For our honeymoon, we spent a week in Bora Bora in the French Polynesian Islands. The trip was June 11 to June 18, 2013. This was both our first time to Bora Bora and we did extensive research on best deals and local things to do. We live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where ocean waters are cold. We were both looking forward to the awesome views and clear waters of Bora Bora. In this post, I go over what we learned while planning, the flight there, what to do while in Bora Bora, and my other opinions.
Booking Our Trip to Bora Bora
Booking our trip to Bora Bora was quite an adventure in itself. Between deciding on the right hotel, finding the right package for things to do, and keeping our budget in mind, there were several options. There were some important aspects we absolutely wanted:
To visit the island of Bora Bora (and if budget allowed for it, other islands would be secondary).
Focus on water-based activities (i.e. jet skiing, snorkeling, scuba diving, sharks, and rays)
Budgeted total costs for two at $10,000.
We checked prices at Expedia and Costco for vacation packages for both the flight and hotel. The advantage to Costco packages are they are more customizable and many more of their plans included many of the meals at hotel restaurants.
Various Bora Bora online reviews pointed to the fact that food was incredibly expensive. Many people recommended bringing easily prepared food in the luggage or to purchase food from the one supermarket in the main town of Vaitape. We decided to allow ourselves to splurge on a few meals, but to otherwise keep the several meals simple (instant ramen, dried seaweed, granola bars).
Getting To Bora Bora
The first leg of our trip was to drive south from the SF Bay Area to LA. Like our other road trips to LA, we took I-5 straight through where we met with family for a quick dinner before heading out to LAX International Airport.
From LAX, we checked in two bags and carried on a backpack. We boarded Air Tahiti Nui with our assigned seats for our red-eye flight to Papeete, Tahiti. (I’m not 100% sure, but I believe all flights from LAX stop at Papeete). It was approximately an 8 hour flight and we arrived to our destination at 6 am (Papeete time).
After deboarding, we picked up our checked in bags and passed through customs (took around 40 minutes). Other than time spent waiting in line, this step of the process was simple.
Our connecting flight from Papeete to Bora Bora was a 40 minute flight. It was a much smaller propeller style plane where we boarded right on the tarmac. The plane was single aisle with two seats on either side. Most groups were parties of two, but there were some single travelers (probably locals). To insure you sit with your group, it’s better to wait in line inside the terminal.
Upon arrival to Bora Bora airport, the exit is again on the tarmac. Walking into the terminal, we are greeted by representatives from the various resorts on the island, about 8 resorts in all. Finding the Le Méridien booth was simple, and we were greeted with a fresh flower lei. From here, we boarded the hotels boat, headed to Le Méridien.
Experience at Le Méridien Bora Bora
We had an amazing time at the resort. From check-in the check-out, the staff was extremely friendly. For comparison, the service sector in Japan is also friendly, but in a strict way. In Bora Bora, the staff felt more like talking to a long lost friend.
Our Hotel room was absolutely amazing. We got an over-water bungalow with a view of Mt Otanamu. Sometimes, a picture is better than words. The hotel room had coffee maker with complimentary instant coffee and tea bags.
The Le Méridien private lagoon wasn’t critical to have, but turned out becoming a convenient feature. And although the variety and abundance of fish in their “Coral Garden” didn’t come close to anything out in the open ocean, we still ended up snorkeling there a few times. The most exciting thing we saw was an octopus. They do have free snorkel rentals, but we ended up buying and bringing our own.
A major difference that differentiates Le Méridien from other resorts in Bora Bora is their Turtle Sanctuary and Museum. I highly recommend the turtle feeding. After the explanation and the museum tour, you can sign up to swim with the turtles! Space are limited!
The City of Vaitape
Located on the main island, Vaitape is the largest city in Bora Bora. Even though it’s the largest, it was probably only a couple of streets long and can be explored in an hour. Most of the shops on the main street are selling Tahitian Pearls, which we did not have much of an interest in. That being said, visiting this town was still high on the todo list. Le Méridien runs a shuttle to this island (for a fee) and based on their schedule. In addition to the usual tourist trap, there is also a local grocery store, school, and doctor. Another reason for visiting Vaitape is we wanted food from a restaurant outside of the resort. We had to make a reservation with the restaurant from the hotel. Each restaurant would send a car to shuttle us from the Vaitape docks to the restaurant (and back).
Jet Ski / Shark and Ray Combo Tour (Moana Adventure Tours)
This is a must do if you visit Bora Bora, and we had a great time with Moana Adventure Tours. I had quite a few email correspondences with Philippe, and he responded within reason. They do only take cash, so bring enough to cover the price of the tour plus lunch. All in all, I’m very glad to have booked with them. At the same price, I would have only gotten the Jet Ski tour if I had booked with the resort… and we had an amazing time with great photos and videos (the GoPro paid off).
Jet Ski was the first portion of the tour, and this was only my second time ever on a jet ski. We had to catch the Anau shuttle (offered for free by Le Méridien) where they picked us up in a jeep and drove us to the company base. Then, with one other couple (a max of 4 jet ski per tour), we toured the main island of Bora Bora. There are a few stops to jump into the water, visit an island where the guide showed us how to crack open a coconut, get to the edible coconut “flesh”, and then extract the coconut milk! And even though the other couple we had on our tour weren’t the fastest on the jet ski, I had a great time making figure S behind the tour guide. Even the guide was doing tricks on his jet ski!
The company base is across the street from Bloody Mary’s, a popular restaurant and bar. We were there early, and were only one of a few patrons. Compared to food on the island, the food here was quite basic. Burgers and all things fried. But the environment was unique and if we had time to stay longer, would have had live music and dancing. We learned after that Bloody Mary’s is an American operation.
After lunch, we continued with the second part of the combo, starting with snorkeling in the coral garden with fishes. The guide routinely threw food out which attracted decently sized colorful fish! The water level here was deep, but the bottom was still in sight.
Next, we swam with string rays. This portion of the tour took place in a shallow waters. I could easily stand in the water, so swimming here isn't necessary. What you do need it some guts because the string rays were everywhere! I'd estimate around 20-30 sting rays circling the boat. I was afraid that when I jumped in, I might step on one and get stung. But once in water, expect the sting rays "wings" to brush up against your feet.
The final part of the afternoon invovled swimming with sharks (without a cage) in the open ocean! This part of the water was out in deep ocean, where the blue waters turned a nice dark blue and the bottom of the ocean not in sight. There were probably 4-5 sharks circling, average about 5 feet in length.
Examples of Cost
5 Nights in Overwater Bungalow with a View and Flight from LAX (for 2) = ~$8000
Jet Ski / Shark and Ray Combo Tour (for 2) = ~$400
A La Carte Dinner at Le Méridien (2 entrees, appetizer, water) = ~$100
Buffet Dinner at Le Méridien (for 2 with water) = ~$160
Shuttle by Le Méridien to Vaitape (for 2) = ~$50
Dinner at Vaitape (for 2 with alcoholic drinks) = ~$50