Bora Bora Travel Guide
Bora Bora is one of the most visited islands in the South Pacific island nation of French Polynesia, and it’s easy to see why. Whether you arrive by boat or plane, you’re immediately greeted by the island’s electric blue lagoon and the majestic Mount Otemanu, an extinct volcano.
The tiny island is part of a larger group of beautiful islands called the Leeward Islands, all within French Polynesia. Other islands in French Polynesia include Tahiti, Huahine, Moorea, and Fakarava, which you’ve probably heard of. The islands of French Polynesia are a popular pick for a honeymoon destination due to their luxury resorts, natural beauty, turquoise waters, and white sand beaches.
Bora Bora comprises one main island with smaller islands, also called motu, which surround the main island. The island is also surrounded by an outer coral reef, which protects it from heavy storms and is what creates the island’s iconic blue lagoon.
While Bora Bora is certainly not a budget destination, with a bit of planning and research (like reading this article!), it’s possible to plan your dream vacation to Bora Bora within a reasonable budget. Our Bora Bora travel guide will give you tips and tricks from our own experiences visiting this beautiful island paradise. You’ll read about the most beautiful beaches around the island, budget options for hotels, food, and experiences, along with some things that are worth the splurge.
Best Things to Do in Bora Bora
1. Stay in an overwater bungalow
Staying in an overwater bungalow is an experience that only a few destinations around the world offer. And if you’re traveling all the way to Bora Bora, you might as well splurge on the once-in-a-lifetime amazing experience of staying in one. Most of the remote motu you’ll see around the island house exclusive luxury resorts offering incredible overwater bungalows with the lagoon and Mount Otemanu in your backyard.
When my husband and I visited Bora Bora, we stayed at the Four Seasons Resort. We built in a day during our vacation strictly reserved for enjoying the bungalow and I’m so glad we did. We spent the day jumping into the crystal clear water, lounging on relaxing sun loungers, and spending quality time together. My favorite part of the Four Seasons was the lagoon sanctuary, a private lagoon on the island that connects to the main lagoon and is home to stunning marine life.
These resorts usually provide transport to and from the airport and a boat taxi to the main town on the island. You can count on friendly service, incredible views, and luxurious hotel rooms at these amazing resorts. Additionally, many resorts like the Four Seasons offer a honeymoon package that includes romantic dinners and activities for couples.
2. Swim with the locals (aka reef sharks and stingrays)
Truly one of my favorite experiences I’ve had in French Polynesia is swimming with the gorgeous reef sharks and stingrays. These creatures are incredibly graceful and are more scared of you than you’ll be of them. The best way to swim with the reef sharks and stingrays in Bora Bora is by going on a lagoon cruise with an experienced guide.
This tour will take you to the famous coral gardens, where you’ll be immersed in the underwater life of Bora Bora. While you explore the lagoon’s pristine waters, you’ll be surrounded by thousands of colorful reef fish, small sharks, and stingrays. You’ll also venture outside of the reef to see black-tip reef sharks and lemon sharks. Snorkeling equipment, towels, and soft drinks are included.
After your excursion, you’ll enjoy a delicious lunch of traditional Tahitian dishes on a small islet. You must try the poisson cru, which is raw local fish in a lime and coconut milk sauce with onions and tomatoes, similar to ceviche.
3. Zip through the water on an underwater scooter
If you’re looking for a unique experience that won’t last all day (leaving you plenty of time to take a beach nap), explore the ocean floor using an underwater scooter. These underwater bikes feature a panoramic dome (think retro diving helmet) to enjoy the spectacular views of Bora Bora’s famed lagoon.
These underwater contraptions may initially look complicated, but no experience is required. Your guides will give you detailed instructions about maneuvering the underwater scooter. Once you are in the panoramic dome, you can breathe naturally, so no diving equipment is required.
Underwater scooter tours typically last around two hours, so you’ll have lots of time to explore the islands or lounge at the pool or beach. The minimum age for this activity is 7 years old. It is not recommended for pregnant visitors or those with serious medical conditions.
4. Take a jet ski island tour
One activity that most travelers need to have on their Bora Bora bucket list is to take an exhilarating ride around the island on a jet ski. It’s breathtaking in the best way possible and is an awesome way to access parts of the island and lagoon that you normally wouldn’t be able to. If you want to explore the best hidden gems of the island by water, consider going on a jet ski tour.
This jet ski tour takes place in the morning or afternoon, depending on your preferences. You can also choose to ride solo or double up on the jet ski. After going over some basic safety instructions, your local guide will whisk you away into the crystal-clear waters of the lagoon. Don’t worry; there will be plenty of stops for photos and videos with the most stunning backdrops. After all, this is one of the most beautiful islands in the world.
Your guided tour will end with a break to swim at one of French Polynesia’s most beautiful beaches. After that, the guide will treat you to a fun and interactive coconut husking demonstration. The tour also includes transportation to and from your hotel or the main village of Vaitape. Make sure to bring all the essentials like a waterproof camera, water shoes, sunscreen, and sunglasses.
