French Polynesia: Island Paradise for Travelers
When you hear Tahiti, the typical response is to say, "far." But, in actuality, the amazingly authentic islands of French Polynesia are only a few extra hours from Hawaii, the go-to tropical island destination for many Americans.
The eight-hour nonstop flight from Los Angeles via Air Tahiti Nui, one of the only options in getting there, is quite pleasant if you are not expecting an over-the-top, luxury experience. The in-flight crew is exceptionally courteous and responsive to all your needs, and although the aircraft are close to approaching vintage status, they still do provide in-flight entertainment. The food is the same of what you would expect on any international flight, and it’s important to mention that alcohol is complimentary.
It’s also entertaining to watch the flight crew change from very professional uniforms to the more traditional Tahitian clothing throughout the flight. From the moment you board the airplane, you feel like you are in another part of the world as announcements are made in both Tahitian and French. The beautiful mixture of both languages helps you to escape and truly adds a special touch to this exotic travel destination.
Tahitians are known for their accepting attitude toward anything and everything. Aita pe’a pe’a, translated in English, is "no problem." This is a phrase commonly heard by anyone visiting Tahiti. The islands have no legal discrimination against homosexual activity and homophobia in French Polynesia is uncommon.
It is very common to meet and see cross-dressers, or "rae rae," working in hotels and restaurants. The Dao bar in Papeete is popular for western gays as well as rae rae. In addition, there is a piano bar located in the center of Papeete that has mainly locals but is welcoming to tourists.
"Polynesians are known for their warm welcome. They are some of the most kind, gentle, and open-minded people in the world," said Jonathan Reap, managing director of Tahiti Tourism North America. "They embrace any opportunity to share their culture and heritage with visitors, as well as the mesmerizing beauty and tranquility of their islands."
Reap added that Tahiti, in particular, is an ideal getaway for travelers no matter how they identify.
"In fact, as it’s one of the most romantic places on earth, whether you’re gay or straight, the islands of Tahiti are a couples’ paradise, offering something for every traveler - white-sand beaches, vibrant marine life, rugged mountains, and colorful history. Whether you want a private island picnic near Bora Bora or a canoe-delivered breakfast in your over-water bungalow, Tahiti is the ultimate South Pacific island paradise," he said.
Tahiti Tourism also has a gay section on its website at http://gaytahiti.com.
Hotel options on Tahiti itself are many, and a very fun and upscale option is the Manava Suite Resort, which can easily be compared to the caliber of a W Resort Hotel. The suites are oversized luxury spaces that provide kitchens, living areas, and grand bathrooms. The hotel also boasts the largest infinity pool in Tahiti.
The island offers beautiful beaches, hotels, and all the kitschy shopping one could ask for. The local market has pearl shops on virtually every corner and they are reasonably priced. It’s almost a prerequisite before leaving the island to experience hand-picking pearls from piles of thousands, as it’s extremely daunting in the best way possible.
A short 30-minute ferry ride from Papeete is the island of Moorea. This popular island, known for its many outdoor adventure activities and beautiful scenery, is the perfect place to jump in the lagoons and try paddle boarding. Scuba, snorkeling, and kayaking are also available at most resort hotels. Taking a Jeep tour of the entire island, offered by Inner Safari Tours, is a must as the tour ends by taking you to the highest points of the island for breathtaking photo opportunities.
Moorea resorts also offer the picturesque over-the-water bungalows for which French Polynesia is known. The Hilton Moorea offers both over-the-water and garden bungalows. If you are island hopping, save your over-the-water experience for another island and enjoy the spacious garden bungalows at this resort. The bathrooms are the size of a New York City studio apartment and the private dip pools in each room’s garden provide a great space to enjoy some alone time outside. The private beach at the Moorea is known for lavish wedding or commitment ceremonies for a relatively budget-friendly price. The Hilton will happily arrange for a traditional Tahitian ceremony for any loving couple, although it’s important to note that for same-sex couples, the ceremonies do not provide an official certificate of marriage.
