French Polynesia travel - Destination Guide 2019-2020
French Polynesia, a French charm, is incredible and more stunning than any other destination in the world. It is a paradise destination on the bucket list of every discerning traveler and once you set your mind to travel here, believe us, you will. The most turquoise waters, the upscale resorts and hotels, over-the-top amenities, activities and tours you will never resist, French Polynesia is where you should be spending your next vacation!
Why vacation in French Polynesia?
Here are the top reasons that attract tourists to French Polynesia:
French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity of France has got more things to do than you could ever imagine. From Jeep Safari and Segway tours, dolphin swimming, diving and snorkeling to visiting Paofai Gardens in Tahiti and Faarumai Waterfalls, your French Polynesia travel has got to begin and end perfectly.
Pristine beaches, perfect weather throughout the year and all types of accommodations suitable for any visitor, your search for the best tropical vacation destination is finalized. While you engage in water activities such as snorkeling, jetskiing or sailing, care to check out Bora Bora Lagoonarium, a man-made underwater zoo, Mount Pahia in Bora Bora, Faanui Bay and Church in Bora Bora, the mesmerizing waters of Matira Beach or spend a relaxing evening stargazing into the paradise.
Off-road and 4WD adventures are also available for anyone looking for adrenaline. You may also take a number of historical and cultural tours around the island you are staying on, or opt out to travel to other islands for more history, culture and traditions.
Helicopter tours are widely available to experience the best views of lagoons and the surrounding areas from up above. But if you long for more panoramic view, visit the Magic Mountain in Moorea. It is one of eight voluminous peaks on the islands and offers fantastic views of the surrounding nature.
It is valuable to know that French Polynesia is one of the major exports of cultured pearls, coconut and fish according to the International Trade Center. So if you are looking for a valuable, natural yet affordable present to bring home, definitely consider shopping for any of these goods during your French Polynesia travel.
You will never regret visiting French Polynesia, so start looking for the resort of your choice, book your flight and be on your way to a heavenly vacation! We guarantee the perfection!
Best time to go travel to French Polynesia
French Polynesia is full of fun and exciting events, picture-perfect weather all year-round and a true feel of paradise you would want to experience at least a few times. Depending on what you are looking to get from your French Polynesia travel, the option of travelling during specific season is totally up to you.
While May through October is definitely a cooler, drier and more enjoyable season, it is more crowded and accommodation rates are at their peak. But again, they are always high no matter when you go. This is not a good to travel to French Polynesia for those that are looking for a more private and secluded vacation without the parties and heavy tourist traffic. May to October are considered as winter months with nice and pleasing weather without the unbearable possibility of humidity. Although there are still festivals and other grand events scheduled during these months, May-October is perfect for enjoying the weather comfortably sitting at 27-28 degrees Celsius (80-82 degrees Fahrenheit) and the ocean at 27-29 degrees Celsius (80-84 degrees Fahrenheit).
The busiest months in French Polynesia are July and August, when all local children are off school. December through April are considered the rainiest yet still expensive months to visit the islands. However, you can expect some discounted rates and/or sales during the islands' rainy summer season.
For those that do not mind paying extra for lodging and do not mind the long waits at the dining establishments or other places where reservations are normally not needed, may visit French Polynesia anytime from May-October. Tropical showers pass at a greater frequency from November to April compared to other months, so be ready for them when you pack your suitcases at home. Keep in mind that a lot of government offices might be closed during some of the national holidays such as Ascension Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Missionary Day, Labor Day, Pentecost Monday and Bastille Day.
Depending on a year, the French Polynesian Chinese Community in Tahiti celebrates their Chinese New Year either in January or February. This celebration is full of music, dancing, food tasting and parades throughout the islands. April is a grand celebration of traditional Polynesian dance when the Ori Tahiti Festival kicks in. May is the season for the Matari'i Raro, also known as the Pleiades Festival that the Papenoo region of Tahiti organizes yearly. It marks the end of the harvest period and welcomes the beginning of austral winter and the dry season. Heiva i Bora Bora annual festival is held in July and incorporates dancing, singing and a traditional sports competition.
