With over 118 islands in five stunning archipelagos, the Islands of Tahiti offer much more than just overwater bungalows and honeymoon packages.
Although I love overwater bungalows – I mean, who can resist impromptu moonlight swims and glass bottom floors, the islands of Fakarava, Rangiroa, and Raiatea have a more funky, authentic, and bohemian vibe. Where family-run pensions reign, you dine barefoot in the sand, and Polynesian traditions aren’t just performed at hotel buffets but are woven into the social fabric of island life. Here, you can truly feel Mana, the ever-present spirit and life force of the Islands of Tahiti that connects us all.
Fakarava, The Island of Dreams
The second largest lagoon in the Tuamotu Atolls, Fakarava is a thin sixty-mile strip that is home to stunning beaches and lagoons. At certain points, it’s a five-minute walk from one side of the lagoon to the open ocean. Low key and local, your heart slows to a relaxed beat after you land. Small villages, coral churches, and casual beach restaurants with mismatched colorful chairs and lagoon views dot the bougainvillea-lined roads. The locals, less than 1,000, are incredibly friendly with big smiles, flowers tucked behind an ear, and always a welcoming wave.
Fakarava is best explored by bicycle. Where you’ll see an abundance of shell art, ocean buoys hanging from trees, quaint one-story thatched bungalows, tasty bakeries, quirky restaurants, and what feels like endless views of crystal clear turquoise waters with a pristine coral reef that comes right up to the edge of the shoreline.
The only thing not low key on Fakarava is the scuba diving which is world class and absolutely thrilling. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the south pass is known for its wall of sharks and abundance of marine life where schools of tropical fish are so massive the appear like colorful clouds against a blue sky.
Stay at Pension Tokerau Village with thatched one-room bungalows in a pretty garden, steps from a palm-lined sugar white sand beach with incredible sunset views. As with most pensions on the island, half-board is included. A tasty breakfast and family-style fish dinner is served nightly, including the Polynesian specialty pearl oyster carpaccio. Nights are best spent at the dinner table laughing and talking with new friends or star gazing on the beach.
Rangiroa, The Lagoon Island
The largest of the Tuamotu Atolls, Rangiroa is a natural aquarium with a vast lagoon to explore when you’re not relaxing on its white sand beaches. The intense blue hues of the lagoon seamlessly blend with the brilliant sky to create what locals call “Rangiroa Blue”. A ring of islets, coral atolls, and stunning sandbars loop the lagoon and make for mindblowing day trips where you are serenaded by a local guide playing his ukelele. A visit to the Blue Lagoon with Orviri Excursions bring you up close and personal to a nursery of baby black tip sharks. Or scuba dive the Tiputa Pass where the lagoon connects to the open ocean for a thrill of a lifetime. Even if you don’t dive, drift snorkeling over the pass is quite an adventure.
Then at sunset, if you’re not already staying there, visit Les Relais de Joséphine to see dolphins jump and play in the waves while enjoying a sundowner cocktail. A family-owned pensione overlooking the Tiputa Pass, bungalows have either an ocean or garden view. You don’t have to be a guest to enjoy a cocktail or sunset dinner on the deck and indulge in a fresh fusion of French and Polynesian cuisine with lagoon-caught fish.
Raiatea, The Sacred Island
Legendary for sailing, Raiatea is believed to be where Polynesian migration began. Modern sailors still make the pilgrimage to the majestic UNESCO World Heritage Site Marae Taputapuatea that borders a stunning shoreline.
With temples, craters, and a navigable river, Raiatea is a gorgeous garden island where most of the flowers for Bora Bora’s hotels are grown. It’s best to “ride local” and book a day trip with Trucky Tour as you never know what wonders wait for you at the end of a thin dirt road. But the locals do. This also rings true for surfers who want to find the best reef breaks on the island.
A sailor’s paradise, Raiatea shares its protected lagoon with Taha’a which makes for dramatic sailing around the two islands. Tahiti Yacht Charter offers a fleet of fully crewed catamarans for both day trips and longer. Imagine paddle boarding in the open lagoon, snorkeling through pristine coral reefs, or taking the tender out for a spin to the very edge of the reef.
Stay at the relaxed and recently renovated Villa Ixora on the bay. Four bungalows dot the pretty property and guests have access to kayaks to paddle to a nearby islet. Villa Ixora is also home to one of the most popular restaurants on the island that hosts Jazz Evenings and are a favorite with local musicians.
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