– Traveled Spring 2017 –
Visiting Bora Bora
Bora Bora is one of the main islands in the French Polynesia’s archipelago. Traveling from island to island can be done via a small cruise ship or by plane by taking local flights starting in Pepeéte, Tahiti. Each island in the French Polynesian archipelago has its own beauty; no island experience is the same. My wife and I took the red eye to Tahiti where we changed planes to Bora Bora. There are a few routes available, but taking the red eye allowed us to have a full day in Bora Bora. We were checking in at the resort around 10:30 a.m. so we had a full day on the island. Bora Bora is a small island within the French Polynesia’ group of islands. Bora Bora is a small island that is surrounded by small Motus (small island) where most of all the resorts that offer bungalows over water are located. Bora Bora is know by its calm waters (during the dry season) which are very suitable for many activities such as snorkeling, diving and other water sports.
The local language is Tahitian; but many speak French (this area was a French colony) and some English so it easy to communicate with the people.
The currency in Bora Bora is the Franc (CFP franc) and the exchange rate is about 100 francs to 1 Dollar (depending on the day, it can fluctuate between .90 cents and 1.19 dollars). During our stay the exchange was 100 francs for .99 cents. We rounded it up to 1 dollar to make the exchange easier. Another way to make the conversion easy is to remove the last two zeros from any price when looking at prices in the local currency. Many of the local establishments take credit cards; the small ones only take visa and require a minimum charge.
On the return flight try to take the red eye back to LA, that way you have a full day on the Island. There is a flight that leaves the island at 5:30 to connect with a flight in Tahiti around 11:00 p.m. An interesting fact, the checking counter is located outside the airport and doesn’t open until 3 hours before the flight. We arrived to the airport around 7:30 p.m. and had to wait outside (wide covered section between the street and the checkin counter), fortunately a couple of shops were open so we could spend some time. This airport has three restaurants, one outside (between the national and international terminal) and one inside the national (closed at night) and international departing lounge. The one inside the terminal has a limited assortment of foods (think Starbucks but with local food) so my suggestion is that you purchase food at the outside restaurant before you go thru immigration.
Bora Bora is known for is black pearls, and like diamonds, they are categorized by shape, size and color. At the airport, prior to boarding your local flight, you can grab a few different brochures, provided by the different stores which explain how to select a pearl.
- If you are a US citizen, a visa is not required but you need a valid passport for a least six months after your return date. Non-US citizens, check here for visa requirements.
- The French Polynesian Islands are located near to the equatorial line, in the south hemisphere; because of this proximity, there is always 12 hours of sunlight. The sun raises around 6:00 a.m. and sets around 6:00 p.m.
- There are so many palm trees throughout the islands that coconuts are readily available; coconuts are know as “the peanut of the islands”
- There is only one main read that circles the island, so technically you can never get lost.
- Credit cards are accepted in stores throughout the island, but Visa is preferred over American Express – specially in the smaller stores and require a minimum purchase amount.
- Tips are not required nor expected, but are welcomed; we gave tips to people that went out of their way to make our experience unforgettable.
Transportation and Accommodations
There is only one airline that servers the island, Air Tahiti; if you plan to book your own flight, make sure to book it within a few months in advance; flights book fast. Some islands have small runways to accommodate a variety of small planes carrying between 8 to 68 passages and seats are not assigned.
The main mode of transportation between the Airport, resorts and the main island is by boat. All resorts have their own boat and schedule to take you to/from the main island and the airport. Depending on which side of the island you are, you may need to take a taxi to Vaitape (main city) or other locations with in the island.
There is no need to rent a car to go around the island since it is very small an there are very few roads; basically there is the main road around the island. The airport is located on a Motu and thus no connecting roads to the rest of the island. Some resorts provide transportation to/from their facilities; there is no need to schedule this service ahead of time. Many resorts are aware of the flight schedule so the boat will be waiting for you when you arrive. If the hotel/resort doesn’t provide transportation, there is a ferry that will take you to the main island.
There are a few locations in Vaitape (main city) where you can rent a scooter or a roadster for a few hours. Avis is located right across the street from where the ferry docks. A few buildings to the left of Avis, there is a local rental agency.
The Pear Beach Resort, Conrad, Intercontinental, Le Méridien, St. Regis and Four Seasons are located on a Motu, which makes them secluded from the rest of the island and resorts; this is great if you are looking for peace and serenity. Because of the isolated location, the beaches are used only by the people from the resort, so they are not crowded. All these resorts have a boat that travels to the main island and predefined times (check with your resort for a specific schedule) and can, for a few, pick you up outside the predetermined schedule. Many of the resorts offer over the water bungalows with decks that allow you to jump right into the water from your room.
The Intercontinental, Sofitel Hotel and Hotel Matira among others, are located in the main island and they may offer transportation to Vaitape; and most likely you can arrange transportation.
