderate climate, it is always humid between 80 and 90%.

  • ​November to April is the warm rainy season (summer).

  • May to October is a cooler dry season (winter).

 

There is some slight variation in weather because the islands are widely dispersed.  In all areas except Marquesas and northern Tuamotus the rains are heavy with an annual rainfall of as much as 120 inches in the coastal areas.  Temperatures vary little in French Polynesia, for example, the average annual temperature in Papeete (the capital) is between 79 F (26 C) and the high average is 91 F (33 C) in March.  The low average drops to 70 F (21 C) in August.  The islands further south have lower average temperatures.  The lagoon waters average 84 F (29 C) in summer and 79 F (26 C) in winter.

When is the best time to visit French Polynesia?

You can visit French Polynesia any time of the year however the weather is at its driest and most comfortable during June/August.  This can be the busiest time to visit so consider months either side.  During the rainy season November to April you can visit but there will be tropical showers that come through more often than other times as it’s the rainy season.  In between the rains are sunny periods but the humidity is higher. 

 

TRAVEL ADVICE

TIME ZONES

French Polynesia has one main time zone (THAT).

​Tahiti – French Polynesia Time (THAT) is GMT/UTC – 10 hours during Standard Time.  French Polynesia does not use daylight savings time.  French Polynesia is in the same time zone as Hawaii.

TRAVELING IN FRENCH POLYNESIA

How will I get around in French Polynesia?

On the island of Tahiti there are transport options, the cheapest being the local bus service.  Taxi’s, scenic tours and escorted excursions are also available for booking.  To truly enjoy French Polynesia you should travel to other islands than Tahiti. You can island hop using a combination of flights and boats.  Depending on your itinerary it may be necessary to over night in Tahiti after you land there and then take flights to smaller islands the next day.  You may have to take a flight and a boat ride to reach your destination.  Air Tahiti offers regular flights between the islands.  There is a daily ferry service that operates between Tahiti and Moorea.  If you want to see multiple islands in one trip, you can get around by boat, a cruise or private catamaran.  Once on the different islands transportation will depend on what’s available. 

VISA INFORMATION

Do you need a visa to enter French Polynesia?

US Citizens do not need a visa to enter New Zealand, Cook Islands, Fiji or French Polynesia.

CUSTOMS & QUARANTINE

What items can’t I bring into French Polynesia?

The following items are prohibited in both checked and unchecked luggage: live animals and plant material; compressed gas and explosives; flammable liquids; narcotics; and poisons, irritants and other substances or materials that are oxidizing, toxic, radioactive or magnetized. Safety regulations prohibit certain articles from being carried into the aircraft cabin, including firearms, ammunition, knives, scissors and other sharp or pointed instruments. (Tahiti.com).

How much duty free can I bring into French Polynesia?

All passengers arriving in French Polynesia must clear Immigration and Customs at Faa'a International Airport (PPT).  Each person may legally bring the following items into French Polynesia duty free: 200 cigarettes, 200 cigarillos, or 100 cigars; 50 grams of perfume; 500 grams of coffee; 100 grams of tea; 10 rolls of film; and 2 liters of alcohol. Returning home, U.S. customs allow an exemption of $800 in goods per resident, including one quart of liquor and 200 cigarettes; Canadian customs also allow an $800 exemption, including 1.1 liters of alcohol and 200 cigarettes. (Tahiti.com).  Pets and plants are subject to strict regulations.

 

BANKING, MONEY & SHOPPING

What is the currency in French Polynesia?

The currency in French Polynesia is the Pacific Franc (franc cours pacifique) abbreviated to XPF or CFP.  Euros are widely accepted and usually used at all the larger resorts.

What is the currency conversion for USD to CFP?

​You can calculate the conversion rate using XE Currency Converter

Should I get money out before I go to French Polynesia and what is the best way to pay for things?

