A Visitor's Guide to Bora Bora

What you need to know to plan a visit to Tahiti's most famous island

Aerial shot of Bora Bora Showing Mt. Otemanu and the Dazzling Blue Lagoon.
••• Aerial shot of Bora Bora Showing Mt. Otemanu and the Dazzling Blue Lagoon. James D. Morgan / Contributor / Getty Images

Bora Bora, the most beautiful island in French Polynesia - perhaps the entire South Pacific and maybe even the world - does not disappoint.

Simply arriving here by air (via a 45-minute flight from the international airport in Papeete) is a breathtaking thrill as the island's towering jagged green peak, Mt. Otemanu, appears on the horizon, surrounded on all sides by the clearest, most captivating blue lagoon imaginable.

It's not just one shade of blue, but dozens, probably even hundreds. It is a sight one does not easily, if ever, forget.

The most photographed and written-about of Tahiti's islands, Bora Bora has surged in popularity over the past two decades, resulting in a flurry of luxury resort development (which bordered on over-development, but building has now subsided after the boom years of 2003-2008).

From the air you can clearly spot Bora Bora's resorts, with their long wooden walkways lined with thatched-roof overwater bungalows extending out over the lagoon.

Upon arrival, you'll be whisked to your tropical enclave via boat (the airport and most resorts are located on small, sandy islets called motus) to begin what will certainly be one of the most relaxing and exhilarating vacations you'll ever take - truly a trip of a lifetime.

From its pristine white-sand beaches to its tropical-fish-packed lagoons, Bora Bora's natural splendors have enthralled visitors for centuries (from sailors to painters to poets) and vacationers (especially honeymooners) since the first overwater bungalows appeared more than 40 years ago.

Size and Population

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.


Built as an airstrip by U.S. troops during World War II, Bora Bora's 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.

Again, 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 (they smell divine and you can never have too many) is placed around their necks.


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 - giving most resorts amazing lagoon and Mt. Otemanu views. Thus, transport is primarily 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). Another option is to take the ferry to the port village of Vaitape, where land transport is available to the resorts that are located on the main island rather than a private motu.

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.


Bora Bora has no cities; it's largest village and main port is Vaitape. Home to a few dozen shops and a handicrafts market - selling signature souvenirs such as Tahitian black pearls, shell jewelry, colorful pareu beach wraps, wooden handicrafts and scented soaps and oils - as well as several waterfront restaurants and bars, Vaitape is easily seen during a quick stroll. It is generally crowd-free, except when cruise ships are in port.


Bora Bora is a relatively small island, but its steep, dramatic profile gives it a big impact. Rising up from the lagoon like a fortress, emerald-green 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 its lush interior roads, leading to superb vista points, or bring along a good pair of hiking boots to explore its trails.

Easily accessible along the main ring road is Matira Beach, a beautiful white crescent strand.

With a single exception (hilly Motu Toopua), the motus that surround the lagoon are flat and sandy and home to some of Tahiti's most stellar beaches - many now claimed by luxury resorts with their comfortable chaises and umbrellas and daytime cocktail and snack service. Other smaller motus have quiet beaches that are perfect for day-trip picnics by boat.


Most activities on Bora Bora involve the ocean. Snorkeling and scuba diving in and around the lagoon of Bora Bora are popular activities. Many species of sharks and rays inhabit the surrounding body of water. There are a few dive operators on the island offering manta ray dives and also shark-feeding dives.

Retail Hours

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.

About the Author

Donna Heiderstadt is a New York City–based freelance travel writer and editor who has spent her life pursuing her two main passions: writing and exploring the world.