12 Reasons The Islands of Tahiti Are More Than Just a Pretty Place

Jul 1, 2016

You've seen the postcard images of The Islands of Tahiti -- the jagged volcanic peaks rising above azure blue lagoons, the secluded powder-soft beaches ringed by lush palm trees, the romantic thatched-roof bungalows perched above the waves, where honeymooners and couples escape to reconnect. Scenes like this come to mind ...


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They're stunning. They're iconic. And they are just the beginning.

The Islands of Tahiti are actually 118 islands and atolls spread across five archipelagos -- the Society Islands, Tuamotus, Marquesas, Gambier and Australs -- across two million square miles of the South Pacific.

While the overwater bungalow gets all the attention and draws the wanderlust -- it was pioneered here in 1967 -- to get the full experience from The Islands of Tahiti, you should really go beyond the bungalow. Here's why...

1. You'll experience Mana, then have a tough time explaining it to anyone who hasn't been here.

What's Mana? It's tough to define, but you'll know it when you sense it. Maybe it's the beat of the Maohi tribal drums, or sweet scent of the vanilla, or the soft kiss of the trade winds on your skin. It could be the lack of a filter between you and nature. There's a spirit in the islands that connects you to something larger than yourself. It's Mana, and you'll want more of it.

2. You'll have a sunrise wakeup call -- and not mind one bit.

The Islands of Tahiti are not as far away as you think -- it's a relatively short 8-hour flight from Los Angeles to the capital city of Papeete. Jet lag is also surprisingly not a big problem -- the islands are in the same time zone as Hawaii. You can leave the States at night and arrive the next morning in Tahiti. Chances are, you'll find yourself up at dawn to catch a sunrise that looks like this.

After that? It's time to get busy relaxing.

3. If you never leave the beach, you're missing out.

There's a wild side to The Islands of Tahiti you'll want to explore. Take a 4x4 safari through lush rain forests and the Papearii and Papeeno Valleys to see old villages and hidden rivers on Tahiti, or seek out sacred altars and old World War II artillery on a guided hike around Bora Bora's Mount Otemanu. For a different kind of horsepower, take a horseback ride through the wild volcanic valleys in the Marquesas. Active hikes can take you to the source of the 900-foot high Fautaua waterfall in Tahiti or through the Opunohu Valley on Moorea to Belvedere Point for jaw-dropping views of Cook's Bay.

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4. This may be the 'taxi' ride to your resort.

Many travelers stay within the Society Islands -- which includes the main island of Tahiti, towering Moorea nearby, the romantic honeymoon spot Bora Bora and others. After arriving in Papeete, a short ferry ride or Air Tahiti flight will take you deeper into the diverse archipelagos. From there, many of the high-end resorts on Bora Bora, Tikehau and Taha'a are only accessible by boat. You know you've escaped the every day when this is your daily commute.


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5. These blue lagoons are nature's best water parks.

Your resort will undoubtedly have a really nice swimming pool, but it's usually empty. Why splash around on land when an aquatic playground is right outside your bungalow? Reefs and islets ring the bigger islands with jungle-covered volcanic peaks like Huahine and Raiatea. Atolls are essentially the same thing, but without the island in the middle. This unique landscape creates massive lagoons -- some so big they have their own horizon -- with warm, gentle, crystal-clear water perfect for swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, snorkeling, diving, jet-skiing, parasailing -- you name it.

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You'll spend a lot of your vacation in the water, on the water, by the water -- it draws you in -- whether you're snorkeling in a turquoise lagoon in Bora Bora or taking an outrigger canoe to a deserted motu for some time alone.

6. There's another world beneath the surface.

The Instagram-worthy views above the water are rivaled by what's beneath the waves. The atoll Rangiroa in the Tuamotus shelters a 110 square-mile lagoon that is one of the world's bucket-list diving and snorkeling locations with a kaleidoscope of fish and eye-popping coral. Divers come from around the world to shoot the Tiputa Pass -- a strong current that carries divers, as well as schools of fish, rays and sharks from the ocean into the lagoon. Not far away, the untouched atoll of Fakarava is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and the virgin coral is a big draw for divers.

Even if you can't schedule a dive trip, grab flippers and a mask -- you'll find some of the world's best snorkeling a short swim from your bungalow.

7. The islands' traditions will move you -- literally.

Maohi culture and traditions are passed down from generation to generation through stories, music and dance. The biggest celebration is the annual Heiva festival in July -- which features athletic competitions like javelin throwing and stone lifting, and traditional dances like the 'ote'a. Early European explorers were both shocked and enchanted by the weaved grass skirts and hip shaking -- this ain't the hula, folks -- and tried to ban it during the colonial era. Heiva celebrates the renewal of these traditions. You'll find it hard not to move your hips to the beats of the tribal drums -- and maybe you can learn a move or two for the dance floor back home.

8. Stop and smell the vanilla.

That Tahitian vanilla that flavors your coffee and ice cream at home? More than 80 percent of it is produced on the island of Taha'a -- so much so that the air is tinged with the scent of vanilla pods curing in the sun.

Vanilla makes its way into many dishes on the islands of Tahiti -- including a favorite dessert, a fruit pudding called Po'e.

9. We found the perfect little spot for lunch (actually there are thousands of them).

Have you ever had a motu picnic? Picture a spread that includes fresh guava and pineapple, poisson cru (a national dish that includes fish marinated in lime juice, veggies and coconut milk) and French wine or Hinano beer in the shade of palm trees on an island all to yourself. Most resorts will set this experience up for you -- blanket, basket and all -- with a boat to drop you off and pick you up after some time alone with your travel partner.

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Sure beats wherever you had lunch today.

10. There's very little nightlife -- and that's perfectly fine.

The tranquil sunset over the blue Pacific horizon brings the day to a close -- both literally and figuratively. There's not much to do after dark besides unwind on your deck with a glass of really good French wine and look up at a night sky sprinkled with stars while the waves lap at the shore. You'll never feel more disconnected from the world around you -- and more connected with the person you're with.

The best part -- tomorrow is another sunrise and another day to get busy doing nothing at all.

11. By the end of the trip, you'll be speaking another language.

It's not just the weather that's warm. You'll feel "maeva" or welcome here in a generous culture that embraces guests. The ever-present greeting "ia ora na" welcomes friends old and new, and by the end of your stay you'll be saying it to just about anyone -- along with a few other key Tahitian phrases. ("Maita'i" means "good" -- so order another!)

12. There's a lot more paradise to see -- you'll have to come back to discover more.

If you've only been to Tahiti, Moorea or Bora Bora -- you're just getting started. To really go off the grid, hop on an Air Tahiti flight to the more remote islands which retain an even stronger flavor of the islands' Polynesian culture. There's a lot more to see -- whether it's the Paul Gauguin museum on Hiva Oa in the Marquesas, whale watching in Rurutu or diving for renowned Tahitian cultured pearls in Manihi.

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Can't get to them all on this trip? Looks like you'll have to come back again.

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