In the Spotlight: French Polynesia

See recent posts by Alisha Prakash

When it comes to dreamy, paradisiacal destinations, French Polynesia puts up some stiff competition. Sure, the picture-perfect place can be difficult to reach, but the long trek is a small price to pay for a glimpse at heaven on earth. The exotic archipelago, which consists of more than 100 islands in the South Pacific (Bora Bora, Moorea, and Tahiti are the best known) shows off aquamarine seas, verdant green coastline, pink-, white-, and black-sand beaches, coral reefs, spectacular lagoons, and screensaver-worthy overwater bungalows. But that's not all you'll fall in love with. The tropical weather, friendly locals, and adventurous activities like snorkeling, surfing, golfing, hiking, and even shark-feeding all work together to make it a memorable getaway.

As you might imagine, French Polynesia does have its fair share of luxurious, over-the-top hotels where you’ll experience some of the best sleep of your life. But believe it or not, it also caters to families with children and budget-conscious travelers. To help fulfill your fantasy, we visited resorts across French Polynesia and found the best the hotels in a range of categories -- beach, boutique, romantic, luxury, value, and kid-friendly. It's the type of stuff dream (vacations) are made of.

Luxury Pick: InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa

The luxurious InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa is about as good as it gets in French Polynesia. Its 80 overwater bungalows (the only room type here — how terrible, right?), beautiful infinity pool, and stunning beach are real standouts, but the piece de resistance here is the spa. World-renowned for its incorporation of ocean elements into every spa ritual, the 43,000-square-foot Thalasso Spa is simply magnificent. Other amenities include three restaurants, two bars, a sundries shop, and a small protected lagoon. Plus, guests have free access to sister property, InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort and all of its amenities. 

Check out our full list of the best luxury hotels in French Polynesia.

Beach Pick: The Brando

Once a favored retreat for Tahitian royalty, Tetiaroa Island, the private-island home of this stylish resort, was discovered by Marlon Brando while filming “Mutiny on the Bounty.” The namesake actor purchased the island in 1967, with hopes of someday creating a sustainable luxury resort that also harbored a scientific research center. Opened in 2014, The Brando delivers on the actor’s vision on all levels. The intimate, all-inclusive resort blends into its surroundings and operates with the highest level of sustainable practices. Villas are cooled by seawater, vegetables are grown on site, and there is a state-of-the-art research center where guests can engage in lectures or participate in excursions with scientists to view birdlife and marine life on the surrounding small islands. Each of the 35 private villas features a small plunge pool and a path that leads to a private stretch of immaculately raked white-sand beach. The calm waters of the sheltered lagoon allow guests to explore the crystalline water via paddleboards or outrigger canoes. 

Check out our full list of the best beach hotels in French Polynesia.

Most Romantic Pick: The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort

The luxurious St. Regis is one of the most popular hotels for weddings and honeymoons in Bora Bora. The 44-acre property has an exclusive romance concierge that regularly creates custom honeymoon, anniversary, and wedding itineraries for couples: private candlelit dinners, moonlight cruises, and private cooking classes or picnics. The romance concierge also arranges weddings (including underwater ceremonies), proposals, and vow renewals. The hotel’s 89 overwater and beachfront bungalows are the largest in French Polynesia, and are richly appointed with modern island decor and thoughtful amenities. Four on-site restaurants, including a Jean-Georges outpost, two beautiful pools, a large beachfront, and a protected lagoonarium are a mere sampling of the incredible amenities here. The spa — one of Bora Bora’s best — offers traditional Polynesian beauty treatments. All hotel guests have free access to the spa’s whirlpools, steam room, and sauna, as well as the 24-hour fitness center, and two tennis courts. 

Check out our full list of the most romantic hotels in French Polynesia.

Boutique Pick: Le Taha'a Island Resort & Spa

An exclusive Relais & Chateaux hideaway with a serene atmosphere, Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa is a luxury property with 57 overwater and beach bungalows. Built with local materials around preexisting vegetation, the resort has a subdued elegance that doesn’t feel as over the top as some of its neighbors in Bora Bora. Guests spend their days lounging around the freeform pool, snorkeling in the shallow waters off-shore, or relaxing at the on-site spa. The resort’s three restaurants and bars make great use of local ingredients, especially famed Taha’a vanilla. Besides a weekly Polynesian show, there isn’t much to do here in terms of nightlife. And though the resort offers a free shuttle to the main island of Taha’a — famous for its  locally grown vanilla and exquisite black pearls — there isn’t much to do there either. Many of Polynesia’s islands are tranquil places where people come to relax and take in the stunning natural beauty, but it’s hard to describe just how quiet Taha’a is. Don’t expect many shops, restaurants, or bars, because there really aren’t any. But travelers in search of quiet seclusion and an authentic Polynesian lifestyle will find what they’re looking for here. 

Check out our full list of the best boutique hotels in French Polynesia.

Value Pick: Pension Au Phil du Temps

This three-room guesthouse is situated on Taha’a, a tiny, quiet island that shares a bay with neighboring Raiatea. Owners Muriel and Franck welcome guests like members of their family, and treat them as such by personally escorting them on private excursions and preparing fantastic daily meals (full-board nightly rates, which includes two meals per day, are available). Rooms have an authentic Polynesian feel, and are a bit on the rustic side (with no air-conditioning or TVs), but feature local artwork, fresh linens, and spotlessly clean bathrooms. There are free bikes and kayaks for guests to use, and Wi-Fi is free in the common area. 

Check out our full list of the best value hotels in French Polynesia.

Kid-Friendly Pick: Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora

Unlike many French Polynesia resorts, the Four Seasons Bora Bora caters to families with as much care as it does to couples. The one-, two-, and three-bedroom beach villas — all of which have private pools, outdoor patios, and private beach access — are popular with families who need space to sprawl. The resort is home to a stunning infinity pool, a beautiful beach and protected lagoon, a spa with special treatments for kids and teens, and four on-site restaurants. Plus, it has both kids’ and teens’ clubs, both with a host of daily activities, and both the best of their kind in Bora Bora. Freebies like Wi-Fi, non-motorized water sports, and snorkel gear are nice perks, but hardly outweigh the mighty costs of everything else at the Four Seasons. 

Check out our full list of the best kid-friendly hotels in French Polynesia.

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