As of May 1, 2021 French Polynesia is re-opening to travelers. For updated information check out Tahiti Tourism’s Coronavirus COVID-19 – Travel Information.
Maeva (Welcome to) the Islands of Tahiti
I’ve spent the past 15 years traveling the world seeking outdoor adventures with a passion for tropical destinations. The Islands of Tahiti are in a class of their own. After 10 days exploring 4 islands in collaboration with Tahiti Tourism and Air Tahiti Nui, I see why these islands are the quintessential bucket list trip for so many. Sure, the Islands of Tahiti are famous for their overwater bungalows surrounded by turquoise waters, but its idyllic beauty extends beyond just those computer desktop-worthy images (which I’ve now changed mine to).
With 118 islands spanning five archipelagos in the South Pacific Ocean, this region offers pristine tropical perfection without the crowds. Pre-pandemic, the Islands of Tahiti received fewer visitors in a year, than Hawaii did in 10 days. Compared to tropical destinations I’ve been to, the islands often feel like your own private paradise. Along with safety regulations for traveling during COVID-19, I hope this list inspires you to book that bucket list vacation you’ve always dreamed of while staying at world class lodging.
Safe & Responsible Travel during COVID-19
While traveling during the pandemic, the most important thing is safety. The Islands of Tahiti have been open for incoming travelers since summer 2020. Tahiti Tourism and Air Tahiti Nui have done an incredible job setting up thorough protocols before you arrive. For detailed information on on rules and regulations, check out my guide:
MUST READ: HOW TO TRAVEL TO TAHITI DURING COVID-19
6 Epic Adventures
1. Bora Bora Cultural Lagoon Tour
ISLAND: BORA BORA
Most people dream of going to Bora Bora for the iconic overwater bungalows, which I highly suggest. But, do yourself a favor and book a Bora Bora Cultural Lagoon Tour for one of the best water adventures of your life! This family-owned business by Nariihau offers full and half day options from private “lagoon,” “land and sea” and “group” tours.
I went on a private full-day lagoon tour which included 3 stops in the water. It also included a delicious home-cooked meal on Nariihau’s family motu and a stroll in their botanical garden. My favorite part was snorkeling in crystal clear waters with sharks, rays and the most colorful coral I’ve ever seen.
Laying on the net-hammock over waters ranging from sapphire to emerald to turquoise kept making asking, “is this real?!” Good news, it is and it’s one of the best ways to experience Bora Bora!
2. Teahupoo Tahiti Surfari
Located on the southwestern coast of Tahiti is the small village of Teahupoo. This cute town is known for its world-class surf break with huge waves reaching up to 7 meters. Teahupoo Tahiti Surfari lets travelers watch surfers attempt to ride, thrive and survive these heavy waves from a safe distance.
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Teahupoo Tahiti Surfari is much more than just a wave watching tour operator. They also offer a variety of one-hour, half-day and full-day excursions showcasing the best of Tahiti’s culture and untouched coastline. I took a full-day Te Pari Tour exploring Tahiti’s wild side. For 8 hours we boated east to Fenua Aihere and Te Pari. From swimming in waters with insane visibility to bathing under waterfalls to finding caves to nonstop rock climbing and cliff jumping (my favorite), Ms. Cindy and her mom led us on a Jurassic Park-like tour I’d recommend to any adventurer.
The day also included a picnic full of home-cooked traditional Polynesian cuisine. We feasted on poisson cru, Tahiti’s national dish (raw fish, vegetables, coconut milk and lime), uru (breadfruit), and tropical fruits.
3. ATV Moorea Tours
Hands down my favorite way to explore Moorea is on ATVs! Nothing compares to the adrenaline rush of driving through the island’s rugged interior with ATV Moorea Tours. Embarking on a 4-wheel drive ride with them will take you on dirt roads through rivers, mountains, valleys and even pineapple plantations!
ATV guides (ask for Tokerau) stop the group at spots like Belvedere Lookout to enjoy panoramic overlooks of Opunohu Bay. One of my highlights was driving up to a group of locals playing music — I busted out some Polynesian dance moves giving them a good laugh. Moorea Tours offers fun for the whole family, from ages 5 and up.
4. Moorea Food Adventures
My favorite culinary experience during my trip was with Moorea Food Adventures. Founder Heimata Hall acted as our guide for a Tapati Breakfast Tour. In Tahitian culture it’s tradition for families to gather early Sunday mornings to share signature dishes. It was so special to do this with Heimata, who was born and raised in Moorea. Typically, this tour visits different local families to gather homemade delicacies whose recipes have been passed on for generations, but due to COVID and holidays we ended up making the dishes ourselves with Heimata in his home!
My favorite cooking lesson was learning how to make coconut milk. The steps include: 1) cracking 2) ripping 3) chopping 4) grating and 5) squeezing. Don’t be fooled, it’s hard work! But we laughed the hardest of the entire trip and were proud of our product (used in our dishes below).
Poisson cru – Tahiti’s national dish of raw fish with coconut milk
Ume – unicorn fish
Taioro pahua – fermented grated coconut mixed with big clam
Pu’a roti – roasted pork with crispy skin
Poulet Fafa – chicken with taro leaves cooked in coconut milk
Firifiri – Tahitian donut
Pain coco – coconut bread
Po’e mautini – pumpkin purée cooked in banana leaves and served with coconut milk
+ Taro root
In addition to this tour, Moorea Food Adventures also offers several intimate street food tours that involve exploring the island.
5. Tikehau Ocean Tour
Tikehau (Tee-kay-how) can also be pronounced Tee-kay-WOW-WOW!!! Before traveling to the Islands of Tahiti I had never heard of Tikehau. Thanks to Tikehau Ocean Tour it’s now one of my all-time favorites! For starters, founder and guide Denis Grosmaire is the man. Raised on Tikehau since he was 2-years-old, his passion for the island and marine life conservation is infectious. There’s no better person to lead an ocean expedition around this atoll that is home to only 500 Tahitians.
On our tour I was constantly mesmerized by the clear AF water from vibrant shades of turquoise to baby blues. Our stops included a manta ray sanctuary and at “the pass” where Denis spearfished a unicorn fish for lunch.
We stopped for a picnic on an empty pink-sand beach motu (small island). Here Denis built a fire and cooked up a fresh fish feast for us all to devour.
My favorite part? Snorkeling with sharks where a 4-meter tiger shark named Malia swam within feet of me. My Shark Week dreams fulfilled!
6. TopDive Scuba Diving
The best decision I made at the start of the pandemic was signing up for scuba diving certification classes. Being certified opens up an entirely new world of travel to me. Our planet is made up of 70% of water. There is so much beauty in the natural world underwater that we can only experience in the tranquility of diving. Prior to getting my Padi card, I did a discovery dive in Catalina which inspired me to get certified.
If you aren’t scuba certified by the time you’re in the Islands of Tahiti, TopDive offers introductory dives. With calm lagoon waters full of vibrant marine life, I can’t think of a better spot to try scuba diving! From my Bora Bora TopDive experience, they provide reliable services and gear rentals for divers of all levels. TopDive centers can be found on the islands of Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Rangiroa, Tetiaroa, Fakarava.