Bottom line, if you want to experience the best cultural festival (Heiva holiday and French Bastille Day celebrations full of cuisine, dance competitions, crafts, sporting events and live music) visit French Polynesia in July. For surfers, sailors and fans alike, try to get here in August or September to experience the most thrilling surfing competition called Tahiti Moorea Sailing Rendez-Vous, and if you don't mind the daytime showers, get here from November to April. For a perfect combination of great weather ideal for swimming and tanning when humidity is at its lowest, festivals and other exciting events, fo on French Polynesia travel the islands anytime from May to the end of October, during the peak season.
Where is French Polynesia on the map?
French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity of France is composed of 118 islands that are divided into 5 archipelagoes located in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. It might be hard to believe that French Polynesia is spread over the surface larger than Europe, but these 118 islands barely occupy 4,000 km² of land. French Polynesia is located 4,229 km (2,628 miles) south of Hawaii, which calculates to approximately 8.5 hours of flight time. You may also sail to Hawaii crossing 3 separate weather zones, but since the sail is long and crossing different climates can be a challenge, the sail can be either pleasant or unpleasant depending how well you prepare for it.
The 5 archipelagoes of French Polynesia consist of Society Islands that are divided into 2 categories: Winward Islands that include Tahiti, the largest and the most populated island in this group, Moorea and Tetiaroa, and Leeward Islands that consist of Bora Bora, Huahine, Raiatea. Tuamotu Islands include Rangiroa, Manihi, Tikehau, Fakarava, Marquesas Islands have Hiva Oa, Nuku Hiva, Australs Islands carry Rapa and Tubuai and Gambier Islands possess Mangareva. All of these islands are inhabited with locals and visitors alike with a developed tourism industry.
Tahiti that was formed of two volcanic cones that rise 7,352 feet (2,241 metres) above sea level. Unlike the land, the mountains are devoid of any human settlement, habitations and planting. The island of Moorea is separated from Tahiti by a channel of 8.5 miles (14 km) wide. Moorea has the most gorgeous white coral sand beaches and is accessible from Tahiti by a boat or a taxi plane, which is where the tourist industry is truly blooming.
About 120 km (75 miles) west of Tahiti are the Iles Sous le Vent which are made up of 5 volcanic islands. Raiatea, is the largest and heavily populated of the Iles Sous le Vent. To the west of Raiatea lies the stunning island of Bora Bora. It is also formed from two volcanic peaks and serves as one of the major centers for the tourist trade in French Polynesia.
Capital city of French PolynesiaBy Balou46 [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons
Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia serves as a primary center of Tahitian and French Polynesian public and private governmental, industrial and commercial services. Papeete is also the core of French Polynesian tourism industry. It is home to the island's only international airport known as Faa'a International Airport where all international and domestic flights arrive.
According to the August 2017 census, the population of Papeete was 136,771 residents, 26,926 of whom resided in urban areas of the capital. Papeete is located on the island of Tahiti that is considered as the most inhabited island in French Polynesia so far.
Papeete is not your regular tropical paradise, although it is covered with palms, flowering trees, lawns, pure-water streams and lush vegetation. Papeete is a government center and an industrial port so if you are looking for some breathtaking beach views, warm send and privacy, travel a bit further away from the downtown of the capital. Papeete is a wonderful city that boasts with shopping, eating and drinking but not as much of sightseeing adventures as one would hope for. Here, you can also buy black pearls, but be sure to ask for an authentication certificate when purchasing them, because some stores will have no problem with selling imitation pearls made of fibreglass or regular glass but priced at market prices. These are all legal sales, so if you want the real deal, ask for proof of authenticity.
There are a few things to do and to see while staying in Papeete for your French Polynesia travel, and we suggest to dedicate a day or two to these adventures, because you might want to book several trips or be your own guide all throughout. If you only have a day to devote to sightseeing, Robert Wan Pearl Museum, Nanuu Bay and Paofai Gardens are the ones you need to see first. Bougainville Park is a real charm due to its shaded lawns, tree-topped walkways and unbelievably beautiful gardens. For a little bit of religious findings, visit the Notre Dame Cathedral, and to admire regular and street art visit the ONO'U Tahiti Museum of Street Art.
Papeete, a beautifully built city, well-taken care of, has something the rest of the local tropical spots do not-a real dive into the history of French Polynesia, its ancestors and culture.
Population in French Polynesia
Based on the latest United Nations estimates, the population of French Polynesia in 2018 is 280,208 residents.
Christianity is the predominant religion in French Polynesia and majority of these believers belong to various Protestant churches, one of them being Maohi Protestant Church, the largest church that accounts for more than 50% of local population. Roman Catholics make up a large minority of 30% of total population as well.
