Port of Bora Bora
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The island is a high-end playground dependent on tourism (i.e. you'll find more resorts than old fishing villages and simple lifestyles here), but it's still not as slick and Hollywood-chic as you might expect. Internationally acclaimed novelist James A. Michener once wrote that Bora Bora was the world's most beautiful island, and we have to think he was in the right ballpark with that one. Within the warm turquoise waters and snow white ring of sand is a mountainous interior dominated by two majestic peaks -- Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu, the remnants of an extinct volcano.
You can make a day of it in Bora Bora simply lounging on the beach or floating in the lagoon. But if you find it surprisingly difficult to do nothing, as so many of us do, there are active pursuits to enjoy. Bora Bora is much more geared to outdoor excursionists than shoppers or culture vultures; snorkeling and scuba diving are world class, with surprisingly friendly sharks and rays. Bicycles are the recommended method of transport; you can easily circle the whole island, stopping for sightseeing and shopping along the way, in a couple of hours.
Top Bora Bora Itineraries
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Where You're Docked
Ships typically anchor in Pofai Bay near Vaitape, the island's main settlement; you'll tender to Vaitape.
In Vaitape you'll find a few shops selling souvenirs and jewelry, plus a handful of restaurants (all closed on our Sunday evening troll for dinner, sadly) -- but most folks get out of town, whether on a ship-sponsored tour or independently. You can find an ATM, Internet cafe and a post office within easy walk of the tender pier.
Good to Know
Much of Vaitape is closed on Sunday evenings and on national holidays. It's also expensive -- even compared to typically high island prices. Expect to pay about $20 more for a rental car here than in Moorea, for example.
By Car: Avis and Europcar have offices across from the Vaitape pier; expect to pay about $100 for the day for a compact car or $45 for a four-hour "buggy" rental. (These are two-seater automatic "mini" cars.) You can also rent bicycles (about $15 a day) and scooters (about $65 a day) in Vaitape.
By Bus: Le Truck is the island's bus service but its service is highly irregular and not recommended.
By Taxi: Taxis are available at the pier and operate a $5 shuttle between the pier and Bloody Mary's or the beach.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the French Pacific franc. Check XE.com for the latest exchange rates. You can find ATMs at the bank branches of Banque Socredo and Banque de Polynesie in Vaitape.
French and Tahitian are the official languages and both are commonly used, but English is spoken and understood in most restaurants and tourism establishments.
Food and Drink
Dining out on Bora Bora is an expensive proposition (think $30 cheeseburgers!), but there are a few don't-miss restaurants that are worth the splurge. Just about every venue offers freshly caught fish and a local specialty called possion cru (raw tuna marinated in coconut milk and lime juice). Delicious tropical fruits and vegetables -- including oddities like breadfruit, noni and taro -- are also on the menu. Most hotels feature at least one restaurant but cheaper alternatives can be found around Vaitape and Matira. Free transportation is often provided by each dining establishment, so give them a call directly before hiring a taxi.
Don't Miss: The can't-miss lunch spot on Bora Bora is Bloody Mary's (689-67-72-86; the restaurant doesn't take reservations for lunch though they are accepted for dinner -- and highly recommended). This is a fun, casual joint with actual sand floors (you can check your shoes at the front!), great water views and numerous claims to celebrity patronage. Freshly caught seafood takes center stage at dinnertime, but lunches are a bit simpler and a lot more affordable with items from cheeseburgers to fish sandwiches. Be sure to check out the funky, open-air restrooms complete with waterfall sinks and phallic toilet flushers. Open for lunch and dinner every day except Sunday.
Local Favorite: Another casual option is La Bounty (689-67-70-43, reservations recommended), in Matira between Hotel Maitai Polynesia and Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort. The restaurant dishes up Italian and French specialties at reasonable prices for this region. Pizza and pasta dishes are offered as well as fish in French sauces. Open for lunch and dinner every day except Monday.
Luxe Lunch: Located in Vaitape, Restaurant le Saint-James serves lunch and dinner daily, except on Sundays. The menu heavily favors local fish and seafood but also serves excellent beef and duck dishes. Desserts are decadent, so don't miss them!
Pareos (silk wraps), whether mass-produced or hand-painted, are available in infinite varieties, as are the region's ubiquitous black pearls.
Although mai tais -- cocktails made of light and dark rum, curacao, simple syrup, and lime juice -- were invented in California, the name is the Tahitian word for "good." You can enjoy this refreshing Polynesian-named drink at Bloody Mary's, one of the most famous and funky restaurants in all of French Polynesia. Or, opt for the beverage for which the restaurant is named -- a bloody mary.
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