10 Days In the Tuamotu Atolls of French Polynesia

March 13, 2021

Plage PK9 Beach Fakarava French Polynesia

Visible from space, the magnificent atolls of the Tuamotu archipelago float on the surface of the ocean like giant pearl necklaces. Forming the largest chain of coral atolls in the world, the Tuamotus, with their rich lagoons, pink sand beaches, coconut palms, are the paradise you’ve been searching for. In this 10 days in the Tuamotus itinerary, we’ll head to the chain’s top three spots, Tikehau, Rangiroa, and Fakarava. 

About This Tuamotu Itinerary 

I’ve visited French Polynesia on five different occasions and on two of them, I ventured to the Tuamotu archipelago. I’ve visited Rangiroa and Fakarava on two separate occasions and most recently, I finally made it to Tikehau

Spending 10 days exploring all three atolls is a quick way to pack in a lot of sightseeing in a short amount of time. If you want to spend more time in the archipelago or wish to leave one-stop out in favor of a lengthier visit to the other two (especially useful if you want to focus on scuba diving), I recommend seeing what each atoll has to offer and then slicing up your time accordingly. Below are links to in-depth travel guides for each of the islands we’ll visit on this 10 days in the Tuamotus itinerary. 

Pro tip: looking to reach that “perfect” atoll? With over 70 islands in the Tuamotu archipelago, it can be a challenging task. Here’s an article to help you find the best atolls in French Polynesia.

Heading off to French Polynesia? In-depth island guides to all 5 archipelagos await you, including sample itineraries and essential travel tips & tricks.

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How to Get There?

The determining factor when putting together your itinerary for French Polynesia is the domestic flight schedule. From my experience, the smoothest way to visit all three stops would be to first fly to Tikehau (from Tahiti, Bora Bora, or Raiatea). From Tikehau, you’ll make the short hop by plane to Rangiroa and from Rangiroa to Fakarava. Direct flights from Fakarava to Tahiti will get you back to the big island. 

Air Tahiti flight in Tikehau French Polynesia

Pro tip: match your itinerary to the right Air Tahiti air pass and save on interisland flights. 

Scuba Diving in the Tuamotus

Diving is the main attraction for foreign visitors to the atolls. In the absence of high mountains, the land is flat so it’s all about the lagoon and its marine life. That said, all three stops have activities for non-divers as well. If you plan on diving in all three atolls, it might make sense to purchase a dive pass. The Topdive pass is offered by the high-end luxury diving club, while the Te Moana pass is valid in several smaller dive centers on every island. 

large school of fish scuba diving in Tikehau French Polynesia

Pro tip: book your dive days ahead of time, especially if your schedule isn’t so flexible. Some outings might be fully booked during the high season (June-October) and school holidays when locals from Tahiti and other islands do some domestic travel. 

Part I: 3 Days in Tikehau 

Tikehau is by far the smallest of the three islands on this Tuamotu itinerary. Nonetheless, it’s still considered “off the beaten track” and only tourists who have heard of it will venture out here (as opposed to package holidaymakers). Tikehau is well known for scuba diving and its unique and ubiquitous pink sand beaches

Pink sand beaches panoramic view - Tikehau - French Polynesia

Tikehau Travel Guide Video

Watch this video to see what’s expecting you in Tikehau (you might need to disable your ad blocker).

Where to Stay in Tikehau?

Tikehau is still an off-the-beaten-track stop but it does offer a wide range of accommodations. For luxury, choose between the remote and pampering Pearl Beach Resort or the more secluded Ninamu Resort. For a more traditional stay, pensions are the way to go. The Relais Royal is the most upscale, followed by the more simple albeit perfectly situated Tikehau Village and Pension Hotu near the main village, Tuherahera. If those are full, look towards  Pension Justine and Pension Aito Motel Collette. Finally, if you’re traveling to Tikehau on budget, have a look at Pension Coconut Beach

Day 1: Beach, Snorkeling, Reef Side Visit

Use the first day in Tikehau to get acquainted with life on a remote coral atoll. What you can achieve on this day depends on your arrival time. Feel free to casually spend the day at the beach close to your accommodation and head to the main village of Tuherahera for lunch in one of the snacks (local restaurants). 

coconut grove - tikehau - french polynesia

church - tikehau - french polynesia

If you’re up for an adventure, rent a beach bicycle and head to Coconut Beach, a wide strip of soft white sand on the western edge of the “main island”. Don’t forget your snorkeling gear (and reef shoes) as there’s plenty of marine life underwater. What I especially like about this spot is that you can swim to a nearby sandbank and “go Robinson Crusoe”. To extend your adventure, swim further out and explore Motu Tavararo, just be sure to stick to the coastline because it’s technically private land belonging to the Ninamu Resort

beach at pension coconut beach - tikehau - french polynesia

small islet with coconut palm - tikehau - french polynesia

the motu of - ninamu resort - tikehau - frech polynesia

tropical beach - ninamu resort - tikehau - frech polynesia

coral head - snorkeling in tikehau - french polynesia

Pro tip: Coconut Beach can also be a good last stop for this day as it’s perfectly situated for watching sunsets on Tikehau.

