Bora Bora or the Maldives, which is better? More importantly, which is right for you and your next tropical getaway, honeymoon or vacation? Let’s compare and contrast these two stunning archipelagos, world famous for their crystalline waters, snorkel-worthy sealife, soft sand and balmy climates.
Having been to both Bora Bora and the Maldives (as well as Fiji, Boracay, Cook Islands and Hawaii), I can happily say that neither disappoints. Both are remote, beautiful and expensive! Accommodation ranges from high-end to very, very high-end. So, it is wise to invest some time in comparing these two bucket list destinations.
The biggest points for comparison are travel time and cost from your point of origin, along with landscapes and culture. Let’s put these to paradisical archipelagos head-to-head and find out which is better: Bora Bora or the Maldives.
Bora Bora vs Maldives: Location and Transit
Bora Bora is an island in the nation of French Polynesia, located in the South Pacific Ocean. The scattering of 121 islands and atolls is located in the South Pacific Ocean. It lies roughly 8000-kilometres (5000-miles) west of Peru, 6000-kilometres (3750-miles) east of Australia and 4000-kilometres (2500-miles) south of Hawaii.
French Polynesia is both a country and a French overseas territory. Papeete is the capital city of French Polynesia and is located on the island of Tahiti. The islands are grouped into five clusters: Society Islands, Tuamotu Archipelago, Gambier Islands, Marquesas Islands and Austral Islands. Both Bora Bora and Tahiti are part of the Society Islands group.
French Polynesia is 9 to 10-hours direct flight from the West Coast US, and from East Coast Australia (via NZ). It is an additional hour-long domestic flight to get from Tahiti to Bora Bora.
The Maldives are an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, lying about 750-kilometres (465-miles) southwest of Sri Lanka and India. The country is a chain of 26 atolls that run on a roughly north-south axis, spanning both sides of the equator. The capital city is Malé, about 645-kilometres (400-miles) south-southwest of Sri Lanka.
The Maldives is about 10 to 11-hours direct flight from Europe and half that from much of Asia (e.g. 5-hours direct flight from Singapore).
Budget for an additional 1-2-hour boat ride or seaplane flight to get to your island of choice, from the international airport in Malé.
Bora Bora or Maldives landscapes
Both French Polynesia and the Maldives are volcanic in origin. The volcanoes that formed the Maldives have long since sunk and eroded back into the ocean, leaving behind fragile, low-lying atolls on the surface. The atolls are comprised of coral reefs, sandbars and small islands around a central crater that is filled in with ocean, called a lagoon.
The volcanoes of French Polynesia have not sunk back into the ocean to the same degree as the Maldives-forming volcanoes. This leaves tall peaks well above sea level, forming substantial islands. Some of these islands, such as Bora Bora have a surrounding atoll forming a sheltered lagoon around the main island.
This has various implications for visitors, as the two archipelagos look and function very differently. The small islands of the Maldives (aside from Malé) are only large enough to host one or two resorts each. No locals, aside from staff, live on the island and visitors are mostly limited to their resort’s island and immediate surroundings. This includes dining options and activities, which are mostly water-based such as snorkelling, diving and fishing. The Maldives are a great choice if you want to do very little.
In French Polynesia, the islands are inhabited by citizens and are large enough to host various resorts plus independent businesses. This opens up your options to eat, explore and participate in activities outside your resort. There are more hiking, ATV excursions and other land-based activities in French Polynesia, in addition to the types of water-based activities offered in the Maldives.
Maldives vs Bora Bora culture
As previously mentioned, unless you are spending time in Male, there really is very little opportunity to interact with Maldivian locals aside from resort staff. However, you will see more South Asian influences expressed in the food resort offering. In my experience, Maldivian resorts try to cater to a largely European clientele. For instance, during our early-October stay, our resort’s main restaurant held an Oktoberfest-themed buffet.
French Polynesia and culture, is much more, well, French and Polynesian. Resorts and restaurants offer evening shows featuring Polynesian dance and music. Food is French-influenced but consider that red meat, wheat and dairy, staples in a French diet, must travel a long and expensive route to the islands. For the freshest and best value meals, look for items more on the Polynesian side such as Ota ʻika (aka Poisson Cru), a traditional Oceanic dish of raw fish marinated in coconut milk and citrus juice.
Maldives or Bora Bora timing
If you still can’t decide between Maldives vs Bora Bora, consider the timing of your trip. Are you planning to travel at a specific time of year or are you flexible? This may impact your choice. The best time to visit the Maldives is December to April during the dry season with less rain and better underwater visibility. See this post on planning a trip to the Maldives, for more information on specific seasonal wildlife such as whale sharks and manta rays.
The best time to visit Bora Bora and broader French Polynesia is the brief shoulder seasons through April and November in the transition between wet and dry seasons. At this time prices are not at their highest, visibility is good and winds are low. See more details on timing including hiking and sea life-viewing seasons in this Bora Bora post.
Did this post help you decide between these two paradisiacal destinations? Which will you choose: Bora Bora or the Maldives? Let me know in the comments below.
Peace, love and inspiring travels,