Tahiti has always been at the top of my travel bucket list. The turquoise lagoons, soft, white sand, luxurious overwater bungalows – it’s hard to imagine that such paradise really exists. As I stepped off the plane in Papeete and breathed in the hot, humid tropical air, I was adorned with a fresh flower lei and immediately felt like there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be.
Most people focus on Bora Bora when planning a visit to French Polynesia, but there are so many other beautiful islands to see. My first stop was Taha’a, known as the vanilla island because it grows 80% of all vanilla produced in French Polynesia. A visit to one of its vanilla plantations is not to be missed. I stayed at the elegant Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa, located on a private motu (islet) across from the main island. Their Beach Villas are your own private oasis with a secluded courtyard, plunge pool, outdoor bathtub, beach area with sun loungers, and to top it off, a hammock by the water. Why would you ever want to leave your room?!
The lagoon is perfectly warm and I spent hours relaxing in the water. My first meal at Le Taha’a was poisson cru aka raw tuna in coconut milk – a local specialty – and something I couldn’t get enough of for the rest of the trip. Another highlight was snorkeling in their coral garden, where you simply float in the water and observe hundreds of fish and coral around as the current carries you. The mood at Le Taha’a is inviting, quiet, romantic, and makes you feel like you are a world away.
My next stop was Bora Bora and I was simply blown away by its beauty. I’ve never seen water so bright and clear! While staying on the main island gives you more freedom and easier access to restaurants and shopping in the main town, the best resorts are located on the motus. Nothing can beat that view of the overwater bungalows perched on the turquoise lagoon with the majestic Mount Otemanu as the backdrop.
I had a lovely stay at the Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa and really enjoyed its signature Polynesian style. However, for the ultimate luxurious experience, the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort cannot be beat. The resort is huge and provides bikes for all guests to get around the property. Don’t want to bike? There is a butler at your service, to take care of any requests. The overwater bungalows are the biggest in French Polynesia and offer the ultimate comfort with stunning views. One of the best meals I had on the trip was at St. Regis’ Lagoon Restaurant by Jean-Georges. Sitting outside by the lagoon watching the sun set behind Mount Otemanu as I ate the most decadent, exquisite dishes was an experience I will never forget!
If simply being in paradise is not relaxing enough, the spas at the resorts offer a myriad of exotic treatments. I loved the Miri Miri Spa by CLARINS at the St. Regis – a secluded haven located on a private island in the middle of the resort’s Lagoonarium. My favorite spa was the Deep Ocean Spa at the InterContinental Thalasso Bora Bora Resort. They use thalassotherapy (seawater therapy) to take advantage of deep-sea water marine nutrients to enhance their treatments. Travel tip: If you arrived early off a flight and your room isn’t ready yet, or you don’t want to splurge on a signature treatment, simply buy a day pass to the spa and use the public facilities. Tropical relaxation for $35 or less!
Moorea was my third and final island stop. It’s completely different from the other islands in that it is a lot less touristy. It’s only a short 40 minute ferry ride from the main island of Papeete or a 10 minute flight, so it is much more accessible for the locals. All of the resorts are located on the main island, allowing you to go out and explore at leisure. I took a stroll to the town market, had lunch at a local café and got a glimpse into the locals’ daily lives.
To explore the island further, I did a 4WD safari, which took me to Belvedere lookout and Magic Mountain for incredible views, a pineapple plantation, then a stop at a distillery to taste local juice and jams. We also visited a Marae (Ancient Polynesian temple) to learn about Polynesian traditions followed by a final stop at a local pearl shop. Tahitian black pearls are exquisite and, while pricey, the best souvenir you can bring back with you. If you are after water-based activities, then Bora Bora or Taha’a are a must, but if you prefer land-based activities and want to see real Polynesian life, Moorea is simply magical.
Saying goodbye to French Polynesia was so hard, especially knowing that I had a long New England winter to come back to. From snorkeling in the beautiful lagoons and eating the freshest seafood to simply relaxing on the perfectly soft sand with a tropical cocktail in hand, Tahiti not only lived up to my already high expectations of a bucket list destination, it honestly surpassed them. I still find myself dreaming of that bright turquoise lagoon and wake up each time with a smile on my face.