For gay travelers, especially those who?ve been to Hawaii, Tahiti offers something completely different: more wild and more exotic.
Old-timers say that modern Tahiti and her islands bear a striking resemblance to Hawaii around 50 years ago. The air and water are unbelievably clear and clean, and the islands themselves are largely untamed.
The notable exception is the urban sprawl of the bustling capital city Papeete on the island of Tahiti, which is home to about 70% of the island chain?s 250,000 inhabitants. Most direct flights from the United States will land you in Papeete, so spending at least one night there is almost inevitable.
Many travelers are surprised that Tahiti is only 8 hours nonstop from Los Angeles by air.
Smart travelers head straight to Bora Bora?s pristine atolls as soon as they possibly can. They come to dive or snorkel in the coral-filled lagoon brimming with fish and reef sharks, hike or jeep into the island?s electric green interior, or trudge up its three massive peaks: Hue, Pahia, and Otemanu. But most of all, they come here to luxuriate, relax, rejuvenate, and do nothing. The island has only one tiny town, Vaitape, home to a supermarket, post office, church, and a few other services.
Bora Bora?s outrageously luxurious resorts are sprinkled mainly on islets around Bora Bora. They create a harmonious landscape, with overwater bungalows perched above the sparkling lagoon, emphasizing the obvious: that Bora Bora is more water than land.
There are no gay owned or operated hotels at all throughout Tahiti but almost without exception all are gay friendly and some really go out of their way to invite and welcome lesbian and gay travelers. And you may be surprised at the number of gay and mahu (male to female translate) staff at the hotels and resorts.
On Tahiti Island, the Intercontinental Tahiti is a large mainstream hotel. However the all-male bell staff is buff, shirtless and clad only in sarongs. The Tiki in the lobby sports a pronounced phallus. Here, as soon as you arrive, you get a distinctly gay feeling.
On the island of Moorea, a short but lovely $15 catamaran trip from Tahiti, dolphins will follow you on your way to your resort, which may include the Hilton, with a great location between two bays. You?ll be able to jump out of your bungalow right into the crystal clear waters of the lagoons and go snorkeling.
On the idyllic island of Bora Bora, you have the option of staying at three sumptuous gay-popular resorts, the Four Seasons, with its necklace of water-skimming bungalows, the St. Regis, with top notch service and amenities, and the Bora Bora Nui Spa and Resort seemingly suspended between crystal clear waters and limitless blue skies.
Le Tahaa, an island spa and resort is a 15-minute helicopter ride from Tahiti and has become increasingly popular with gay men.
Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort is an atoll, with 40 bungalows. Incredibly chic and exclusive, the gay cruise company RSVP once visited here. The staff still talks about it as the best group that ever visited.
In general the cuisine in Polynesian is probably some of the best on the planet, blending the freshest, lightest, local seafood and produce of Polynesia with the sophisticated methods and culinary skill of the French with a dollop of Asian spice. Some say the Tahitian-accented Chinese cuisine is the best Chinese food in world thanks to all the fresh ingredients.
On Tahiti, a favorite lunch place among gay and lesbian visitors is Caf? Mango in downtown Papeete, with a wonderful atmosphere a great price point and local young gay guests.
Barramundi, also located downtown too, is a bit pricier but offers amazing Polynesian food with French style. It?s also very gay popular.
Have at least one dinner at Les Roulottes, which are basically food carts wheeled in to serve locals and visitors alike. The food is great and cheap.
You could opt, of course, to luxuriate at your resort or spa, read books, soak up the sun and just chill out. If you can tear yourself away from that for at least a day or two during your vacation, a myriad of fun activities awaits.
A very popular activity -- shark and stingray feeding -- is done mainly on Bora Bora Island. You can jet ski around the island of Bora Bora in about 1.5 hours. Rentals are available at all resorts.
On tiny Motu Island, your resort can arrange for a gourmet picnic for two or for a small group in an unbelievably remote and pristine tropical beach setting.
With super clear waters (up to 150 feet in most parts), you can do any all water sports. Diving and snorkeling are particularly popular, and it?s easy to find lessons and equipment at your resort.
On Tahiti or the Marquesa Islands, it?s very fun and popular to rent a 4 x 4 and drive around the beaches.
Another activity catching on is kite surfing where you are tethered to a kite, which pulls you and your surfboard around the surface of the water.
A big reason couples come here is to get married. Weddings in Polynesia are legally binding in your home country. So if your state recognizes gay marriage, your marriage here should be recognized, so why not pop the question? It?s hard to imagine a more romantic spot to propose.
Overall, it?s quiet at night across Tahiti. There is a single gay venue in Papeete, called Le Piano Bar on Rue des Ecoles near the center of town. It is popular with the local gay community and the mahu (transvestite) community and opens after 10pm and is only popular on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Mana Rock Cafe is a small, cool dance club in Papeete that is gay friendly. They even host occasional gay nights so ask your hotel concierge.
There are a handful of clubs and bars in downtown Papeete that are gay friendly. On the outer islands, there?s really very little nightlife. Make sure you bring someone you really want to be with!
One exciting, exotic form of entertainment that you?ve probably never seen before is performances of authentic Tahitian dance ? by men and women ? offered at almost all of the resorts. Tahitian dance is very sensual and not at all tame like the Hawaiian hula. It?s fast, sharp, and beautiful. And the traditional costume is sexy, especially on the buff male Polynesian dancers.
Shopping is very good in Papeete where you have Le Marche, the main market. It?s really good for souvenirs, including parios (or sarongs), ukuleles, shell-inspired jewelry, handwoven bags and mats; carved wood, carved stones and other good Tahitian knickknacks.
The Tahitian cultured pearl is their number one export. One of the best spots to find one to buy is the Tahiti Pearl Market, next to Marche. There are three floors, the bottom the most expensive, and the top floor the least expensive.
With respect to some of the outer islands, you can easily get a bike or motor scooter and ride around the islands in no time, exploring the tiny villages and the many authentic crafts available everywhere. Just be sure to pack plenty of Polynesian francs since no credit cards are accepted in the small villages.
Tahiti is probably most appealing for couples in love. And it?s very welcoming to same-sex couples traveling together. It?s a romantic and sensual destination. From the second your plane door opens and the flower-scented humid air rushes in, you know you?re no longer in Kansas. Tahiti also offers one of the world?s last real luxurious remote escapes. In an entire year Tahiti and its 118 islands and atolls get as many visitors as Hawaii and her 8 islands receives in 12 days. This year, discover this secret getaway, a remote paradise with exquisite resorts, unparalleled cuisine and a warm embrace of queer culture.