It took me a year and a half of blogging, to FINALLY write an article on the island of Bora Bora, otherwise known as the Pearl of the Pacific. I recently had the opportunity to return to this island and I finally learned to appreciate it for its true value. I must admit that I didn’t really know how to start this article. Why? Well, it is an island that I have criticized many times for its mass tourism, its Chinese cruise ships and its lack of authenticity… Which then made it hard to launch myself into this article, even though this second visit of Bora has allowed me to see another side to the island… So let me tell you what sort of things you can do in Bora Bora during your stay.
Everyone knows the island for its lagoon and turquoise waters, but actually these can be found all over the world… Bora Bora is much more than just those things, even if they are the main things that will stay in your memories for many years to come. While I was there this time I tried to “forget the postcard” and was pleased to see that the feedback I received on Instagram confirmed to me that you too liked to see more than just white sandy beaches and coconut palms too!
You may be wondering; “if there was only one thing to do in Bora Bora”, what would it be? I know the island quite well now as I’ve now stayed there 3 or 4 times, but frankly I haven’t seen anything more beautiful than Bora Bora from above, which I was lucky enough to see when I flew over it by seaplane. I’ll talk about that trip in more detail in a minute, but in the meantime I just want to say that if you get the chance, I recommend the experience 2000%! You definitely won’t regret it!
1- Spend a night on stilts in a luxury hotel
Well, let’s face it, this is why most of the tourists come to Bora Bora Island. Many do not even see the main island and simply stay on the hotel’s motu (small white sand covered island on the coral reef). So, even though I haven’t personally had the opportunity (or the money…) to spend a night or two in one of the bungalows on stilts, I think Bora Bora is one of the best places in the world to do that at least once in your life.
Although it might cost you an arm and a leg, depending on the hotel, I think it’s an experience you really shouldn’t miss. Even I must admit that, while I’m not particularly attracted by that sort of thing, staying the night in such a magical setting, on one of the most beautiful lagoons in Polynesia, must be really something special. I would definitely suggest, if you’re planning to come to French Polynesia, that you make the effort to visit Bora Bora, and treat yourself to a luxury night on stilts. Just for a night or two!
Since i wrote this post, i had the opportunity to stay at the hotel Maitai Bora Bora for 2 nights. It was amazing and one of the cheapest place to stay on an overwater bungalow on the main island of Bora Bora.
I can’t recommend any particular hotels as I haven’t stayed in many, however there are a lot of them in Bora Bora. You will find a list below. The best known hotels are; the Conrad, the Four Seasons, the Sofitel, the St Regis. However, I did have the opportunity to stay in the Bora Bora Pearl Beach Spring, which is superb. I’ll tell you about it later.
2 - Tour the island of Bora Bora
It may sound silly but, the majority of tourists don’t really see the island of Bora Bora and I think that’s a shame. While I know you all have your own reasons for visiting the island, I really would like to encourage you to go and discover the island and see how the locals live. Staying on a motu for a week sipping cocktails may be fun (…), but the island itself is really worth getting to know, and you are sure to meet new people and see new things if you take the time to explore a little.
If you stay on a motu in a beautiful hotel, there will most likely be a shuttle to take you to the island at different times throughout the day and evening. If you are staying on the island itself, it’s even easier and all you have to do is take yourself off and explore, go on an adventure on your own, which is really cool.
Honestly, to consider walking around the island is a little crazy, because, even though it’s flat, to go around the whole island must be around 40 km, perhaps even more. I, myself cycled two thirds of the way back, but in my defense, I also did a hike in the middle. By bike, touring around the island is easy (except for the one climb on the island). If you are not very sporty, however, I recommend that you rent an electric bicycle.
Don’t forget to take the time to admire the superb roadside panoramas during your day touring around the island. Even though Matira beach is supposed to be the “only beach on the island”, you will soon realize that there are a few other little nooks along the way where you can have do some paddle and enjoy the lagoon. Also, do stop and buy some fruit along the roadside, and talk to the locals. In my opinion, it is the only way to immerse yourself in island life on Bora Bora and should be mandatory.
3 - Hiking in the interior of the island
Even if you come to French Polynesia mostly for its lagoons and turquoise waters, it is quite possible that you might also want to do some hiking around the islands. As you probably already know, this is not a priority for most tourists nor the local government, which does little or nothing to develop tourism in this area. Just look at the few hiking trails that are easily accessible (without the need for a guide) on Tahiti Island, where the possibilities could be huge. We are a long way from the Reunion Island for example (an other French Island in the Indian Ocean where lot of hikers).
