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Travel and Stays in the Marquesas Islands: A Unique Adventure


For adventurers seeking a cruise beyond the ordinary to a place of untold beauty surrounded by the genuine hospitality of a Pacific Island nation that is passionate about sharing its rich and ancient culture, a trip aboard Aranui 5 to the remote Marquesas islands archipelago in French Polynesia, is truly a journey of a lifetime.

The only way to embrace all this is with Aranui Cruises who have been taking avid adventurers for the last 40 years on one of the most fascinating Pacific Ocean voyages anywhere in the world. It’s the ultimate passenger-freighter tour in one of the most far-flung corners of French Polynesia where the ship sustains and actively supports the tiny communities living far from civilisation.   

Travelling from Papeete in Tahiti the 12-day inclusive journey to the Marquesas Islands includes excursions with knowledgeable, multilingual lecturers and guides to visit nine islands, including the six inhabited islands of the Marquesas.

There the people of each island share their culture with passengers as they visit these captivating specks of land and discover the magic that attracted artists, writers, and explorers including Paul Gauguin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Thor Heyerdahl, and Jacques Brel to travel and make their home in this remote Pacific Island region. Find your itinerary!

Introduction to the Marquesas Islands

A Captivating and Little-Known Polynesian Archipelago

The Marquesas Island archipelago, located 1,500 kilometres northeast of Tahiti, is made up of 12 islands, of which six are inhabited. The Marquesas Islands rise out of the Pacific Ocean, to reveal a land of stories, both fascinating and unforgettable. 

Legend has it that each island in the archipelago is one of the foundation pillars of a divine house built for humanity by Oatea and his wife Atanua. ‘Ua Pou’ represents the two large pillars; ‘Hiva Oa’ represents the ridge beam; ‘Nuku Hiva’ represents the other beams and rafters; ‘Fatu Hiva’ represents the roof; ‘Tahuata’ represents the light at dawn; ‘Mohotani’ represents the song of a bird; and ‘Ua Huka’ represents all of the rest of the construction.

The Magic of the Marquesas: Nature and Culture

A landscape of the Marquesas Islands showing rocky peaks and animals

The landscapes of the Marquesas are spectacular with rocky peaks, imposing cliffs, deep bays, and steep valleys. There are many important archaeological remains including striking stone tiki to be found in the verdant and flower-filled valleys. The ancient Marquesan way of life – for which tattoos are an important symbol of cultural identity – is expressed through traditional dances (haka) as well as through the art of sculpting wood and stone.

Why Choose a Cruise to the Marquesas Islands?

Immersion in the Raw and Authentic Nature of the Marquesas

Sailing aboard Aranui 5 allows for a total immersion into the authentic discovery of the islands and each one reveals its unique natural beauty through the expert craftsmen who create the most exquisite and unique handmade souvenirs.  

At each island, there is time to explore and meet these exceptionally talented people and see how the experts use a variety of materials from shells, seeds, and mother of pearl to bone, wood, and stone to create exquisitely crafted pieces

Ua Pou is home to the Flower Stone, which is found nowhere else outside of Brazil. Carvers in Ua Pou have mastered the art of revealing the delicate beauty of the stone. While on Fatu Hiva, look out for traditional motifs and drawings on hand-made Tapa bark cloth or pick up a beautifully handmade wooden Ukelele on Ua Huka; and on Tahuata, find stalls selling fine bone carvings made into jewelry and ornaments.

Polynesian Meetings and Traditions on Board the Cargo Aranui

Throughout the trip, there are opportunities to learn about French Polynesian traditions. Either in the rhythms of the lively Aranui band, who play well into the night in the bar after dinner. Or in the opportunities to learn and perform traditional Polynesian songs, join classes to study simple chords on a traditional ukulele and swivel your hips to the infectious beat of traditional dances.

Local cuisine introduces the flavours of the region while male passengers in colourful shirts and female passengers in traditional pareo (wraparound skirts) can choose to have a fresh floral headdress made to complete their outfit for a special Polynesian evening on the deck.

How to Reach the Marquesas Islands on a Cruise

Getting to and around some of the islands of the Marquesas is possible by air, but the only way to get to all of the inhabited islands is with Aranui 5. One of the primary advantages of joining the ship is the longer journey to reach each island, which allows you to fully appreciate its rich diversity. Arriving by sea, directly into a small harbour or via a tender from the ship, heightens the anticipation, and the warm, genuine welcome the islanders provides a unique and unexpected treat.  

The Unique Aranui Cargo Experience

Picture of the French Polynesian Archipelago, aboard on Aranui's cargo
Credit : Lionel Gouverneur

From its inception to the present day, and across successive Aranui ships, the concept of Aranui’s Polynesian Cruises has remained the same: a traditional and authentic Polynesian offering by Polynesians for the benefit of Polynesia.

In that spirit, nearly all of the staff and crew hail from Polynesia, having come from various islands across the five archipelagos. Their insider’s perspective, as well as the openness with which they introduce their home to the outside world, creates an atmosphere unlike any other cruise line sailing the Pacific. Whether it’s in the public areas, at special dinner events, as part of the onboard entertainment, or assisting passengers from the ship to the shore on the tenders, passengers have an opportunity to get to know a friendly and talented crew.

