What Tahiti lacks in wide white-sand beaches, it makes up for in waterfall-laden, shadowy mountains, unpretentiously beautiful black-sand beaches, sheltered blue lagoons and a distinctly Polynesian, modern buzz. This is the heart of the islands, where the cultures from all the archipelagos are mixed in the cacophonous, dusty, yet smiling and energetic capital of Pape'ete. Outside the city, explore the majestic, mountainous interior on a 4WD tour, learn to dive in the translucent lagoon, wander amid mystical archaeological sites, and from July to October go whale-watching. In July, catch the country’s most spectacular festival; the percussion and dance-heavy Heiva. Stay at a resort or head to Tahiti Iti to experience a more traditional pace of life – all international air travel goes through Tahiti, and it would be a shame to miss such an essential part of this region's cultural puzzle.