If you’re headed to this tropical island paradise, you will definitely want to know the best things to do in Bora Bora.
When planning an island vacation to a place like Bora Bora in French Polynesia, you don’t want to think about scheduling and activities. You probably just picture yourself on a beach holding a colorful drink with umbrellas and exotic fruit on the rim. While that’s a nice, relaxing fantasy, for most people doing that kind of nothing can quickly turn into boredom. Yet, fear not! There are plenty of things to do in Bora Bora and will offer you a rare chance to experience the island outside of your resort.
You can ascend the peaks of the extinct volcano in the center of the island, head to the local villages, or visit the amazing coral gardens in the island’s lagoon. For such a small place, plenty of things to do in Bora Bora offer experiences that will make you feel like you are in a different world.
First, A Little Bit About Our Hosts
Before you can figure out what all the best things to do in Bora Bora are, you need to know that this gorgeous little slice of the planet is more than just beach-side resorts. The first settlers arrived on the island in the Fourth Century. They discovered this green oasis in the ocean surrounded by a barrier reef, which creates an awesome lagoon. They named it “pora pora mai te pora,” which either loosely translates to “first son” or “created by the gods.” Eventually “pora pora” became the verbal shorthand for it. Because of the varied dialects of the Polynesian peoples, the name is also pronounced “bola bola” and, what we know it as, Bora Bora.
British conqueror James Cook sighted the island in the mid-18th Century, and by 1820 Protestant London Missionaries arrived on the island. For much of its history, a queen ruled Bora Bora. Yet, in 1888, when French colonials arrived, they deposed the queen and annexed the island as a French territory.
Bora Bora would prove to be a key staging area for the Allies in World War II. They build airstrips, bases, and armed the island with heavy guns. Yet, the second great war never touched the shores of Bora Bora, and the Allies closed down their base in 1946. In fact, one of the things to do in Bora Bora is to explore the remains of their presence. At least eight cannons remain on the island. You can visit them, orange-red with rust, still keeping watch over the inhabitants.
Today, Bora Bora is a top travel destination. However, if you find that you dread keeping to a schedule while on holiday, it might be best to plan your trip for the beginning or the tail end of the season. If you go during times when there are a lot of travelers, you will have to pay more attention to planning. Especially in the smaller areas, tours and activities can fill up quickly. Luckily, there are myriad options for the active traveler to choose from. Just keep an open eye and open mind, and you will find things to do in Bora Bora that will make memories to last your lifetime!
The Best Things to Do in Bora Bora
Now that we know more about the island, you can get a sense of it as a place that has far more than simply resorts and lounging on the beach. Below you will find a list of the ten best things to do in Bora Bora. There’s certain to be something you’ll love!
1. Mount Otemanu and Mount Pahia
One of the best things to do in Bora Bora is take a trip to the peaks of the long extinct volcano that gave birth to the islands. There are two major mountains on the island, Mount Otemanu and Mount Pahia. These stunning peaks are visible from almost everywhere you go. Yet, you can get very close to them either from the land or the air. Helicopter tours are available for both Otemanu and Pahia. It’s best to take these trips on clear, sunny days, so be sure to watch the weather.
However, seeing them from the air is not your only option. You probably didn’t think that mountain climbing was one of the things you can do in Bora Bora, but it is. While you can take vehicle tours up the mountains, there is also the option to hike them. Mount Otemanu is a good choice for people looking for a relaxing hike. Mount Pahia is the place for the hikers who want a challenge and to work up a good sweat. Still, whether not matter what things to do in Bora Bora you choose, these two giant guardians will watch over you wherever you go.
2. Matira Public Beach
It goes without saying that one of the main things to do in Bora Bora is to go to the beach. The resort where you stay will likely have a section of sand for you and your fellow guests to visit, but there is another option. Matira Beach is the only stretch of sand open to the public. Tourists, locals, and seasonal residents all come together here.
The beaches offered by the resorts are fine, but they are extensions of the hotel where you’re staying. Matira Beach feels less like a large, sandy wing of the resort and more like an actual, vibrant beach community. Located just four miles south of Vaitape, you can drive there or take a taxi. If you’re up for it, you can even rent a bicycle and ride there.
There are resorts on the beach and a number of shops and eateries. Despite being open to all who want to visit, the shoreline is rarely crowded. If you’re not sold, know that some of the island tours offered include a stop at Matira Beach. Therefore, you can check it out and come back on your own if you didn’t get enough time there.
