When to go?
Weather is a critical ingredient of this once-in-a-lifetime journey to paradise. Seasons vary between wet & dry, each with its pros and cons. The shoulder months of November and May are good options as well.
Dry season (June – October): temperatures are moderate and often just perfect. The easterly trade winds are blowing, keeping the mosquitos and the clouds away and making the nights a bit chilly. Though rain is less frequent, it will still happen. This is the tropics, after all. The Heiva Festival begins in June, culminating in the July celebration in Tahiti.
Wet season (December – April): hot, humid with frequent rain that can last for a few minutes or a few hours. Hiking can be dangerous, and some inland tracks might be closed. Cyclones are developing not too far away but hardly ever hit French Polynesia. Fear not the wet season if you’re coming for a long stay. There is plenty of sunshine! Clouds tend to form around the mountainous interior, leaving the lagoon side sunny and gorgeous.
Which islands to visit?
With 118 islands to choose from, this is the million-dollar question! You will spend some time in Tahiti as it’s the only international gateway, but, as for the other islands, each is unique, and that’s what gives this destination its extra points. Here are my top 10 islands in French Polynesia, and below is a breakdown based on what you desire to get out of this journey to the South Seas.
- Beaches: Moorea, Maupiti, Bora Bora, Huahine, Fakarava, Tikehau
- Culture: Tahiti, Moorea, Nuku Hiva, Hiva a, Rurutu
- Archeology: Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Huahine, Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, Ua Pou
- Markets: Tahiti
- Water sports: Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora
- Luxury: Moorea, Bora Bora, Tahaa, Tikehau
- Diving: Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Rangiroa, Fakarava, Tikehau
- Hiking: Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, Ua Pou
- Laidback: Moorea, Maupiti, Raiatea, Huahine, Tahaa, Fakarava
- Off the beaten track: the Marquesas Islands, Huahine, Maupiti, Fakarava, Tahaa, the Gambier Islands, the Austral Islands
How long do you need?
French Polynesia spans a huge distance, and If you’ve already come this far, take your time. Who knows when you’ll have the chance to visit again? A week would be the absolute minimum, but I strongly recommend spending at the very least 10 days in French Polynesia. If your time is limited, do not (I repeat, do not), try and see as many islands as possible. Choose a maximum of three and try to spend at least 3 nights on each island. Keep in mind that the first and last nights will probably be spent in Tahiti. I personally spent three months in French Polynesia, and that wasn’t even enough. If you’re the kind of person who works a busy full-time job and has the time (and money) for one big vacation per year – do your best to spend at least 2-3 weeks in French Polynesia.
Where to stay
Though the overwater bungalow was invented in French Polynesia, this isn’t a destination just for the rich. Here’s an overview of the popular accommodation options in French Polynesia.
Resorts: ranging from ultra-luxurious to 3-star properties, resorts are pampering yet very expensive, especially if you’re opting to stay in a dreamy overwater bungalow. There are ways to save on resort accommodations if you know the tricks of the trade.
Pensions: family-owned guesthouses ranging from ultra simple to boutique-style. In most pensions, half-board options are available (or required) and communal meals are the norm. This is the best option for travelers who seek to get to know the locals and for those who do not plan to lounge by the pool the entire day.
Lodges: somewhere between resorts and pensions as far as luxury and amenities.
Camping: many islands do have a camping option. This can even be in the backyard of a pension.
Vacation rentals: lots of simple and fancy units are available for rent on most islands.
The easiest easy way for visitors to get from one island to the next is by air. French Polynesia’s islands are relatively well-connected and you can purchase travel passes from Air Tahiti based on your itinerary. Some islands can be conveniently reached via public ferries and all inhabited islands are served by cargo ships but this mode of transport is reserved for flexible travelers.
Getting around the islands may pose a challenge since very few have reliable public transportation. Renting a car for a day or more is the best way for do-it-yourself travelers. On some islands, scooters are also available and cycling options are always possible. Hitchhiking is very safe but unreliable. Every island offers guided land or lagoon tours with some islands more geared towards self-catering travelers.