Introduction - Tahiti – Moorea – Bora Bora – island names that evoke a wonderful state of mind, seducing honeymooners, romantics, adventurers, and vacationers looking for escape. The first Europeans to arrive on the island groups were 16th-century Spanish and Portuguese explorers. The British and then the French took control of the islands in the 18th century. Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia, dominated by Mount Orohena at 2,236m (7,337ft) and Mount Aorai at 2,068m (6,786ft), and characterised by its spectacular tropical scenery, banana groves, plantations and flowers, was made a French protectorate in 1842 and a colony in 1880. The other islands were annexed by the turn of the century.
Here, around these South Seas isles, a romantic sunset sea sends giant curls of turquoise breaking onto the colorful reefs that protect the tranquil lagoons of warm, bright-emerald waters and white coral-sand beaches. Tahiti covers over two million square miles of the South Pacific Ocean and is comprised of 118 islands spread over five great archipelagos. Many islands are crowned with jagged peaks while others appear to barely float above the breaking waves. Spread over an area as large as Western Europe, the total land mass of all the islands adds up to an area only slightly larger than the tiny state of Rhode Island.
The three archipelagos most sought by visitors are the Society Islands, comprised of Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Huahine, Raiatea and Taha'a; The Tuamotu Atolls or "Tahiti's Strand of Pearls", include the atolls of Rangiroa, Manihi, Tikehau, and Fakarava; and the Marquesas, or "The Mysterious Islands." The two other archipelagos, the Austral Islands and the Gambier Islands, lie to the south and the southeast, respectively, of the Society Islands. While very few travelers venture to these remote islands, those that do are not disappointed by the pristine environment.
Area: 1,045 km2
Languages: The official languages are French and Tahitian. Other Polynesian languages are spoken by the indigenous population. English is widely understood, mainly by islanders accustomed to dealing with foreign visitors.
Passport and Visa: All passengers entering French Polynesia must be in possession of a valid passport and outbound ticket. (passport must be good for 6 months past return date). Note: US "Green Card" is not a travel document.
Citizens of the following countries can stay 3 months without a visa: All countries of the European Union. As well as citizens of the following other countries: Andorra, Cyprus, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland and the Vatican.
Citizens of the following countries can stay 1 month without a visa: Argentina, Australia, Bermuda, Brunei, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, the United States of America and Uruguay.
Visitors from other nations from South America, Africa and Asia need to apply for their visa before entering French Polynesia. Visas for France are not valid. Since entry formalities may change at any moment, it is strongly recommended that you check with the nearest French Consulate or Embassy. Visas are actually issued in Tahiti and may take up to 3 weeks to be returned back to the French Consulate.
Health and Safety: A yellow fever vaccination is required for travellers to French Polynesia arriving from an infected area. Immunisation against hepatitis A is recommended, and the territory is subject to increasing outbreaks of dengue fever. A typhoid vaccine is also suggested for most travellers (except short-term business travellers or cruise ship passengers). Tap water in hotels is safe to drink, but bottled water is also freely available throughout the islands. Tahiti has good health facilities with pharmacies and a large government hospital. There are a few private doctors and clinics in the outer islands. The only decompression chamber is at Papeete. Medical insurance is recommended for travellers.
Tahiti is very safe by any standard and the worst crime is usually domestic violence. Theft does happen occasionally, but you need not be concerned. Just don't be careless (all hotels have room safe). As far as any potential terrorist threat is concerned: this is probably one of the safest country in the world -- low population, zero immigration, strict border control (only 1 point of entry) and an overwhelming majority of Polynesian Christians make these islands a heaven of peace and safety. There is also a very pro-American sentiment at all levels of the population and American tourists are made to feel very welcome.
Religion: Approximately 55% Protestant and 34% Catholic.
Social conventions: Reciprocity, generosity, and hospitality are central values. When guests are invited for a meal, the hosts are not necessarily expected to eat. Tahitians greet each other by shaking hands and/or exchanging kisses on the cheek. Unless there is a large number of people in the room, it is considered impolite not to shake hands with all of them. It also is considered impolite to keep one's shoes on when entering another person's home. Local women dress in bright pareos and men in the male equivalent, but casual dress is expected of the visitor (except in Papeete, where bathing suits and shorts are not considered suitable dress). Traditional dances are still performed mostly in hotels, with Western dance styles mainly in tourist centres. Normal social courtesies are important.
