Way back in February of 2020, my husband and I were discussing what we wanted to do for our 10th wedding anniversary. Our favorite thing to do is travel the world together, so naturally we wanted to go big for such an important milestone. After much brainstorming, we decided to hit a major bucket list place for us: French Polynesia. We booked flights and hotels and just had to patiently wait for December to roll around.
Fast forward a couple of months and the entire world shut down. Many, many other plans were cancelled, but as December approached our French Polynesia trip was still on. Honestly, I kept expecting it to not happen, and I wasn’t my usual level of prepared when we shockingly got on the plane and were headed for paradise. I am hoping to give you all of my tips so you can feel more prepared than I was!
I want to note that as the time of writing this, French Polynesia is open to tourism! Please check here for the latest travel updates.
Traveling to French polynesia during the covid-19 pandemic
Prior to Departure
- Regardless of when French Polynesia reopens, all signs point to needing an RT-PCR test within 72 hours prior to departure. We had to fulfill this requirement too, and honestly waiting for it to come back is nerve wracking! We used Passport Health, and had a great experience. Make sure your test report says “RT-PCR” as the type of test used, or else it may not be accepted by the airlines. You cannot use a rapid antigen test to get in.
- You will need to complete this form required by French Polynesia and submit it prior to departure.
- We flew Air Tahiti Nui and it was wonderful! There aren’t too many direct flights to Tahiti from the United States, but Air Tahiti Nui flies direct from Los Angeles and United Airlines flies direct from San Francisco.
- Air Tahiti Nui was a gorgeous plane (they use Boeing 787 Dreamliners) decorated in the most vibrant, tropical colors! Polynesian music was playing as we boarded! They even give you a cute little pouch with an eye mask, socks, and hand sanitizer.
- You have to keep your mask on for the entire flight. It’s a long time, but it’s required, and the airlines take this seriously. Make sure you have a comfortable mask!
- Once you are in French Polynesia, the only way to fly between islands is Air Tahiti. Some islands are close enough to take ferries, but the only way to get to Bora Bora is to fly.
Islands to Visit
- We arrived in Tahiti around 5:00 am, and took a cab to the hotel. Expect every taxi in Tahiti to cost $20 USD, regardless of where you are going or how long it takes.
- I highly recommend the Intercontinental Tahiti. The property is lovely. The rooms are a little worn and well-loved, but the views are spectacular as you first arrive in French Polynesia and the grounds and pools are spectacular.
- A few notes about the Intercontinental Tahiti: you can use their “Transit room” to shower if you arrive prior to check in. Don’t expect too much—it is just a bathroom but it was nice to get cleaned up after a long flight. The food at the hotel is expensive, but it is good quality food. Find out when happy hour is, and plan to go for reasonably priced tiki drinks!
- Especially given safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, I highly recommend renting a car for a day when you are in Tahiti. You can drive around the island, find waterfalls to hike, see the beautiful different beaches of the island, and have dinner in Pape’ete. This is a safer way to see the island as just a couple or family rather than joining excursions with other people.
- If you rent a car, make sure to make a stop at a grocery store before going on to Moorea. You can take anything you like on the ferry, and this is a great place to stock up on wine, alcohol mixers, as well as snacks and food before heading off to Moorea.
- Plan to spend an afternoon in Pape’ete to visit the market and eat and one of the many fantastic restaurants. You can do this when you have a car if you rent one, or you can plan to take taxis back and forth. Be advised it will cost $20 USD each way.
- Moorea is a dream. It is a quick 30-to-45-minute ferry from Pape’ete, and it is an island filled with adventure and something for everyone.
- We stayed at the Hilton Moorea. You can choose different categories of rooms, including stunning overwater bungalows or rooms with a private plunge pool. We selected a garden room with a private pool, and it was so luxurious!
- Be advised that many amenities at the hotel might be closed due to COVID. For example, the spa was closed while we were there, and the fitness center has been closed frequently as well.
- The Hilton Moorea was gorgeous. The beach is beautiful and there is so much sea-life right at the shore. You can often spot tropical fish, stingrays, eagle rays, and reef sharks swimming close to the bungalows. The hotel has paddle boards and kayaks available to guests and these were amazing to take out in the lagoon to see wildlife.
- To make safety a priority, it is helpful to pick excursions that are more private in nature. We had a private snorkel tour, so it just us and our guide, and he took us to swim with reef sharks and stingrays! Another day, we rented bikes and rode around the island to see more beaches. Scooter rentals are also a popular option to see more of the island.
- Bora Bora is more difficult to get to. We flew from Moorea to Bora Bora on Air Tahiti. This was the only time I wasn’t confident in the safety and sanitizing protocols since the airline operated like a bus as it made stops and people got on and off the plane with no cleaning in between. But, this was a super short flight and everyone kept their masks on, so I just used hand sanitizer and tried not to touch anything!
- We were greeted at the airport by representatives of the Intercontinental Bora Bora Thalasso Resort and Spa with gorgeous leis. Be sure to budget for water transport to your hotel in Bora Bora, since the airport is located on a barrier island. Most hotels have private transfers available for an additional fee.
