Today: Maldives versus Bora Bora – which destination is best?
If you are dreaming of turquoise blue waters, white sand beaches, and unrivaled luxury resorts with overwater villas, both Bora Bora and the Maldives are great options. Bora Bora is a small but spectacular island which is part of French Polynesia, an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean. The Maldives, on the other hand, is a tropical country in the middle of the Indian Ocean, comprised of hundreds of tiny islands. At first look, these dream-worthy and exceptionally beautiful destinations might look equally attractive for discerning travelers but there are some major differences which might affect your holiday. Here’s my experience, having been to both the Maldives and Bora Bora on several occasions. For ease of navigation, I’ll compare the following aspects of visiting these destinations:
Have you ever visited Bora Bora and the Maldives? If so, which one do you prefer? Leave a comment.
The Maldives and Bora Bora experience different seasonality and opposite weather patterns. The dry season in the Maldives is from November to April, while the wet season is from May to October. In French Polynesia (and thus Bora Bora), the dry season is from May to October, while the rainy seasons occurs from November to April. Another difference in the climate between Bora Bora and the Maldives is determined by the location of the islands. The Maldives is close to the equator and is constantly warm day and night, while Bora Bora is further away from the equator and may occasionally get a bit colder during the evenings in winter time (nothing too bad but you may need a sweater nonetheless).
The best weather in the Maldives is between January and April, which also means high season (and skyrocketing hotel rates). The monsoon runs from May to October, peaking in June. It is worth paying higher prices and sticking to the dry season as there is not much to do on a rainy day except drink, eat, work out or scuba dive. Especially November and December, which are often labelled as dry season months, have been very unsettled in recent years.
Bora Bora is best visited between June and September when the climate is at its driest and the weather is balmy (but windy). However, this is high season, so it will be busy and the hotel rates are at their highest. The months on either side of this period (May & October) are known as the shoulder season and offer comfortable weather too, but with lower prices and less wind. Although Bora Bora can be visited year-round, the months of November to April bring more humidity and cloudy days, with tropical showers passing at greater frequency than other times of the year. Bora Bora is rarely hit by tropical storms except during years when El Niño affects ocean currents.
ACCESSIBILITY (GETTING THERE)
The Maldives is located to the southeast of India while Bora Bora is in the middle of the Southern Pacific Ocean. Depending on where you come from, the journey to both destinations may take a long time. The Maldives is more readily accessible from Europe, Asia and Africa while Bora Bora is easier to reach for travelers based in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. To give you an idea: it takes about 10 hours on a direct flight to get from Paris to the Maldives, and about 20 hours to fly to Bora Bora. From Los Angeles, it takes about 10 hours to get to Bora Bora and 20 hours to get to the Maldives. If travel time is an important factor for you, accessibility should definitely be taken into consideration, so you can spend more time relaxing in paradise and less time flying.
There are some major differences though which are worth noting:
- A huge number of airlines is flying to the Maldives these days, offering seamless travel from most corners of the world. This is especially true when you make use of one of the Middle East carriers (Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways) which offer easy connections to the Maldives (with multiple flights a day between their hubs and Male). Also, no matter what time you arrive in the Maldives, you can always immediately proceed to a luxury hotel after your arrival; some resorts can only be reached by seaplanes which only operate during day light, but the resorts in the North and South Male Atoll – closer to the airport – can be reached by speedboat day and night.
- Getting to Bora Bora requires more efforts as the island does not receive international flights. You first have to take an international flight to Tahiti (and the number of airlines offering flights to Tahiti is rather limited) and then connect on a 50 min domestic flight to Bora Bora. The domestic flights to Bora Bora only operate during daylight hours and do not always align well with the international flights (which arrive and/or depart either early morning or late evening). So, except when you choose an international flight with an early morning arrival in Tahiti (at the start of your holiday) and a late evening departure from Tahiti (at the end of your holiday), any travel to Bora Bora will include a stopover of one night in Tahiti, which is not always a pleasant experience since Tahiti only offers mediocre hotels that are nothing to write home about.
