The postcard-perfect allure of French Polynesia has drawn visitors for centuries, and the relatively undiscovered Tuamotus are the jewels in its Pacific island crown. Far from the glitz and glam of iconic Bora Bora, the Tuamotu archipelago feels distinct from the rest of French Polynesia. The 77 photogenic atolls have escaped large-scale hotel development and offer an altogether different travel experience. Here's our selection of six paradisiacal getaways along the island chain.
A wicked seducer, the atoll of Fakarava has lots of temptations: an assortment of atmospheric guesthouses (with the mandatory terrace overlooking the lagoon), gorgeous stretches of silky sand edged with palm trees, sensational dive sites and a slow-motion ambience. The pretty village of Rotoava is a good place to get a sense of atoll life. You can rent a bike and head to Plage du PK9, a dreamy stretch of white coral sand lapped by turquoise waters.
For divers, Faka, as it's dubbed, is the stuff of legend – it's like visiting an underwater safari park. With its amazing drift dives and fabulous array of fish life, Garuae Pass (Northern Pass) is a quintessential site. In the mood for an otherworldly experience? Dive Tumakohua Pass (Southern Pass), where hundreds of grey reef sharks (up to 400 individuals on a single dive) can be seen. Sign up with Dive Spirit, a reputable dive centre with personalised service.
Spectacular coral reefs, pristine islets fringed with white sand and an unhurried pace of life make Ahe an ideal destination for anyone looking for an authentic local experience. Only two accommodation options and one village can be found here, so opportunities to decompress abound.
Taking a cruise around Ahe's lagoon is a highlight of any trip to the Tuamotus, and you'll get the chance to swim and snorkel in otherwise inaccessible places. Pull on a snorkel mask and drift over rainbow-coloured coral, keeping an eye out for delicate angel fish, friendly turtles and swooping manta rays. Back on dry land, head to Motu Manu, which has the only remaining patch of native forest in the Tuamotus, or learn about cultivating Tahitian black pearls at a pearl farm or simply relax on the terrace of your bungalow with a cocktail in hand. Tempted? Arrange your stay with Cocoperle Lodge (cocoperlelodge.com), which has a stunning beachfront location.
Looking for low-key paradise? The Polynesian speck of Tikehau is lovely and laid-back. Swimming and sunbathing on a rose-golden stretch of sand tops the daily checklist for many visitors, but energetic types can fill their holiday with diving, kayaking and snorkelling. Whether you're an experienced diver or a novice strapping on fins for the first time, you'll find superb sites near the extraordinary Tuheiava Pass, about 30 minutes from Tuherahera, the atoll's only village. Diving Safari Tikehau is a reputable dive centre. Within the lagoon, don't miss snorkelling or diving at La Ferme aux Mantas, a cleaning station where little fish scour parasites from manta rays.
If you want to do the Tuamotus in style, Tikehau is your answer, with a good range of charming accommodation and a couple of top-notch small-scale resorts. Book a bungalow at Ninamu or Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, which both overlook wonderfully turquoise waters. All lodgings can organise boat tours that take in idyllic spots on the lagoon, including Motu Puarua (a bird island), fish parks and pink-sand beaches.
The captivating atoll of Mataiva has all the prerequisites for an idyllic getaway, with an added bonus of culture. With only one village, two family-run guesthouses and limited infrastructure, this bijou atoll is a dream come true for those looking to come down a few gears. The slim beach that edges the lagoon is an astonishing sight. Highlighter-pen emerald and turquoise water laps a stage-set-perfect crescent of white coral sand. It's great for sunbathing, picnicking and swimming.
Activities on offer at the guesthouses range from cruising around the motu (islets) and snorkelling spots to kayaking and fishing. Small-scale diving is also available with Mataiva Plongee. Need some cultural sustenance? Head to Marae Papiro, one of the few noteworthy archaeological sites in the Tuamotus. It consists of a traditional sacred platform built of coral slabs in a coconut grove beside a lovely strip of sand.
As your twin-prop plane swoops down over the vivid turquoise lagoon and onto the landing strip of the tiny airport, you'll know that you have arrived at one of the Tuamotus' most unspoiled and untrammelled destinations. Makemo doesn't have a hotel or a resort, just one simple guesthouse, Relais Scuba Makemo (firstname.lastname@example.org), which is at the southern end of Pouheva, the atoll's only village. It's run by a scuba instructor, who conducts personalised dives near Arikitamiro Pass, a short boat ride from Pouheva.
For landlubbers, boat trips across the lagoon to Motu Napahere are not to be missed. This deserted islet is an ideal spot for a barbecue picnic. At the eastern tip of the atoll lies Pohue, a lagoon area that must be French Polynesia's most paradisiacal swimming and snorkelling site (and that's saying a lot). Here the lagoon is shimmering with every hue from lapis lazuli to turquoise – pure bliss!
If you feel the urge for off-the-beaten-track adventures, travel to Aratika, where visitors are an absolute rarity. All the makings of an island holiday paradise can be found in this jaw-droppingly beautiful atoll, which remains one of the best-kept secrets in French Polynesia.
What’s on offer? Snorkelling is the number-one activity. The vast, pristine marine area offers unparalleled opportunities to encounter sharks, manta rays and a dizzying array of tropical species. Fishing is also great. Many visitors simply come to play sardines on the coral beach in front of their bungalows. Book yourself into Pension Oterekia (pension-oterekia.com), which is the only place to stay on the island. The shady terraces look out over white-sand and turquoise-lagoon bliss. Beautiful views are augmented by simple yet well-appointed bungalows that are made from woven coconut thatch and other natural materials. The icing on the cake? There are kayaks and bikes for guests’ use.