Bora Bora Travel Guide

Considered to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world, Bora Bora immediately conjures images of a 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 and a massive lagoon that radiates the brightest shades of blue – Bora Bora is the stuff dreams are made of. This Bora Bora travel guide aims to help you plan the vacation of a lifetime.

About This Guide

I first visited Bora Bora as part of a six-month backpacking trip across the South Pacific Islands, later returning to the island on several occasions. This travel guide to Bora Bora was written based on my experience and extensive research. The Bora Bora Travel Guide is geared towards independent travelers, but any visitor will find it useful.

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Why Should You Visit Bora Bora?

To be perfectly honest, because of the hype, if you’re not doing the overwater bungalow experience, you’ll likely visit Bora Bora to see what all the fuss is about. Bora Bora’s 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 and laid-back vibe that you’ll find elsewhere in French Polynesia.

In contrast to popular belief, you can enjoy Bora Bora without spending thousands of dollars on accommodation. However, in terms of value for money – you should be aware of the “Bora Bora premium”, dictated by the powers of supply and demand (and advertising).  

Bora Bora from the air French Polynesia
What’s Included In This Bora Bora Travel Guide?

Bora Bora Travel Guide Map

This map features all the highlights mentioned in this travel guide. Click on the image to open in Google Maps.

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Bora Bora Travel Guide Map - French Polynesia

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 marital life in great debt. You could certainly live this ‘luxury dream’ in Bora Bora if that’s what you’re looking for.

InterContinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa

I’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to find the right accommodation for you. In a nutshell, the main island, especially around Matira, has a wide range of options in all category types. On the motus (islets) at the edge of the barrier reef overlooking the main island is where you’ll find the ultra-luxury resorts.

Pro Tip

Here’s a list of all Bora Bora accommodations that you can book online via

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 landmass. Less than 10,000 locals are living on the island, primarily living off tourism.

Mount Otemanu

It is believed that ancient Polynesians arrived in Bora Bora sometime in the 9th century. Originally nicknamed Pora Pora, the island’s Polynesian name, Vavau, means firstborn”. 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.

Bora Bora rising above Le Tahaa Resort - Tahaa French Polynesia
View of Bora Bora from Taha’a Island

As part of Operation Bobcat, the US began setting up military bases in the remote islands of the South Pacific, such as Aitutaki in the Cook Islands and Pago Pago in American Samoa, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. 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 to the US with stories of paradise, and voila – the Bora Bora hype begins!

Mount Pahia - Bora Bora

These days, tourism is the main 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.