Here’s why you should put Tahiti on your bucket list, especially it’s most famous island, Bora Bora, which sparkles with its diverse marine life, rugged mountain landscapes thick with colorful flowers and deep green trees, and luxurious glass-floored bungalows that seem to float over the pristine turquoise lagoons.
Here is my must-see and must-do list from a recent visit to French Polynesia, the official name of the 118 islands that make up Tahiti.
Most famous is Bora Bora, best known as a romantic hideaway for honeymooners. But there’s something for everybody here, whether you are a hiker, scuba diver or just a snorkeler, foodie, or your idea of a getaway is to sit on a beach or the deck ov your over-water bungalow with a cold beer and inhale spectacular pink and mauve sunrises and sunsets.
This 2,400 foot high extinct volcano towers over the island, and it is believed to be the inspiration for the mystical Balai Hai in James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, which was turned into the memorable Rogers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific.
It’s a rugged hike to the top, or take a 4×4 jeep tour, to the 360-degree view from the top.
Ancestors’ Path – Valley of the Kings
This is one of the easier hiking trails on Bora Bora, famous for the giant banyan tree that sits atop the valley – which was the inspiration behind the Tree of Souls in the Avatar film.
The banyan tree has great cultural significance, as it served as the final resting place for the kings of Bora Bora.
This trail features ancient temples and colorful native flora, culminating at an exquisite outlook with panoramic views of the famous Bora Bora lagoon and neighboring islands.
This is one of the most popular, yet secluded public beaches on the island, especially for sunsets.
Follow the beach until Matira Point to see an other-worldly view of rolling green bluffs and tropical plants.
The reef is in shallow water, so it’s easy to enjoy the colorful fish and colorful corals with snorkeling gear.
Bora Bora Lagoonarium
This natural aquarium is a five minute boat-ride from Coral Gardens, and tour operators offer both as a full-day excursion, or choose either one as a half-day outing.
You’ll be swimming among turtles and rays, and the occasional lemon or other small shark, under the supervision of wildlife guides.
Simply, some of the best diving in the South Pacific is here, with dozens of dive sites to observe everything from small butterfly fish to turtles, grouper and reef sharks larger than a carry-on suitcase.
Most dives here are 30-80 feet, so they are comfortable for even beginner divers.
Another feature of diving around Bora Bora is that the water temperature stays the same to 100+ feet, unlike other destinations where the water gets colder the deeper you go.
Remember to bring your PADI card (NAUI and SSI also are recognized).
The Society Islands
It’s easy to make a day-trip to one of Bora Bora’s nearby islands via one of the local inter-island ferries.
Tetiaroa is known as “the bird island”, as a natural reserve for sea birds including huge frigates and delicate straw tails.
Taha’a is known as “the vanilla island” for its main crop that perfumes the entire island.
The large Public Market in the main town of Vaitape has an entire floor devoted to artisans selling hand-painted pareos, the wraps worn by both men and women, carves shell jewelry and hand-embroidered linens.
By far the most popular souvenir are Tahitian pearls, in every color from pale beige to irredescent green and black, priced according to size and quality.
Most visitors choose loose pearls and have them strung or placed in settings, while they watch the process – as I did.
I love my three-pearl drop pendant on a thin silver wire, which I designed myself with the help of the staff in the shop where I picked out my pearls.
Your dinner likely was swimming that morning. Menus here feature fresh local fish and seafood, prepared in an infinite variety of ways. French cuisine is abundant, as well – after all, this is French Polynesia.
Where to Stay
Many of the island’s luxurious over-water bungalows are on their own private motu, a series of small islets that circle Bora Bora like a string of world-famous Tahitian pearls.
Each resort is ringed with secluded white sand beaches, many bungalows have their own private plunge pools, with views of the mountains or the lagoon.
Top five-star resorts include the St. Regis Bora Bora and Four Seasons Bora Bora, each with thatched-roofed bungalows and on-land villas with private gardens.
Over-water bungalows at the InterContinental Resort and Thalasso Spa have a wall-sized picture window in front of the bed, and some of the spa treatment rooms are over the water, too.
Sofitel Motu is one of the island’s older resorts, dominated by a six-story thatched room main building, one of the tallest on the island. It’s restaurant claims the largest wine cellar in Tahiti, and one of the best views of towering Mount Otemanu.
If you go
National airline Air Tahiti Nui flies to Papeete from Los Angeles (8 hour flight, code share with American Airlines). The 8-hour flight arrives at dawn.
Many visitors spend the day in Papeete, including to visit the Tahiti Black Pearl Museum there, to learn how the islands most important export is farmed and how to judge value before you buy. The flight to Bora Bora is one hour.
Get more information about all the islands of French Polynesia – Tahiti – from the official government tourism website.