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Travel bucket list idea:

Cruise the islands of French Polynesia

  • French Polynesia

  • Bucket List Experience

Last updated: 03 April, 2024

Aquamarine lagoons, spiky volcanic peaks, vertiginous cliffs plunging into indigo seas and the scent of frangipani in the air are all part of the allure of a voyage through the paradise of French Polynesia.

Typical routes include the Society Islands, which are close to Tahiti and include Moorea, Huahine, Taha’a and Bora Bora, famed for its dazzling lagoon. The diving at the Tuamotos atolls is unparalleled, over dazzling corals, with sharks, rays and turtles easy to spot. Other ships head for the remote Marquesas Islands, which enchanted artist Paul Gauguin, who is buried there.

Wherever you go, everything from snorkelling to stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, hiking, horse riding and 4×4 tours is available. The islands have a rich culture, too, with fascinating archaeological sites and carved stone tikis to explore. This is a cruise for romantics, but also divers, adventurers and anybody intrigued by the gentle people and fascinating history of the South Pacific.


Price from: £Varies
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around
Duration: Min 7 days

Getting there & doing it

Papeete, capital of Tahiti, is the gateway to cruises around French Polynesia. Some ships sail the islands close by, including Moorea, the coral atolls of the Tuamotos and the limpid lagoon of Bora Bora.

Others explore the jagged, volcanic Marquesas Islands, some 900 miles from Tahiti. Cruise ship is by far the most convenient way to travel, although the islands are connected by ferry and air. This is an expensive destination, though, so the cost of independent travel can mount up, especially hotel stays.

For a more authentic experience, try Aranui 5, a hybrid cargo/passenger ship that combines the facilities of a cruise with immersion in local culture.

When to do it

May to September are the driest months, although August is always busy with French holidaymakers. You should see whales from August to October. November to April is wetter and more humid.

Who to go with: tour operators


Our writer’s recommended tour operators to book with


  • Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia




Local specialists operating a hybrid passenger/cargo ship with Polynesian crew. They sail the Society Islands and Marquesas as well as the Cook Islands and Pitcairn.

Paul Gaugin Cruises

  • French Polynesia

South Pacific luxury cruising specialist of 20 years, with well-planned itineraries and in-depth destination knowledge (recently acquired by, and now part of, Ponant cruises). They offer in-depth exploration of the Society Islands, the Marquesas and beyond.

Windstar Cruises [French Polynesia]

  • French Polynesia

Small ship specialist, with 148 to 342 guests per voyage. They operate two ships in French Polynesia, offering a sailing or motor yacht experience and visiting off-the-beaten-track islands and anchorages.