Ia Orana, 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. Here’s a sample 10 days in French Polynesia itinerary, which offers a few combinations of islands to choose from.
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. This 10-day Tahiti and French Polynesia itinerary will focus on the “classic” route of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora, plus a few additional stops that can be added to your island-hopping journey.
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: Papeete, 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. I’ll share a few options for how to spend one day in Tahiti.
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 road 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 him 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. Once you land on its shores, you finally start to fully unwind and adjust your biological clock to “island time”.
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
The best way to explore Moorea is with your own set of wheels. The island has so many interesting sites, beaches, and places to eat, that it would be a shame to be restricted to a small area or to have to rely on guided tours, though there are plenty of those as well.
From the air, Moorea resembles the shape of a heart, thanks to its signature twin bays carve liked fiords into its northern coast. Opunohu and Cook’s Bay provide some of the most stunning scenery in the South Seas. In fact, Captain James Cook mentions Moorea as one of his favorite anchorages in the Pacific. Moorea offers a wide range of activities that suit every traveler’s needs, preferences, and desires. 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, you could easily spend a week in Moorea. 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 a popular scuba diving destination but since this itinerary includes a trip to the Tuamotu Atolls, it’s best to save the diving for later. Moorea is also home to some of the best hikes in French Polynesia. Some hikes can be done on your own but some require a guide for your own safety.