Author James Michener called Bora Bora "the most beautiful island in the world," which may be a stretch, though its steep mountain peak and brilliant lagoon certainly are beautiful.
Bora has been targeted by some travel writers as the French Polynesian island where tourism has gotten out of control—too many hotels, too many people, too much traffic. The island, 160 miles northwest of Papeete, does get a lot of visitors (many of them from Europe and the U.S.), but it's still a far cry from a Cancun- or Florida-style buildup.
Some of the bustle results from the fact that Bora is rather small compared to larger tourist islands such as Moorea; in a half-day you can easily peddle a rental bicycle the 20 miles around the island.
Yet, in that small area, Bora Bora offers attractions from black pearl boutiques and fancy restaurants lining the roade to snorkeling among the myriad lagoon fish. The amazingly clear blue-green water alone is enough to satisfy most visitors.
Black pearls are an important industry in French Polynesia, and, as visitors quickly discover, they are heavily marketed to tourists in Bora Bora. Every shop seems to be selling pearls, and The Farm also offers tours that let you see how they're created.
Couples Retreat, starring Vince Vaughn, was filmed at the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort.
The ashes of French author and sailor Alain Gerbault, who introduced soccer to French Polynesia, are buried on Bora Bora.
Magasin Chin Lee, the island's oldest general store, is still an important gathering place for local residents.
Hinano beer, the local brew, is named after the flower of the pandanus plant, which smells somewhat like beer. The leaves of this same plant are used to weave local hats and baskets.
Shopping on Bora Bora revolves around handicrafts, art and pearls. The Artisans Market near the wharf in Vaitape is a good place to shop for pareus, beachwear, T-shirts, black coral jewelry, woodcarvings and mass produced souvenirs.
Handicrafts made in the islands are the least expensive mementos to take home. Favorites include woven-pandanus baskets, tapa-cloth decorations, hand-painted pareus (fabric wraps worn as a skirt or dress) and intricate wood carvings such as tiki statues, war clubs and ukuleles.
Products made from monoi (coconut) oil, such as soaps and skin lotions, also make nice gifts that are relatively inexpensive. Tamanu oil (extracted from a local tree nut) works well for sunburns and healing wounds, with a variety of oils and lotions available. The local cure-all, noni juice, is sold in 1-qt bottles. We recommend you shop in the grocery stores for such items.
A more personal (and painful) decoration is the tattoo. Polynesia was one of the places where the practice originated, and many residents—especially men—still proudly wear tattoos. A lot of talented artists work in the islands, many of them basing their work on ancient designs.
Seafood rules in this watery world, and a common local delicacy is poisson cru, raw fish marinated in coconut milk. Also popular, tuna and mahimahi are prepared in a variety of ways—don't miss the opportunity to try them in vanilla sauce. In fact, rich sauces and other aspects of French cuisine are a big part of cooking on Bora Bora.
Ask about island nights where Polynesian dancing comes with a buffet of island delicacies. Most resorts have one at least once a week. You should make a point of eating out once or twice rather than taking all meals at your resort. Many of the restaurants provide free transfers to those with reservations.
Two types of eateries are available: roulottes (food trucks—most complete with stools and a dining counter) and "snacks" (small restaurants that usually serve sandwiches and basic fare such as chow mein and sashimi). You can find good food at both, but use discretion when making your choice.
Dos & Don'ts
Do pick up a fish identification guide so you'll know what you're looking at when you're snorkeling or diving.
Do sign up for one of the shark- and ray-viewing lagoon tours offered at Bora Bora. Be aware that these trips involve getting in the water with feeding reef sharks, something dozens of visitors do every day without incident. If you're not convinced, it's also possible to stay in the boat for that part of the tour.
Do take along everything you need (from camera supplies to sunscreen) if you want to save money. Prices for most items are far higher than what you'll pay at home. Also consider stowing a few food items in your suitcase to save on a trip or two to the pricey restaurants.
Don't be frightened if you find a gecko in your room (usually you'll find more than one). They're harmless unless you're an insect, though their high-pitched "barking" can be a strange sound to wake up to.
Do book flights and hotels well in advance, especially if you're interested in the high-end resorts or if your vacation falls during a school holiday.
Do invest in a pareu and experiment with a few of the many ways to wear it.
Do take in the view of tombstone-like Mount Otemanu from the pier at Bloody Mary's Restaurant and Bar.
Passport/Visa Requirements: For a stay of up to 90 days, citizens of Canada and the U.S. need a valid passport and proof of onward passage. Passports should be valid for at least six months after the date of entry. Reconfirm travel document information with your carrier before departure.
Languages: French, Tahitian, Marquesan, English.
Voltage Requirements: 110 volts.
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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon
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