Why Moorea should be your top destination in French Polynesia

December 18, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

When many travelers are planning a vacation to French Polynesia, often times, the top draws are Tahiti and Bora Bora. And while both of those are more than worthy of a visit (or several), visitors to the South Pacific region should also consider spending time in Moorea, the second largest island in French Polynesia just to the west of Tahiti.

French Polynesia is composed of more than 100 islands, spread over a surface area larger than Europe in the South Pacific. Dating back millions of years, the topography of each island varies greatly—some mountainous (like Tahiti and Moorea) while others are anchored by lagoons in the center and perimeters of the islands. Boasting volcanic mountains with lush green cliffs and inspiring waterfalls, Moorea is an idyllic destination for travelers looking for active and outdoor adventures.

An aerial view of the Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort.
Courtesy of Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort

Once on Moorea, consider spending at least a few days here, both for rest and relaxation as well as some adventure once you’ve recovered enough from the journey, presumably involving a long flight. The top hotel on Moorea is unquestionably the Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort. There are other lodging options around Moorea, including a few more resorts from international hoteliers—although the Sofitel is fully open while others have stayed closed since pandemic lockdowns first took place.

The Sofitel is also the most convenient as it is only a five-minute drive from the ferry terminal to the south and 10 minutes from a small airport to the north, a key logistical point for visitors looking to hop around the islands without having to go back to Tahiti for making all the connections. (But word to the wise, if this is your plan, book your flights well in advance as it is a very small airport and runway, meaning only small aircraft with a dozen or less seats are able to take off and land here.)

The outside deck has direct access to the protected lagoon, where all motorboat activities are strictly limited.
Courtesy of Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort

Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea hosts 113 luxury bungalows, scattered around a massive property with dozens built directly over the crystal-clear lagoon on the east side of the island. The resort also has the most private beach space of any hotel on the island.

Along with room service, there are two full service restaurants with a mix of French and Polynesia cuisine as well as a cocktail bar. A buffet breakfast served everyday all morning long. At both breakfast and dinner, guests can look forward to live music on most occasions, with traditional dance performances at dinner on the weekend.

The overwater luxury bungalows sit above a coral garden, where guests can swim and snorkel straight off their private balconies.
Courtesy of Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort

While there is a private infinity pool on the property, there is no fitness center or gym at the Sofitel. (Guests can request yoga mats and weights for their rooms.) But there are plenty of options—both at the hotel and off-property—for guests interested in water sports, particularly snorkeling, diving, and surfing. Some of the best waves to be found in the South Pacific can be found on the swells crashing over the coral reef separating the lagoon from the sea.

Snorkeling and diving equipment (as well as bike rentals) are available to check out from the hotel—don’t be surprised to see guests trying out the snorkeling equipment around the overwater bungalows.

The interiors of the superior overwater bungalows are inspired by French painter Paul Gauguin. A glass panel in the floor gives a glimpse of the seabed below.
Courtesy of Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort

But there are better spots for snorkeling around the island—including spots where it is safe to swim underwater with dolphins, turtles, stingrays, and even sharks. While it is relatively safe, it’s still best to do these activities under the watchful eye of a local tour guide. Te Moana Tours offers private boat tours around the entire island, with stops for snorkeling and diving, as well as a full barbecue lunch on a private island. (While the term is familiar to many Americans through the animated Disney film, “moana” means “ocean” in most Polynesian languages.)

A room service upgrade: guests can reserve a special breakfast delivered via canoe for an extra bright start to the day.
Courtesy of Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort

For tours on land, Moorea VIP Tours will take you everywhere you want go—and everywhere you didn’t know you want to go but will be glad you did visit in the end, from the bottom of Cook’s Bay to pineapple fields in the center of the mountains to literally off-roading on unpaved red soil roads to the most majestic vista points for the best photos of the island. For a little extra adrenaline, jet ski and ATV tours are also popular with tourists on Moorea.

Guests can dine with their feet in the sand at K Restaurant, which features a cathedral ceiling made with Kahaia wood from the Tuamotu atolls.
Courtesy of Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort

Moorea is easily accessible from Tahiti, which has the largest international airport in French Polynesia, by a 30-minute car ferry from Papeete. Ferries run between the islands multiple times per day, every day of the week.

Some U.S. carriers have resumed direct flights from the West Coast, but Air Tahiti Nui, the region’s flagship airline, is still the best bet out of Los Angeles (and Paris, for European readers) with several direct flights throughout the week. Vaccinated visitors from the United States can enter with a negative COVID-19 test result and are not required to quarantine. Non-vaccinated people who are not residents of French Polynesia are not permitted to enter.

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