3. 4x4 Excursions or Jet Skis
There are times to explore the natural wonder of your vacation destination at a slow and leisurely pace. However, there are also times where you want to experience the land and the sea a little faster. That’s when four-by-four and jet ski tours are one of the things to do in Bora Bora when you’re feeling a need for speed.
All over the island you can find places to rent jet skis, so you can zip around different parts of the lagoon. You can travel up and down the islands’ coasts, jumping and rolling with the waves. This might be a good early option, because you can find places you want to visit later as you zoom around on the surf.
In contrast, the four-by-four tours all over the island are the land-based version of jet skiing, though you’ll want to leave the driving to the pros. Still, you can take a trip deep into the recesses of the island, up the two mountains, or to a romantic private location where you can watch the sun set with loved ones. These tours can be bumpy or dirty, so make sure you know what you’re getting into. Since most of the guides are locals, you will learn both historical and cultural facts and the hidden secrets on the island.
4. Coral Gardens
A large barrier reef surrounds the island and its lagoon. So, naturally, one of the most common things to do in Bora Bora is to explore the magnificent coral formations hidden under the sea. Yet, one patch of coral formations stands out above the rest. Known as the Coral Gardens, this vast expanse of reefs can be found east of the main island. The Sofitel Marara is the closest resort, and a good landmark to help you find it.
The Coral Gardens are found in very shallow water, so all you really need to see them are goggles. But snorkeling allows you a chance to get an even closer look. Either way, it’s a great experience in the water for people at all diving levels, include those who never have before. It’s recommended that you visit these gardens with a tour operator, for an added level of safety. Of course, if you are a strong swimmer the reefs are about a 20-minute swim away from the main island.
Like most places in the lagoon, the Coral Gardens are full of exotic sea life. The fauna is bright and vividly-colored, and the animals are not phased that much by a few swimming humans. There is a consistent flow of visitors to the Coral Gardens, so this is not a place to avoid crowds. Additionally, the ground is mostly crushed coral and not sand, so it can be very sharp on bare feet. A pair of water socks should help nicely.
5. The Little Town of Vaitape
When it comes to things to do in Bora Bora, getting the urban experience is sadly not one of them. There are three relatively major cities on the island, the largest of which is Vaitape. However, there are no skyscrapers or towering buildings here. Rather, Vaitape is a densely packed collection of shops, hotels, and eateries. There are also two churches, including one built by the British Protestant missionaries in 1890. It sits near the base of Mount Otemanu. The other church, a Catholic church, sits more near the center of Vaitape.
Spanning about three blocks, you probably wouldn’t even need to spend a full day in the town to see all it has to offer. (Excludiing the Lagoonarium, one of the things to do in Bora Bora we discuss in detail below.) Still, it makes for a nice break from the resort atmosphere and truly feels like you are in a real place with real people. There are souvenir shops, local entertainers, and the offices of dozens of companies offering unique experiences on the island and the lagoon. There are also a handful of fine dining options, including an oceanside yacht club.
Additionally, some luxury shops dot the town, including one that is renowned for its black pearl jewelry. Sibani Perles is located in Vaitape, and you can visit to see their unique collections. Black pearls are just like regular pearls, save for the fact that the pearl farmers deliberately introduce the irritant to the oyster. That’s how they get their unique color. No matter what type of set you're looking for, Sibani Perles is sure to reveal several pearls to you.
6. Luxury Boat Tours
Much of the things to do in Bora Bora revolve around the gorgeous, expansive landscape. However, the other key feature of this part of the world is the vibrant lagoon surrounding the island. So, if you don’t get out on the water, you are arguably missing half the experience.
There are a variety of options, from simply renting speedboats, kayaks, or canoes to professional tours. You can take a trip on a glass-bottom boat that lets you view the amazing landscape under the sea. You can also have a leisurely day sailing on the lagoon. There are plenty of things for the experienced boater to do.
If you aren’t so sure of your sea skills, you can still test your sea legs. There are a number of boating tours led by professionals. These tours can take you to hidden lagoons and coves that not many people can get to. Look for tours where locals are the guides, because they tend to have the most intimate knowledge of the island. Some tours offer meals, but if they don’t remember to pack some food and drink for when you’re out at sea.
