French Polynesia is home to 118 castaway islands and each one is a little slice of paradise. These dreamy islands are scattered over five tropical archipelagos - the Society Islands, the Austral Islands, the Gambier Islands, the Marquesas Islands, and the Tuamotu Archipelago. Each archipelago has its own personality, culture, history, and climate, but all five of them are equally enchanting.
So, when is the best time to visit French Polynesia? Luckily, this is a year-round destination, and the sun is almost always shining somewhere on the islands. This means that there’s no bad time to visit French Polynesia. Each month offers its own distinct experience.
If you’re planning a trip to French Polynesia, your choice of destinations will depend on your interests, your budget, and the time of year that you wish to travel. With 118 islands to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start, so here’s our handy guide about when to travel to the islands of Tahiti.
The climate in French Polynesia is a tale of two halves – the dry season and the wet season. Broadly speaking, the dry season runs from May to October and is characterized by sunny skies, cooler temperatures, and less rainfall. If you’re hoping to swerve both heat and humidity, this is the perfect time for you to explore the islands. However, this is also peak season, so you’ll need to be prepared for higher prices and busier resorts.
From November until April, the wet season kicks into full swing, with warmer temperatures and increased rainfall. However, it rarely rains for prolonged periods and the downpours are full of tropical drama, so don't let it dampen your spirits. There’s plenty of intense sunshine between the showers. If you’re willing to get a little bit soggy, you’ll rewarded with lush green landscapes, fewer tourists, and a real sense of tranquillity.
The dry season is, understandably, the most popular time to visit French Polynesia. All five island groups are sun-drenched, the water visibility is wonderful for snorkelling, and the gorgeous scenery is set off by bright blue skies. This is the postcard-perfect paradise you’ve always dreamed of, and tropical sunshine is virtually guaranteed.
June, July, and August are both the driest months and the busiest months for tourism in French Polynesia. If you’re planning to visit during this period, you’ll need to be prepared to pay peak season prices. The popular Society Islands of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora will be hitting their tourist peak, so bear in mind that you won’t have paradise to yourselves.
If you’re travelling in peak season, you’ll also need to book as far ahead as possible. Many of the boutique resorts and Tahitian guesthouses have only a handful of rooms, so they can get booked up almost a year in advance. In other words, it’s not a trip you can plan at the last minute, especially if there are specific places that you would like to stay.
Peak season is a great time to get a taste of the vibrant Polynesian culture. From the Heiva Festival in July, celebrating traditional dance and music, to the Tiurai Festival in June, featuring lively parades and traditional sports, you’ll find local events that offer a glimpse into the rich heritage of these islands.
The rainy season isn’t a complete washout in French Polynesia, and if you’re travelling on a budget you definitely shouldn’t rule it out. While December, January, February are the wettest months, there is only usually rainfall for 13 or 14 days per month on Bora Bora, so you’re far more likely to see a mixed bag of sunshine and showers. The islands rarely suffer from tropical storms except during years when El Niño affects ocean currents.
If you’re willing to brave the elements a little, the rewards can be great. Prices are far lower during the rainy season, airfares are more affordable, and availability is better. If you avoid the mini price-spike over the Christmas period, you’ll be able to experience paradise for (relatively) peanuts. Not only that, but you’ll get a real sense of castaway bliss without the crowds of peak season.
To maximise your chances of staying dry during the rainy months, head for the Tuamotu Islands, which receive less rainfall than the other archipelagos. Racking up over 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, this is one of the sunniest destinations on the planet. Although average rainfall is lowest in September and November, it doesn’t vary hugely throughout the year.
The diving is phenomenal in French Polynesia throughout the year, so if you’re eager to explore below the waves, rainy season is a brilliant option. In general, the water temperature is always warm, and the water is very clear, with visibility over 100 feet (30m). See manta rays, schools of jacks and barracuda, eagle rays, turtles, lemon sharks and blacktip sharks. It’s a real underwater wonderland.
For us, shoulder season escapes to French Polynesia offer the best of both worlds, with good weather, lower prices, and fewer crowds. May and September are our favourite months to visit these far-flung islands.
By May, the rains have subsided, leaving the islands lush and green. The inland scenery hits peak-beautiful, with emerald forests and hills filled with tropical blooms. If you’re planning to explore the hiking trails of Moorea or the green wilderness of the Marquesas, this is the perfect time to do it. Even better, accommodation rates are still reasonable and tourist numbers are low, putting an affordable price tag on paradise.
The final month of the dry season, September is easily one of the best times to visit the islands of Tahiti. While early September still sees peak season prices, rates start to tumble towards the end of the month. In terms of weather, it’s the driest month of the year with the longest days, so you can expect a dreamy, sun-drenched escape.
September is also the best time for breathtaking encounters with majestic humpback whales, which migrate from Antarctica to the warm waters of Moorea to mate. This is one of the only places in the world where you can swim safely with humpbacks. While you can see these gentle giants from the end of July to November, September is the best time for swimming with humpbacks. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you’ll never forget.
As if humpback whales and wonderful weather isn’t enough, late September also sees the spring equinox in French Polynesia. This is something seriously dazzling to behold. At this time of year, the sun's rays hit the lagoons at just the right angle, highlighting the gorgeous colours of the tropical lagoons.
The play of moonlight on the water is even more magical when the moon is full, so it’s worth trying to coincide your trip with a Full Moon, especially if you’re planning a honeymoon. There’s something so romantic about the silhouettes of the mountains against the sky and the sparkle of the moonlight across the waves.
If you’re happy to risk a few showers during your stay, April and October are both beautiful months to explore French Polynesia. Brief downpours punctuate otherwise sunny days, and it’s unlikely to rain for a prolonged period. Grab a good book and head for the bar or take a siesta and wait for the storm to pass.
The enchanting Ori Tahiti Festival takes place in April, celebrating the traditional Tahitian dancing used to spread stories throughout the generations. It’s a fascinating local experience that will give you a real glimpse into the culture of these far-flung islands.
For history buffs, October is a great time to explore Tahiti. The legendary HMS Bounty moored up in October 1789 in Matavai Bay. The ship, infamously captained by William Bligh, was on a mission to collect young breadfruit trees for the British Empire, but Fletcher Christian led the crew to mutiny. Every October, a replica of the Bounty is built, and a live-action replay of the mutiny is performed.
Talking about the general climate across French Polynesia is a little problematic, as each archipelago has its own distinct weather systems and microclimates. In some islands, the weather is turned completely on its head, with most rainfall during the traditional French Polynesia ‘dry season’. It’s worth researching your destination carefully to get a clearer idea of the climate.
The central and northern Tuamotu Islands have warmer temperatures and less rainfall than the other four island groups, so if you’re seeking sunshine, you can’t really go wrong. Since there are no mountains to create cooling night breezes, these islands can experience desert-like periods between November and April. If you like it hot, you’ve come to the right place.
The Marquesas are closer to the Equator, with temperatures higher than Tahiti and the Society Islands. Rainfall in the Marquesas is scattered throughout the year, but is most likely from June through August, exactly opposite that of the rest of French Polynesia. Much farther south, the Austral Islands are more temperate on a year-round basis, so be sure to bring a light jumper.
Another factor to consider is which part of each island you’ve be visiting. In general, the moist trade winds usually blow from the east, so the eastern sides of the high, mountainous islands tend to be wetter all year than the western sides. For sunshine, head west.
We’re experts in planning tailor-made holidays and honeymoons to French Polynesia. We’ll put together a style that perfectly matches your personal travel style and budget. To get started, give us a call on +44 1273320580 or send us a quote request by email.