Discover the Marquesas Islands aboard the Cargo Aranui

En route to the Marquesas, the ship weaves its way through the Tuamotu archipelago with a stop at either the UNESCO ‘biosphere reserve’ of Fakarava or the flora and fauna-rich island of Kauehi, depending on the voyage.

Fakarava is an immense atoll 60 km long by 25 km wide. Two passes provide access to the ocean, among which the Ngārue pass, the largest in French Polynesia is home to most of the 800 inhabitants. A small minority of the population has settled in the tiny village of Tetāmanu in the far south. Life is organised around the lagoon, with its lavish seabed. Since 2006, Fakarava, along with its six neighbouring atolls including Kauehi, has been part of a UNESCO ‘biosphere reserve’, due to its abundance of rare flora and fauna including hunting kingfisher, Tuamotu palms, squills, and sea cicadas. 

Kauehi, which was uninhabited until recently, has started to open up to tourism and this UNESCO designation is part of an international sustainable development project, combining the search for harmony between human activities and nature conservation.  Passengers can experience its natural treasures on a snorkeling excursion in its magical blue lagoon.

Further highlights of the rugged and breathtaking Marquesas include exploring the archaeological sites of the Taipivai Valley on Nuku Hiva, which is dotted with stone tikis and rock art, followed by an ‘Umu’ pork lunch cooked in a typical, Marquesan underground oven. Passengers also have the option to traverse the mountains of Ua Huka by 4X4; ride one of the famed Marquesan horses that roam wild on this island and take a hike to the ‘Cross’ on the ‘Cathedral Island’ of Ua Pou, with its 12 mighty basalt summits rising to 3,745 feet.

Life on Board: Between Comfort and Adventure

Aranui 5 is a custom-built, dual-purpose passenger/freighter ship that has been uniquely designed to provide all the facilities of a small and comfortable cruise liner with accommodation for up to 230 passengers while also serving as a supply ship to the islands of the Marquesas. 

The ship’s passenger area has a distinct Polynesian theme divided into eight guest decks.  The decks offer a variety of comfortable cabin accommodations, ranging from Premium exterior staterooms, the majority of which have a private balcony and seating area, to Standard exterior staterooms with a picture window or porthole. A further class of cabin is a shared dormitory-style option, which can sleep four to eight people.

All meals are served in the ship’s restaurant where waiter service at dinner perfectly blends fine dining in a casual setting; after dinner each evening there is entertainment in either the lounge or in the bar, where the talented Aranui band plays, and fashion shows, dancing and demonstrations enable passengers and the crew to mix in a relaxed and friendly environment.

Two conference rooms offer a space for guest lecturers to give fascinating presentations on various Marquesas-related topics and passengers can watch the cargo area and take in sweeping 180-degree panoramic ocean views from the Sky Bar. An outdoor promenade area surrounds the outdoor freshwater swimming pool, which is the perfect spot to cool off and take a dip after a day’s exploring on land. There’s also a spa offering a range of Polynesian-inspired treatments a gym with a choice of equipment as well as a boutique selling clothes, jewelry, books, and traditional gifts, and the world’s first tattoo studio at sea.

Planning Your Stay in the Marquesas Islands : Best time to visit and budget

Picture during Aranui's conference on board
Credit : Lionel Gouverneur

The Marquesas have a subtropical climate, which is warmer and more humid than the Society Islands. While they are not affected by cyclones, they do have more variable temperatures and less frequent rainfall. In general, the Northern Marquesas Islands are more arid, with occasional severe droughts. 

The wet season lasts from January to early March when average temperatures reach 28°C.

The best time to cruise to the Marquesas Islands is from May to December when there is the least amount of rain. However, any time of year is ideal for visiting the Marquesas Islands with Aranui 5, as the experience is centred on learning about Marquesan civilization and traditions and is not weather dependent. 

The local currency is the French Pacific Franc, and it can only be exchanged on arrival in French Polynesia.

Throughout the cruise to the Marquesas, there are opportunities to visit local shops and meet islanders making local handicrafts. To purchase these items, it is advisable to change some money into local currency in Tahiti before joining the cruise.  

Depending on the items you wish to purchase it is recommended to have at least $20- $50 worth of local currency in cash with you for each excursion and use credit cards for larger purchases. 

Some of the visits on the islands and local sellers accept Dollars but there is no guarantee, and the exchange rate can vary. In addition, not all the islands have an easily accessible ATM to get local currency.  It is however possible to change money on board Aranui 5.

The cruise includes all meals however there are times when you might like to buy a local drink and watch the world go by in a local café. As many food and drink items are imported they can be expensive, and you should be prepared to pay prices equivalent to some larger Western cities.

Organizing Your Trip with Aranui: Options and Advice

Aranui operates a regular service to The Marquesas with up to 20 departures each year, every two to three weeks. It is advised to plan a tour well in advance to secure the best cabins or your preferred sailing however there are some offers in the low season. 

Bookings can be made directly with or through quality tour operators.  

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