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Settled prior to 100 AD by Polynesians, the islands were given their name buy the Spanish explorer Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, who reached them in 1595. The islands once were inhabited by over 80,000 people before smallpox carried by European explorers ravaged the population. The islands are now home to a modest population that acts as custodian to its unique culture.
While family-run pensions can be found on most of the fifteen islands making up this portion of French Polynesia, most tourism is centered around the administrative capital located on Nuku Hiva and the island of Hiva Oa.
Nuku Hiva offers a lush landscape consisting of spectacular waterfalls and dramic cliffs descending into the Pacific Ocean. The landscape is frequented with ancient ruins, majestic statues and places of worship constucted by the unique Marquesas culture.
Famous as the resting place of the painter Paul Gauguin, Hiva Oa offers a wealth of culture and artistic creativity. The island features the largest “tiki” sculptures in French Polynesia.