12 Days In the Marquesas Islands Itinerary

March 7, 2021

Panoramic view of Taiohae - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Pinch yourself, rub your eyes. This isn’t a fairytale, it’s the Marquesas Islands. Nature’s finest forces have gathered in this distant land, to create some of the most dramatic scenery in the world. And with islanders living so beautifully in sync with their land, the Marquesas are simply a must-visit, despite the effort involved. In this Marquesas Islands itinerary, we’ll head to four stops in the archipelago. 

I had read about the mysterious Marquesas Islands when planning my first trip to the South Pacific in 2015 but only decided to go when I read an article about the archipelago in an Air Tahiti magazine on the flight from Rarotonga to Tahiti. Without a doubt, it was the highlight of my journey, spending over a week in Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa. The Marquesas left such a strong mark on my soul, that I returned for a second visit five years later, back to Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa plus a new island to discover in Ua Pou.  

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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About this Marquesas Islands Itinerary

This itinerary brings you to the two most visited stops in the Marquesas Islands – Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa – plus a visit to Ua Pou, an “off the beaten track” stop in the chain. The order of the islands will be dictated by the domestic flight schedule. Since flights from Tahiti are only to Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa, you’ll begin and end the journey in one of them. I recommend finishing the trip in Nuku Hiva, the most impressive of the three. Ua Pou will most likely be the second stop. 

Why Visit the Marquesas Islands?

Unlike islands in the other four archipelagos of French Polynesia, the Marquesas are dramatically different. These high islands have no protective lagoon; their high peaks and deeply eroded valleys create some of the most stunning island scenery in the world. Due to their isolation and the high cost of airfare, few tourists visit, but those who do are treated to a lasting experience. 

secret valley Vaipo Waterfall Hike - Hakaui Valley - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

But it’s also about the people. Known as The Land of Men (Te Henua ʻEnana or Te Fenua ʻEnata), Marquesans are authentic and remain connected to their land. Fishing, horseback riding, hunting, and tattooing are part of everyday life 

traditional marquesan tattoo - Hakaui Valley - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia 2

If that’s still not enough to convince you to visit, the Marquesas are also home to the finest archeological sites in French Polynesia, second only to Easter Island. Though Western-borne diseases and conversion to Christianity greatly altered the course of history for the archipelago, the islands’ deep valleys are still home to stark reminders of the impressive ancient past.  

Alvane Alvarado in temple - tour guide - Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

What’s Included in this Marquesas Islands Itinerary 

Several sections form this Marquesas Island itinerary:

Marquesas Islands Travel Tips

In this section, I’ll share some general travel tips crucial when planning a visit to the Marquesas Islands. Specific tips for each island are detailed in the island guides linked in this itinerary. 

Where are the Marquesas Islands?

The Marquesas Islands are the northernmost archipelago in French Polynesia, approximately 1,500 km north of Tahiti and just 10 degrees south of the equator. The group consists of six inhabited islands from a total of 15, divided into a northern and southern group, each with its distinct dialect. The archipelago’s population barely tops 10,000, or less than 4% of French Polynesia’s total population. 

Map of Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

The inhabited islands are Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, Ua Huka, Ua Pou, Fatu Hiva, and Tahuata. The latter two have no airport but Tahuata can be reached on a day trip from Hiva Oa. Fatu Hiva is the most isolated inhabited island in the chain, only accessible on longer voyages by boat. Time in the Marquesas Islands is 30 minutes ahead of Tahiti

Fatu Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia - Bay of Virgins

How to Get to the Marquesas Islands?

The easiest way to get to the Marquesas Islands is by plane. Air Tahiti operates several flights per week to Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa and offers air passes and extensions that slightly lower the cost of flying. Flights to Ua Pou used to be operated by Air Tahiti on small Twin Otter planes but starting in mid-2021, Tahiti Air Charter should begin to serve both Ua Pou and Ua Huka. 

how to get to the marquesas islands - air tahiti in Hiva Oa - French Polynesia

If cruising is your thing, the Aranui is the way to go. It’s a half cargo ship and half luxury liner. The main advantage of taking the Aranui is that it visits all of the inhabited Marquesas Islands which also includes impossible-to-reach Fatu Hiva. However, it’s a shame to only have a few “sterile” hours to spend on these gorgeous islands so I recommend a land-based tour if possible. You might be able to find a ride on a yacht to the Marquesas but this is a long shot. 

Aranui cruise and cargo ship - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

When to visit the Marquesas Islands?

