Cover: Overwater bungalows in Bora Bora
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull
Two of the most common questions we’ve heard since traveling to Bora Bora are: “Where is Bora Bora?” and “Are the overwater bungalows really worth the cost?” Here are the answers to those two questions along with suggestions on making the most of a visit to Bora Bora.
Where is Bora Bora?
Bora Bora is in French Polynesia’s Leeward Islands in the South Pacific.
Los Angeles, California to Bora Bora is 4,127 miles / 6642 km.
Sydney, Australia to Bora Bora is 3,712 miles / 5,973 km.
Tokyo, Japan to Bora Bora is 5,743 miles / 9,243 km.
You get the picture. Bora Bora is in the middle of the South Pacific and takes a while to reach. From LAX in Los Angeles, flight time is just over 8 hours to Papeete in Tahiti. Getting to Bora Bora from Papeete takes another hour by small plane.
We stayed over in Tahiti the first night and took a flight the next morning to Bora Bora, the place James Michener called “the most beautiful island in the world” in Tales of the South Pacific.
The Bora Bora airport is on an islet called Motu Mute (mutu is the Polynesian word for island) and only small commercial planes and private jets are accommodated at the airport. Upon arrival, passengers are greeted by a representative from their hotel and taken to their hotel via a boat shuttle across the lagoon. Getting a glimpse of Bora Bora from the boat as it glides through the clear waters, it is easy to see what attracts people to this land of paradise.
Formed around seven million years ago, the main island is only 6 miles long and 2 miles wide. Mt Pahia (2,168 ft/661 m) and Mt Otemanu (2,385 ft/727 m) majestically rise from the island, keeping watch over the lush greenery, turquoise lagoon, and blue skies. The scent of Frangipani fills the air and the waves gently lap at the shore, on this quiet, secluded island where tourism is the primary driver of the economy.
Bora Bora is expensive, with overwater bungalow rooms at top resorts in high season going for up to $1500 per night. Wowsa. Yes, seclusion in paradise comes with a hefty price tag. Can you go for less? Yes, of course. Low season in Bora Bora is November – April, a period with lower prices, a bit hotter temperatures (highs in the high 80s vs. low 80s in July & August) and more frequent rain (an average of 12 inches in December & January vs. 2 inches or less per month June through September). Most resorts also have beachfront and/or garden rooms for less than the over-water bungalows. Which leads us to the second question we are frequently asked…
Are the overwater bungalows really worth the cost?
The Hotel Bora Bora opened in 1961 and introduced the first overwater bungalows in Bora Bora in 1970. Today, travel images of Bora Bora rarely show anything other than overwater bungalows. Having stayed in an overwater bungalow in high season (July) for a week, we’d have to honestly answer – yes, overwater bungalows are worth the expense, so splurge if you can afford it. It is a unique experience and let’s face
It is a unique experience and let’s face it, unless you have your own a private jet, you probably don’t pop over to Bora Bora on a frequent basis, so you might as well live it up while you’re there. So, what makes a week in an overwater bungalow worth the price tag? While the amenities vary by resort, over-water bungalows in Bora Bora share some similarities, such as…
Privacy. Overwater bungalows are located on long piers reaching out into the lagoon. The space between the overwater bungalows and the distance from land provides more privacy.
Luxury accommodations. While most hotels have land-based garden and beach rooms and/or bungalows, the majority of top-level accommodations at Bora Bora resorts, with regard to size, amenities, and décor, are nearly always the overwater bungalows, which are generally well-appointed suites with incredible lagoon views. Relaxing on your couch or deck with a glass of wine as you gaze out at the serene waters of the South Pacific is sheer tranquility.
View the underwater world through glass floor panels and/or a coffee table with sliding glass top. We had a coffee table and were provided food to attract the fish. At night, we could turn on lights under the bungalow and watch the marine creatures passing by.
Room service via outrigger canoe. Imagine grabbing a robe and making your way to your private deck to be greeted by a smiling Polynesian face pulling up in a canoe with a tray of juices, pastries, and fresh fruit. What a way to start the day!
Access to the lagoon via private stairs or a ladder. Our overwater bungalow had stairs down to a small landing where we could catch some sun and view the dazzling colors of the tropical fish in the lagoon. Some overwater bungalows also have private plunge pools as well.
