Known worldwide as the honeymoon island, Bora Bora is considered the ultimate dream destination. Home to untold luxury and natural beauty this island is the true definition of paradise. Unfortunately the luxury aspect was out of reach on my humble budget but I did get to experience other aspects of paradise by backpacking Bora Bora.
Located on the Leeward section of the Society Island Archipelago, Bora Bora has been the world’s top luxury travel destination for decades. But before the tourism industry took a hold of this small lagoon paradise Bora Bora was playing a larger roll in World War 2. During the war little known Bora Bora became a resupply depot for the US Navy. And after the war the beauty of Bora Bora became widespread, developing into the luxury destination it is today.
Bora Bora is surrounded by a multi-hued turquoise lagoon, crafted from it’s coral reef. Besides providing stunning water this coral reef protects the internal lagoon and has created multiple small motus that house high end luxury resorts and over water bungalows.
With most of the resort development contained to the motus the main island of Bora Bora is relatively undeveloped (the resorts try their hardest to keep their guests and money contained to the resort only). But for us budget minded individuals staying on the main island is the only way to afford a few days in absolute paradise.
The main city of Vaitape is home to most of the island’s population and it is where you will start, after a quick ferry ride from the motu airport to the main island. In Vaitape you have access to 2 grocery stores along with a slim handful of restaurants and fruit stands. There are a couple boutique shops and pearl stores in town but these are overpriced and geared to the resort tourists.
There is no public transportation on Bora Bora and hitchhiking was slightly difficult, even on the main stretch of the island, Vaitape to Matira Point, it took us a long time to get a ride. Most people work at the resorts and not on the main island, leaving very little traffic except around sunset or early morning. On the backside of the island, away from town, vehicles are definitely few and far between.
In Viatape you can rent bicycles, scooters and even tricycles. I recommend renting bicycles to explore the island. Bora Bora is stunning and it is not too difficult to cycle around.
Unfortunately Bora Bora does not have much for budget accommodation on the island yet but things are changing and prices are getting more reasonable. AirBnB has made a huge impact to find cheaper accommodation and a few budget minded guest houses are now open.
Camping is another story, to our persistent attempts Emma and I found out that the campground recommended in the Lonely Planet, 10th edition is closed, and it has been for quite a while. When we were biking around the island we found a homemade campground sign, located on the northeast side, close to Fitiiu Point, but we could not find the owner or anyway to contact them, also we did not see anything to indicate that you could truly camp here.
I would not recommend showing up to the island will all of your hope into camping. It might not be a real thing. We stayed at Sunset Hill Lodge which was nice. Our room was big, clean, we had AC in the room along with our own kitchen and bathroom.
Rent a bicycle – Biking around the island is definitely something you should do! It is cheap and this way you get to leisurely explore the whole island. We rented bikes from the Avis shop in Vaitape and got a discount through our accommodation.
Visit the WW2 cannons – While biking around the island make sure you stop by and check out the various WW2 cannons left behind from the US Navy. They are scattered around the island but the most accessible ones are on Fitiiu Point. You do not need a tour but there is a small entry fee.
Hiking Mount Pahia – I unfortunately did not get the chance to hike when I was here. Like everywhere else in French Polynesia most of the information is geared towards you hiring an expensive guide. But from what I have gathered talking to people this hike is actually one that you can do on your own. It takes over 4 hours and you must do it when the weather is dry, even if it rained the night before you should avoid hiking. To find the trail head go to the main town of Vaitape and take the road directly south of the Protestant Church. Follow the road to a mango grove where you then veer left to find the bottom of the cliff and start the hike.
Matira Point – Located on the southern tip of the Bora Bora, this small but nice stretch of sand is the only beach on the main island. It’s a good place to relax, the water is shallow and superb.
Lagoon Tour – Since you are in paradise make sure you can splurge on a lagoon tour. The price is a little steep compared to backpacking other island countries but the water surrounding Bora Bora is completely out of this world. Honestly I was blown away with its beauty. After visiting French Polynesia for almost 2 months Bora Bora is hands down best water I saw anywhere.
There is a good reason why Bora Bora’s reputation is what it is, here is true paradise. I am glad that it is becoming more open to budget travel, for those who want to backpack Bora Bora. This was definitely the highlight of my time on the Society Islands. I would love to come back to experience resort life but for now I am happy that I was able to explore it at all.
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