In general, you can visit the Marquesas Islands throughout the year but the best time is during the dry season. In the Marquesas, seasons are opposite to the rest of the archipelagos in French Polynesia. This means that the dry season runs from November to April and the “wetter” season is from May to October. 

wild beach 4 - hiking Hakamoui Loop - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

lush mountains in Nuku Hiva marquesas islands french polynesia

That said, the wet season in the Marquesas is not as wet as in Tahiti and there is always a distinctly drier side of the island. Besides, your trip to the Marquesas will most likely be part of a greater journey across French Polynesia so it doesn’t make sense to head to the Marquesas when the wet season in the Society Islands is in full swing.  

Festival lovers should aim to visit during the Marquesas Arts Festival, taking place every four years, usually in December and alternating between Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou, and Hiva Oa. Every two years, a “mini-festival” is held. The festival is a gathering of artists and teams from the islands who represent their village in traditional sports, dance, and song. You’ll need to make arrangements well in advance and aim to stay for the first three days of the festival. The first day is for welcoming various teams. Spirits are high and the party is long. The second and third days are devoted to competition, and by the fourth-day things really begin to slow down. 

Marquesas Ars Festival by Bertrand Duquenne

Safety in the Marquesas Islands

A visit to the Marquesas Islands is an active one. I can think of three specific safety tips to share with you. 

  • Driving: renting a 4WD and road-tripping is absolutely possible. Just drive with extra care, especially in narrow sections of the road. Keep in mind that many sections are still not paved and things can get slippery after it has rained. 
  • Hiking: some hikes can be done on your own. In these cases, be absolutely sure where you’re going, chat with your hosts ahead of time and take enough provisions. 
  • Sandflies: known in the Marquesas as nono, these nasty sand flies are so small, that you can hardly notice them before it’s too late. They leave a bite that itches for days and might leave some scarring if you can’t resist the temptation. The best way to fight nono is to avoid their bite. Inquire with your hosts which beaches are known to be infested and either avoid them or apply monoi oil at the beach (citronella-scent preferred). If you’ve been bitten, apply tamanu oil over the next few days to alleviate some of the itchiness. 
  • Jellyfish: at certain times of the year, certain beaches might be awash with small but powerful jellyfish. Before entering the water, see if any washed up on the beach.
  • Water: tap water is most likely of poor quality for visitors so you’ll need to purchase bottled water. Inquire with your hosts. 

driving in marquesas islands - aapaka cliffs nuku hiva - french polynesia

Mobile Reception & WiFi in the Marquesas Islands

To the best of my experience, Vini is the only mobile network with coverage in the Marquesas Islands. You can purchase a travel sim card which should give you both mobile reception and data in the main villages. WiFi connection is OK in the main villages. I found it to be adequate for doing basic tasks beyond just chatting.  

Money

Every stop in this Marquesas Islands itinerary has ATMs and credit cards are often accepted in major establishments. 

What to Buy in the Marquesas Islands

The Marquesas Islands are well known throughout Polynesia for exquisite art. In Tahiti, you’ll pay a high premium for authentic Marquesan souvenirs. Every island has at least one crafts center (centre/fare artisanal). I found the ones in Ua Pou and Nuku Hiva to offer the best value for money. Highlights include tiki statues from wood or stone, decorated wooden bowls, traditional weapons from animal bones, tapa paintings, and jewelry.  

traditional bone weapon tahauata marquesas islands french Polynesia

wood tiki statues in nuku hvia artits market marueqsas islands french polynesia

פסלי טיקי בפולינזיה הצרפתית איי מרקיז

tapa in artist market - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

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

Part II: 4 Days In Ua Pou

Pinnacles of Ua Pou - pitons - Ua Pou Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

The second part of this Marquesas Islands itinerary takes us to Ua Pou. Ua Pou is one of the least visited stops in the Marquesas Islands, together with Ua Huka but not as forgotten as Fatu Hiva. The island is known for its towering basalt pinnacles that rise like missiles from its center. Visitors will enjoy hiking in its interior, road tripping to remote hamlets, and getting to know Marquesan culture through impressive archeological sites and local crafts. 

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

Ua Pou Travel Guide Video

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

Where to Stay in Ua Pou 

There are no resorts or lodges in Ua Pou so pensions are the way to go. If there’s space at Pension Pukuee, do not hesitate and book. This is the best pension on the island, ideally located on a hillside overlooking the main village of Hakahau, its bay, and the famous pinnacles (pitons). Other options include Pension Hakamoui, Pension Vehine, and Pension Leydj.  

