Our recommendation to visit French Polynesia
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French Polynesia Travel advice
Events and festivals in French Polynesia
Across the paradise islands of French Polynesia, you’ll encounter an array of fantastic events, festivals and celebrations! Whilst some events focus on the islands’ musical and dance traditions, others highlight sporting events, religious festivals and the natural environment. On the other hand, French traditions, such as Bastille Day are also celebrated in French Polynesia. Dive into the Polynesian culture by getting to know these popular Polynesian events and festivals!
Of all the celebrations and events held in French Polynesia, Heiva is the best-loved! A month-long festival of events, Heiva is a celebration of Polynesian culture across all five of the French Polynesian archipelagos. Ultimately, Heiva is a competition, where singers, dancers, performers and sportspeople from all over the country come together to compete in an array of traditional arts and activities. The main event, known as Heiva I Tahiti, is held on the largest island of Tahiti. Performances take place every evening and there’s an energetic, festive atmosphere across the island as locals get ready to either participate or watch the diverse array of entertainment. Sporting events, such as canoe racing, as well as ceremonial events, like fire-walking, also take place during Heiva. Although the major celebrations can be found in Tahiti, each island and archipelago puts on its own version of Heiva during the month of July.
Pareo Day (May)
A light-hearted celebration of Polynesian culture, Pareo Day is a modern celebration that aims to celebrate the popular Polynesian clothing item of the pareo! Found in the wardrobe of every Polynesia, a pareo is a colourful piece of cloth, usually decorated with printed or painted flowers. Similar to a sarong, it can be worn in countless ways. Pareo Day is a day where people are encouraged to wear their best pareo either to work, school or wherever else they might go on that day! Usually held on the last Friday in May, the celebration was started in 2013 and gained popularity around the world thanks to the help of social media!
Bastille Day (July 14th)
Known as ‘National Day’ in French Polynesia, this event commemorates the storming of the Bastille and the French Revolution which followed. In Polynesia, this is a celebration of the freedom and autonomy that came from the French annexation of the islands in 1881. Falling during the month-long celebration of Heiva, Bastille Day celebrations involve lots of singing, dancing and traditional performances.
Tahiti Tiare Day (December)
Usually held in December, this annual event celebrates the national flower of French Polynesia: the Tiare! Said to be the world’s most fragrant flower, this white bloom is an important symbol of Polynesian culture. To celebrate the Gardenia Tahitensis, the capital of Papeete pulls out all the stops, with individual flowers being handed out in the city’s streets, in shops and even at the airport. Furthermore, local businesses compete to create the most impressive and beautiful floral decorations and displays can be found in local shops, banks, post offices and other buildings across Papeete.
All Saint’s Day (November 1st)
As in other countries around the world, French Polynesians mark All Saint’s Day by remembering their deceased ancestors. The days leading up the November 1st are dedicated to tidying the graves of loved ones ready to decorate them with beautiful floral displays and candles on the day itself. All Saint’s Day in French Polynesia is a time for families to get together and share stories about those they have lost. It is a national holiday, therefore schools and most businesses are closed on this day.
Chinese New Year (February/March)
Due to the country’s proximity to Asia, the Chinese New Year is one of the most important festivals in French Polynesia. Tahiti, in particular. is home to a large Chinese population and therefore the annual lunar new year celebration is enjoyed by much of the population, especially in the capital city of Papeete. To mark the occasion, traditional decorations, such as lanterns, are put up around the city and events such as parades and fireworks displays bring the community together to celebrate the arrival of the new year.