There are many ethnic groups that reside in French Polynesia. The local population is made of approximately 78% of native Polynesians, 12% Chinese residents, 6% French Polynesians and only 4% of pure French islanders. Chinese and Demis (residents of mixed heritage meaning they carry both French and Polynesian roots) and white populace are mostly concentrated on the island of Tahiti, particularly in the rural areas of Papeete, where their share of population is much higher than in the entire French Polynesia.
Residents of the islands are the most welcoming and friendly folks you will ever come across. They will help you at every opportunity they get, even if they do not speak English. So if you have any questions or need to ask for directions, language barrier should never be an obstacle to communicate with the islanders.
Family traditions and the island's customs play a significant role in the life of every resident in French Polynesia. For example, wearing a flower tucked behind the ear can tell the status of the love life. If the flower is positioned behind the left ear, it means the female is taken and not available. A flower behind the right ear means the female is not attached to anyone and is available for a date. If a girl wears flowers behind both ears it means she is married but available to date other men. A backward flower means the female is available immediately.
Polynesians love to sing and dance. That is why you will often see small groups of singers and dancers perform at street markets, beside a supermarket or even strolling into a restaurant for some live entertainment.
Local Language in French Polynesia
French is the official Language of French Polynesia. Since French Polynesia is an overseas territory of France, both French and Tahitian are popular languages on the islands. French is used in schools, business and government. Tahitian and other Polynesian languages are also used among the local population, mostly inside their homes and among the islanders themselves.
According to a recent Polynesian study, 86% of local residents age 15 and older have some sort of knowledge of at least one Polynesian language, whereas 13% reported they could not speak nor understand any of the Polynesian languages and only speak, read and write in French.
English-speaking tourists will never have a problem communicating in English as staff at the resorts/ hotels and other popular tourist destinations on the islands all understand and speak basic English. Although French is the most preferred method of communication by locals even when speaking with tourists, English language is respected and spoken by local population with the visitors to the best of their ability, but only in the tourist areas. If you do a little bit of exploration further away from major resorts, more into the villages and small towns, chances you will be able to speak English are equal to 0, but if you learn a few Tahitian words, you will without a doubt make a long-lasting impression on the locals.
How to get to French Polynesia
French Polynesia is easily accessible from many parts of the world including the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand; however, you might have to make a few stopovers in order to get on a direct flight to the islands. French Polynesia can be reached in a number of ways with direct and non-stop service. Air Tahiti Nui is the primary flight carrier that services Tahiti directly from North America. Daily flights are available from Los Angeles and take about 8 hours one way, while weekly flights from New York calculate to be approximately 13 hours each way. You may also get to Tahiti from Honolulu from one of its servicing airports. These flights are not as lengthy and only take about 5 hours one way. Canadian passengers do not have an option of a direct or a non-stop flight to Tahiti. The only option for these travellers is to take a flight either from Los Angeles or from Hawaii's capital city Honolulu.
Nonstop flights are offered from Los Angeles and New Zealand's Auckland, but if you are an Australian passenger, you would have to connect through New Zealand to get to the islands from Australia.
If you want to skip the stopover in New Zealand or Australia, there's also a non-stop flight from Tokyo to Tahiti. An 11-hour flight one way will get you relaxed before the start of your holiday.
Those that have plenty of time in their agendas, can take advantage of the weekly direct flights between Papeete and Easter Island. Easter Island connects French Polynesia to Chile's capital city Santiago that is a direct getaway to South America.
A domestic air carrier offers regular daily inter-island flights between 46 islands departing from Tahiti. This is the quickest and most reliable way of doing your island hopping adventure or getting to the island destination of your choice for your French Polynesia travel. Some of the islands can also be reached by boat, but that service is not consistent and definitely not as common. Boat trips can take hours of travel time one way, so if you get seasick easily, this might not be a good way to spend your day. The islands of Moorea and Huahine can also be reached either by a ferry or a catamaran that leave from Tahiti. This service is popular among the travellers and is frequently used. Only weekly departures are offered to the island of Huahine, while the ferries operate daily and will bring you from Tahiti to Moorea in less than 30 minutes by Aremiti.
Most visitors to French Polynesia arrive by air at the island's only international airport Faa's International Airport located just 5 km (3 miles) west of the capital of Papeete. Faa's International Airport is relatively small but offers daily domestic flights between most of the islands as well as welcomes all international aircrafts coming from North America, Europe, Asia, South America and other parts of the world.
