Bora Bora Guide: Planning Your Trip

View of mountains and overwater bungalows in Bora Bora

TripSavvy / Claire Cohen


With white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and a lurid, rocky peak rising from the groves of coconut palms, Bora Bora has long been the boilerplate South Seas fantasy isle. Long treasured by the elite jet set, it’s an aspirational (and often expensive) destination that will linger in travelers’ memories long after they’ve left. Whether you're seeking a luxurious stay in an overwater bungalow, a spa treatment in tropical surroundings, or a world-class meal at a top French restaurant, here's what you need to know about planning a trip to Bora Bora.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: The weather is at its finest between May and October. November and December are the beginning of what Tahitians call the “abundant season," when the weather is rainy but the flowers are in full bloom and fruit is at its most luscious. January through April can be hot, humid, and rainy.
  • Language: French is the official language of French Polynesia, and most residents also speak Tahitian. English is also widely spoken on Bora Bora, particularly among tourism workers.
  • Currency: The French Pacific franc (abbreviated CFP or XPF), locally called “francs.” Their value is officially pegged to the euro, but for Americans it’s easy to remember one franc roughly equals one U.S. cent. Many shops (particularly pearl shops) will also quote or display prices in euros and dollars, but charge in francs.
  • Getting Around: Most resorts on Bora Bora are on the motu, which is the atoll surrounding the island. The motu has no roads between properties, so all transport between resorts or to the island itself will be via boat. Many resorts offer boat shuttles to or from Vaitape for a fee. Excursions typically include transportation from the resort, but this can vary. Once on the main island, there are car rental offices in Vaitape. Taxis are scarce, and expensive. Travel between resorts, unless they’re branded the same (InterContinental has two properties on Bora Bora with a set shuttle between them), often requires a private boat transfer and the cost can be steep. The most efficient way to travel between resorts on the motu is to take one resort's boat shuttle to the airport to meet the other one's boat.
  • Travel Tip: Air Tahiti offers online check-in, the primary benefit of which is the separate ticket counter line for baggage check only.  
French Polynesia, Bora Bora, Woman taking underwater pictures of colorful reef fish
Michele Westmorland / Getty Images

Things to Do

Bora Bora is a low-energy vacation destination, and the resorts are designed with this in mind. Days here are often spent swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, or simply taking in the fantastical views from the lanai of one's overwater bungalow. Visitors also enjoy fine dining, Polynesian dance revues hosted by the resorts, or spa treatments. More active travelers can hike Mount Otemanu on the main island, embark on a snorkeling excursion, or explore the island’s history and culture with a guide.

Top things to do on Bora Bora include:

  • Shopping for Tahitian Pearls, pareus (colorful Tahitian-style wraps), and other souvenirs at resorts or in Vaitape.
  • Go on a snorkeling excursion to a remote part of the motu, complete with a beach picnic (most resorts offer some version of this tour).
  • Tour the island in an open-air Le Truck jitney, visiting scenic overlooks, ruins of ancient temples (called marae), and the remains of WWII-era defensive cannons.

Explore more activities with our full-length article on best things to do on Bora Bora.

What to Eat and Drink 

At the resorts, expect world-class dining that combines local seafood and premium imported meats with French culinary know-how. Many of Bora Bora’s resorts have chefs direct from France, and the quality of the cooking is sublime. This is where the elite come to play, so even the most sophisticated palates will be well-sated here. Each resort will also offer their own take on local favorites like poisson cru—a raw fish salad with lime, coconut milk, and crunchy vegetables—or the firi firi Tahitian-style coconut donut. Breads and pastries are, understandably, consistent with the standard one might find in any French patisserie.

Outside the resorts, there are a handful of ocean-front restaurants dotting the shoreline. The most famous of these is Bloody Mary’s, where diners select fresh fish and imported meats to be grilled and served with generously portioned sides. Also common on Bora Bora is the "snack" (a diminutive of the “snack bar” popularized by American GIs during WWII), an often cash-only food truck or roadside stand. Hit up a snack for huge portions of burgers, steaks, or sandwiches served with fries. You can also get stir-fry; local fish grilled, fried, or served raw; and sweet or savory crêpes. Portions are almost always large enough to be comfortably shared.

Holiday resort in bora bora
Image Source / Getty Images

Where to Stay

Bora Bora is the domain of the luxury resort with bungalow-style accommodations, and most of those are the famous overwater bungalows that blare from the pages of glossy brochures. A handful of these resorts are on the main island (with somewhat lower rates), but most are on the motu, across the lagoon from the island. A far less expensive option is the pension, or Tahitian-style guesthouse. Typically on the main island, these accommodations range from very basic to somewhat deluxe, and are a fraction of the cost of the resorts.

Explore our recommendations on the best overwater bungalow resorts in Bora Bora.

Getting There

French Polynesia’s only international airport is Faa’a International Airport on Tahiti, which is 8 hours by air from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Bora Bora is an additional 45-minute flight from Tahiti onboard Air Tahiti (French Polynesia’s domestic airline, not to be confused with the international carrier Air Tahiti Nui). Visitors can also book helicopter transfers to Bora Bora from Tahiti.

Bora Bora’s airport, Motu Mute Aiport, is on its own island and accessible only by boat. Air Tahiti operates a free passenger shuttle from there to Vaitape, and guests who have pension reservations on Bora Bora will generally be picked up at the shuttle dock in Vaitape. For travelers staying on the motu, resorts offer boat transfers to and from the airport, usually for about $100 per person round trip.

There is also a ferry running a thrice-weekly circuit between Bora Bora and the neighboring islands of Raiatea, Tahaa, and Maupiti. Designed mostly for local traffic, it’s generally not used by visitors (the ferry service has no website; advance bookings can be done by telephone or e-mail). Hotel concierges can help arrange tickets for the most intrepid travelers.

Culture and Customs

As French Polynesia is influenced by France, many French social cues apply here. It’s polite to say “bonjour” or “’Ia ora na” (“hello” in Tahitian) to no one in particular upon entering a shop or restaurant, and to say or return a greeting again before conducting any business.

The best way to tour the island is with a guide, as many points of interest are on private property and not clearly marked (any fee charged by the owner is included in the tour price). Resorts will often send a list of tours and activities in advance of a stay, but as local conditions can change, they tend to confirm 24 to 48 hours prior to the tour.

Outside of resorts, it’s common for a restaurant manager or proprietor to greet and seat guests. In French Polynesia, it’s also common to ask for and pay the bill at the bar or front desk—it won’t be provided unless requested. Tax and service is generally included in menu prices, and tipping isn’t customary—there isn’t even space for it on credit card slips. At resorts, service flow is more consistent with U.S. standards. Note that while resorts will include a line for gratuity on guest checks, tax and service is included. However, there is one exception to the tipping rule in French Polynesia. Tour guides don’t expect tips, but are customarily handed around 10 percent of the tour price—unless they’re self-employed.

Being surrounded by water, guests in overwater bungalows can gain a false sense of security and leave their doors open or unlocked. The bungalows are more easily accessible from the water than they appear, though, and it’s best to double check that all doors and windows are secure before leaving.

Bargaining isn’t the done thing in French Polynesia, although it’s customary to ask (politely, and just once) for a discount when buying pearls. There are multiple pearl shops in Vaitape, so comparison shopping is a snap.

Bora Bora is casual, but Polynesians tend to be relatively modest and visitors should wear shirts and shoes when away from the beach or pool.

Money Saving Tips

  • Pack light. Air Tahiti’s carry-on baggage allowance is on the lighter side; excess charges for checked baggage are per-kilo and can add up quickly.
  • Resort dining on Bora Bora is eye-poppingly expensive. If meals are not included in your rate but you're intending to dine mostly on-site, you should plan on spending at least $250 a person per day; this budget factors in all three meals but not alcohol.
  • Many restaurants will offer round-trip transportation from resorts or pensions (either free or for a nominal charge) for guests with reservations.
  • A trip to a supermarket in Vaitape can reduce dependence on resort dining (mini fridges are standard in many resort bungalows). Substantial baguette sandwiches, take-out Asian dishes, salads, and snacks can all be found for reasonable prices.
  • Cocktails are also expensive on Bora Bora (at one ultra-luxe resort, each cocktail on the menu is $40). Highballs like gin and tonic, however, are subject to pricing statutes, and are on par with what one might pay at a luxury resort in the U.S. Some resorts also offer happy hour promotions.
  • Packaged liquor is also expensive on Bora Bora—prices can be up to three times higher than in the U.S. Many travelers buy a bottle of their favorite liquor at the duty-free shop at their U.S. gateway to use for their own cocktails throughout their trip (be sure to transfer large bottles to checked luggage in Tahiti before checking bags for the domestic flight).
Article Sources
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Tahiti Tourisme. "The Islands of Tahiti Weather." August 2021.

  2. Tahiti Tourisme. "Frequently Asked Questions." August 2021.

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