16 Things to Know Before You Go to French Polynesia

French Polynesia is a large, diverse island group in the South Pacific Ocean. Its beauty is legendary and it’s been a favorite of Hollywood royalty for decades. There’s a reason it’s a Honeymoon dream destination for many and a bucket list item for others. French Polynesia is fantastic to visit. However, there are many misconceptions about paradise or simply things you didn’t know or didn’t think about. Over 2 trips, I’ve spent about a month on 11 different French Polynesia Islands. Here are 16 things to know before you go to French Polynesia.

16 things to know before you go to French Polynesia

Tahiti is Not the Name of French Polynesia

Tahiti is the largest and most populous island of French Polynesia. It’s where the international airport is and it’s where the capital city of Papeete is located. Tahiti is one island in French Polynesia.

Tahiti is Not the Reason You Go to French Polynesia

Although Tahiti is still Tahiti, it is not the reason you venture all the way down to French Polynesia. It has name recognition for sure but the fact is it’s not one of the top islands. Although there are some good hotels, restaurants and things to do, Tahiti is not the reason you go to French Polynesia.

You Can Play Golf in French Polynesia

There are two golf courses. One is on Tahiti, about an hour from Papeete. I just played it and it’s OK. It’s not very well kept but it is challenging and still fun. French Polynesia is not a golf destination but the top course is on Moorea at the Jack Nicklaus designed course.  I look forward ti playing it next time!

It Rains a lot in French Polynesia

You’re in the tropics and it rains pretty much every day. Some days are obviously worse than others but it will rain. So manage expectations and roll with the punches. You can’t control the weather but always have a plan B.

There Are a lot of Bugs in French Polynesia

Again, it’s the tropics and there are a lot of bugs, especially mosquitos so bring bug spray or at least be prepared to deal with bugs. Yes they’re annoying but not much that can be done about it other than being prepared and using spray or lotion.

French Polynesia is Very Expensive

As you probably already know from your hotel, the prices in French Polynesia can be high. Food, drink, excursions and shopping are expensive. So be mentally prepared and bring a backup credit card.

When You Buy Pearls, Buy Them Tax Free

Everyone knows about Tahitian pearls and many tourists will buy them. The hotel shops are very expensive so it’s best to look in the pearl markets, especially in Papeete. They’ll give you an option of paying with tax or tax-free where you have to do some paperwork at the airport when you leave. It’s super easy and you can save a lot of money in tax. Trust me.

There are 5 Island Groups in French Polynesia

Tahiti is part of the Society Islands. There are also the Marquesas, Tuamotos, Gambiers and Australs. Each island group is culturally and geographically distinct. All are good to visit and I recommend checking out at least 2 different groups.

You Can Take a Ferry to Moorea

Moorea is easily accessible from Tahiti via ferry. This is cheaper and easier than flying and it only takes about 30 minutes.

Wi-Fi is Not Good

Your phone likely will not work in French Polynesia if you have an American provider and it’s hard to even get it to work in roaming if you want to pay the high fees. You can buy a sim card but it doesn’t always work well. Plus Wi-Fi, even at the nice hotels, won’t work very well. It can be very frustrating, especially at some of the less developed islands but you’re on vacation so accept and move on.

Bring Your Own Snorkle and Mask

You will inevitably be snorkeling a lot in French Polynesia. Even if you’re a diver or not, you’ll be going around the lagoon and it’d be a crime not to snorkel and see the amazing fish and coral. Bringing your own equipment saves rental fees and is more sanitary.

French is the Dominant Language

At top hotels, employees will always speak English but many people on the street or at guest houses will not speak any English or very poor English. Obviously, it’s part of France but it can be frustrating so come expecting it or brush up on some middle school French beforehand!

Service is Not Wonderful

You’re in French Polynesia and although tourism is a huge industry, the service level isn’t always up to what you’d expect in the United States. Generally at the top resorts it is good but middle of the road places to guesthouses and it can be poor and almost certainly slow.

There is Budget Accommodation in French Polynesia

Everyone knows and loves the scenic overwater bungalows and fancy resorts but they come at a high cost. Almost every island has budget accommodation in the form of guesthouses or pensions. They’re a little more difficult to find but they do exist. Just keep in mind you may get what you pay for.

Tahiti is Only an 8.5 Hour Flight From Los Angeles

It’s a lot closer to the US than many people think and it’s pretty easy to get around once you’re there. Air Tahiti Nui is the International carrier and is quite good. I have flown them each time I’ve been down to French Polynesia and have no complaints.

When Traveling Around You Will Connect in Tahiti

Flying around the islands can be a little annoying and cumbersome as many fight between island groups require a connection in Tahiti. Plus if you check bags, you have to reclaim and recheck them in back in Tahiti. I don’t know why they can’t just pass them through but they don’t. So look around before you book flights as many also have a stop or two along the way. You can minimize down time with a little research.

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  1. Good info man!

  2. The guest houses and Pensions are easy to find for any island if you go through Air-B-N-B. This is how the locals island hop for holiday.
    Also, the roadside snack shops and evening roulottes are a cheaper way to eat than at the resorts. Local restaurants are even cheaper than resorts, but a step above the roulotts.
    Lots of cockroaches, geckos and rats, but they run from humans.
    Best weather to visit the islands: between April and July. Temps in low 80’s and humidity hangs around 65%.
    (I’ve been living in Papeete for three yrs now)

  3. William Howard says

    Good information, It is very helpful for many travellers like me , who want to visit French Polynesia for the first time.

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