Ia Ora na and maeva, hellow and welcome to paradise! A trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia is something you’ll never forget. With 118 islands stretching across a chunk of the South Pacific Ocean the size of Western Europe, it’s important to pick and choose the right islands for you. While a week in French Polynesia is a barely enough to scratch the surface, it’s a whole lot better than nothing! Here’s a sample 1 week in French Polynesia itinerary that combines a visit to three dream islands.
I spent three months in French Polynesia while backpacking across the South Pacific Islands and have since returned on four additional visits. While no two islands are the same, it’s key to avoid trying to see too much. This is paradise, after all, so leave plenty of time for relaxing. Independent travelers to French Polynesia will discover that there’s way more to this destination than just luxury resorts. It all depends on you. If you have just one week to spend in Tahiti and French Polynesia, you’ll most likely do the “classic route” of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora. In this itinerary, I’ll also suggest a different option for those who see to get off the beaten track.
Heading off to French Polynesia? In-depth island guides to all 5 archipelagos await you, including sample itineraries and essential travel tips & tricks.
Video Tour of the Islands of Tahiti
Here’s a relatively lengthy but (I guarantee) enjoyable video that takes you across all five archipelagos in French Polynesia. You might need to disable your ad blocker for the video to load.
Part 1: Tahiti (1 Day)
Tahiti is your gateway to paradise, and though deserving more than just a single day, you aren’t here for a very long time. I suggest spending the night in or around Papeete for easy access to the city, airport, and ferry terminal to neighboring Moorea.
Where to Stay in Tahiti?
Most of the recommended places to stay in Tahiti are in and around Papeete. If you choose to stay outside of Papeete and not in one of the places listed below, double and triple check the location of the accommodation as some places are located in the mountains. Such accommodations might have great views but will require having a car.
For a luxury stay in Tahiti, the best resort is the InterContinental Tahiti Resort which is not too far from the airport in Fa’a. It’s perfectly situated to offer the best sunset views in Tahiti with a breathtaking panorama of Moorea. Next door, the Sofitel Tahiti Ia Ora Beach Resort and the Manava Resort in Punaauia are good options, and the Hilton Tahiti is set to open soon. On the other side of Papeete, en route to the east coast, the Le Tahiti by Pearl Resorts is another solid option.
If you prefer to stay at hotels in Papeete, the Tahiti Nui Hotel or the Sarah Nui Hotel are your current options. The former is the best hotel in the city, located within a short walk of the central market and evening food market in Place Vaiete.
For a pension stay, the best in Papeete is by far Fare Suisse. They offer free transfers to/from the airport or ferry terminal, the breakfast is amazing, and the rooms are very well-furnished. Slightly out of town, along the west coast, Pension de la Plage and Relais Fenua are recommended options.
Here’s a list of all Tahiti accommodations that can be booked online.
Option 1: Papeete Walking Tour
Start your morning with a visit to Papeete Market – the most colorful market in the South Pacific. Shop for anything from black pearls to sweet mangos, and enjoy the exotic vibe.
Here’s a quick tour of the Papeete market.
In the afternoon, head on a walking tour of Papeete, checking out its colonial style buildings, charming cathedrals and laid back waterfront. Head to the Robert Wan Pearl Museum and grab lunch in the new waterfront boardwalk or in the heart of the city.
For dinner, head to Place Vaiete and experience the cuisine of the legendary roulottes. Tahitians love to eat out, and these food vans serve large inexpensive portions of local food, Chinese classics, and even French crepes! After dinner, go for a drink in one of Papeete’s bars or check with your hosts if any traditional Polynesian dance shows are happening in one of the resorts.
Option 2: Roadtrip Around Tahiti
Guided or with a rented car, spend your only day in Tahiti exploring the coastal areas of the island. Several itineraries exist but I recommend hitting the road early and driving from Papeete to Teahupo’o. On the way, you’ll stop at ancient ceremonial sites, botanical gardens, black sand beaches, and eventually drive until the roads ends in the surfing capital of Polynesia.
