The Magic of Bora Bora
Bora Bora (or Porapora, in the traditional Polynesian spelling) must be one of the most celebrated islands in the world: a place that embodies many people’s ideal of a tropical paradise. And boy, it’s tough to argue with that perception when you see this magical place in the flesh.
Part of French Polynesia’s Society Islands, Bora Bora consists of a mountainous main island composed of a heavily eroded volcano gnarled by the sharp peaks of 2,385-foot Mount Otemanu and 2,129-foot Mount Pahia; a fringing barrier reef scattered with a few rugged and many flat islets (motu); and a reef-encircled lagoon. Bora Bora’s mosaic of coral gardens, crystalline waters, powdery beaches, coconut-palm groves, sea-hibiscus tangles, and soaring dark peaks makes some of the South Pacific’s most mythic scenery—a real dreamscape.
From swimming with manta rays to clambering jungle heights, there’s much to do under that dependable Bora Bora sun. Let’s dive right into some of the possibilities! If you’re interested information on hotels and flights to Bora Bora, check out TripAdvisor – it’s a great resource to help you book your trip.
You couldn’t ask for a more convenient place for sampling the underwater world of the South Pacific than Bora Bora. The island’s sunlit lagoon and encircling reef offer fabulous and easily accessible snorkeling and scuba diving. Between the lagoon shallows and the seaward coral walls, there’s a decent spread of marine habitats supporting a wide variety of organisms, from reef specialists to big pelagics cruising the fringing drop-offs.
Among the more celebrated dive sites is the lagoon plunge of Anau, nicknamed the “Manta Ray Channel” or the “Manta Ballroom” on account of the enormous (and reassuringly plankton-eating) manta rays that commonly promenade here. Indeed, Bora Bora is among the more globally renowned spots for diving with mantas, abundant in the lagoon as well as the offshore waters year-round. And those graceful black-and-white giants aren’t the only native rays you’ll often run into under Bora Bora’s limpid surface: Striking schools of spotted eagle rays, as majestic as any flock of birds, often cruise past.
The sole breach in the Bora Bora barrier reef, Te Ava Nui Pass, framed by colorful coral walls, is a productive spot for diving, too, as many large fish prowl its currents. Besides mantas and eagle rays, these include enormous Napoleon wrasse, moray eels, barracuda, jacks, and ever-vigilant sharks, including sicklefin lemon sharks and both blacktip and whitetip reef sharks.
Beyond the reef, your chances of spotting big open-ocean critters increase at dive sites such as Tapu, Muri Muri, and Tupitipiti. Sharks (including occasional tigers), barracuda, tuna, and other pelagic fish are always possibilities, as are dolphins and sea turtles. Among the most thrilling sea beasts to glimpse is the humpback whale, which migrates yearly to French Polynesia from Antarctic waters to give birth. The peak time to spot Bora Bora humpbacks—famed for their huge pectoral fins, acrobatic breaches, and haunting voices—is between August and October.
Some companies offer shark- and ray-feeding snorkels and dives, incidentally, in case you want front-row seats to a feeding frenzy.
Grand For any devoted hiker, it’s tough to gaze upon the toothy peaks of Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu without itching to go wandering their steep, verdant slopes. Your first look at Otemanu may be enough to convince you of a certain reality: You won’t be scaling that precipitous, cliff-honed summit, not unless you take a helicopter ride up there (which is possible). You can, however, hoof it partway up for up-close views of those gorgeous, unconquerable volcanic ramparts. Mount Pahia, meanwhile, is “baggable” via a fairly challenging four-hour hike out of Vaitape. Lush tropical forest and outstanding views downslope and out to sea make this tropical hillwalking unforgettable, but it’s wisest to attempt the treks in dry conditions and in the company of a local guide.
Guided hikes also embark from Faanui up the so-called Valley of the Kings, known for its Tahitian archaeological relics (including the sacred stonework sites called marae) and a gargantuan banyan tree said to entomb the remains of long-ago royals.
Classic R & R
Most people, of course, come to Bora Bora to do—well, not very much at all. This is the epicenter, after all, of all those overwater bungalows that have tempted you from the pages of travel brochures and wall calendars for years. It can cost a pretty penny to bed down in one of those paradisiacal abodes—fixtures of countless Bora Bora resorts—but the experience is worth it for many of those making the journey out to this most fabled of French Polynesian isles. (When in Rome…)
A lot of fetching Bora Bora seashore is private, but Matira Beach Park serves as a popular and utterly beautiful public beach on the main island’s southern peninsula, sprawled between Hotel Bora Bora and Matira Point. From here, at low tide, you can wade your way out to the offshore reef. Perhaps the very best views, meanwhile, are to be had on the beaches of the lagoon-edging motus, given the fine prospects of Bora Bora’s volcanic spires.
Other Activities & Destinations
Old naval guns and other relics of American World War II fortifications—for instance, those near Pofai Bay and Fitiiu Point—make for fine destinations for history-minded visitors. Some are best reached with the services of a guide. (Despite the preparations, Bora Bora ultimately didn’t see any Second World War fighting.)
Besides the Valley of the Kings, several other archaeological sites hint at Bora Bora’s centuries-old Polynesian history. Among dozens of marae in varying degrees of disrepair is Marae Fare Opu, well known for its sea-turtle petroglyphs.
And speaking of Polynesian heritage, you can often catch traditional Tahitian dance performances at Bora Bora resorts as well as in the villages of Vaitape, Faanui, and Anau.
When you aren’t quaffing umbrella drinks, meanwhile, seek out tastes of Bora Bora cuisine—from fresh-caught seafood to the marvelously varied flavors of guava, breadfruit, coconut, mango, and other tropical fruits.
A leisurely float along a coral bank electrified by triggerfish, toasting the sunset glow on Mount Otemanu’s great fang, smelling the hibiscus breeze while drifting off under a coconut palm: Bora Bora’s allure transcends any Photoshopped gallery. Best of all, it’s easily reachable in less than an hour by plane from Papeete in Tahiti. That makes for a mighty accessible slice of South Pacific heaven!