Tahiti

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The name Tahiti conjures up dreamy images of idyllic islands floating in azure lagoons fringed by palm trees and white sandy beaches. But few people realize that Tahiti is actually the heart of French Polynesian, a vast expanse of 118 islands stretched across the South Pacific Ocean. The island has most of the trappings of the modern world with five-star resorts, boutiques selling top-end labels, and a bustling port city. Pape'ete, the capital of Tahiti (and French Polynesia), has 131,5000 people—around 69% of French Polynesia's total population.

Though Tahiti is usually a stopover for many vacationers heading to the outer islands, it offers many attractions to tempt them beyond a one-night stay. Its assets are its natural attractions—soaring, cloud-swathed mountains, deep valleys, rivers, waterfalls—and ancient temple ruins that dot its valleys. And while the outlying islands have more impressive beaches, Tahiti (1,043 square km) offers an untamed landscape of both wild black sand beaches and quiet lagoons. Tahiti Iti, just 80 km (50 mi) from the capital, offers the opportunity to chill out completely and find a quiet spot by the beach.

While it's the busiest of the islands, Tahiti still exudes a laid back charm that's incredibly seductive: nobody rushes, races, or worries unduly. People still fish for supper in the lagoon, and amazingly, roosters and chickens can still be seen scratching around not far from the presidential palace.