Bora Bora is a volcanic island in the Society Islands archipelago of French Polynesia. The Polynesian island in the South Pacific is ranked at the top of the list when it comes to most remarkably beautiful in the world. The best time to visit is May.
It is perfectly possible to spoil yourself in one of the incredibly luxurious high-class resorts and spend the savings of a lifetime in a few days. Nonetheless, a bit of planning ahead can allow enjoyment of the majestic scenery with a tighter budget. Bora Bora is a very pricey destination. Everything (catering and activities) ranges from "expensive" to "indescribably expensive".
Bora Bora is an island in the Leeward group of the Society Islands of French Polynesia. The island, which is about 230 km (140 mi) northwest of Papeete, is surrounded by a lagoon and a barrier reef. In the center of the island are the remnants of an extinct volcano rising to two peaks, Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu, the highest point at 727 m (2,385 ft). The original name of the island in the Tahitian language might be better rendered as Pora Pora, meaning "First Born"; an early transcription found in 18th- and 19th century accounts is Bolabolla or Bollabolla.
The major settlement, Vaitape, is on the western side of the island, opposite the main channel into the lagoon. The products of the island are mostly limited to what can be obtained from the sea and coconut trees, which were historically of economic importance for copra. During the 2017 census, the population on the island was about 10,600 people, up from 8,880 in 2007.
The history of Bora Bora shows that the island’s first settlers back in the 4th century were Tongan people. The first European explorers who visited the island were led by James Cook. However, prior to this, the island of Bora Bora was already sighted by other explorers. In 1842 the island became a French colony under the governance of Admiral Abel Aubert Dupetit Thouars.
During World War II, the United States made Bora Bora a base for military supply, oil depot, air strip and seaplane base. They constructed defensive fortifications around the island. Luckily though, no combat took place here and the presence of American troops seemed to be accepted by the opposition forces.
The United States Military Base closed on June 2, 1946, following the end of the war. However, many Americans decided to stay on the island as it had become close to their hearts. Some Americans were even forcibly asked to leave following complaints from their families on the mainland. The abandoned base became French Polynesia’s only international airport until Faa'a International Airport opened in the 1962 in Papeete, Tahiti.
Bora Bora now relies largely on tourism and because of this seven luxurious resorts were built over the past few years. Hotel Bora Bora was the first to build bungalows that stand over the water using stilts. These are now a given of every resort on the island as these bungalows provide spectacular sights of lagoons and mountains.
The climate in Bora Bora and the surrounding islands is considered to be tropical. Unlike most places the seasons can be divided into two seasons: the wet season and the dry season. The wet season (Polynesian summers) runs from November till April with an average rainfall off 3/4ths of the yearly precipitation. During these times the humidity levels can be at an all time high. The storms during these months are frequent and unpredictable. The rainfall is about 1800 mm or 71 inches! And the weather is 30 °C or 86 °F. The dry season, running from May to October, is when tourism is at its peak on the island. During these months the temperature is a few degrees lower and rain is rare. The best time weather-wise with the least risk of storms is in the winter months. The very best part about the weather in Bora Bora is that the water temperature hovers around 30 °C (in the mid-80s F) on average. However during this high tourist season (May - October) tourist prices skyrocket and there are many more people around.
The main languages that are spoken by people in Bora Bora Island are French and Tahitian although most inhabitants that interact with visitors have good comprehension of the English language. Most tourists that visit the island are Americans, Japanese and Europeans.
Some key words in the local language in Bora Bora include:
- Hello - Ia Ora na (yo-rah-nah)
- Goodbye - Nana (nah-nah)
- Yes - E (ay)
- No - Aita (eye-tah)
- Man - Tane (tah-nay)
- Woman - Vahine (vah-he-nay)
- Child - Tamarii (tah-ma-ree-ee)
- Friend - Hoa (ho-ah)
- Polynesian - Ma' ohi (mah-o-hee)
- Big - Nui (new-ee)
- Small - Iti (ee-tee)
- Morning - Poipoi (poy-poy)
- Small island formed by coral and sand - Motu
There are about 10,600 people living in Bora Bora, these people have a firm grip on the culture, myths and traditions that have been handed down from the Polynesian gods. They have traditional songs and dances for the island. They love to share their culture with the visitors. The pace is laid-back with a relaxing atmosphere. They live by a philosophy ‘aita pea pea’ which means ‘not to worry’. The main languages that are spoken in Bora Bora are French and Tahitian. English is also spoken in many hotels, resorts, markets and tourist locations.
Take an international flight to Tahiti, and then a less than an hour flight to Bora Bora.
- Papeete/Tahiti: 4 direct flights per day, flight time 50 min,
- Moorea: daily, flight time 50 min,
- Huahine: daily except Wednesday, flight time 25 min
- Maupiti: Sunday, flight time 15 min
- Raiatea: daily, flight time 20 min
The airport is on a small motu (islet) north of the main island. Transfer to the main island or to accommodations located on other motus is done by boat. The major accommodations have counters at the airport. For the accommodations located on the main island, you will need to take the (free) ferry to Vaitape. From there, small buses will usually pick you up. Air Tahiti operates a free shuttle boat transfer from the airport to the main village, Vaitape, by "Bora Bora Navette".
Vaitape is the arrival point of the ferry from the airport, and is the only town of any size of the island. At the southern tip of the main island, Matira has the largest beach, and several hotels and restaurants. The central part of the island is extremely mountainous, tough to access and not inhabited (and furthermore devoid of roads).
The way you get around depends greatly on your accommodation and its location. Several resorts are on motus and not on the main island, hence the need of boat transportation to get anywhere. Boat transfers from those motus resorts to the main island or between the resorts and the airport are usually provided. Accommodations on the island generally also provide a transfer to and the airport ferry quay.
On the main island, there is only one sealed road. Public transport on the island is limited, consisting of a single bus that goes halfway around the island and back approximately every hour. Taxis are also available.
Operators of activities and restaurants sometimes (but not always) provide a transfer to and from the accommodations : be sure to ask when booking.
By car or bike
Renting a bicycle, moped or a car can be an option if you plan to have your freedom on the main island. The road around the island is 31 km long, and can be driven comfortably in an hour – two hours with stops.
Europcar and Avis rent vehicles on the island, but they are expensive: an economy car will cost 12,000 F (francs) for 24 hours, while a two-seat electric Renault Twizy can be had for 4 hours for 8,000 F (Jan 2019). A scooter will cost 5,500 F for 4 hours, or 6,800 F for 24 hours. (Avis's website only offers 24-hour rates, but the office will rent for 2, 4 or 8 hours).
The island of Bora Bora is a volcanic caldera. This geography has produced a lagoon, well protected from waters by the surrounding motus (islets). The lagoon, and the tropical underwater life, including sharks and rays, provide fantastic opportunities for many forms of water-based recreation, ranging from swimming, through snorkelling and to scuba and other options if you want to immerse yourself in this unique environment.
In addition to the sights under the surface of the lagoon, the dominating and unusually shaped peak of Mount Otemanu which reaches 728 m above sea level, and its smaller neighbour Mount Pahia are also worthy attractions. The combination of the beautiful lagoon and these impressive peaks provide an almost endless supply of opportunities to take travel photos which will leave your friend back home cursing you for sharing them.
Very few go to Bora Bora for the historic relics. However, if you have seen enough of the lagoon, you might want to take a peek at the few World War II remains and the archaeological Polynesian relics in one of the tours of the island.
- 1 Bora Bora Lagoonarium. A certified diver acts as underwater guide as you swim and come face to face with the turtles, sharks, sting rays and numerous other fish which call the lagoonarium their home. As the "...rium" name implies, this commercial aquarium is a captive, enclosed zoo-like environment, preventing free movement beyond the confines of the establishment. For those that are not into diving, there is a little submarine. Numerous visitors that have voted this as a favorite.
There are comparatively more activities in Bora Bora to keep you occupied than in other islands of French Polynesia. Being practical while lazing under the sun in a white sand beach, a good book will be in every case a very useful item to bring. It sometimes rains in Bora Bora (and sometimes even a lot). The vast majority of the activities take place outdoors, and there are no cinemas, libraries or museums to visit, so even if large resorts do lend books and games, bring some good reading with you.
There are many activities that are cost-free, like swimming in the lagoons, swimming with dolphins, shark and ray feeding, and enjoying the famous sunset. Most destinations are aquatic oriented, that may also include scuba diving and snorkeling. Besides the water activities there are many other activities like parasailing, deep sea fishing which is one of its kind in the world since Bora Bora is home of over 500 species of marine wildlife. There is also family hiking and climbing trails. On the relaxation part the island is filled with natives specializing in ritual massage services. There are also private lagoon cruises, bus tours, and many Motu hangouts. The island also offers flight seeing, along with helicopter tours.
The tropical sea sometimes reaches 30 °C (86 °F), making it perfect for various water activities. Swimming in the lagoon in perfectly clear warm water has the advantage of being free and can be very enjoyable. The beaches of Bora Bora are not huge by any standards, nor are they crammed with people. The most famous beach, Matira Beach is at the southern tip of the main island.
Like swimming, snorkeling is possible in many areas close to the shore. Even in Matira Beach, you will be surrounded by multicolored tropical fish in seconds, and in shallow waters. Remember to put on sunscreen from time to time as the sun is strong and you will get burned badly if you stay in the water for an extended period of time.
Several companies operate snorkeling tours in the lagoon, bringing you by boat farther off the coast:
- Shark & Ray Snorkel Safari. Shark and ray feeding is typically done in shallow waters inside the lagoon. Approximately 10-20 sharks as well as 10-15 rays will approach the boat and swim nearby, largely avoiding any snorkelers courageous enough to swim near.
- Shark Boy (book through Bora Bora Pearl Resort).
- Jourdain Tetuanui, ☏ . Offering many and varied services from water taxi to tours, fishing to feeding.
- Windward Islands Yacht Charter. One of the world's largest yacht charter companies, it provides charters from bareboat to luxury yachts.
- TopDive Scuba, Vaitape.
- Nemo World Scuba, Matira.
- Aquasafari. If you do not have a diving license, but still want to enjoy the underwater scenery, this is an option. You do not need to know how to swim in order to wear the breathing undersea apparatus, and children from 8 are accepted.
- Jet ski tours around the interior island are well worth the effort as they allow to appreciate the scenery from various viewpoints, although they do inflict noise and pollution.
- Kiteboarding is becoming popular at the southern tip of Matira.
The island is about 32 km (20 miles) around, and bikes and small cars are available for rent at various sites. It is well worth the investment to ride the perimeter of the island.
The Jeep tours are well worth a trip. You'll have a good time climbing through some rough trails on the island, and you'll get some breathtaking views. In addition, you'll tour the American World War II ruins, such as gun emplacements and bunkers.
It is possible to access the summit of Mount Pahia by foot, although neither the staff at City Hall nor the Gendarmerie will tell you how if you do not have a guide, as even adept hikers have gotten lost or been injured. To access the trailhead, go 100 m (330 ft) north of the cross-street into Vaitape harbor. There will be an arcade of shops to your right. Look for a dirt road between the antique dealer and snack toward the north end of the arcade. Head up the dirt road about 150 m (465 ft) and look for a small grass field on your left that is just before the last house on the drive. It is wise to ask the owner for passage, as you must traverse privately-owned property to access the trail, which will initially appear faint but become more defined after the first 10 m (33 ft). Continue along the trail until you reach a fork, which will have two other trails heading north and south (through a plantation and an open field, respectively), and the main trail up to the top due east. Make sure you are well-provisioned, as the 600 m (2,000 ft) elevation gain takes place over a relatively short distance, and be sure to identify the trees or rocks with white-red-white striping that will show you the way. Some of the latter sections can be precarious, so make sure you keep your grip and be courteous to those who may be downstream of falling rocks unintentionally loosed by your foothold. The rope climb at the end is exciting! If you want more, head south along the uncommonly-traveled trail for spectacular views.
The rich culture has influenced the shopping market greatly. Visitors have a wide choice of art galleries, studios, shops that are set up in traditional and modern settings. They also have an abundance of jewelry and black pearls.
The speciality of Bora Bora is Black Pearls. Commonly known around the world as Tahitian Black Pearls, the pearls of Bora Bora are indigenous to the remote lagoons of French Polynesia in the South Pacific. Today, the Tahitian Black Pearl has become an exotic gem sought after by celebrities and pearl aficionados alike. The most popular place to buy and make your own Black Pearl Jewellery is The Farm at the Bora Bora Pearl Company.
Self-catering is a way of dealing with the high cost of restaurants in Bora Bora, but groceries are more expensive than on Tahiti. In Vaitape, you can find a medium-sized general groceries store (called Chin Lee) near the center of town, and a Super U supermarket on the road heading north out of town. A smaller grocery store near Matira beach can be helpful if you stay in the area and you do not want to get back to Vaitape, but the choice is more limited.
The island of Bora Bora is heavily influenced by the French culture hence the rich local and French cuisines. They also have a wide selection of international restaurants.
- The roulottes (food trucks) in the carpark in the center of town from 17:00 onward offer a variety of meals in generous servings, e.g. 700 F for a hamburger, or 1400 F for grilled Mahi Mahi with fries (Jan 2019).
- Le panda d'or (just outside of the village center on the road heading north out of town). M-Sa 11:00-13:00 and 18:00-21:00. Chinese restaurant and take-away.
Matira and area
- Matira Pizza. 11:00-14:00; 16:00-19:30. A small pizza shack that provides a multitude of different pizzas at reasonable prices. They are on the main road between the Sofitel Marara and Matira Beach. Place the order for pizza, then walk south to Tiara Market for beverages. 1,300-1,900 F.
- Bounty Snack. Reasonably priced, excellent Tahitian restaurant.
