The Best Islands in Tahiti for Culture and Adventure


The thought of French Polynesia might conjure up images of lazy days, white-sand beaches, and icy coconut cocktails. And while a vacation to this iconic destination promises to fulfill your tropical island dreams, a trip here can be even more rewarding packed with enough culture and adventure to satisfy the most ambitious globetrotter.

With two weeks in the Marquesas, Tuamotus, and Society Islands, this epic itinerary with Paul Gauguin Cruises reveals the awe-inspiring natural beauty and heritage of some of the South Pacific’s most fascinating regions at your own pace. Explore the rugged mountains, sacred sites, and artistic past of the volcanic Marquesas Archipelago—located farther away from a continental landmass than any other group of islands in existence.

Dive or snorkel in the Tuamotu’s Fakarava, an island atoll with a renowned underwater wilderness designated by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve. Visit the Society Islands where you’ll discover legends like Bora Bora, Moorea, and more from an unexpected perspective, thanks to the small-ship experience that brings you to smaller, lesser-known ports and the expertise of Paul Gauguin Cruises. Read on for more about this thrilling journey to uncover the wonder of French Polynesia’s wild side and stimulate your mind with its rich culture.


Trip Highlight

Culture On-The-Go

The excitement doesn’t have to end on your days at sea. Take a dip in the ship’s outdoor pool, practice traditional Tahitian crafts with a local, or (depending on which sailing date) listen to a fascinating lecture from a special guest like an anthropologist, an archeologist, or a marine biologist.

Trip Designer

Paul Gauguin Cruises

Paul Gauguin Cruises was created with the intent to provide meaningful travel experiences in Tahiti. The company cares deeply, not only for guests, but for the communities, cultures, and natural wonders that make Tahiti, French Polynesia, and the South Pacific so alluring. Discover the difference of cruising with purpose and allow Paul Gauguin Cruises to introduce you to authentic Polynesia.

Days 1 and 2Welcome to Tahiti

Your South Pacific journey begins in Papeete, the bustling capital of Tahiti which is the largest of French Polynesia’s 118 islands. The vibrant, waterfront city will whet your appetite for the cultural riches and natural beauty to come and you can satisfy immediate cravings by tasting Polynesian flavors, among other diverse culinary influences, from one of the roulottes (food trucks) in Vai’ete Square. You can also shop the 155-year-old public market Le Marché de Papeete for crafts, Tahitian pearls, and more.

Once it’s time to depart, board the m/s Paul Gauguin, your home for the next week. Equipped with a watersports marina for complimentary kayaking and paddleboarding, this small ship sails to off-the-beaten-path ports, allowing for convenient hiking, cultural excursions, and expertly curated tours. At the end of each day, gather to share stories of your travels and savor five-star cuisine at one of three onboard restaurants, such as L’Etoile, the lovely Polynesian dining room where dinner reservations are never necessary, and the food is always delicious.

Days 2 and 3Dive into Adventure on Fakarava

Home to a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Fakarava in the Tuamotus is a dreamy paradise with some of the world’s most pristine coral formations and largest protected shark populations. Snorkel or drift-dive along the Garuae Pass and encounter an abundant array of marine life, including giant groupers, parrotfish, triggerfish, and more that will dazzle your eyes. Fakarava is also historically significant with the stone, pyramid-shaped Phare de Topaka (one of the oldest lighthouses in French Polynesia), churches built entirely of coral, and ancient temples.

During your second full day at sea, get to know Les Gauguins and Les Gauguines, onboard Tahitian hosts who will share their Polynesian culture with you through dance lessons, demonstrations of local handicrafts, and retellings of ancestral legends. On the perennial favorite Polynesian Night on the ship, guests are invited to celebrate by wearing pareos (a traditional sarong) while Les Gauguines sing and dance throughout the restaurants, local “Mamas” create leis and heis, and a regional dance troupe performs ote’a—a complex line dance accompanied by drums—in Le Grand Salon.


Days 4 and 5Uncover the Inspiring Beauty of Fatu Hiva and Hiva Oa

Welcome to the Marquesas. On tiny Fatu Hiva, the southernmost and most remote Marquesan island, there are only two villages—Omoa and Hanavave—connected by one road. Drive between them on a scenic 4x4 ride past verdant jungles, steep cliffs, deep gorges, and indigo waters. Take a photo in front of the iconic Bay of Virgins, hike to mind-expanding ancient petroglyphs, and meet artisans renowned for their handicrafts, especially tapa (decorated beaten bark cloth).

After a good night’s sleep, disembark at Atuona on Hiva Oa—a center of French Polynesian art and where Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin spent the final years of his life. Stop by a replica of the artist’s home at the Espace Culturel Paul Gauguin, as well as the Magasin Gauguin, an old general store where the painter bought his supplies and where you may even get chills walking in the legend’s footsteps.

At the nearby Centre Jacques Brel, you’ll find Brel’s newly restored twin-engine airplane, Jojo, as well as posters and recordings of the singer-songwriter’s beloved music. Finally, pay your respects to these renowned artists at Calvary Cemetery (Cimetière Calvaire), which offers stunning views over Atuona and glittering Taaroa Bay.


Days 6 to 9Immerse Yourself in Nature and History on Tahuata and Nuku Hiva

With only 600 residents, Tahuata may be small—but you’ll discover plenty of natural and manmade marvels on this Marquesan gem. Stroll along an ancient royal walkway into the quaint village of Hapatoni to visit Me’ae Anapara and Me’ae Eiaa, the ruins of two community and religious sites, as well as an impressive Catholic church built out of stone by the Vatican and decorated with stunning stained-glass windows. Divers with their Advanced certification can also fin down to an underwater wonder: large concentrations of sharks, eagle rays, tropical fish, and mantas attracted by the currents’ rich nutrients.

Next head to Taiohae on Nuku Hiva, the capital of the Marquesas, a French-style town that’s easy to explore on foot for a laidback way to travel deeper here. After seeing Taiohae’s black-sand beaches, Notre Dame Cathedral, and tiki statues, depart the pier for an off-road ride to the Taipivai Valley, made famous by American writer and former sailor Herman Melville, who deserted his ship to hide there and later based two novels (Typee and Omoo) on his experience.

One of the most storied archaeological sites in the Marquesas Islands, Taipivai’s small agricultural villages will inspire you as you drive through before hiking along a steep but rewarding trail with incredible vistas of the surrounding mountains. Spend the next couple days at sea truly relaxing thanks to the impeccable service of Paul Gauguin Cruises, learning about Polynesian culture, and preparing for your next adventure.

Days 10 and 11 Explore the Secrets of Huahine and Bora Bora

Continue your unforgettable journey in the Society Islands at the “Garden Isle” of Huahine, so named for coconut, vanilla orchids, bananas, breadfruit, and watermelon that thrive here among its dense rainforest covering the rugged terrain. On a 4x4 ride around the island, uncover some of the most well-preserved archeological sites in French Polynesia that make this destination a lesser-known gem including Maeva, the island’s seat of royal power that’s now a fascinating outdoor museum, and the village of Faie’s sacred blue-eyed eels.

Wake up in Bora Bora, one of French Polynesia’s most popular islands for very good reason. Find out why it’s a favorite of many on a traditional outrigger canoe tour while listening to narration about the rich heritage and nature of this beloved destination. Along the way you’ll enjoy the weightless sensation of the water as you snorkel at a kaleidoscopic coral garden, watch playful stingrays, and observe graceful blacktip reef sharks. Finish your morning on a motu (islet) with a tastebud-thrilling Polynesian feast of suckling pig, plantains, breadfruit, and more, all cooked in an earth oven made with volcanic rocks and covered by banana leaves.

Days 12 and 13Discover Motu Mahana and Moorea

On Motu Mahana, Paul Gauguin Cruises’ private islet, leave the outside world behind and dig into a sumptuous barbecue lunch under swaying palm trees and enjoy ice-cold cocktails at the floating bar. If you’re craving more action, join one of several excursions on nearby Taha’a, often referred to as the Vanilla Island. There, you can learn about the fragrant spice trade as well as Taha’a’s other cottage industry, pearl farming, on an off-road vehicle tour.

Next, travel to Moorea where you’ll experience the ultimate view of the island’s sparkling lagoons, towering peaks, and palm-fringed swathes of sand during a scenic flight and pilot lesson. After a briefing from your professional instructor, take control of a Cessna 172 plane and soar over Moorea and Tetiaroa, an idyllic atoll populated by dolphins, sharks, and stingrays, for a spine-tingling flight. Don’t forget to ask your instructor to point out the beautiful Opunohu Bay and Mount Rotui. Tomorrow, you’ll return to Tahiti for a final goodbye to this dreamy destination.

Journeys: Oceania