10 Best French Polynesian Islands

Colorful Cook's Bay Sailboats Mount Tohivea Moorea Tahiti
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With friendly locals, pristine lagoons, and coconut-tree-lined beaches, French Polynesia is undoubtedly a blissful tropical paradise. But with 118 islands to choose from, it’s hard to narrow it down. Whether you're looking to get pampered on Bora Bora, snorkel with manta rays on Rangiroa, or explore archaeological sites on Nuku Hiva, there's something for every type of traveler. Read on to discover 10 of the best islands in French Polynesia.

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Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia
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Tahiti, French Polynesia

Tahiti is the heart of French Polynesia, home to its capital city, Papeete, and more than 70 percent of the population. This is the island to visit for vibrant nightlife, shopping, and culture—all alongside sweeping black sand beaches and wild waterfall-filled valleys. Check out Papeete’s municipal market, Le Marché, for fresh produce and locally-made souvenirs. Spend a day taking it slow and driving around the island, stopping along the way to check out the beaches, waterfalls, and towns before eating out at a roulotte or food truck for giant portions of raw fish, a Tahitian favorite. 

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Bora Bora

Overwater Bungalows in Bora Bora

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Bora-Bora, French Polynesia

Flying into Bora Bora is a dream—as your plane lands on a strip of long sand lined with coconut palms, you'll be greeted by jagged mountain peaks rising out of an aquamarine lagoon. There’s a reason why Bora Bora is considered the ultimate luxury island holiday destination: it’s stunning. Splurge and stay on a private motu (offshore islet) in an overwater bungalow with unforgettable views of the main island and lounge around on the white sand beaches. For a bit of adventure, Bora Bora offers fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities. Expect to see rays, reef sharks, turtles, and endless varieties of colorful reef fish.

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View of the coast off Moorea

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Mo'orea, Moorea-Maiao, French Polynesia

Moorea island is Tahiti’s little sister, just a 30-minute ferry ride away from the main island. Laid-back and relaxed, time moves slower on Moorea, and in the best way possible. Taking a lagoon tour is a must-do, as you'll boat around the azure lagoon with a friendly guide, stop to snorkel with sharks and rays, and then eat a Polynesian-style BBQ lunch on one of Moorea’s picturesque motu. Back on land, head up to the Belvedere Lookout for a perfect view of the island's verdant valleys and mountain peaks.

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Sandy beach on Rangiroa

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Rangiroa, French Polynesia

Sundrenched Rangiroa, an atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago, is located just one hour by plane from Tahiti, and yet it feels like a world away. Rangiroa is French Polynesia’s biggest atoll, made up of a ring of smaller islands over 110 miles long that circle a massive lagoon. The famous Blue Lagoon is the atoll’s biggest drawcard, with manta rays, dolphins, sharks, whales, and other aquatic creatures calling the underwater wonderland home. For an insider’s look at one of French Polynesia’s biggest industries, visit one of the black pearl farms sprinkled around the lagoon.

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Nuku Hiva

Tiki at Temehea archeological site.
Holger Leue / Getty Images
Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia

Get off the beaten path with a trip to Nuku Hiva, in the wild Marquesas archipelago, located northeast of Tahiti. Nuku Hiva is a three-hour plane ride from Tahiti and has its own distinct culture and language. For an unforgettable day trip, head to Hakaui valley and hike to French Polynesia’s tallest waterfall, Vaipio, and be rewarded with a dip in the pool under the falls. Nuku Hiva’s archeological sites are among the best on the islands; take a guided tour of ancient Polynesian temples, tiki statues, and ceremonial sites, and learn about the island's intriguing history.

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Taha'a island

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Taha'a, French Polynesia

Located in the Society Island group, Tahaa is just 45 minutes by air from Tahiti. It’s well-known for producing three of French Polynesia’s most pleasing products: vanilla beans, black pearls, and rum. With its wide bays, pristine lagoon, and quiet villages, Tahaa is the perfect place for an even more relaxing island escape. Rent a scooter or a bike to explore the island at a leisurely pace, take a paddleboard out onto the lagoon, or book an excursion to your own private motu for lunch.

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Tetiaroa sensational lagoon and islets
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Tetiaroa, French Polynesia

Owned by actor Marlon Brando, Tetiaroa is one of the world’s most beautiful and exclusive atolls. It’s home to the ultra-luxurious eco-resort The Brando, frequented by celebrities and the super-rich like Leonardo DiCaprio, Kim Kardashian, and Barack Obama. It’s now a protected nature reserve and home to a thriving seabird population. Tetiaroa is accessible by catamaran from Tahiti, and day trips are a popular way to experience the island. The excursions usually include short walking tours of the atoll, bird watching, and snorkeling. Bragging rights are guaranteed!

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Dmitry Malov / Getty Images

Rimatara, French Polynesia

Rimatara is one of French Polynesia’s hidden gems. The tiny island is located in the Austral archipelago, a one-hour, 45-minute flight from Tahiti. With only two small villages on Rimatara, it’s possible to ride around the entire island in just 30 minutes. Here you can experience authentic Polynesian culture and stay at a family-run guesthouse. Spot Rimatara's famous "rainbow" parakeets called Vini Ura, chill on white sand beaches, and learn to weave pandanus leaves from the island's expert artisans.

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Young woman diving with sharks
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Fakarava, French Polynesia

Fakarava means "beautiful," and with its pink sand beaches, endless coconut trees, and a massive cerulean lagoon, the name barely does it justice. The atoll of Fakarava, in the Tuamotu archipelago, is a one-hour, 10-minute flight from Tahiti. It’s home to some of the best drift dives and offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim among hundreds of sharks. For those who prefer land, you can wander around sunkissed villages, chat with the friendly locals, and fish for dinner off the pier. Don’t miss the incredible sunsets!

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Lagoon, aerial view at Maupiti
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Maupiti, French Polynesia

For a true tropical island paradise, look no further than Maupiti, located in the Society Islands and just 50 minutes by plane from Tahiti. The stunning Terei’a beach is an idyllic place, where you can easily spend the day swimming in the azure lagoon and lazing about on the picture-perfect white sand. From the beach, it’s possible to walk to a nearby motu, spotting rays and sharks along the way. For the adventurous, go on a lagoon tour or hike to the top of Mount Teurafaatui for incredible 360-degree views of the island and its beautiful lagoon.

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10 Best French Polynesian Islands