If you go to the island’s tourist office for information, you will often be told that you can’t go hiking without a guide. The objective is to make you pay as much as possible, whenever possible. I have managed to do at least 3 small walks/hikes alone without a guide, and in my opinion, you really don’t need one, I assure you. To my knowledge, the local guides are only necessary if you want to climb to the top of the island, at least as far up as you can climb as the highest mountain, Mount Otamenu (727m), which is impossible to climb.
First let’s talk about what you can do alone, without a guide, during your trip to Bora Bora. I invite you to create an account on Wikilocs. If you don’t know it yet, it’s a website that lists hikes all over the world, and more importantly their GPS tracks. It is people like you and me, who provide the GPS tracks for their service. So I’ve added mine to show you the way.
The walks below can be done without a guide, without any problems.
Mount Popoti in the North of the island
This short 2-hour round-trip hike starts at the far north of the island, just before Taihi Point. You can access it from Vaitape in 1 hour by a gentle bike ride. Here, you will have to ask for the exact starting point because nothing is signposted. On the wikilocs link, however, you will find my exact path that shows the starting point. The way on wikilocs.
Hiking is not very complicated on the easy paths, although they do climb steeply at times. You will see breathtaking views of the lagoon all along the way. You will really be able to appreciate the beauty of the island from above. The path ends at the top of a small rocky peak, which can be reached after an hour’s walk from below. It is a breathtaking viewpoint, with a view of Faanui Bay (to the south) and the motus, lagoon and airport runway to the north. It’s incredibly beautiful.
Nunu'e Antennas on the crossroads
On the other side of the island, almost to the south, in Pofai Bay, you can see red antennas on a ridge. It is a small and easily accessible walk from one side of the island to the other. I personally went to the west side, which is about 200m to the left after the stadium by the sea. Worst case scenario, you can ask the locals for the crossover route. You reach this small viewpoint on the ridge by a dirt road. Here’s the link with details on the wikilocs website.
Access to Nunu'e antenna
I haven’t found the name of this summit yet, although I have put the entire trace on the Wikilocs website. You have two options for accessing it. You can start from the antennas of Nunu’e and follow the path that goes up to the South (it is clearly visible), or you can start from the edge of the ring road and follow my trail. The path is well marked and more or less tagged. Normally, you can’t get lost.
Once on the ridge, the path begins to climb through dense vegetation and several times along the way you will have access to beautiful views of the lagoon. It’s enough to take your breath away. The end of the path finishes with a climb up a rocky peak. From above, there is one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen (apart from on the seaplane flight…). There is even a small cabin at the top. Feel free to continue a little further along the ridge after the cabin to get an even better view. From above, you will see the new Bora Bora high school, and you have unbeatable views of Mount Otemanu, with the lagoon on either side. It is really fantastic.
The old American cannons
During the Second World War in 1942, the Americans landed on the island of Bora Bora, fearing an attack by the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Fortunately, the island was never attacked, but 8 cannons remain scattered around the island…
During a recent stroll on the island, I had the opportunity to visit two cannons which I didn’t know about yet. Both are located in the northeast of the island, on the only ascent of the island, at Fiti’u’u’u Point. The area is not free (500xpf) and it give you access to a small path leading to the 2 cannons. The locations are superb. They offer a very beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean with its gorgeous colors, and Mount Otemanu. From the top, you can watch the locals/tourists having a good time canoeing or kayaking. In the distance, on the islets of fine sand, you can see the St Regis, Intercontinental and Meridian hotel complexes. Down below, you can go to a small, beautiful beach for a little relaxation and snorkeling. In my opinion, the trip is well worth it.
As I said in the introduction to the paragraph, a local guide is required to climb to certain locations, including Mount Pahia and the Anau cave at the foot of Mount Otemanu. I didn’t manage to climb either, due to lack of time, although everyone advised me to do so.
According to the information I was able to get, there is really only one guide who is able to take you on one of these climbs. You can contact Eric by email ([email protected]). Another agency provides guides for the walks
4 - Go to a beautiful hotel for breakfast
You may have come across this article while doing research for your next trip to Bora Bora, but that doesn’t mean you can afford a few lovely nights in a luxury hotel. I might be the only one who has never set foot in one of these luxury hotels, and I am still waiting for the Meridian, the Saint Régis or the Four Season to contact me…. Since i wrote this post, i was invited by the Maitai Bora Bora, a 3-star hotel on the island, very nice, with “cheap bungalow on stilts”.
