French Polynesia was never on our radar when we were New Yorkers. However, being on the west coast, the 8 hour flight to crystal clear, shallow lagoons made perfect sense. It was the most relaxing vacation we’ve had in a long while. It’s true, the formula for happy kids is: just add water.

We spent 10 sunkissed days in Tahiti with a few daytrips to the nearby island of Mo’orea (a 40 minute ferry ride). By the end, we had seen nearly everything there was to see in Tahiti as a tourist. There are a handful of sites to visit, but the beauty of it all is in the untamed landscape, eating fresh fruit and raw fish and taking in the history and culture of this enigmatic part of the world. The island slowed us down. My jaw loosened and we stopped trying to talk all at once.

Hugo and Arthur spent a lot of time with their faces in the water, watching fish, examining coral and telling stories about the shells they found. Baby Rui was content not to be held — there was plenty to explore just by sitting in the wet sand.

Only a few locals spoke English with us, so we relied on the little french we knew and did a lot of guessing. It was nice to be a bit lost, people didn’t mind. Polynesians are incredibly warm and hospitable. We felt at ease in this foreign land.

It was difficult to find places to eat, although there were so many gems all around. We were used to googling and reading reviews, but it doesn’t quite work that way in Tahiti. The need to cultivate an online presence does not seem as compulsory. Word of mouth works well, and so does having a small population of people who have been there for generations upon generations. Good food speaks for itself. We loved this about Tahiti.

Most restaurants stop lunch service at 2, and since we were unscheduled, motivated only by cues of hunger, heat or boredom, we packed a baguette and cheese each day, eating under a waterfall, under a shady tree on the beach or en route in the car. Restaurants are pricey in Tahiti, but food trucks provided all of the culinary experience we craved for a fraction of the price. There are several places to find food trucks, many surrounding Papeete, and all open at 6pm. Our favorite menu choices were Poisson Cru (think poke with coconut milk), smoothies, grilled fish, frites and burgers, Hinano beer and coco glace (cold coconut with a straw).

The island is shaped like a figure eight, with most everything happening on the coast. The interior mountains are accessible by 4x4. Most beaches are black sand with few exceptions such as La Plage de Maui —our favorite beach which we came back to every few days. It’s right next to the busy road and there is only enough ‘beach’ to lay down a towel, but the large stretch of shallow water rife with underwater life was the real ‘beach’. We threw down our things and waded out there to spend the long afternoons.

Between visiting different beaches around the island, we also did a lot of strolling through botanical gardens, parks, and Papeete Market. It was hot and humid every day, so we did this early mornings or late afternoons.

One day, we took a snorkeling tour to neighboring island, Mo’orea, and swam with reef sharks and manta rays. It was the highlight of our trip. We met several wonderful people, locals and travelers, listened to music, learned how to open a coconut with a spear in the sand, feasted on barbecue and more poisson cru, watched a fire dancer —watched our kids’ minds grow exponentially in one afternoon. Perhaps it was a coincidence, Arthur’s speech and language exploded the next day.

What I want to tell you about Tahiti is that it filled all of our cups. Something that isn’t easy to do with our family of different ages and interests. I suppose humans can simply benefit from sunshine and a feeling of awe. We’re sleeping quite well, with the sound of gentle waves still in our ears. Below are our favorites and recommendations:

La Plage de Maui - white sand and best for snorkeling with toddlers
Taharuu Beach - black sand and best for watching surfers
Teahupoo Beach - famous for its large wave and surf competition


La Plage de Maui
Restaurant Manoa

Food trucks in Papeete (Roulettes):
Parc Vaipoopoo
Place Vai’ete

Papeete Market
Harrison Smith Botanical Gardens
Vaipahi Gardens
Pa’ofa’i Gardens

Albert Tours - snorkeling and lunch in Moorea

Things to bring:
Insect repellent
Reef-friendly sunscreen
Underwater camera
sun hat + sunglasses
water bottles
water shoes


Written by Eugenia Yu

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