Bora Bora Overview
Bora Bora is the haute haunt for honeymooners, celebrities and celebrities on their honeymoons -- newlyweds Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban reportedly stayed in an over-the-water villa at a cost of $15,000 per night. And a meal or drink at the island's famous Bloody Mary's Restaurant & Bar, which has hosted stars from Willie Nelson to Nelson Rockefeller, is as much a part of the Bora Bora experience as swimming in the gorgeous blue-green lagoon three times the size of the island's actual landmass. What's good news for cruise passengers is that it's cheaper to visit Bora Bora by sea than on a land-based vacation -- and you generally get a two-day call.
The island is a high-end playground dependent on tourism (i.e. you'll find more resorts than old fishing villages and simple lifestyles here), but it's still not as slick and Hollywood-chic as you might expect. Internationally acclaimed novelist James A. Michener once wrote that Bora Bora was the world's most beautiful island, and we have to think he was in the right ballpark with that one. Within the warm turquoise waters and snow white ring of sand is a mountainous interior dominated by two majestic peaks -- Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu, the remnants of an extinct volcano.
You can make a day of it in Bora Bora simply lounging on the beach or floating in the lagoon. But if you find it surprisingly difficult to do nothing, as so many of us do, there are active pursuits to enjoy. Bora Bora is much more geared to outdoor excursionists than shoppers or culture vultures; snorkeling and scuba diving are world class, with surprisingly friendly sharks and rays. Bicycles are the recommended method of transport; you can easily circle the whole island, stopping for sightseeing and shopping along the way, in a couple of hours.
Bora Bora Quick Facts
Take in the island's highlights -- on and off road -- on a four-wheel drive adventure. The open-air, six-passenger safari vehicle circles the island and ascends several hills for views of the harbor, Faanui Bay and Matira Beach. Stops include a WWII naval gun site. The highlight for shoppers is a visit to a local artist's studio who hand-paints pareos; make sure you request a stop there. Editor's Note: The ride is very bumpy and may not be suitable for those with back problems. Pregnant travelers should not take this tour.
Shark and ray feeding is a once-in-a-lifetime experience; Passengers don snorkeling equipment (minus flippers) and swim amongst affectionate stingrays (you are encouraged to kiss them -- that's how sweet they are) and black-tipped sharks (not threatening, and they don't come very close). The tour also includes a snorkeling stint in the golden coral banks that surround Bora Bora -- the best snorkeling on the island. Raanui Tours operates three-hour trips.
If your cruise ship hasn't arranged for a private motu (or island beach on the outskirts of the lagoon), head for Matira Beach, a 15-minute trip by car from the pier at Vaitape. Other options include some of the resort beaches (which prefer cruise passengers also eat a meal there); among them are the Hotel Bora Bora and Sofitel Marara Resort.
French and Tahitian are the official languages and both are commonly used, but English is spoken and understood in most restaurants and tourism establishments.
By Car: Avis and Europcar have offices across from the Vaitape pier; expect to pay just shy of $100 for the day for a compact car. You can also rent bicycles (about $15 a day) and scooters (about $65 a day) in Vaitape.
By Bus: Le Truck is the island's bus service but its service is highly irregular and not recommended.
By Taxi: Taxis are available at the pier and operate a $5 shuttle between the pier and Bloody Mary's or the beach.
Where You're Docked
Ships typically anchor in Pofai bay near Vaitape, the island's main settlement; you'll tender to Vaitape.
Staying in Touch
To make a long distance call from Bora Bora you must purchase a phone card; they come in a variety of increments. Internet access is available at Cafe L'Appetisserie at the back of the Centre Commercial La Pahia just north of the wharf.
The can't-miss lunch spot on Bora Bora is Bloody Mary's (689-67-72-86; the restaurant doesn't take reservations for lunch though they are accepted for dinner -- and highly recommended). This is a fun, casual joint with actual sand floors (you can check your shoes at the front!), great water views and numerous claims to celebrity patronage. Freshly caught seafood takes center stage at dinnertime, but lunches are a bit simpler and a lot more affordable with items from cheeseburgers to fish sandwiches. Be sure to check out the funky, open-air restrooms complete with waterfall sinks and phallic toilet flushers. Open for lunch and dinner every day except Sunday.
Local Favorite: Another casual option is La Bounty, in Matira between Hotel Maitai Polynesia and Bora Bora Beach Resort (689-67-70-43, reservations recommended). The restaurant dishes up Italian and French specialties at reasonable prices for this region. Pizza and pasta dishes are offered as well as fish in French sauces. Open for lunch and dinner every day except Monday.
Luxe Lunch: TOPDive (689-60-50-50, reservations required), in the Vaitape resort of the same name, is a French restaurant open for lunch and dinner every day -- and is considered the finest eatery in all of French Polynesia. It's extremely romantic, with soaring ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows offering beautiful views of the lagoon. Their menu is seasonal but you can expect a lot of seafood.
Best Overall Tour: Circle the island for 22 miles on the Highlights of Bora Bora excursion; at Taihi Point, you'll have a great view of Mount Otemanu, the 2,400-ft. peak that towers above the island. Other points of interest include the main villages of Vaitape, Faanui and Anau (and their mysterious maraes and open-air temples). About 2 1/2 hours.
Best for Water Lovers: You don't even need to know how to swim to experience Aqua Safari, a helmet dive. After riding out to an area teeming with colorful fish on a boat, walk along the bottom of the ocean without even getting your hair wet in a weighted helmet. Guides provide a chunk of French baguette (for feeding the sea life, not for breakfast!). About 2 hours.
Best for Kicking Back: If your ship overnights in Bora Bora, relax and watch the sun set beyond the sparkling lagoon and emerald landscape on a catamaran. A Champagne Sunset Sail excursion includes Champagne and Polynesian music. About 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
In Vaitape you'll find a few shops selling souvenirs and jewelry, plus a handful of restaurants (all closed on our Sunday evening troll for dinner, sadly) -- but most folks get out of town, whether on a ship-sponsored tour or independently.
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