French Polynesia (Polynésie française) is halfway between California and Australia in the South Pacific Ocean. Its is overseas country (pays d'outre-mer), governed by France, which administers education, justice, defense, and internal security, while a local parliament takes care of other day-to-day affairs.
Tahiti and its islands cover 4 million km² of ocean, which is the same area as the European Union. However the land above sea level accounts for some 7,000 km² consisting of 118 islands, grouped into 5 archipelagos (4 volcanic, 1 coral).
Makatea in French Polynesia is one of the three great phosphate rock islands in the Pacific Ocean - the others are Banaba (Ocean Island) in Kiribati and Nauru.
|Currency||CFP Franc (XPF)|
|Population||275.9 thousand (2017)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Tropical, but moderate. Natural hazards: occasional cyclonic storms in January. Very humid.
The average ambient temperature is 27°C (80°F) and the waters of the lagoons average 26°C (79°F) in the winter and 29°C (84°F) in the summer. But most resorts and hotel rooms are air-conditioned or cooled by ceiling fans.
Summer is from November through April, with a warmer and more humid climate and winter is from May through October, when the climate is slightly cooler and drier. When you step out of the aircraft, you'll immediately notice that the air is warm and humid.
Mixture of rugged high islands and low islands with reefs.
Highest point : Mont Orohena 2,241 m (6790 ft)
- Valleys cut by rivers and waterfalls
- Crests leading to summits attaining heights of more than 2,000 m (6,500 ft)
- Seashore paths bordering remote creeks overshadowed by cliffs.
Since Polynesia was one of the last places on earth to be settled by humans, the Polynesians had only inhabited these islands for less than a thousand years before their "discovery" by western explorers. Several marae (religious sites) still exist, scattered throughout the islands as evidence of this inhabitation.
The British discovered Tahiti in the mid 1760s and Captain Cook visited there in 1769 to observe the Transit of Venus before sailing on to the south and west in search of the fabled Terra Australus Incognita with the assistance of a Polynesian navigator.
The French annexed various Polynesian island groups during the 19th century.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the French conducted atmospheric nuclear tests in the islands, primarily at Mururoa atoll. Testing later moved underground after international protests from other Pacific countries, including a flotilla of yachts and a warship from New Zealand to monitor tests in 1974. Testing continued into the early 1990s, despite attempts to disrupt them by environmental activists. In September 1995, France stirred up widespread protests by resuming nuclear testing on the Mururoa atoll after a three-year moratorium. The tests were suspended in January 1996.
The islanders have been working towards autonomy and economic independence from France. However, the process is a gradual one and is expected to take a decade or two to occur.
|Society Islands |
Most-inhabited western island group, a group of high tropical islands encircled by coral reefs and lagoons (divided administratively into Windward Islands and Leeward Islands). Among the Leeward Islands Bora Bora is outstanding, Huahine, Maupiti and Raiatea are especially remarkable, in the Windward Islands Moorea is spectacular and Tahiti is a classic beauty with the capital Papeete.
|Tuamotu Islands |
Vast central archipelago of coral reefs. It is a collection of low islands or atolls. Rangiroa is outstanding.
|Marquesas Islands |
Northeastern archipelago, a group of high islands near the equator, whose steep mountains are inhabited by wild horses, goats and pigs. Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa are outstanding.
|Gambier Islands |
To the south-east, rarely visited, consisting of the high island of Mangareva and its fringe of islands which are the eroded remains of its former gigantic crater, is in the far eastern corner of French Polynesia.
|Austral Islands |
Small southern archipelagos (includes Tubuai Islands and Bass Islands). Last inhabited islands of the South Pacific, these ancient volcanoes with soft relief are far off the beaten track.
- 1 Clipperton Island - far to the east, closer to Mexico, is administered directly by the Ministry of Overseas France
- 2 Rapa - remote atoll
Nationals of the European Union, Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco and Norway only need a valid passport for entry - in no case will they need a visa for a stay of any length. Unlike metropolitan France, Swiss nationals are only visa-exempt in French Polynesia for a stay of up to 90 days and do require a visa for a stay exceeding 90 days.
