This imaginary box drawn in the South Pacific contains some of the region’s most famous, laid-back and commercialized islands. All of them have varying levels of beauty, but white sandy beaches, palm trees and mountainous interiors are standard fare. Visitors who expect postcard perfect scenery are rarely disappointed.
Polynesia’s islands are some of the most remote in the Pacific, but travelers willing to make the journey are rewarded with friendly locals, unique culture and incredible beaches (if you choose the right island). The undisputed star of Polynesia is Tahiti and its legendary Bora Bora. Arguably the most beautiful spot on earth, Tahiti’s blend of sustained culture amidst luxury resorts, and some of the best French Polynesian cuisine in the region have kept it popular for decades.
Lesser known but nearly as spectacular are the Cook Islands. These tiny atolls are ringed with some excellent coral reefs ideal for diving and littered with lush volcanic mountains. The locals on the Cooks are renowned for their hospitality and love of dancing. Visitors invariably have a fun, well-rounded experience on the Cooks.
Tonga is another great destination if culture and chilling out are top priorities. The Tongan love of drinking kava helps keep the mood permanently relaxed and friendly. Tonga also boasts some of Polynesia’s finest archaeological sites, so you can get a feel for the roots of this ancient group of people.
Challenging Tonga for title of most chilled-out place are the tiny islands of Niue and Samoa. Lovely locals and no commercial distractions make them the ultimate tropical island escape. But you may want to give American Samoa a pass. This island has been ruined by the gross excesses of commercial tourism and lacks any real Polynesian feel.
There’s no bad time to visit Polynesia, but remember that global holiday periods always bring flocks of tourists to the most popular islands like Bora Bora. If you plan you holiday around times like Christmas, Chinese New Year and summer vacation you may actually have a deserted island experience.