7. Snorkeling and Swimming with Sharks
One of the things to do in Bora Bora that you don’t want to miss is the chance to see the beauty of the undersea environment up close. For experienced scuba divers, you can find tours near Tupai, Happti, Muri Muri, and others on the island. They have tours for all skill levels. You can see the deep water reefs, large sharks, rays, and massive schools of fish. The sharks in Bora Bora are believed to not be dangerous for humans, but nonetheless be on guard and listen to the guides. If the time of year is right and luck is with you, some divers report seeing whale pods, including humpback whales during their dives.
If you aren’t scuba-certified and don’t feel like getting certified, don’t think that there aren’t any undersea options for you. There are countless places in Bora Bora that offer snorkeling. You can examine reefs and interact with the animals and plants that call shallow water their home. This is a great activity for families as well. Often the water where you are snorkeling is shallow enough to stand in. The animals are typically smaller than those in deeper water, and they will be less intimidating to the kids. Most people who do this often cite it as one of their favorite things to do in Bora Bora.
8. Bora Bora Lagoonarium
Located on an island just off of the main island, this natural aquarium is one of the best things to do in Bora Bora. It’s a family-owned attraction, and you book your time with them for the morning or the afternoon. They even provide transportation from the hotels in the area, so you don’t have to worry about getting there.
The Lagoonarium is not man-made but is rather a section of the natural lagoon created by the barrier reef. It’s home to a vast cross-section of the local marine wildlife. They have turtles, rays, huge schools of fish, and even sharks. If visiting the attraction isn’t close enough for your tastes, you can even book time with wildlife experts for snorkeling sessions. You can also take a canoe tour and end the day with a barbeque picnic on the tiny island.
Staffed by marine biologists, the Lagoonarium is a wonderful educational resource and a great place to take the kids. There are fun exhibits detailing the flora, the fauna, and even the geological history of the island. You can even take part in a session where you sponsor the planting of new coral, helping to maintain the reef for future generations to enjoy. If you have the time, this is a wonderful place to spend part of your day.
9. Do What You Can to Give Back
As we noted, Bora Bora was an independent kingdom until French colonists forced the abdication of the queen. While it’s a go-to destination for any tropical traveler, there are more than 10,000 people who live on the island all year. So, one of the best things to do in Bora Bora is give back to the people who’ve given us this gift of sharing their home with us. You can look into what sort of charities are active on the island, but all you really have to do is be mindful of where you are.
The economy of the island is almost wholly-centered around tourism, so do your best to give locals your business when you can. Since the late 19th Century, there has been a British Protestant presence on the island and is a great resource to find out the best ways you can give back to the communities on the island, either with your time, money, or other talents. Do whatever you feel comfortable doing, but one of the best things to do in Bora Bora is meet the people who call it home. At the very least, don’t leave the island worse off than when you arrived.
It’s important to remember that you are vacationing in a place where people live. That’s why so many of the activities focus on the history, the culture, and facts about the island. Bora Bora is an ecological marvel, and if you are lucky enough to see it firsthand, remember to treat the land, the sea, and, most importantly, the people with respect.
10. Okay, Just Relax
Above, we cautioned you that sitting out on the beach with a drink or a good book was not one of the best things to do in Bora Bora. As you can see from the above listed activities, that was true. However, just because there are other cool things to do on the island, you shouldn't forget to take some quiet time to just soak in the surroundings.
Maybe lounging on the beach isn’t your thing. If so, try to find a moment of quiet. Bora Bora is a beautiful place. Any chance you get to spend time in this rare corner of the Earth, you should remember to appreciate it. Clear your mind of all your worries from home or your tightly-packed activities schedule, and just bask in the quiet beauty of this precious island. It can be difficult in our fast-paced world to slow down to appreciate our surroundings.
So, whether you’re on the beach, off-roading through the wilderness, or any of the other wonderful things to do in Bora Bora, take a minute to appreciate where you are. It doesn’t have to be long, just a few seconds. Trust us, that moment will stay with you forever.
There Are Plenty More Things to Do In Bora Bora!
Using our suggestions, you can definitely plan an exciting trip to Bora Bora packed with action. However, there are way more things to do in Bora Bora than could ever fit on any list. Those helping you with our travel — the hotel concierge, local entrepreneurs, and friends who’ve been there before—know hidden gems of the islands. So, you’ll probably want to take their advice, too. But, if you want to get the full Bora Bora experience, the activities listed above are the way to do it.
In the unlikely event you can find an appointment for your preferred activity, don’t worry. The great thing about Bora Bora is that if all you end up doing is lounging on the beach, it’s still a pretty good day.
Have you been to Bora Bora or are you planning to go? What are some of your favorite things to do in Bora Bora? Let us know in the comments!