- The Intercontinental Bora Bora Thalasso Resort and Spa was unlike anywhere I have ever been before. The property was insanely gorgeous, and the view of Mount Otemanu was unparalleled.
- All of the rooms at the resort are overwater bungalows, and it was a dream come true to wake up to the view of the most beautiful turquoise water I have ever seen. Once again, everything was incredibly clean, and all COVID protocols were being adhered to by staff and guests.
- Due to COVID, the water shuttle to the main island by way of the sister resort, Intercontinental Bora Bora Le Moana, was running infrequently. This made it a little difficult to leave the resort. Make sure to stop by the concierge desk as soon as you arrive to book excursions so that you can experience what you want to in Bora Bora.
- This is not COVID related, but ask the concierge also for a flower crown! It will cost about $60 USD, but it was worth every penny, in my opinion. I was able to live out my island princess dreams and take beautiful pictures!
- We scheduled a couple’s massage at the spa for our anniversary, and it was a wonderful experience! A few of the spa’s amenities were closed due to COVID, such as the sauna and steam room, but we were still able to enjoy the outdoor sea water pools and the spa rooms with glass-bottom floors to watch the tropical fish during the massage! We felt so safe during our spa treatments, and everything was clean and sanitized.
What to Pack
- Comfortable, breathable masks: masks are required everywhere in French Polynesia. Outdoors at the pool and beach when you are distanced from people, they can be removed, but make sure you have masks you can breathe in since you will need them in all public spaces, restaurants, taxis, etc.
- Hand sanitizer: you can find hand sanitizer in hotels and restaurants, but we found it best to have our own on us at all times. It made me feel more comfortable to have my hands clean whenever I needed it.
- Water shoes or sandals: Especially in Moorea, water sandals are a must. The coral is very sharp and is everywhere in the lagoon, so bring water shoes to best enjoy the beaches.
- Snorkel and mask: snorkels and masks were available everywhere we went, but due to the pandemic we felt most safe bringing our own. We didn’t have to worry about sanitation or who else had used them, since we had ours!
- Reef-safe sunscreen: the sun in French Polynesia is incredibly strong since it is close to the equator in the southern hemisphere. Bring lots of sunscreen to protect your skin, and make sure it is reef-safe to protect the beautiful ocean environment!
- Aloe Vera: you will get sunburned. It will happen. Plan ahead and bring aloe vera since it will cost a small fortune at the hotel gift shops.
- Bubble bath/bath salts: the luxury hotels on these islands have incredible bathtubs with stunning ocean views. Bring some bubble bath or salts to really enjoy the experience.
- Water bottle: in the spirit of ocean conservation, bring a reusable water bottle to fill up and use. This also saves money on buying water bottles, and the tap water in any of the resorts is perfectly safe to drink.
- Powerade or crystal light water packets: In case you are like me and don’t always like the taste of tap water, bring water flavor packets to enhance the taste. Something with electrolytes is also helpful since it is warm and humid in French Polynesia and you will need to hydrate.
- Snacks and alcohol minis: The food in French Polynesia is extremely expensive. The islands have to import almost everything, and that translates to high food and drink costs. We brought protein bars to eat for some breakfasts or snacks on the go. We also brought mini bottles of alcohol, because these can be mixed with all of the amazing fresh juices on the islands to create cocktails! The cocktails at the resorts were very pricey, so this gave us a great option to make our own.
- Floaties: we watched all of the experienced French Polynesia travelers bring their floaties to the beach before I realized the brilliance of this decision. Bring a light, packable float to bob in the perfect turquoise lagoons, especially off of your overwater bungalow!
- Go-pro: definitely bring an underwater camera of some kind. The marine life is incredible in French Polynesia. We snorkeled with sharks and stingrays, swam with all kinds of gorgeous tropical fish, and even went jet skiing with dolphins! Having an underwater camera is essential to capture these experiences.
- Drone: you can bring a drone to French Polynesia, but make sure to follow all resort rules, as well as the local regulations. For example, the Intercontinental Tahiti is too close to the airport to use the drone, but if you drive elsewhere in Tahiti you can likely fly it. In Moorea, drones could not be used in the resort for privacy reasons, but we were able to fly the drone when we left the resort on our bikes. The rules are even more strict in Bora Bora, so just make sure to follow all guidelines and you can get incredible footage!
FINAL NOTES ON SAFETY
- We felt incredibly safe in French Polynesia, even during the COVD-19 pandemic.
- All hotel staff and guests wore masks when in public areas, and most people had them on when walking around in the cities such as Pape’ete.
- The hotels we stayed in were committed to safety and cleanliness, and everything had been sanitized prior to our arrival.
- All restaurants we visited were using the utmost safety protocols.
- Traveling is a risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, but through our own safety choices and thanks to French Polynesia’s commitment to the well-being of their citizens and tourists, we felt as safe as we could be while we were there.
Traveling is so much more difficult now than it has been in the past, but if you are willing to jump through a few hurdles it can be totally worth it. This was still a bucket-list trip and a dream vacation for us, even while navigating a pandemic. When French Polynesia opens this summer, it will be a wonderful option for travelers looking to find a piece of paradise, and still feel safe while enjoying the islands. Māuruuru!