A Bora Bora beach (Photo: Tim McKenna)
You did it. The bags are packed, your Air Tahiti Nui ticket is in hand and your friends are doing their best to restrain fits of jealousy. Next stop: Bora Bora. But now that you have pulled the trigger to travel to the jagged green escarpments and lapis lagoon of this bucketlister, you want to be sure that you spend every precious minute doing something #OMG glorious.
Here, then, is your Bora Bora bucket list, the seven things you have to do during a weeklong stay that will upgrade your Bora visit to epic status.
Shark and Ray Tour and Private Motu Picnic
Swimming with the rays (Photo: Tim McKenna)
You will always remember the shallows at the southeast end of Bora Bora Lagoon as the place you swam with sharks. And stingrays. Sure you hesitate before plunging into the crystalline waters where sleek gray shapes patrol your boat’s perimeter, but your skipper, the affable Bora native Jean Francois “Fan Fan” Ferrand, encourages you with a big smile and a heavily accented “It’s cool, no problem.”
Next thing you know, you’re in chest-deep water watching his first mate feed the stingrays, which brush by you and poke their blunt noses into your underwater camera. The black tip reef sharks follow, and after 40 minutes that seem like 10, you clamber back onboard giggling like a school kid. Your reward is a delicious island-style lunch feasting on poisson cru, freshly barbecued mahi, and local fruit on the private motu, or islet, owned by Fan Fan’s family. Your middle name is now Adventure.
Circle-Island WaveRunner and ATV Tours
An ATV ride with a view (Photo: matirajettours.com)
Bora Bora is one of the most remarkable combinations of surf and turf you can imagine: a vast lagoon that every hundred yards transforms into another shade of blue you seem to recall as your favorite childhood Crayon color. Then there is majestic Mt. Otemanu and its cascade of jagged hills that descend to the shore. Explore both with Matira Jet Tours, which offers combo deals packaging guided circle-island tours on new Wave Runners followed by trail rides on quad ATVs. You’ll have the best seat in the house for cruising over the lagoon’s coral gardens and taking in cinematic trailside vistas that overlook the full sweep and grandeur of Bora Bora and the neighboring islands.
Island Sunset and Cocktails with Yachties and Locals
MaiKai is the place for live music by the water (Photo: MaiKai Marina and Yacht Club/Facebook)
With all that adventuring under your belt, you’ve probably worked up a thirst. If a craft cocktail or glass of French wine paired with a soulful South Seas sunset sound about right, navigate to Bora’s sole town of Vaitape, where you’ll find the MaiKai restaurant anchored at the MaiKai Marina and Yacht Club. This is where everyone from megayacht owners to gypsy sailors and locals sidle up for live music and ocean-front views in a welcoming ambiance of island-style swank. It’s also where you’ll find an impressive wine and cocktail list paired with an equally notable menu featuring freshly caught seafood overseen by Tahitian chef Teiva Tapare, a veteran of LA’s famed L’Orangerie. Manuia (cheers)!
Romantic Dinner on a Private Island
A romantic private dinner at the Sofitel (Photo: Sofitel Resort Bora Bora Marara)
It’s an open secret on Bora Bora that Cupid works overtime here. The place is drop-dead gorgeous and can seduce even the most jaded heart. So how do you set the stage for that ultimate romantic moment? A private, toes-in-the-sand dinner illuminated by tiki torches with moonlit Mt. Otemanu setting the backdrop usually does the trick.
Throw in Tahitian dancers, a starter that includes Champagne at the Sofitel Private Island’s coveted perch overlooking the lagoon, and sophisticated fusion cuisine marrying French technique and local flavors and you have all the ingredients for an experience that’s tres magnifique.
The overwater spa at the Four Seasons Bora Bora (Photo: Four Seasons)
You’ve come seeking bliss in Bora, so why not go to one of the traditional sources. For centuries, taurumi massage has been used throughout French Polynesia to relax sore muscles and restore energetic balance. Sound familiar? Since you’re here, go big and experience Taurumi, or the traditionally themed Kahaia Haven treatment, at the Four Seasons Bora Bora spa. Elements like fragrant footbaths, transparent floors under massage tables with lagoon views, and a remarkable spa menu brimming with island elements like local Kahaia oil and intoxicating monoi (coconut oil and Tahitian gardenia) ensure your own slice of heaven in Bora Bora.
Get Wet With Bora’s Best
Sailing in Bora Bora’s iconic lagoon (Photo: Eric Hiss)
Bora Bora is all about getting wet: swimming, paddling, SUP yoga, diving… you name it. Sure you can just go rent a paddleboard, but why not experience Bora’s iconic lagoon with one of Tahiti’s top watermen and trainers. French ex-pat Stephan Lambert has spent 20 years here and knows the best spots for adventures like SUP expeditions and sunset sails in his Polynesian sailing canoes.
If you’re up for a challenge, the annual Bora Bora Liquid Festival he puts on every December features everyone from Olympic Gold Medalists to weekend warriors competing in SUP, swim and outrigger races, all paired with beach parties and an unequaled opportunity to connect with locals.
Your Permanent Bora Bora Souvenir
Marama Olson’s tattoo work (Wim Lippens)
Jimmy Buffett famously sang that a tattoo is a “permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.” But if you always want to feel as if you’re in Bora, a Tahitian-style tattoo might be the answer. Don’t expect colorful flames or hearts here; tattoos in Polynesia represent deep tradition and are done by master “tatau” artists (and yes, that’s the origin of the word) in black ink with designs representing family ties, personal histories, and animal totems. One of Tahiti’s best is located in Bora and his designs are truly fine art. You’ll find revered artist Marama Olson in his small shop near Bora’s eye-popping Matira Beach. Reach him on Facebook or ask your hotel concierge to make a booking for you, everyone knows him.
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Award-winning travel writer and blogger Eric Hiss regularly navigates the world in search of adventures, preferably on islands.