French painter Paul Gauguin created his most-famous works in the South Pacific, well-known for its picturesque landscapes. The postcard-worthy scenery is filled with palms, coconut plantations, fragrant vanilla farms, colorful blooms, citrus trees, and relatively few tourists -- according to Tahiti Tourism, more people visit Hawaii in 10 days than come to Tahiti in an entire year. The big island's interior is a deep green valley covered in rainforest, waterfalls, lava tubes, and fields of flowers. Put a fragrant white tiare, Tahiti's national bloom, behind your left ear (that means you're taken!) and explore by foot or Jeep.
Before You Go: Need-to-know info
French, Tahitian, English
14 hours from NYC, 7.5 hours from LA, 15 hours from Chicago
Le Truck (the public bus service); taxis (very expensive); rental cars; scooters; bikes; inter-island boats, catamarans, or charter flights
When To Go: Tahiti at its best
Dry season runs May to October; evenings are sometimes cool enough to necessitate a light sweater.
Rates are consistent year-round
What To Do
Tour the capital:
At the capital city of Papeete ("pa-pee-AY-tee"), don't miss the Marche du Papeete (central market) to browse for black pearls, wood carvings, pareus (sarongs), mother-of-pearl shells, vanilla, coconut oil, coffee, and French perfume. (Knot Note: Haggling is considered rude.) At night, take in a Polynesian show, featuring traditional music and dance plus manly majorettes twirling flaming torches.
Hail the surfing gods in Tahiti, the sport's birthplace. Popular spots include Papenoo, Punaauia, and Paea. Huahine and Moorea offer clockwork swells and fewer crowds.
Swim with the fishes:
In the multiple lagoons of Polynesia, you can swim with dolphins, sleek moray eels, sea turtles, and docile manta rays that practically glide into your arms looking for treats. Feeling brave? Feed the sharks (don’t worry; they’re only small reef sharks).
Listen to local music:
Traditional Polynesian instruments include omnipresent ukuleles, pahu
and toere drums
, conch shells, nose flutes, and guitars. The lilting island-country tunes are happy and relaxing.
Photos courtesy of Tahiti Tourisme