Seriously, if you can afford to spend a few nights in one of these beautiful hotels, this paragraph is not for you. For those of you who stay in hostels, Airbnbs, or simply in a tent on a camp site, the very least you can do is go and have breakfast in style. During my last stay, I must admit that I had a hard time finding a hotel on one of the motus that allowed me to come as a guest for the day to eat breakfast only. Finally, I would like to point out that almost all hotels accept entrance for breakfast but only if you pay between 100 and 200€ per day!
Yes, you heard right. I obviously found it difficult to do that but did manage to find a place, thanks to the polynesian family I was staying with : the Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort. It was the only hotel I found which didn’t overcharge and which even provided a free shuttle for customers to go and enjoy a delicious breakfast with them. Of course there may be others, I didn’t call them all…
Anyway, if you want to enjoy a little luxury at less expense, it’s a good plan. For 4000 xpf (about 32€), you have access to a delicious breakfast and get to visit the hotel, which I must say, was set in a really heavenly setting. The hotel is located in the northwest of the island of Bora Bora, on the Motu Tevairoa. Make sure to call them the day before to let them know that you are coming for breakfast (40.50.76.01). They’ll give you the schedule for the free shuttle that will be picking you up. I advise you to take one of the earliest so that you can make the most of the day and take a leisurely breakfast.
From Vaitape, it will take you about 30 to 40 minutes by bike to get to the shuttle, or 10 to 15 minutes (maximum) by car. They will also explain where to take the boat to get to the hotel. Upon arrival you will soon find yourself enjoying the atmosphere with the colour of the translucent water and the bungalows on stilts in this dream setting. Breakfast is really nice, and you have a splendid view of Mount Otemanu. Take advantage of this moment to relax on the sublime beach of the motu which offers panoramic views of the highest mountain on the island. It really takes your breath away. Photographers will have a great time here.
5 - Activities on the island of Bora Bora
I can’t imagine telling you about the island of Bora Bora and not telling you about all the activities to be found on the island. Of course, I wasn’t able to do everything, as I would have needed a lot more money!
Several clubs offer scuba diving on the island. I haven’t personally tried it, but from what I’ve heard, Bora Bora is not the greatest place for an underwater experience. For divers, I suggest you go to the Tuamotu islands (Fakarava, Rangiroa and Tikehau), or even to the Tahiti peninsula. But you probably already know that!
For those who do want to dive on Bora Bora (and there are worse places, I’m sure), you can look here to go on an exploratory dive or here for a first dive. Don’t forget to book in advance because you won’t be the only one!
Snorkeling and swimming
This is a great way to enjoy the underwater world of the island in a much more economical way. One of the best areas I had the opportunity to visit is located in front of the Sofitel, at the southern tip of the island. This famous spot, called “the aquarium”, is actually located next to the Sofitel le Motu, the part of the Sofitel located on a small islet off the main island (search for “Motu Piti’ U’u Uta” on Google maps). To access it, you have a couple of possibilities; you can rent a kayak or a paddleboard from the Sofitel or Intercontinental to get there. If like me, you are able to stay at the Maitai de Bora Bora (which I really recommend, I’ll give you the link below) you can borrow one of the hotel’s kayaks to go there, for free.
Swimming from land, even with fins, is a bit too far, although it is possible for those very confident in the water. Once there, you can enjoy all the beauty of the coral reefs and its many fish and beautiful corals. You can even take your mask, snorkel and fins and go window-shopping underwater in just about any spot, whether on the island or on the motu. For those who prefer to be supervised and taken to the most beautiful parts of the island, you have this.
For swimming, the best spot on the island remains by far the beach of Matira. A little advice if you want to avoid the crowds of tourists is to stop about 500m/1km before arriving at the beach. There you should be able to find somewhere to park your car. You can enjoy the water that will remind you of a swimming pool in a magical setting with no one around… Unfortunately, the beach itself doesn’t have much else to see, except sand of course.