Both the Maldives and Bora Bora are known for their expensive ultra-luxe hotels. The Maldives is home to dozens of exceptionally luxurious hotels, with most of them built on their own private island. Bora Bora on the other hand has only four true luxury hotels (Four Seasons, St Regis, InterContinental and Conrad) which are located on coral islands (motus) on the the island’s outer reef. Although the hotels in Bora Bora are incredibly good, they cannot compete with the scale of luxury and service offered by the resorts in the Maldives. In fact, when you would put the Bora Bora hotels in the Maldives, they would probably not rank in the top 20 of resorts there (with the exception of the Four Seasons). Here are some major differences between the resorts in Bora Bora and the Maldives:
- The resorts in Bora Bora are older and showing their age a little, while most resorts in the Maldives are newer and better maintained.
- All resorts in Bora Bora feature a traditional Polynesian decor (which might feel a little dated), while the resorts in the Maldives are often design heavens and architectural jewels which will blow you off your feet.
- The overwater villas in Bora Bora definitely feel less luxurious and less spacious compared to their often palatial counterparts in the Maldives. Nothing truly compares to the overwater villas offered by Soneva Jani, one of my favorite resorts in the world.
- Both in the Maldives and Bora Bora, you’ll mostly dine at the restaurants of the resort you’re staying at. As a result, many visitors to both locations choose to purchase a meal plan through their resort which can save a lot of money. The resort restaurants in Bora Bora are very good but never truly excellent, while dining in the Maldives is mostly an exceptionally sophisticated culinary experience overseen by Michelin starred chefs. For example, Soneva Fushi in the Maldives serves the best food I’ve ever had at a resort, with world-class restaurants, over-the-top settings, and impeccable service.
- Breakfast buffets in Bora Bora are rather mediocre and definitely feel poor compared to the lavish breakfast buffets in the Maldives.
SCENERY AND BEACHES
Even though the scenery of both the Maldives and Bora Bora is breathtaking, there are a few differences in the landscape, which explains why some travelers will prefer one island over the other.
Bora Bora is one of the world’s most beautiful islands. The island is surrounded by a magnificent lagoon, barrier reef, and several motus (islets) made up of broken coral and sand. At the center of the main island are the remains of an extinct volcano with two dramatic peaks, Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu. At 2,835 feet high (727 meters), Mount Otemanu is Bora Bora’s highest point and a one of Earth’s most iconic views. That’s why most luxury hotels (except for the Conrad) face the mountain to give guests a full view of the striking natural landscape.
Contrary to Bora Bora, the Maldives does not feature mountains. It’s an archipelago made of approximately 1,200 low-lying coral islands floating in the Indian Ocean. Each of these islands feels like an abandoned paradise, covered with lush palm trees and encircled by a coral reef with a shallow lagoon in the center. Most resort islands enjoy mesmerizing and uninterrupted views of the emerald sea. But because the Maldives is flat, I feel that Bora Bora is perhaps marginally more beautiful (if that’s even possible).
Another difference between the Maldives and Bora Bora is the ‘quality’ of the beaches. While beautiful and incredibly picturesque, the resort beaches in Bora Bora are composed of coral sand (which is not very soft) and have some rocky parts along the shoreline. The Maldives on the other hand has some of the whitest and softest sand in the world, which will leave you spellbound.
Whether you choose Bora Bora or Maldives, there are several ways to relax and enjoy the stunning locations.
Bora Bora offers plenty of fun activities on water, air and land, appealing to adventure-loving souls. Water activities include superb snorkeling (which often involves interacting with blacktip reef sharks, manta rays and even whales), world-class scuba diving, as well as exploring the lagoon in a canoe. Land activities take place on the main island (a short boat trip away from most resorts) and include hiking in the mountains or explore the interior of Bora Bora by quads. A helicopter flight over the stunningly beautiful island is also a must-do on every checklist. Most the excursions on Bora Bora are offered as guided tours (either private or shared with other guests) and take half or a full day.
In contrast, the Maldives offers a more limited range of activities, which are organized by the resort you’re staying at (there are only few excursions as the islands are spread far apart from one another). That’s not necessarily a problem since most people travel to the Maldives to relax on a secluded tropical island and submerge themselves in a dreamy landscape while enjoying great privacy. Nonetheless, if you want to be active, several activities are offered, which are mostly focused on the archipelago’s incredible underwater life. The islands are popular for snorkeling and diving due to the warm water, high visibility, and diverse marine life, including manta rays and spotted whale sharks.