Halfway between Australia and America, and still part of French Polynesia, Tahiti has 5 archipelagos of 120 islands.The self-styled «Pearl of the Pacific» offers the quintessence of tropical paradise: curved bays of white sand dotted with sloping palm trees overlooking a serene, shallow lagoon that shimmers in countless shades of blue and green.In fact, the lagoon is three times larger than Bora Bora’s combined landmass, and is surrounded by a vast reef with only one opening to the Pacific Ocean.
Stories of Bora Bora’s beauty, which means «firstborn» in the local language, became legendary during World War II, when the Americans built an airport (which still operates) on a northern atoll.Predominantly Protestant, and still substantially French in culture, food and language, Bora Bora is not as developed as its Melanesian cousin, New Caledonia, but is probably the most expensive place in the South Pacific.
Almost all accommodations are based in 3 areas, so any other place will offer a poor beach or none at all.The only town, which actually looks more like a village, is Vaitape on the main island.Although home to a limited selection of banks, supermarkets, shops and hostels, and the airport’s catamaran terminal, Vaitape is overwhelmingly the most developed area of Bora Bora.
Many stay in one of the dozens or more exclusive resorts scattered throughout the outlying atolls.And the third main tourist area is Matira, an idyllic beach at the southern tip of the main island with more low-profile accommodations than the luxury resorts. But be warned: Matira, and Bora Bora in general, is not as developed as the tourist regions of Bali, Thailand or even Fiji.
Where to Sleep in Bora Bora
- The Best Luxury Hotels in Bora BoraInterContinental Bora Le Moana Resort – Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora – Sofitel Bora Bora Marara Beach Resort
- The Best Boutique Hotels in Bora BoraRohotu Fare Lodge – Hôtel Maitai Polynesia Bora Bora
- Best Cheap Hotels in Bora BoraOa Oa Lodge – Sunset Hill Lodge
- BeachesSlightly more than 10% of the 20 km of coastline around the main island has beaches, and any atoll with sand will have been commandeered by a luxury resort long ago.The atolls’ beaches are technically available to the public, but the only way to get there is by a resort speedboat (available only to guests), or by renting a boat at ridiculously low prices. Fortunately, Matira, along the southern tip of the main island, is perfect with white sand, turquoise water and exquisite views of the attractive atolls.It’s fairly easy to find a quiet patch of sand on Matira, but facilities are very limited: 2 general stores, a handful of restaurants, and no public transportation.
- Diving and SnorkelingBora Bora consists of a small island in the middle of a lagoon surrounded by motus (atolls), and linked to the Pacific by a single narrow pass.’, ‘Therefore, the waters of the lagoon are calm, shallow and rarely affected by tides, and visibility is excellent, except if the trade winds are particularly dominant (June to August). Marine life includes barracudas, mantas and harmless sharks, and much of it can be accessed by stairs from a sun deck in an above-water bungalow, making it ideal for children and novices.But to explore the coral reefs and gardens, join an organized diving trip or lagoon tour. Serious divers can arrange trips to one of the dive centers for deeper and more distant underwater adventures.
- Outdoor ActivitiesFew people visit Bora Bora for something more energetic than just a lounge chair, but you can usually arrange for sedative activities such as kayaking and paddle-boarding, often free of charge for guests of resorts and mid-range hotels.More adventurous water sports, such as jet skiing and parasailing, are also available, and some companies offer quad biking and fishing trips.see the very useful Tahiti Island Travel Guide, available in English and French in hotel lobbies.hiking through mountains, caves and rainforests dotted with World War II relics is also available, but guides are highly recommended.And cycling is wonderful along the 20 km of coastal road, which is flat between Vaitape (the only town) and Matira (the main beach region).For surfing, abseiling, skydiving and kite-surfing, return to the main island of Tahiti or the adjacent island of Moorea.
- SailingA few yachts slip through the Passe Te Ava Nui, the only opening in the Pacific to the lagoon surrounding Bora Bora.The best of the few yacht clubs on the main island is the MaiKai Bora Bora Marina & Yacht Club, just 1 km north of downtown Vaitape, the only place in Bora Bora with supermarkets, banks and shops that offer boat repairs and equipment. The yacht club offers everything a yacht needs: safe mooring, an elegant waterfront restaurant and bar, swimming pool, free Wi-Fi and various marine services.
- ShoppingMost atoll resorts offer a couple of boutiques, but not surprisingly, prices are sky high. Matira, the only beach region on the main island, offers only a couple of mini-markets, so the only place to really shop is the main town, Vaitape.A few modest places there sell traditional souvenirs, such as pareaus (sarongs), ukuleles, baskets and pottery, while the more exclusive boutiques offer pearls and jewelry, especially for cruise ship passengers. There are also a few stalls along the road to sell more affordable souvenirs, while on Sunday mornings there is a major market near the ferry terminal.
