Cultural, Affordable, Immersive Experiences in French Polynesia

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Tired of the party vibe she had seen on the island and with a decade of experience as a woman boat captain under her belt, Cindy Otcenasek decided to partner with her friends last year to start a new type of tourism in the popular destination of Tahiti — one built on health, mindfulness, and community connection.

Forgoing the popular Bora Bora and more tourist-centric Papeete on Tahiti, Otcenasek selects Teahupoo for her destination for her boat excursions and adventure company. The location, near the end of the island’s roads and homes, is world-renowned for its surfing. In fact, the 2024 Summer Olympics event will be held here.

Otcenasek partnered with her friends to start Teahupoo Tahiti Surfari. It offers traditional tours but also a health package, which includes a beachside massage complete with handmade scrub ground from fresh flowers and coffee grinds. Housed on the land owned by her father and grandmother, the oasis is tucked away from outsiders, a perfect getaway for those wishing to unwind.

Tamaeva’s Polynesian Culture Immersive Experience

Meanwhile, on nearby Mo'orea, Brenda Tihoni leads a project called Tamaeva. At Tamaeva, elders teach visitors Polynesian culture such as tapa and how to make leis.

"I love my space," Tihoni says. "I love what I do. And I love what I share and what I get from people who come to Tamaeva."

Tihoni Grew Up Learning French Culture and Language

“After high school, I wanted to study the Tahitian language at university in order to learn about my culture of birth, but I could not continue because I was mocked by my teachers,” she says.

Instead, she followed another path by teaching people with social and professional difficulties to navigate situations and helping to support them. She opened a training center for adults who had not been able to support themselves in finding a job.

In 2018, she decided to open a workspace so she could leave her public service job and focus on traditional Polynesian culture.

“Being a musician, a composer, and wishing to learn even more about my culture, I decided to open a place of training in the field of Polynesian culture,” she says. “I called on elders from all over the islands who knew the history and culture of their islands to join me in this project.”

You can live at Tamaeva for a week to immerse yourself in the Polynesian culture. There are cultural workshops offering education about different aspects of the culture and practice. 

An Affordable Destination

While many people associate French Polynesia as an expensive destination, it can be done on an affordable budget. Instead of staying at high-end hotels, choose smaller guesthouses that offer beautiful views of the water and basic rooms. Many of the guesthouses and small accommodations don’t have televisions, so you’re not tempted to watch the latest Netflix special and can instead pick up a book in your downtime.

Some recommended accommodations in French Polynesia are Vanira Lodge on Tahiti, Hotel Les Tipaniers on Mo’orea, Opoa Beach Hotel on Raiatea, and Maitai Lapita Village on Huahine.

If splurging is in your budget, try out the Hotel Hilton Tahiti, minutes from the airport and in a beautiful setting with delicious food on the property.

The Bottom Line

Polynesian culture is unique and full of stories and heritage. Visiting French Polynesia doesn’t have to break the bank. There are affordable options for accommodations, transportation, and tours. Looking ahead, May commemorates Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and nowhere is heritage more evident than in Polynesia, including on the island of Tahiti.

Tags: Adventure, Travel, wellness

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Written By

Kristi Eaton

Kristi Eaton is a freelance journalist and communications consultant. See Full Bio

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