5. Enjoy the sunset over the Pacific
This South Pacific island is undoubtedly home to some of the most colorful and stunning sunsets in the whole world. Each evening, the skies over Bora Bora put on quite a show with deep red, orange, and yellow hues contrasting with the bright blue lagoon and the lush green island.
While watching the sunset from your luxury resort or a beach is lovely and romantic, an extra memorable way to watch the sunset is going on a luxury catamaran sail. Relax as you sip on a glass of sparkling wine while the captain sails around the serene lagoon. The catamaran is limited to only eight guests, so there won’t be much of a crowd to ruin the romantic vibes.
After finding the perfect spot to watch the sun go down, the boat will take you back to your hotel or Vaitape. It’s the perfect way to share a romantic moment alone with the one you love, but children are also welcome to join. Door-to-door, this experience lasts approximately two hours.
6. Take a day trip to Matira Beach
While almost all hotels in Bora Bora feature their own private beach, if you’d like to get off of your private island for the day to explore the main island of Bora Bora, you definitely need to have a stop at Matira Beach. This public beach is located about 10 minutes south of Vaitape and can be reached by the circle island bus or by taxi.
Matira Beach is a long stretch of white sand and crystal-clear water. You can stroll along the shores all the way down to Matira Point, which is the southernmost tip of mainland Bora Bora. Make sure to pack a GoPro and a snorkel; the coral reef here is great to explore, especially for kids, since the water is calm and shallow. Throughout the shallow waters, you can find lots of colorful reef fish and other marine life like octopuses and green sea turtles.
If you get hungry, there are a ton of good food options including quick bites like burgers to local dishes like poisson cru. Finish it all off with a refreshing Hinano beer, one of two locally-made brews. Matira Beach also hosts plenty of affordable hotels if you want to avoid the high prices of staying at a luxury resort.
7. Have a fine dining experience at St. James Restaurant
If you’re looking to dine at one of Bora Bora’s most popular restaurants, St. James is a wonderful gastronomical experience. The oceanfront restaurant combines traditional local flavors with a modern twist in a location that can’t be beat.
St. James Restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch, but the most popular time to visit is for dinner. Diners can enjoy spectacular views while enjoying dishes such as lagoon fish for two, flambéed peppercorn tenderloin, and local lobster. For an extra special touch, you can add on this lagoon cruise that will take you from your hotel to the restaurant. Travelers staying on the main island will be offered round-trip transportation.
Bora Bora’s restaurants are notoriously expensive, but the service at St. James is always top-notch and the food is fresh and incredible. I definitely recommend having at least one fine dining experience while vacationing on this idyllic South Pacific island.
8. Go on a main island tour via ATV
While Bora Bora is most famous for its pretty beaches and fun water activities, it also boasts a gorgeous tropical main island that begs to be explored. It’s quite small, so you can certainly see the whole thing, especially if you don’t mind taking the bus around or renting a car. But my favorite way to explore this beautiful island is on an ATV.
The advantage of taking an ATV tour is that ATVs can access dirt roads that are inaccessible to regular cars. This guided tour will take you through Bora Bora’s tropical landscape by ATV as you make your way to four of the island’s most majestic viewpoints. Along the way, you’ll learn about the history of the island and the Polynesian people, as well as some local legends.
Other well-known stops on this ATV tour include Matira Beach, Bloody Mary’s Bar and Restaurant, the plateau of Amanahune, and the Rock of Anau. You’ll also see some remnants of World War II and enjoy a pareo (sarong) making demonstration and a coconut preparation demonstration.
9. Scuba dive with stunning manta rays
There’s hardly anything more magical than spending a few hours in the morning out on the water admiring some of the ocean’s most wondrous creatures. Bora Diving Center provides an opportunity to dive alongside majestic manta rays and stingrays. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is perfect for those who aren’t afraid to get up close and personal with marine life (and who are PADI certified).
The tour will start off inside Bora Bora’s famous lagoon at a spot that manta rays are known to frequent. While not guaranteed, the expert diving guides will try their best to take you to areas where you have a good chance of seeing these beautiful animals. The second dive stop will be in the open ocean, just next to the outer coral reef of the lagoon where you’ll get to see various species of sharks.
Between the dive spots, you’ll warm up with tea and cookies as you’re shuttled in and out of the lagoon. If you’re a seasoned diver, you already know this, but make sure to plan your dive at least 24 hours before your next flight to avoid getting sick.
10. Go on a whale-watching excursion
Whale-watching season in French Polynesia occurs between July and November, depending on the year and water temperature. During this time, humpback whales travel down from the north to the warm waters of the South Pacific to give birth and mate. At this time, the whales delight locals and tourists alike with their grace and power.
Going on a whale-watching excursion is an awesome memory to look back on for years to come. Moana Adventure Tours provides awesome tours that depart throughout the day. The expert local guide will teach you all about the majestic sea creatures as you make your way to some of the best viewing spots. If you’d like, and if it is safe to do so, you can even snorkel near the whales while keeping a safe distance.