The bank and ATM at Faa'a International Airport is open for the arrival of all international flights, so you can exchange money on arrival. There are international banks in Papeete.  International hotels will also exchange currency for a higher exchange rate.

 

Banks have limited hours on Saturdays and are always closed on Sunday’s.  You will find plenty of ATM’s downtown.  Credit cards are widely accepted in tourist areas throughout the main islands.  Visa and Mastercard are the most accepted cards.  Some hotel and restaurants won’t accept American Express.  Cash is usually required at stores and restaurants in more isolated areas such as Manihi and Fakarava.

Do I tip for services in French Polynesia?

Tipping is not customary or expected in French Polynesia.  You can choose to tip for excellent service and it will be gratefully accepted.

 

Can I bargain with retailers and in markets for a better price?

Bargaining is not expected however sometimes it’s possible to get a discount on black pearls or artists works when buying directly with the supplier.

 

OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION

What language is spoken in French Polynesia?

Most people French Polynesians speak both French and Tahitian which is the dominant Polynesian language.  These are the official languages however English is widely spoken.  In some of the more isolated islands older residents speak the local Polynesian language and these can differ from island to island.

 

Are there any etiquette or customs I should be aware of?

The culture in French Polynesia is very laid back.  Dress is casual with common attire being sarongs, shorts and T-shirts. If you’re attending a church service then you will need to wear appropriate clothing.

When visiting a local home, it is expected and polite for you to remove your shoes before entering.  Leave them at the front door.  

 

What is the power in the Cook Islands and will I need an adapter?

The voltage in French Polynesia is 220 volts (60 Hz).  Hotels use either 110 or 22OV and the outlets require Type E and C plus like the ones used in Europe.  You can see what the plugs look like at World Standards. Bring an adapter or converter with you and double check the voltage requirements before plugging in your device.  The adapter or converter is one suitable for Europe/Asia.

What is the emergency number in French Polynesia?

Ambulance 15, Fire 120 and Police 20.  

 

What is the mobile coverage like in French Polynesia?

French Polynesia uses GSM (Global System for Mobiles) so you will need a GSM enabled phone to access cell signals.  If necessary you can rent a phone or buy a local SIM card from the local mobile network Vinia (www.vini.pf) when you arrive.

 

Where can I find WiFi?

You can find internet access most places in Tahiti.  Not all hotels are fully wifi enabled with some only offering wifi in common areas.  It’s likely you’ll need to use the ethernet cable in your hotel room. Note, not all hotels offer free internet access. 

Can I use a drone in French Polynesia?

​You can fly a drone in French Polynesia but you have to abide by the regulations.  The rules for flying a drone in French Polynesia are the same as flying one in France.  More information can be found at the French Transports Ministry (Ministère de l’Environnement, de l’Energie et de la Mer)

WEIRD & INTERESTING FACTS

Facts about French Polynesia

  • Tahiti was the first island to experience European conquest.

  • King Pomare V was Tahiti’s last monarch, and he was forced to cede Tahiti’s sovereignty to France in 1880.

  • In 1996 the French government conduced the last 193 nuclear bomb tests around the Fangataufa and Moruroa atolls. These tests had been happening over a 30 year period.

  • French Polynesian citizens have the same political and civil rights as mainland French citizens.

  • In the 18th century Tahiti had 2 famous European visitors – English naturalist Charles Darwin and American artist Alfred Thomas Agate.

  • The Europeans introduced guns, alcohol and many fatal diseases to the Tahitians such as smallpox, influenza and typhus.

  • French Polynesia use the Metric scale for distance and Celsius scale for temperature.

  • The main industry on the island is tourism, pearls, handicrafts, agricultural processing and phosphates.

  • French Polynesia exports coconut products, pearls and vanilla.

  • There are no area codes used when making calls in French Polynesia.

  • The most visited islands are Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Taha’a and Rangiroa.

  • Papeete (Tahiti’s capital) translates into English as “water basket”.

