Photo Courtesy of: Mayumi Ishikawa
Tahiti is the largest island in the Islands of Tahiti archipelago in the South Pacific, commonly known as French Polynesia. Whether snorkeling a turquoise lagoon or surfing a black-sand beach, hiking to a waterfall or just to your hammock, or marveling at the colors of Papeete Market or at the agili…ty of traditional dancers, it offers a mix of culture, adventure, and indulgence. Lodging is more affordable in Tahiti than on her sister islands, and you won't need to arrange onward transport. But just because the island is convenient—an eight-hour direct flight from L.A.—doesn't make it any less alluring as a destination itself.
What to know before you go to Tahiti
Tahiti is really a year-round destination. If you had to choose, the absolute ideal months to visit are during the May to October "dry season," when the weather is slightly cooler and there is less rain. That said, traveling between November and March can offer better rates. Although technically the "wet season," the weather is usually still good: You will likely get periods of rain, but also plenty of blue sky. Expect higher humidity, though.
Faaa is the only international airport among the Islands of Tahiti. It is located on Tahiti itself, just a few miles west of the capital city, Papeete. Flight time from Los Angeles is only eight hours and the islands are in the same time zone as Hawaii, meaning there's only two or three hours difference (depending on time of year) with the U.S. West Coast. (This makes jetlag much less of an issue than traveling somewhere like Fiji, where you will cross the international dateline.) Once on the ground, it is very easy to circle the island by rental car—there is just one main road and it hugs the coastline. Note there are no formal street addresses in Tahiti. Instead, locations are identified by PK (points kilometriques), which represent the distance in kilometers from Papeete cathedral.
- Tahiti underwater is sublime, so make sure to go snorkeling or diving.
- Try surfing, too—it was invented in Polynesia, possibly in Tahiti.
- If you're by the beach, stay at least a couple of nights in an overwater bungalow if you can.
- Away from the sea, catch a Tahitian dance performance at a luxury hotel—it's mesmerizing.
Fresh fish and seafood is a staple in Polynesia. The national dish is poisson cru, freshly caught raw fish (usually tuna) with diced vegetables marinated in lime and soaked in coconut milk. It is absolutely delicious and can be served with rice. Chevrettes are another popular Tahitian delicacy. These are freshwater shrimp often grilled or cooked in a French-influenced butter sauce.
Music and dance have long been an integral part of Tahitian life, and today learning the traditional dances is as popular with locals as tourists, who fill the many schools in Papeete. There are four main styles of dance in French Polynesia, and many hotels offer performances with dinner at least once a week. But to really experience the best of Tahitian dance, visit during Heiva I Tahiti: a major festival of traditional Polynesian culture that takes place for a week each July in Papeete and includes music, dancing, singing, and sports. Another large and important festival is the Billabong Tahiti Pro Surfing Tournament, which is an international, professional-level surfing contest held at Teahupo'o in Tahiti Iti over three days each May.
Tahiti is a great destination for families, especially if traveling from the West Coast. With the island just an easy eight-hour direct flight from Los Angeles and on the same time zone as Hawaii, it doesn't take little ones long to adjust. Many resorts have kids clubs and are specifically geared towards families. And with adventures from snorkeling to waterfall hikes, there is plenty to do.
Stay in a family-owned pension or Tahitian B&B to truly experience Tahitian life and culture. Spend your morning fishing with the locals, then take your fresh catch to the nearest motu (like a kind of mini island) for a picnic to remember.
Nearly every activity can be booked through your hotel, pension, or guesthouse upon arrival.
The tattoo art form was invented in Polynesia (or, at least, that's where Europeans first enountered it), and today many Polynesians sport beautiful works of art as symbols of their personal identities.
read before you go
Becca Blond is an award winning freelance travel writer based in Denver, Colorado. She is the author of more than 30 Lonely Planet guides across five continents and contributes content to publications like USA Today, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, AFKTravel, Cadillac Magazine and Jetsetter. She is also a Personal Travel Planner for Jetsetter. When not on the road she lives with her three dogs, Duke, Bobbi and Poppy, who assist with pet friendly hotel reviews. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @PlanetBlond or check out her blog at Totally True Adventures in Travel Writing.