Many first-time visitors to French Polynesia spend time on this trifecta of islands: Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora.
You must land on the island of Tahiti if you’re arriving by air from an international destination, so that makes it easy to spend a few nights exploring the largest island in French Polynesia. However, Tahiti is quite developed, and it’s home to the urban capital of Papeete, with its bustling downtown and large ferry and cruise ship terminal.
So, some folks make plans to quickly scoot to another one of the nearby Society Islands to get to that gorgeous aquamarine water, those white sandy beaches lined with palm trees, and the luxurious overwater bungalows the smaller islands are known for.
Moorea is a quick and easy ferry ride (30 minutes) or plane ride (10 minutes) away from Tahiti, so that’s a popular first island stop for visitors — not only for its ease of access but also for its lush mountainsides and fantastic snorkeling opportunities amid bright coral reefs.
Bora Bora is slightly further afield, but it’s likely on many travelers’ agendas because it’s well known by name and boasts splurge-worthy chic accommodations.
My husband and I spent time on both Bora Bora and Moorea on a recent 12-day trip to French Polynesia. There are similarities between the islands, for sure — they are both part of French Polynesia after all — so you’ll find similar local foods (including delectable poisson cru), use the same currency (Central Pacific Francs), and experience common tropical weather patterns (a wet season and dry season) on each island.
That said, there are some key differences to be aware of as well. Here’s what you need to know before you spend time on Bora Bora and Moorea, or if you’re trying to choose between visiting one or the other:
1. You Can Reach Moorea By Ferry Or Plane
As I mentioned above, Moorea is the closest major island to the island of Tahiti. You can book a 30-minute ferry ride from Papeete to Moorea for under $15 one-way on one of two ferry companies: Terevau and Aremiti.
We took the ferry simply to experience a different mode of transportation on our trip. We liked getting a different perspective of the area on the water (plus we knew we’d be flying to Bora Bora later, so we’d get that bird’s-eye-view, too). The ferries are reliable and clean, and they offer snack bars and plenty of seating.
One-way flights from Faa’a International Airport (PPT) to Moorea (MOZ) are currently as low as $70 on Air Tahiti.
There is no commercial ferry service to Bora Bora, so plan on taking an inter-island flight on Air Tahiti there. We flew to Bora Bora from Moorea, and we touched down on the island of Huahine en route, though there are non-stop flights available also.
Pro Tip: If you plan to visit several islands on your French Polynesia vacation, consider purchasing an Air Tahiti Multi-islands Pass. These bundled airfare deals that cover multiple destinations will likely be considerably cheaper than booking the flights individually.
2. Moorea Offers Both Cheap And Upscale Accommodations
There are some family-run lodges and vacation rentals at moderate prices available on Bora Bora — but they’re few and far between. If you’re going to visit Bora Bora, I suggest you embrace the expense and go big on one of the sprawling upscale resorts and roomy overwater bungalows the island is known for.
Moorea offers much more variety when it comes to budget, moderate, and expensive lodging — so if you do want to save a few dollars by booking a vacation rental or guesthouse (pension), this would be a great place to do it.
While on Moorea, we had a delicious dinner at Fare Maheata, and we loved the laid-back vibe of the beachfront restaurant. This is also a guesthouse with basic bungalows for visiting guests. Room rates, currently starting at about $135 per night, include breakfast, and the rooms are steps away from a nice lagoon for kayaking, snorkeling, and stand-up paddleboarding — plus the folks who run it are friendly and the food was great!
We stayed down the road at the decidedly more expensive Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa. An overwater bungalow here can start at $1,000 a night in high season. That said, when my husband and I visited in November 2021, we scored a fabulous five-night package deal on Travelzoo that reduced the nightly price to about $550 per night for an overwater bungalow — with daily breakfast, a dinner, and a lunch thrown in, too.
Pro Tip: Sign up for Travelzoo’s weekly newsletter to scour deals at resorts on Moorea and throughout French Polynesia.
