Bora Bora evokes paradise and romance and the images that normally come to mind when people hear about it are the luxurious overwater bungalows, the mesmerizing cerulean lagoon, and the spectacular motus (islets) that surround the main island. They are exactly what greeted us when we arrived in the private motu where our resort was situated. It was every inch a paradise – exactly how we saw it in magazine and brochure photos, only more beautiful.

But what about the mainland of Bora Bora where majority of the population resides? Is it as much a paradise as its surrounding islets?

Bora Bora Sceneries

The lagoon and overwater bungalows on the islets that surround Bora Bora’s miain island

Most visitors to Bora Bora stay on the motus and only venture to main island to dine at some of its fine restaurants. The visitors are ferried by hotel shuttle to the pier, where restaurant staff pick them up and drop them back.  It does not give them much chance to explore the mainland and to have insights about its villages and the residents.

4x4 Jeep safari in Bora Bora, French PolynesiaWe wanted to explore beyond the confines of our resort to learn more about the villages, the sights, the history and the people of the main island. We were curious if  the people were as warm and hospitable as the people we met in the neighboring islands. We expected so, hospitality after all is the hallmark of Polynesian culture.

We signed up for a 4×4 jeep safari in the main island to explore its nook and crannies and we went back another day to do some exploration of our own.


Road in Mainland Bora BoraBora Bora is consists of three villages with a population of about 9,000 permanent residents.  Most of Bora Bora residents live in flat coastal strip that circles the main island. There’s only one main road which skirts around the shore lines. It’s only about 19 miles (32km) long and can easily be explored within a day.

View of Lagoon from Mainland Bora BoraThis lovely viewpoint was our first stop during the jeep safari.  The vista of the lagoon and the surrounding motus was absolutely breathtaking. Looking like a paradise so far.

Floras of Bora BoraWe found the vegetation lush in most part of the island. Bora Bora is a volcanic island after all, thus, its soil is very fertile for farming. We saw wealth of fruit bearing trees, flowering plants and vegetable fields. Copra and vanilla are the main produce of the island.

As tourism is the main industry of the island, we shouldn’t have been surprised that Bloody Mary’s Restaurant was part of the tour highlight.  We knew it was very popular but didn’t realized that the locals consider it as an island landmark. Apparently, it is legendary and what makes it so is the legion of rich and famous people who have dined here throughout the years. It boasts a long board with list of luminaries whom they hosted.

Bloody Mary's Restaurant, Bora BoraOur names were not on the list (yet) but we did dine here one evening. We found its most charming feature was the sandy floor. We loved our tuna sashimi appetizer. It was absolutely fresh and flavorful. The rest of the meal? Not too remarkable. Food wise, we didn’t get the hype. But we thought it was remarkable to dine where very remarkable people had dined :)   (We read the Kardarshians dined and filmed here but their names didn’t make it to “the board.”  What a snob!)

View of Mount Otemanu across Bloody Mary's Restaurant, Bora BoraGlitz aside, the view right across Bloody Mary’s is so magnificent and natural – the iconic Mount Otamanu and the Povai Bay.

Matira Beach, Mainland Bora BoraA lovely local girl playing on the shore of Matira Beach, the only public beach in Bora Bora. We were surprised to note that this island surrounded by heavenly water had only one public beach.

During World War II, the US military used the Bora Bora as a supply base in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. They built defenses along the coast to protect the island against a possible surprise attack by Japan. They also built the coastal road and the island’s first airport on Motu Mute, which is being used as commercial airport today. 

US World War II canon, Bora Bora South PacificOur jeep climbed to a very steep hill (no wonder we needed a 4×4) where one of the seven U.S. military’s canons, and the only remaining one, was strategically positioned. A bunker is also located nearby.

View from US Canon location in Bora Bora, French PolynesiaThe view of the lagoon from the canon site was simply stunning. Thank God, no attack took place during the war that may have destroyed this precious island.

Houses in Bora Bora VillagesMost of the island homes are shacks – ranging from charming to mostly gritty. There are some over the water homes, which are actually expensive condos owned by foreigners.

We found something unique in most homes. They are a bit obscure in the photos below but you can see those smaller structures built next to the houses.  Would you believe that they are family cemeteries?

Family Cemeteries, Bora BoraWe learned that there were no public cemeteries in Bora Bora, so the people bury their love ones in their own backyard. Our guide said that it was really tough to sell one’s land in Bora Bora, because people can’t sell the land without selling their grandparents.

“Pareu” (Local Sarong) workshop, Bora BoraWe visited a “pareau” (local sarong) workshop and observed the dying and dying process of the traditional cloth. We also got a demonstration of different tying techniques for wearing a pareau.

Marae remains, Mainland Bora BoraWe stopped by this seemingly row of ordinary rocks, but they are remains of an ancient temple called “marae”  that was used by Polynesians for religious and cultural ceremonies. There are several of such ruins within the island.

Mainland Bora Bora

Viewpoint n Mainland Bora BoraWe came upon more magnificent viewpoints, but……






Trash in Mainland Bora Bora….the sceneries were marred by piles of trash, which we found was a common sight.

Litters in Bora BoraLitters of bottles and cans were strewn pretty much everywhere. It was a sad sight.

I guess we were surprised because its neighboring islands were pretty well-kept, especially in Huahine where the locals we met reminded us not to throw anything on the ground even fruit peels. I guess we just expected  that this kind of care for the surrounding was true in very island.

Unfinished-hotel-Mainland-Bora-BoraWe saw a defunct hotel project (that would have been a Hyatt) that was just sitting there like a sore thumb amidst the spectacular lagoon scenery. We also saw relics of several resorts (Club Med was one of them) that closed down as a result of economic crash. There are still some resorts in the main island but they are not as upscale as those situated on the surrounding motus.

And we were entering Vaitape, the main town of Bora Bora.

Downtown Vaitape, Bora Bora, French Polynesia, South PacificAbout half of Bora Bora’s population leave In Vaitape. We found the town pretty much devoid of charm.

Stores and cafes in Vaitape, Bora BoraBut the town is functional. It has the essential businesses such as supermarkets, a  pharmacy, a gas station, a bank, and a post office. It is also  lined with pearl shops, souvenir stalls, some cafes and restaurants.  It also has a harbor where cruise ships dock few times a year.

Church in Vaitape, Bora BoraWe found this church, with the mountain in the background, the prettiest sight in town by far. There is a church in each of the villages, where people are mostly Protestants and Catholics.

Boats in Vaitape, Bora BoraThe scene became a bit tranquil  and pleasant as we walked way from the town center. We  enjoyed the sight of the boats docked for the day.

Boats in Vaitape, Bora Bora

Residents-of-Bora-Bora-playing-guitarWe went back another day to explore Vaitape on our own. We felt that we had an unfinished business – a good interaction with the locals.  We felt that the jeep safari didn’t allow us much chance to meet up with them. We did a lot of walking around when we returned. We tried to interact with the locals but they were pretty much nonchalant about our presence.

In the neighboring islands, especially in Huahine, we would walk the streets or enter a restaurant and we would instantly make friends with the locals. Here in Bora Bora, we found that the locals were very much jaded by tourism.

The island itself is potentially a paradise. We don’t think the locals here take pride of  their surrounding, like the locals in their neighboring islands do. We think its sad that the motus where most tourists stay are kept so pristine …but they don’t maintain the same standard in the area where local residents live. They live in such special, extraordinary beautiful island and we hope they realize and appreciate it.


More about Bora Bora:

  • Bora Bora is one of the islands that make up French Polynesia. As the name denotes, the island group is a French territory. The group of island is also called Society Islands.
  • Bora Bora is located 160 miles northwest of Tahiti and 2,600 miles south of Hawaii.
  • There are not direct flights into Bora Bora from outside French Polynesia. One must fly to Tahiti and take one hour flight from there to Bora Bora.
  • The currency is called French Pacific Francs. US$1 = XPF 86.
  • Official language is French but Polynesian is still widely spoken.


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45 responses to “Bora Bora: Behind the Scenes

  1. Really interesting to see the other side of such a well-known paradise – as you say, perhaps a shame that it’s not taken care of as well as it might be. I would imagine that’s the case in a lot of tourist destinations (Egypt away from the Pyramids, for example….). The sarong workshop looks fascinating, though!
    Molly S recently posted..Strolling Along the Left BankMy Profile

    • Hi Molly, I know this is a case in a lot of tourist destination. We wouldn’t have been disappointed if we didn’t know that the neighboring islands, that were not as popular as Bora Bora, we’re doing so well in maintaining their surrounding. It’s a really small island that it could have been easy to maintain if they have the desire and pride for it.