The executive chef at the Hilton even makes the typical breakfast buffet a gourmet experience, offering up made to order crepes and omelets for guests. For a slightly more affordable option, the Pearl Resort Moorea offers similar lodging and activities as well as provides couples an option to have ceremonies on their property.
If you are trekking to French Polynesia and want the ultimate in luxury, go to the most famous island, Bora Bora. This distinct island is synonymous with beauty and world-class resorts. Everything in Bora Bora is on mini islands, even the airport. The only way to shuttle around from place to place is via water taxi, which tends to be very expensive, so plan on just enjoying your resort, as there is truly nothing else you need to do besides the water-based excursions that each hotel offers.
The Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort, most recently made more famous by the Kardashian clan’s visit, defines perfection in every extent of the word. Arriving to this floating hotel lobby is a magical experience and the hotel staff goes out of their way to make you feel like a celebrity. The resort is spread out over a very large natural island, unlike some other top resorts that opted to build on man-made islands. In Tahitian culture, man made islands don’t possess the same spiritual embodiment that natural islands have.
If visiting the Hilton, the over-the-water bungalows are a must as the resort raised the bar on luxury and room size when it opened in 2003. And the Nui’s two newly unveiled side-by-side Presidential Suite villas are the only two-story over-water bungalows in French Polynesia - and without a doubt the show-stopping centerpiece in lodging on the islands.
The ocean water in French Polynesia is blue and crystal clear - it looks like it’s been Photoshopped from a magazine. The thing is, until you are actually there, you won’t believe or understand how water can be so beautiful; the water surrounding Bora Bora just steps it up a notch.
Snorkeling, swimming with sharks, feeding stingrays, and just lounging in the lagoon are all musts and can be arranged by your resort. If you are looking for spa treatments, then both the Hilton and the Pearl Beach Resort Bora Bora offer some great options. The spa at the Pearl Resort is the pride of the resort. They offer every service and have enough space to facilitate many patrons at once. The spa itself is surrounded by ponds full of lily pads and makes you truly feel like you are on a different island within an island.
Before leaving Bora Bora, check out the famous Bloody Mary’s Restaurant, which has been frequented and visited by every celebrity that has ever been on the island. It’s a must-do, selecting from their fresh and ever-changing menu.
A splurge vacation
A typical vacation to French Polynesia for seven nights can run as much as $10,000 per couple, with airfare. It depends on when you go and where you stay. It’s best to book your vacation package via a travel agent who will work to save money by bundling your lodging, activities, and flights. Selecting at least two islands to visit is the best way to visit as you will want to experience what each resort and island has to offer. If you are feeling adventurous and want to include and visit an island that is completely off the grid to the average traveler, then Tikehau is the place to go.
Unlike Bora Bora, the island of Tikehau is cherished and considered to be the paradise of French Polynesia to Tahitians. This is because it is not a typical tourist destination and it’s still considered untouched. Known for its pink sand beaches, it’s a place to go to get away and disconnect from the world.
The Pearl Beach Resort is the only hotel resort in Tikehau and although it’s not as luxurious as resorts on other islands, the staff provide a warm and welcoming environment as well as one-of-a-kind lodging options. Apart from its over-the-water bungalows, their garden bungalows are extremely unique as they offer indoor-outdoor bathrooms. Getting to Tikehau is an adventure in itself as you land in what appears to be the world’s smallest airport and you quickly feel a disconnect as there is only one hotel and it’s a long boat trip away from the airport. For adventure-seekers, take a quick boat trip over to Bird Island, a tiny island that features several species of birds. It’s both interesting and frightening.
French Polynesia, with it’s opening and inviting culture, makes for a trip of a lifetime. The beauty one experiences while there are memories one will speak of for many years. From the amazing food, luxury resorts, and overly friendly islanders, the islands make for a perfect backdrop for gay and lesbian visitors who want to get away to relax or who want to exchange vows with each other on perfect sand beaches.