Spread over a vast area about the size of Europe, the widely scattered (118 islands and atolls) of French Polynesia - part of an overseas territory of France - are divided into 5 groups: the Austral, Gambier, Marquesas, Society and Tuamotu archipelagos.
Prior to European settlement, the island groups of French Polynesia were inhabited by Polynesians, and organized into loose chieftainships.
In 1889, the archipelago was united under a French protectorate, and by 1946 the status had changed to an overseas territory. French Polynesia became a full overseas collectivity of France in 2003, and now retains a great degree of autonomy.
These days, the ancient subsistence economy of the larger islands has been replaced by the modern economics of tourism revenues, military employment, pearl farming, commercial fishing and a growing selection of small manufacturing jobs.
French Polynesia is an overseas possession of France.
Its flag depicts a canoe (piroque), sailing under a golden sun. Its crew of five is representing the five islands groups; the Austral, Gambier, Marquesas, Society and Tuamotu chains. Red and white are traditional Polynesian colors.
Scattered over 965,255 sq. miles (2,500,000 sq. km) of ocean, most of the islands of French Polynesia are volcanic in origin and fringed by coral reefs.
Of these islands, the Society archipelago is certainly the most famous. It includes the stunning islands of Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti - and like the enchanting Marquesas in the northeast - most are lush, dark green specs of land, volcanic in origin, with jagged-edged peaks jutting boldly into the sky.
The Tuamotu archipelago (in contrast to the other groups) includes only low-lying coral atolls (78 in all), and of these, only a handful have passable inlets into their central lagoons.
Rangiroa, the largest coral atoll in French Polynesia, is famed for its natural beauty, and remains a favorite of travelers from across the globe.
The Austral and Gambier islands in the south are lighted populated, as most are still uninhabited.
The highest point of French Polynesia is Mont Orohena, which peaks at 7,352 ft. (2,241 m).
While snorkeling, scuba diving, and other various water activities are the most popular attraction, tourists can also enjoy guided historical tours, hiking and exploring, as well as shopping in some of the various markets scattered across the islands.
Almost 61% of the total population of French Polynesia lives on the island of Tahiti, in and around the capital city of Papeete. Its lively port boasts Parisian-style cafés, a market, and plenty of places to dine.
Cooling trade winds buffet the islands throughout the year, and the months of June, July, August and October are widely considered to be ideal times to visit.
Frankly, there's never a bad time to travel to paradise.