This is a very nice activity to do on the Bora Bora lagoon. There are lots of pictures to be seen of people paddling on the lagoon. It must be said that the beautiful color of the water is very enticing for this type of sport. If you are staying in one of the beautiful hotels on a motu, you will most certainly be provided with free paddle boards. Make the most of it. For the others amongst you, you can rent paddle boards on Matira beach, or in any of the hotels by the sea (Intercontinental, Sofitel, etc.). One of the great spots on the island is Matira beach, with its beautiful turquoise water. There are packages for couples, family, or for private adventures!
Boat trip on the lagoon
If you visit French Polynesia, this is one of the activities you must do in order to see the islands. Although, unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to do this on all the islands. The concern I have with Bora Bora and the other islands is the the feeding of the rays and sharks for tourists to see….
Everyone will have their own opinion on this subject, but it appears that almost all the service providers who take tourists out in boats on the lagoon do this… Anyway, I had already done enough trips on the lagoon on other islands that I didn’t bother to do another one on Bora Bora. But if you want an enjoyable day doing a little snorkeling, swimming in turquoise waters, eating on a beautiful white sandy beach, and seeing rays and sharks, it’s an opportunity not to be missed.
I have personally tested the services of Manu Excursion Tours who will pick you up from almost anywhere. We were at the Maitai Bora Bora and they picked us up from the hotel pontoon, and headed out to the motu Piti A’au, southeast of Bora. It’s on a day like this that you will really see the beauty of polynesian waters. It is one of the most beautiful spots I have ever seen with my own eyes. They can either take you to their “home” which is a sublime place to spend the day, or take you on an excursion around the lagoon! I was able to swim with about ten leopard rays right in front of their place, what a joy!
4x4 excursion in the interior of the island
Some service providers offer this type of tour for half a day or a day. I’m not sure I’m convinced that it’s something worth doing as, knowing all the places you’re going to see, I think it’s better to go alone, rather than with others, and see the island by bicycle, electric bike, or even by renting a car for half a day. On the agenda: tour of the island, walk along some of the paths on the highest points of the island and a quick look at the old American cannons…
It’s up to you whether it’s worth going on a 4×4 excursion or not. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of renting a means of transport but still want to see the island, this is a good way to do it.
Fly over the island of Bora Bora by seaplane
I am convinced that this is an activity of great value. I was honestly dazzled (words really can’t express how much) by the beauty of the lagoon and the views from the sky that you can only see on a flight on a seaplane over Bora Bora. If there was only one answer to the question “what is there to do in Bora Bora” then this would be my answer.
I was recently very fortunate to be given the opportunity to make this incredible flight. I was invited to be a guest of the only seaplane company in Polynesia: Tahiti Air Charter. In this article, I’m sharing this extraordinary experience with you: flying over the lagoon of Bora Bora and the island of Tupai.
Frankly, I’ve tried to put into words the feeling I had seeing this incredible vision however I can’t seem to get close to the feeling I had when I was 400m above the lagoon. I was like a child looking at his Christmas presents. As for the price, I’ll explain later on in this article but suffice to say it’s certainly not cheap. Having said that, I do believe it’s an option for almost everyone travelling to Polynesia. Read my article on this amazing flight and I’m sure you’ll be convinced to increase your travel budget! For those who want more information, reservations can be made via this site. Be sure to do this well in advance, as space is limited.
There are other activities I haven’t mentioned in this article but which you can do during your visit: jet ski, kitesurf, wakeboard, parachute jump over the crystal clear waters of the lagoon (that must be amazing!),
My opinion on Bora Bora
How can I conclude an article about an island that I wasn’t initially much of a fan of? I was fixated on the idea that there was too much mass tourism with tourists simply turning up and piling into the 4-star hotels, not bothering to visit the island… I’m not here to judge or criticize anyone. Even if that’s not my idea of travelling, everyone is free to do what he or she wants. However, I am allowed to give my point of view on the subject and to give my advice on how to really enjoy all that this island has to offer.
Even though you will probably be staying in a beautiful hotel on a motu, I really want to tempt you out of it and make you see something other than that. Enjoy a night or two, that’s fine, but then go and discover the island independently. Rent a car, or bicycles and soak up the atmosphere of the island and meet some of its inhabitants. Go talk to people, try to understand how they live, what they think, that’s just as important to me as seeing the island’s beautiful sights. Quite simply, in just a day or two, you will really discover the life of the island. Bora Bora remains a very beautiful island to see in my opinion !
