The Pursuit of Activeness

Bora Bora’s trademark lagoons are crystal clear, and unobstructed sunsets are nothing less than commanding 

By: By Jimmy Im


Because of the limited tourism (thus limited outfitters/tour operators) the best means of arranging any excursion is directly through any resort on the island. All resorts have activities desks where you can charge the activities to your room.

Hotel Bora Bora
The first resort in Bora Bora, established in 1961, still embraces a retro, authentic ambience with its 54 villas; the resort boasts the highest number of repeat guests. However, clients should book soon because the hotel will be closing in October and re-launching in time for its 50th anniversary.
Rates: Pool villas from $1,031
Commission: 10 percent

InterContinental Resort & Thalasso Spa
A modern flair keeps this only overwater bungalow property chic and trendy. Expect a young, jet-set clientele. Ecofriendliness is a highlight, as is their famous Deep Ocean Spa.
Rates: Bungalows from $1,350
Commission: 10 percent

Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa
This resort is the only one set on mountainous lava rock with villas perched on hills and 80 overwater bungalows. Its spa, with prime views of the resort below, is being expanded.
Rates: Overwater villas from $1,505
Commission: 10 percent

Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa
This member of Leading Small Hotels of the World embraces Tahitian elements (90 percent of the staff is local) and is more family friendly than the other properties.
Rates: Beach villas from $937
Commission: 10 percent

Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa
This private island resort has attentive service, award-winning rooms and major seclusion. If you’re not a celebrity, you’ll feel like one.
Rates: Suites from $1,237
Commission: 10 percent

Le Meridien Bora Bora
Boasting 99 bungalows (the 81 overwater bungalows are popular for its glass flooring), Le Meridien is a charming resort that includes a kid’s club and the spectacular Tipanie restaurant.
Rates: Bungalows from $1,053
Commission: None


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Effortlessly one of the most beautiful places in the world, Bora Bora’s trademark lagoons are crystal clear, and unobstructed sunsets are nothing less than commanding. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if you set a photo of this French Polynesian island your computer’s screensaver. Bora Bora’s laid-back ambience is so contagious that hotel employees often work barefoot, and one can lie in the sun all day without feeling wasteful. There’s virtually no iconic landmark or solid identity that spearheads tourism (like the pyramids in Cairo or New York’s Statue of Liberty). Quite simply, the staggering beauty of the natural landscape is the main attraction, luring visitors who want to feel submerged in tropical seclusion.

 An islet lined with overwater bungalows // © Jimmy Im
An islet lined with overwater bungalows
Bora Bora is 90 percent pure escape, 10 percent tourists (mostly honeymooners and paparazzi-skirting celebrities) due to its high prices that keep visitor traffic to a minimum. You can’t help but feel like you have the islands to yourself. Nightlife is nonexistent and shopping is limited to resort gift shops, but the handful of activities available are some of the world’s most interesting.

Swimming With Sharks
Sharks, truth be told, scare me to death, but my friend Michelle and I worked up the courage for a morning excursion to the middle of the lagoon to feed sting rays and baby black-tip sharks. Our native guide, Jay, assured us they were not harmful and the statistics of fatalities in French Polynesia remains at zero.

I always thought that activities around the island would be almost too laid-back for me. So, it was quite a nice surprise to get my heart pumping with adrenaline when a 10-foot lemon shark emerged 40 feet beneath me as I casually snorkeled above.

Sure enough, I discovered that the sharks were more afraid of us, and the sting rays warm up to you like puppies in need of affection. The rays, in fact, get so close that you get to smooth your hand on their backside.

A unique adventure, feeding these creatures is perhaps the most popular activity on the islands, and not the least bit daunting. They were quite lilliputian compared to the manta rays I saw, some as big as 15 feet. I gawked at them over at Hotel Bora Bora, where the sea creatures come out to play at night, attracted by the underwater light at the hotel’s dock.

Hotel Bora Bora (the first to be constructed in 1961) is arguably the most authentic, retaining “old school” Tahitian aesthetics that makes guests feel like they are truly in an exotic location — and perhaps a time warp. At the dock (one of the property’s highlights), a bread basket is provided to feed the swarm of fish, but it’s the gliding of the rays that makes the moment unforgettable.

For the Faint of Heart
Manta rays and black-tip sharks were a little too foreign for Michelle, but she felt right at home at Le Meridien’s Turtle Sanctuary.

The only one of its kind in French Polynesia, the turtle center offers guests the opportunity to swim with local hawksbill and green turtles in a natural lagoon enclosed in the middle of the resort. Baby turtles are raised in the nursery and released after three years when they are old enough to fend for themselves in the deep blue. Swimming with the turtles is an awe-inspiring moment and great for all ages. The turtles are harmless and there are very few places in the world where you can literally swim beside one. Tours can be arranged by contacting the concierge or activities desk of any Bora Bora resort.

Perhaps the diminutive, private island of Le Taha’a offers the most exclusive excursion. The neighboring island is a panoramic, seven-minute helicopter ride from Bora Bora. With only adequate room for one resort on the island (Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa, a Relais & Chateaux property), this spectacular retreat offers a full range of activities, including its own coral garden just past the pool and a tiny island just 100 walkable feet from the property, perfect if you really want to get away.

Once there, the resort’s in-demand, 20-minute helicopter adventure offer visitors a chance to see the gorgeous landscape of all Bora Bora — including various motus (islets), the sublime lagoons and Mount Otemanu — from an aerial view.

Everyone from Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes to Charlize Theron has escaped the big city to enjoy a Tahitian retreat, paying visits to the nearby
vanilla plantation (vanilla beans are one of French Polynesia’s leading exports). The family-run plantation is also a pearl farm, restaurant and gift shop that sells wholesale black pearls and pearl handicrafts.

Motoring Around
Most visitors take a Jet-Ski tour around the island where Mount Otemanu rises high and serves as a panoramic backdrop for the handful of five-star resorts that set up camp here.

Jet-Skiing in Bora Bora is one of the most exhilarating experiences, skimming over beautiful water that changes color. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see manta rays gliding under the surface too.

On our tour, we went Jet-Skiing around the motus, past various properties and above ubiquitous areas of coral gardens. Eventually, our guide led us to a private, uninhabited motu for a leisurely 4x4 ride through the forest.

Lush palms and trees bearing fruit awaited, and it was no doubt an interesting experience to explore the depth of one of the islands. He led us to a deserted beach where we watched the sea crash along the reef, and we collected various coral while our guide prepared fresh coconut and pineapple for a quick snack before we headed back.

While admiring the range of overwater bungalows from the Jet Skis was nothing short of outrageous, there was nothing quite like staying in one of these typical Tahitian lodgings overnight. Each property has a distinguished personality and history, so guests often “property hop” every few nights to get a taste of the various resorts. For instance, Hotel Bora Bora has the authentic allure, InterContinental is modern and chic and Bora Bora Nui is the only one perched on the hill.

As different as they are, the common medium all resorts share is the overwater bungalow (the very first one was erected in French Polynesia), which truly captures the exoticism of the islands. These accommodations are raised above the water on stilts, with a block of glass-panel flooring or see-through furniture that allows late-night tropical fish or ray watching.

Aside from the mushrooming of resorts — such as the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora’s scheduled debut this summer — not much has changed since the late ’60s, when Tahiti was a truly romanticized destination. Locals continue to offer warmth that radiates like the shimmering sun, and a blanket of stars at night promises another beautiful morning with breakfast brought to you from a canoe.