French Polynesia travel options
There's no surprise that French Polynesia is one of the expensive vacation getaways in the world; however, staying here does not have to break your bank. An abundance of luxury, world-class resorts are available for families, couples and adults alike. These resorts provide top service, fine dining options and amenities that can't be beaten.
There are a number of fancy lodging, affordable guest houses, bungalows, small inns and budget hotels blend well with these opulent properties available for your French Polynesia travel. There are no all-inclusive resorts you could stay in for a French Polynesia travel, but it is actually an upside rather than a downside. This way you have endless opportunities to experience local food, Polynesian culture, tours and excursions outside of the hotel and take a moment to contemplate on that real Polynesian beauty of nature in one or more areas located further away from the busy tourist spots.
The Society Islands that are home to the extravagant Tahiti and the breathtaking paradise of Bora Bora receive a whopping number of tourists annually. This is where the best of accommodation is spread out, meeting most budgets. Whether you are staying in an overwater bungalow, in a beach villa with cooking facilities and a choice of a chef, a nanny and housekeeping staff or just in a small family-owned "pension", your stay with be splendid regardless.
Overwater bungalows are a symbol of romance and seclusion. Although the price for these places is sky-high and they are considered the most expensive out of all lodging options, many choose to spend French Polynesia travel there. Beach bungalows are placed under coconut trees overlooking the lagoons and the luscious vegetation, while overwater bungalows built on stilts above the lagoon allow the guests to spot and enjoy the marine life through the crystal-clear glass floor. Renting out a villa is perfect for families and large groups of people. The total cost can be shared between the guests while vacationing in privacy and pure luxury.
Once you go beyond the Society Islands to the outer archipelagos, you will find fewer upscale resorts and more of authentic, family-style accommodations that still provide high-quality service, clean and cozy rooms and impeccable meals in their dining facilities.
Most Polynesian 5-star hotels are located either in Tahiti, Moorea or Bora Bora with a couple situated in Raiatea, Tahaa, Tikehau and Rangiroa that are less frequented by the tourists. Many of them have access to the most prestigious coral reef dive sites, water sport activities, tropical gardens with rare animal and plant species and endless hiking trails for those that are ready for some exercise.
Weather in French Polynesia
The climate in French Polynesia is tropical, influenced by trade winds. Temperatures stay in the same range during both high and low season with a variation of about 2-3 degrees. This means you may visit the islands any time of the year, just watch expensive airfares and hotel pricing during the high season months.
The high season in French Polynesia starts around the beginning of December and lasts all the way through the end of April. Starting in May until about the end of November a low season kicks in. Expect to see an increase in all airfares and accommodation stays during the high season and if you are on a budget, plan your getaway months in advance, you might score a better deal even during the high season rates. Hotels and resorts always have discounts, sales and promotional pricing, but they either get sold out fast or expire quickly. So if you are looking for the best deal, track these down as often as possible.
December and January are the wettest months out of the year with 12 inches of rain in a month; however, you will be able to experience a lot of sunshine during this time as well as some cloudy days at the end of December, if you choose to go on French Polynesia travel during this time. Temperatures during this time stay pretty much the same at 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) and only drop down to 23 degrees Celsius (73 degrees Fahrenheit) during the night and early morning hours.
Temperatures do not vary much from February to May either, the weather is hot and humid at 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) until the start of the low season. June to September is a good time to enjoy your French Polynesia travel. Temperatures are a little cooler, less rainy and not as humid.
May to October is a cooler season with temperatures at about 27-28 degrees Celsius (80-82 degrees Fahrenheit). May also experiences a rapidly decreasing cloud cover and by the end of the month the sky is nice and clear.
The sea temperature is high throughout the entire year being at 27-29 degrees Celsius (80-84 degrees fahrenheit) depending on a month, which makes it perfect for swimming and truly enjoying the warmth and feel of the ocean.
There are no hurricanes in French Polynesia, but storm season is from November to April. Although no extreme weather conditions have been reported in the past, it is always a good idea to be informed and ready in case a tropical storm hits the islands during this period of time. These storms are not deadly or devastating and come in a form of heavy rain, some winds and slightly cooler temperatures. It is always good to pack your rain gear if you are go on French Polynesia travel during this time, especially in November.