Nationals of all other countries will need a valid passport for entry to French Polynesia and most will need a visa. Citizens of the following countries do not require a visa for a stay of up to 90 days: Albania (note 1), Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (note 1), Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Macedonia (note 1), Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Montenegro (note 1), Nauru, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia (notes 1 and 2), Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan (note 3), Tonga, Tuvalu, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela, as well as persons holding British National (Overseas), Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR passports. In addition, holders of a valid residence permit issued by the Préfet of a French overseas département, the High Commissioner of a French territorial collectivity or a Schengen state and holders of a special card issued by the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs to the staff of diplomatic and consular missions can stay in French Polynesia visa-free for up to 90 days.
Citizens of Albania1, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina1, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Kiribati, Macedonia, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Montenegro1, Nauru, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia1,2, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Switzerland, Taiwan3, Tonga, Tuvalu, Uruguay, Vatican City, and British Nationals (Overseas), are permitted to work in French Polynesia without the need to obtain a visa or any further authorisation for the period of their 90 day visa-free stay. Holders of a valid residence permit issued by the Préfet of a French overseas département, the High Commissioner of a French territorial collectivity or a Schengen state and holders of a special card issued by the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs to the staff of diplomatic and consular missions are also permitted to work during their 90 day visa-free stay.
If you are required to obtain a visa for French Polynesia, you can apply for one at a French embassy or consulate in your country of residence. A visa costs €9.
For more information on entry requirements, visit this webpage of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
While British subjects with the right of abode in the United Kingdom and British Overseas Territories citizens connected to Gibraltar are considered "United Kingdom nationals for European Union purposes" and therefore eligible for unlimited access to French Polynesia. British Overseas Territories citizens without the right of abode in the United Kingdom, British subjects without the right of abode in the United Kingdom, and British Overseas citizens and British protected persons in general require visas. However, all British Overseas Territories citizens except those solely connected to the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas are eligible for British citizenship and thereafter unlimited access to French Polynesia.
- 1 Nationals of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia must have a biometric passport to enjoy visa-free travel.
- 2 Serbian nationals with passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate (residents of Kosovo with Serbian passports) require a visa .<be>
- 3 Taiwan nationals must have their ID number stipulated in their passport to enjoy visa-free travel.
French Polynesia has a very remote position in the South Pacific Ocean, so unless you are already there, flying is the main option.
The flag carrier of French Polynesia is Air Tahiti Nui and the main airport is the Faa'a International Airport built on the lagoon, about 5 km west of Papeete near several major hotels such as the InterContinental hotel. Air Tahiti Nui flies internationally to Tokyo, Osaka, Los Angeles, New York, Auckland, Sydney and Paris. They cooperate with Air France, American Airlines, Japan Airlines, Air New Zealand, Vietnam Airlines, and Qantas. They no longer participate in either of the American Airlines Advantage or the Delta Air Lines frequent flyer program. Air New Zealand also has regular flights to Tahiti. LATAM flies twice a week from Easter Island, with connections on to Santiago de Chile.
Passengers arriving on international flights must collect their baggage, go through customs and then recheck-in at the domestic flight counters some 50 m to the right of the International arrivals area.
There are cruise ships on irregular schedules, and cargo ships on regular schedules travelling from Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia and Panamá. The islands are something of a hub for sailboats between South or Central America and Australasia, and it is not impossible to find passage for yourself on a yacht, but it is challenging.
The territory of French Polynesia has about the same surface as the European Union but the combined land area (all islands and atolls) is just about the size of Mallorca. Most people live on the two islands of Tahiti and Moorea. These islands have street networks and public transport (including good touristic infrastructure). To jump from island to island there are different options:
Air Tahiti offers domestic flights to other destinations in French Polynesia, and Air Moorea makes the short hop to Moorea several times daily. Charters flights such as Air Archipel are available on request. Helicopters are another option.