Pension Pukuee - pool and view - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

Day 5: Hakahau Village and/or Hike

The short flight from Hiva Oa might require a brief stop in Ua Huka so consider yourself lucky if that’s the case. Landing in Ua Pou is an experience on its own, well-known throughout French Polynesia not only for the scenery but also for the challenge. 

Use the first day in Ua Pou to either explore the main village, Hakahau, or embark on an easy DIY hike. You’ll have time on other days to explore the village as well. 

Hakahau Village Ua Pou Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

In Hakahau, do some souvenir shopping at the local crafts center. I found it to be the best place in the Marquesas for souvenir shopping. Further up the hill is the main Catholic church with its beautiful woodwork. When the sun begins to set, head with the locals to the beach and catch up on the day’s gossip. 

stone tiki statues in artist market - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

Wood sculpture in Catholic church Ua Pou Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

If you’re up for some hiking, catch the trail from the back of Pension Pukuee and head towards Hakamoui. You can turn around whenever you like or go all the way and either walk or hitchhike back to the main village. En route, you’ll visit deserted Anahoa Bay, be treated to the best panoramic view on this side of the island at “the cross”, and say hello to wild horses and cattle as you head to “the king’s valley” in Hakamoui

wild beach - hiking Hakamoui Loop - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

view of Hakahau from hiking Hakamoui Loop - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

wild horse - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

Day 6: Hakahau to Hakatao 

On your second day in Ua Pou join a guided tour and explore the south of the island. You can also rent a 4WD and sightsee on your own if you’re comfortable with the rough drive and don’t mind missing the local perspective and know-how of a guide. 

Leaving Hakahau, stop on the side of the road or head to the beach at the bottom of “the king’s valley” in Hakamoui. This was the site of the last chief to rule Ua Pou. Continue to Belvedere Ua Pou Pata, a beautiful lookout with a stone ledge. 

valley of kings daytime - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

Belvedere Ua Pou Pata Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

The next stop is Hohoi Village and its beach. You can stop for lunch in the village and also see if Jean Kautai is busy working in his shop. Jean is the most famous sculpture on the island. If you’ve prepared a picnic lunch, Hohoi beach is the best option on this day. Better known as “flower stone beach”, see if you can find the famous rock that is unique to Ua Pou from which the island’s legendary flower stone statues are made. 

flower stone at flower beach - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

flower beach - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

From Hohoi, it’s a short drive to Tohua Mauia, the grandest archeological site in Ua Pou. Its most impressive feature is its 100-meter long pea pea (stone platform). Continue the drive, transitioning from the arid east coast to the lusher southern coast. The road ends in the village of Hakatao. From its beach, take a short path up the ridge to a special viewpoint from where you can see Cathedral Rock (Motu Takaae), a pinnacle rising 240 meters straight out of the water. 

Tohua Mauia - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

Hakatao - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

distant view of Cathedral Motu - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

Day 7: Hakahau to Hakamaii

Back in your rented 4WD or your guide’s vehicle, explore the west coast of Ua Pou on this day. After passing the airport, radiating Shark Bay should come into view. Admire the stunning scenery from the dirt road before going for a stroll or a swim at this prettiest beach in Ua Pou.

shark beach view - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

To optimize the day’s itinerary, drive all the way to the end of the road in Hakamaii. Don’t be tempted to stop except when there’s a nice view since we’ll work our way back on this very same path. In sleepy Hakamaii, ask for directions to a trail that leads to a panoramic lookout or simply stretch your legs before beginning the drive back.

The stretch of road from Hakamaii to Hakahetau offers the best scenic stops, especially for unobstructed views of Ua Pou’s iconic basalt chimneys. In Hakahetau, you can stop for lunch at Snack Ti’ Piero, or hike amid giant ferns and banyan trees to secluded Vaiea Waterfall (Cascade Vaiea) for the highlight of the day. If there’s more time, drive or continue the hike and meet Manfred Drechsler’s, better known as “the chocolate man”. In the unlikeliest of spots, this self-sufficient German ex-pat produces chocolates from cocoa grown in his backyard. 

seeing the pinnacles from road trip - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

road trip - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

hike to waterfall in rainforest - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

dricia in Cascade Vaiea waterfall - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

To wrap up this magical road trip, pause on the roadside to admire the sunset just after rising out of the valley that houses the airport. This is one of the best spots in Ua Pou for sunset viewing. 

sunset on road trip - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

Day 8: Poumaka Peak Hike

On the last day in Ua Pou, it’s time to see the famous pitons (basalt pinnacles) from up close. Under the guidance of Jerome Simmoneau from Pension Pukuee, set out on either the easier “crossing” or the more challenging yet rewarding “poumaka loop”. On the way back, you can stop for lunch at Snack Ti’ Piero in Hakahetau and get another chance for a refreshing dip at Cascade Vaiea. 

Poumaka Peak hike - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

Poumaka Peak hike - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia - view from top

Poumaka Peak hike - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia - <span data-mce-type=[andanus forest” width=”850″ height=”567″>

Part III: 4 Days In Nuku Hiva

Panoramic view of Taiohae - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Nuku Hiva is the most impressive of the Marquesas Islands (at least the ones I’ve visited). Though definitely sounding like an overused travel cliche, Nuku Hiva does often remind you of scenes from Jurassic Park. It’s the largest island in the chain and the second-largest in French Polynesia, home to multiple microclimates that give your visit a diverse flavor. Nuku Hiva is the perfect destination if you enjoy hiking, road trips, and learning about the ancient past. 

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

Nuku Hiva Travel Guide Video

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

Where to Stay in Nuku Hiva

For a pampering stay, the Nuku Hiva Pearl Lodge is your only option. For the local experience, Pension Kuku’u is your best option. Hosts Claudine and Alvane Alvarado will take excellent care of you and Alvane is one of the best guides on the island. Other descent options albeit with much less character include the Hee Tai Inn and Pension Mave Mai

pension kukuee - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Day 9: Scenic Airport Transfer & Taiohae  

Nuku Hiva’s airport is located in a relatively flat and arid section of the island known as “desert land”. The challenge is that it takes over an hour to get from the airport to Taiohae, the main village. But have no fear because the transfer to Taiohae is essentially a beautiful scenic drive. Depending on how into their job your driver will be, you should make several stops in worthwhile spots, including “the grand canyon”, the Swiss-looking Toovi Plateau, and Taiohae overlook

Grand Canyon Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Toovi Plateau Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Horse in clouds Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

winding road - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Taiohae lookout - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Taiohae is beautifully squeezed between the mountains and the ocean on the shore of a horseshoe-shaped bay. Start your walking tour of the village at Notre Dame Cathedral with its beautiful exterior, followed by the restored Tohua Temehea with its stone platforms and mix of original and modern sculptures. 

beach in Taiohae - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

notre dame cathedral Taiohae - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Work your way to the main quay and check out the small market and crafts center. It’s now time for a short climb to see giant Tiki Tuhiva. This commanding spot is the former site of Fort Madison, built by the Americans in 1813. Nowadays, it’s a panoramic lookout and a picnic spot from where you’ll get the best views of the village. 

giant tiki statue Taiohae - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Wrap up the day back at the main quay. If the stars align, you might see local fishermen cleaning their catch and feeding the sharks with whatever is not needed. Grab a table in one of the snacks (local eateries) for a drink or a meal. If it’s your lucky day, there might be some live music in one of the restaurants nearby.      

fishermen cleaning fish Taiohae - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

saturday fish market 2 - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

saturday fish market - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Day 10: Hakahui Valley & Vaipo Waterfall Hike

Prepare for a day that you’ll never forget. Hop on a boat in Taiohae and depart on a 40-minute ride to the southwest of Nuku Hiva. The cruise might be choppy but the scenery is superb, especially the close-up views of sea cliffs where the layers of time can easily be spotted. 

Hakaui Valley - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia 2

Things calm down when you enter tranquil Hakatea Bay. By now, you can see the jagged basalt cliff ridge that is the signature mark of Nuku Hiva. These cliffs form one of the barriers that hide the Hakaui Valley from the outside world. At the end of this village lies Vaipo Waterfall, the highest in French Polynesia and your goal for the day. 

yacht in Hakatea Bay - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Aerial View Hakaui Valley - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Hike to Vaipo Waterfall - Hakaui Valley - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

The hike is fairly easy and your guide will point out important trees and plants as well as reminders of the ancient tribe that used to live in the valley. Evidence of their former habitat is all over the rainforest though banyan and mape trees are taking over. 

tiki stone statue - Hakaui Valley - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Mape tree 2 Vaipo Waterfall Hike - Hakaui Valley - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

From time to time, clearings in the rainforest offer the chance to admire the jagged cliffs and even get a sneak peek of the waterfall. Ancient burial caves puncture some of the cliffs. Depending on your guide, you might get a chance to hike all the way to the base of the Vaipo Waterfall. Carefully swim through the opening for a splash you’ll never forget. 