3. The Most Expensive Hotels On Bora Bora Are On Remote Motus
Four Seasons, Conrad, InterContinental, St. Regis, and Le Meridien are some of the most luxurious hotel brands on Bora Bora, and they’re all located on motus (islets) that are only accessible by boat. Each resort charges a pretty penny to pick you up from the Bora Bora Airport and transfer you to their property in their own water taxis.
For example, to get to the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa, it’ll cost you about $70 per person. So be sure to factor that fee into your budget as you plan your trip.
Pro Tip: The InterContinental Le Moana Bora Bora Resort is located on the main island of Bora Bora, not a more remote motu, or islet. You can take the free Air Tahiti water shuttle to Vaitepe and then transfer to a taxi to travel by road to the resort for just $24. The InterContinental’s Le Moana Resort isn’t as fancy as its sister Thalasso property (and it lacks a divine spa), but it’s a great option if you’d like to spend a little less on your Bora Bora vacation overall and still stay in a spacious overwater bungalow on a beautiful lagoon.
4. It’s Easy To Navigate Moorea By Car Or Bike
Unlike Bora Bora which requires traveling by water to get around if you’re staying on a motu, Moorea is more easily navigable. One 37-mile road rings the coast along the entire island. Car, scooter, and bike rentals are readily available, so if you like to explore and sightsee on your own, it’s easy to do on Moorea. It’s hard to get lost on this single coastal road!
You’ll find car rental locations at the ferry terminal, at the airport, and at other tourist centers, for example, in Tiahura on the north shore of the island.
One inland excursion that’s popular is a quick and easy drive to Belvedere Lookout for views of surrounding volcanic mountains and pristine bays.
Pro Tip: Ask about 4- or 8-hour rentals if you just want to borrow a car for a day’s excursion.
5. We Found The Snorkeling Better And More Convenient On Moorea
When we booked our five-night package at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa, we didn’t realize we’d have such easy access to some of the most outstanding snorkeling available on the entire island.
Indeed, multiple coral reefs, where colorful tropical fish make their home, are plentiful in the lagoon right under and next to overwater bungalows here. We also spent time in lounge chairs under a palapa on the resort’s beach, wading out into the water from the beach for more amazing snorkeling — which also included eagle rays and stingrays!
In contrast, at both of the resorts we stayed at on Bora Bora, there were fewer reefs located right on property, so we didn’t see nearly as many fish — despite the area’s crystal-clear aquamarine water.
Instead, on Bora Bora, we rented our own pontoon boat to experience some excellent snorkeling, including spotting schools of fish in a “coral garden” and rays in a shallow lagoon not far from the InterContinental Le Moana Resort & Spa. Snorkeling in deep water from a boat was a different and enjoyable experience — one well worth our time. But we much more appreciated the ease of hopping in the lagoon from our Moorea overwater bungalow — whenever we wanted, several times a day — to spy spotted pufferfish, striped butterflyfish, and orange clownfish.
Pro Tip: Bring your own snorkel gear so you can explore the amazing and colorful underwater world at your leisure without having to borrow a snorkel and mask from your hotel’s activity desk, or book a tour to use an outfitter’s gear.
Bora Bora And Moorea Are Both Well Worth A Visit
If time and budget allow, I’d say both Moorea and Bora Bora are worth a visit. If you must choose, Moorea is easier (and cheaper) to get to from Tahiti, and the island affords some amazing snorkeling — as well as other great adventures to be had on land and on the water, from ATV rides and food tours to sunset cruises and day hikes.
That said, the upscale resorts of Bora Bora offer couples the ultimate in a romantic tropical destination — those opulent overwater bungalows, in my opinion, are worth every penny for exceeding expectations on a bucket-list dream trip.
Both islands have stunning scenery, including lush green mountains, bright turquoise lagoons, and jaw-dropping orange sunsets — plus plenty of opportunities for both relaxation and activity. I don’t think you can go wrong choosing one island over the other for your idyllic South Pacific vacation.
For tips and experiences on and around Bora Bora, check out these stories: