Mount Otemanu’s jagged peak jutting up into the sky, ringed by a deep lagoon and palm fringed islets sets the scene for Bora Bora, perhaps the most well-known island of French Polynesia. Referred to as the Pearl of the Pacific Ocean, Bora Bora has been drawing the likes of artists, writers and visitors for years. Days here can be spent snorkeling in the lagoon, taking a spa treatment in one of the sumptuous hotels or simply lying on the deck of your over-water bungalow.
Just a 45 minute flight from the country’s capital, Papeete, a holiday to Bora Bora can be combined with other French Polynesian islands, or experienced on its own in one serene stay.
French Polynesia specialist Joe
Flying over Bora Bora, I was in awe of the island and the lagoon below me. I’d never seen so many shades of blue and turquoise before.
Things to see and do in Bora Bora
Swim with black tipped reef sharks
The striking pale blue areas of sea mark the lagoon that surrounds Bora Bora, a sanctuary for marine life. Manta rays, 6 m (20 ft) wide, glide past glittering shoals of tiny fish. The lagoon, with its crystalline water and gentle currents, is a natural aquarium for snorkeling.
You can take a boat tour with an experienced guide out to the deeper areas of the lagoon to snorkel with black tipped reef sharks. Slipping into the water, you can appreciate their size - some grow up to 1.8m (6 ft) long. With the boat engine off, the sharks drift closer and it’s possible to make out their tell-tale black markings. Unusually timid, they travel in family groups and you can usually glimpse the young hiding amid the adults.
Stay on an over-water bungalow
Perched on stilts above the cerulean blue lagoon, over-water bungalows have become synonymous with Bora Bora. Unadulterated ocean views and direct access to the water make these alluring places to stay.
The majority of Bora Bora’s resorts have retained a traditional Polynesian style with thatched roofs, bamboo screens and coconut hair ropes. Sumptuous linens and polished exotic wood add a luxurious sheen. In some, glass floor panels are a window direct to the sea life underneath you, which you can watch without even leaving your bed.
Choose your fish at Bloody Mary’s Restaurant
Freshly caught and cooked fish dishes and quirky surroundings have made Bloody Mary’s Restaurant a Bora Bora institution. Set on the south coast of the mainland, this isn’t sleek dining - the plates overflow with food and it’s a boisterously busy atmosphere - but it can be a refreshing change from a la carte resort dining.
The restaurant is set in a large thatched hut, and you eat with sand between your feet, perched on coconut stools. An array of the catch of the day from the lagoon is carefully displayed at the entrance for you to choose from as you go in.
Find Bora Bora’s World War II history
After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the US moved its military base to the Pacific, choosing Bora Bora as the new location. The base closed shortly after the war ended, but relics from its time still mark the island.
Taking a 4x4 tour through the island’s interior, you can visit the cannons and military bunkers left behind. You will need an experienced guide to help you find them, as they lie veiled in the jungle underneath Mount Otemanu, steadily being reclaimed by the undergrowth.
Explore art galleries
With one supermarket but more than a dozen art galleries, Bora Bora holds its artistic heritage in high accord. Not containers for touristic wall hangings, these are critically acclaimed art galleries aimed at the elite collector. They focus on Polynesian art from across the islands, and bronze sculptures, abstract paintings and lithographs show the eclectic range of the artists on show.
Lined up along Bora Bora’s only road which circles the island, the galleries have a lively ambience in the early evening as local people and collectors browse before choosing a local restaurant for dinner.
Best time to visit Bora Bora
June to August is a wonderful time to visit Bora Bora, when the temperatures hover at a balmy 30°C (86°F). It’s the most popular time to go, so it’s worth considering the months either side when a few light showers tend to be worth it for the lower prices. Showers are frequent from November to April, but it’s still possible to travel as the rain rarely lasts all day.
Festivals, events and seasonal reasons to visit
- Watersports are inherent in Polynesian culture and in December this culminates with the Bora Bora Liquid Festival. Professional athletes travel from all over the world to compete in the unique events, from completing the longest paddleboard route in the world to a traditional outrigger canoe race.
- "Heiva" in Tahitian means the coming together of the community. A vibrant celebration of Polynesian culture, it’s celebrated with dancing, sports and music. Each island has its own event, usually taking place in May or June. Heiva in Bora Bora is considered to be the most dramatic, with hard-fought dance competitions and the largest audiences.
Suggested itineraries featuring Bora Bora
Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Bora Bora, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.
Map of Bora Bora
Places & hotels on the map
Accommodation choices for Bora Bora
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Bora Bora. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.
Ideas for experiencing Bora Bora
Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Bora Bora, and which use the best local guides.