10 Top Things to Do in Tahiti

Polynesian house on stilts
Vincent Jary / Getty Images

Tahiti is the ultimate "Fantasy Island" destination for many couples, one they often opt to splurge on for a romantic occasion such as a honeymoon or anniversary. The azure-hued realm of French Polynesia is indeed a tropical Eden ideally suited for two, while its sights and activities appeal to hedonists and adventure-seekers alike. 

Officially, there are 118 islands and atolls that make up Tahiti and French Polynesia, though you're most likely thinking of the Society Islands—the main islands out of the 14 being Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Tahaa, Raiatea, Maupiti, and Huahine—when you hear the word Tahiti; the other Tahitian Island groups include the more remote Tuamotus Islands, Marquesas Islands, Austral Islands, and Gambier Islands. You're likely to hear French spoken—English is commonly spoken in hotels, restaurants, and other parts of the islands that are frequented by visitors, though—and notice the French Pacific Franc as the local currency since the islands being part of French Polynesia means they are part of France.

While you could simply choose to relax all day on a gorgeous beach, it's much more interesting to get out there and see what the Islands have to offer. Start with these 10 things every visitor should do on a trip to Tahiti.

01 of 10

Learn About Tahitian History and Culture

Museum of Tahiti and the Islands

Museum of Tahiti and the Islands

Puna'auia, French Polynesia
Phone +689 40 54 84 35

Located about 20 minutes from the capital city of Papeete on the main island of Tahiti, the Museum of Tahiti and the Islands—or, Musee de Tahiti et des Iles, in French—is a great place for visitors of all ages to get acquainted with the area's rich Polynesian culture and history.

Learn about popular Polynesian myths and legends, check out arts and crafts and ancient artifacts, experience island-style music, and stroll through the gardens before visiting more of Tahiti. The museum also does a great job of explaining the islands' geographical and natural history, what it was like here before the arrival of the French colonists, the effects of colonization on the islands and their people, and natural wonders you'll be able to see throughout French Polynesia.

02 of 10

Visit Beautiful Waterfalls in Tahiti and Moorea

Waterfalls in Tahiti

Glen Allison / Getty Images

FJ82+668, Hitiaa O Te Ra, French Polynesia

There's no shortage of beautiful waterfalls on the main island of Tahiti. Start with a trip to the Vaimahuta Waterfall, located about a 30-minute drive east of the capital city of Papeete. There's a well-visited trail of about 0.3 miles that takes roughly 20 minutes to complete. It's actually part of a larger group of waterfalls—collectively called the Faarumai waterfalls, or Les Trois Cascades de Faarumai—so be sure to check out the other two while you're in the area.

Other waterfalls that are worth a visit include the Topatari Waterfall and Puraha Falls, also located in the Papenoo Valley, and the Fautaua Waterfall, which is closer to the island's center. On the nearby island of Moorea, don't miss the 'Āfareaitu Waterfall, located near the center of the island. Note that it requires a moderate-level 0.9-mile return hike to view, which can be done in about an hour.

03 of 10

Sleep in an Overwater Bungalow

Overwater Bungalows in Tahiti

TripSavvy / Jamie Ditaranto

98730, French Polynesia
Phone +689 40 60 78 88

Sleeping in an overwater bungalow is a major bucket list item for any trip to Tahiti, and luckily, every island is dotted with the famously beautiful thatch-roofed huts poised on stilts. Check-in, change into your swimsuit, and savor your own private frangipani-scented paradise. Spend a few days waking up and falling asleep to the soothing lullaby of softly lapping water, enjoying a refreshing dip or invigorating snorkel right from your own private sun deck, and ogling colorful reef fish through strategically placed glass panels in your bungalow’s floor.

While there are lots of great overwater bungalow options throughout the Tahitian Islands, some of the most popular include Conrad Bora Bora Nui, InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa, InterContinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa, and The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort, which can each be booked for (almost) free with rewards points from hotel loyalty programs—in this case Hilton Honors, IHG One Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy, respectively.

04 of 10

Feed Sharks and Stingrays by Hand

A man feeding a stingray in the lagoon

TripSavvy / Jamie Ditaranto

French Polynesia
Phone +689 87 78 27 37

Humans aren’t the only creatures that enjoy Tahiti's crystalline lagoons. Stealthy black-tipped reef sharks and prehistoric-looking southern stingrays like to splash about, too. You can interact with both during a shark and stingray feeding tour, available on most islands—but you won’t just watch the food be tossed to them from a boat.

Following your guide's lead, you'll actually get in the water as three-foot sharks circle while waiting for handouts—don't worry, they have no interest in snacking on you!—and curious rays scamper about, even rubbing their velvety bellies up against your legs like playful puppies.

Otherwise, there's water, water everywhere in Tahiti and some of the islands' best scenery lies beneath its glassy surface. Slip on snorkel masks and fins after applying liberal amounts of sunscreen to each other's backs—you’ll thank us later!—and spend the day floating above wavering gardens of pastel-hued coral as silver-striped and neon-spotted fish dart amid the salty flora. Keep an eye out for starfish, sea turtles, and even the occasional eel.

Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10

Enjoy a Monoi-Oil Massage

Woman getting a massage
ImagesBazaar / Getty Images
Bora-Bora, French Polynesia
Phone +689 40 60 52 00

There's nothing better than a soothing Tahitian massage, which combines long, smooth strokes and fragrant monoi oil scented with vanilla, coconut, or tiare blossoms. Mostly used as a moisturizer or bath oil today, the oil has been used by Polynesians for thousands of years in traditional ceremonies to purify objects, anoint newborn babies, and otherwise treat their skin and hair.

A popular ingredient used in most massages throughout the islands, whether on the beach at sunset or in a five-star resort or spa’s couples suite, an hour of pampering with it is the perfect way to transition from active day to romantic night.

06 of 10

Take a 4x4 Tour of Moorea

Landscape of mountains in Moorea

TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

Moorea-Maiao, French Polynesia
Phone +689 87 77 09 71

Emerald-peaked, heart-shaped Moorea is the ideal isle to explore via land, and the best way to see its many nooks and crannies is to bounce around in an open-air 4x4 truck. From atop Magic Mountain, where the lagoon spreads out before you in a mosaic of every possible shade of blue, to Belvedere Overlook, where twin Cooks and Opunohu bays jut out below like almost perfectly symmetrical fingers, you’ll be awed by the spectacle the South Pacific's forces of nature created.

The Moorea Activities Center offers quad excursions from its base in Opunohu, as do ATV Moorea Tours, located on the northwestern side of the island, and Moorea Explorer, situated along the northeast coast.

07 of 10

Try Poisson Cru

Poisson Cru

Sarah Bossert / Getty Images

98730, French Polynesia
Phone +689 40 60 78 88

Of all the traditional local dishes to sample—among them, breadfruit, taro, fish, and pork cooked in a himaa, or underground oven—none is as addictively delicious as poisson cru, or raw tuna marinated in lime juice and coconut milk. It’s perfect for a healthy and refreshing lunch or light appetizer and you can enjoy it during a casual beachside luncheon or a romantic dinner for two at most restaurants throughout the islands.

08 of 10

Visit a Pearl Farm

A hand holding tiny black pearls

TripSavvy / Jamie Ditaranto

Papeete 98714, French Polynesia
Phone +689 89 53 63 88

Aside from the freshest fish imaginable, Tahiti's most abundant salt-water bounty is its cache of precious black pearls. Not all are black, but instead come in a range of bright shades of gray, blue, bronze, green, and aubergine, and are farmed in the waters off several islands—namely Taha'a, Huahine, and the Tuomotu Islands. Price depends upon size, symmetry, and luster and ranges from a few dollars for a souvenir-stand bauble to several thousand for a perfectly uniform strand.

Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10

Circle Bora Bora by Boat

Catamaran on the water

Colin Anderson / Getty Images

Nunue 3 Vaitape Bora Bora, Bora-Bora 98730, French Polynesia
Phone +689 87 77 63 63

Bora Bora is a chameleon among the islands, and the best way to appreciate its myriad profiles is to circle it by boat. During a sail on a catamaran, you'll marvel as the rocky, green summit of Mt. Otemanu shifts from wide and fat to square and nubby to slender and needlelike as you view it from different spots on the lagoon.

The 40-foot Vitamin Sea catamaran takes visitors on full or half-day sails around the island. For something a little faster-paced, Matira Jet Tours offers opportunities to tour parts of the island by kayak, stand-up paddle board, or jet ski.

10 of 10

Watch a Polynesian Dance Show

A traditional Polynesian dance show

TripSavvy / Jamie Ditaranto

PK7, Fa'a'ā 98702, French Polynesia
Phone +689 40 86 51 10

While this may be the most touristy thing you’ll do in Tahiti, it will also be the most fun. Polynesian dance is an incredible, energetic art form set to a thunderous drum beat and punctuated by chants. And it's not just for the locals either, as visitors are often encouraged to join in on the action. Be warned—it’s a lot faster than doing the Hula in Hawaii and many end up on YouTube shaking what their mama gave 'em. You'll find traditional Polynesian dance performances at most major resorts throughout the islands, which host their own or feature them on certain theme nights.

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10 Top Things to Do in Tahiti