There are actually no hurricanes in French Polynesia, but tropical cyclones (dramatic heavy rain) occasionally hit the islands, except in Marquesas Islands that are the northernmost islands and are located out of the path of these cyclones. You may visit Marquesas Islands all year around, but they are definitely a little muggy from December to April.
Public Transportation in French Polynesia
Tahiti and other developed islands (such as Moorea and Bora Bora) pride themselves with efficient and affordable public transportation system. Other islands rely on taxis, car rentals, scooters and walking by foot. The old buses known as Le trucks have now been replaced by new, more modern vehicles that provide more comfort and are air-conditioned. Le trucks stop at their designated stops usually marked with a blue sign. Some stops are hard to notice, so the bus will pick up passengers just about anywhere when someone hails them down.
Many routes have a set fee no matter how long of a distance you need to travel. All patrons are required to pay at the end of their trip. Le trucks run on specific schedule but their daily timetables hardly run on time. If you are waiting for the bus, allow yourself an extra 10-15 minutes of wait time until the bus gets there to pick you up.
Taxis in French Polynesia can be very expensive especially if you are planning on covering a few areas at a time. It is cheaper to either book a guided tour or rent a car and explore the islands on your own during your French Polynesia travel. If you are still in need of a taxi, you may order one either by calling from your hotel's front desk or hailing one down along the streets of the island.
There is also a ferry service - Aremiti - that is offered between the island of Tahiti and Moorea located 19 km (12 miles) to the west. This 30-40 minute scenic journey from Pape’ete is super affordable and much cheaper than taking a plane. There are two companies that provide a ferry service with six to seven return trips a day and five on Sundays. These vessels also have the convenience of loading in your car as well as snack bars and TV lounges. The ferries pull into Moorea dock in Vaiare that is located on the northeast side of the island.
You may also start your island hopping adventure by taking a regular boat, but those trips can last for up to 13 hours one way and the roughness of the water might not be worth such a long trip. If you are visiting Bora Bora, Raiatea, Tahaa and the small island of Maupiti, take the high-speed boat that operates three times per week and be on your way to exploring.
Travellers who are interested in doing island hopping during their French Polynesia travel may do so by booking a private plane or a helicopter. These operators offer sightseeing tours and inter-island transfers, but be prepared to dish out a good amount of cash for the tickets.
Renting a car in French Polynesia
There are quite a few car-hire agencies throughout French Polynesia but their prices do not really vary much no matter which island you stay on. Although many cars are economical, which allows you to save a few bucks on kilometres, the prices are high compared to the rest of the world. It's best to reserve your car a few months before your French Polynesia travel or as soon as you book your trip to ensure the price bracket you are budgeting for.
Those that are interested in renting out a vehicle in French Polynesia will only require to produce their national driver's licence to the car rental agency as well as a legitimate credit card. International driver's licence is not necessary to have in order to operate a vehicle in French Polynesia.
There are a few less popular car rental agencies located on the smaller islands in French Polynesia, but it doesn't mean they give you credit for booking with them. Their prices are as high and the selection of automobiles is much narrower.
Driving in French Polynesia is on the right-hand side and most roads are in pretty good condition. Both manual and automatic transmission cars are available for booking, but you would have to pay more if you are only able to drive automatic. Driving speed varies depending on where you are, but if you are driving in small towns and/or villages then watch your speedometer to be no more than 40 kph (24 mph) and 80 kph (48 mph) on open roads. On either side of Pape’ete, the speed limit is 60 kph (36 mph) which allows you to drive for a stretch of approximately 8 km (5 miles). Once you reach the Route 5 freeway between Pape’ete and Punaauia, the speed limit becomes 90 kph (54 mph).
You may run into some traffic congestion along the streets of the capital of Pape’ete on Tahiti, but more distant areas are clean and clear for you to enjoy the ride. Driving in French Polynesia is nothing like driving in your home country. Here you have a high chance of running into pedestrians and children who are not accustomed to the road rules. Also watch for chickens, pigs and dogs who tend to run all over the place without looking. Driving on the islands can be a thrilling ride as you always have to be cautious and follow a certain speed in order not to cause the accident, but it is very rewarding as you get to experience the local life and the surreal Polynesian nature in the comfort of a car. While roads in major towns are drivable, roads away from the downtown core will not be so well lit and might have uneven pavement, bumps and extreme turns. Take all the necessary safety precautions and stay alert while driving.
