I’m just back from a week in French Polynesia, including Tahiti; here is what I learned!
French Polynesia is breathtakingly beautiful
I have been to a lot of places around the world, but arriving in Bora Bora on a sunny day took my breath away. I bet that even the Air Tahiti pilots still get goosebumps each time they see the beautiful lagoon coming into view.
French Polynesia is often described as ‘liquid paradise’ and so it is – the crystal clear water, the colors of the lagoons and the water temperature… It’s as if someone knew to put all these perfect ingredients together to create the world’s biggest aqua park.
French Polynesia is huge!
You might think of the South Pacific as fairly empty, which it largely is – but French Polynesia is actually the size of Europe! There are the Society Islands (to which Tahiti, Mo’orea, Bora Bora and others belong) but the area also has more groups of islands, including Tuamotu, Marqueses, Gambier and Austral. It’s a huge world of picturesque isles out there!
Air Tahiti is usually the sole carrier that flies to Tahiti.
You can get an Air Tahiti Air Pass
Ticket prices with Air Tahiti are very expensive, but so you can explore more, the airline provides air passes with fixed prices that can make discovering all these islands somewhat affordable.
The people of French Polynesia
Polynesians are kind, friendly and chill people. While island life can be harsh, they clearly live on the bright side. Crime is not an issue in the country and it’s almost impossible to be ripped off by the locals (even if the high price level here may sometimes feel like a rip-off itself).
It is expensive – but it’s worth it!
Island economies have smaller economies of scale and while Hawaii has largely overcome that, French Polynesia clearly has not. Everything tends to be more expensive on the islands because of the remoteness, but I still feel that it’s mostly worth it – it’s that beautiful!
Since this set of islands is still partly unexplored, it’s great to have your own transport – either a small plane, boat or helicopter. My usual combination of regular flights and taxis works here, but it’s not ideal, so I’d want to do better when returning.
It’s really not crowded
Once you get out of Papeete, island life is slow and crowds are non-existent. I’m sure you could basically get some of the smaller islands all to yourself since they are uninhabited and may only get a few visitors a day, if any.
Isn’t French Polynesia just like Hawaii?
Mo’orea looks a bit like Kauai, but has far fewer people living or visiting there. To me, it feels like French Polynesia is like Hawaii must have looked before the Second World War; it’s that far behind in tourism development. French Polynesia is also much hotter and gets less of the cooling winds that Hawaii does.
It’s not that far
Los Angeles to Papeete is just an 8.5-hour flight. My recent Virgin America flight from San Francisco to Honolulu took almost as long.
English is well-spoken
I was ready to unpack my bare-bones French when I arrived, but just as it happened in Montreal, it was not needed at all here either. Locals speak a lot of English and often without an accent and with Americans being the biggest share of tourism arrivals, this makes sense!
There is no middle market
Things tend to either be very luxurious (e.g. resorts and upscale restaurants) or very simple (think a street snack shack with stray dogs running around), so there isn’t much of a middle market for anything. That’s a shame as it would open up the island for a big boom.
It feels like France
Many things here really feel French. The islands inherited many laws from their former colonial power, which can be great for things like environmental protection and infrastructure, but also seems overwhelming for this backward economy.
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