The village of Atuona, cradle of the culture of the Marquesas Islands



Explore Atuona, a hidden gem in the heart of Hiva Oa. This unique village, a living museum, preserves and perpetuates the rich Marquesan culture. Here, the "paepae", traditional dry-stone houses, are a living testimony to the craft expertise of the Marquesans of the past, and the ancient art of tatau (tattooing) is still very much alive. 

But there's more to Atuona than its fascinating culture, as the village is also blessed with breathtaking scenery, where lush green hills and black sand beaches provide the perfect setting for hiking, relaxation and contemplation. 

This charming village has also been a place of inspiration for famous personalities such as painter Paul Gauguin and singer Jacques Brel who, although they never crossed paths, each contributed to its international fame. Follow us on this journey into the history and beauty of Atuona, a destination that has charmed and captivated through the ages.

Where is the village of Atuona and what makes it unique?

Located around 1,400 kilometers northeast of Tahiti in the Pacific Ocean, the village is situated on one of the Marquesas' main islands, Hiva Oa. The island is frequently covered by rainfall, which waters its lush vegetation and intensifies its mystical atmosphere.

Atuona stands out for its crucial role in preserving Marquesan culture. It is seen as the living heart of this culture, home to a priceless heritage. Whether the sky is full of clouds or clear, the inhabitants are committed to passing on their cultural heritage to future generations through traditional dances, songs, wood carving, engraving, musical instrument making, tapa creation... all artistic expressions that are cultivated and nurtured under the mild climate of this place.

The destination is also famous for being the final resting place of French artist Paul Gauguin. His final resting place is in the local cemetery, which attracts visitors from all over the world. Gauguin's stay here contributed to his fame and that of the Marquesas Islands on the international art scene.

The bay of Atuona is framed by a breathtaking natural environment. Green hills, deep valleys and black sand beaches offer breathtaking scenery. 

This pristine natural beauty, often hidden by clouds or revealed after invigorating rain, creates a magical atmosphere ideal for contemplation and artistic inspiration. When the rain stops and the clouds dissipate, nature is reborn, bathed in a freshness that awakens the senses and stimulates creativity.

How did this village in the Marquesas Islands come into being and what are its origins?

©Céleste Ferrand

More than two millennia ago, the first Polynesians set foot on the Marquesas Islands, giving rise to communities including Atuona. The town flourished as a cultural, political and religious center, attracting residents from the surrounding regions.

Its landscapes, sculpted by local geography, offer panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean from Hiva Oa's south coast. The fertility of the land and the wealth of natural resources have enabled the inhabitants to make a living from farming, fishing and handicrafts. Over time, the hamlet evolved into a crossroads of cultural exchange with other Polynesian regions, enriching its artistic and social development.

The arrival of the  Europeans in the 18th century is also perceptible in Atuona's history. The influences brought by missionaries and settlers led to socio-economic changes, but the hamlet managed to retain its cultural identity and traditions.

Today, Atuona continues to celebrate Marquesan culture and pass it on to future generations. The inhabitants' pride in their roots is reflected in the preservation of their customs, society, language and crafts. In this way, the village remains a living symbol of the Marquesas Islands' ancestral heritage.

What are the best things to do in Atuona village?

When you visit the village of Atuona, there are several must-see experiences that Aranui offers passengers during its stopover, such as the Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel cultural centers and the Calvaire cemetery where they are buried, as well as the Puamau archaeological site, home to Polynesia's largest tiki.

Museums and historic sites

The museum dedicated to Paul Gauguin offers a unique opportunity to discover the life and work of this famous artist. You can admire reproductions of his paintings, including his famous Vahinés, and learn more about his time on the island. The museum also houses Marquesan artifacts that offer a glimpse into the region's rich history.

Close to the Paul Gauguin Museum, the Jacques Brel Museum has a completely different atmosphere. This captivating establishment offers visitors a unique immersion in the life and work of the iconic Belgian singer. Located next to the place where Jacques Brel spent his last years, the museum is a moving tribute to the legacy of this world-renowned artist. It houses an exceptional collection of objects, photographs and memorabilia that trace the artist's life and career, especially his plane, the famous "Jojo".

The Taaoa archaeological site, a veritable open-air gallery, invites visitors on a journey through Marquesan history, offering the chance to discover the spiritual energy and natural beauty of the place. The majestic ruins, like a space dedicated to the ancient inhabitants, attest to their sophistication. Stone structures and enigmatic petroglyphs underline their architectural ingenuity. The site also hosts cultural events to celebrate and preserve Marquesan heritage. Surrounded by lush green hills, deep valleys and breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, Taaoa is an unforgettable experience during a stay in the Marquesas.

This archaeological site, nestled in dense vegetation, reveals majestic tikis sculpted from volcanic stone, symbols of Marquesan art and spirituality. These meticulously detailed creations testify to the exceptional talent of the island's ancient inhabitants, inspiring fascination and respect. 

A guided tour provides an insight into the cultural and historical context of the sculptures, while discovering other treasures of the site. Ceremonial platforms (marae), altars and funerary structures illustrate the importance of ancestral rites and customs. Petroglyphs engraved on the rocks add a mystical dimension. 

The experience is fully magnified by the Marquesan landscape, a spectacular backdrop of verdant mountains and black sand beaches, adding depth to this immersive experience. Puamau is more than a visit, it's a journey into the heart of history, in a breathtaking natural environment.