Hitchhiking is widely spread in French Polynesia and we should say it is quite safe as well. Although chances of trouble are small, take all the safety measures possible and before you jump into the car, exercise your judgement as well as try not to hitchhike alone. Waiting for your ride will never take you more than 20 minutes and you get to meet the local people and learn the culture up close as well. Watch out for drunk drivers no matter how you travel through the islands. These folks can be your biggest problem especially if you get in the car with them.
Car rental agencies also offer a variety of scooters to explore the islands on. It is a great and inexpensive way to see the surrounding areas during your French Polynesia travel. The only downside is that scooters would not be suitable for someone who is just learning how to ride one. Main roads in French Polynesia might be well-paved but are sure to be congested with other cars and jaywalkers.
Parking is readily available throughout the busiest neighbourhoods on the islands; however, it might be a dilemma to find an empty spot closer to the evening hours. If you are spending an evening in downtown, try to arrange for a resort/hotel's shuttle bus service to take you there. Avoid driving all the way down, the only thing you will get is frustration of not finding a parking spot.
Money in French Polynesia
The Pacific French Franc (CFP) is the national and official currency in French Polynesia. Although US currency and European euro notes (not coins) are accepted through direct payment at hotels, resorts and restaurants the exchange rate is not as favourable as at the banks.
All major credit cards are widely accepted on the large islands practically anywhere you will go; however, you might encounter problems by paying with a credit card on the smaller islands such as Huahine, Rangiroa and Tikehau. In these instances cash would work best. Please note, credit card companies may charge a fee if the transaction is made outside of their country, so be prepared to pay a little more when purchasing goods. Credit card's exchange rate is a lot better than paying your way with traveller's checks or cash, but traveller's cheques are also accepted just about anywhere, and generally their exchange is better than for cash.
ATM machines, also known as billetterie in French are scattered throughout the main islands of Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora and serve as a very reliable source of getting cash. Billeterries charge a transaction fee for every withdrawal. They are available 24/7, operate in both French and English and always carry cash to dispense. Several banks are also opened to provide banking service to their patrons and are located on the main islands of the country. In addition, post offices have billetterries as well that give out cash against Debit and credit cards.
To get the best exchange rate it is advisable to exchange your money when you arrive in French Polynesia rather than doing it at home.
Tipping in French Polynesia
Tipping is not required or expected in French Polynesia but is always very appreciated and shows the service staff your polite gestures and respect. Some places might not even accept the tips, but they will not get insulted by them either. If you have received an exemplary service and would like to thank a certain staff member or the establishment by giving gratuity, you may do so, but it is not customary in Polynesian culture.
Some restaurants will leave a blank space at the bottom of the final price for you to leave a tip, so it is totally up to you how much you would like to leave for your waiter. Some restaurants will add a service charge in addition to the final price tag and based on the service delivered you are more than welcome to leave a couple of dollars as sincere appreciation for the service. In case you are feeling generous and would like to thank your server for making your time at the restaurant super enjoyable, give the gratuity in cash directly to the person who served you.
Most prices on the menus and inside the stores in Tahiti are quoted as all-inclusive, meaning you do not have to pay additional taxes, fees or tips on top of those charges.
Although tipping is contrary to the local life, some hotels and/or resorts offer their guests an opportunity to donate to their Employee Christmas Fund. This way those that are wishing to help the accommodation's staff, as an acknowledgement of their top-of-the-line service may do so by giving a few extra dollars during or at the end of their stay.
If you genuinely feel like tipping while staying in French Polynesia, tip the equivalent of what you would tip if you travel to any other tropical destination. Although gratuity is not anticipated, you may leave $1-$2 for the porter, $1-$2 for the maid and taxi drivers and tour guides will be happy with 10%-15% of the total price. Whether you tip or not, you will still receive the best service and your vacation will be extraordinary.
Solicitation in French Polynesia
French Polynesia is a safe and untroubled country and you will never come across an aggressive vendor. All vendors on the islands are licensed, fully registered and work legally.
All vendors either own or rent their shops or street stalls and display their pricing clearly on all of their merchandise. Bargaining is always an option but remember, selling these goods is their only source of income and they depend on the money they make off the tourism industry. If you are out looking for a sale do not expect significant discounts but negotiating a couple bucks off is always an option.
