The jewel of the South Pacific, French Polynesia is a collection of archipelagos in an area the size of Europe. Its 130 islands fall into six main groups: Austral Islands, Bass Islands, Gambier Islands, Marquesas Islands, Society Islands, and the Tuamotu Archipelago. The best-known island, Tahiti, is part of the Society Islands.
The archipelagos have a rich history dating back to 300 AD when the first islands were settled. The Europeans started exploring the area in the 1500s, and over the next 300 years, explorers from Magellan to Cook toured the islands. In 1880, France began annexing the islands, starting with Tahiti and the Tuamotu Archipelago. During the 1940s and 1950s, France granted citizenship to Polynesians, and the region’s name changed to French Polynesia. French is the official language, but English is widely spoken in most areas.
We chose French Polynesia as the best archipelagos to visit because of its variety of landscapes, wildlife, and activities, and because the weather is perfect year-round. You’ll find fascinating historical and archaeological sites everywhere on the islands, including ancient Polynesian religious sites. The people are friendly, and they love to show you their island and way of life.
Each island group has its own personality, and you can choose to spend your vacation exploring one area in depth, or you can take several mini-vacations and explore several regions by plane or boat. Air Tahiti has multi-island itineraries for your convenience. Each area will have its signature food and drink for you to sample. For lodging, you’ll find everything from first-class hotels to cozy bed and breakfasts to welcoming family homes.
The Marquesas Islands form the northeastern archipelago and boast high mountains, majestic waterfalls, blossoming valleys, and abundant wildlife including wild horses. Hiva Oa is known as Paul Gauguin’s Island, as this lush paradise features the Paul Gauguin Cultural Center and is the artist’s final resting place. You’ll find plenty of archaeological sites and remote areas to explore on horseback or on foot.
The Austral Islands lie to the south and consist of the Bass Islands and Tubuai Islands. Ancient volcanoes and fortresses dot these islands, which tend to be cooler than the other archipelagos. Picturesque beaches are scattered throughout the area, and whale watching is a popular activity. You will find few hotels, but plenty of family homes welcoming you.
The Tuamotu Archipelago is centrally located and is surrounded by coral reefs. The name means “islands on the back of the ocean” and the area is full of small islets that look like whale’s backs. Its pristine white beaches and vibrant coconut groves make it a breathtaking tropical paradise perfect for snorkeling, scuba diving, or sunbathing. Don’t leave without a piece of Polynesian black pearl jewelry.
Created by a giant crater, the Gambier Islands lie to the southeast and are not as popular as other archipelagos. This region is a step back in time and is a refreshing change due to its unspoiled and pure beauty. Be prepared—prices can be high, very few locals speak English, and rental cars, banks, and ATMs are rare.
The Society Islands are divided into the Leeward Islands and the Windward Islands. Beautiful warm-water lagoons and coral reefs surround this western group of high tropical islands. Its beaches are breathtaking, and Bora Bora and Tahiti are perfect for those who love scenic beaches and crystalline waters.
With its landscapes, world-class beaches, and long history, French Polynesia captivates travelers year-round. Every island has its own personality, culture, and activities. The timeless beauty of French Polynesia is found in every corner of every island.
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