©Lionel Gouverneur

The cemetery of Atuona is a site of spiritual and aesthetic contemplation, symbolizing the faith and history of the region. This sacred site is made up of monumental crosses on a hill which, when climbed, offers a breathtaking panorama of the main village, the sparkling sea and the volcanic relief. This spectacular view offers a unique opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty of the Marquesas. In this charming cemetery lie the famous Belgian singer Jacques Brel, whose sober grave is a place of pilgrimage for his admirers from all over the world, as well as the French painter Paul Gauguin, just a few meters from the singer, whose art lovers regularly place souvenirs on the tombstone.

When exploring the village of Atuona in the Marquesas Islands, it's impossible to miss the local crafts and gastronomy that reflect the cultural richness and unique traditions of this remote part of the world.

Local gastronomy in the Marquesas Islands is a fusion of exotic flavors, fresh local produce and traditional culinary techniques. This isolated part of the world has developed its own culinary identity, highlighting the delights of the sea and the products of the land. 

Here's an overview of the dishes and specialties that await travelers on a gastronomic visit to Atuona: raw fish marinated in coconut milk, fafa chicken, coconut bread, Po'e and the local Hinano beer.

Local handicrafts bear witness to the cultural and artistic richness of the region. Wood carving, in particular sandalwood, rosewood and miro to create detailed works featuring human figures, tikis, marine animals and Marquesan symbols. 

Pandanus leaves are transformed into a variety of objects, from baskets to hats. Weaving techniques, handed down from generation to generation, produce designs inspired by nature and Marquesan culture. 

Craft jewelry is also common, with shells, gems, pearls and natural materials forming unique necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings, often adorned with traditional Marquesan motifs. Finally, Atuona is also home to contemporary artists who use modern techniques to create paintings, sculptures, ceramics and other art forms, which can be seen in local galleries and workshops.

Atuona offers a multitude of watersports and outdoor activities to discover the natural beauty of the Marquesas Islands. These include:

Scuba diving :

To explore the spectacular seabed of the Marquesas Islands and discover the colorful coral reefs, swim alongside a wide variety of tropical fish and admire the beauty of the coral gardens. Atuona's clear, unspoilt waters offer ideal conditions for this exciting activity. This optional excursion can be booked on board the Aranui 5 during your stopover in Hiva Oa, both for certified divers and for passengers wishing to take a first dive.

Snorkeling : 

For those who prefer to stay on the surface of the water, snorkeling is an excellent option for exploring the region's marine life. Equipped with fins, mask and snorkel, provided onboard Aranui 5, visitors can dive into the turquoise waters to observe tropical fish, sea turtles and perhaps even stingrays moving close to the reefs.

Boat excursions: 

Boat trips around the island to discover breathtaking scenery are available with the chance to sail along the coast and admire majestic cliffs, secluded bays and sandy beaches.


The Marquesas Islands abound with hiking trails offering panoramic views of the natural landscape. In Atuona, you can explore trails that wind through lush green hills, lush valleys and picturesque waterfalls.


The Marquesas Islands are home to a wide variety of rare and endemic bird species. Discovering these natural treasures is a unique experience.

Picnics on the beach :

For a relaxing and convivial experience, you can choose to enjoy a picnic on one of Atuona's beaches. Taste local specialities, swim in the turquoise waters and relax while enjoying the paradise-like setting.

Discover the village of Atuona during an excursion with the Aranui

©Lionel Gouverneur

Embark on the Aranui for an incomparable travel experience, combining cultural discovery with an unforgettable journey through the islands of French Polynesia. Our unique vessel, both cargo and passenger ship, regularly serves the Marquesas Islands, combining the transport of essential goods with captivating touristic activities. Leaving from the beautiful islands of Tahiti and its capital Papeete, you will sail through the Tuamotu islands to reach the "Land of Men" and will live on board unforgettable encounters combined with the discovery of new destinations.During your crossing, you can admire the horizons opening up before you from your window or from the various decks. 

One of the highlights of this voyage is the village of Atuona, a place of history and culture, where Jacques Brel and Paul Gauguin chose to rest. As you step off the Aranui, you'll be enveloped by the grandiose spectacle of lush mountains and rocky coastline, and bathed in Atuona's peaceful, authentic atmosphere. Our guided tour will take you to iconic sites such as the cemetery where Brel and Gauguin are buried, and the museums dedicated to them. Local craft stores will delight you with their sculptures, jewelry and basketry, testimony to Marquesan expertise.

The Aranui also offers you the opportunity to admire the natural beauty of the Marquesas, with beautiful destinations and excursions to spectacular landscapes. Our mission is to provide you with an unforgettable experience, immersing you in the heart of Marquesan culture.

Why choose a cruise in Polynesia with the Aranui ?

When you choose to sail with Aranui 5, you'll enjoy a unique experience combining comfort, exploration, cultural immersion and privileged contact with the locals. It's an incomparable opportunity to discover the natural beauty and cultural richness of the Marquesas Islands.

Our mixed cargo ship allows you to explore remote islands and access isolated locations off the beaten tourist track. You'll discover extraordinary landscapes, combining volcanic reliefs, verdant valleys and black sand beaches.

Some of these islands don't even have airports, and for others, flights are few and far between. These cruises aboard the Aranui are the only way to discover these many islands, far from Tahiti. 

Aboard the Aranui, you'll have the chance to visit typical villages, attend traditional dance and music performances, take part in local ceremonies and meet craftsmen. You'll learn more about the customs, traditions and fascinating history of Marquesan culture thanks to our guided tours and on-site cultural activities.

The Aranui is more than just a cruise ship, it's also a vital link for the inhabitants of the Marquesas. The boat is aimed at keeping the Marquesas united with the rest of French Polynesia. When you join us, you'll enjoy an authentic experience, in direct contact with the local people, weaving memories and encounters that will stay with you long after your voyage.


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