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7 things to do in French Polynesia that don't involve romance or over-water bungalows

Nov. 03, 2022
7 min read
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Editor's Note

TPG's Ashley Kosciolek was hosted by Windstar Cruises for a French Polynesia sailing on Star Breeze. The opinions expressed below are entirely hers and weren't subject to review by the line.

French Polynesia has been on my bucket list for years. I had dreams of a romantic trip with my significant other in an overwater bungalow, featuring couple's massages every day and spectacular sunsets every evening. But that's not how it played out on my first trip to the South Pacific.

First, although there are ways to book bungalows affordably using points, they're still wildly expensive. Second, I ended up in French Polynesia on a cruise (on Windstar Cruises' Star Breeze), so additional lodging was not required. And, third, I found myself newly single just a couple of weeks before I set sail.

What's a solo traveler to do in a destination dedicated to vow renewals and honeymoons? Here are seven activities to try on your own in French Polynesia that won't leave you feeling like the odd one out.

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Take a bike ride

Biking is a great way to explore the islands of French Polynesia. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

If you're active and looking for a way to clear your head, blow off steam or simply take in gorgeous views while working off last night's dessert, an e-bike ride is a great choice. I booked a guided tour that took a group of eight people on a 16-mile pedal to the Pineapple Valley and the Belvedere Lookout in Moorea.

Wear sturdy shoes, apply bug spray and sunscreen in advance, and bring a bottle of water. Despite the assistance provided by the bike's motor, parts of the ride were still strenuous.

Shop for pearls

French Polynesia is known for its black pearls. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

If there's one must-have souvenir from a trip to French Polynesia, it's black pearls. Whether you buy just one or a whole string, they're wonderful mementos of your time in Tahiti.

Even if jewelry isn't your thing, it's still fascinating to learn about the process of pearl farming. A "surgeon" takes grafts from the oysters with the nicest pearls and adds them to other oysters, along with implants, to facilitate the pearl-making process — which happens when an irritant enters an oyster's shell and is then covered with a natural, shiny coating as a means of defense.

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To make sure you're buying real pearls, shop at actual pearl farms or jewelry stores, rather than market stalls. I had great experiences with Robert Wan in Papeete (affiliated with the Pearl Museum), Anapaperles in Raiatea (reachable only by boat) and Love Here Pearls in Taha'a (which offers grafting and implantation demonstrations).

Visit a vanilla plantation

Vanilla from a plantation in French Polynesia. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

If pearls don't do it for you, vanilla is another French Polynesian specialty. In fact, this area of the world is the second-largest producer after Madagascar.

A visit to a vanilla plantation will allow you to see how vanilla is grown and harvested, how the seeds are removed and what they're used for. You'll also have a chance to buy everything from vanilla powder, paste and extract to coffee, liquor, and bath and body products.

Try local foods

Local fruit in French Polynesia. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Visitors have plenty of local delicacies to try in this region, from raw fish with coconut milk to pineapple and breadfruit. If you don't book a tour that includes some sort of food stop or tasting, be sure to venture out on your own to a local restaurant to try a bit of authentic cuisine. My favorite, by far, is firi firi — deep-fried dough infused with coconut milk.

If you don't like dining alone or don't want to spend a fortune to visit a restaurant on your own, several independent street food tours — including some that feature food trucks — are offered in Papeete and Moorea. (Check out excursion provider Viator for more information.)

Go snorkeling

The water is perfect for snorkeling in Raiatea, French Polynesia. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

With so many gorgeous reefs, coral and colorful fish, French Polynesia is replete with opportunities for snorkeling. Whether you bring your own gear and head to a nearby beach or book an organized tour, you won't be disappointed by what you'll see in the region's teal waters.

If you don't have your own gear or don't feel like packing it, check if your ship or hotel offers rentals. (Snorkel gear was available on my Star Breeze sailing.) Local operators typically supply gear when you book a snorkel tour.

Chill on a motu

A motu near Bora Bora in French Polynesia. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Motus are tiny, uninhabited islands, and French Polynesia is rife with them. If you're seeking the most relaxing day ever, either head ashore when your ship offers motu visits, or book a private trip to see one. You're almost certain to be able to find an uncrowded swath of sand where you can catch some sun or watch as it sets.

On my sailing, the ship offered two complimentary motu experiences — one with a barbecue lunch and another with a seafood cookout for dinner. As an added bonus, you'll usually find live entertainment, too.

Watch a fire dance

A fire dance on a motu near Bora Bora in French Polynesia. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

The people of French Polynesia enjoy sharing their culture with visitors. If you arrive on a cruise ship, expect performances by local Polynesians — often including drums, dancing and singing or chanting. You can also seek them out by booking a tour (see Viator for more information) or by inquiring at local visitor centers on Bora Bora, Huahine, Raiatea and Moorea.

By far the most impressive performances are the fire dances, where men dance with fire sticks that swirl through the night air. During an evening on a motu near Bora Bora, a group of talented men and women performed, and a particularly noteworthy 8-year-old boy did a fire dance backed by several older dancers.

Bottom line

A sunset in French Polynesia. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Yes, French Polynesia is one of the most romantic destinations on Earth, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty for single folks to do, too.

To my relief, not one of the activities I did on my visit made me feel like I should have been there with a potential love interest. If you're contemplating a solo trip, a girlfriends' getaway or even a family vacation to Tahiti, rest assured that you'll love it just as much as all of those moon-eyed romantic travelers.

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Featured image by ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
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Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
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    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees