Considering a sailing trip to French Polynesia? Or maybe you’re coming back for more Pacific adventure? Make the most of your time in the Pacific with our top six tips sailing in and around Tahiti. Whether you’re a first-time skipper or a seasoned pro, these tips will help make your trip unforgettable.
Sailing off Bora Bora, French Polynesia
1. Spend a night or two in Tahiti itself
First-timers may not be aware that Tahiti is but one island in French Polynesia. Perhaps the most famous island in the archipelago, Tahiti certainly has a lot of name recognition - and for good reason. It’s also home to the island nation’s largest airport, so nearly everybody who travels the area will spend some time here.
Most itineraries usually include just a brief stopover - not long enough to fully experience the culture, food, and friendly atmosphere. What’s the rush? Stay for a night or two! Check out the surfing mecca of Teahupo'o, enjoy the food-truck scene, and see what things are like inland (such as like Vaipahi Water Gardens and Mount 'Orohena). It's all good.
About to head to dinner on the island of Bora Bora, French Polynesia
A bit more about Teahupoʻo, the legendary village known for its remarkable wave (and home to the Billabong Pro Teahupo'o, held every August). Set on Tahiti’s southwestern coast, you’ll find waves here that average 2 to 3 meters tall - sometimes even reaching a height of 7 meters. Not to mention the almost comically hunchback, heavy-set shape of the wave itself. Although the sheer size of the wave at Teahupo'o is only for the hardest of hardcore surfers to ride, Tahiti itself offers spots for surfers of all levels.
Toying with the incredible Teahupo'o break on a quiet day
2. Dine on local cuisine
After an exhilarating day in, on, or around the water, you’ll undoubtedly have worked up an appetite. Thanks to Tahiti’s French influence (ergo culinary expertise), you can be confident that pretty much any Polynesian meal you have will be a good one.
Poisson Cru, from tuna caught an hour prior, enjoyed at Tama's place on the island of Taha'a
One local favorite is poisson cru, which is similar to Hawaiian poke. Take raw fish (usually tuna), cure it with coconut and lime, and you end up with something so delicious that you’ll probably go back for seconds. You can find poisson cru at many of Tahiti’s food trucks, called roulottes, which are found around the island. Check out Place Vai'ete in the main town of Pape’ete in the evenings when a variety of roulottes make themselves available. Bon appetit!
3. Get off the boat and explore the smaller islands
It can be tempting to soak in all of the great views from the boat, but to get the full Polynesian experience, you’ve got to disembark and explore on foot too.
Unlike islands in the north-eastern Caribbean, which usually feature sand as the main terrain, the atolls of French Polynesia are lush, green, and wild. Growing from their volcanic origins, these islands may look like tiny green specks from the air or from miles off the coast, but when you get closer, each one has a whole world of unique plants and animals.
Instructor Rupert Covell checks out the scene from high up the island of Maupiti
One must-see island is Maupiti, a tiny atoll of only 4 square miles and home to spectacular Mt. Teurafaatiu. Stretching 380 meters into the sky, the hike to the summit is a bit challenging but absolutely worth it for the panoramic views from the top. The hike takes about 3 hours - the perfect way to stretch out your sea legs. Some travelers say Mt. Teurafaatiu has the best views in the entire South Pacific. Whatever, it's certainly worth the dawn climb.
4. Dive into French Polynesia’s reefs
It’s one thing to explore French Polynesia from above the water; it’s another to explore in the water. Home to a major coral reef system, French Polynesia is naturally an excellent scuba diving destination, but that’s not the only way to see life below the surface.
To get up close and personal with the original residents of Tahiti and French Polynesia, take a swim with manta rays or sharks. You’ll be mesmerized by the elegant manta rays, and blown away by how the sharks tend to simply ignore your presence. For an animal with such a reputation, sharks really are beautiful creatures, and there’s no better way to learn about them than to swim alongside them.
One of the coral gardens on the island of Taha'a
In addition to traditional scuba, freediving is another fantastic way to explore the reefs. Similar to the freedom you enjoy while sailing, freediving allows you to harness nature in as pure a form as possible. Leave the equipment behind and really connect with the ocean.
5. Find great value at an Airbnb
When you think of “French Polynesia,” the quintessential image of an over-the-water bungalow is probably quick to come to mind. While these accommodations are certainly romantic and bucket-list worthy, they’re also eye-wateringly expensive, even if you book with points.
For a similar experience - and perhaps an even nicer (and certainly more authentic) place - we recommend booking an Airbnb in French Polynesia. You can find fabulous properties at reasonable prices, including beach houses, modern condominiums, and rooms with private infinity pools. Keep in mind that French Polynesia is an expensive destination overall, but Airbnbs usually give you more bang for your buck than one of those famous bungalows.
Speaking of saving money, several airlines now offer direct flights to Pape’ete, and savvy searchers can often find flight deals. North American travelers can hop on a non-stop flight to Pape’ete from San Francisco and Los Angeles, so getting to paradise is easier than ever!
6. Safety tips for sailing in French Polynesia
Tahiti and its island neighbors are remarkably safe overall. For an island nation surrounded by waters containing all sorts of wildlife, you’ll be relieved to know that shark attacks are extremely rare here. However, a couple small precautions will ensure your sailing adventure can continue according to plan - in comfort and safety.
Since the South Pacific has beautiful, sunny weather year-round, it’s important to stay cool and hydrated. When you are sailing, surrounded by water, your body can trick itself into thinking it does not need to hydrate. Keep a flask handy and get in the habit of regular sips.
Also, when exploring the reefs, it’s a good idea to wear a pair of reef shoes (or sandals such as Chaco/Keen/Teva). These waterproof shoes provide a decent sole to protect the bottoms of your feet from potentially spiky rocks, coral, mollusks, or stone fish that can be downright dangerous if stepped on. Throw a pair in your luggage to save any hassles during the trip.
Craving a sailing adventure in Tahiti but unsure how to make it happen? Sailing Virgins is the world’s #1 sailing academy for people in their 20s-40s. We make learning enjoyable with laid-back instructors, gorgeous scenery, and legendary fun along the way. Check out our Tahiti course page to find out more; this also shows a sample itinerary.