Where to go
There are many water activities around the island, snorkeling; diving, so choices are plenty. The one excursion that I highly recommend is one offered by the Lagunarium; we booked this tour through Costco so unfortunately I don’t have a main contact t o make reservations; however, this local number (printed on the side of their truck) may help: 67-71-34. At the time of our visit they offered two excursion, 1) a half day and 2) a full day; the difference between the two that the full day excursion includes lunch and staying at the Motu for a relaxing time on the beach. I recommend that you book the full day if you have the time. The tour starts with a pickup at your hotel and they drive you to the boat. Once on the boat, the first stop is the south reef to swim with black tip sharks. This is an amazing experience; as the boat arrives to the reef, you can see the black tip sharks starting to circle the boat; once the boat has anchored, you can descend the boat around the coral; the depth is about 10 feet. Once in the water, the sharks continue to circle the boat and the people in the water. During our excursion there were about 20-25 black tip sharks between 5 to 7 feet in length. Some sharks will get within one to two feet from a person and they will turn away. This is very exciting and trilling since you are swimming with nature, with no protection around you. In this area, there were also a few tropical fish and stingray.
The next stop on the tour is the coral garden, another coral reef closer to the main island and full of tropical fish. The guides will provide you with some bread to feed the fish. In order to do so, cup the bread with your two hands and use your thumbs to slowly release the bread; soon enough you will be surrounded by hundreds of fish.
The last stop of the trip is the Lagunarium. There is where you can see a variety of wild see animals such as turtles, fish, eels, etc. In addition, there are a few 10-11 feet lemon sharks that you can swim along with. In the same place there is a black shark, about 11 feet in length that you can ride it by holding on to the black torso fin. Once this excitement is over, they will provide you with a local lunch; one of the best local foods that I had during my stay; it included fish, barbecue chicken, rice, potatoes, fruit and a local dessert.
One of the famous restaurants on the island is Bloddy Mary’s which has been visited by many famous individuals (you can see their picture on a board, at the entrance of the restaurant). Once in the restaurant they will take you to a table where the food is displayed in a bed of ice; after the explanation of each dish, you get to select it and they will cook it for you. The restaurant floor is sand, and the seats are tree stumps, no cushions or back rest; this adds to the experience.
Another restaurant is the Lagoon by Jean-Georges at the St. Regis will provide you with an unforgettable experience. Start with drinks on the patio watching the sunset and then proceed to the restaurant for a wonderful dinner experience, from the service, ambiance and food. The restaurant is located on top of an aquarium and it has some sections of glass on the floor all around the room to view sea life while dining. If you are not staying at the St. Regis make sure to make reservations prior to leaving for your trip in order to ensure that you get a table. Work with your hotels to arrange transportation. T
here are a few menu options to select from; one menu options a 5 course meal and another one is from the regular menu; we opted for the regular menu and selected the Uravena and the Crusted Black Papio with Spices and Nuts, both local fishes – very good choices. Updated 03-2019 – The website has been updated and there is no longer a menu. You may want to call the restaurant and see what plates are available.
For a more local flavor, restaurant Aloe Café is located in the Shopping Center Le Pahia which offers local foods, lunch specials, pastries, ice cream and drinks at an affordable price. Portions are good for one person, not enough for two people to share. Look for the yellow tables at the end of the shopping center.
Most of the stores, pharmacy and markets are located on the west side of the island, There are two main stores in Vaitape, Umart and Chin Lee; both offer a variety of food products and prices are very reasonable compared with the resort prices. A 500ml bottle of water at the resort cost 500 cpf; a bottle twice as big 1,00ml will cost 120 cpf. Both locations are located within walking distance of the Ferry landing toward the north (left) as you face the main street; however, Chin Lee is the closest one, but is the smaller of the two.
If you are looking for pearls, make sure to pickup a brochure at the airport in Pepeéte. They will provide a map with the location of their store and a short explanation of how to select Pearls. The main stores in Bora Bora are Sibani Pearls, Deep Sea Pearls, and O.P.E.C; the stores are small and don’t look too elegant but don’t judge a book by its cover and concentrate on the pearls
Shopping Center Le Pahia is located to the north of the ferry terminal where you will find two if the pearl stores, the Deep Sea Pearls and Sibani Pearl; in addition you will find a camera store, a souvenir store and a small but flavorful restaurant.
For the resorts that are located at the east side of the island, there is a small store located across the street to the right of the boat landing for the St. Regis, Intercontinental and Le Méridien resorts. The food selection is limited but there is a good selection of bottle waters and local bears.
The duty free store in the international terminal in Pepeéte is another place to purchase local souvenirs. I usually don’t recommend purchasing at the duty free stores because of the price, but this is the exception, prices at the store are about 30% less than what you will pay at the small islands. For example, in Bora Bora, The resort’s gift shop was selling a set soaps for 1,500 cfp Franc (about 15 Dollars); the same soap at the duty free area was 7,500 cfp Franc (about 7.5 Dollars). This ratio was the same with other products in the store.