- Food and restaurantsAll resorts and most mid-range hotels offer at least one restaurant that offers an appetizing selection of predominantly French and Polynesian cuisine.staying at an atoll resort severely limits the choice of places to eat; this is not the case if it is based on the main island.Matira offers a reasonable selection, from pizzerias to world-class bistros by the sea, while Vaitape is home to a few cafes, a Chinese restaurant and some roulottes (food carts).
- TransportThe only way to reach an atoll with a resort is by speedboat, either offered by the hotel (for a fee), or specially chartered. There is no public transport around the main island, so the only options are to arrange a «taxi» (simply a non-metered car with a driver who charges whatever he wants), or to rent a scooter, a bicycle or a car (including a nice two-seater buggy).But with little to do in Bora Bora except lounge on the beach, there is not much demand for transportation anyway – and ask your resort/hotel, and any restaurants you may want to visit, about free transfers.
- NightlifeMost resorts in Bora Bora offer some kind of nightlife, usually on weekends, which may include groups of elderly people playing ukuleles, or more entertaining fire and dance shows.The latter are usually combined with buffets, usually with Polynesian cuisine or seafood. There is nothing else available on the main island, except for a few bars.
- For familiesPerhaps the exquisite beauty of Bora Bora attracts couples more than families, and the cost and time involved in visiting the island, and the very high price of everything, means that those with children do not come.However, families do visit and enjoy the beautiful beaches, safe diving, jungle walks and biking along the coastal road. However, very few resorts offer family facilities such as a playground, or special rooms with capacity for 2 adults and 2 children.In addition, the kind of children’s clubs that usually exist in Fiji, Thailand and Bali are not found in Bora Bora.
- Vibration and cultureOf the 10,000 or more residents in Bora Bora, most are French expatriates or workers from other parts of the Tahitian archipelagos, while many memories of pre-colonial times were erased by Protestant missionary zeal 200 years ago.As a result, far fewer traditions have survived the tourist onslaught in Bora Bora than in other parts of Tahiti and the South Pacific. The best way to experience the local culture is to walk the streets, visit the Sunday market or attend a religious service in the main town, Vaitape.
- Romantic VacationBora Bora oozes only romance, making it justifiably popular with those on dream getaways, especially on honeymoons.the above water bungalows provide serenity, seclusion and privacy, with direct views of the sea and steps from a solarium to the lagoon below.Most resorts offer special packages for honeymoons (and can even arrange weddings), providing intimate pleasures such as candlelight dinners on the beach with a private butler, and massage rooms with adjoining tables.And there’s no shortage of beach walks, romantic restaurants and bars offering sunset cocktails.
The best places to stay in Bora Bora
The only village on the one island (more than an atoll) is little more than a village.Compact and friendly, it offers several banks, a few decent restaurants, a couple of well-stocked supermarkets and an inordinate number of boutiques selling nothing but pearls, aimed mainly at day-trippers on cruise ships. Vaitape is home to numerous amenities for the locals, such as churches and sports grounds, and every tourist staying on the main island will pass through at least the port from which the (free) boats travel to and from the airport.A few low-profile accommodations cater to those seeking comfort in facilities and transportation without the need for a resort style experience.
- Best Hotel: Oa Oa Lodge
Located along both sides of a pencil thin peninsula at the southern tip of the main island, Matira offers 2 white sand beaches for the price of 1.The region is home to the InterContinental and the Sofitel (the only 2 luxury resorts on the main island), however, surprisingly, most of Matira is filled with dilapidated houses that have million dollar environments. There are also a few mid-range resorts and affordable accommodations along the roads, but with only a handful of restaurants and 2 general merchandise stores, this is much less developed than the resort regions of, for example, Bali and Thailand.
- Best Hotel: InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort
The speedboats at the airport take most visitors to one of the dozen or so super 5-star resorts on the motus (atolls) surrounding the main island.Most resorts have a perfect beach (which can be quite small or man-made), but it all depends on the surroundings, with traditionally designed bungalows perched on the lagoon and accessible by wooden walkways. These resorts, which thrive on exclusivity (so the public is not welcome), can seem quite remote. The choice of places to eat, drink and shop is very limited, and transfers to the main island are rare.
- Best Hotel: Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora
Those staying on the main island can still wander around a motu not commanded by a resort.From the port of Vaitape, a catamaran ferry departs every 2 hours 1½ (with flight arrival and departure times) to a northern atoll with the airport. 15 minute trip is free for everyone at any time (no one asks to see a plane ticket).