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.
ItineraryPLAN YOUR TRIP
Days 1 and 2Welcome to Tahiti
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
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
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
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
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
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.