Option 3: Papenoo Valley 4X4 Tour
If you’ve imagined Tahiti to be filled with giant waterfalls cascading down from lush volcanic peaks – imagine no more! Venture into the uninhabited interior of Tahiti and you’ll never forget this day. The drive takes you along the Papenoo River, crossing streams, climbing up to gorgeous vistas, and down to waterfalls that are straight out of a magazine cover. If you opt for the full-day tour, you’ll also visit the secluded Lake Vaihiria. This is paradise folks, and there’s hardly anyone around to share it with! This trip has a half-day and a full-day version. I recommend booking the full-day experience with Olivier Lenoir from Ia Ora Na Tahiti Expeditions (tell hime Avi from Israel sent you).
Have a look at this sample itinerary for lots more information on how to spend a day in Tahiti
Part 2: Moorea (3 Days)
Moorea is just 30 minutes by ferry from busy Papeete, yet it feels like a different world. The excitement is already in the air as the ferry inches closer and closer to Moorea, and maybe a few dolphins join to escort you into port.
Where to Stay in Moorea?
Moorea is one of the most visited islands in French Polynesia and as such, it offers a wide range of accommodations to suit all budgets. If you’re not planning to stay at a resort, it is highly recommended to book well in advance to avoid having to settle for a place without much value for money (and there are those as well in Moorea). This is especially true during the high season (June-September) and local school holidays.
The best part of the island to base yourself at is somewhere between Haapiti and Papetoai. Here, the lagoon is wide and the sunsets are to die for. Avoid the south end of the island as it lacks any major attractions or dining options.
Here’s a list of all Moorea accommodations which you can book online.
Resorts: the Hilton Moorea is the best resort on the island. It’s currently the only five-star resort in Moorea. It’s located at the foot of Mount Rotui and offers splendid views and good snorkeling. Next up is the Sofitel Moorea which will soon upgrade to a five-star category. It’s located on the east coast on sandy Temae Beach. After the closure of the InterContinental Moorea in 2020, the Manava Beach Resort is the remaining option. It’s conveniently located just outside Maharepa, the largest village in Moorea. At some point, the grounds of the former InterContinental will house a new resort.
Pensions: there’s a large selection of pensions and beach lodges in the prime areas of the island. Pensions range from simple accommodation to pampering “boutique” style lodgings. My top recommendations include Moorea Beach Lodge, Moorea Island Beach, Moorea Green Lodge, Pension Poerani, and the family-friendly Linareva Resort (not actually a resort). Unlike pensions on other islands, most of Moorea’s pensions do not offer half-board stays so you’ll need to go out for dinner.
Hotels: this rare category is somewhere between a resort and a pension in terms of offered services. In Moorea, the Hotel les Tipaniers is the best choice. It’s popular with families and lies on arguably the best public beach on the island. It has a beach restaurant, a dive center, and boat rental. The twin islets (motu) are just a short kayak paddle away. The beach is great for swimming, snorkeling, and kitesurfing. Another option is Hotel Hibiscus which offers both garden bungalows as hotel-style rooms.
Self-catering & Airbnb: you’ll find plenty of vacation rental units around the island but do your due diligence before as some photos are deceiving. Remember the important factors: location, privacy, proximity to the lagoon, and the availability of Wi-Fi.
Camping & Backpacker: there’s a growing number of establishments that offer dorm room stays for backpackers in Moorea. Check out the dorm room at Pension Motu Iti, ideally located between the two bays. Another option is at Camping Nelson, both for dorm room stays and for pitching a tent. This place is slightly out of date but there are lots of dining and grocery options nearby.
Here’s a list of all Moorea accommodations which you can book online.
Sightseeing in Moorea
Though guided tours are available, the best way to explore Moorea is with your own set of wheels. You can rent a car directly from the ferry terminal and, even if you’re flying to the island, rental companies will pick you up.
Moorea is shaped like a giant heart, thanks to its signature twin bays: Opunohu and Cook’s Bay. It’s the kind of island that has a little bit of everything for everybody: from high-end luxury resorts to family-owned pensions, from thrilling hikes to white sand beaches and from lazy snorkeling to world-class scuba diving. Be sure to drive to the Belvedere scenic lookout, climb or join a guided tour to Magic Mountain, snorkel and chill on one of the island’s public beaches.
Moorea is also an OK place to scuba dive and a fine island for hiking. Some of the best hikes in French Polynesia are found in Moorea. Some hikes can be done on your own but some require a guide for your own safety.