Climate: The weather is ideal! The climate is tropical. The average ambient temperature is 80°F (27°C) and the waters of the lagoons average 79°F (26°C) in the winter and 84°F in the summer. But do not worry, most resorts and hotel rooms are air conditioned or cooled by ceiling fans.
Summer is from November through April, with a warmer and more humid climate and winter is from May to October, when the climate is slightly cooler and drier. When you step out of the airplane, you'll immediately notice that the air is warm and humid. Consequently, besides your camera and your extra memory cards, do not forget to pack lightweight cotton clothes, sunscreen lotion and a baseball cap or a wide brimmed hat. Synthetic fabrics can get hot and sticky in the tropics.
Best time to visit: Actually, it depends on what you want to do and to see in Tahiti and her islands. The climate is devided into two main seasons : a wet season between November and March and a dry season from April to October . The wet season is characterized by a warmer and more humid weather. But obviously, the lagoon temperatures are also higher, there are huge rollers to surf, you can attend “springtime” for nature…
The dry season is characterized by a cooler and less humid weather with some sporadic short rains that are often welcomed since droughts and water rationing may appear in some islands. During this period, the underwater visibility is the best for scuba diving, humpback wales are migrating from Antartica and make a stop in our waters. The very famous Heiva (traditional festival) is also organized during this period.
Money: French Pacific Franc (XPF) = 100 centimes. Notes are in denominations of XPF10,000, 5,000, 1,000 and 500. Coins are in denominations of XPF100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1. The French Pacific Franc is tied to the Euro. All top-end and midrange hotels, restaurants, jewellery shops, dive centres and the bigger supermarkets accept credit cards, preferably (and sometimes exclusively) Visa or MasterCard, but they require a 2000 CFP minimum purchase. You can also pay for Air Tahiti flights with a card. Most budget guesthouses and many tour operators don't accept credit cards, so you can get caught out on the weekends if there's no ATM on the island. ATMs are common on Tahiti, with a few on the smaller islands.
Currency restriction: There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding €10,000 or equivalent must be declared if travelling from or to a country outside the European Union.
Currency exchange: There are fairly hefty bank charges for changing money and travellers cheques in French Polynesia. You generally pay at least a 500 CFP commission on travellers cheques and to exchange cash, although exchange rates do vary from bank to bank; if you have time, shop around to find the best rate. Given the cost of living in French Polynesia, and the low crime rate, you are better off exchanging larger sums of money (ie making fewer transactions) than smaller amounts. Rates offered on Tahiti tend to be better than those offered on the other islands.
Getting around towns and cities: Ferries, catamarans, copra boats and schooners connect the islands of French Polynesia to each other. There are daily ferry services between the islands of Papeete, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Bora Bora as well as a catamaran between Moorea and Tahiti each day. Less expensive are copra boats that travel to all the islands collecting dried copra – they are slow as they meander slowly from island to island, offer minimal comforts and facilities but cost next to nothing and is a romantic way to travel between islands not on usual travel itineraries.
A far quicker way to get from one island to another is to fly in – French Polynesia has over 300 airfields. Domestic flights run by Air Tahiti connect Tahiti with neighbouring islands of Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Bora Bora, Maupiti and others in the distant archipelagos of Tuamotu, Austral and Marquesa with the islands of Rangiroa, Manihi Rurutu and Hiva Oa. Air Tahiti and Air Moorea fly several daily flights to the main tourist destinations of Bora Bora, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Rangiroa and several times a week to the Tuamotu Islands.
The islands have plenty of taxis, car rental agencies and companies that will rent out scooters and bicycles – the last is a terrific way to check out the islands. Public transport on the islands is by bus – Le Truck – as the open top buses are called in Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea. ‘Le Truck’ service connects the different districts on the islands; fares are pretty basic and are controlled by the government. Car rental companies are available in all the important islands – it is smarter to book a car in advance as most people opt to drive around the islands. A national drivers license is all that is required – traffic drives on the right.
Emergency Numbers: 15