Tahiti Destination Highlights
Updated: Sep 25, 2021
I often get asked the question about what should I do when I visit The Islands of Tahiti? My clients will ask if there is anything that is a not-to-miss activity or sight to see? There are many items on my list and I would not recommend that you do all of them. Well, unless you are spending a month in Tahiti? What I recommend to my clients depends on their interest. I will ask many questions so I can get to know them and determine what would appeal to them the most.
You are welcome to peruse my list and determine for yourself what you want to do or you can contact me and I can help you plan your dream vacation to Tahiti! I am a Certified Tahiti Specialist which means I have been to at least 4 islands and have taken the extensive training from the Tahiti Tourism Board. I also attend a Tahiti Conference at least once a year to stay updated on all the latest happenings in Tahiti. It would be my pleasure to assist you!
1) SPEND AT LEAST ONE NIGHT IN AN OVERWATER BUNGALOW
Overwater bungalows were created in our islands. They represent the ultimate level of indulgence: luxury in paradise. Let yourself be rocked to sleep by the water lapping against the stilts, watch fish dance through the glass panel in the floor, jump off your terrace into a natural aquarium and wake up to breakfast brought to you in a traditional outrigger canoe: who wouldn't want to make this dream a reality?
2) STAY AT A TAHITIAN GUESTHOUSE
Tahitian Guesthouses, also referred to locally as pensions (pronounced pone-see-owns), are typically family-operated lodgings in The Islands of Tahiti. Tahitian Guesthouses are hidden gems as they provide a unique opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves into a more authentic way of travelling, a more personalized experience and to build lasting connections with people and our islands. While experiences vary from property to property, some owners or on-site managers may interact with guests, sitting down to meals or even escorting or acting as a guide on a local excursion, such as pearl diving, snorkeling, hiking and other island experiences in a personal setting that is different from a traditional hotel.
3) SNORKELING & DIVING IN A NATURAL AQUARIUM
The Islands of Tahiti offer world-class snorkeling and diving. Both experienced and beginner divers and snorkelers will be amazed by the crystal-clear waters and the density of marine life. With hundreds of dive sites throughout the islands, divers can choose from the amazing drift dives, oceanic drop-offs, sunken ships, and lagoon dives with infinite marine life. For certified experienced divers, the Tuamotu atolls will offer the most amazing adventures. Rangiroa and Fakarava especially, are rated among the best dive sites in the world. The Society Islands, the Marquesas Islands and the Austral Islands also offer perfect spots where you can also see large sea animals (sharks, rays, dolphins, whales, etc.) as well as thousands of colorful reef fish.
4) GO WHALE-WATCHING OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Every year, from August to October, humpback whales (megaptera novaeangliae) migrate from the icy waters of the Antarctic where they feed to the warm waters of the shores of The Islands Of Tahiti. It is the ideal place to give birth and breed, sheltered from their predators. As a cetacean (whale) sanctuary since May 2002, all whales of French Polynesia are protected. Whale watching complies with strict local regulations. Although you can spot them from any island, Rurutu, in the Austral Islands is a good location. The Austral Islands will give you the unparalleled feeling of being on the other side of the world.
5) CRUISING AND SAILING
Cruising and sailing turns to discovery in Tahitian waters where you can embark on a voyage to explore the mystical South Pacific islands and atolls. Here, the ports-of-call for cruisers are uncrowded and charming, the cruise ships are smaller and luxurious, the neon-blue waters within the lagoons are calm, and the ocean journey between the islands is short. On these voyages, each island stopover will become your next favorite idyll and unforgettable memory.
With so many islands, so many lagoons, cruising and sailing has become a delightful way to discover the islands. Sailing boats or catamarans can also be rented bare or crewed, and itineraries designed "à la carte". They give you the freedom to explore at your own pace and stop wherever you want.
6) EAT MARINATED RAW FISH WITH COCONUT MILK
No visit to The Islands of Tahiti is complete without trying the local specialty, the “poisson cru” which is raw tuna marinated in lime and freshly squeezed coconut milk and diced vegetables. Mobile food vans (les roulottes), snack bars and restaurants all offer this specialty on the menu. There are other outstanding local dishes that are a must and should be sampled, too. Try Chinese-style raw fish, chao mein, ma’a tinito and dishes baked in a Tahitian oven (ma’a Tahiti) offered by some restaurants on Sundays.
7) MOTU PICNIC
A "motu" is a tiny islet delicately resting on the lagoon. Soft sand, coconut palms and crystal-clear lagoon, welcome to the most amazing restaurant in the world! Here, lunch is served on the beach or in the lagoon and consists of grilled fish or meat, salads and the unmissable poisson cru. And in the islands, coconut milk is squeezed right before your eyes! Can't get fresher than this!
PRO TIP: This item is a highlight for a honeymoon or special anniversary celebration!
8) TAHITIAN CULTURED PEARLS
The world-renowned iridescent luster of Mother Nature's most perfect gem can only be created in the warm Tahitian lagoons. Commonly known around the world as Black Pearls, Tahitian Cultured Pearls in fact come in all different sizes, shapes and colors. Travelers can visit a pearl farm in the Tuamotu Islands or on Taha'a, in the Society Islands, where some local families have found perfect shelters to produce these beautiful gems, symbols of hope and love.
9) BROWSE THE PAPEETE PUBLIC MARKET
The municipal market (Le marché), at the center of Papeete, is where all the hustle and bustle is focused. It opens at the crack of dawn with fruit, vegetable, fish and flower stands. Handicraft stalls contain products from the five archipelagos (carvings, tifaifai patchwork quilts, jewelry, sarongs/pareos, basketry, etc.). If you visit the market before you leave, you can load up on souvenirs to take back home like Tahitian vanilla, crafts, monoi , musical instruments, etc. Not to be missed is a visit to the market Sunday morning at 4.00 a.m., before mass.
PRO TIP: Visit the market upon your early morning arrival from the USA while you wait for your ferry or flight to a neighboring island. You can visit again on your last day while you wait for your late evening flight back home.
10) POLYNESIAN SPAS
The Islands of Tahiti are a world-class spa destination and many resorts offer their own version of pampering and rejuvenating. Surrounded by a backdrop of natural beauty and floral fragrances, there is no better setting for relaxation. Enjoy fresh-flower baths, invigorating rain showers, body scrubs made from Tahitian vanilla grains, massages above the lagoon or a body wrap with banana tree leaves.
11) SEE A PERFORMANCE OF POLYNESIAN DANCE
Forbidden by missionaries, dancing is even more an integral part of Polynesian culture today. Girls and boys begin dancing as soon as they can walk. The annual Heiva i Tahiti festivals in July, organized in Tahiti and on most islands, is a chance to see a performance by the most famed professional dance troops and schools. Major hotels regularly organize Polynesian evenings with song and dance during happy hour or themed buffet dinners.
12) TAHITIAN WEDDING CEREMONY
The Islands of Tahiti are a symbol of romance and sensuality. A Tahitian Wedding Ceremony is a beautiful way to reaffirm your love for one another, whether you are on your honeymoon or celebrating an anniversary. These ceremonies come in all different ways, from the most intimate version to the most extravagant one. You can have your ceremony on the beach, on a private "motu" islet, at sunset, with (or without) Tahitian music and dances. Many resorts will help you create the perfect celebration and everlasting memories. Since 2010, weddings have become legal!
13) SKYDIVING & PARASAILING
With their palette of a million blues, lush mountains/valleys and golden shores, the islands from the air are simply breathtaking. Take it nice and easy with parasailing or go for the thrill of tandem skydiving!
14) Circle ISLAND TOURS
There is no better way to gain a sense of everyday Tahitian life and experience the culture of The Islands of Tahiti, than passing through the small villages on a circle-island tour. As nearly every island has a coastal road following the lagoon shores, you can either drive around the island by rental car or take a guided bus tour. Explore the island interiors on a 4WD safari, a guided nature hike, bike riding or horseback riding.
PRO TIP: Do this early on in your itinerary as it gives a great overview of the island you are staying on!
15) EXPLORE THE INTERIOR OF THE ISLANDS
The interior of the mountainous islands (the Society Islands, the Marquesas Islands and the Austral Islands) are brimming with treasures. Whether by guided tour (in a 4X4, a quad bike or on foot) or in a rental car, the valleys and mountain peaks generously reveal their wonders to visitors. Archaeological remains, lush vegetation, streams and waterfalls reward all tourists who venture there.
16) VISIT A MARAE
Found on most islands, these archaeological remains bear witness to the organization of Polynesian society before the arrival of missionaries in the 18th century. The largest archaeological complexes are found on Raiatea (Marae Taputapuatea listed as a UNESCO world site), Huahine and in the Marquesas Islands.
17) MAKE A SHORT EXCURSION TO MOOREA
Moorea is only 17 km (10.5 miles) from Papeete and it is reachable by fast ferry in only 40 minutes. It is the most sparsely populated island (just 18,000 people) and things there are still unspoiled. You can do a day-trip, but if you want to fully explore the island you'll need a few days.
PRO TIP: If you love lots of different land and water activities, this is the island for you!
18) Visit BORA BORA
For most tourists, a stay on Bora Bora is essential. The “Pearl of the Pacific”, despite the development of tourism, is still worthy of its reputation. Nevertheless, there's much more to this island than what the postcards show us. You can explore the island's interior, its history, the manta rays and the lagoon, but also the luxury hotels and spas on the motu (islets), accessible only by boat. If you have plenty of time, don't miss the island's untamed and unspoiled little sister, Maupiti, accessible by boat or plane from Bora Bora. A change of scenery and a trip back in time are guaranteed.
19) VISIT AN ATOLL IN THE TUAMOTU ISLANDS
Physically setting foot on a “low island”, or atoll, is an unforgettable experience. Seeing a chain of coral islets, each encircling a turquoise lagoon, stretching on for dozens of miles is a breathtaking sight from the plane. Just imagining people living in this environment, lost in a vast expanse of ocean, is almost surreal. Sharing the daily lives of the islanders in tune with the rhythm of the waves, even if only for just a few days, is beyond words. It was on these tiny islets that Tahiti's cultured pearl industry began. The most frequently visited atolls are Rangiroa, Fakarava and Tikehau.
20) FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE FIRST MISSIONARIES
Mangareva, the largest island in the Gambier island group, is the site of the first Catholic mission in French Polynesia, established in 1834, and abounds in the historic traces of the first missionaries. Since the 1990s, the splendor of Gambier cultured pearls Islands has been bringing some economic prosperity to the islands.
21) EXPLORE THE “LAND OF MEN”
Go to the Marquesas Islands by sea in a number of different ways. Go aboard the mixed cargo/passenger vessel, Aranui. Or try the boutique cruise line Paul Gauguin Cruises. Or visit by plane, a more conventional mode of transport. Arriving in the Marquesas Islands is always a double shock: first, witnessing a cultural revival that has been going strong these last 20 years, and second, the discovery of its wild and pristine natural beauty.