Cruising the Marquesas – what we learnt
Published 14 years ago, updated 4 years ago
We just finished cruising the Marquesas Islands and wanted to share our learning’s with the viewers of Noonsite. Please feel free to email me with any questions or to check out our blog for more information.
Here is what we found:
ENTRY PROCEDURES FOR AMERICANS:
Non-EU citizens still need to pay a bond to a local bank in order to permitted to enter the country. The only ways to avoid this are to become an EU citizen, join the Pacific Puddle Jump that somehow negotiated their rally out of paying a bond, hire a local agent to help you check in and bypass the bond or to have a flight out of French Polynesia already booked.
Otherwise, you will have to pay the bond, which was 117,768 XPF per person (or approximately $1,180 USD per person). You will receive your bond back when leaving French Polynesia, so be sure to use a bank that has a location in your port of departure. Most boats check into the Marquesas in Hiva Oa and the only real bank option is the Bank Socredo, which happens to have a branch in Bora Bora, which is usually the port of departure. Bank Socredo in Hiva Oa is open at 8 am and closes at 11:30 am, but is again open in the afternoon, but Bonds must be paid before 3:30 pm on the weekdays and 2 pm on Fridays. They take Visa cards, assuming yours has not been turned off by your bank for being a nomad. Although Visa hit us with a $70 processing fee and interest on each day that goes by on the cash advance. Be sure to pay your VISA bill quick! Finally, you get hit one more time by the bank, which takes a 3% commission on the total amount before they transfer it to your home bank.
If you can, marry someone from the EU and you’ll be all set.
Then customs is pretty easy, the usual form asking all the usual questions. You’ll receive a 30 day Visa that you can extend in Hiva Oa for an additional 60 days (90 days total). To receive your extension you will need to purchase a stamp from the local post office for the amount of 3,000 XPF (or approximately $30 USD per person), which is then applied by the Gendarmerie to your passport allowing an extension.
Finally, once you are cleared to cruise the Marquesas Islands, you will still need to remember to check into each new island and alert the local Gendarmerie of your boats’ presence. Depending on the size of the island you might just tell the local police officer. Thankfully there are no additional costs for cruising, which is a nice change from Panama and Ecuador.
Lastly, you will need to fill out a form for authorization to provision your boat with fuel. It is a simple form that allows you to purchase fuel at tourist prices. If you hire an agent you can buy duty-free fuel, which is much cheaper and is approximately $2 a gallon for diesel.
AGENT OR NOT:
Some cruisers hire an agent to help them with the check-in procedures, secure their fuel permit and bypass the bond payment. This might have been useful in the past but our experiences this year showed that it was not necessary to hire an agent. Although skipping the bond payment would be nice, it would actually be more expensive to work with an agent to do so. Additionally, the fuel permit is now free when you check in (in the past this was an additional charge) and we found the entry procedures fairly easy to do yourself. Each port of entry has the required Gendarmerie and Post Office within walking distance and we never waited longer than 30 minutes in any office. It would be our recommendation to not hire an agent and to join the Pacific Puddle Jump to bypass the bond.
ISLANDS TO VISIT:
The first and most important thing we can share is that Fatu Hiva should be an absolute MUST STOP for all cruisers visiting the Marquesas. The anchorage is so beautiful it immediately made it into our top three anchorages of all time. The island itself is beautiful as you approach, but the rock structures around town are mind-boggling.
You can either backtrack there after checking in (as we did), or it seems you can actually stop their first (despite some reports online and in Noonsite). We met several boats there that made Fatu Hiva their first port of call in French Polynesia and they had no problems what so ever. There are stories of boats being fined $200, but I expect this to be the case if a French Coast Guard boat happens to come into port. Otherwise, the local police officer seemed very lackadaisical about customs. Fly your Q flag and the French flag and seek out the local police officer who will record your boat name, crew names and passport numbers by hand in a little book. It’s that easy. He may ask you to leave right away, but trust me when I say it is worth the risk. It’s a day sail to Hiva Oa afterward.
There is also an amazing waterfall you can hike to with a nice cool pool to swim in below the falls (but bring bug spray). Don’t expect much for services though, there is only one shop and a telephone booth, and that’s about all. We had dinner at Katty’s house one night for 1,700 CFP (about $17 dollars each) and that was also an experience, but more for the environment and not the food. Fresh bread is delivered to the town by truck from another village, so you will be lucky if you catch them. Tikis and Tapa cloth all seems to be sold at Tahiti cruise ship prices as this is where they ship the items they make (the prices were outrageous).
Lastly, the wind does shift around in the anchorage, so give yourself plenty of room and be sure your anchor is hooked. It’s sand in the deeper sections of 40 feet+, and big rocks when you get closer to shore in the 30-foot section (we wrapped our chain on a rock and nearly hit another boat when the wind shifted and another boat dragged their anchor and drifted out to sea before realizing anything had happened). There is no internet anywhere on the island of Fatu Hiva.
Hiva Oa at Atuona (the main anchorage) is nice, but is not as nice as the other islands. Make sure you anchor behind the two yellow crosses (closer to shore) or they will make you move when the supply ship comes in. The walk to town from the main anchorage is about an hour unless you have someone drop you by dinghy at the rarely used stairway on the northwest side of the anchorage, which saves you 30 minutes each way.
In town, there is a small hardware store and food store with a limited selection of bread (again this is delivered by someone so your timing has to be good). There is one computer in the post office and expensive Wifi internet service in the harbor ($20 for 5 hours).
The anchorage itself was not all that wonderful – the water was murky/muddy and there was barely enough space for us to anchor. However, we strongly recommend the pizza from the restaurant closest to the anchorage – good stuff!
The island of Tahuata is another stop we would recommend. It’s only 10 miles from the anchorage at Hiva Oa and is a good day sail to the Bay Hanamoenoa, which has four finger inlets that you can pick to anchor in. We chose the inlet to the north of the main harbor and had it all to ourselves. White sand beach, 20-foot sand anchorage, great snorkeling (even saw a black tip shark). Great stop, but nothing ashore, just palm trees where we anchored.
The islands of Ua Pou looked amazing, but we only sailed by on our way to Nuka Hiva. The volcanic plugs are supposed to look like Bora Bora, but the clouds apparently hide them most of the time. We went straight to Nuka Hiva.
The island of Nuka Hiva was also good. Baie De Taiohae, the main port for the Marquesas, offers most services. There is no marina, but you can pull up to the city pier to get fuel and water with a Bahamian Moor (although apparently quite sketchy with a swell). The anchorage is huge and open with depths around 30 feet in the sand.
The town has a few larger grocery stores, but they are not too different from what you will find in Hiva Oa, with the exception of more bread in the morning (they even had loaves of bread!). There is a very nice restaurant up by the hotel on the west side of the anchorage with a bar that serves happy hour drinks overlooking their infinity pool and the anchorage. Dinners are $20 each though. Internet is available for free if you anchor near shore and can pick up the “LC” signal, or you can pay for the same service offered in Hiva Oa.
We also went to Daniels Bay, which is a one hour sail to the East. This was a very nice and protected anchorage, which would suit mono-hulls better to keep from rolling. There were about five families living here and a two-hour hike to a 350-meter waterfall with a swimming pool (no guide required, but beware of falling rocks).
So that is it. Hope this helps. Feel free to email us with any specific questions.