There are no beach vendors in French Polynesia, so you will not get bothered during your siesta on the beach or quiet swimming time. If you are shopping around in the open-air market or just strolling through the local streets, chances of a vendor screaming out for you or trying to make you buy his goodies are slim. You will hear a lot of chatting between the vendors and once you approach their huts expect a warm and hospitable welcome. If you are not interested in a certain item, move on to a different hut with a smile and a friendly "No, thank you". Nice gestures among the French Polynesian population and the tourists are highly appreciated and noted.
Money beggars and petty crimes are very uncommon and pretty much unheard of. Many say that because French Polynesia is a high-priced vacation destination, there is no need for the locals to commit any crimes. In case you are a perpetrator of a crime instead of a victim, remember that you are staying in a country that is a province of France, so French law would apply.
Safety in French Polynesia
Although French Polynesia is one of the safest destinations in the world, here are some preventative measures that you need to take while staying on the island for French Polynesia travel, no matter where you go and what you do. Be cautious and exercise all the necessary safety measures just like you would anywhere else. Always lock your hotel safe box, windows and doors when leaving the premises and if you are travelling outside of the resort especially in the dark hours, have a friend or a group of other tourists accompany you to your destination.
Flashy jewellery should be left at home along with expensive appliances, devices and clothing. You might want to stroll the streets of the island showing your sophisticated taste, but it can attract unnecessary attention and can deteriorate your relaxing French Polynesia travel instead of making it delightful.
Valuable items should either be left at home or safely stored in the safety security box that can be found in your hotel/resort's room. Try not to take your personal property items with you during tours, excursions and other outings, especially if you are taking a trip solo, without a guide.
When leaving your rental vehicle, make sure the doors and windows are properly locked and no personal belongings are left anywhere in the car.
French Polynesia poses no major health risks for visitors; however, it is always good to be up-to-date with all of your vaccinations. For those taking in prescription medication, please pack them in your carry-on luggage to make it through the security at the airport safely. Medical care is very good in French Polynesia, all the medical personnel is trained either in France or US to provide high-quality medical assistance to patients and meet all the western medical requirements. Every island in French Polynesia has its own government clinic as well as few private clinics. Healthcare plans and insurance are not accepted on any of the islands, so in case you require medical assistance, you would have to pay upfront and be reimbursed later, when you return home. Cuts, scratches and other open sores can be treated with antibacterial ointment, so it is best to bring a First Aid Kit with you just in case.
Although the sun might give you a nice-looking tan and glowing skin, it also can burn your skin making your French Polynesia travel very unpleasant. Always pack sunscreen and after-sun lotions of your choice to avoid sunburns and pigmentation. The sun can burn your skin in a very short period of time, so try to limit your sun exposure in the first couple of days in order for the skin and body to adjust to the local temperatures and humidity. Sunburns are easily obtainable even when it is a crowded day out or during swimming. Protect yourself and wear a T-shirt especially if you are going snorkeling. Children are more keen to sunburns due to their delicate skin, shield them against the harmful sunrays with a high protection factor sunscreen.
There are plenty of mosquitoes in French Polynesia but they do not carry deadly diseases such as malaria. The only way to avoid these insects is by using a bug repellant spray mostly during the evening and night hours. Ants just like cockroaches and houseflies are all part of the islands and will get any opportunity to land on your plate if the food is left there for hours. Never leave any breadcrumbs or left-overs laying around in your room. In seconds your plates will be covered with these little crawlers trying to munch on your lunch or dinner.
You will also spot dogs, pigs, chickens and birds running along the streets of the islands. They are all part of the local life just like the islanders and do not pose any threat to humans. Geckos (lizards) are also an every day occurrence in French Polynesia, crawling just about anywhere even around the most expensive bungalows. These animals are harmless to humans; however, they pose a deadly threat to insects.
Most water creatures in French Polynesia are harmless to humans but you should take extra caution when snorkeling or diving in lagoon areas further away from the hotel beaches. Many of the coral reefs grow in the deep waters of lagoons, as the flow of rivers and streams into the lagoons creates narrow channels best known as passes through the reefs. These are the spots where coral cuts are easily obtained due to the concentration of coral reefs underwater. Currents are extremely strong in these passes, so try to enjoy your water activities in the shallow areas of the lagoons.
