(Click here if you're looking for the photos.)
In June of 2004, my wife and I went on our Honeymoon to Bora Bora, Moorea, and Tahiti. Since I've put the pictures up on my website, I've gotten several e-mail requests for advice on travelling to French Polynesia, and what to see and do there. So, I figured that I might as well put that information up here on my website, too. But keep in mind, this advice is based just on our trip and our experiences, and we certainly didn't have time to try everything there was to do. If you want to see pictures of anything that's described on this page, go to the photo gallery.
First off, it's going to be expensive, not just the airfare and hotels, but pretty much everything you buy in French Polynesia since just about all of it needs to be imported. But my wife and I figured, when would we ever have the same opportunity again? So we put the whole trip on a credit card, and spent a little over a year paying it off after we got back. Looking back on it, it was definitely worth it. If I had it to do over again, I'd do the same thing.
One way that you can save money is to look for a package deal to travel there. If you buy everything from the same place, it's usually less expensive, and you can get little extras thrown into your package. For example, we bought everything from Tahiti Legends, including the plane tickets from Los Angeles, the plane tickets for the flights from island to island, and the hotels. In our package, we also received vouchers for a dinner at Bloody Mary's restaurant in Bora Bora, and several other things that I'll get to below, as well as a few that I don't remember. It was defnitely cheaper than if we'd bought each thing individually. There were other packages we could have chosen, too. Some included all of your meals.
Most hotels, in addition to their normal rooms, offered "overwater bungalows" and "beach bungalows." Depending on the hotel, the overwater bungalows may not be worth the money. At the hôtel Maitai Polynésia on Bora Bora, I'm definitely glad that we stayed in one of the beach bungalows. They were very close to the overwater bungalows, so we had pretty much the same views. The beach bungalows were still very close to the water, and were more private than the overwater bungalows. At the Intercontinental on Moorea, the particular beach bungalow that we stayed in was on a lagoon, not the open ocean, so the view wasn't very good. However, another couple told us that the hotel was very accomodating, so if we had been going to spend more nights there than we did, we would have requested a different room with a better view. And there, the overwater bungalows weren't even entirely over the water- half of the building was on the land. So, if you're considering an overwater or beach bungalow, make sure you research it for whatever hotel you're going to stay at.
Food was very expensive. I'd recommend trying to find a small market nearby your hotel. There was one near our hotel in Bora Bora, and each morning, my wife and I went there to buy a fresh-baked loaf of bread, some cheese, and some fresh fruit to eat for our breakfast and throughout the day. We mainly went to restaurants only for our dinners.
Alcohol was also very expensive over there, so if your going to drink any, I'd recommend buying a bottle or two of liquor before you leave on your trip, and then mixing it with juices or sodas that you buy while you're there (or drink it on the rocks, if you prefer). That way, you can have a few drinks in your room during the day, or before going out to dinner at night. For perspective, a liter bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey costs about $20-25 here in the U.S., but cost $65 in Bora Bora. And a six pack of beer that would cost about $5 here cost $20 over there. And those were prices in the markets- they were even higher in the restaurants.
Since French Polynesia is near the equator (actually just a little south of it), if you travel there during the summer like we did, the days will be noticeably shorter. I don't remember exactly when sunset was, but I do remember that it was always dark by the time we ate dinner. On a related note, at least on the small islands of Bora Bora and Moorea, there wasn't much night life (I'd imagine that Tahiti had more to do). For one thing, the islands are so small to begin with, there just aren't enough people to support bars or clubs. For another, many of the people there (like my wife and I) are on their honeymoons, and would rather be spending quiet time with each other than going out drinking. For us, at least, this didn't detract in any way from the trip. Maybe jet lag contributed to this, but by the time we were finished with doing whatever activities we had done for the day and eaten dinner, we were ready for bed. A few other couples we talked to said that it was the same with them.
In Bora Bora, we stayed at the hôtel Maitai Polynésia. It was only rated as a 3 star hotel, but we actually enjoyed it more than the 5 star hotel we stayed at on Moorea. We had one of the beach bungalows, and it was very nice. The hut didn't have air conditioning, but that worked out just fine as we left our doors and windows open, and the sea breeze kept the room very comfortable. There were corals in the ocean just outside our room, so I was able to go snorkeling every day that we stayed there.
My favorite parts of the whole trip were swimming with the fish in the ocean, so, I really enjoyed the boat trip we took in Bora Bora. We only did the half-day trip, but now I wish we'd done the full-day one. We went on the boat, and snorkelled in two places, including one with a shark and sting ray feeding that we enjoyed very much. The sharks and rays were close enough that if you'd just stuck your hand out, you could have touched them (I didn't, and I've been kicking myself ever since). After the shark and ray feeding, we spent a little bit of time on one of the "motus," or smaller islands encircling the main island, and then we returned to the main island. The people that were on the full-day trip got to stay on the motu while we were being returned to our hotel, and then ate a traditional Polynesian lunch prepared by the guide. After that, they went on a trip all the way around the island.
We rented bicycles from our hotel at Bora Bora, for a trip from our hotel to the only village on the island. We enjoyed visiting the village, but not the bike ride- it was long and actually a bit boring. A different day, we rented a car, and drove around the entire island. We enjoyed that much more.