Air Tahiti operates 11 turboprop aircraft (four ATR42-500 with 48 seats, five ATR72-500 with 66 seats, one Beechcraft with 8 seats and one Twin Otter with 19 seats). Most of the inter-islands flights in the Marquesas are operated with Twin Otters.
Air Tahiti offers several types of Air Tahiti Airpasses:
- Discovery Pass, covering Moorea, Huahine and Raiatea: €253 with 20 kg baggage allowance, €316 with 50 kg baggage allowance,
- Bora Bora Pass, covering Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Bora Bora and Maupiti: €367 with 20 kg baggage allowance, €460 with 50 kg baggage allowance from Jan 1 to 10, Jun to Oct and Dec 11 to 31, €347 with 20kg baggage allowance, €435 with 50 kg baggage allowance from Jan 11 to 31, Feb to May, Nov 1 until Dec 10,
- Lagons Pass, covering Moorea, Rangiroa, Tikehau, Manihi, Fakareva and Ahe: €378 with 20kg baggage allowance, €487 with 50 kg baggage allowance,
- Bora Tuamotu Pass, covering Moorea, Huahine, Bora Bora, Maupiti, Rangiroa, Tikehau, Manihi, Fakareva and Ahe: €498 with 20 kg baggage allowance, €640 with 50 kg baggage allowance,
- Marquesas Pass, covering Nuku Hiva, Atuona, Ua Pou, Ua Huka: €666 with 20kg baggage allowance (not available with 50 kg baggage allowance),
- Austral Pass, covering Rurutu, Tubuai, Raivavae, Rimatara: €491 with 20 kg baggage allowance, €630 with 50 kg baggage allowance,
Extensions to the Marguesas cost €459 with 20 kg baggage allowance, €636 with 50kg baggage allowance, and to the Austral Islands €262 with 20kg baggage allowance, €361 with 50 kg baggage allowance (rates of 2010). Passes start and usually end at Tahiti or Moorea. Tahiti-Moorea or Moorea-Tahiti can be flown on Air Moorea or Air Tahiti flights. The itinerary does not need to cover all the islands of the Pass. All flights must be reserved and confirmed. The full journey must not exceed 28 days. The islands of one archipelago must be visited before moving to the next archipelago (e.g. islands of the Society archipelago must be visited before those of the Tuamotu archipelago). The islands within an archipelago can be visited in any order. Stopover or transit in Tahiti within the Pass is not allowed, except for the Lagons Pass between Moorea and the islands of the Tuamotu Archipelago, for a Pass with Extension, between the Pass and the Extension, where a maximum of 24 hr transit in Tahiti is permitted. Only one stop per island (of more than 24 hr) is allowed. A transit (less than 24 hours) with a flight number change is considered as stopover. Exception: change of flight number with a transit of less than 2 hours in Rangiroa on Bora Bora to Tikehau, Manihi, Fakarava or vice-versa flights. Change of reservations is not permitted after the Pass has been issued. Air Passes are non-refundable after departure.
