Islands

Island-Hopping in French Polynesia: What to See in Bora Bora, Moorea, and Tahiti

Can you imagine anything dreamier than island-hopping around French Polynesia? Between the lush rainforests, sugar-white beaches, turquoise lagoons, and those ubiquitous overwater bungalows, it’s the definition of paradise on Earth. Here's how Jetsetter tastemaker Nicole Isaacs spent her time on the islands.

Bora Bora

Bedroom at Four Seasons Bora Bora
Living room at Four Seasons Bora Bora
Pool and cabanas at Four Seasons Bora Bora
Image from a bungalow on Bora Bora at the Four Seasons

Check in to the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora

Everything you could ever want in a Tahitian hideaway, you’ll find at this Four Seasons: thatched-roof bungalow villas with stone walls and mother-of-pearl details, locations on the beach or the lagoon itself, direct access to that legendary turquoise South Pacific water, and stunning views of Mount Otemanu. Of the overwater bungalows here, 15 come with private saltwater plunge pools; beachfront villas are more spacious and better suited for families and groups. Don’t miss a spin in the resort catamaran, and save your appetite for French-Polynesian cuisine (Moorea shrimp with radish and snow peas; seared yellowfin tuna with roasted pineapple) at Arii Moana, one of the hotel’s four restaurants.

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Swim with stingrays and sharks

Of course, it’s not enough to simply relax above the waves—you need to experience the warm South Pacific waters for yourself. Rent a canoe for a private, low-key spin around the lagoon, where you might spot stingrays and fish swirling beneath and around your paddle. If you want to get even more up close and personal, book a snorkel safari or catamaran cruise. Boats sail past the Otemanu and Pahia peaks before entering more open water, where you get to don your gear and jump in next to rays, and reef sharks (the friendly kind, of course).

gorgeous view at bora bora island from the helicopter

See the island from the air

If there’s anything more beautiful than swimming in Bora Bora’s turquoise lagoon, it’s seeing it from the above. Tahiti Nui Helicopters offers a 30-minute “Heart of Tupai” flight over the island—a bucket-list experience if there ever was one. You’ll be able to spot the lagoon’s entire spectrum of blues, strings of overwater bungalows, and multiple mountain peaks as you circle the island before veering north towards Tupai—a picturesque atoll shaped like a heart. Don’t forget your camera!

Fire dancing at night at Four Seasons Bora Bora

Experience Polynesian culture and cuisine

The Polynesian islands pride themselves on their world-class seafood and French-inflected island cuisine like ahi yellowfin tuna with ratatouille and pancetta and buttered mahi mahi. While each of the four restaurants at the Four Seasons offers its own take, the Polynesian dinner show, held on Otemanu Beach, is not to be missed. As the sun sets, traditional Polynesian dishes are served family-style as performers sing, dance, and play music. Then, when night fully falls, fire dancers take the stage for a mesmerizing grand finale.

Moorea

Bedroom at Hilton Moorea
Outdoor bar at Hilton Moorea
Exterior of Hilton Moorea
Pool at Hilton Moorea

Check in to the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa

A quick seven-minute connecting flight (or more affordable 45-minute ferry) from Tahiti lands you in Moorea—a lush island known for its striking green cliffs and countless waterfalls. It’s far less touristed than Bora Bora, even though there’s more to explore and its overwater bungalow resorts are just as pretty. The best stay here is without a doubt the Hilton Moorea, where more than half of its 106 rooms are bungalows stilted over the water, each with their own private deck, in-bedroom glass-floor panel, soaking tub, and (in most) private plunge pool. The restaurants are top-notch, too, but a guest favorite is the overwater Toatea Bar & Creperie, where you can enjoy crepes and cocktails while the sun sets.

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Tropical fish and cauliflower coral in shallow water, Moorea lagoon, Pacific ocean, French Polynesia

Test the waters on a catamaran

Catamaran tours with Voila Moorea are a luxuriously easy way to explore the island’s surrounding lagoon. Moorea is known for its breathtaking coral reefs, and snorkeling conditions peak in the sections between its motus, where the water is shallow and clear. The Lagoonarium de Moorea is a protected section of the water that’s home to a vibrant coral reef home to black-tip reef sharks and colorful fish.

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Mountain with two oceans on the side. Vewpoint with mountain landscape of Moorea, French Polynesia. Blue sky with clouds. Cruise destination.
Moorea in Polynesia, Opunohu belvedere, beautiful panorama of the mountains

Take a hike

One of the best ways to experience Moorea—after the lagoon, of course—is by heading inland. Safari jeeps and horses are two thrilling modes of transportation and can get you into the island’s wild jungle with ease (there’s only one major road, which circles the island), but walking is just as scenic. Belvedere Lookout is a popular spot that overlooks Mount Rotui and the bays on either side of it. From here, you can follow the four-mile Three Coconuts Trail, which passes by Tahitian chestnut trees and waterfalls before reaching the base of Mount Mou’a Roa.

Tahiti

The market in the town of Papeete early in the morning in Tahiti Papeete, French Polynesia.
The fresh market in the town of Papeete early in the morning in Tahiti Papeete, French Polynesia.

Shop at the local market

The few hours you’ll have before your flight back to the homeland is the perfect time to squeeze in the Municipal Market on Tahiti, in the heart of Papeete. Vendors here sell everything from local ephemera like flower crowns and grass skirts to collectibles like hand-carved wood statues, textiles, and coveted Tahitian pearls. Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, a polite “ia orana” before approaching a stall is a nice way to introduce yourself before you browse.

Vegetation (Ipomoea pes-caprae) on a black sand beach of Tahiti island near Tautira village, French Polynesia, south Pacific ocean

Swim and sunbathe at a black-sand beach

End your picture-perfect trip with a postcard shot to last a lifetime during a stroll along the ethereal black sands of Taharuu Beach, on the island’s southern coast. Surrounded by a thick forest of palm trees and tropical foliage, this stretch of beach is known for being quiet and calm—a perfect spot for escaping the crowds.

RELATED: 9 of the World’s Most Colorful Beaches

Dress Like Nicole: What to Wear When You’re There

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