The Marquesas are as wild and untamed as the horses roaming freely through their rugged terrain. Unlike the other islands in French Polynesia, there are no lagoons or protected coral reefs surrounding these landscapes. Instead, steep volcanic mountains plunge straight into the pounding Pacific Ocean, while jagged ridges lay interspersed between deep valleys and thriving jungles.
The Marquesas Archipelago is one of the most remote island groups in the world. These distant volcanic islands are located farther away from a continental landmass than any other island in existence. They are so isolated they even have their own time zone. Flight time to get here from Tahiti is approximately 3.5 hours.
Known as Te Henua Enata, "The Land of Men," these primitive islands will call to your innermost savage. You can explore their rugged terrain and discover a land that few people have seen before you. Throughout the islands, there are many archaeological and ceremonial sites including houses, shrines, stone statues, agricultural terraces and burial grounds that testify to the existence of an ancient civilization.
Nuku Hiva, located on the northwestern edge, is the largest of the Marquesas Islands. Known as the Mystical Island, it is home to many rare and magnificent attractions such as the black sand beach of Anaho; Hakaui Valley waterfall, the third tallest in the world; Cathedral of Notre Dame, which houses intricate stone and wooden carvings from each island; and countless underwater caverns that shelter an impressive variety of flora and fauna. The main town of Taiohae, the administrative capital of the Marquesas, is a small yet lively port, especially during yachting season.
Hiva Oa, the second largest island, is located in the southeastern group. Home to the harbor town of Atuona, this island is usually the first port of call for sailboats crossing west over the Pacific. This is the most historic island in the group, with some of the largest ancient tiki statues in French Polynesia. Known as Gauguin's Island, Hiva Oa is also the final resting place for painter Paul Gauguin and poet Jacques Brel. Both artists are buried at the Cimetière du Calvaire, Calvary Cemetery, overlooking Atuona.
In the spirit of true artistry, it is here in the Marquesas Islands that many Polynesian art forms originated. The locals have proudly safeguarded the ancient techniques of tattoo, sculpture and woodcarving. They are also leaders in the revival of the traditional pahu (drum). Every four years, Nuku Hiva hosts the Marquesas Arts Festival, a celebration of the renowned artistic talent and deeply rooted traditions of these islands.
The best way to experience the primitive beauty of these faraway islands is to take an adventure cruise aboard the Aranui V. This working cargo freighter, which transports everything from food and medicine to fuel, also operates as a cruise ship for passengers who want to explore each of the fascinating Marquesas Islands.
The Marquesas, more than any other island in French Polynesia, beckon a very different type of traveler—one with an innate thirst for adventure. As you ride horseback through these wild and untamed landscapes, you will fall completely captive to their powerful and dreamlike qualities.
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The islands include Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, Fatu Hiva, Ua Pou, Ua Huka, Tahuata and other small, uninhabited islands. Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa are the only two islands with hotel accommodations. These include the Nuku Hiva Pearl Lodge and Hiva Oa Pearl Lodge. There are also a handful of pensions and guesthouses available around the islands.