Vaitape, French Polynesia
Situated on the eastern coast of Motu Tevairoa, with magnificent views of Mount Otemanu in the distance, this private beach resort features 80 rooms and villas, ranging from garden villas with thatched roofs and their own private gardens with plunge pools to gorgeous overwater bungalows with private decks and direct access to the lagoon below. The property’s out-of-the-way location attracts a lot of people who want to escape the more active, touristy parts of mainland Bora Bora, with lots of relaxation options right on the property, including a garden spa specializing in Polynesian treatments and massages. For those who do want to get out and about, the resort offers a large range of activities both inside and out of the lagoon, from helicopter tours to helmet dives (in which travelers don weighted helmets pumped full of oxygen and descend into the waters below) to encounters with sharks and rays.
Epic might be an understated description for this collection of thatched-roof bungalows built on stilts over the crystalline waters of the Bora Bora lagoon. This luxury resort is nestled in the dreamiest of settings—wooden walkways link palm-dotted islets fringed with white sand, while the craggy green peaks of Mount Otemanu loom in the distance. Guests can alternate between the beach and the infinity pool, lined with oversized cabanas, or sample activities like stand-up-paddleboard yoga, shark feeding, and snorkeling with the resident marine biologist. Also on offer is a luxurious spa, offering an extensive menu of treatments based on native ingredients like monoï and vanilla. As for the bungalows, Polynesian touches pepper the chic, honey-hued interiors, while indulgent soaking tubs sit beneath shuttered picture windows that open onto the sea. Large decks with swoon-worthy views have stepladders down to the water—a good way to test out the provided snorkeling gear. Airy beachfront villas are also available for those who prefer to stay on land.
Papetō'ai, French Polynesia
Popular with honeymooners and families alike, this large coastal property is located on Moorea, a quiet, lush island known for its beautiful mountain scenery and ample hiking opportunities. The hotel sits right on the lagoon and offers garden rooms and bungalows, many with their own private plunge pools, as well as fabulous overwater bungalows with glass floor panels in the living rooms and private decks with direct stair access to the warm waters below. Free kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and snorkeling gear are available for those who want to explore their aquatic surroundings, though there’s plenty to do back on shore—from lazing on the white-sand beach (or in a hammock) to getting a massage with traditional Tahitian monoi (gardenia) oil. One of the highlights of a stay here is the chance to visit the hotel’s overwater bar, allegedly the only one in the country, where tiny sharks congregate every evening at sundown for feedings.
Hôtel Fenua Mata’i’oa is a low-key boutique hotel with five individually decorated suites, each with a funky mix of handicrafts and loudly patterned artwork and upholstery. As one of the smaller options on the island, the property feels more like a guesthouse than a proper hotel, but it still features comforts such as a full bar and restaurant, private island dining experiences, and lomilomi massages. The hotel also offers a number of Tahitian cultural experiences, including traditional crafts and private Polynesian dance lessons. The proceeds of both activities go to help support a local NGO. Traditional Tahitian dance and music performances can also be arranged. And for guests who really want an immersive experience, Fenua Mata’i’oa offers traditional Polynesian wedding ceremonies, staged right on the hotel’s verdant grounds.
PK7, Fa'a'ā 98702, French Polynesia
Tahiti invented the concept of the overwater bungalow so, when visiting, you’re almost compelled to stay in one. The island’s top luxury resort, the InterContinental, offers 32 surprisingly affordable options, plus a few hundred rooms in three beachside buildings, two infinity pools, a swim-up bar, a private beach, and a lovely spa. Modeled after traditional Polynesian fare houses, the bungalows reach out over the lagoon and include roofs woven from pandanus leaves, private jetties that provide direct access to the water, and terraces ideal for watching the sunset. When hunger strikes, head to the onsite Tiare Restaurant, which features an open kitchen and nightly Tahitian dance performances, or Le Lotus, which is set in an overwater building and gives off a romantic vibe with live piano, gorgeous views, and French cuisine. The resort is also home to the Tiki Bar, a favorite local watering hole that serves cocktails in coconuts.
Set against a backdrop of lush jungle, this secluded luxury resort offers a mix of accommodations, from gorgeous villas with their own private plunge pools located right on the resort’s powdery white sands to overwater bungalows with traditional thatched roofs, large lagoon-facing decks, and deep soaking tubs. The resort sits on the mountainous, verdant island of Taha’a, off the coast of Raiatea, and is accessible only by speedboat or helicopter. Taha’a is also known as the vanilla island, renowned for producing some of the finest Tahitian vanilla in the world, and the hotel offers excursions out to local vanilla plantations as well as to pearl farms, where guests can learn how famous black Tahitian pearls are harvested. Marine conservation tours are also available, and the hotel can even arrange yacht rentals for guests on request. Cultural activities include weekly Polynesian-themed evenings, complete with a Tahitian buffet and local performers, such as traditional fire dancers.
Puna'auia, French Polynesia
Rare in Tahiti, Manava sits on a white-sand beach on the island’s west coast, offering dazzling sunset views across the water to Moorea. Beyond its romantic vibe, however, the resort is actually great for families, as rooms feature full kitchens that make cooking a breeze, plus modern amenities like free WiFi and flatscreen TVs with DVD players. There’s also a gorgeous infinity pool fronting the beach and lagoon as well as an onsite restaurant, Vaitohi, which offers an extensive à la carte menu of Polynesian and international cuisine. When you need a break from the kids, head to either the Taapuna Pool Bar or the contemporary Punavai Lounge Bar.
Lafayette Beach PK7, 'Ārue, French Polynesia
Located on a gorgeous, very private stretch of black-sand beach, Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort offers affordable, modern rooms, many of which feature spacious layouts, private Jacuzzis, and ocean views. Guests can also look forward a massive infinity pool, a luxurious spa, and meticulously maintained grounds, complete with fresh flowers and lush grass. The onsite Hita Mahana Restaurant and Bay Bar are outdoors but covered, offering sweeping views of the sunset across the ocean to Moorea. Note: This resort is very close to the airport so it’s ideal for those arriving late at night or leaving early in the morning.
Encompassing 35 private villas on the Motu Onetahi coast of Marlon Brando’s very own French Polynesian island, Tetiaroa, The Brando is arguably the most luxurious place to stay in the entire South Pacific country. All of the villas at this all-inclusive resort have their own private pools along with direct beach access, and there’s a gorgeous spa offering a range of healing modalities, including traditional Polynesian taurumi massage. For those who want to add a bit of activity to their stay, there’s plenty to do on the island and in its surrounding waters, from snorkeling and scuba diving to discovering the flora and fauna of the surrounding landscape under the tutelage of a research scientist. Travelers with an interest in Polynesian culture may also want to try their hand at the traditional outrigger canoe, perhaps taking a trip out to one of the surrounding private islets that share an atoll with the Brando.
Teahupo'o, French Polynesia
Housed on the wilder south side of Tahiti near Teahupo’o, Vanira Lodge is easily the island’s best boutique lodging option. Its idyllic location—on the mountain side of the road up a very steep driveway—offers sweeping views of the lagoon, while its bungalows feature a beautiful mix of bamboo, coral, rock, reed, and stained glass. Each room showcases a slightly different design; some have hard-carved furniture and, others, outdoor kitchens. There’s also a swimming pool, lily pond, and plenty of space to children to play, as well as an onsite restaurant, which is a relief to families since the resort is a good 15-minute walk away from Teahupo’o village and the surf beach. During the day, the staff can arrange a myriad of activities, from snorkeling trips to surf lessons. Guests also have access to bikes, although having a rental car makes getting around much easier.