7 Best Islands to Visit in Polynesia 2021: The Best Island Vacations Ranked

Polynesia is renowned for having some of the most beautiful tropical islands anywhere in the world. The names of some of the islands-Tahiti, Bora Bora, Hawaii, are almost synonymous with tropical paradise. But aside from these big names, Polynesia consists of over one thousand islands spread throughout the south Pacific. Which are the best islands to visit in terms of cost, accessibility, comfort, sights, and activities? We have ranked the top 7 best Polynesian islands to visit below.

7. Rangiroa

Part of the Tuamotus archipelago of French Polynesia, Rangiroa is one of the largest atolls in the world, and is an incredible place for adventurous vacationers. Rangiroa is one of the premier destinations in the world for scuba diving and snorkeling. Rangiroa’s Tiputa Pass is home to a wide variety of marine life, including great hammerhead sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, whales, and dolphins. Other popular diving sites include Blue Lagoon and Avatoru pass.

Rangiroa’s lagoon is the second largest in the world. It is so big that it has its own horizon from the shores. Diving sites on the lagoon are suitable for both experienced divers and beginners, and the crystal clear waters teeming with colorful flora and fauna have been compared to a wild aquarium. 

For the less adventurous, Rangiroa also has the tranquil tropical beaches that French Polynesia is famous for. You can relax on the pink sand beaches with a drink in your hand, go boating and have a picnic on any of the small desert islands in the region, explore the local towns and enjoy the restaurants, bakeries, and wineries. In the local language, “Rangiroa” means “endless sky,” which is a fitting name given the natural beauty and limitless possibilities on the island.

6. Moorea

Best Islands to Visit in Polynesia - Moorea
Best Islands to Visit in Polynesia – Moorea

Part of the Windward Islands, a group of volcanic islands in French Polynesia, Moorea is renowned, even among Polynesian islands, for its natural beauty and stunning landscapes. One of the best islands to visit in Polynesia, Moorea’s beaches, barrier reefs, mountains, and jungle make it perfect for both adventurous travellers and those looking to relax. Famous travel writer Arthur Frommer once called it “the most beautiful island in the world.”

Moorea has been inhabited for around 1,000 years, and was visited by Spanish explorers in the 17th century and Captain Cook in the 18th. Charles Darwin visited the island in the 1800s, and studied the land while working on his theory of how atolls form. 

In 1967, construction on the Moorea Airport was finished, and the island became a destination for tourists. Today, Moorea is a popular destination for families, solo travellers, and especially honeymooners, who have a wealth of activities to enjoy on the island, including snorkeling and scuba diving, swimming, hiking, cycling, and boating.

5. Maui

Best Islands to Visit in Polynesia - Maui
Best Islands to Visit in Polynesia – Maui

The second largest island in Hawaii, Maui is famous for having a little bit of everything that visitors expect from a Hawaiian vacation. A common saying across the islands is “Maui nō ka ‘oi,” which translates to “Maui is the best,” and with so many sights and attractions, it’s hard to argue otherwise. From tropical rainforests to volcanic national parks, to beautiful white sand beaches, coral reefs, waterfalls, scenic mountains, and excellent shopping and dining, Maui has something to offer every vacationer. 

Hawaii is much more accessible from the United States than the other major Polynesian islands, with frequent flights to Maui leaving from many major cities. The first thing to note when planning to visit Maui is that the island is quite big, at 730 square miles, and is typically divided into five regions – West Maui, Central Maui, South Maui, East Maui, and Upcountry Maui. If you are planning to stay in Maui for a week or so, it is probably best to choose one or two of these locations for your vacation. You can easily overdo it if you try to cover everything in one trip.

One of the many secluded beaches bordering a rainforest in Maui
One of the many secluded beaches bordering a rainforest in Maui

If you’re interested in hiking, exploring Maui’s mountains, seeing its striking landscapes, and trying its unique, local cuisine, Upcountry Maui is the destination for you. To explore the rainforests, venture to waterfalls and secluded lagoons and beaches, plan to visit East Maui. If you prefer to spend your time on the beach, the golf course, or in luxury resorts and restaurants, you should plan to stay in South Maui. For the main airport and busiest part of the island, with some of the best shopping, restaurants, and Iao Valley State Park, Central Maui is the place for you. Otherwise, for nice beaches and waterfront activities, including boating, scuba diving, snorkeling, and more, visit West Maui.

4. Tahiti

Best Islands to Visit in Polynesia - Tahiti
Best Islands to Visit in Polynesia – Tahiti

The largest island in the Windward Islands group, Tahiti is famous for its natural beauty, its rich history, and its friendly and welcoming people. Tahiti is the most populous island in French Polynesia, and has been inhabited since at least 1000 AD, developing a unique Tahitian culture that remains strong to this day. 

