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A view from high in the verdant forest in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands

What You Need To Know To Travel To The Marquesas Islands: One Of The World’s Most Remote Destinations

July 24, 2023

Picture this. You are lying on a black sand beach, surrounded by tepid turquoise waters, begging you to dive in. That very sea is flanked by volcanoes and is home to Pacific fauna. The land is protected, providing the opportunity to soak in Earth’s striking natural beauty—a true hiker’s paradise. It may sound like a dream, but the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia are some of the most remote areas in the world. Only 1% of all travelers who visit Tahiti trek to the Marquesas. We want to help you get there and offer guidance from our team’s firsthand experience on some of the most amazing destinations in this beautiful chain of islands. 

What Are The Marquesas Islands?

A view from a mountain in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands
Image by Dena Meeder Photography

Nearly 1,000 miles from the coast of Tahiti lies one of the most beautiful archipelagos in the world. The Marquesas Islands consist of 12 islands—6 inhabited—that stay temperate, around  80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Located near the equator, they have a wetter and hotter climate than nearby islands like Tahiti. Here, like most of French Polynesia, locals speak French. However, unique to this land, there is also a dialect called Marquesan. This language is split into two dialects, North and South Marquesan, which can be most closely compared to that of the Hawaiian language. Their location in the northeast corner of French Polynesia puts them at GMT-9:30, one-half hour ahead of Tahiti. So, travelers should remember to change their watches upon arrival. 

Getting To The Marquesas

As you embark on your quest for the ultimate Marquesas adventure, you may note that there are few options for transportation. Our team has found the swiftest and most efficient way to reach this paradise—by taking to the skies. However, we have included some other options for those who like a bit of a different adventure. 

1 | Catch a Flight

Begin your journey in Papeete, just a three-hour flight from the main islands in the archipelago, Nuku Hiva or Hiva Oa. The most reliable source for these flights is Air Tahiti. Air Moana and Tahiti Nui Helicopters also offer flights to and from the islands. Your travel designer will ensure all the logistics are well orchestrated to maximize your relaxation and adventure time

2 | Cruising 

When going to a destination this remote, and if you have time to explore various islands traveling by sea is a great option whether you are hopping from island to island or getting to your destination. The Aranui 5, a new ship ideated from the original Aranui cargo ship, is a combination passenger and cargo ship. With room for around 230 passengers, three bars, a restaurant, and over 100 guest rooms, this ship offers a way to see the islands on one of its 17 annual excursions. It’s a great opportunity for travelers. However, if you would like an alternative option like the luxurious Paul Gauguin Cruises or the Windstar Cruises, contact our team of travel designers!

Nuku Hiva

Image by Dena Meeder Photography

Indulge in the breathtaking beauty of Nuku Hiva, the largest island in the Marquesas. This lush paradise boasts ancient volcanoes, verdant foliage, and pristine white sand beaches that will leave you in awe. We highly recommend spending a few days on this island to immerse yourself in this exquisite landscape. Take the chance to witness one of the highest waterfalls in Polynesia, the Vaipo waterfall, towering at 1,148 ft. This magnificent landscape can be experienced during a hike through the Hakaui Valley. 

Discover the rich cultural and historical landmarks of Taiohae Village. Visit the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Paeke Marae archeological site, and the local museum. Experience the Koueva archaeological site, a mystical Tohua that showcases ancient tiki statues, ceremonial platforms, and petroglyphs from a time long before Europeans arrived. 

The island is renowned for its artisan-crafted souvenirs that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. Picking up a local handcrafted gift is a unique way to take home a piece of this magical paradise.

Our team has put together a wonderful combination itinerary that takes you on an exploration of Nuku Hiva—Ancient Polynesia Quest.

Our Trip To Nuku Hiva

Image by Dena Meeder Photography

Our founder and top Tahiti expert, Roseann experienced this destination with a small group, and here is a look into their favorite experiences:

The Pearl Nuku Hiva

Just a 90-minute scenic ride from the airport was our home base for the trip—The Pearl Resort, Nuku Hiva. A Relais & Chateaux property offering the perfect blend of comfort, stunning views, and excellent food. Each meal exceeded our expectations with a large array of offerings, various locally caught fish, and a fine dining but casual ambiance that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. 

The view from the infinity pool was reminiscent of a postcard and reminded us that we were in a location like no other. The resort offers views of Taiha’e Bay, the main cruise port for the island, where yachts and smaller cruises can anchor. We were delighted to meet people on their own private yachts from Australia and a handful of Americans on a small expedition-style cruise. 

The lush setting this time of year (April 2023) brought some rain, but that didn’t deter the roosters from their early morning activity. So, be prepared to be awakened by these living alarms each morning.

Our Favorite Experiences (Things to Do) In Nuku Hiva

Visit Archaeological Sites

The Archaeological sites, ancient history, and day tours offered as part of our resort package did not disappoint. We embarked on a full-day adventure to the Hatiheu Valley. This destination provided the opportunity for scenic beauty and an emersion into local culture. We visited an ancient site of remains at Kamuihei and stood in awe at the giant banyan trees surrounding us.

