The Marquesas Islands are an archipelago of about a dozen islands in French Polynesia, most with steep mountains.
- Nuku Hiva — Mystic Island. The largest island in the Marquesas is known for towering spire-like peaks; secluded, lush valleys; ancient religious sites; fjord-like bays; and waterfalls so high that most of the falling water evaporates as it descends.
- Ua Pou
- Ua Huka
- Uninhabited — Eiao, Hatutu, Motu Iti, Motu Oa, Motu One,
- Hiva Oa — Paul Gauguin's island. This majestic and historic island is known for its wild, untamed landscape, giant stone tiki, endless and unearthly vistas, and as the final resting place of poet Jacques Brel and artist Paul Gauguin.
- Fatu Hiva
- Uninhabited — Fatu Huku, Mohotani, Motu Nao, Terihi.
Most people can speak the Marquesan language and most can speak French. Two thirds speak Marquesan the most at home, and one third speak French the most.
Getting to and around the Marquesas is a unique experience.
Operating seven days a week, Air Tahiti provides to Nuku Hiva with a 3.5 hr flight from Tahiti. Weekly service is also offered to Nuku Hiva from Bora Bora and Rangiroa. On some days there is a direct flight from Tahiti to Hiva Oa.
The Aranui III is a mixed passenger/cargo vessel that operates between Tahiti and the Marquesas. On its 14-day voyages once or twice a month it visits atolls of Tuamotus and 6 inhabited islands of Marquesas.
Continuing flights and connect Nuku Hiva to Hiva Oa with several weekly 35-minute flights. Several inter-island vessels are in operation, however they are seldom used by visitors. Always an adventure, travel to and from the airport should be scheduled by your preferred travel professional or by your hotel. Depending on road conditions and the location of your hotel, airport transfers can either be by boat, horse, 4x4 truck.
The Aranui 3, and several inter-island vessels offer service between the primary islands.
Travel around the islands requires planning as well. Although 4x4 rental vehicles are available, it is advisable to hire a guide to negotiate the steep, rugged, and unfamiliar roads occasionally used by herds of wild horses. Around the islands, motorboat rentals offer an enjoyable way to explore the dramatic bays and shoreline.
- Tomb of Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel.
- Ancient and sacred sites with petroglyphs.
- Taaoa Valley Archeological Sites
- Puamau Stone Sculptures & Tiki
Guided or self-guided itineraries including these and other sites can be reserved or planned by your travel arranger before you travel or at the activities desk of your resort or cruise ship.
For the adventurous visitor, the simple ambience of the Marquesas creates unique experiences.
- Exploration of the high mountains, remote beaches, hidden waterfalls, and deep forests by a 4x4 safari truck, sailboat, or even on horseback.
- Discovery of the archaeological sites of stone tiki, ancient dwellings, and petroglyphs.
- Enchantment from the simple and warm Marquesan people with a history unique among any civilization on earth.
- Enjoyment of shopping for sculptures in tiny studios and craft centers.
- Relaxation with the peaceful ambience and delicious cuisine found at the simple, yet elegant lodges set on the hillsides overlooking the bays.
Some of the most popular activities and sites for visitors include:
- Cultural Centre — The Paul Gauguin Cultural Centre opened in 2003 on the 100th anniversary of Gauguin's death. Located on land bought by Gauguin, the centre's exhibition of reproductions leads the visitor through three sections themed around quotes attributed to the artist: "escaping to reach art", "the right to dare anything in art", and "becoming part of a primitive culture."
- Archaeological Discovery Safaris — Hidden in the theatre of mountains of the Marquesas is a mother lode of ancient sacred sites including ceremonial complexes, stone temples, and tiki statues. On Nuku Hiva, Taipivai Valley is home to temples and large tiki, while the village of Hatiheu is home to the famous Kamuihei and Hikoku sites known for their petroglyphs and ruins. On Hiva Oa, an immense ceremonial complex in Taaoa Valley has been restored and offers a unique view of the fierce and proud Marquesan heritage.
- Woodcarving — Famous for intricate woodcarvings, Marquesans apply ancestral designs seen nowhere else on earth. Carved from precious native woods such as rosewood and purplewood, Marquesan bowls, plates, and statues are highly prized the world over. These treasures can be bought throughout the islands directly from the artists at their studios.
- Adventure Cruising — As if living out a classic South Seas seafaring novel, the most unique way to see the Marquesas is aboard the new Aranui 3 freighter/passenger ship. This working cargo ship is the lifeline to the outside world for the inhabitants of these remote islands. Passengers observe the exchange of supplies, copra, dried coconut, and fruit in addition to exploring each of the islands on guided excursions. The 16-day voyage begins in Papeete and includes 17 ports-of-call in the Marquesas and Tuamotu Islands.
- 4X4 Safaris into the spectacular valleys and panoramic landscape.
- Guided hikes into Hakaui Valley and among giant Tiki.
- Diving in the deep waters with hammerhead, manta rays, and whales.
There are restaurants on Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa. The best dining is found at the restaurants at the Nuku Hiva Keikahanui Pearl Lodge and at the Hiva Oa Hanakee Pearl Lodge which features a sweeping panoramic view from every table. These restaurants have creative French dishes influenced by Marquesan fare. An impressive international wine list compliments the ambience while the views overlooking the mountains and bays.
Traditional Marquesan cuisine can also be enjoyed on Nuku Hiva in the villages of Taiohae, Taipivai, and Hatiheu, and on Hiva Oa in Atuona and Puamau.
Most accommodation is on the islands of Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa.