Considered to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world, Bora Bora immediately conjures images of a romantic tropical paradise set in ultimate luxury. Known as ‘the Romantic Island’ Bora Bora is the destination that’s on every couple’s wish list. But there’s lots more to this tiny island than just fancy overwater bungalows. With lush covered peaks rising sharply out of a massive lagoon that’s radiating in the brightest shades of blue – Bora Bora is the stuff dreams are made of. This Bora Bora Travel Guide aims to help you plan that vacation of a lifetime, so let’s head off to paradise.
About This Guide
I spent three months in French Polynesia, as part of a six month backpacking trip across the South Pacific Islands – with three days in Bora Bora. This travel guide to Bora Bora was written based on my experiences, and is meant to help you make the most of this once in a lifetime destination. The Bora Bora Travel Guide is geared towards independent travelers, but any visitor will find it useful.
Traveling to French Polynesia? Start your reading with French Polynesia Travel Guide, where you’ll also find similar travel guides to 11 islands in French Polynesia!
Why Should You Visit Bora Bora?
To be perfectly honest, if you’re an independent traveler not doing the whole resort scene, the main reason to visit Bora Bora is to tick it off your list. Here’s my honest opinion: the island is stunning from a natural perspective! Its lagoon is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen and its volcanic peaks are even more impressive in real life. However, the island lacks the kind of local charm that you’ll find elsewhere in French Polynesia.
In addition, you totally can enjoy Bora Bora without spending thousands of dollars on accommodation. However, in terms of value for money – other islands take preference. So in my case, I only spent three full days here to see what the hype is all about (and to write this guide). Don’t get me wrong, I can totally see how this place was a paradise before the resorts came. But the type of folks who flock to Bora Bora are not exactly the adventurous, ‘let’s go out and explore’ bunch.
What’s Included In This Guide To Bora Bora?
Bora Bora Travel Guide Map
Click on the image to open in Google Maps. This map features all the highlights mentioned in this guide.
Where To Stay In Bora Bora?
This is really (and in some cases literally) the million dollar question. Bora Bora has managed to market itself to the world as the ultimate luxury destination, one where the rich and famous come to play, and where honeymooners come to start off marital life in great debt. You could certainly live this ‘luxury dream’ in Bora Bora if that’s what you’re looking for.
But… if you think Bora Bora is way out of your budget – think again. Traveling solo across French Polynesia, I found quite a few budget options on Airbnb in and around the main village of Vaitape. I ended up staying at this listing with a lovely family that was using the money generated from renting the room to renovate their simple home. I wouldn’t recommend this place if you’re anything other than a backpacker or a couple traveling on a tight budget. There are other Airbnb options, though they get snatched quickly by budget minded travelers.
Even if you didn’t find anything suitable on Airbnb, here are a few options – both ‘regular’ hotels and luxury resorts. Keep in mind that most luxury resorts are on the outer motus. They usually offer one free ride to the main island per day, but additional trips will cost extra. Also check if free wifi is included (and where).
Hotels & Lodges: all the options mentioned here are located either at Vaitape village or Matira Point. You’ll never be too far from a food shop, ATM, restaurant, snack etc. (in other words, you are not trapped).
- Sunset Hill Lodge: got excellent feedback from travelers I met, it’s simple and the hosts take good care of you.
- Hotel Matira: great location right on the best beach on the main island. There are mixed reviews about the owner’s attitude but they do offer 3 nights for the price of 2.
- Chez Nono: stayed here on my second visit to Bora Bora. There are only 3-4 units set right on Matira Beach in a secluded setting. Units are simple and are in need of renovation but the price considering the location is excellent. Shops, restaurants and the InterContinental’s bar are right next door.
- Pension Noni: stay 4 nights and get the 5th free.
Resorts: here are a few resorts that are super nice but not too over the top. If you’re staying at multiple resorts in French Polynesia, you can get good ‘deals’ by booking with the same chain (where possible).
- InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort: located at the heart of Matira Beach. This is the chain’s more affordable option on the island, but you are free to head over to the more luxurious Thalasso Spa and enjoy its facilities.
- Sofitel Bora Bora Marara Beach Resort: one of the oldest establishments in Bora Bora and also located in and around Matira Beach. Like with the listing above, guests are free to use the facilities across the lagoon at the chain’s more luxurious Private Island resort.
Ultimate Luxury: the following resorts are really the best Bora Bora has to offer.
- The St Regis Bora Bora Resort: along with the Four Seasons, this is considered to be the most luxurious resort in Bora Bora. If you’ve seen Couple’s Retreat – this place might look familiar.
- Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora: Leonardo DiCaprio’s choice when visiting Bora Bora, this is really as good as it gets.
- InterContinental Bora Bora & Thalasso Spa: one of the most popular resorts in Bora Bora. Guests not only rave about the bungalows but also about the food & spa.
- Le Meridien Bora Bora: on the main island but in a more secluded spot. The resort has great views of the famous lagoon and mountain. You’ll also find here a sea turtle conservation center where you can go swimming with these cute creatures.
- Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island: located on a small private motu just off the main island, privacy is the name of the game here.
- Conrad Bora Bora Nui: formerly the Hilton Bora Bora, the Conrad has just recently reopened and is one of the better resorts in Bora Bora in its price category.
- Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa: totally away from everything else, this resort offers a more traditional look and feel without compromising luxury.
Camping: believe it or not, camping is available in Bora Bora! Inquire with Bora Bora Camping about all the details. Located on one of the dream motus – it has to be one of the prettier camping sites in the world, that is if you can stand the humidity of the wet season. UPDATE: according to their Facebook Page, this campground seems to have permanently closed but it’s worth double checking.
Facts & Brief History
Bora Bora is part of the Society Islands group in French Polynesia, about 275 km from Tahiti. Like other beautifully sculpted islands in this archipelago, Bora Bora consists of an extinct volcano rising from a protected lagoon almost triple the size of the island’s land mass. There are less than 10,000 locals living on the island, primarily living off tourism.
It is believed that ancient Polynesians arrived in Bora Bora sometime in the 9th century. Originally nicknamed Pora Pora, the island’s Polynesian name means ‘created by the Gods’. Indeed, along with neighboring Maupiti, Bora Bora is the oldest island in this beautiful archipelago.
Europeans first arrived in Bora Bora during the 18th century, with Captain Cook in 1769 and the missionaries in 1820. Ironically, Bora Bora’s rise to the top of the global tourism wishlist is mostly owed to WWII.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the US began setting up military bases in the remote islands of the South Pacific (see Aitutaki in the Cook Islands and Pago Pago in American Samoa). Operation Bobcat began in 1942, transforming Bora Bora into a fortified supply base. An airstrip was built, hills were installed with canons, roads were paved, fresh water was supplied and over 5,000 troops called this place home. Without much combat action around here, these soldiers had plenty of ‘R&R’. With the war over, they returned back to the US with stories of paradise and voila – the Bora Bora hype begins!
These days, tourism is the number 1 source of income on the island. Ultra luxury resorts and their signature overwater bungalows are the name of the game. It’s not all rosy though in Bora Bora. The island has almost completely lost its traditional charm, with mass tourism taking over. Some locals aren’t all that happy seeing their island transformed. Though some reap the benefits of mass tourism, you’ll find many poor villagers on the island not benefiting from the resort scene. If you’re looking for authentic Polynesian life, you probably won’t find it in Bora Bora. But its natural beauty and global hype make this destination irresistible.