Food in French Polynesia
Alongside paradise landscapes, tropical beaches and heavenly islands, French Polynesian cuisine is equally as alluring. Due to the archipelago’s location in the South Pacific, French Polynesian food is heavily influenced by the island’s natural abundance of seafood, tropical fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, French cuisine is another important influence, and if you travel to French Polynesia you’ll find all manner of delicious pastries served up alongside fresh fruit for breakfast! Colourful, fresh and healthy are all words you could use to describe traditional French Polynesian food and these are some of the most common dishes you’ll find on the menu at any local restaurant:
Translated in French as ‘raw fish’, Poisson Cru is the national dish of Tahiti and her islands. Bearing resemblance to the South American dish of ceviche, Poisson Cru consists of raw fish, most commonly tuna, marinated in lime juice and coconut milk. The sweetness of the coconut milk compliments the acidity of the lime juice perfectly. The marinated fish is served alongside fresh vegetables and traditionally served on a banana leaf.
This authentic Polynesian dish is cooked in a traditional ahima’a oven or pit barbeque. The main ingredient is chicken, a protein source used in many French Polynesian dishes. The chicken is browned and combined with onion, garlic, ginger and coconut milk to create a creamy, flavoursome dish, usually accompanied by taro leaves.
A traditional Tahitian barbeque would be incomplete without Po’e pudding for dessert! A simple fruit pudding, Po’e is made by combining mashed bananas with arrowroot and baking the mixture in an ahima’a pit oven. The mixture sets into a pudding-like consistency and is then cut into smaller pieces and served with a generous dollop of coconut cream and perhaps some fresh fruit.
One of the most traditional yet unusual dishes on the French Polynesian menu, Fafaru is a fermented fish dish. Not for the faint of heart, yet surprisingly tasty, Fafaru is made by fermenting tuna fish in a marinade of pickled seawater. The pickled seawater is created by fermenting crushed shrimps and crabs in fresh seawater for a number of days. The aroma of the fermented fish might turn heads, but the result is surprisingly sweet-tasting and loved by locals and visitors alike. The marinated tuna is often served alongside coconut cream.
A more accessible and downright delicious Polynesian dish is Firi Firi, or Tahitian doughnuts. Frequently served up as a breakfast dish, the dough is typically made with flour, sugar, coconut milk, yeast, water, and a pinch of salt and is shaped into individual figure-8s. The figure-8-shaped pieces of dough are then deep-fried until golden brown and delicious and either dusted with sugar are served with fresh fruit. What better way to start a morning in French Polynesia?
In case you haven’t noticed already, coconuts play a leading role in French Polynesian cuisine! Growing on trees across the archipelago, coconut trees are the most abundant tree in the country and therefore, you can’t venture far without stopping for a refreshing drink of coconut water if you travel to French Polynesia. Preferably served up straight from the coconut itself, coconut water is reported to have incredible health benefits and is full of hydrating electrolytes. An integral part of French Polynesian cuisine and culture, be sure to hydrate with fresh coconut water if you travel to these paradise islands!LEARN MORE
Shopping in French Polynesia
If you’re looking for tropical treasures to remind you of your trip to French Polynesia, you’ll find all kinds of items and keepsakes whilst shopping in Tahiti, Moorea or Bora Bora. Known for its abundant natural beauty, craft traditions and exotic flowers, many of the best souvenirs to buy in French Polynesia are found naturally in the environment, such as pearls and monoi oil. On the other hand, the colourful textiles, worn by much of the population, also make incredible keepsakes of your vacation to French Polynesia.
Small enough to roll up into your hand luggage yet colourful enough to turn heads back home, a pareo or sarong is the quintessential French Polynesian souvenir. A medium-sized piece of cloth usually painted or printed with colourful flower patterns, pareos can be found in the wardrobes of almost every French Polynesian. It’s said that there are hundreds of ways to wear this popular garment, and their lightweight material means they’re easily dried in the sun or packed into a beach bag. You can purchase this French Polynesian souvenir pretty much anywhere in the country, from hotel shops to airports and local markets. Hand-painted artisanal pareos can be found in upmarket boutiques and art galleries.
If you travel to French Polynesia you’ll soon become familiar with the country’s pearl-producing industry. It’s said that French Polynesia produces some of the best quality pearls on earth, in particular the pearl farms of Tuamotu and the Gambier Islands. Most famous are the Tahitian black pearls, which, due to their rarity, are more expensive than the usual kind. Pearl shops can be found across the archipelago, and pearls can be purchased mounted as jewellery or unmounted, in their natural form. A beautiful souvenir to pass down through generations, buying pearls in French Polynesia is a great way to remember your trip.
Want to look after your skin and hair like the French Polynesians? Be sure to pick up some Monoi Oil during your stay. Hailed as a beauty secret, Monoi Oil is made from refined coconut oil and fragrant Tahitian Tiare flowers. Sold in a variety of forms, from body lotions to shampoos, lip balms and soaps, Monoi Oil is the ideal souvenir to take home with you to remind you of the sweet aromas of Polynesia. It can be purchased in almost any supermarket and pharmacy on the islands, whilst handmade products are sold at local markets or by road or beachside vendors.
Foodies will relish the chance to purchase Tahitian vanilla, among the most fragrant and delicious in the world. Vanilla plantations can be found across the islands, and after dining on the finest vanilla during your stay in French Polynesia, you’ll notice the difference when you go back home! Therefore, vanilla is one of the best souvenirs to buy in French Polynesia. It can be purchased directly from the producers or at local supermarkets. Vanilla beans, powders and extract are good options and easy to pack in your suitcase.
Polynesians have a long history of carving, in particular the expert carvers of the Marquesa Islands. Wherever you travel in French Polynesia you’ll likely come across an array of wooden sculptures in all shapes and sizes for sale in art galleries, local shops and craft markets. Intricate wooden sculptures, depicting Tiki totems are the most popular and are the ideal keepsake of your time in the islands of Tahiti.
Perhaps the ultimate souvenir, the tradition of tattooing can be traced back centuries and is a very important part of Polynesian culture. It’s rare to find a local who is doesn’t have tattoos, and many of the world’s most talented tattoo artists come from the islands of French Polynesia! Polynesian tattoos follow set patterns and motifs, and if you’re thinking of indulging in some body art during your trip, be sure to find out the meaning behind the symbols in advance to ensure you’re left with a tattoo that means something to you. Furthermore, traditional Polynesian tattoo artists still use the manual tattooing tools invented by their ancestors instead of the regular electric tattoo machine, so if you opt for a traditional tattoo you will have the privilege of experiencing an ancient part of Polynesian culture!LEARN MORE
French Polynesia tourist attractions
More information about French Polynesia
A real-life tropical paradise, French Polynesia is a collection of more than 100 islands and atolls scattered across the South Pacific Ocean. Famous for its overwater villas, spectacular beaches and rich Polynesian culture, a vacation to French Polynesia is an indulgence of a lifetime. There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe the natural beauty of these remote islands, but heavenly, breathing and inspiring are just a handful you could apply to this earthly paradise!
Of the 118 islands, just 67 are inhabited. Furthermore, French Polynesia can be geographically split into five island groups: the Society Islands, the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Gambier Islands, the Marquesas Islands and the Austral Islands. The most popular vacation destinations in French Polynesia can be found within the Society island group, including Tahiti, home to the capital of Papeete, as well as Moorea, Bora Bora and Huahine.
A honeymoon to French Polynesia is the stuff that newlywed dreams are made of, and French Polynesia is eternally popular for romantic beach escapes and couples getaways. Nevertheless, the country’s abundant natural landscapes, exquisite lagoons and volcanic peaks continue to draw lovers of the great outdoors, who long the explore the picture-perfect views and soul-stirring sunsets this archipelago is famed for.
For a trip of a lifetime to a distant paradise where nature reigns supreme, be sure to travel to French Polynesia!
History of French Polynesia
The human history of these volcanic islands can be traced all the way back to 1500 BC when the ‘Great Polynesian Migration’ brought Austronesian people to these remote islands in the South Pacific. It was not until the 16th-century that Europeans discovered this distant archipelago and began charting their location and geography. Trade soon followed, and in 1842, France established a protectorate in the islands. Decades of conflict followed, known as the Leewards War. It was not until 1946 that Polynesian’s were granted French citizenship and the islands received overseas territory status. Now autonomous, if you travel to French Polynesia you can explore a variety of historic sites to uncover both indigenous and French culture. Get to know ancient Tahitian beliefs systems at the village of Maeva on Huahine, home to over 40 stone temples, known as ‘maraes’, or witness traditional folklore and performances at Moorea’s Tiki Village. On the other hand, a trip to French Polynesia would be incomplete without exploring the rich artistic legacy of French painter, Gaugin, at his namesake museum or seeing the colourful colonial architecture of Papeete, such as the late 19th-century Notre Dame Cathedral.
Nature in French Polynesia
Scattered across more than 2,000 kilometres of ocean, French Polynesia is vast and diverse. A tropical and subtropical climate nurtures an incredible array of flora and fauna, most notably the sweet-smelling Tahitian tiaré, one of the world’s most fragrant blooms, found exclusively on the Society Islands. Many thousands of miles away from other continents, French Polynesia’s natural wonders are abundant and unique. In particular, French Polynesia is home to a number of endemic bird species such as the Tahitian monarch flycatcher, the green heron and the laughing kookaburra. Of course, below sea level, French Polynesia boasts incredible underwater biodiversity. Adorned with vast coral reefs, the waters surrounding French Polynesia are rich in marine life. Starfish, sea urchins, oysters, sharks, rays and sea turtles can all be found in the warm waters of the South Pacific, so a boat trip is a must-do if you travel to French Polynesia. Porpoise and dolphin sightings are frequent, and these marine animals hold a special symbolic significance in ancient Polynesian culture.
The highest peak in the country, Mount Orohena, can be found on the island of Tahiti and is a popular hiking destination. Other natural wonders to encounter on a French Polynesia tour include the beautiful, gravity-defying Vaipo Falls, the enchanting Bora Bora Lagoon and the vanilla plantations of Raiatea Island.
French Polynesia can be said to have two seasons: the hot and humid season and the cool and dry season. The hot, humid season runs between November and April, with the rainiest months being December and January. The cool, dry season is just a little cooler, with average temperatures hovering between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius between May and October. Nevertheless, a pleasant, tropical climate can be enjoyed throughout the year, therefore there’s never a bad time to visit French Polynesia!
Culture in French Polynesia
French Polynesian culture is filled with rich, expressive traditions. Music, dance and art are deeply ingrained in national culture, and if you travel to French Polynesia you'll soon notice this fact, be it an impromptu ukelele performance or the elaborate tattoos sported by many Polynesian locals. In fact, the word ‘tatau’ originated from the island of Tahiti! Here, tattoos hold a very sacred and symbolic meaning and were traditionally used as a means of spiritual protection, to show status or to connect with ancestors. Each motif has a particular meaning and learning more about this tradition of body art is an incredible way to gain an understanding of Polynesian culture.
Flowers are another essential part of French Polynesian culture, and when you arrive on the islands you’ll likely be greeted with a traditional flower necklace or lei. Furthermore, Tahitians often decorate their hair with the colourful, fragrant and exotic flowers that grow on these naturally abundant islands.
French and Tahitian are the main languages spoken throughout French Polynesia, although each island group has its own languages. Nevertheless, if you travel to French Polynesia you’ll find that many locals speak English, as tourism is an important part of the local economy.
Passport with a minimum of six months validity with one blank passport page.
Visa not required for stays up to 90 days
UTC - 10:00.
French and Tahitian.
Tourist Office websiteVisit website
220 V. Type E.
Other useful information
There are 118 islands and atolls to explore in French Polynesia.
There are no mandatory vaccinations.