Things to do in Bora Bora
Swim with sharks and rays
While it may be tempting to simply lounge in your bungalow savoring the view, Bora Bora has some of most clear waters in the world. Surrounded by a lagoon and a barrier reef, the waters are a myriad of different shades of greens and blues, beckoning exploration. Multiple tour operators offer lagoon excursions, including a day of adventure swimming with sharks and rays while they’re being fed – a memorable adventure to say the least.
Visit the Lagoonarium
A natural aquarium near the Motu Piti Anau on the eastern part of the island, the Bora Bora Lagoonarium is a great place for snorkeling while interacting with marine life.
With half-day and full-day visits available, visitors can spy sea turtles, rays, sharks, and hundreds of brightly-colored fish in the calm, warm waters with guidance from marine life experts. Some tours include canoe tours of the island.
Take a hike
With such beautiful, inspiring surroundings, it’s hard not to want to explore the island on foot. Several hiking tours are available from local guides ranging from easy walks on trails through lush vegetation to the strenuous climb up Mt. Pahia. As many of the trails are not well marked, it is best to hire a tour guide who will also share island and plant information on the trek.
Indulge in some spa time
Bora Bora is a place for relaxation and restoration and a visit to one of the many spas at the resorts on the island will only further advance your body’s well-being. From the floral and vanilla scents of the scrubs, lotions, and oils, to the tranquil environment and gardens where treatments are administered, a visit to the spa in Bora Bora completes your journey to rejuvenation.
Have dinner at Bloody Mary’s
Having survived our shark and ray adventure, we decided a visit to the famous Bloody Mary’s was in order.
Frequented by celebrities from around the world – there’s a list of previous famous diners at the entrance that includes Pierce Brosnan, Diana Ross, Buzz Aldrin, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Billy Idol, Raquel Welch, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and hundreds more – Bloody Mary’s is an experience as much as it is a restaurant.
Fresh seafood and creative cocktails are the specialties, while dining on sand floors under a thatched roof in paradise is the attraction.
Shop for Tahitian black pearls
While perusing the Air Tahiti Nui on the flight over, I became educated on Tahitian black pearls and decided I might need a souvenir. Well, educated in that they are very pretty and I wanted one. While called black pearls, Tahitian pearls actually vary greatly in color, with even the black ones having a wide variety of undertones in green, pink, blue, silver and yellow. After visiting the pearl shops in Vaitape, we decided we liked the ones with a hint of pink and green best and selected one in a necklace that I’m sure I’ll wear for years to come.
Know before you go
Everything in Bora Bora is expensive. In addition to the hotel room, the tours, shopping, and food are all expensive. Explore meal plans at your hotel when booking.
Bora Bora is quiet. Tranquility rules the day in Bora Bora, so if you are looking to relax, read a book and do a bit of snorkeling, it is perfect. However, if you are looking for a vibrant nightlife, big beaches and tons of dining options, this isn’t it.
Bora Bora is a honeymoon destination. A good amount of the people we encountered in Bora Bora were on their honeymoon. If being surrounded by couples one week into wedded bliss isn’t what you had in mind, again you might re-think this one.
Languages: French and Tahitian are spoken on Bora Bora. Most people in hotels and the tourism industry also speak some English. If you’d like to speak a few words in Tahitian, hello is “Ia Ora na” (yo-rah-nah), goodbye is “Nana” (nah-nah), yes is “E” (ay), no is “Aita” (eye-tah) and beer is “Pia” (pee-ah).
Currency: The local currency is the Pacific Franc (XPF). There’s an ATM at the airport and several banks in Vaitape and some places accept U.S. dollars.
Transportation: Taxis are limited but can usually be arranged by the hotel. Some of the restaurants will provide transportation to and from hotels. Bicycle rentals are a viable option for traveling around the island at your own pace.
Time zone: Bora Bora’s time zone is UTC/GMT -10 hours
Electricity: Electrical power in French Polynesia is 220Volts – 60Hz. Electric outlets have two round holes (Type C), the same as in much of Western Europe. Many hotels have plug converters for American appliances but may charge a deposit. If looking to purchase ahead of time, we have found this one works well and accepts three plugs.
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