Surrounded by the most beautiful aquamarine water I’ve ever seen, Bora Bora is every bit as amazing as those magazine ads and tourism office videos make it out to be. I recently spent 5 nights at this romantic South Pacific destination as part of a 12-day vacation in French Polynesia. My husband and I deemed it our best vacation ever.
We fell in love with Bora Bora for its jaw-dropping beauty, its water activities above and below the surface, its super friendly residents, and, of course, its romantic and luxurious overwater bungalows — we certainly felt like newlyweds again at this popular honeymoon spot.
That said, Bora Bora isn’t easy to get to, and it’s a rather expensive locale. If you’re planning your first trip to Bora Bora, here are a few things you should know before you arrive on this remarkable and unique island destination.
1. Bora Bora Is Actually Made Up Of Multiple Islands
Bora Bora, formed by volcanic eruption millions of years ago, is composed of a main island that’s only about 12 square miles. It’s surrounded by a gorgeous turquoise lagoon and a ring of motus, or islets. Some tourist accommodations are found on the main island, whose principal town is Vaitepe, while others, including the most upscale resorts featuring multiple overwater bungalows, are on the more remote islets.
2. You Must Fly To Tahiti First
All international travelers who arrive by air must land at Tahiti’s Faa’a International Airport (PPT) first. Depending on your flight arrival time, you might transfer immediately to a domestic flight to Bora Bora. Or you could stay for the night (or longer) on the island of Tahiti.
If you’re planning just a quick overnight on Tahiti, consider one of these properties close to the airport: the budget Tahiti Airport Motel (bare bones and basic) or the more upscale InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa (a gorgeous property with multiple pools, overwater bungalow options, and a great oceanfront location for watching the sunset).
3. The Bora Bora Airport Is On A Motu
Upon landing at the Bora Bora Airport (BOB), you’ll cast your eyes on the crystal-clear water that the island is known for. Then, once you’re done gaping and make your way into the airport (you’ll deplane on an open-air tarmac), you’ll look for your resort’s representative among the many lined up at water-taxi stands.
That’s because the airport is on one of the long skinny motus and the vast majority of accommodations on Bora Bora are only reachable by boat. The fanciest resorts charge an arm and a leg for a water taxi. For example, the InterContinental Le Moana Bora Bora Resort charges $70 per person for water-based transportation from the airport to the hotel.
There are ways, however, to pay a fraction of that price if your hotel, like the InterContinental Le Moana Bora Bora, is located on Bora Bora’s main island. Instead of booking the resort’s water taxi, we took the free Air Tahiti Bora Bora Navette to the main island’s town of Vaitape, and then hailed a waiting taxi to take us on a 12-minute ride to the resort. That only cost us $24 total, instead of $140!
4. The Local Currency Is The Pacific Franc
I quote transportation costs in dollars above, but the local currency is the Pacific franc. I’ve also seen it called the Central Pacific Franc or French Pacific Franc. It’s abbreviated CFP, but its international abbreviation is XFP, so you may see it referenced a number of ways.
Before our trip, we ordered a couple hundred dollars worth of CFPs from our hometown bank so we’d have some available to us immediately once we landed in French Polynesia. But you can also withdraw local money from an ATM (I saw them regularly at grocery stores) or at the Tahiti airport on arrival. Your hotel’s front desk may not offer the best rate to exchange money, so I’d only do that in a pinch.
Credit cards are accepted regularly at restaurants, grocery stores, local tour companies, and of course hotels. You may find that souvenir stores and grocery shops accept U.S. dollars, but the exchange rate offered probably won’t be great. I’d try to use a credit card as often as possible (make sure yours doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees) and the local CFP currency for cash transactions like taxi rides.
