Know Before You Go: French Polynesia

By Caitlin Hornik


French Polynesia is a beautiful oasis that is easier to get to than one might believe! Here is some helpful information to consider if you're planning your Polynesian paradise vacation!


Population and Geography

French Polynesia consists of over 115 islands, with only around 67 of those islands inhabited. About 70% of the over 280,000 residents live on the island of Tahiti. There are five island groups or archipelagos in French Polynesia: Society Islands, Tuamotu Archipelago, Gambier Islands, Marquesas Islands, and Tubuai (or Austral) Islands. Tahiti is French Polynesia’s largest island and is home to the capital of Papeete. Each island group is unique and has different offerings. The Society Islands are the most popular and most inhabited, while the Tubuai Islands are the most isolated.


Weather & Clothing

There is no “best” time of year to visit French Polynesia because the weather mostly remains the same year-round! The islands all sit close to the equator, resulting in 80-degree temperatures (Fahrenheit) all the time. The summer months are December to March, which is also the wettest time of the year. The dry season is April to October. It’s important to know that rain is common across the French Polynesia islands, regardless of the time of year. Be prepared with a poncho or raincoat and umbrella! Packing light, breathable clothing is a great trick to make the humidity more tolerable.


Culture

The Polynesian culture is dynamic and unique, so don’t be afraid to embrace it! Upon arriving in Tahiti, there is an immersive cultural experience called Tupuna Kultur that will give you the warmest of welcomes. Here you’ll be able to learn about Tahitian music, dance, massage, food, lei making, and so much more! By chatting with the locals, you will learn more about what makes French Polynesia a wonderful place to live and visit!


Language

French and Tahitian are the two main languages spoken throughout French Polynesia. However, many of the top hotels will have English-speaking employees. It might be a good idea to learn some basic French and Tahitian phrases before your trip to connect with the locals!


Food and Water

Tahiti specifically is known for its assortment of food trucks, or Roulettes. Located by the ferry terminal, the trucks offer gourmet food, so don’t shy away from them! They may also pop up in other parts of the island! Culinary staples in French Polynesia include open-sea fish, pork, tropical fruit, and coconut milk. Lamb and beef are also relatively popular and are imported from New Zealand. There is also a significant Chinese influence, so you may see chow mein pop up on menus, too!

There are a few notable local drinks, both alcoholic and not. The Rotui brand makes delicious fruit juices, including pineapple and grapefruit. Hinano is the local brand of beer and is readily available. A traditional Tahitian cocktail is a Maitai, made with rum, juice, and a few other yummy ingredients. Sip one of those as you overlook the beautiful waters of French Polynesia and you’ll surely fall in love!


Medications & Vaccinations

Bug spray should be at the top of your list of medications/first aid items to pack! Mosquitos are common on the islands, so proper precautions should be taken. Traveling with a standard first-aid kit is always a good idea. Additional medications to consider bringing include an anti-inflammatory, imodium, or other similar over-the-counter remedies.

Aside from being up-to-date on typical vaccinations like MMR, chickenpox, and polio, it is encouraged to also receive Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccines before your trip. Both of these diseases can be contracted through contaminated food and water in French Polynesia. While they are not mandatory, they are strongly recommended.


Transportation

The international airport in French Polynesia is located on the island of Tahiti. If flying from island to island, you will likely stop or connect in Tahiti, so that’s important to bear in mind. There is a ferry service from Tahiti to Moorea which can save you time and money, and provide a break from the inter-island flying!


Currency

In French Polynesia, the currency is the French Pacific Franc. The US Dollar and Euro are generally accepted at resorts and in tourist areas. Major credit cards are widely accepted here as well.


WiFi

Due to the remote location of French Polynesia, it is highly likely that your cell phone won’t work, even with an international data plan. Some resorts in Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Moorea offer free WiFi, but at very slow speeds. This is important to know ahead of time so you can plan accordingly. SIM Cards are available for purchase, but a high speed data connection is only available on certain islands. Your best bet is to disconnect from your phone to enjoy the beautiful paradise around you!


Packing Essentials

Pack your own snorkel gear if traveling to French Polynesia! You’ll avoid rental fees and have a more sanitary experience than renting/sharing equipment. Be sure to check ahead with your airline carrier(s) on baggage restrictions entering French Polynesia. Additional French Polynesia packing essentials include bug spray, sun screen, an adapter, hand sanitizer, and antibacterial wipes.

Don’t forget your passport and return flight info, as you will need this to be granted entry.

Happy traveling!

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