Tahiti, officially known as French Polynesia, is often envisioned as “paradise” for many travelers. Its five island groups or archipelagoes in the South Pacific are home to a world of warm turquoise waters and white sand beaches.
Visitors flock here to explore these waters, with top snorkeling and diving -- with visibility to about 130 feet -- and surfing. Among the wonders below the sea are reef sharks. And romance is key to any stay, especially those that include overnights in an overwater bungalow. What can beat an outrigger canoe breakfast delivered and views of the water below from your glass coffee table?
The most frequently visited islands here are Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Taha’a and Rangiroa. Tahiti is the largest and most populated of the islands and where most start their visit. Dramatic scenery of green peaks reaching 7,300 feet and waterfalls in the interior are surrounded by black and white sand beaches and turquoise lagoons along Tahiti’s coastline. Get to know the destination with a stop at the Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands, before heading to Le Marché, the municipal market for fresh produce and Tahitian crafts and colorful pareus (sarongs).
A 30-minute catamaran ride away is Moorea, the inspiration for James Michener’s mythical island of Bali Hai. The views here are breathtaking. While on the island, tour a local distillery and sample liqueurs made from pineapple, mango, coconut and vanilla.
Tiny in size at just 18 miles in circumference, but big in romance, Bora Bora features exquisite beaches along a turquoise lagoon, with lush mountains in the background. Opt for a shark-feeding excursion, in which you are in the water but within safe view of reef sharks as they’re being fed by guides. At the Lagoonarium, you can swim with sting rays, huge sea turtles and reef sharks if you dare. Or take a jeep tour and explore Bora Bora’s interior.
Duty-free shopping is available on Tahiti, where you can purchase key items such as Tahitian cultured pearls, mother-of-pearl shell carvings and colorful pareus.
Cuisine in Tahiti is all about fresh fish and exotic fruits and vegetables, prepared with Polynesian influence and a touch of French flair. You’ll also find international cuisines at restaurants throughout the islands. Poisson cru (ia ota) is the national dish of Tahiti. The entrée consists of raw fish and diced vegetables soaked in coconut milk and marinated with lime juice.
A great way to sample authentic Tahitian cuisine is to attend a tamaaraa, a Tahitian feast. You dine on local dishes while enjoying a Polynesian show.
International flights land at Faa’a Airport in Papeete on the island of Tahiti. Flight time is just under eight hours from Los Angeles and about 12 hours from New York’s JFK. Air Tahiti Nui, Tahiti’s national carrier, offers nonstop direct service from both cities. Flights to other islands are available once on Tahiti.
Once on Tahiti, taxis and buses are the way to get around the island. On the outer islands, car and scooter rentals are the way to go, or “Le Truck,” an open-air bus.
Any time is the perfect time to visit Tahiti, boasting tropical weather with an average year-round temperature of 79° F. Water temperatures average 79° F. in the winter and 84° F. during the summer.