- 1 Bloody Mary's, on the western shore of the main island, at the southern tip of Pofai Bay, roughly halfway between Nunue and Maitra Beach. One of the most famous of restaurants in Bora Bora, it is known for its American flavor. As with most restaurants on Bora Bora, expect to spend US$60-80 per person. Some visitors might be a little surprised by the service (speed over quality....) Outside they have a pair of big boards with the names on all of the famous people who have eaten there, e.g. Pamela Anderson, Pierce Brosnan, Carlos Delgado, Marlon Brando, and Janet Jackson. Service general begins with arrival from a "shuttle service" from your hotel's drop off point. Patrons then decide their meal while looking directly at the current "meat" selections. After selecting your meal, you are seated at a table lodged in the sand with a stool. Service will come asking for your drink choice at this point. Food will be served later. As everyone arrives/leaves at the same time, plan on being there for at least 1.5 hours. US$60-80 per person.
- 2 La Villa Mahana, Pofai Bay. A small French restaurant with only 5 tables. Serves the best French food on the island, by an amazing chef. Make reservations. Complete meal with wine pairs under US$200 per person.
- If you're looking for nightlife and drinking, one of the most popular drinking venues on Bora Bora is Bloody Mary's. Bloody Mary's is essentially an American-barbecue fish and steak restaurant. Besides drinking Bloody Mary's, the chef will chargrill steak and fish to order.
- The island's sole nightclub is Le Récife Discothèque, about 1 km (1/2 mile) north of Vaitape (☏ ), which opens only on Fridays and Saturdays at 23:00 and closes at 03:00.
It is possible to keep some money for the activities by staying in one of the family pensions.
- 1 Sunset Hill Lodge, [email protected], ☏ . Nestled in a little Zen garden with a little waterfall, maybe the cheapest place for this quality in Polynesia. €50-70.
- Oa Oa Lodge, Vaitape (15 min walk north of town, just past the Total gas station). A small collection of bungalows with simple kitchenettes, fans, and private baths in a garden beside the ocean. There are also 3 bungalows on stilts over the water (24,500 F/night). Infinity swimming pool, friendly staff. Next door to the Maikai restaurant and bar. Breakfast available. Wi-Fi quality is mixed. 5 min walk to a supermarket. From 11,300 F.
- 2 Villa Vahimanui (part of a small complex locally known as the Condominiums). Luxurious 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom villas can accommodate up to 5 people. It's in the residential and peaceful northern part of Bora, and features one of the most beautiful views on the lagoon. It is mountainside in a manicured tropical garden with a little sandy beach less than 30 m (100 feet) from the house across the road. US$1899 per week.
A popular form of accommodation on the island are the overwater bungalows. Many of the resorts offer this type of accommodation due to their being more water mass than land. Some overwater bungalows feature a glass-bottomed floor and are designed in the style of traditional Bora Bora island houses. A list of overwater bungalow resorts in Bora Bora can be found here at dreamoverwater.com.
- 3 Maitai, Matira, ☏ . Features (comparatively) reasonably priced over-water bungalows, not as splendid as its neighbor the Intercontinental, but nice. Get one of the over-water rooms at the end of the pier in which the rooms are located on as the water is deeper at these rooms. The other rooms are just off the beach and some are in water less than 30 cm deep.
- 4 Sofitel Bora Bora Morara Beach Resort, Matira. Over-water bungalows and a pool facing the sea.
- 5 Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island, On the Motu facing Matira. 400-m-long island with no other hotel on it, it enjoys fantastic views of the main island, and has incredible snorkeling (snorkeling tour boats actually come to the area at the back). The beach is small, but the whole place is more intimate than other motu-located resorts.
- 6 Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora, At the very tip of Matira on the main island, ☏ , toll-free: . You do not get the views on the island (well, you're on it). Nonetheless, this is a classy resort with all you can expect for the price.
- 7 Le Meridien Bora Bora, ☏ . Large hotel, billing itself as a 5-star resort. Very expensive, but there have been conflicting reports about the attitude of the staff. A popular destination for Japanese weddings, this hotel features a turtle sanctuary and a beach. The overwater bungalows are a novelty. It sits on a motu away from the main island, transport to the main island is via shuttle boat. Overwater bungalows feature glass floors which look into the water, however there is little "wildlife" in the water immediately surrounding the hotel.
- 8 The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort, ☏ . Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. Every room (100 in all) is a suite with luxury bathroom. Many of the rooms are over-water villas, some with pools or spas. Over-water villas have glass panels in the floors and under-villa lighting to make the lagoon shimmer in your room. Guests are 80% American, 80% of whom are honeymooners. Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban honeymooned here. Two excellent restaurants on-site, one by Chef Jean Georges. The angle of the view on the main island is impressive.
- 9 Four Seasons Bora Bora. 5-star resort with great amenities and warm hospitality.
See #Get in
Maupiti, located 40 km from Bora Bora, is a smaller and less touristic but equally charming volcanic island. This island isn't for partying. Only fishermen will be doing this trip by boat.