The day that we rented the car, we visited the Navy Museum on Bora Bora. It was okay, and worth a visit if you've rented a car, just know what to expect so that you don't have too high of expectations (one of our guide books called it a "must-see" attraction, which is a little overly-enthusiastic). The museum was a one room building, that we nearly missed when we drove by. It has maybe half a dozen to a dozen models of various ships that have sailed in Polynesian waters, ranging from a canoe, to Captain Cook's ship, to a PT boat from WWII, along with a traditional Polynesian costume, and that's about it.
We also borrowed a two-person kayak from the hotel, and paddled out to one of the "motus." Those islands are farther away than they look, and with a little bit of chop it was a pretty tiring trip. However, it really felt like a tropical paradise, being the only ones on the island and having a small beach to ourselves, and it's something that I'd do again.
One very good restaurant on Bora Bora, that's definitely worth going to, is Bloody Mary's. (Originally, I'd written that introductory sentence to say that Bloody Mary's was our favorite restaurant on Bora Bora. But, with as few of restaurants as are on the island, that doesn't do it justice, since it's really quite a good restuarant by any standards.) It was a bit expensive, but we had vouchers from our trip package for a free dinner there. The food was delicious, and so fresh that the fish had just been caught that day. In fact, they adjusted their menu every day to accomodate the day's catch. The atmosphere was also unique (I thought of it as the type of restaurant an American would make on Bora Bora if he moved there, and it turns out that's what it was)- the floors were sand, and the men's room had a waterfall for a sink. Like I said, though, it was expensive. We ate lunch there one day, and for two hamburgers and two beers, it cost $40. Without the beers it would have been $30. Dinner for a couple would probably run from $100 to $120, but with our vouchers, we didn't have to pay for it.
One of the nights we were there, we went to the dinner and a show put on by our hotel restaurant. It was nothing compared to the buffet and tiki show at the Tiki Village we went to on Moorea, but it was still nice, and there's something to be said for the more intimate atmosphere (with so few people watching the show, I got pulled in twice when they wanted somebody from the audience to participate). So, I guess my advice would be that this show was worth going to, but keep in mind, the show at Tiki Village is much better, so if you only have enough free time to watch one show, go to that one.
On Moorea, we stayed at the Intercontinental. It was a very nice hotel, but I enjoyed our hotel on Bora Bora, better. The Intercontinental was more of a resort- it was big and had a lot of stuff to do there, but it was all on the hotel grounds. We were pretty far away from everything, and felt kind of isolated from the rest of the island. My personal feeling is that if you're going to travel all the way to French Polynesia, you might as well experience the culture there. If you just want to go to a beach resort, there are plenty of those here in the U.S. On Bora Bora, there was a market that we went to every morning to buy our breakfast and lunch for the day. The closest market to the Intercontinental was a half hour walk, so we had to stock up for a few days. Our room was "nicer" than the one in Bora Bora, but that made it lose some of its charm. The hut in Bora Bora was an actual hut (albeit a nice one with running water, electricity, and a shower)- you could even see the thatch in the ceiling. The hut in Moorea was an ordinary building made to look like a hut. Also, the bungalow in Moorea didn't have as much privacy as our one in Bora Bora. As far as the "five star" hotel restaurant, it was decent, but nowhere near as good as the banquet at the Tiki Village or our meal at Bloody Mary's (or our meal at the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo in Antigua, Guatemala, but that's a different trip, altogether.)
We took a boat trip on Moorea, too. After our regret of not having done the full-day trip on Bora Bora, we opted for the full-day trip, here. Unfortunately, the trip wasn't quite as good. It was worth doing at least one full-day trip during the vacation to get the lunch, but if I had it to do over again, I'd do the full-day trip on Bora Bora, and maybe not on Moorea. The Moorea boat trip started off with taking the boat around the entire island, but because the island is so much bigger than Bora Bora, it took a long time and started to get a little boring. One good thing about it was that we got to see dolphins swimming in the ocean. At the end of the round the island trip, we stopped at a motu for a traditional Polynesian lunch made by our guide, which was very good. On that motu, there were some sting rays that swam right up to the beach, so you were able to touch them and interact with them pretty easily. It was very intersting- they behaved a lot like house cats. There was also some slightly deeper water just off the beach to go snorkeling in.
Also on Moorea, we went to the "Tiki Village," which is something that I'd highly recommend, and something that we'd definitely do again. It's a small Polynesian village, where all of the people try to live in a traditional Polynesian lifestyle. We looked around at some of the huts, ate a banquet, and watched a tiki show. The food at the banquet was very good, and there was a lot of variety as well. And the show was very impressive. Our biggest regret from there is that we didn't go until night time, so we didn't get to see much of the village. If we went again, I'd be sure to go during the day.
We also took a 4x4 excursion on Moorea. We got to see some of the ruins, pineapple fields, and views of the mountains. We enjoyed it, and it's something to consider for your first trip, but it definitely wasn't our favorite part of the vacation. If we ever return to the island, we probably wouldn't do that excursion again.
We spent less than a day in Tahiti, from the time we got off the plane from Moorea, until our plane left for L.A., so we obviously didn't get to see everything. We rented a car to drive around the island, which is something that I'd highly recommend. We saw waterfalls, Gaugin's old house converted into an art museum for some of his paintings, beaches, and some very beautiful views. In the city of Papeete, we went to the market, which was very interesting and probably our favorite thing from that island. For dinner, we ate at a plaza where there were a bunch of food carts. The food was good, but if we go back, I'd prefer to eat at a real restaurant.