Every bit as seductive as the desert island of your imagination, Tahiti was Captain Cook's gateway to French Polynesia. No amount of hyperbole about jagged volcanic peaks rising above lusciously green rainforest and powder-soft beaches lapped by crystal-clear lagoons can do justice to the beauty of this island or its South Pacific sisters like honeymooning Bora-Bora. Live your Polynesian dream eating coconutty poisson cru in Papeete, splashing in Moorea's technicolor reefs and working on your Tahitian tan on the castaway bay of your choice. Bliss.
Things to Do
Whether diving neighboring Moorea's dazzling coral reef, watching whales off Rurutu or doing nothing at all on Tahiti's sugar-white beaches, you can't help but be struck by French Polynesia's natural beauty. Immerse yourself in Polynesian history and culture at the Museum of Tahiti and its Islands, set in a lagoonside coconut grove. The island inspired many an artist and writer, as you'll discover exploring the Gauguin Museum and the dreamy home of James Norman Hall, author of Mutiny on the Bounty.
Black pearls are Tahiti's big draw, but before diving into Papeete's jewelry stores, get tips on selecting pearls for size, luster and color at Robert Wan Pearl Museum. Tahitians rise at the crack of dawn for fish and produce like taro and breadfruit at the Municipal Market. Refresh with ice-cold coconut water before browsing stalls for tivaivai (patchwork blankets) and rainbow-bright pareo sarongs. Fare Tony mall is where you'll find flamboyant aloha shirts and quality woodcarvings from the Marquesas.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Tahiti is a festive island of moonlight mai tais and the rhythmic drumming and hip-wiggling of traditional Polynesian dance, best seen at the Intercontinental Hotel. Party-loving Papeete covers the entire nightlife spectrum -- from waterfront rock cafes to spit-and-sawdust bars where locals sip on large bottles of Hinano beer. Private clubs groove to Afro-Caribbean music. For low-key romance, head to the west coast for piña coladas under more stars than you'll ever see at home.
Restaurants and Dining
Tahitian food blends South Pacific staples with French culinary flair. Feast on grilled chicken, Chinese noodles and tangy Tahitian speciality poisson cru (raw fish marinated in lime juice and coconut milk) at Papeete's bustling Les Roulottes food carts. Or pull up a stool at the Municipal Market's upstairs snack bar, where string bands play at lunchtime. Papeete's brasseries pair French cuisine with fine wines, while thatched cabanas on the west coast serve juicy shrimp and lobster in romantic lagoon-side settings.