Partly discovered in 1595 by Alvaro Mendana de Neira’s Spanish expedition, this archipelago located to the northeast of Tahiti is famous for the striking authenticity of its green, wild landscapes.
Surprisingly rich in archeological ruins, these islands—probably among the first to be settled in the Polynesian archipelagoes—still possess numerous me’ae (in Marquesan language), which were important sites of worship constructed out of rock and/or basalt. These powerful testimonies to the cultural and religious history of the Marquesan Islands are now bona fide walks for tourists who are often taken aback by the surreal mystical aura that emanates from these sites.
Every year, many visitors travel thousands of miles to hike the trails and valleys throughout the rugged landscapes of the dozen high islands, most of them uninhabited. Whether on foot, by 4X4, in a helicopter or on horseback, visitors can choose how to explore the incomparable panoramas and waterfalls of Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, Ua Huka, Ua Pou, Tahuata and Fatu Hiva.
Famous artists, such as the painter Paul Gauguin and singer Jacques Brel, succumbed to the distinctive charms of this “Land of Humans” (Henua enata in Marquesan) that for them proved to be a source of endless inspiration (both of them are buried in Atuona’s Calvary Cemetery on the island of Hiva Oa).
As Land of Humans and artist’s paradise, the Marquesas also owes its fame to its own artistic influence, notably through the richness of its traditional arts. The precision of wood and stone sculptures, the originality of engravings, the refinement of tapa cloth and the elegance of Marquesan tattoos are well-known and appreciated far beyond the geographic and cultural borders of these islands.
• Marquesan Festival of the Arts
• Heiva Festival in the Marquesas
•Atuona Cemetery on Hiva Oa (the tombs of Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel)
of the Marquesas Archipelago
This is the largest and most visited island in the Marquesas with impressive sharp-ridged cliffs interwoven with waterfalls. In Hakaui valley, the majestic Vaipo waterfall is 350m/1148ft high and one of the most popular sites on the island to visit.
Located 50km/31mi. to the east of Nuku Hiva, this is the smallest island in the Marquesas. Papuakeikaha botanical garden, the archeological museum and the sea museum will enchant vacationers wishing to discover Marquesan culture.
The sister island of Hiva Oa, Tahuata lets you, within an hour by boat you if you are always looking beyond the scenery to find your happiness. The island marks the dawn of the legend of the Land of Men it is noticed at first by its shore, with dreamlike beaches one after another and cliffs torn by the waves.
Now uninhabited island, located a hundred kilometers from Nuku Hiva, in the extreme north of the Marquesas archipelago, Eiao has the shape of a crescent of south-east concavity along a dozen kilometers and wide four. With a surface area of 50 km2, Eiao is probably one of the last largest desert islands in the world.
Ua Pou is part of the Marquesas archipelago. Geologically the youngest island in the group, Ua Pou has an especially striking silhouette. Twelve massive columns of phonolite (a type of volcanic rock) give the island a grandiose facade not unlike a baroque cathedral.
It is on this island that the famous controversial artist Paul Gauguin is buried in the heart of Atuona village. The Archipelago’s second island (after Nuku Hiva by its surface, its 2,500 inhabitants only occupy permanently six of the forty valleys that marks the scenery.
Located to 75 km of Hiva Oa, in the South of the archipelago, Fatu Hiva is the most isolated island of the Marquesas Islands. His inhabitants specialized in the manufacturing of « tapa » beaten wooden sheets being of use as support to the drawing.