Few places in the world approach true perfection. Tahiti is one of them: a glimpse of heaven in the middle of the Pacific. You may never want to leave…
Text: JAIME BÓRQUEZ
PHOTO: the brando
There’s no place closer to our idea of paradise than the 118 islands that make up French Polynesia. Lagoons with clear, warm waters, classic mountains, a wonderful climate, and the best in modern tourist services combine for an unmatched destination.
When you add in the friendly warmth of the people and the pervading sense of relaxation, Tahiti makes the dream of heaven on Earth a reality.
The Charms of Moorea
My visit to Tahiti starts off on a high note: as soon as I arrive at Fa’a’ā Airport in the capital city of Papeete, I’m welcomed with leis and soothing music. The air is filled with the scent of moist earth and tiaré (Tahitian gardenia), an aroma that will linger for days after my return.
I’m told it’s a good idea to head out immediately to one of the surrounding islets. Moorea is just 12 miles from Papeete, and both are intensely green. Getting to Moorea takes just nine minutes by airplane or 40 minutes by catamaran. A sea breeze somewhat offsets the intense heat and gradually, my stress and worries fade away, soothed by the warm Pacific wind and inspiring scenery.
Now that I’m finally on land, there’s no choice but to grab a beach chair, order an icy Hinano beer, and give myself over to relaxation in this glorious locale.
After a while, I decide it’s time to explore the islands. On Moorea, the lookout on Mount Roto Nui affords a view of the two tranquil bays. On the way to the summit, we pass ceremonial sites known as marae, where the original inhabitants of the island took part in archery competitions.
But for the most spectacular view of the island, a four-wheel-drive vehicle take us to the aptly named Magic Mountain. On this excursion, I visit pineapple plantations and vanilla crops, a plantation that cultivates black pearls, and a distillery where I sample liquors made from a variety of fruits.
Photo: Gregoire Le Bacon
I learn more about Polynesian culture at Tiki Village: 25 years ago, a French choreographer who had fallen in love with Moorea built a village with Tahitian-style houses of wood and cane. He then invited artisans, musicians, and dancers to live there. Tahitian culture and customs are very much alive in this planned community. It’s also a great place to buy authentic folk art and enjoy a night of tāmūrē (a traditional dance) and fire dancing, sampling ahima’a pork (cooked in the earth with hot rocks), grilled mahi-mahi, and tuna cebiche.
The Life Aquatic
Bora Bora is the most-visited island in all of French Polynesia. Two green volcanic massifs dominate the landscape, along with a lagoon that ranges in color from deep blue to turquoise. I’ve seen amazing pictures of this place before, but visiting in person is quite an experience.
Photo: Gregoire Le Bacon
Matira is the island’s best beach, but the truly unforgettable sands are found on the motus. These small islets are home to some of the best hotels on the planet, with structures that jut out over the water to take full advantage of the dazzling blue.
Where to stay? It’s a tough decision with options like overwater bungalows. These unique lodgings often feature a glass table that you can open to toss food to the fish. And at night, there’s a light that lets you spy on the marine life below.
Another great alternative is a midday picnic on the talcum-soft sands of a motu, enjoying a cookout in the shade of coconut trees. Or order a tuna cebiche with coconut milk, served on freshly cut leaves and eaten with your hands, Tahitian style.
There’s one more essential stop: Bloody Mary’s. The most tourist-friendly bar and restaurant on Bora Bora has been in business since 1979 and has welcomed a long list of celebrities, including Paul McCartney, Keanu Reeves, and Harrison Ford. The décor is pure Tahiti, with a sand floor, palm roof, and wooden furniture; fish and seafood dominate the menu.
There is more paradise to be found beyond Moorea and Bora Bora. Ra’iātea, for instance, is the second most populous island after the capital. There are no beaches, but it boasts a hundred motus, where you can play Adam and Eve. You can row to one of these heavenly retreats on your own steam or use a transportation service from your hotel, departing in morning and getting picked up at noon, or in the late afternoon, or whenever you like.
Another great spot is Manihi, an atoll that for years was a sacred diving place. The Manihi Pearl Resort has cozy bungalows on land and over the water. It’s also one of the richest pearl cultivation areas in the world, with tempting prices.
Photo: the brando
Less known is the rising star of Maupiti, said to be the next Bora Bora. Other perfect islands for relaxation and magnificent beaches include TIkehau, Fakarava, Takapoto, Tubua’i, and Mangareva. There’s also the small island of Teti’aroa, once owned by Marlon Brando. Today, you can stay at The Brando, probably the most elegant and exclusive hotel in French Polynesia, accessible only by private airplane.
It’s time to leave, which is a terrible thing. No one ever wants to leave Tahiti. If God really rested on the seventh day, he probably did so here. in
One flight a week to Papeete from Santiago, Chile, via Easter Island.
More information lan.com
The Brando (Tetiaroa)
Kuriri Village (Maupiti)
Le Meridien (Bora Bora)
The St. Regis (Bora Bora)
Roulottes (street food)
Plaza Vai’ete (Papeete)