No matter how much you hear about the 118 islands that comprise the 5 idyllic archipelagos that make up French Polynesia, nothing can prepare you for the breathtaking scenery of the islands’ towering volcanic peaks, rugged cliffs, emerald lagoons and stunning palm-fringed beaches. Despite being heavily influenced by French culture, the region has managed to retain its own colourful and distinctive culture through its traditional food, music, and local handicrafts. Divers and snorkelers can marvel at the area’s extraordinary range of marine life, while hikers explore the islands' lush jungle-clad volcanic mountains. History enthusiasts are equally well sated with numerous archaeological sites revealing traces from its Pre-European past. With all of this remarkable scenery, diverse marine life and fascinating culture on offer, it is no wonder that French Polynesia has become one of the Pacific’s most exclusive and popular tourist destinations
Banking and Currency
French Pacific Franc (XPF/ CPF) = 100 centimes. Notes are in denominations of XPF10,000, 5,000, 1,000 and 500. Coins are in denominations of XPF100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1. The French Pacific Franc is tied to the Euro.
The same franc is used in the French Pacific territories of New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna islands.
U.S. dollar and European euro notes (but not coins) are widely accepted as cash in the islands, although at less favorable exchange rates than at banks.
You will probably get a more favorable rate if you change your money in French Polynesia rather than before leaving home.
The CFP, the U.S. Dollar & the British Pound -- The value of the CFP is pegged directly to the European euro at a rate of 1€ = 119.332CFP.
There are several banks located in Papeete. In the outer islands there are only banks in the main towns. Banking hours are usually: Monday - Friday 08h00-15h30. Some banks are open on Saturdays from 07h45 to 11h30.
The easiest and best way to get local currency in French Polynesia is from an ATM, known as a billetterie in French and sometimes referred to in English as a "cash machine" or "cashpoint." Banque de Polynésie, Banque Socredo, and Banque de Tahiti have offices with ATMs on the main islands, and many post offices have billetteries that dispense cash against MasterCard and Visa cards. Some of the smaller islands do not have ATMs or banks.
The ATMs operate in both French and English, and they usually are reliable at giving cash or cash advances. Nevertheless, it is advisable to carry cash or traveler's checks in case the local ATM runs out of cash or is out of service.
You can use MasterCard and Visa credit cards to charge your expenses at most island hotels, car-rental companies, restaurants, and large shops. Many also accept American Express. Only the major hotels and car-rental firms accept Diners Club, however, and none accept Discover cards. Always ask first, and when you're away from the main towns, don't count on putting anything on plastic.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
The two most populated islands of Tahiti and Moorea have organised street networks and public transport (including good tourist infrastructure).
Air Tahiti offers domestic flights to many destinations in French Polynesia. Charters flights such as Air Archipel are available on request. Helicopters are one other option.
Ferries travel between most islands. Catamarans and ferry boats cross between Tahiti and Moorea several times a day. Schooners and cargo boats serve all the inhabited islands from Papeete.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
The municipal water supply in Papeete and other large towns can be trusted, but elsewhere avoid untreated tap water. In some areas the only fresh water available may be rainwater collected in tanks, and this should be boiled or otherwise treated. Water at restaurants, particularly resort restaurants, is safe.
French Polynesia benefits from optimum climatic conditions and so is a real Garden of Eden where exuberance and abundance go hand in hand. In this country that is gorged with sunshine, farmers grow a huge variety of fruits, spices and vegetables.
The legendary breadfruit plant or uru, the coconut, the dozens of varieties of bananas of which one is the incomparable orange plantain banana or fe'i, the various root vegetables such as the taro, the tarua, the ufi or even the 'umara make up the basis of island cuisine. Papayas, mangos, pineapples, watermelon, grapefruit, limes with a pod of vanilla are used to prepare tasty desserts.
Fish from the lagoon or from the ocean, ranging from perch, the dolphinfish (mahi mahi) through to the parrot fish in the Tuamotu islands in particular, are also on the menu for typical Polynesian dishes. They are often eaten raw, sometimes marinated in lime juice and coconut milk as in the famous recipe for raw fish à la Tahitienne' that is found all over the globe.
Tipping is not customary in French Polynesia and is therefore not expected. If you choose to tip for exemplary service, the gesture is always welcomed and appreciated.
Climate and Weather
The best time for French Polynesia is May through to October. The East Pacific Islands are in the summer, November through to April, not only hot, but also very wet. For a warm and dry winter holiday it is best you choose May to October.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
When you plan your visit to the French Polynesia it is best to bring light summer clothing. When visiting a local village, make sure not to show up in swimwear, but with a shirt or t-shirt. Consider a thin raincoat (for walks) and plastic sandals or reef shoes (for protection against coral). Bring a hat or cap to protect against the sun. The shops will otherwise provide virtually everything that you need to enjoy your holiday.
Thanks to the advent of smartphones, iPads and wi-fi, dedicated internet cafes have become a rarity in French Polynesia. Wi-fi access is increasingly the norm.
Many post offices have internet posts, but don't count too much on it – they are usually ancient models that are often not functioning. Wireless is offered at many guesthouses and hotels (at least near the reception or the bar, if not always in each room, for which sometimes there's an additional charge) and at a number of restaurants and cafes. Some places still charge a fee. Connections are fairly fast and reliable in the Society Islands, which have broadband internet; elsewhere, slow connections are the norm.
Electricity and Plug Standards
Electrical sockets in French Polynesia are one of the two European standard electrical socket types: The "Type C" Europlug and the "Type E". If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in.
Electrical sockets in French Polynesia usually supply electricity at 220 volts. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need. If your appliances are not compatible with 220 volt electrical output, a voltage converter will be necessary