5. Eating And Drinking On Bora Bora Is Expensive, But There Are Ways To Cut Costs
It’s not unusual to see $15 cocktails, $20 appetizers, and $40 entrees on hotel restaurant menus on Bora Bora. To save money, consider these tips:
Pack Your Own Snacks
We loaded our luggage with protein bars, oatmeal packets, and beef jerky to help tide us over between meals, especially on days when we’d just eat a huge hotel buffet breakfast then not sit down for food again until happy hour. The instant coffee I brought helped me save at the hotels that didn’t offer free coffee in our hotel rooms.
Swing By A Local Grocery Store
This is easiest to do if you’re staying on Bora Bora’s main island; if your hotel is on a remote motu, you may need to take a taxi to the local store, if there’s even one nearby. We were able to walk from the Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora to a local store for good French wine, super cheap baguettes, and reasonably priced cheese and cold cuts for an easy and fun picnic meal to enjoy on the deck of our overwater bungalow.
Take Advantage Of Hotel 2-For-1 Happy Hours
All the resorts we stayed at in French Polynesia (a total of four on three islands) offered buy-one-get-one-free drink specials in the hour or 2 before sunset.
Eat At Local Restaurants
This may not afford you great savings, as some of the well-known Bora Bora restaurants, like Bloody Mary’s, may cost you as much as a hotel meal, plus you’ll need to pay for a taxi to get there and back. But if you can walk to an eatery near your resort, consider giving it a whirl to save a few bucks and support a local business.
6. Make Sure You Pack All Of Your Needed Toiletries
Just as food and drink are expensive on Bora Bora (except for those fabulous 62-cent loafs of baguette-style bread!), other consumer items are, too.
My husband and I made a rookie mistake of not bringing enough sunscreen with us. Toward the end of our trip, we had to supplement with a bottle purchased from a local market — which wasn’t much cheaper than what was offered at the hotel gift shop.
We paid $24 for a 6.8-ounce bottle of sunblock. Ouch! That said, a painful sunburn would have hurt even more — better safe than sorry.
7. Bora Bora Has A Wet And Dry Season
According to the Islands of Tahiti tourism website, Bora Bora has a wet season and a dry season. The most popular time for visitors is from May to October, the islands’ dry season. You can expect mostly sunny and mild weather during this time.
The wet season runs from November to April. Fewer tourists visit during this time, as it’s not unusual to encounter rain — including heavy downpours — regularly. Temperatures are hotter and humid during this time, as well.
My husband and I visited in the first 2 weeks of November, and we lucked out during this transition time between the dry and wet seasons. For the bulk of our trip to French Polynesia, we enjoyed incredibly sunny days with bright skies and warm temperatures — about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. We only experienced one afternoon and a full day of steady, pouring rain that impacted our outdoor activities.
8. English Is Widely Spoken, But Consider Learning A Few Tahitian Words
All front-facing hotel employees we encountered spoke fluent English. We were also able to converse easily with the local folks we came in contact with at airports, ferry terminals, grocery stores, and local restaurants.
That said, we regularly heard a couple of Tahitian phrases that became cemented in our vocabulary within just a few days of arrival in French Polynesia.
First, Ia Orana (yo-rah-nah), meaning “hello,” and every single employee we passed while walking on hotel grounds would greet us this way in a sing-song voice. Grocery store and cafe employees would do the same as we entered their establishments. With a smile, we happily repeated “Ia Orana” back to anyone we encountered.
We also mastered Maururu (mah-roo-roo), which means “thank you.” French Polynesians are exceedingly polite, and we were happy to follow suit, thanking everyone for everything as we made our way through our day on Bora Bora — from restaurant servers to shop clerks to the fellow who lent us kayaks at hotel activity palapas.
The friendly residents of Bora Bora and the other French Polynesia islands we visited contributed greatly to our enjoyment of our vacation in this beautiful place. Using a bit of their native language was the least we could do to acknowledge their hospitality that made us feel so welcomed to their slice of paradise.
For more Bora Bora inspiration, consider Kara’s take on why you must stay in this Bora Bora overwater bungalow once in your lifetime.
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