Hike to Tehaatiki Viewpoint

Just a short drive from the town center, you will find the trailhead that leads up to this viewpoint.  The hike itself isn’t long – maybe a mile and a half, but it is uphill, so bring water and comfortable shoes. The reward of the 360-degree views is worth the effort. Stunning rugged coastlines and lush views remind you that you are somewhere very unique.

Learn About Local Life and Culture

Image by Dena Meeder Photography

Culture is at the center of life in the Marquesas. Our guide for the day, William Teikitohe, a native of Nuku Hiva, took us deep into the history of his island. In sharing a bit about life past and present in the Marquesas, we learned that to this day, the island nation still has a class system of high and low society based on education, government, and employment. 

He shared some insight into his life growing up in this paradise where the roads were not paved until 1979, and he experienced no electricity until 1987. This is something a lot of us cannot imagine, but William reminded us of the peace and serenity that the lack of electricity can bring.

Visit The Tattoo Museum

Tattoos are integral to French Polynesia’s history and culture, especially in the Marquesas. The missionaries that came to the islands banned tattoos from the 1700-1800’s. The beautiful dark blue art has long told each person’s story, family, occupation, passion, and displayed the symbol they chose for protection. We visited a small museum that showcases books that explained the history of how the story is told with body art. It was an inspiring exhibit that gave us even more appreciation for this art form.

Take In The Seclusion

We also enjoyed time at a secluded beach that we had all to ourselves, followed by a cultural performance over dinner, where our guide William was one of the key performers.

There was so much beauty, nature, and culture to take in on this beautiful island. Our team was thrilled to get first-hand experience in this remote destination.

Hiva Oa

A panorama of the ocean and mountains from a lookout point in Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands

Prepare to be amazed by the stunning beauty of Hiva Oa, the second-largest island in the Marquesas Islands. With locals once believing it to be the birthplace of the gods, it’s easy to see why. This volcanic island is surrounded by extraordinary views that will leave you breathless. While you can see the island in a day, we recommend taking at least two to fully explore all it has to offer. 

You won’t want to miss the opportunity to visit Puamau and see the biggest tikis in French Polynesia or explore Taaoa and its countless paepaes. Hiva Oa is also known for its charming artistry, making it the perfect place to find handmade souvenirs, meet skilled sculptors and tattoo artists, or catch a live performance. Get ready for an unforgettable experience on Hiva Oa!

Hanakee Lodge Hiva Oa

When looking for somewhere to stay with traditional Polynesian charm, look no further than the Hanakee Lodge. With 14 bungalows perched on the Tahauku Harbor, you will be able to enjoy stunning views from any point. For those enthralled by history, you will enjoy the lobby’s tiki statue and other stunning carvings throughout the property. As a guest, you will enjoy an outdoor terrace and infinity pool where, on a clear day, you can see Mount Temetiu, Tahatua, Atuona, and all of the stunning surroundings of the harbor. They offer excursions and activities to help you easily explore this island and all of its history. 

Our Favorite Experiences (Things To Do) In Hiva Oa

Visit Tikis

Three ancient tikis in Hiva Oa

Hiva Oa is chock full of history. Ma’ae Lipona is a site with 18 tiki statues and contains the largest statues after the famed Easter Island. For archaeology lovers, this is a must-see. History has been beautifully preserved at this site, and seeing these tikis will take your breath away. You could also take the day to go visit the smiling tiki hidden in a remote area of the forest. No one is quite sure why this sculpture is smiling, but the site has been capturing the imagination of tourists and locals for decades.

See Paul Gauguin’s and Jacques Brel’s Burials

Famed artist, Paul Gauguin, had a tumultuous life. Though much of his career was in Europe, he lived out his final days in the place he loved, Hiva Oa. Here, you can visit his burial site—a place that many travelers take the journey to. In the same cemetery, you can find the burial of Jacques Brel, a Belgian singer and actor whose influence inspired the likes of David Bowie and many more influential artists worldwide. 

Relax at Hanatekuua Beach

Whether you want to set out on a hike or relax on one of the world’s most stunning beaches, you will not be disappointed with a visit to Hanatekuua Beach. Visitors love the abundance of coconuts and wild goats that speckle the landscape. Many travelers are able to enjoy this beach completely alone or with the company of friendly locals. What’s better than an almost private beach on your dream vacation?

Join a Resort or Guided Excursion

There is so much to do and see in Hiva Oa. With resort excursions to choose from, and guides willing to show you their island, you can have experiences that few other travelers could ever dream up.

Our team is enthralled by this exquisite place. If you are interested in exploring both islands, you can catch a convenient flight between them with Air Tahiti. The people, culture, history, and beauty makes this one of the best luxury travel destinations worldwide. If you would like to journey to the Marquesas Islands, we can help. Our experts can work with you to plan the perfect French Polynesian experience for you.

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