10 Things You Can't Leave the Islands of Tahiti Without Doing

Your go-to guide when visiting this tropical paradise.

By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Tahiti Tourisme

Photo By: Getty Images/sbossert

Photo By: Le Taha'a Island Resort & Spa

Photo By: Getty Images/muchemistry

Photo By: Getty Images/Sergio J. Pitamitz

Photo By: huahine

Photo By: Tahiti Tourisme

Photo By: Getty Images/Image Source

Photo By: Getty Images/Stephen Frink

Photo By: Tahiti Tourisme

Hop Around

Tahiti is only one island in French Polynesia, albeit the largest. It’s surrounded by 117 other islands and atolls, spread out over a sprawling 1,200 miles in the middle of the South Pacific ocean. It’d be a terrible missed opportunity to visit this part of the world and only see one island. Instead, hop around via plane or ferry in order to see all that French Polynesia has to offer.

Eat Poisson Cru

The unofficial national dish of French Polynesia is poisson cru, which translates to "raw fish." Think of it like a cross between ceviche and poke, with big chunks of fish—often tuna—marinated in citrus juice and coconut milk. It's fantastic when fresh, which is almost always in Tahiti.

Stay in an Overwater Bungalow

The world’s very first overwater bungalows were built in Tahiti, and—surprise, surprise—they’re everywhere here. Nightly rates can be pricey, but there’s no feeling quite like waking up to the sound of water all around you. Le Taha'a Island Resort & Spa has a fantastic selection of bungalows, many with a glass-enclosed trap door in the floorboards that allows you to feed the fish below from your bedside. The spacious bungalows at Sofitel Moorea la Ora Beach Resort are also wonderful—they’re designed in tribute to French painter Paul Gauguin, who fell in love with Tahiti and painted many scenes inspired by it.

Visit a Vanilla Farm

Although the Islands of Tahiti produce only a fraction of the world’s vanilla, the varieties cultivated here are especially coveted. The glossy bean pods are soft and fragrant, with notes of fruit and chocolate. Like pearl farms, vanilla plantations are everywhere, but they’re most highly concentrated in Taha’a, which is sometimes called "Vanilla Island."

Go Snorkeling in Rangiroa

No need to kick or paddle when snorkeling in Rangiroa, a sparkling atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia. When the current flows from the ocean into the lagoon, snorkelers are gently drifted along, allowing for some amazing fish and coral watching along the way. The sensation feels a bit like flying.

Check Out a Pearl Farm

Tahitian cultured pearls are French Polynesia’s biggest export, and you’ll see them in shops everywhere on the island. They come in a variety of hues ranging from bright white to deep black, with prices varying depending on the quality of the pearl. To get a closer look at these beauties, visit one of the region’s many pearl farms, which grow pearl-yielding oysters on long thin ropes that can stretch 10 meters deep into clear ocean water.

Swim With Sharks and Stingrays

No need to panic: Snorkeling with the sharks and stingrays around the island of Moorea isn’t dangerous, so long as you follow instructions from your guide. You can cuddle up (and even feed!) the rays, but a word of caution: Don’t get too close to the sharks.

See the Wild Horses

Ua Huka, one of French Polynesia’s Marquesas Islands, is dotted with semi-wild horses descended from animals brought here by Chilean settlers in the mid-19th century. Today, many of them have owners, but they are essentially free to roam the island.

Take the Scuba Plunge

The Islands of Tahiti have some of the best scuba diving in the world. Take things easy in the "Aquarium," a popular site for all skill levels in Tahiti where you can swim with lionfish, angelfish, triggerfish plus a Cessna plane wreck. Advanced divers should head to the more technical Toahotu Pass on the eastern side of Taha’a. Here, whitetip reef sharks, angelfish, marbled grouper and Napoleon wrasse are on gorgeous display.

Dance Like No One’s Watching

Tahitian dance, or Ori Tahiti, is an art form similar to hula. Both use drum beats, hip movements and song as a form of storytelling. Many of the big hotels and resorts hold weekly dance recitals, which you won’t want to miss. You might even want to get up and dance: Many finales involve pulling up audience members.

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