Have you ever found yourself staring at a picture of a pristine white-sand beach, with crystal clear aqua waves lapping at the shore and coconut palms gently swaying in a warm, tropical breeze? Have you dreamed of snorkeling through exotic coral reefs, hiking up steep volcanic mountain trails or letting all of your stress melt away as you nap in a hammock on the beach? You’re dreaming of Bora Bora!
In ancient times, the island we now call Bora Bora was called Vava’u, perhaps by Tongan settlers. Later, the Polynesian people called the island “Pora Pora Mai Te Pora”, meaning “created by the Gods”. In time, this name was shortened to Pora Pora, and then to Bora Bora, which is still in use today.
A small island of roughly 12 square miles, Bora Bora is all that remains of an extinct volcano, the crater of which now forms the island’s world-famous lagoon. Located in the South Pacific, Bora Bora is a part of French Polynesia, just northwest of Tahiti, and lies about 143 miles northwest of Papeete.
Getting to Bora Bora is easier than it seems. After flying into Papeete, it’s just a short flight (less than an hour) to Bora Bora. As soon as you step off the plane, it’s as if you’ve been transported to another world! Each visitor to the island is immediately welcomed with the traditional flower lei, then it’s onto a boat that will transport you to your accommodations.
Most of Bora Bora’s resort hotels are built on their own tiny islands, called motu. The motu dot the lagoon, and excursions to other parts of the island can be arranged through your resort’s concierge – if you can manage to drag yourself away from your bungalow! Bora Bora is arguably most famous for it’s unique over-water bungalows, most of which have at least partial glass floors, giving visitors an up-close view of the lagoon’s diverse marine life.
In almost any Bora Bora hotel, you’ll be pampered with spa treatments, room service delivered by canoe and plenty of privacy so that you can lounge on your deck and indulge in the opulent luxury that is Island Life. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are numerous activities to keep you busy.
The main village of Vaitape is just a short boat ride away. There, you can dine at the world famous Bloody Mary’s or Mai Kai Bora Bora. The French and Polynesian cuisine is truly world class. Traditional French pastries, fresh fruit and local seafood are the highlights of most meals, though fusion foods are often prepared by the world renown chefs.
Strolling through the streets of Vaitape, you’re sure to realize that you’ve stepped into a shopper’s paradise! Local crafts, quaint markets and most of all – pearls! The Tahitian black pearl is one of Bora Bora’s most prized exports, second only to coconuts. Black pearls are everywhere, and if you’re particularly savvy when it comes to haggling, you can walk away with a great deal! If you do buy a pearl (or more) be sure to receive a government certificate from the seller. This will certify that your pearl was harvested at the right size and allows you to leave the island with your pearl.
The Lagoonarium is a favorite Bora Bora attraction. A section of Bora Bora’s lagoon is reserved here for ecotourism and preservation of the reef. If you’ve never been diving before, this is the perfect place to start! Safe, crystal clear water and an abundance of protected wildlife can be enjoyed while staff expertly engage with visitors, educating and often telling local jokes. Many of the “residents” of the Lagoonarium are like members of a marine family. They have names, and staff are happy to introduce you to their favorites. Be sure to ask about “Mr. Napoleon”, (ironically) one of the largest residents at the Lagoonarium!
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Booking a 4×4 Jeep Safari Tour is an adventure you won’t soon forget! You’ll visit 3 smaller villages and 4 look-out points, where you’ll be treated to the islands best views. Bring your camera, as you’ll also be escorted to Bora Bora’s historical sites, where U.S. Army cannons still remain where they were left. This is usually a 3 1/2 hour tour and includes fresh, local fruits to enjoy between locations.
If you’re lucky enough to arrange a guided cultural hiking tour through Bora Bora’s Valley of the Kings, you’ll be treated to obscure trails and ancient ceremonial religious sites while listening to intriguing Polynesian legends. Visit abandoned villages, or maraes, stop to watch local women make sarongs, and learn about the island’s geology, medicinal plants and sacred trees. The guides are friendly, humorous and very knowledgeable. Visiting the Sacred Cave of Anau is a more strenuous 6 hour hike, but well worth the time if you have a free day!
Lagoon excursions on Bora Bora are numerous. Snorkeling, Scuba diving, paddle boarding, fishing and parasailing are all favorites. For something a little different, you might try an Aquabike Adventure. During this 1 hour excursion, an experienced diver will accompany you as you cruise around Bora Bora’s famous lagoon on an underwater scooter. View the lagoon’s abundant and thriving reefs as you motor past vast numbers of marine life. A truly unique and unparalleled under-sea adventure!
With the excitement of Bora Bora’s activities, it’s almost difficult to remember the relaxing beaches that brought you here in the first place! The sheer beauty and romance of Bora Bora make it a top destination for newlyweds. If planning a honeymoon is in your future, then Bora Bora is a perfect location. From an exclusive couples sunset cruise with champagne to private honeymoon photo tours, many Bora Bora resorts offer special honeymoon packages.
For families travelling to Bora Bora, the options are endless. Children are welcome at most resorts and family-friendly adventures are available. Family packages often include free airfare for children!
The Ecological Center, often called the Turtle Center by locals, is located at the edge of the La Meridien Hotel. There, visitors of all ages can interact with Bora Bora’s resident turtles, many of whom were found injured and rehabilitated by the Center. An interactive touch pool is popular during morning feeding times and staff are on hand to assist and educate visitors about the islands diverse ecosystem.
If children or adults tire of the endless activities, take a tip from the locals. Visit any Protestant Church on a Sunday morning. Find a shady spot outside to have a picnic, and listen to the beautiful singing coming from the choirs inside. When the congregation exits after the service, you’ll notice the flamboyant hats that the ladies weave and wear as part of a friendly competition that has been going on for centuries! Perhaps have a little fun voting for your personal favorite!
When you’re packing for your trip to Bora Bora, it’s important to pack light! The resorts here are well-equipped with nearly everything you need. Do be careful to bring sun block and a good insect repellent, as the mosquitoes can be annoying at certain times of the year. Other than that, a swim suit and one outfit suitable for hiking adventures is really all you need!
When planning a vacation to this incredible locale, don’t forget to engage the locals. They are friendly and full of advice and information. The custom of tipping is not expected on the island. Some resorts have a communal tip box at the front desk if you feel the need to express your gratitude, but visitors to Bora Bora really are considered honored guests. The Tahitian word for “thank you” is maururu, and that is much more appreciated on the island than a monetary gratuity.
Bora Bora is so rich in history, natural beauty and culture that anyone would certainly be amiss to ignore it. Do put this unique island on your list of places to visit. Enjoy the trade winds, the reef, the lagoon, the villages, the locals, the cuisine, the activities, the resorts and the ecosystem. Once you’ve been to Bora Bora, you’ll have memories that will last forever, and the island warmth will never leave your soul.