You’re planning a trip to French Polynesia? Hooray! You’ll love it. I’m excited for you! It can be a little overwhelming to plan a trip to such a “bucket list” destination, but I’ve got you covered. I love to write “What to Know Before You Go” posts for every destination I visit because I think it’s the most helpful. And that’s the name of the Quick Whit Travel game–to help you travel your best! So here are the things to know before you visit French Polynesia. Or is it the Islands of Tahiti? Or the Society Islands? Read on!
What’s in a name?
Is it French Polynesia or Islands of Tahiti or Society Islands? You’ll hear all three in reference to the islands in question. The country of French Polynesia is made up of 118 islands. Those islands are divided up into five groups: The Austral Islands, Gambier Islands, Marquesas Islands, Tuamoto Archipelago, and the Society Islands.
The Society Islands consists of 14 islands, including the well-known Bora Bora, Ra’iatea, Huahine, Mo’orea, and Tahiti, among others. The Society Islands make up the former Kingdom of Tahiti, which is now called the Islands of Tahiti. So, French Polynesia is the country, the Islands of Tahiti are also called the “Society Islands,” and the Islands of Tahiti are the ones with which you’re probably most familiar.
Where is it and how do I get there?
Relatively speaking, it’s not that far and not that difficult to get to French Polynesia from the United States. It’s located almost directly south of Hawaii, and it’s below the equator. This is the true “South Pacific!” It’s closer than Asia, Oceania, and many major cities in Europe, so when you put it in that perspective, it’s not so far.
The U.S. has non-stop flights on Air Tahiti Nui from LAX (Los Angeles), and on United Airlines from SFO (San Francisco). The flight time is about 8.5 hours from either city, and all flights go into PPT (Pape’ete, the capital of French Polynesia). You can catch connecting flights from PPT to the outer islands, or take the ferry from Tahiti to Mo’orea in 30-45 minutes.
Read next: What to Know Before You Visit Mo’orea
What timezone is it in?
French Polynesia is on TAHT time, or Tahiti Time! This is the same timezone as Hawaii, which is two to three hours behind Pacific Time, and five to six hours behind Eastern Time. French Polynesia does not observe Daylight Saving Time, so the time difference depends on the time of year. If you’re coming from the USA, South America, or Western Europe, you won’t have to cross the International Date Line to get here.
Read on: How to Use Jet Lag to Your Advantage
What money do they use?
The local currency is the cours de franc Pacifique, or Pacific Franc. The abbreviation is CFP or XPF. The conversion rate is around one American cent to the CFP, so 100 CFP is equal to around 1 USD; 1,000 CFP is equal to around 10 USD; 10,000 CFP is equal to around 100 USD.
More here: Can I Use the US Dollar Abroad?
What’s the local language?
The official language is French, but you’ll also hear Tahitian! If you’re familiar with Hawaiian, you’ll find some similarities. But if you only speak English, not to worry! Everyone at your accommodation will most likely speak English, and most others who work in the tourism industry will also speak English. As always, however, try to say thank you in either French (merci) or Tahitian (Māuruuru “ma-ooroo-ooroo”). And click here for more about speaking Tahitian!
Also helpful: Words to Learn in the Local Language Wherever You Travel
Are all the hotel rooms overwater bungalows?
They are not! Most of the rooms available will be on land. Only a few hotels on some of the islands offer overwater bungalows. These are a special occasion accommodation, and they can run you anywhere from $1000-$5000 or more in the high season, so it’s something to plan for! We stayed at the Sofitel Kia Ora Mo’orea in one of their overwater bungalows, and it was certainly a special experience!
Get all the details: What to Know Before You Book an Overwater Bungalow in French Polynesia
When is the best time to visit?
Personally, I think there is no bad time to visit French Polynesia. Keep in mind that they are in the Southern Hemisphere, so winter and summer are “switched” compared to the Northern Hemisphere. Their summer is the rainy season, lasting from November-April, with the wettest month being February. Their winter lasts from May-October, with lower temperatures (though still quite warm!) and less rain.
My husband and I visited in January 2022, and while it did rain every day, it didn’t rain all day every day. And actually, we loved being in our overwater bungalow during the rains! Be prepared for showers off and on, but know there will likely also be some sun to enjoy as well!
The inside scoop: Was It Worth Planning a Trip to French Polynesia During the Pandemic?
Need more? Check out my dedicated French Polynesia Page!
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