Air Tahiti suggests the following multi-island itineraries:
- Society Archipelago:
- 2 islands: Tahiti - Moorea - Bora Bora (or Huahine or Raiatea) - Tahiti
- 3 islands: Tahiti - Bora Bora - Raiatea (or Huahine or Maupiti) - Tahiti, or: Tahiti - Moorea - Huahine - Bora Bora - Tahiti, or: Tahiti - Moorea - Bora Bora - Raiatea - Tahiti
- 4 islands: Tahiti - Moorea - Huahine - Raiatea - Bora Bora - Tahiti
- 5 islands: Tahiti - Moorea - Huahine) - Raiatea - Bora Bora - Tahiti
- Society Islands and North Tuamotu:
- 2 islands: Tahiti - Bora Bora - Rangiroa (or Fakarava, Manihi or Tikehau) - Tahiti
- 3 islands: Tahiti - Bora Bora - Rangiroa - Manihi (or Fakarava or Tikehau) - Tahiti, or Tahiti - Moorea (or Huahine, Raiatea or Maupiti) - Bora Bora - Rangiroa (or Fakarava, Manihi or Tikehau) - Tahiti
- 4 isllands: Tahiti- Moorea - Huahine Or Raiatea) - Bora Bora - Rangiroa (or Fakarava, Manihi or Tikehau) - Tahiti
- North Tuamotu Archipelago:
- 2 islands: Tahiti - Rangiroa - Tikehau (or Fakarava or Manihi) - Tahiti, or Tahiti - Ahe (or Tikehau) - Manihi - Tahiti
- 3 islands: Tahiti - Tinehau (or Manihi) - Rangiroa - Fakareva (or Tikehau) - Tahiti, or Tahiti - Fakarava - Rangiroa - Manihi - Tahiti
- 4 islands: Tahiti on Fri - Ahe on Sun - Manihi (on Tue or Wed) - Rangiroa (on Fri or Sat) - Fakarava - Tahiti
- Marquesas Archipelago:
- 2 islands: Tahiti - Nuku Hiva - Hiva Oa (Atuona) (or Ua Huka or Ua Pou) - Tahiti
- 3 islands: Tahiti - Hiva Oa ((Atuona) - Ua Huka (or Ua Pou) - Nuku Hiva - Tahiti
- 4 islands: Tahiti - Hiva Oa ((Atuona) - Ua Huka - Ua Pou) - Nuku Hiva - Tahiti
- Society Islands - Tuamotu - Marquesas:
- 4 islands: Tahiti - Bora Bora -Rangiroa - Nuku Hiva - Atuona - Tahiti
- Austral Archipelago:
- 2 islands: Tahiti -Rurutu - Tubuai (or Rimatara) - Tahiti, or: Tahiti - Tubuai - Raivavae - Tahiti
- 4 islands: Tahiti (on Mon) - Raivavae (on Wed) - Tubuai (on Fri) - Rurutu (on Mon) - Rimatara (on Wed) - Tahiti
Check-in at the airports begins 1 hour and closes 20min before departure time (except for flights to Rarotonga where check-in begins 2hr and closes 45min before departure time).
- Ferries (sometimes combined cargo and passenger boats like the Aranui) travel between most islands. Catamarans and ferry boats cross between Tahiti and Moorea several times a day. Schooners and cargo boats serve all the inhabited islands from Papeete. Rotations vary according to the destinations: from three times a week to the Society Islands to once monthly to the Island of Mangareva.
- Two cruise ships/luxury liners ply the islands: the Paul Gauguin, which does a regular 7-day trip around the Societies, with occasional trips out to the Tuamotus, Marquesas and Cook Islands; and the Tahitian Princess which does similar itineraries. A great way to see the islands, unless you're on a tight budget. The Bora Bora Cruises is a more intimate vessel based in the Leeward Islands. Or for more adventure, embark on the Aranui III. Coming up December 2007: the Star Clippers will have the capacity of 170 passengers.
- Yacht charter Polynesia Windward Islands, one of the worlds largest yacht charter companies, can take care of all charter requirements, from bareboat to luxury yacht in French Polynesia. Operating from different offices worldwide (UK, USA, Hong Kong, Dubai, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Switzerland).
The official languages are French and Tahitian with French being the language of business and government and Tahitian being the language of day-to-day discourse. English is also widely spoken particularly in tourist areas.
Polynesians appreciate any effort in trying to speak their language. The words below are the ones you might recognize during a conversation and the words in bold are the ones you should consider learning:
- Aita = no
- E = yes
- Fare = house
- Ia ora na = Good Morning or Hello
- Ma'a = food
- Maeva = welcome
- Maita'i? = How are you?
- Mauruuru = Thank you
- Nana = Goodbye or See you later
- Manuaia = Cheers or Toast!
- Pape = water
- Tama'a = Let's eat
Tahitians have a tendency to mix up French and Tahitian words in their conversation, so don't be surprised.
