French Polynesia is one of the South Pacific's most exciting - and expensive - destinations. Fortunately, visitors are able to set their own budget while touring the islands, from a $15 campsite on the beach at Moorea to a $1,500 suite at a deluxe resort on Bora Bora. Travel can be by fast and frequent commuter plane or by slow and smelly copra boat. Food varies from a fresh buttered baguette with a cafe au lait at Papeete market to French haute cuisine in an upscale gourmet restaurant. There's something for everyone.
- Change a good chunk of money upon arrival. Banks in French Polynesia deduct large commissions every time you change your dollars into Pacific francs, so it's smart to do so as infrequently as possible. The bank at Faaa International Airport on Tahiti opens for all overseas flights and gives the same rate as the downtown Papeete branches. The resort desks pay much less and the banks are usually far from the beach on the islands. Travelers cheques attract a higher rate than cash dollars and several ATMs are also at the airport.
- Fly to Bora Bora as soon as you can. It's good planning to leave the shopping and sightseeing possibilities of Tahiti and the beaches of Moorea until the end of your trip. You'll save time and money on transfers and won't end up missing your international flight if your return to Tahiti is delayed. Bora Bora is also French Polynesia's most expensive island and it's nicer when things get cheaper as you go along rather than the other way around.
- Swim with sharks and manta rays at Bora Bora. A lagoon tour by motorized outrigger canoe is one of the South Pacific's greatest travel experiences and those at Bora Bora are famous. Snorkeling visitors witness reef sharks being hand-fed by experienced guides and see huge manta rays glide by. The views of Bora Bora's soaring peaks are also superb from the lagoon.
- Attend a Polynesian dance show. Island nights are staged at most of the large resorts on Bora Bora, Moorea, and Tahiti, usually accompanied by a lavish seafood or Polynesian buffet. The hip-shaking tamure dancing and staccato drumming is a thrill, and photography is allowed.
- Visit an ancient Polynesian archaeological site. Some of the largest of these are on the islands of Raiatea and Huahine which also have good beaches for those who want to get off the beaten track. Stopovers on Raiatea and Huahine are easily arranged on the way back to Tahiti from Bora Bora.
- Kick back at a Moorea resort. Tahiti's neighbor island Moorea has some of the best beaches in French Polynesia, plus picturesque mountain drives to intriguing archaeological sites and fabulous viewpoints. Here too you can swim with sharks and dolphins in the lagoon, chase spinner dolphins in a motorized canoe, scale volcanic peaks, surf, scuba dive, and snorkel, or just peddle a bicycle along the coast. Happily, Moorea's international resorts are less expensive than those on Bora Bora and there are lots of family-operated pensions around the island.
- Shop and sightsee on Tahiti. The black pearl showrooms in the capital Papeete are worth a leisurely look even if you aren't buying, and there's a colorful city market where vegetable vendors jostle with handicraft hawkers for your attention. Most visitors rent a car and drive around Tahiti with stops at waterfalls and museums. The minibus tours are also very good. The famous French painter Paul Gauguin spent time here a century ago and his life and work are documented at a large museum. Another important museum is dedicated to the history and culture of these islands.
- Cruise the islands in style. Many visitors come to French Polynesia specifically to board a luxury cruise ship sailing between Tahiti and Bora Bora. Several vessels ply this route on voyages lasting about a week. The more adventurous will have booked a cruise from Tahiti to the Marquesas Islands on the passenger-carrying freighter Aranui which departs on its 16-day trips 16 times a year. The Aranui visits islands inaccessible by other means and most shore excursions are included in the basic price.
Tahiti and its islands are among the world's most exotic destinations with fantastic scenery above and below the waterline. The happy mix of Polynesian warmth and French good taste makes French Polynesia an obvious choice for romantic travelers. The only drawback are the prices which are higher than those in Europe and much more than what is asked in the Cook Islands, Samoa, and Fiji. With a little advance planning it's possible to get around the high cost of living while still enjoying this Polynesian paradise.