Part 3: Bora Bora Or Maupiti (3 Days)
For the third and final island in your one week in French Polynesia itinerary, you’re faced with a choice. If you’re after a taste of the luxury life – head to Bora Bora and tick this off your bucket list. If you’re more of a laid-back traveler, finish off your trip with a visit to the pretty little island of Maupiti.
Pro tip: If getting to Maupiti or finding a place to stay is challenging, head to the island of Huahine. It’s not as stunning as Maupiti but the vibe is similar and tourism is low-scale. If it’s hiking adventures you’re after, head to the island of Raiatea. It shares the same lagoon with Tahaa so one day can be spent exploring a fourth island.
One of the most famous islands in the world, a visit to Bora Bora is a sure way to make your friends jealous. Bora Bora is the most visited island in French Polynesia so it is well-geared to tourists. The island’s topography is simply stunning, a beautifully-sculpted high island surrounded by a lagoon that is three times the size of the main island itself.
Where to Stay in Bora Bora?
This could literally be the million-dollar question. Jokes aside, choosing where to stay in Bora Bora could make or break your experience. Why? You likely have this perfect vision of Bora Bora in your mind so its key to understand the ins and outs of Bora Bora’s accommodation scene to avoid disappointment. This is such a key decision, that I’ve written a special guide exactly on this topic.
What to do in Bora Bora
Your days in Bora Bora can be as lazy or as active as you want. If you’re staying in a luxury resort, you’ll likely dedicate a full day for relaxing and getting your money’s worth. That being said, don’t miss the chance to explore the beautiful lagoon as part of a full-day excursion, where you’ll be swimming with nurse sharks, feeding stingrays, snorkeling and grabbing lunch on your own private island. Half-day tours are also possible, but they include less snorkeling spots and no picnic lunch.
As far as beaches go, all the resorts on the motu (small islets surrounding the lagoon) will have their own white sand beaches. But for those staying or exploring the main island, don’t miss Matira Beach – one of the prettiest tropical beaches you’ll ever come across.
For those seeking to explore the real Bora Bora, rent a beach bicycle and circle the island on two wheels. It’s just 32 kilometers around the island, and you’ll get to see WWII stations, ancient temples, and authentic village life. You can also join 4X4 tours which bring you to sensational scenic lookouts.
Maupiti is said to be ‘the old Bora Bora’, long before the tourist hype. It also looks like a miniature version of its big sister just a few kilometers away, and in fact, it’s so small so you can get around on foot. With no resorts or nightclubs, Maupiti is an authentic little slice of paradise.
Where to Stay in Maupiti
On the main island, stay at Maupiti Residence, Pension Tereia, Pension Espace Beach and Pension Tautiare Village. On the dream-looking motus floating at the edge of the barrier reef, stay at Pension Papahani or Pension Maupiti Holiday, where locals will take excellent care of you. Spend your days hiking Mount Teurafaatiu, going Robinson Crusoe on Motu Auira, and head underwater to dive with giant manta rays in ‘the cleaning station’. Not to be missed, is a day out in the Maupiti lagoon, complete with snorkeling in the enchanting coral garden and sharing the leftovers from lunch with the stingrays.
What to do in Maupiti
Maupiti is small enough that it can be circled on foot but you can also rent a bicycle for the day and explore island life at your own pace. An excited detour is the sweaty but short hike to the summit of Teurafaatiu (380 m), where the finest views of the island can ben enjoyed for hours. This is one of the best hikes in French Polynesia and you’ll want to stay at the summit for a few hours to digest all this beauty.
End the circle-island tour at Tereia Beach, the finest on the main island!
As in Bora Bora, be sure to devote a full day for exploring Maupiti’s lagoon. You’ll start at the manta ray cleaning station, where you’ll snorkel with giant manta rays, continue to snorkel in the coral garden, and cap the day off with a traditional Polynesian lunch on a private island.
If you’re really up for adventure, cross the lagoon on foot to Motu Auira and spend the day in absolute bliss. The lagoon side is home to a few residents and a pretty beach, but its the wild reef side that will blow your mind!
As I hope you’ve seen in this one week itinerary for French Polynesia, there is so much to see and do apart from just stunning beaches. Start planning your visit to paradise with the French Polynesia Travel Guide, complete with information about islands in all five archipelagos!