Most French Polynesian itineraries launch from this capital island, where the main airport is located. It's not as pretty as the rest of the islands you'll call on during your sailing, but it has a strong French influence. Locals, for example, have their baguettes delivered to boxes that sit next to their mailboxes, and the downtown area has plenty of French fare to sample as well as an impressive craft market. Plan on spending a night or two on the island before your cruise to acclimate to the time change before you set sail.
What We Love
Food Trucks: The high-end French fusion restaurants are notable, but the more wallet-friendly trucks that set up near the port deliver local flavor. A favorite is Roulottes, which offers crepes and ultrafresh seafood.
Notre Dame Cathedral: Completed in 1875, the church (named for its Parisian counterpart) is one of the only remaining examples of colonial architecture on the island. The Gauguin-influenced stations of the cross are especially notable.
Best Known For
Museums: They aren’t the Louvre, of course, but the cultural offerings in Papeete are robust. The Paul Gauguin Museum pays homage to the artist who so loved the region. The Harrison Smith Botanical Garden includes waterfalls and a sacred temple, and the Museum of Tahiti is a celebration of Polynesian culture.
Point Venus: Said to be where explorer Captain Cook viewed the planet Venus in 1769, this spot showcases a black-sand beach, a park area, and a lighthouse.
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Who It's Best For
Francophiles: More than any other island in the archipelago, Tahiti hums with French influence. Cafés and bistros line the streets, sophisticated French cuisine is de rigueur, and of course, there’s the language.
Shoppers: High-end boutiques and a solid local market beckon to those in search of non-tchotchke souvenirs. Stock up on monoi and vanilla oils, natural coconut soaps, and hand-dyed pareos.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
This Island Is an Industrialized Nation: As the major city on this centric island, Papeete is lined with big-box French retailers and some American ones, too. It may not be the best introduction to paradise if your idea of castaway island is more family-owned and operated.
Jenna Mahoney is a Brooklyn-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Allure.