Last updated on March 4th, 2022
This list of travel tips will help you plan your trip to Ua Pou as part of your visit to the Marquesas Islands and other parts of French Polynesia.
Ua Pou is quite difficult to reach so you might as well make the most of your visit. I recommend spending at least four days in Ua Pou if you want to have enough time to see all the major highlights. If hiking isn’t your thing, two days of driving around the island are the minimum but I recommend adding a third day if possible as a buffer in case of bad weather.
In general, you can visit Ua Pou throughout the year but the best time is during the dry season. In the Marquesas Islands, seasons are opposite to the rest of the archipelagos in French Polynesia. This means that the dry season in the Marquesas runs from November to April and the “wetter” season is from May to October.
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.
The best way to reach Ua Pou is by flight from either Nuku Hiva or Hiva Oa. Landing at Ua Pou’s airport is considered the most challenging in French Polynesia. Its short runway has an upward slope to slow the plane down since it is tucked inside a narrow valley where crossing winds and the mountains leave no room for error (see video below). Pilots must have a special license to fly to Ua Pou and flights are prone to cancellation.
Air Tahiti used to operate flights to Ua Pou (and Ua Huka) on small Twin Otters but sometime in 2021, Tahiti Air Charter is set to take over. This might mean that you won’t be able to fly to Ua Pou as part of an air pass. You might need to purchase separate tickets.
The local community sometimes uses boats to shuttle locals to Nuku Hiva and back. I have read that a sturdier boat is set to arrive at Ua Pou and begin regular service to Nuku Hiva (1.5-2 hours to cross). However, if you are not backpacking with a very flexible schedule, this mode of transport is not recommended and this new initiative might never actually see the light of day.
You can also reach Ua Pou on a cruise with the regularly scheduled Aranui, a luxury cruise ship that also doubles as a cargo ship. The Aranui visits every inhabited island in the chain and visitors get a few hours to explore the island. Personally, I recommend a land-based visit.
To/From Airport: Ua Pou’s main village, Hakahau, lies in the neighboring valley to that of the small airport. Your pension hosts will arrange return transfers. Travel time takes about 20-30 minutes.
Around Ua Pou: it’s best to hire a guide to take you around the island, especially the southeast, where the main archeological sites are located. However, if you are comfortable driving a manual transmission 4WD vehicle, you can rent one in the main village and road trip around the island. Many sections of road are narrow, unpaved, and have sharp turns so drive with care. Inquire with your hosts about renting a car or contact Teuu Location (87-314-4729). Renting a car in Ua Pou costs about 10,000 XPF/day. You can pay an additional 1,500 XPF for gas or fill up at the gas station which closes at 5 pm.
It’s often the case that administration workers carrying out projects for the government rent 4WD vehicles and the supply is not high. So it’s best to reserve your vehicle in advance, at the very least on arrival day.
Look no further than Pension Pukuee for your accommodation in Ua Pou. Nestled on a hill above Hakahau Village, this pension is not only situated within walking distance of “downtown”, but it also commands exceptional views of scenic Hakahau Bay and the island’s signature pinnacles.
Pension Pukuee is owned and operated by Elisa and Jerome Simoneau. Jerome is a retired French military man so this place is run to absolute perfection. Four newly renovated bungalows with their deck are available, together with a dorm room above the couple’s residence in the back. There’s a swimming pool, jacuzzi, well-stocked bar, fast (and free) WiFi, and a restaurant. Guests can stay on a half-board basis with meals enjoyed communal style. The food is plentiful and delicious, though you must inquire in advance if you have any dietary restrictions. The couple also owns a small roulotte (food truck) down the road.
The best part of staying here is not only the friendly and comfortable atmosphere but also Jerome’s skills as a guide. He knows Ua Pou inside out and will be happy to take you around the island on guided tours or hikes. Jerome is quite well-known in the Marquesas for his hikes and he often hosts groups of hikers who come to Ua Pou for several days of intense sightseeing. His English is good enough and a rare commodity in Ua Pou. There are also electric bikes that can be rented from the pension.
Surprisingly, credit cards are accepted by most local businesses but in case you need cash, there is an ATM in Hakahau.
It’s most likely that tap water is safe to drink only for residents, whose stomachs are accustomed to the water content. It’s best to inquire with your hosts. Most pensions offer filtered drinking water free of charge.
You don’t come to Ua Pou to rest. There are three main activities on the island (see next section for detailed information):
Vini is the only mobile network with coverage in Ua Pou (my Vodafone roaming package did not work). WiFi should be available, at least in the main village. I stayed at Pension Pukuee and the connection was excellent.
Here are a few tips for keeping you safe in Ua Pou:
Never travel without the right travel insurance, especially if you plan on hiking, driving, or visiting remote places where you may need evacuation. Check out the various travel insurance plans offered by World Nomads, specifically designed for independent travelers.
The Marquesas Islands are well known for their crafts so, if authentic souvenirs are your thing, be sure to have enough extra space and weight in your luggage. Here are a few Ua Pou specialties.
You’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors in Ua Pou so keep that in mind when packing. Listed below are a few essential items to pack, specifically for Ua Pou. Check out the X Days In Y Packing List for recommended products.