A Visitor's Guide to Bora Bora

A beach scene in Bora Bora
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At just over 18 miles in circumference (47 square miles in total), Bora Bora is part of Tahiti's frequently visited Society Islands and is home to about 8,900 people. Bora Bora may be the most beautiful island in French Polynesia; perhaps the entire South Pacific; maybe even the world. 

From its pristine white-sand beaches to its tropical-fish-packed lagoons, Bora Bora's natural splendors have enthralled visitors for centuries, inspiring sailors, painters, and poets. Vacationers have been enjoying Bora Bora since the first overwater bungalows appeared more than 40 years ago and it remains a popular destination for honeymooners. Read on for the must-know details about vacationing on Bora Bora.

Geography

Bora Bora is a relatively small island, but its steep, dramatic profile gives it a big impact. Mt. Otemanu, which reaches 7,822 feet at its spire-like peak, dominates the visual panorama from almost any location. You'll need to hire a 4X4 to explore the main island's lush interior roads which lead to superb vista points, or you can bring along a good pair of hiking boots to explore its trails. Another destination for those looking to explore Bora Bora beyond the boundaries of their resort is the beautiful Matira Beach, whose white sands are easily accessible from the main ring road.

With the exception of hilly Motu Toopua single exception, the motus that surround the lagoon are flat and sandy, but they are also home to some of Tahiti's most stellar beaches. Most are now claimed by luxury resorts, but smaller motus have quiet beaches that are perfect for day-trip picnics by boat.

Cities

Bora Bora has no cities, but its largest village and main port is Vaitape, home to a few dozen shops and several waterfront restaurants and bars. The Vaitape handicrafts marked is the destination for visitors searching for signature souvenirs such as Tahitian black pearls, shell jewelry, colorful pareu wraps, wooden handicrafts, and scented soaps and oils. Vaitape is easily seen during a quick stroll and it is generally crowd-free, except when cruise ships are in port.

Shops are generally open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with long lunch breaks taken at midday, and until around noon on Saturdays. The only shops open on Sunday are located in hotels and resorts. There is no sales tax.

Airport

Just the flight in to Bora Bora is a breathtaking thrill, as Mt. Otemanu appears on the horizon as a jagged green peak surrounded on all sides by the clearest, most captivating blue lagoon imaginable. It is a sight one does not easily forget. From the air, you can clearly spot some of Bora Bora's iconic resorts, with their long wooden walkways snaking out over the lagoon, connecting intimate thatched-roof overwater bungalows.

On Bora Bora, the airport and most of the resorts are located on motus—small, sandy islets. Built as an airstrip by U.S. troops during World War II, the tiny airport is located on Motu Mute and accommodates several daily Air Tahiti turbo-prop flights from Faa'a International Airport in Papeete and the smaller airport on Moorea, as well as connections from several other Tahitian islands.

Passengers deplane via stairways onto the tarmac and then follow the welcoming sound of Tahitian music into the small open-air terminal, where a fragrant Tiare blossom lei is placed around their necks.

Transportation

Unlike on Tahiti and Moorea, most resorts on Bora Bora are not located on the island proper, but rather on the ring of small motus that surround it. For this reason, you will travel from the airport to your resort via boat. Most resorts have private motorboats that will pick up guests at up Bora Bora airport and deliver them right to the resort's dock (travelers should arrange this in advance). For resorts located on the main island, there is the option is to take the ferry to the port village of Vaitape, where land transport is available to individual resorts.

There are few taxis on Bora Bora, but as on Tahiti and Moorea, the Le Truck public transport system operates around the main road that encircles the island. Rental cars are available (inquire at your resort) and lagoon excursions via motorboat, catamaran or outrigger canoe can be arranged. Helicopters can also be hired for island tours.

Activities

Most activities on Bora Bora involve the ocean. Snorkeling and scuba diving are popular activities and are ideal for those looking to catch a glimps of some of the many species of sharks and rays that inhabit the lagoon. There are a few dive operators on the island offering manta ray and shark-feeding dives.