As remote as you can go in T shirt and shorts, a visit to the distant Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia will leave you lost for words. A nature lover’s paradise, the Marquesas Islands ain’t the kind of place for relaxing. With skyscraper sized waterfalls, ancient statues the size of NBA stars, hikes to dreamy beaches, memorable road trips and the friendliest of people – only the most savvy travelers will get to experience this paradise. Are you one of them? I spent 10 days in the Marquesas Islands, visiting Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa, the two most accessible islands in the archipelago. Here’s my list of the top things to do in the Marquesas Islands.
Heading off to French Polynesia? Guides to 11 islands await you, including sample itineraries and lots of travel tips & tricks.
10. Getting A Window Seat On The Flight
The #1 rule of thumb which always applies to domestic flights in French Polynesia, is particularly crucial on flights to the Marquesas Islands. Out of the seemingly infinite blue, you might think you’re still napping away, as magical specks of land begin to appear in the distance. Either to tease you or just to ensure you’re fully awake for the crucial landing, the Air Tahiti captain will usually swing the plane for a quick aerial tour of your island. The views are far from anything you’ve ever seen, but don’t get too comfortable. Just like in gymnastics, it’s all about the landing, and in the Marquesas – the only flat piece of land might be smack in the middle of giant jungle covered peaks!
9. Attending Sunday Church Service
Happen to be on the islands on a Sunday? Wake up bright and early and head to church with the rest of the village. With churches looking like something out of King’s Landing, and locals singing beautiful hymns in perfect harmony – don’t miss this opportunity to immerse yourself in island life, whether you’re a believer or not.
8. Buying Traditional Marquesan Crafts
The Marquesan islanders are some of the finest craftsmen in the South Pacific. If there is one place to buy arts and crafts in French Polynesia, it’s in the Marquesas. Specialties include powerful tiki statues carved from rosewood and basaltic rock, scented ornaments from the rare sandalwood, wooden bowls and weapons carved from bone… animal bone that is. Bring plenty of cash and bring back home eternal memories from paradise.
7. Exploring The Islands On Horseback
Saddle up and head into the rainforest, or perhaps up the mountains or maybe down to the beach. Whichever route you choose, horseback riding in the Marquesas Islands is a great way to explore the incredible nature. I didn’t know horses (and wild goats for that matter) go hand in hand with palm trees, that is until I visited the islands that treat you to the four seasons in the same day.
6. Going Hunting With A Local
Nothing, and I mean nothing, fires up a Marquesan man like the invitation to go hunting. Sorry vegetarians, but hunting is simply a way of life in the islands: whatever you don’t catch simply needs to be bought at the grocery store. Despite the bizarre story of one unlucky German tourist killed by an alleged cannibal on a hunting trip, locals are nice beyond belief. I was fortunate enough to go hunting with Alvane Alvarado in Nuku Hiva, with the hope of bringing back a goat or two to feed the family for the next few weeks. We camped in the middle of nowhere, saw the Milky Way at night, ate ‘hunting food’, fought millions of mosquitos and… You’ll have to read the story for yourself!
5. Searching For Hidden Waterfalls
Paradise wouldn’t be complete without 1000 foot waterfalls, would it? In the Marquesas Islands, water splashes down from cloud-covered peaks just about everywhere. Of all the waterfalls, none are as magical as the Vaipo Waterfall in Nuku Hiva. Deep in the Hakaui Valley, the highest waterfall in French Polynesia smoothly cascades from sharp basaltic cliffs into a fresh pool that’s waiting there just for you. To get there, you’ll have to catch a boat from town, hike the ancient ‘royal road’, cross a few rivers and battle nasty mosquitos. Is it worth it? Hell ya!
4. Meeting The Friendly Locals
The fishermen at the pier, the random band in the only bar in town singing my favorite Tahitian song, the ladies at church, the tour guide with the ukulele that doubles as a firemen, the guy who took you hunting in his valley, the villagers who gave me a ride back in their tiny boat, and the family that treated me like family at their pension. If you thought Pacific islanders were friendly, wait until you come to the Marquesas Islands. Alvane, Claudine, Tania, Pifa, Stef, and so many others – I miss you and dream of seeing you again at the end of the world.
3. Hiking In Paradise With No One Else Around
The Marquesas Islands are not for lazy days at the beach and recharging your batteries. Put on comfortable shoes, pack some snacks and go hiking. In Nuku Hiva, head to Hanao Bay – where you’ll have a hard time deciding whether to enjoy the view from the top or hike down to the beach. In Hiva Oa, the hike to Hanatekuua Beach will take you passed a waterfall splashing into the ocean, before reaching a fairy tale of a beach that you thought only existed in fantasies.
2. Standing Next To NBA Size Tiki Statues
The extreme remoteness of the Marquesas Islands has led to the creation of a rich ancient culture, which very little is known about. Deep in the valleys, massive religious complexes have been unearthed. The Marquesan archaeological sites eclipse anything you’ll see in the South Pacific, aside from Easter Island. While some tiki statues tower above the tallest NBA player, some have six fingers and even a smiling face! Who sculpted them? How? Why? What do they depict? Nobody really knows, but what is clear is that you’ll definitely sense the special powers still present in these sites, and with some ‘luck’ – even get a taste for the ancient ritual of human sacrifice!
With so much open space and so many incredible spots, the ultimate way to explore the Marquesas Islands is in your very own 4X4. Driving is tricky, sometimes barely breaking out of second gear on the dirt roads snaking their way on seaside cliffs. You’ll have to stay alert for falling rocks, wild horses on the road and hidden waterfalls on the mountainside. Distances that normally take less than an hour back home, will take an entire day – but mostly because you’ll be stopping every five minutes for million dollar views. Sounds tempting? Nothing says ‘freedom’ like a good road trip!
Ready To Visit?
There you have it! The top things to do in The Marquesas Islands. There is so much more to see and do in the Marquesas Islands, and I have just what you need. Have a look at the Nuku Hiva Travel Guide and Hiva Oa Travel Guide to plan the trip of a lifetime.
For information about planning a trip to French Polynesia, have a look at the French Polynesia Travel Guide, complete with travel tips, useful advice and lots of tricks!
Have your own Marquesas Islands highlights? Leave a comment below and feel free to share your own tips!