Humpback whales are wild animals, so there’s never a guarantee that you’ll be able to see them. But if you do, it’s a big treat and something you’ll remember for the rest of your life!
Where to stay in Bora Bora
Most of the accommodation options in Bora Bora are luxury resorts that offer overwater bungalows or villas with private pools. If you opt to stay on the main island, you’ll be able to save money by staying at smaller boutique or family-run hotels. Either way, you’ll be able to enjoy the most beautiful island in the world. Budget travel is possible in Bora Bora as long as you look at all your options. Here are a few great accommodation options for various budgets and in various locations:
- Budget: Village Temanuata
- Budget: Studio Moana
- Mid-Range: Royal Bora Bora
- Mid-Range: Oa Oa Lodge
- Luxury: InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort
- Luxury: Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora
- Luxury: The St Regis Bora Bora Resort
- Luxury: InterContinental Bora Bora & Thalasso Spa
- Luxury: Le Bora Bora by Pearl Resorts
- Luxury: Conrad Bora Bora Nui
How to Get Around in Bora Bora
If you are staying at a resort on a private motu, you won’t have to worry very much about transportation. You can arrange airport transfers with your hotel. Resorts also usually provide daily shuttles every few hours between the resort and the main island if you’d like to do any shopping or exploring. The main island features one main road, the Circle Island Road, which can be navigated on a bike or by car. Car rentals are easily available in Vaitape if you need one for the day.
Travel Tips Bora Bora
French Polynesia is an incredible place to travel to, but like anywhere else, there are a few things to keep in mind before you go. Bora Bora is great to visit year-round, though you may way to be more aware of mosquitoes during the wet season. When visiting in the dry season, be sure to stay hydrated and wear lots of sun protection. Here are a few of our best tips to ensure that your dream beach vacation goes off without a hitch:
Purchase travel insurance
Wherever your travels take you, travel insurance is essential. It’s something that’s better to have and not need than to be without. Two of our favorite places to shop for travel insurance at ViaTravelers are VisitorsCoverage and SafetyWing. Both sites offer various plans that you can customize based on your travel style. VisitorsCoverage is made for international travel, while SafetyWing was created by nomads for nomads.
Sun protection is essential
I’ve never felt the sun quite as strong as it felt in French Polynesia. The sun in Bora Bora is no joke, so make sure to protect yourself while you’re there. I definitely got heat stroke during my first visit to the country, so I made sure to stay well-hydrated and bring various forms of sun protection. I’ve found sunscreen to be quite expensive in Bora Bora, so it’s better to bring enough sunscreen for the duration of your trip. Here’s a short list of essentials to pack to help you beat the heat:
- Hydro Flask with Wide Mouth Straw Lid
- La Roche-Posay Anthelios Light Fluid Face Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 60
- COOLA Organic Sunscreen SPF 50
- Columbia Women’s Printed Tidal Deflector Long Sleeve
- Columbia Men’s Terminal Tackle Long Sleeve Shirt
- Billabong Classic Printed Straw Lifeguard Hat
- Mini Handheld Fan
Invest in a GoPro or water housing for your phone
My GoPro is one of my favorite and most-used travel companions, especially on trips to tropical locations such as Bora Bora. Since most of the activities you’ll do will be outdoors, it’s a good idea to have a camera that can withstand the elements. I’ve found that sometimes my phone would get too hot to use outside, but I’ve never had that problem with my GoPro. It’s also convenient to have to take amazing underwater shots of marine life like black-tip reef sharks, stingrays, and reef fish.
If you don’t want to invest in any more expensive electronics, there are a ton of water housing options for phones on the market today. Water housing acts as a protective case for your phone so it can go into the water without risking any damage while still allowing you to control the phone to take photos and videos.
Don’t write off the wet season
While there are certain places you should avoid during the wet season, Bora Bora isn’t one of them. The wet season in French Polynesia lasts from November to April, which is also the low season for tourism. Rain showers are possible but usually only last for a few minutes. I’ve visited French Polynesia many times during the wet season and have never experienced a full day of rain.
The wet season also means fewer tourists and lower hotel room prices compared to the dry season. If you don’t mind having the risk of a little bit of rain during your vacation, I think it’s worth it. You can also extend your trip by visiting other nearby islands (like Moorea or Huahine), which you may not consider if you’re visiting during the more expensive high season.
Sign up for flight alerts to find the best deals for budget travel
My favorite way to find great deals on flights is by checking Google Flights and making sure my dates are as flexible as possible. Direct flights to Tahiti go from major west coast cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Honolulu and on airlines including Delta, Air Tahiti Nui, and Hawaiian. It’s worth noting that there are no direct flights to Bora Bora from the US, so you’ll have to fly or take a ferry from Papeete, Tahiti to your final destination.
Services like Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) will send you flight deals directly to your inbox, which is a game-changer when it comes to finding cheap flights. All you have to do is select your favorite departure airports!