Dreaming of a tropical island getaway? Then fly to Papeete airport in Tahiti, the capital of French Polynesia’s largest island. As one of the oldest cities in the region, Papeete is steeped in French colonial history. A highlight is Le Marché de Papeete, a public market that dates back over 150 years and sells Polynesian clothes, crafts and vanilla. For relaxation, head to Bougainville Park or stroll around the Garden of Harrison Smith, which features 137 hectares of exotic flowers and trees.
History fans will love the Black Pearl Museum and the Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands, which tells the story of French Polynesia. More top sights include the Notre Dame of Papeete Cathedral, built in 1875, and the Paul Gauguin Museum, which celebrates the work of this French artist who painted in Tahiti. The island is set in a protected Exclusive Economic Zone and has some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world, with rich coral reefs and hundreds of species of marine life.
Use Papeete as a base to explore Tahiti’s natural treasures. The island is comprised of two extinct volcanoes, Tahiti Nui in the west and Tahiti Iti in the east, linked by a narrow land strip. Relax on dramatic, volcanic black-sand beaches such as Lafayette Bay and bathe in turquoise lagoons. Don’t miss the Arahoho Blowhole in Tahiti Nui which was formed by coastal erosion and creates striking spray when surf crashes into the cliffs. Inland, you’ll find forests and waterfalls, as well as Tahiti’s highest peak, Mont Orohena.
Papeete also serves as a jumping-off point for more of French Polynesia’s islands. Private jets, cruises and ferries offer connections to nearby destinations such as Moorea, which lies just 30 minutes away and has a topaz lagoon, and Taha’a, home to pearl and vanilla farms. Bora Bora is a famous honeymoon resort known for its coconut-palm-fringed beaches while Raiatea is a UNESCO site and has a protected lagoon perfect for diving.
The best way to sample Tahiti’s local delights is at the Place Vaiete, home to a variety of food trucks known as Roulottes. Each one has its own specialities, from BBQ fresh fish to French-style crèpes. Try Tahiti’s national dish, Poisson Cru — raw fish marinated in lime juice and soaked in coconut milk. Favourite restaurants in Papeete include Le Grillardin, a European gastropub, and the bistro L’O à la Bouche. Head slightly west for romantic French Polynesian dining at Restaurant Le Coco’s.
There’s a host of luxury Papeete hotels on offer with pools and spas. The Hotel Tahiti Nui is a five-minute walk from the waterfront and has a fitness centre, pool, restaurant and bar. Head slightly out of the city for grander resorts, including Le Meridien Tahiti to the west which has a sand-bottomed pool. The Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort and Spa to the east has views over the black sands of Matavai Bay.
Get private jet charter flights to Papeete to discover this vibrant Pacific Island city.