Be aware of the many dialects of which Polynesians are proud: Tahitian, Tuamotuan, Marquesan and Mangarevan (in the Gambier Islands). The inhabitants of each place often cannot communicate between each other in their respective languages.
- Point Venus was the site of Captain Cook's observatory, built to record the transit of Venus across the face of the sun to try to calculate the distance between the sun and earth. Today it's a popular, shaded black-sand beach overlooked by an impressive lighthouse.
- The Gauguin Museum (Musée Gaugin), about 50 km from Papeete on Tahiti Nui, contains artefacts from Gauguin's time in Tahiti, including reproductions of many of his paintings. Open-air buildings and a gift shop are situated in a well-manicured lawn just next to the ocean, well away from the city and resorts. Botanical gardens are just next door.
- The Museum of Tahiti and her Islands, about 15 km from Papeete, contains really great displays of Polynesian history, culture and ethnology. Anyone who is interested in anthropology or the history of the Polynesian culture should see this museum.
- For pearl lovers, there is also the Robert Wan Pearl Museum in Tahiti.
Exchange rates for CFP franc
As of January 2018:
The CFP franc (called just franc locally) is the currency used in French Polynesia, and also in the other Pacific territories of New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna. The initials CFP used to stand for Colonies Françaises du Pacifique (“French colonies of the Pacific”), but this was changed later to Communauté Financière du Pacifique (“Pacific Financial Community”) and finally to its current incarnation: Change Franc Pacifique (“Pacific Franc Exchange”). Throughout these successive changes the ISO 4217 currency code has remained XPF and pegged first to the French franc and then to the euro.
The following forms of payment are accepted: all legal bank notes, international credit cards and traveller's cheques. The international banks with foreign exchange offices on Tahiti and the most frequently visited islands are the Bank of Tahiti, the Bank of Polynesia and Socredo. International hotels also provide this service but be careful: some atolls and islands in the Austral and Gambier group have no banking facilities.
Everything is very expensive in French Polynesia. Even budget accommodation is tough on the budget, as is food, even groceries. So if you visit, take lots of money, you will need it.
Black pearls are the high-end purchase in this part of the world. They are beautiful, and of varied quality, so buyer beware, and the sky's the limit. There are lots of inexpensive mother-of-pearl jewellery that make very nice gifts.
Created only by the giant black-lipped oyster Pinctada margaritifera which thrives in the lagoons of the Tuamotu Archipelago, the rare Polynesian black pearl varies in colour from silver through dark grey with green and pink highlights. This Tahitian jewel makes an exquisite and unique souvenir.
For visitors who wish to discover the secrets of Tahitian pearls, a visit to one of the pearl farms on the island of Tahaa or on one of the low islands in the Tuamotu is an experience not to be missed.
Fine food in Tahiti and nearby islands is typically a natural style of cooking based on fresh products exotically blended. There is a presence of European cuisine within a tropical setting. Asian cooking has also added its own tastes and textures.
Fish of all kinds, whether tuna, bonito, mahimahi or the many varieties of lagoon fish are prepared in many different ways: roasted, boiled and raw.
The top rated dishes are raw fish a la tahitienne which is marinated in lemon juice and coconut milk and the very popular Chinese ma'a tinito (which is a mixture of pork, kidney beans, Chinese cabbage and macaroni.)
Family occasions and celebrations are the time for a huge tamara'a Tahiti (Tahitian-style feasts) where a meal consisting of suckling pig, fish, breadfruit, yams and fe'i bananas is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed in an earth-dug oven over layers of hot rocks.
The larger hotels organize big buffet evenings that offer a vast panorama of local culinary delights accompanied by traditional dance performances.
Tipping is not a custom in Tahiti or the nearby islands.
Bottles of water are readily available. Being a French territory, wine is common and easy to find. As this is a tropical island, a multitude of fruit juices from pineapple juice to coconut milk are to be found everywhere. Pineapple juice from Moorea is not to be missed! It is sometimes better to crack open your own coconut yourself and drain it for lunch. Orange juice is the states favorite drink and oranges are grown all along the coastlines.