To stay locked up in “your castle” by the sea on a motu is clearly a way of hiding your face from the reality of the island of Bora Bora. It is certainly a very touristy part of the world, but if you take the time to discover the main island, you won’t actually see so many tourists. Many foreigners stay to their hotels, and obviously you won’t see them out and about on other parts of the island… or on the few buses that take you quickly around the island…
Why not stay with some of the locals in an Airbnb? This is what I did and after living with a polynesian family for several days, my view of the island changed. I talked, discussed and debated for hours with this family, and I learned a lot. This is the sort of experience you’ll miss if you only stay in your hotel. You will not discover the ‘real’ Bora Bora and you will go home thinking that it’s simply a “paradise”. I apologize for the sanctimonious tone, I’m not trying to offend anyone, but I truly hope that you will go and see the other side of the island, the reality for the locals, and not just the make-believe, the paradise you want to see…
To end this article, I want to give you all the practical tips that you will need to prepare for your trip to the island.
When to go to Bora Bora?
A quick word about the weather as it’s a question that most often comes up. As a general rule, and this applies to most of the Polynesian islands, it would be better to avoid the rainy and hurricane seasons, from November to April. Generally, I would advise you to come between those seasons if you can, ideally between May & June or September & October. You normally avoid the rain and the “coolest” seasons. In any case, don’t worry about the climate; it’s not much of a concern here….
To go around Bora Bora
I already talk about it at the beginning of the article but I repeat myself here. In any case, cycling around Bora Bora is possible, but requires a bit of training. Overall, I would recommend a scooter (if you are alone or with someone else) or an electric bike. As soon as you are more than two (with family or several friends), I recommend that you rent a car.
How to get to Bora Bora?
For Americans, I recommend that you take a flight from any major city in the United States to San Francisco. You can then take a cheap flight between SF and Papeete. Being flexible, you will find flights from 550/600$ with French Bee or United Airlines. For Canadians, I recommend the same thing. Take a flight to San Francisco from a major Canadian city and then fly from SF and Papeete. You can find flights from 750/800$ Canadian from San Francisco. The main airline companies are French Bee, United Airlines, Air Tahiti Nui and Air France.
Once on Tahiti Island, you’ll have a direct access by plane to Bora Bora with the local airline Air Tahiti. If you only plan to visit Bora Bora, you can simply take a flight with Air Tahiti via their website. Alternatively, if you plan to spend several weeks in French Polynesia, there is a good chance that you will include Bora Bora in a tour of several of the islands. Here is the article you need for everything about the Air Tahiti Pass in Polynesia.
Last option, if you’re traveling on very little money or prefer to travel as cheaply as possible, go to Bora Bora by boat from Tahiti with Hawaikinui. You have all the information in the article on travel in Polynesia.
Lastly, you might like to know that there are also large cruise ships that often make stopovers in Bora Bora, such as the Paul Gauguin. As part of a tailor-made trip, you can also rent a catamaran from Tahiti or Raiatea to get there.
Addition of February 2020
Thanks to one of our readers, I have just added here some information about going to the island of Bora Bora. The boat “the Maupiti Express” is back in service. Here is what you have to remember if you want to go to Bora Bora from the island of Raiatea (only option for the moment):
– Transfers are on Monday, Friday and Sunday,
– Departure from Bora Bora is at 7am except Sunday (2pm) and return from Raiatea at 4pm on Mondays and Sundays (5pm for Friday),
– Rates: 5400xpf One way / 10800xpf return for adults and 2700cpf / 5400xpf for children,
– Reservation only by phone at 40 67 66 69 or 87 740 240
Where to sleep / Where to eat on the island?
This is where you can blow (or not) your travel budget while on the island. It is not uncommon to see people paying for one or two lovely nights in a hotel at 1000€ per night. Yes, it’s expensive, but luxury has a cost, especially in French Polynesia….
Unfortunately, I can’t recommend one superb hotel over another, as I have not tested any of them. The only beautiful place that I’ve been to is the Bora Bora Pearl Beach. It was promoted to me as one of the “most accessible” luxury hotels. The prices are high, I can confirm, but the setting is magical and the hotel, from what I have seen of it, is splendid. So why don’t you try it?!
As for the others, here is a link to all the most beautiful hotels on the island. For those with a more limited budget, you will find, via the link below, some boarding houses. Finally, if you want to share and talk with a Polynesian family, why not consider an Airbnb? I can also recommend the family I was with (look for the room Ihi-Tea Bora Bora Bora”). Don’t forget to taste the delicious ice cream of Iaorana Gelato in town, will you tell me about it?!