French Polynesia lies in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, equidistant from Australia and the Americas. Its largely maritime territory is as vast as the entire European continent. At each point of the compass lies one of the five Polynesian archipelagos, with Tahiti at the center. Find out just how many islands there are in French Polynesia by visiting each archipelago!
Society Archipelago: 14 Islands in the Heart of Polynesia
The Windward Islands: Your Arrival in French Polynesia
The gateway to French Polynesia, the Windward Islands include Moorea, Maiao, Mehetia, Tetiaroa and, of course, Tahiti. Tahiti is the largest and most populous of the French Polynesian islands. Its capital, Papeete, is the administrative headquarters and economic hub of the entire Polynesian territory.
Tahiti and Moorea are the most visited of the Windward Islands. These are high islands, where the coastline is dominated by mountain ranges. Each also boasts a beautiful lagoon. The infrastructure is modern and tourism is well developed. The hotel offer is of the highest quality, from top-of-the-range establishments to family-run guesthouses. Both islands offer a vacation feeling with a hint of adventure.
The main activities are hiking, diving, and water sports such as jet-skiing and snorkeling. One of the main attractions is whale watching between August and November. Last but not least, you’ll enjoy a great cultural agenda, including artistic events and sporting competitions.
The Leeward Islands: the Romantic Route
Among the most beautiful places on earth, the Leeward Islands are worthy of every superlative: grandiose landscapes, marvellous lagoons and impressive cultural heritage. These high islands include Huahine, Raiatea, Taha’a, Maupiti and the pearl of the Pacific: Bora Bora. Here you’ll find some of the finest beaches in French Polynesia.
Every island is different, and a trip from island to island will always hold its share of surprises and wonders. Huahine is known for its wilder, more authentic aspect. Sharing the same lagoon, Raiatea and Taha’a are appreciated for their archaeological remains and traditional crafts. On Maupiti, the tranquil atmosphere gives the feeling of having an island all to yourself. Finally, Bora Bora cultivates excellence with the best hotels in French Polynesia and the most beautiful lagoon in the world.
The main activities take place on the lagoon: kayaking, boating, paddle-boarding… The best attraction is a day trip by boat. This is your chance to discover the motus and observe the aquatic fauna while snorkeling. Inland areas can be explored on hikes or cultural visits.
Tuamotu Archipelago: 76 Atolls at Sea Level
A Constellation of Magnificent Islets
About an hour’s flight from Tahiti, the immense Tuamotu archipelago begins. These are atolls and low islands: ancient volcanic formations that have collapsed into the ocean. The lagoon thus lies within the coral reefs, which now take the form of wide sandy strips dotted with coconut palms: the famous motus.
These inland lagoons are closed worlds, ensuring tranquility and prosperity, and fostering the maintenance of a paumotu culture. On these atolls, the population practices seclusion, but remains open to outside visitors in search of pristine spaces on land barely above sea level.
The Tuamotu archipelago is divided into several groups of islands. Most have no airfields, and are supplied by sea. Other atolls are simply uninhabited. The Tuamotus are a heavenly, minimalist and authentic destination in contact with unspoilt nature.
The Palliser Islands: a Diving Paradise
One group of islands is of particular interest to visitors to Polynesia: the Palliser Islands. To be more precise, these are the three atolls with airports, so they can be reached quickly from Tahiti or Bora Bora. They are Rangiroa, Tikehau and Fakarava.
The landscapes are magical: marvellous lagoons, motus with surprising fauna and an incredible feeling of being at the end of the world. Accommodation is provided by numerous guesthouses, and a few charming establishments offer optimal comfort worthy of the finest resorts.
Here you’ll find some of the best dive sites in French Polynesia. The biodiversity of the passes and the richness of the coral reefs ensure a permanent spectacle. You’ll also have the chance to get up close and personal with the sharks of French Polynesia. Non-divers will also find something to their liking, with several excursions to magical, unforgettable spots.
Marquesas Archipelago: 10 Disparate Islands
Land of Men and Tiki Culture
At the northernmost tip of French Polynesia, the Marquesas archipelago comprises a dozen islands. To the north are the main island of Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou, Ua Huka and Motu Iti, plus two tiny uninhabited islets. To the south, a second group gathers around the island of Hiva Oa, with Tahuata, Moho Tani, Fatu Huku, Motu Nao and above all Fatu Hiva.