If you're a fan of beer, the Hinano Beer will definitely be one you will like to taste and bring a few cans home.
Around 50 international class hotels can be found on 12 islands covering three different archipelagoes - Society, Tuamotu and Marquesas. Although the islands of Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora provide over 80% of hotel capacity, the lesser known islands are also opening top-of-the-range establishments.
Several international groups are established: InterContinental, Sofitel, Novotel, Meridien, Starwood-Sheraton, Orient Express, Club Med and Radisson. Two local chains, Maitai and South Pacific Management, complete the hotel scene.
Although complying with international standards, Polynesian style has been respected in the overwater bungalows with the use of pandanus, bamboo and shell light fixtures. Some bungalows are fitted with glass-bottomed tables for watching the fishes without ever getting your feet wet.
For travellers who prefer the simplicity and authenticity of the local experience, family hotels are the ideal type of accommodation. The welcome is warm and friendly. Family hotels are divided into four categories: Bed and Breakfast, Holiday Family Homes, Family-run guest houses, Family hotels.
- Bed and Breakfast: furnished bungalows limited to four dwelling units per home and able to accommodate twelve persons, equipped with bathrooms either private or shared.
- Holiday family homes: furnished bungalows limited to nine dwelling units and able to accommodate twenty-seven persons, equipped with bathrooms and kitchenette.
- Family-run guest houses: same as the above + breakfast and dinner service.
- Family hotels: offers full board meal service and a la carte food menu.
Tahiti has one of the lowest crime rates within France and its territories. However, petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching occurs.
As an overseas territory of France, defence and law enforcement are provided by the French Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force) and Gendarmerie.
No vaccines are required.
Be sure to bring jelly-type sandals for walking amidst coral in the water and along the beaches or either old sneakers so you don't cut your feet on the coral or don't step on a stonefish.
Encounters with sharks in the lagoon will be most likely when scuba diving or even snorkelling but they are harmless. So are stingrays. However, be aware of moray eels which hide deep in the corals and are generally curious. Be sure to keep your fingers to yourself or risk a painful bite.
Medical treatment is generally good. Two major hospitals as well as several private clinics provide 24-hour medical service.
No vaccines are required.
Take precautions against mosquito bites, as there have been outbreaks of dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus in the 2010s.
Tahitians are proud of their islands and happy to share their way of life with their guests in many ways. They are really relaxed people who live according to the aita pea pea philosophy (meaning "no worries"). Their culture should be respected as well as their way of life. Don't make them feel that you're superior to them but just be natural. They are a very welcoming and warm people.
Please also respect the land and its diversity. Activities which include approaching whales and other marine mammals are regulated and authorizations from the environmental authorities are mandatory.
Internet access in Polynesia is provided by MANA, a subsidiary of the Post and Telecommunications Office, either by modem or by ADSL. For a short stay, a subscription-free connection is best. You can make the connection with the following information: Telephone # of the server: 36-88-88 - Log-in: anonymous - Password: anonymous. This type of modem connection is available in all archipelagos.
There are cyber-spaces on Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Bora Bora, Raiatea and Rangiroa (about 250 CFP for a 15-minute connection.) Most of the hotels and some small hotels and pensions provide Internet access to their guests. On some islands, access is possible from post offices.
Iaoranet  also provides Wi-Fi in the Society Islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Bora Bora, Raiatea) as well as some of the Tuamotus (Fakarava, Manihi, Rangiroa), Gambiers (Mangareva), and Marquesas (Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa). One hour costs about US$5, but blocks of time can be purchased online for as little as US$2 per hour. The service is slow but fairly reliable.
- You can hop on a direct flight to marvelous Easter Island from Tahiti (the only place in the world apart from Santiago de Chile where you can do this).
- French Polynesia is one of the few places within practical sailing distance of the Pitcairn Islands.