In French Polynesia, Tahiti is the center of economic, political and cultural happenings. The biggest and most populous island in this island nation, it's surrounded by majestic peaks and towers over the ocean like royalty -- and thus the nickname "Queen of the Pacific." Visitors to this realm of sea, sun and sand can enjoy many things to do, including the obvious (swimming, diving, surfing, snorkeling) and the not-so obvious (shark feeding). Amid the inviting warm blue water, calming nature and exquisite surroundings, the island also has some of the best hotels and most luxurious (and expensive) resorts on the planet. Cap it off with a long list of dining options and you have the makings of a great holiday set in a natural environment unlike any other.
You'll find a vacation in Tahiti exciting and relaxing at the same time. Explore the beautiful coastlines of Papara and Punaauia and the black-sand beaches of Pointe Venus (bring your sandals -- that black sand gets hot). To see some of the best -- and least-visited -- sights on the island, take a Jeep Safari Adventure (one of the most popular activities among travelers) to visit natural attractions accessible only by four wheel drive. For a taste of old Polynesia, soak up a traditional Tahitian show, with dancers and lively music, at Tiki Theatre Village. For history lessons (like how in the world did the first people find this place?) read the Polynesian chronicles and see collections of rare historical artifacts at the Museum of Tahiti. To stretch your legs, challenge yourself on one of the hiking trails in Papenoo Valley or Lake Vaihiria or go for the top of 6,700-foot Mount Aorai, the third-highest peak in Tahiti.
Most visitors spend at least some shopping time at Vaima Centre in "downtown" Papeete. It features four blocks of trinkets, T-shirts, and arts and crafts. If you want to get an authentic dose of local life, drop by Le Marche, an old public market that's a vibrant hodgepodge of colors, with flowers, fruits and other perks for the senses. Want to score Tahitian black pearls? Visit the store at the Robert Wan Pearl Museum or the Tahiti Pearl Market. For those who are more into mainstream purchases, Centre Moana Nui, the big shopping mall near the airport, is a good place to spend a few hours before your journey home.
Vaiete Square is a place of relaxation, primarily due to the spectacular view -- and the low-priced (for Tahiti, anyway) food. Here you'll find plenty of colorful roulottes, the food wagons that serve a range of delicious island fare to locals and tourists alike. Vaima Centre is not only famous for shops but also for cafes and restaurants. The high-end hotels and resorts have elegant bars and restaurants featuring local and international cuisine. If you're in the mood for upscale, try the Intercontinental's Le Lotus and the Hiti Mahana at Radisson Plaza.