Backpack and Snorkel Travel Guide for Bora Bora on a Budget - Bora Bora Purple Guide
This Bora Bora Travel Guide tells you how to travel to Bora Bora on a budget, what the best things to see and do are, what the best beaches are and where the best snorkeling is. We have lots of photos so you know what you will see.
Table of contents
Why you should visit Bora Bora
Bora Bora is probably the most well-known island in French Polynesia. It stands for luxury vacations on white sand beaches with gorgeously turquoise waters and the highest concentration of overwater bungalows in the world.
Contrary to popular belief, you can vacation on Bora Bora on a budget and have a fabulous time. We will show you how to do that and spend a wonderful and relaxing vacation on Bora Bora without breaking the bank with a $1,000 per night overwater bungalow stay.
General information about Bora Bora
Bora Bora is a small 15 square mile (39 km2) island that lies 162 miles (260 km) northwest of Tahiti. It is the remnant of an extinct volcano which was active about 3.45-3.10 million years ago. Pofai Bay (Tuuraapuo Bay) is the crater of this volcano.
Mount Otemanu is the highest point at 2,385 ft (727 m).
The main island is surrounded by a wide shallow lagoon and a barrier reef. The barrier reef has only one opening in the west at the Teavanui Passage where large cargo ships and cruise ships can enter.
Archeological evidence showed that Bora Bora was inhabited by Polynesians in the third century AD.
Dutch explorer Jakob Roggeveen was the first to sight Bora Bora in 1722 and James Cook sighted it 47 years later.
Bora Bora was an independent kingdom until it was annexed by France in 1888.
During World War II, the US military used Bora Bora as a supply base, and seaplane base. Almost 7,000 soldiers and nine ships were stationed here.
The US built an airstrip, oil depot, and defensive fortifications including eight 7-inch guns that are still on the island today.
The indigenous name of Bora Bora was: Pora pora mai te pora, which means: Created by the gods.
The name was often abbreviated to Pora Pora, which means first born.
The pronunciation of the P in Pora Pora in Tahitian sounds like something in-between a P and a B as the Tahitian language does not distinguish between these two letters. It is therefore likely that Jacob Roggeveen simply heard the island name as Bora Bora.
The climate in Bora Bora and the rest of French Polynesia can be found here and the best time to visit Bora Bora and the rest of French Polynesia can be found here.
Please also see our General Information in the French Polynesia section.
How many days should you spend in Bora Bora?
You have likely traveled around the world to experience this piece of paradise, so make sure that you spend enough time here.
Our recommendation for guests on a budget that will not stay at an overwater bungalow is to spend at least 1 day (better two) on Matira Beach, do a full day lagoon tour and spend one day driving around the island seeing some sights. That makes at least 3 days. If you want to relax, then spend some more days exploring the island and on Matira Beach.
Our recommendation for guests that will stay at an overwater bungalow or luxury resort: Spend as much time here that you want to enjoy on the beach of your resort and add one day for a full-day lagoon tour.
Getting to Bora Bora
To get to Bora Bora, you will first need to fly into Papeete in Tahiti, as this is the only international airport in French Polynesia. From Papeete you can take a 45min flight to Bora Bora on Air Tahiti. The airport code of Bora Bora is BOB.
If you want to see the incredibly beautiful island of Bora Bora when landing, sit on the right side of the plane as the plane will approach Bora Bora from the south and then circle north around Bora Bora in the west to land on Motu Mute where the airport is located.
On Motu Mute, you will need to take the free Air Tahiti ferry which will bring you to Vaitape on the main island.
1 = Airport
2 = Vaitape
3 = Matira Beach
VERY IMPORTANT: At the entrance door of the office near the ferry in Vaitape is a printout of ferry departure times. There is exactly one ferry ride per departing flight. So, write the departure times down or take a photo to make sure that you will not miss the ferry on the day that you plan to depart Bora Bora. Otherwise, you will need to stay longer in paradise.
Some luxury resorts also offer paid boat pick-up from Motu Mute - you will need to reserve the ride in advance.
Other options include cruises and private planes or boats. There are several cruise lines that call on Bora Bora.
Getting around in Bora Bora
Bora Bora is a small island. The road that circles around the island is only 20 miles (31 km) long.
