Merely pronouncing the names Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora stirs the imagination. In the middle of 3,884,982 km² of ocean in the South Pacific stretches the territory of French Polynesia, composed of Tahiti and 117 other islands grouped in five archipelagos: the Society Islands, the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Marquesas Islands, the Tubuai (or Austral) Islands and the Gambier Islands. Tahiti and its islands look very much like paintings by Gauguin, with their fabulous palette of colours ranging from the intense greens of the mountains to the transparent blue of lagoons via the white of the coconut flesh savoured on the beach. All these islands embody the same delightful lifestyle and display the friendly good humour of their inhabitants. Visitors find themselves transported in a waking dream to the languorous rhythms of Polynesian songs. Despite the ever-present blend of cultures, Polynesian crafts still symbolise deeply rooted traditions and enjoy an international reputation.
What makes these islands so ‘precious’, however, is undoubtedly their famous pearls, cultivated mainly on the Tuamotu islands. These elegant gems, born of the lagoons, are highly valued by women and are a reflection the islands themselves, as is the Tahitian tiare flower, a symbol not only of lush vegetation but also the national emblem of French Polynesia. Tahiti and its islands hold out countless surprises for fans of water sports, including unforgettable dives to see whales, manta rays, sharks, schools of colourful fish, and coral. Tourists who prefer outings on foot, horse, or mountain bike will find plenty to do in the mountains, valleys, and waterfalls of the upper isles. Tahiti and its islands are where dreams come true.
• Society Islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, Maupiti): swimming, nature, culture, romanticism, diving.
• Tuamotu Archipelago (Rangiroa, Fakarava, Manihi, Tikehau): diving, romanticism, swimming.
• Marqueseas Islands (Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa): nature, culture
• Tubuai (or Austral) Islands (Rurutu): diving with whales, culture, nature.
• Gambier Islands (Mangareva): authenticity, culture.
Main city: Papeete.
Visa formalities: Citizens of the European Union, the European Economic Area, Andorra, Monaco, and Switzerland must present on entry a return ticket and a passport valid for six months after that departure date, but do not need a preliminary visa. Citizens from other countries must obtain a visa in advance from the French embassy or consulate in their place of residence. The visa must explicitly state that it is ‘Valid for French Polynesia’. If transiting through the United States, which is usually the case, travellers must be in possession of a passport that meets U.S. norms and must contact the nearest U.S. consulate in order to discover if there are potential visa formalities required. Ever since 12 January 2009, all passengers on flights from Paris to Papeete that transit Los Angeles must register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) by filling out a questionnaire on the internet at least 72 hours prior to departure.
For further information (in French): Office de Tourisme USA–Formalités.
Time-zone difference with respect to Paris: 11 hours in winter, 12 hours in summer.
Currency: French Pacific franc (CFP). The exchange rate is permanently set at 1 euro = 119.33 CFP.
Temperature: Average 27 C° (80° F).
Getting there: There are flights from Europe to Tahiti-Faa International Airport several times a week. Both Air France and Air Tahiti Nui fly from Paris and transit through Los Angeles. It is also possible to fly to Tahiti from other major European airports, via Los Angeles. Air New Zealand operates flights from London and Frankfurt to Los Angeles, with connecting Air Tahiti Nui flight to Tahiti. The entire trip takes 22 hours with the possibility of a stop-over in Los Angeles (see details with each airline). It is also possible to get to Tahiti from Sydney, Australia (Air Tahiti Hui, Air New Zealand, and QANTAS) and Tokyo/Osaka, Japan (Air Tahiti Nui).
Recommended favourites: Tahiti Yacht Charter