  • Moorea is known as “The Island of Love”, it is also heart-shaped.

  • Bora Bora is known as “The Romantic Island”.

  • Moorea means “yellow lizard”.

  • Locals on the Austral Islands grow foods rich in fluoride, so they have white teeth.

  • Black pearls that are treasured by both locals and tourists are indigenous only to the Tuomotu Islands of French Polynesia.

  • There is a Pearl Museum on Tahiti displaying the history and practice of cultivating pearls.  It is the only museum in the world dedicated solely to pearls.

  • The most photographed isle in French Polynesia is Motu Tapu, a private island. It is very close to the main island of Bora Bora.

  • The first over water bungalows were created in the 1960’s on the island of Moorea.

  • French Polynesia is home to the only coral atoll vineyard on Tuamotu Archipelago – Domaine Dominque Auroy Winery.

  • There are no poisonous snakes or insects on French Polynesia.  You only have to worry about mosquitoes, sandflies and sun burn.

  • The Tiare Apetahi flower (fragrant white blossom) worn behind locals ears only grows on the island of Raiatea on Mount Temehani.

 

Facts about French Polynesia food

  • ​Local dishes often contain fish and seafood which is abundant. 

  • For a traditional feast pork, chicken, fish and vegetables are cooked in a traditional oven dug into the ground. It takes a few hours for the food to cook over hot stones underground and then it’s eaten buffet style. Music and songs are part of the celebration.  

Facts about French Polynesia Culture

  • Traditional Tahitian culture is laid back and they describe it as aita pea pea or “not to worry” in English.

  • Tahitians are known to be generous and friendly to each other and to island visitors.

  • Polynesian cultural traditions are found throughout French Polynesia however each island group has variations.  All islands are united by over a century of colonial administration but the cultural differences between islands is blurring due to improve transport between islands, education and communication networks.

  • Tahitian traditions and oral legends date back to their ancestors. They still live in bamboo huts with pandanus roofs.

  • Locals grow coconuts, vegetables, vanilla, coffee and fruits.  They also farm poultry and cattle, producing dairy products.  Fish and seafood are also abundant.

  • Tahitian celebrations often involve a feast where layers of hot rocks cover the underground oven where suckling pig, bananas, breadfruit and other popular local foods are cooked.

  • Before European settlement Tahitians used to practice child sacrifice and cannibalism.

  • If you are single, its common to put a native flower, the Tiare Apetahi (white blossom) behind your right-hand ear.  If you’re in a relationship, you put it behind your left-hand ear.

  • Tahitians are well known for their hospitality.

  • The Chinese arrived on French Polynesia from Hong Kong in 1865 to work in the cotton fields, coffee and sugar plantations.  They recently celebrated 150 years on the island.

  • The Chinese population on French Polynesia dominate the retail trade. When people refer to going shopping, they say they are going “la Chine” which translates to “to the Chinese”.

  • Black pearls are important in cultural art, history, mythology and religion in French Polynesia.

  • Stone Fishing is a traditional method of catching fish.  It is performed today for special festivals.  It involves outrigger canoes creating a semicircle in the water, then the men beat the water with stones tied to ropes.  The noise and commotion cause the fish to move away from the outriggers towards the beach.  Once closer to the beach the men jump from the canoes and continue yelling and beating the water to drive the fish ashore.

  • Tattoos are considered a sign of beauty and young adults used to be tattooed upon reaching adolescence.

  • Tattoos are an important part of Tahitian society and play an important role in Polynesian history.  Often the tattoos were a status symbol signifying rank, wealth and tribe.

  • Tahitian residents get a French bread delivery in a box outside their house twice each day.  The boxes look like they are for mail delivery but they are actually for bread.

  • There is no mail delivery, locals must collect their mail from the post office.

  • On the island of Fakarava is one of the oldest Catholic churches in Polynesia.  The interior is made solely out of coral. 

 
 
 

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