The Islands of Tahiti travel guide

The Islands of Tahiti are known for their laid-back vibes. Expect romantic sunsets and giant curls of turquoise breaking over reefs. Remote and pristine, the islands give you a glimpse of paradise on Earth.

The first Europeans to arrive on the islands were 16th-century Spanish and Portuguese explorers. After them, the British and French took control in the 18th and 19th century respectively. Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia is characterised by its spectacular tropical scenery, banana groves, plantations and flowers. The isle is dominated by Mount Orohena at 2,241m (7,352ft) and Mount Aorai at 2,066m (6,778ft).

You'll find plenty of colonial history on Tahiti, which became a French protectorate in 1842, and was a full colony in 1888. The other islands were annexed by the turn of the century. This status quo remained until 1946, when Polynesia was made an Overseas Territory (Territoire d'outre-mer). A revised constitution, introduced in 1977, ceded greater autonomy to the islands.

For the next 20 years, Tahiti and the islands' politics were dominated by the French nuclear testing program. By the time the program ended in 1996, 193 separate explosions had been detonated, and Tahiti had become the focus of opposition throughout the South Pacific, with plenty of protesting and riots. Although the protesters failed to stop the tests, their campaign had an important political effect by linking the anti-nuclear movement and the burgeoning pro-independence movement, which had up until then been largely unrepresented in any political forum, despite the support of a large proportion of the population.

In more recent years, changes have been afoot: The Islands of Tahiti gained Overseas Country (pays d'outre-mer or POM) status in 2004, and a few months later, pro-independence leader Oscar Temaru was elected. Since then, Tahiti has seen a few more presidents, with Édouard Fritch assuming office in 2014.

Beyond the political questions, the Islands of Tahiti offer an idyllic getaway for holidaymakers keen on sun, sand and tranquillity. And let's be honest, who isn't enticed by that alluring package?