The Marquesas Islands are the cradle of a unique Polynesian civilization: the Tiki culture. This extraordinary culture, where memory lives on in stone, wood and skin, almost disappeared following evangelization and colonization. Today, it enjoys international renown.
The vestiges of the ancient civilization are gradually being renovated to better support the ambitions of local populations to have their islands listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. This cultural approach also draws on the incredible diversity of Marquesan landscapes: lands where natural forces have never seemed so tormented as they do lascivious. An unforgettable journey.
The Islands of the North and South Groups
The northern islands feature a semi-arid tropical climate, where desert canyons and lush vegetation offer a striking contrast. From the sheer cliffs of Nuku Hiva to the rocky spires of Ua Pou, the journey becomes initiatory and introspective. The terrain is ideal for hiking and horseback riding. For accommodation, the best hotels are in Nuku Hiva.
To the south, the climate is milder, but also wetter. The green, mountainous landscape reveals a beautiful coastline. Hiva Oa is known as the Garden of the Marquesas, a true paradise on earth. Fatu Hiva is home to the magnificent Baie des Vierges, overlooked by towering peaks.
All the inhabited islands of the archipelago can be visited on a cruise aboard the Aranui. This mixed cargo ship carrying equipment, food and passengers has a real Marquesan touch. Each port of call offers its share of discoveries and activities to give you an overview of Marquesas Island culture.
The Austral Archipelago: 7 Islands in Isolation
Polynesia in Its Own Right
Alone along the Tropic of Capricorn, the Austral archipelago comprises seven islands, five of which are with population: Raivavae, Rapa, Rimatara, Rurutu and Tubuai. Because of their great distances from Tahiti, but also from each other, each of the Austral islands has developed its own unique way of life.
The temperate tropical climate means average temperatures are cooler than in the rest of French Polynesia. The austral summer can be particularly rainy. On the other hand, the months from June to September are very pleasant: the ideal time for an extended stay in contact with a surprising natural environment.
Despite their isolation, the Austral Islands have managed to preserve their identity and population. Indeed, daily life and economic activity are concentrated in several semi-urban centers, reinforcing social cohesion. This is illustrated by a rich and generous local culture, expressed through traditional crafts and annual celebrations.
It’s unthinkable to visit one island in the archipelago without also visiting the others. Indeed, the Austral Islands complement each other perfectly, forming a coherent, harmonious whole. Legends come from Rurutu, Rimatara and Rapa. Tubuai and Raivavae are home to marvellous lagoons.
These high islands offer ideal terrain for hiking and exploring. Views of limestone cliffs and heavenly motus are impressive. The main attractions are caves and whale watching on Rurutu, and water sports on Tubuai and Raivavae…
Hotel accommodation is largely provided by guesthouses. Far from the tourist circuit, accommodation capacity is small and comfort is often rustic, but the trend is towards improvement. Authenticity and hospitality are everywhere.
The Gambier Archipelago: 11 Islands Bordering the Tuamotus
How many islands are there in French Polynesia? Exactly 4 archipelagos plus one! Although some people refer to the Tuamotu-Gambier archipelago because of its geographical proximity, this is actually the administrative name of a territorial entity. The Gambier Islands are a Polynesian archipelago in their own right.
The Gambier Islands cover a tiny territory. Five of them are unevenly inhabited: Akamaru, Aukena, Taravai and Mangareva, where the vast majority of the population lives. Its capital, Rikitea, is world-famous for the high quality of its pearl production. The rest of the islands are made up of rocky islets and motus.
The Gambiers are off the beaten tourist track. To get there quickly, you’ll need to make a stopover in Tahiti to catch a domestic flight lasting over three and a half hours. The low frequency of weekly flights and the archipelago’s isolation make the trip even more unique.
Discover French Polynesia!
How many islands are there in French Polynesia? Exactly 118, spread across five Polynesian archipelagos with their own distinct local characteristics! For a first trip to the islands, the Society archipelago is the ideal destination. But there are other possible combinations: diving in the Tuamotus, tiki culture in the Marquesas, idleness in the Australs or solitude in the Gambiers. Choose your flight to French Polynesia and contact us to organize your activities.