If you still have more time, cycle on the dirt road in the direction of the airport. Stop at the signposted La Cloche de Hina to enjoy a natural symphony courtesy of incoming crashing waves. Continue on the path through the thick grove of coconuts, pausing whenever you want to check out the wild beaches that are oh so close to the reef. You can cycle back whenever you want or complete the circle tour back to the village.

wild beach - tikehau - french polynesia

family cycling in coconut grove - tikehau - french polynesia

Day 2: Scuba Diving

Most of the dives in Tikehau take place in and around Tuheiava Pass, the only way in and out of the lagoon. It takes about 30 minutes by boat to reach the dive sites. Factor in the waiting time on the boat between dives and you can expect the bulk of your day being spent on this activity. Your dive usually begins with a glide along the reef shelf on either end of the pass, after which you either ride the incoming current and drift into the lagoon or gently swim inside. 

Expect to see lots of nurse sharks taking shelter from the current inside small caverns on your drift dives and large schools of fish on other dives, including tuna, barracuda, jackfish, angelfish, lionfish, moray eel, and many more. If you get lucky, you might even spot tiger and hammerhead sharks in the shallows. 

scuba diving tikehau atoll - french Polynesia - nurse sharks in cave

scuba diving tikehau atoll - french Polynesia - school of fish

scuba diving tikehau atoll - french Polynesia - hammerhead shark

scuba diving tikehau atoll - french Polynesia - lionfish

scuba diving tikehau atoll - french Polynesia

Day 3: Lagoon Tour

The last day in Tikehau will be a memorable one. Prebook a full-day lagoon tour through your hosts and set out on a day of exploring the magical spots inside Tikehau’s lagoon. 

The first stop is at the manta ray cleaning station, a tiny islet in the middle of the lagoon that used to house a pearl farm. Under the water, giant manta rays gather every morning to get cleaned before “heading to work” by small fish that feed off the parasites on the manta’s skin. It’s a win-win situation not only for the mantas and the fish but also for snorkelers and divers who get to swim with these gentle giants at shallow depths. 

manta ray cleaning station - lagoon tour - tikehau - french polynesia

The next stop is Motu Puara, better known as Bird Island or Ile aux Oiseaux. As the boat approaches this rocky outcrop in the far end of the lagoon, it becomes clear how this place got its name. Hovering in circles above the island are hundreds of birds. Even if your eyesight isn’t what it used to be, you can clearly tell who lives here by the sound they emit. 

bird island tikehau - french polynesia

birds in the sky - bird island tikehau - french polynesia

You’ll disembark on a patch of sharply raised coral and begin the guided tour of the island. Countless noddies and boobies nest in the trees and they have no fear of humans, so you can approach them but do respect their space. 

mother and baby in nest - bird island tikehau - french polynesia

two birds romantic - bird island tikehau - french polynesia

The full-day lagoon tour reaches its climax on the famous pink sand beaches of Tikehau, where you’ll also have lunch (Les Sables Roses). The setting couldn’t be more spectacular, with crystal clear waters, strings of small pink-sand motu separated by narrow channels like a pearl necklace, and coconut palms swaying in the gentle breeze. As the guides fire up the grill, you’ll have plenty of time to explore the surroundings. This is an unforgettable day that will surely make your list of the top highlights in French Polynesia.  

pink sand beach 7 - tikehau lagoon tour - french polynesia

pink sand beach 10 - tikehau lagoon tour - french polynesia

pink sand beach 3 - tikehau lagoon tour - french polynesia

pink sand beach - tikehau lagoon tour - french polynesia

reef shark - tikehau lagoon tour - french polynesia

Part II: 3 Days in Rangiroa

Rangiroa is the largest atoll in French Polynesia and the second-largest in the world. Its lagoon is so immense, that you can fit the entire island of Tahiti inside it (~1,000 square km) and still have some space left over. Rangiroa is “the Bora Bora of the Tuamotus” in terms of tourist infrastructure and visitor numbers. It’s by far the most popular destination in the archipelago, mainly attracting divers and cruise ships. The diving in Rangiroa is done in and around its two lagoon entrances (passes): Tiputa and Avatoru

Rangiroa French Polynesia - panoramic view of atoll from air

Where to Stay in Rangiroa?

Most, if not all accommodations in Rangiroa are on the main motu (islet), on the opposite end of the main village of Avatoru. On the high end, the Kia Ora is the finest resort on the atoll, followed by Maitai Rangiroa. On the pension/lodge side, Le Relais de Josephine is the upscale choice, followed by Le Coconut Lodge. Simpler but excellent options also include Va’a i Te Moana, Pension Cecile, and Pension Tapuheitin.

Click here for all available Rangiroa accommodations on booking.com

Day 4: Arrival, Snorkeling & Exploration

The amount of activity on this day depends on your arrival time to Rangiroa. Once settled, choose from either a land-based activity or head straight underwater. 

For land-based activity, rent a bicycle and head in the direction of Avatoru Village. It’s the largest village in the Tuamotus but don’t expect much action, just a great taste of island life and two charming churches. At the pier, you’ll get a good view of Avatoru Pass and watch local fishermen working on tonight’s dinner. 

Locals cycling in Rangiroa French Polynesia

Church in Avatoru Village Rangiroa French Polynesia

On the way to the village, you’ll cycle past Gauguin’s Pearls where you might be able to join a free tour and learn about the black pearl industry. Close by is the visitors center and bottling station of Vin de Tahiti. It’s the only winery in French Polynesia and they also produce acclaimed rum. Tours and tasting are sometimes offered for a small fee. Stop for lunch at one of the snacks in the small port and, if there’s more time, catch a taxi boat to Tiputa Village where you’ll experience the true meaning of “island time”. 

Lunch in Rangiroa French Polynesia

Snack restaurant in Rangiroa French Polynesia

Local children swimming in Rangiroa French Polynesia

Making copra Rangiroa French Polynesia

View of Tiputa Village from lagoon Rangiroa French Polynesia

Rangiroa atoll French Polynesia

For the underwater experience, skip the village tour and book a short boat trip to snorkel in “the aquarium”. After lunch in one of the snacks at the port, walk to the small boat ramp past Pension Teina & Marie, where you can jump into the shallow waters and swim with dozens of reef sharks. 

Tropical fish in aquarium snorkeling tour Rangiroa French Polynesia

Colorful tropical fish in snorkeling tour aquarium Rangiroa French Polynesia

Sharks in Rangiroa Atoll French Polnyesia

No matter which option you chose, head to the dolphin lookout that overlooks Tiputa Pass. It’s not only a prime viewing area for dolphins when conditions are optimal but also a great spot for watching the sunset together with locals. 

Dolphin viewing area Tiputa Pass Rangiroa French Polynesia

Dolphins in Tiputa Pass - Rangiroa Atoll French Polynesia

Sunset - Rangiroa Atoll French Polynesia

Sunset in Rangiroa French Polynesia

Day 5: Scuba Diving

The prime reason for visiting Rangiroa is its world-class diving. Hardcore divers from around the world will often spend weeks in Rangiroa, hoping to spot rare sharks in the shallow depths. You can do three dives on this day, twice in the morning and once in the afternoon or evening. Much like in Tikehau, don’t expect to see extraordinary coral (due to the relative position of the lagoon pass) but do expect to see plenty of fish. So the dives in Rangiroa are all about spotting dolphins, turtles, large schools of fish, and a large variety of sharks. 

Most dives take place in the Tiputa Pass. Depending on the currents, you’ll either do a drift dive or cruise back into the lagoon. Some dive centers will also offer dives in the Avatoru Pass. These won’t be drift dives but there is a good chance of seeing silvertip sharks here. Here’s a video summary of my dives in Rangiroa.

Scuba diving in Rangiroa French Polynesia - dolphin

Scuba diving in Rangiroa French Polynesia - school of fish

Scuba diving in Rangiroa French Polynesia - sea turtle

Scuba diving in Rangiroa French Polynesia - silvertip shark

Scuba diving in Rangiroa French Polynesia - coral and fish

Day 6: Scuba Diving or Lagoon Tour

Depending on your flight time to Fakarava tomorrow and your appetite for more, it might be possible to squeeze another pair of morning dives. In that case, use the afternoon to relax or do activities mentioned in day 4. 

For a different experience, book a lagoon tour to either Ile aux Recifs (Reef Island) or Lagon Bleu (the Blue Lagoon). The latter is more popular and impressive but both are solid options for spending the day on pristine beaches that define the meaning of paradise. Lunch is included in full-day tours. 

Lagon Bleu Blue Lagoon tour Rangiroa French Polynesia

Part III: 4 Days in Fakarava 

Fakarava is the second-largest atoll in the archipelago and home to the largest lagoon pass in French Polynesia – the Garuae Pass (~2km wide). The atoll is home to incredibly rich marine life, protected as part of Fakarava’s status as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. If you love scuba diving but also looking for something beyond, Fakarava is a perfect choice. Fakarava is an up-and-coming destination, having gained some fame in recent years especially among scuba divers. Nevertheless, it still retains an authentic charm, and life rarely “shifts beyond third gear” on the island. 