Vaipo Waterfall - Hakaui Valley - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Before heading back, you might have the opportunity to have lunch at a local resident’s home. Few families still live in the family and artsy couple Ana and Tangy from Cannibal Art welcome hikers on tours of the valley and lunch in their traditional Marquesan home. Tangy is also a gifted artist, happy to show visitors some of the tricks of the trade. 

lunch at Ana and tangy home lunch at Ana and Tangy - Hakaui Valley - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Day 11: Taiohae to Anaho Bay 

It’s hard to top yesterday’s itinerary but this day is quite a close match. Rent a car or join a guided tour for a very busy day of road tripping to the island’s northeast. Begin the scenic drive at Taipivai Overlook. This is the best spot to properly see Comptroller Bay and Taipivai. In 1846, American author Herman Melville published Typee, an adventure book based on his experience of living with the natives in Taipivai Valley. 

Comptroller Bay and Taipivai Valley - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Drive down to the valley and check out the large ceremonial site. It was restored for the Marquesas Arts Festival and features stone sculptures from some of the island’s top artists. Nearby is the Taipivai crafts center where you can purchase original souvenirs at very reasonable prices. 

Taipivai crafts center - Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

The stretch of road from Taipivai to Hatiheu is breathtaking. You need to keep your eyes peeled for waterfalls in the distance and watch out for horses, especially in narrow stretches of the road. At some point, the stunning cliffs of Hatiheu will come into view. This is one of the most famous frames in the Marquesas Islands. 

lush hills near Hatiheu - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Hatiheu Lookout - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

wild horses at Hatiheu lookout - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Drive into Hatiheu Village but detour left to Aapaka. A narrow dirt road leads to this tiny hamlet but you can just drive to the lookout and see for yourself the jagged cliffs that resemble a giant dinosaur. 

Aakapa Cliffs - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Aakapa dinosaur Cliffs - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Head back to Hatiheu and explore this magical village, with its tranquil vibe, scenic church, and famous beach. Can you spot the statue of the Virgin Mary at the top? Hatiheu is a good place to buy lunch. There’s a good restaurant here but you can also buy a sandwich and eat by the beach or save it for later. 

church in Hatiheu - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Hatiheu village cliffs - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Hatiheu beach - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

This busy day continues with a hike to Anaho Bay. Pick up the marked trailhead from just outside the village and hike through a thick forest of mango trees to the overlook. This has to be one of the prettiest sites in the Marquesas, a perfect-looking bay, infinite coconut palms, and perhaps a yacht or two moored in the calm waters. 

Anaho Bay lookout - Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

If you’re making good time, hike down to the beach. There’s a small settlement and the beach is safe for swimming though watch out for the waves. If you haven’t had your sandwich yet, now is the time. 

local girls in Anaho Village - Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Anaho Beach - Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

dricia climbing coconut tree in Anaho Bay - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

From Anaho, it’s a short walk along the path to neighboring Ha’atuatua Bay, with its soft golden sand and commanding cliffs. It’s best, however, to view this bay from a safe distance and not stroll on the sand as this beach is crawling with nasty nono (sandflies). It’s better to have a look and head back to the safety of Anaho Bay. 

Haatuatua beach - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

aerial view of Haatuatua Bay - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

This day is not over yet! Hike back to the car and as you drive back to Taiohae, stop the Hikokua and Kamuihei archeological sites. These are the finest ancient relics in Nuku Hiva, impressive by every measure. 

banyan tree in Kamuihei archeological site - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

alvane in Hikokua archeological site - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

horse in Kamuihei archeological site - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

By now, the sun has set so you’ll carefully drive back in the dark to Taiohae and get a good night’s rest! 

Day 12: Toovi Plateau or Colette Bay Hike 

It’s your last day in the Marquesas Islands and there’s no better way to bid farewell to this magical archipelago than with a hike. For a DIY hike, pick up the trail from the back of the Pearl Lodge to Colette Bay. It’s about an 8 km round trip and don’t forget to pack some lunch and mosquito repellent. 

Colette Bay Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

For a more adventurous day, join a guide and explore the Toovi Plateau. You drove through this high altitude plateau on your way to Taiohae from the airport. This lush and cooler area resembles somewhere in Europe rather than a remote tropical island. Several hiking trails can take you to different areas of the plateau and even beyond it. 

Toovi Plateau Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

What’s Next? 

This Marquesas Islands itinerary should give you a good taste of what’s expected in French Polynesia’s wildest island chain. For more travel resources about French Polynesia, check out these guides.

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Independent Traveler's Guide to French Polynesia


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Marquesas-Islands-Itinerary---pin

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