Unless you stay at a resort and don’t plan to travel around the island, your best bet is likely to rent a car or scooter.
Alternatively, you can consider taxis, bicycles, the bus or hotel shuttles. Be warned, taxis are expensive, and the bus (Le Truck) comes when it comes – there are no reliable timetables or defined bus stops.
Another alternative is to rent a scooter. There are some outfits on the island that rent scooters, but we have never tried any.
Rental car companies in Bora Bora
There are only two rental car companies close to the ferry anchorage in Vaitape: Europcar and Avis. You will pass the Avis office when you exit the harbor. The Europcar station is not where google maps or the Europcar website say it is – so be warned. It is tucked away in a jewelry store in the opposite direction from what google maps says (exact location in our French Polynesia Purple Guide). Don’t worry, there is an Europcar sign above the door, so you will not miss it.
Avis and Europcar close at 5pm. If you have a reservation that is close to 5pm or afterwards, then they will wait for you. If you don’t have a reservation and arrive close to 5pm or afterwards, then you will be out of luck.
Avis has a second location in Matira in the southern part of Bora Bora; Europcar has only one location.
The best things to see and do in Bora Bora
The best beaches in Bora Bora
Bora Bora has wonderful beaches, but most of them are private beaches that you cannot access unless you stay at the particular resort that owns it.
Fortunately, Bora Bora has one public beach, and this beach happens to be one of the absolute best public beaches in French Polynesia and in the world. The name of the beach is Matira Beach.
Matira Beach – the best beach in Bora Bora
Matira Beach is one of the best beaches in French Polynesia and the world. Most people only know about the southern beach access marked (2) in the map below. But there is another spot which is equally as good and that is spot (1).
1 = Matira Beach North
2 = Matira Beach South
3 = good snorkeling
4 = fantastic snorkeling
Matira Beach has soft white sand and incredibly wonderful turquoise water. The seafloor is mostly sandy, and the water is crystal clear. There are a few more stones in the water at the northern beach access than at the southern access.
Swimming is good, but at the southern location you will need to walk into the water for a considerable distance until it gets deep enough.
The beach is so fantastic that you will see people come here from nearby hotels and resorts. Since the beach is about 1 mile (1.6 km) long, there is absolutely no problem getting away from other people, unless you want a place in the shade. The spots under the trees near the southern parking lot are very popular as there are only areas with shade.
Matira Beach North (1)
Matira Beach South (2)
The best snorkeling spots in Bora Bora in French Polynesia
can be found here.
Scenic drive around Bora Bora
The main road that circles around Bora Bora is 20 miles (31 km) long.
Someone has named a lot of points on google maps and unfortunately several of these points do not exist. So, our advice is to get in your rental car or scooter and just drive around the island. Stop wherever and whenever you see a place you like and enjoy the fantastic scenery.
Accommodation in Bora Bora
Bora Bora has lots of luxurious resorts and the highest concentration of overwater bungalows on the planet. Overwater bungalows easily rent for upwards of US$1,000 per night. If this is what you are after, there are fantastic resorts to choose from.
For budget travelers, Bora Bora nowadays has quite a few Airbnbs that are still not cheap but rent for much less money.
If you travel in winter, when the temperatures and the humidity are lower, then you can consider an Airbnb without air conditioning. These Airbnbs tend to be cheaper than the ones with A/C.
Airbnb Fare HeiHani Beach Bungalow in Bora Bora
Fare HeiHani has two bungalows on private land that borders the lagoon of Bora Bora. Beach bungalow has one medium-sized great room that serves as kitchen, dining room and living room, a bedroom with one queen size bed and a bathroom with a washing machine.
There is a TV and a fully equipped kitchen, but there is no air conditioning. Instead, there is a portable fan.
In front of the bungalows, there is a grassy area with loungers and a dock for small boats. A kayak, stand-up paddleboard and bicycle can be rented for an additional fee.
There is no sandy beach. The lot ends at a black-stone seawall, but the water there is only knee deep.
The lagoon view from the bungalow is obstructed by trees.
Sunrises over the lagoon can be amazing and the sun sets behind the mountain behind the bungalow.
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