12 Days In the Marquesas Islands Itinerary

March 7, 2021

Part I: 4 Days In Hiva Oa

Atuona Hiva Oa panoramic view - marquesas islands french polynesia

To begin this Marquesas Islands itinerary, we head to Hiva Oa, known as “the island of Gauguin and Brel”. Once you touch down, you’ll quickly understand why the two artists, each in their own time, chose to remain on this rock until their very last day. A visit to Hiva Oa is a two-for-one opportunity as you can easily visit neighboring Tahuata island for the day. On other days, saddle up on horseback, road trip to the far reaches of the island in search of ancient tiki statues, and hike to remote beaches where time stands still. 

Pro tip: for an in-depth look at Hiva Oa, check out the Hiva Oa Travel Guide and detailed itinerary.

Hiva Oa Travel Guide Video

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

Where to Stay in Hiva Oa

For a luxury stay, stay at the Hanakee Lodge, the only hotel-type accommodation in Hiva Oa. For the pension experience, stay at friendly Pension Kanahau where you’ll be graciously taken care of by “the queen of Hiva Oa”, Tania Amaru. Other good options include Pension Josephine, Relais Moehau, Villa Enata, and Pension Temetiu Village

Pension Kanahau Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia - Exterior

Pension Kanahau Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia - interior

Day 1: Atuona Village and Taaoa

Excitement will already be in the air as you land in the narrow valley that shelters tiny Jacques Brel Airport. After settling in your pension, get a ride or rent a car and head to Atuona, the main village on the island. Check out the Gauguin museum with its reconstruction of the famous painter’s home, and the Brel museum next door which houses “Jojo”, the Belgian star’s former airplane.

Aerial view of Atuona Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

paul gauguin museum Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Jojo airplane jacques brel museum Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

After learning about their lives, take the short walk up the hill to the Calvary Cemetery. This scenic stop is the final resting place for the island’s two celebrities as well as former missionaries and ordinary locals. For better views, continue walking uphill to the large cross from where sensational views of Atuona Bay, the surrounding mountains, and Tahuata Island can be enjoyed. 

Calvary Cemetery - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

Jacques Brel grave - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

Paul Gauguin grave - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

view of Atuona from Calvary cemetery - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

It’s time for lunch and a stroll through Atuona Village. Check out the local crafts center, the restored ancient site known as Tohua Pepeu, the churches, and the calming seafront. You can grab some food “to-go” and eat it here. 

Atuona Village Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

For the last leg of the day, hitchhike or drive on your own to the end of the road and the tiny village of Taaoa. Walk to its wild beach and admire the church – one of the most photographed in the archipelago. From the small hamlet, drive up the valley to Upeke archeological site and locate the tiki statue hiding amongst the giant banyan trees.

church in taaoa - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

stone statue in upeke - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Day 2: Road Trip to Puamau

On this unforgettable day, you’ll either drive on your own or hire a guide (Pifa O’Connor is the best option) to take you to the most extraordinary ancient Polynesian site outside of Easter Island. This scenic drive begins with a quick visit to “the smiling tiki”, a lonely statue in the heart of a lush rainforest that appears to have just arrived from outer space with a smile on its face.

Pifa O'connor - smiling tiki - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

Back in the car, pause at the scenic lookout before descending to the island’s extra-wild north coast. This stretch of road offers numerous opportunities to stretch your legs and take in the dramatic coastal beauty of the island. 

View of Atuona and Tahuata - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

Now drive the long leg to the end of the line in Puamau. Recently paved, this road used to be a long and rough drive but now you can breeze through it and have plenty of time to stop in lonely villages at the mouth of deep valleys. 

Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia - road to Puamau

Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia - remote village

Tall cliff in Puamau - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

Puamau - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

In Puamau, drive to Lipona. This is the most well-preserved ceremonial site in French Polynesia. If you’re with a guide, they’ll explain the ins and outs of what likely took place here and also point out the most striking features that can still be seen on the statues. Highlights include a figure giving birth to a goat, a female tiki, a six-fingered statue, and the largest tiki in French Polynesia, rising to a height of nearly 2.5 meters. 

giant tikis in Puamau Lipona site - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

After lunch in Puamau or a picnic on the beach, head back to Atuona or take a detour to Hanapaaoa. This forgotten hamlet is home to Tiki Moe One. The bizarre statue lies hidden in the forest so ask one of the locals to take you to see it. The search involves walking on the grounds of a temple that has yet to be excavated, including negotiating your way through scattered bones. 

Hanapaaoa - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Tiki Moe One Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Day 3: Horseback Riding or Hanatekuua Hike

Marquesan islanders are known for their fondness for horses, so it’s no surprise that horseback riding is quite popular here. If you feel like exploring parts of the island on horseback, get in touch with Paco from Hamau Ranch or another operator that runs such tours. 

Paco horse expert guide - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

If hiking is more your thing, arrange return transfers to Hanaiapa or rent a car for the day. Hanaiapa is a beautiful village best experienced before sundown especially on weekends when locals come out to chat and play. Check out the rock that rises in the heart of the bay. Can you spot the face of a woman and that of an African man?

beach in Hanaiapa - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

rock with man and woman Hanaiapa Village - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Hanaiapa Village from hike to Hanatekuua - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

From the village, pick up the easy trail to Hanatekuua, the neighboring bay. En route, look back and try to spot in the distance a waterfall splashing straight into the ocean. Continue until you reach Hanatekuua Bay. Depending on the season, this beach might resemble a vision of paradise. Relax here for a few hours, bring a picnic lunch, and head back to “civilization” when you’re ready. 

hike to Hanatekuua - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Hike to Hanatekuua Bay - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Hanatekuua Beach - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Day 4: Day Trip to Tahuata Island

Lying a few kilometers off the coast of Hiva Oa, Tahuata is the smallest inhabited island in the Marquesas archipelago. The day trip begins with a scenic motorized cruise to the island, often accompanied by dolphins and eagle rays. You’ll visit one or two villages on Tahuata, learn about various useful trees and plants, meet artists, and stroll around these tranquil grounds. 

tahuata island day trip from hiva oa - marquesas island french polynesia - sea cliffs

tahuata island day trip from hiva oa - marquesas island french polynesia - remote beach

tahuata island day trip from hiva oa - marquesas island french polynesia - hapatoni church

tahuata island day trip from hiva oa - marquesas island french polynesia - copra drying

The highlight of the day is a picnic lunch on a remote beach where you’ll also have some time to relax, catch up on some sleep, and do a bit of swimming. 

tahuata island day trip from hiva oa - marquesas island french polynesia - row boat

tahuata island day trip from hiva oa - marquesas island french polynesia - picnic lunch

tahuata island day trip from hiva oa - marquesas island french polynesia - beach

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