Sharks are another thing to watch out for during French Polynesia travel; however, they never come around any populated areas or resort beaches. If you are doing water activities on your own, in remote, unsupervised or unattended zones, be extra cautious and vigilant at all times inside and outside of water. Never go in too deep into unexplored areas and watch out for things like sea urchins that just love to occupy nearby rocks and reefs and look like pincushions. These creatures have calcium spikes that are a lot more painful than a needle. They are not lethal, but if not pulled out in time, can take up to 3 weeks to dissolve or come out from the body on their own. In case you got bitten by a sea urchin and the burning sensation and swelling of the infected area is unbearable, seek medical assistance for some pain relief.
Jellyfish is another water creature that might be out to protect itself if it gets in contact with a human. If you see one swaying around you in the water, turn in another direction, away from it. Getting in contact with jellyfish can hurt more than anything, but most of them (at least on the island of French Polynesia) are non life-threatening. If you get bit by a jellyfish, try to get any visible tentacles off your body and only by wearing gloves. Rinse the swollen area with salt water and put ice cubes on it to calm down the wound.
Watch out for moray eels that hide deep in the corals and can cause a serious injury. Always wear sandals, water or sandshoes when going in lagoons and places with a high concentration of coral reefs. Cutting your feet against the reefs or stepping on stonefish can be extremely painful and can ruin your French Polynesia travel.
Topless sunbathing is not prohibited in French Polynesia; however, French Polynesians have a sense of proper attire and etiquette when out in public. Follow the general rules you would follow at home in order not to offend the local residents and their culture.
If you decide to spend a few hours outdoors, please remember that a lot of things such as injuries happen when people do not follow the instructions. Always stay on the designated hiking trails, wear a life jacket when canoeing or kayaking, follow the visible marine charts if you are renting out a boat without the guide and always have rain gear in case your mountain adventure catches you in the middle of the storm. French gendarmes are always there to help, but they do not appreciate tourists purposely getting into trouble.
Water in French Polynesia
Water in French Polynesia is fully potable, so tourists will not have any problems drinking it from the tap. Some travellers noticed that in certain remote areas the tap water might taste a bit more salty than the tap water in large hotels and resorts, but it is totally safe to drink without acquiring any digestive problems and is not a sign of contaminated water.
Tap water in French Polynesia is clean, pure, tasty and fully filtered. Although tap water is safe to drink, you will be offered bottled water at the place of your accommodation and/or dining establishments. Those visitors that have digestive problems or weak immune systems should opt in for bottled water during their French Polynesia travel to avoid nausea, vomiting or other symptoms that can make the vacation dreary rather than enjoyable. Hotels and resorts sell bottled water on their premises, but at the price points you would want to avoid. Bottled water can also be purchased at all local convenience stores, super markets, restaurants and cafes if needed.
If you are planning to stay on less popular resorts or hotels such as family resorts or small inns you may still drink their tap water, but we suggest to ask their front desk for a confirmation prior to doing so.
If for any reason you do feel sick and will require medical assistance, rest assured, medical professionals in French Polynesia are available to provide qualified medical care 24/7 for anybody with health-related issues. All local doctors, nurses and other medical staff are either from France or did their professional training in France or US and meet all the necessary western medical requirements.
Electricity in French Polynesia
The standard voltage in French Polynesia is 220 volts with the 60 Hz frequency. French Polynesia uses more than one voltage depending on the region, the city or even the resort and/or hotel you are staying at; however, most places you will stay at have a voltage of 220 while a couple of the newer and larger hotels offer 110 volts for small appliances such as shavers etc. The best advice for North American travellers would be to either bring your own converter that has French-style plugs with 2 pins, or invest in the universal converter, that has several types of plugs conveniently located in one unit, so you can take it with you every time you travel.
It is best to contact your accommodation prior to your French Polynesia travel to inquire which voltage is being used at that location, and if you cannot acquire this information prior to your flight, bring a voltage converter with you just in case. If the local voltage exceeds the maximum voltage of your appliances, you cannot use them without the proper adaptors and/or converters, otherwise you run the risk of the electrical fire hazard, blowing a fuze and severely damaging your devices. Things that should not happen during a vacation and must be avoided accordingly.
When travelling out of your country, it is best to purchase all of the necessary charging/converting equipment in your home country. But if you accidentally find ourself without these important things you may always browse through the local stores to purchase them.
French Polynesia uses bot, flat blade plug and 2-round pins plug, so if your appliance's plug has a different shape, you might require a plug adaptor as well. Plan wisely and according to the island's electricity specifications to ensure a safe and worry-free French Polynesia travel!