When you first land on Tahiti, you will be amazed at the landscapes and scenery on the island. The lush, mountainous rainforests, waterfalls, and misty volcanic hills and mountains surrounding the pristine, white sand beaches make for breathtaking views. Tahiti offers everything from luxury resorts and spas, to swimming, surfing, boating, scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking, and more. Whether you’re looking to kick back and relax or go on an unforgettable adventure, Tahiti is the right destination for you.

Surfing on a beach in Tahiti - a popular activity for locals and tourists
Surfing on a beach in Tahiti – a popular activity for locals and tourists

Tahiti has a rich history and culture, which is well preserved in the modern day. Before the arrival of Europeans, the island was divided into different chiefdoms that were unified by a common language, mythology, and culture. The people on the island had, and still practice to this day, a traditional dance called otea which is similar to the Hawaiian hula, music, sports, including canoe racing and surfing, and festivals. Tahitian culture is still thriving, and is fascinating to experience while on the island.

3. Easter Island

Best Islands to Visit in Polynesia - Easter Island
Best Islands to Visit in Polynesia – Easter Island

There is no place on earth better for a once in a lifetime adventure than Easter Island. Famous for the giant stone heads, called moai that litter the island, Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui in the local language, is the southeastern most Polynesian island, and one of the most remote locations on earth. 

The history of Easter Island is somewhat mysterious. Estimates for when the first settlers arrived on the island ranges from 300-1200 AD. By the time of the first European contact, in the early 1700s, Easter Island was ruled by a single king, who wielded absolute power. Early European visitors wrote extensively about the moai stone heads, which were all standing upright at the time of the Dutch arrival in 1722 and Spanish in 1770, but many of which had been knocked over due to internal conflicts by the time of Captain Cook’s arrival in 1774.

In the 19th century, the island was annexed by Chile, which it remains a part of today, and in the 1960s, an airport was built on the island, and it became accessible to tourists for the first time. Today, the main attractions on the island continue to be the historical sites, mainly the moai, the ahu, or stone platforms that the moai were positioned on; the stone walls and houses; and the rongorongo petroglyphs.

Other attractions include the extensive cave systems that run throughout the island and can be freely explored, two white sand beaches that are great for swimming, surfing, snorkeling, and scuba diving. 

Easter Island is truly a unique destination, unlike anywhere else in the world, and is a perfect place to take a once in a lifetime vacation.

2. Taha’a

Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the more popular tourist destinations in French Polynesia, Taha’a is a slow-paced, relaxing island that is perfect for kicking back and enjoying the beautiful weather on the beach. One of the best islands to visit in Polynesia, Taha’a is famous for its vanilla and its pearls, which are said to be some of the highest quality in the world. In addition to the vanilla orchids that cover the island, Taha’a also features coconut, banana, and watermelon groves, and miles of natural rainforest. 

Activities on the island include canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and snorkeling. Jeep tours of the island are also available, and will give vacationers an excellent look at the local orchards and pearl farms, as well as the natural flora and fauna. 

Taha’a is only accessible by boat from the nearby island of Raiatea, which means it is much less crowded than most of the other islands in Polynesia, and is the perfect place for an idyllic getaway. Despite its remoteness, the accommodations on Taha’a are world class, with luxury hotels and spa on the island, in addition to overwater bungalows and oceanfront suits for rent. All the features make Taha’a one of the best islands to visit in Polynesia.

1. Bora Bora

Best Islands to Visit in Polynesia - Bora Bora
Best Islands to Visit in Polynesia – Bora Bora

Perhaps the most famous, but still one of the best islands to visit in Polynesia, Bora Bora is a group of islands in the Leeward Islands chain. Consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful locations in the world, Bora Bora is famous for its white sand beaches, turquoise waters, deep blue lagoons, and lush, misty hills. 

Bora Bora is the most expensive destination on this list, but with proper planning and budgeting, the trip is well worth the cost. The island’s economy is almost entirely dependent on tourism, so the tourist infrastructure on Bora Bora is world class, with major tourist attractions including scuba diving and snorkeling in the lagoon, motorboating around the island, swimming, cycling, hiking, cruises, helicopter tours, parasailing, and deep sea fishing. The amenities on the island are some of the nicest in the world, with luxury resorts, beachfront villas, and overwater bungalow suites available. 

An aerial view of Bora Bora's famous overwater bungalows
An aerial view of Bora Bora’s famous overwater bungalows

Some of the more unique activities that are available on the island include swimming with sharks and rays (the ones around Bora Bora are not considered dangerous to humans), jeep tours that cover the entire island, from the top of the mountains to American World War II ruins like bunkers and turrets. The city of Vaitape on the island is also a popular destination due to its restaurants, bars, and shops.

See Also: 5 Secret Mediterranean Islands to Avoid the Crowds

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