French Polynesia

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The islands of French Polynesia are known for their spectacular, crystal-clear lagoons, so there are plenty of water activities to be enjoyed – or even tried for the first time. Days are easily filled with snorkeling, scuba diving, jet skiing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and sailing. The Tahitians may even convince you to get in the water for one of their most infamous excursions: shark and stingray feeding. Land-based activities – hikes, 4X4 drives, pearl farm visits, historic sites, and shopping – round out the daylight offerings. And after dark, you won’t want to miss a traditional Polynesian dance show.

Things to do in French Polynesia

Cruise the Islands

If you have just seven days and would like to see four or five islands without repacking and flying every one or two days, consider a one-week Society Islands itinerary aboard the m/s Paul Gauguin. This 332-passenger ship, known for its fine cuisine and comfortable cabins (70 percent of which have private balconies), leaves Papeete on Saturdays and visits Moorea, Raiatea, Taha’a, and Bora Bora year-round. The ship offers a variety of land and lagoon excursions, plus a watersports marina at the ship’s aft, or you can be independent and explore on your own. The ship also sails 10-, 11-, and 14-day itineraries to the Tuamotus, Cook Islands, and Marquesas.

Paul Gauguin Cruises, Tahiti, 800-848-6172,
Tags: cruise | expensive | things to do

Dive Into the Menu at Lagoon

Even if you are not staying at the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort, you should splurge on the sublime seafood at Lagoon, Jean-George Vongerichten's sleek overwater restaurant at the resort. Start in the bar, or at a table outside, with one of the signature cocktails – a Ginger Margarita, perhaps – and then segue to taste treats such as rice cracker crusted tuna, grilled mahi mahi, and deep sea barracuda; there are also poultry and meat options for non-seafood-lovers.

St. Regis Bora Bora, Motu Ome'e, B.P. 506, Bora Bora, 011-689-60-78-88,
Tags: romance | seafood | expensive | notable chef | views | things to do

Scuba in the Tuamotu Atolls

Intrepid snorkelers and scuba divers will find that French Polynesia is a veritable aquarium – with walls of bright coral and schools of colorful parrotfish offering visual delights at every turn. You can snorkel pretty much anywhere, even from your overwater bungalow, and dive operators organize private or group dives on most islands. But for serious underwater adventure and the best array of fish, divers flock to the Tuamotu Atolls, especially Rangiroa, Fakarava, and Tikehau. One of the largest dive-vacation companies in the islands is Dive Tahiti Blue, which can arrange resort or live-aboard scuba itineraries.

Dive Tahiti Blue, PK 32, Cote Montagne, Moorea, 011-310-507-0211,
Tags: snorkeling | things to do | wildlife | adventure | diving

Sleep in an Overwater Bungalow

French Polynesia is one of the few places in the world where the water is calm and shallow enough for these incredibly romantic accommodations. There are overwater bungalows on every tourist-centric island. All have thatched roofs and are made mostly of local wood and woven leaves; some are old-school basic and others five-star luxe. They range in size from a cozy 300 square feet to a spacious 1,500 square feet and many feature glass viewing panels in the floor so you can spy on (and even feed) the tropical fish below. At some resorts – such as the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort and the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora – the bungalows are so outstanding that many guests choose never to leave the property – and sometimes even their bungalow.

Tahiti Tourisme, 011-689-607888,
Tags: romance | expensive | smart splurge | things to do

Visit a Pearl Farm

Cultured black pearls are synonymous with Tahiti, but you'll find them in a variety of colors (from deep gray-blue to pinkish mauve to peacock green), shapes, sizes, and prices. To see how the pearls are grown (it takes 18 months to three years) and harvested, you can visit a pearl farm; they are mostly located in the Tuamotus, but you’ll also find them on Huahine and Taha’a. They make great gifts and are easy to transport.

BP 104, Haamene-Tahaa, 011-689-65-60-83,
Tags: shopping | things to do | jewelry | souvenirs

Watch a Polynesian Dance Show

Tahitians sure know how to shake it. While in the islands be sure to enjoy at least one Polynesian Night, where troupes of local performers showcase dance moves, many interpreting ancient myths and legends handed down over generations. Set to rhythmic drumming, the dancing is often accompanied by a tamaaraa, a traditional Tahitian feast of pork, fish, chicken, and yams cooked in an underground oven. Warning: If you sit too close to the stage, you may end up shaking your hips yourself.

Tags: family | things to do | culture | performing arts

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