Tantalizing Tahiti and French Polynesia
Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 3:09 p.m.
Tahiti is the main island of the Society Islands, part of French Polynesia. This is a mesmerizing area of reef-fringed islands, translucent turquoise lagoons, rugged mountain peaks and white sand beaches; a seductive place for the rich and famous and the epitome of honeymoon fantasies.
It also can appeal to families, but doesn't come cheap. Additionally, the temptation of staying in an overwater thatched bungalow — the typical tourist photo of this destination — is hard to resist. At the Intercontinental Hotel one of these bungalows can cost $600 a night. Situated on stilts, they usually have decks and ladders to descend into the water for swimming and snorkeling among the fantastic coral and fish. Some have glass sections in the floor for an aquarium view. You can watch the sunset and hear fish splashing about at night — maybe watch sharks feeding!
Here are some tips to save some money: Book only two nights in an overwater bungalow and the remainder of your stay in more reasonably priced rooms, make sure breakfast is included (a buffet could cost $40-$60), visit local markets to stock up on snacks and drinks, eat lunch late and make it the biggest meal, and visit in the off-season (December-March).
Tahiti is an eight-hour flight from Los Angeles, and the capital, Papeete, is usually a stopover point because the more captivating scenery and exotic ambiance is found on the other islands (Bora Bora, Moorea, Raiatea, Huahine and Taha'a).
Moorea is only 9 miles from Tahiti, and reached by a 10-minute flight or 30-minute ferry. The weather is hotter from November through April and slightly cooler the rest of the year, but the humidity is always high. Pack lightweight cotton clothes, sunscreen, insect repellent, a hat, and make sure to have accommodations with air conditioning.
The islands are in the same time zone as Hawaii, and the currency is the French Pacific Franc (XPF). U.S. citizens don't need visas if staying less than 90 days. French and Tahitian are the official languages and English is widely spoken; learning a few French phrases and Tahitian greetings will go a long way. Tipping is not customary, but welcomed for exemplary service. If you have money left for souvenirs, black pearls are popular, along with wood carvings, handicrafts, and colorful hand-dyed pareus (wraparound sarongs).
The most inexpensive transportation is the public bus system. On Tahiti there are two types of buses: the open-air trucks called Le Truck and the RTC large white coaches. Both operate frequently in Papeete and around the island. Le Truck is also on most other islands. Taxis can be hired at most hotels, airports, and ferry terminals.
Popular activities include 4x4 safaris, nature hikes, scuba diving, snorkeling, canoeing, sailing, jet skiing, wind-surfing, surfing, bike riding, tennis, golf (on Tahiti), horseback riding, deep-sea fishing, swimming with dolphins, shark feeding, shopping, circle-island tours, helicopter tours, and archaeological tours. Luxury cruising is offered on the m/s Paul Gauguin with seven- and 10-night itineraries.
If visiting this tantalizing destination is on your "bucket list," start saving now and look for specials!
Claudine Dervaes' travel column is published the first Sunday of each month.