Scuba diving in Fakarava French Polynesia panoramic view

Where to Stay in Fakarava?

That depends on whether you wish to scuba dive in the remote South Pass (Tetamanu) or content with staying near the North Pass (Garuae).  The South Pass is extremely remote but there are a few pensions that cater to scuba divers. In Tetamanu Village, Pension Tetamanu and Pension Raimiti are your options. Slightly further out,  Pension Motu Aito is the last option around here. In the North Pass, most accommodations center around the main village of Rotoava. You’ll find great pension stays at Havaiki Lodge, Tokerau Village, Veke Veke, and Papara. For simpler stays, check out Kori Kori and Relais Marama

Day 7: Arrival, Snorkeling or Cycle to PK9 Beach

As with arrival days to Tikehau and Rangiroa, what you can accomplish on this day in Fakarava depends on when your flight lands. If you’ve opted to stay in the South Pass, your hosts will get you there by boat from the airport. 

Assuming you’re staying near Rotoava Village if there isn’t much time left in the day, snorkel in one of the many coral gardens that can be found on the lagoon-side of the main motu. Ask your hosts for the best spots or simply cycle in the direction of the airport and find a spot to your left. There isn’t much happening in Rotoava apart from a cute church, a few snacks, and a fruit stand. If there is enough time, cycle to PK9 Beach. It’s located just nine kilometers from Rotoava and it’s one of the best beaches in French Polynesia

Church in Rotoava Village Fakarava French Polynesia

Coconut grove in Fakarava French Polynesia

Lagoon Fakarava French Polynesia

Rotoava Village Fakarava French Polynesia

Dirt road to PK9 Beach Fakarava French Polynesia

PK9 tropical beach Fakarava French Polynesia

Sand and lagoon colors at PK9 Beach Fakarava French Polynesia

Day 8: Scuba Dive

The diving in Fakarava is out of this world! The South Pass is considered one of the best dive sites in the world, where you’re guaranteed to swim with hundreds of sharks. However, the North Pass is also extremely rewarding, thanks to pristine coral and a high probability of seeing the famous “shark walls” that make the South Pass so famous, albeit on a smaller scale up in the north. Depending on the currents, you’ll be doing challenging but enjoyable drift dives but there will never be a dull moment thanks to the abundant coral. Here’s a video summary of my dives in Fakarava.

Scuba diving in Fakarava French Polynesia - star fish

Scuba diving in Fakarava French Polynesia - shark walls

Scuba diving in Fakarava French Polynesia - school of fish

Scuba diving in Fakarava French Polynesia - reef shark

Scuba diving in Fakarava French Polynesia - divers and coral

Scuba diving in Fakarava French Polynesia - coral garden

Scuba diving in Fakarava French Polynesia - coral and fish

Day 9: Scuba Dive

The two or three dives you managed to do yesterday will surely leave you with a taste for more. Use this day for additional diving. 

Day 10: Lagoon Tour to Pink Sand Beaches

Even if you’re not staying in the South Pass, you can still pay a visit. Book a lagoon tour to the South Pass for your last day in Fakarava, the final day on this 10 days in the Tuamotus itinerary. It takes over an hour to reach Tetamanu Pass by speed boat from Rotoava. Once you reach Tetamanu Village, your guides will fire up the BBQ and you’ll have time to snorkel.

snorkeling with reef sharks Fakarava French Polynesia

large parrotfish in Fakarava French Polynesia

picnic BBQ south pass Fakarava French Polynesia

After lunch, the guides will take you on a walking tour of the abandoned village. Tetamanu used to be the capital of Fakarava but due to its remoteness and surrounding sea conditions, Rotoava took over. You’ll then head to the famous pink sand beaches of Fakarava, just on the opposite side of the Tetamanu Pass, before starting the return journey back north. 

Church in Tetamanu Village Fakarava French Polynesia

Ruins in Tetamanu Village Fakarava French Polynesia

Pink sand beach Fakarava French Polynesia

Pink sand beach of Fakarava French Polynesia

Closeup of pink sand Fakarava French Polynesia

Pro tip: you can usually “squeeze” one dive in the South Pass even if joining a lagoon tour. Your guides can arrange this and instead of snorkeling, you’ll go for a dive and return in time for lunch. 

What’s Next? 

This 10 days in the Tuamotus offers a quick way to fully utilize your Air Tahiti air pass and see the most visited atolls in the archipelago. Check out the following guides for more information about the Tuamotu atolls and French Polynesia.

Independent Traveler's Guide to French Polynesia


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