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Tahiti is the largest and most populous island in French Polynesia, a French overseas collectivity in the southern Pacific Ocean. Its capital, Papeete, is the capital of the entire collectivity. Within French Polynesia, Tahiti belongs to the Society Islands group and the administrative division known as the Windward Islands.
Though Tahiti is the largest of the French Polynesian islands, it is only 404 square miles (1,048 square kilometers). It is of volcanic origin and consists of two round portions connected by an isthmus. The northern portion is known as Tahiti Nui, or "large Tahiti," while the southern portion is Tahiti Iti, or "small Tahiti." The northern section is more populated and developed.
Tahiti is known for its lush tropical vegetation and idyllic climate, made famous by the works of French painter Paul Gauguin, who lived on the island in the 1890s. It is home to a small museum featuring his works.
The island was first settled by Polynesians, probably between the 4th and 9th centuries CE. English sea captain Samuel Wallis became the first European to visit the island in 1767, and a Frenchman, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, visited the following year. European contact and trade with the island became more frequent following James Cook's 1774 visit. The influx of European diseases and vices, such as alcohol and prostitution, took a devastating toll on the native population and way of life.
France annexed Tahiti in 1843 despite British opposition, and a French-Tahitian War followed, raging until 1847. In 1880, the island's status changed from French protectorate to French overseas territory. It was redefined as a French overseas collectivity in 2003.
Inhabitants of French Polynesia are French citizens with full civil and political rights, and the collectivity is semi-autonomous. French Polynesia has a president, an assembly, and a budget and laws separate from those of France. Some political leaders have advocated complete independence from France, but in general, only a minority of French Polynesians support the idea.
Tahiti's economy is largely based on tourism and the export of natural products, notably black pearls. French is the official language, though Tahitian is also widely spoken. The majority religion is Christian, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. The island is home to the Université de la Polynésie Française, a French University, and Faa'a International Airport. Air Tahiti is the national airline.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Tahiti known for?
Tahiti is renowned for its picturesque landscapes, including lush mountains, turquoise lagoons, and white sandy beaches. It's the largest island in French Polynesia and is famous for its vibrant Polynesian culture, overwater bungalows, black sand beaches, and as the birthplace of overwater bungalow resorts. Tahiti is also celebrated for its pearls, particularly black pearls, which are a significant export product.
What is the best time of year to visit Tahiti?
The best time to visit Tahiti is during its dry season, which runs from May to October. During these months, the weather is cooler and less humid, making it ideal for outdoor activities and enjoying the beaches. According to travel experts, July and August are peak tourist months, so booking in advance or choosing the shoulder months of May, June, September, or October can offer a balance of good weather and fewer crowds.
What activities can I do in Tahiti?
In Tahiti, you can indulge in a variety of activities ranging from water-based adventures to cultural experiences. Snorkeling and diving in the clear lagoons offer encounters with vibrant marine life. Surfing is also popular, with Tahiti hosting world-class surf spots like Teahupo'o. For culture enthusiasts, visiting local markets, museums, and archaeological sites provides insight into the island's history and traditions. Hiking through the lush interior reveals waterfalls and panoramic views.
What is the local cuisine like in Tahiti?
The local cuisine in Tahiti is a delicious blend of French, Chinese, and Polynesian influences. Seafood is a staple, often prepared with coconut milk and local fruits. A must-try dish is 'Poisson cru,' raw fish marinated in lime juice and mixed with vegetables and coconut milk. Taro, breadfruit, and sweet potatoes are common sides. For a traditional feast, look for a 'tamaaraa,' where food is cooked in an earth oven called an 'ahima'a.'
How do I get around in Tahiti?
Getting around Tahiti can be done through various means. Rental cars and scooters offer flexibility for exploring the island at your own pace. Public transportation, such as 'Le Truck,' provides a local experience but has limited schedules. Taxis are available but can be expensive. For inter-island travel, domestic flights and ferries are the main options, connecting Tahiti to other islands in French Polynesia. It's advisable to plan transportation in advance, especially during peak travel seasons.