  2. Mike

    OMG I’m once again mesmerized just like your first post on Bora Bora, Marisol! I love that you and Keith chose to go inland on the Jeep safari. And absolutely I now want to go to the Bloody Mary Restaurant when I make it there someday! No Kardashians on the wall, huh? That was funny :) I loved you sharing with how easy it was to make friends with the locals. I’m just sighing with envy and desire to make my dream come true! Thank you again for letting me live it vicariously (for now) through the two of you! LOVED this post!! :)
    Mike recently posted..Ichiban Japanese Steak House Reno, NevadaMy Profile

    • Hi Mike, Yes it truly was easy make friends with locals — but not in Bora Bora. In it’s neighboring islands, yes! As indifferent as the locals are, Bora Bora is still a special place to visit, The surrounding islets are truly magical and whether the locals care or not, we would like to return one day.

  3. Katie

    Bora Bora looks beautiful, but it’s definitely a shame that the main island didn’t live up to it! Sounds like you would recommend Huahine instead possibility?
    Katie recently posted..Diving Biowreck – BaliMy Profile

    • Hi Katie,
      Yes, the main island is a bit of a let down but the surrounding motus can still be the most beautiful sight ever. We loved Huahine for its people and for its authentic Polynesias culture and we do absolutely recommend a visit to the island.

  4. the water is spellbinding. i could while the time by sitting on the beach watching the water. incredible destination.
    Photo Cache recently posted..On the Road: NV-AZ-UTMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Maria, the water at least is always spectacular.

  5. Mostly, when I read posts about Bora Bora, I just see beautiful picture of the ocean and those little resort huts. So thank you for showing us a different side of it!! For showing us pictures of the locals shacks (I think they’re charming), the boring but functional town, and even the piles of trash. I love seeing what makes a place real, and not just the perfect dream vacation side of it. :)
    Anna | slightly astray recently posted..I Learn Candombe in MontevideoMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Anna, our pleasure. We always want to have a well-rounded view and experiene of the places we visit and be able to share them.

  6. I’m glad that you took the time to get away from the bubble of the resort and explore the “real” Bora Bora. Nonchalant littering seems to be a problem in many places around the world. I’ve been places where it seems impossible to find a trash can to throw things away. Too bad that it’s a part of this idyllic island. I wish they had more than just 1 public beach, too. Are the other beaches primarily owned by resorts and foreigners? That’s very interesting about family cemeteries in the backyard.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..7 MondaysMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Michele, we always want to be travelers and not just be tourists, so we always make it a point to go beyond the tourist zone and witness/experience the real soul of the place. What disappointed us about the trash in Bora Bora is that island is so small that it’s so easy to maintain if they want to. Yes, most of the beaches are privately owned by resorts or individual property owners.


        ALL the beaches in French Polynesia are public by law. When the big money and the resorts came in what they did was set up shop on the best beaches and built walls to keep out nonpaying guests. Therefore, access to the beach was blocked because you cannot walk through the hotel to get to the beach. It’s their way of getting around the law.

  7. Marcia

    Marisol and Keith, coming from an island that has given up most of its soul to tourism, it makes my heart heavy to read this – the tourist areas that are pristine while the rest of the island isn’t, the use of the land as family plot, the indifference of the locals, the carcass of failed tourism projects.
    Even though the land is fertile, from my Jamaica experience, I’m sure agriculture isn’t as important as tourism and even if they can produce what the hotels need, they still have to import. Wonder how much a local makes?
    Bora Bora is beautiful but I’m glad you decided to go out of the tourist bubble and bring us these photos.

    • Hi Marcia, you’re right, despite the fertile land, agriculture as an industry is not a priority and they still import produce from Tahiti,. I guess its easier to work in the tourist businesses, like the resorts, than till the land. I find it interesting that you find the situation here similar to Jamaica.

    • I know, it really came as surprise. Sad to hear that same thing happens somewhere else.

  8. Bama

    Plastic trash has become a big problem not only for big cities but also paradise islands across the globe, like Bora-Bora and Bali. There were times when I myself saw plastic bottles floating near pristine beaches of eastern Indonesian islands, they must have been swept away from faraway places and brought by the current to the otherwise idyllic spots.

    Speaking of those tombs near the main houses, I saw a similar thing in Flores, Indonesia. A lot of people buried their loved ones in the front yard of their houses. One of the reasons for this is to prove to anyone that they really own the house as their ancestors had been living in the same place for generations.

    Anyway, beautiful captures of Bora-Bora, Marisol! It does surely look like a paradise on Earth.
    Bama recently posted..Tai O: Withstanding Rapid ChangeMy Profile

    • Hi Bama, at least in Bora Bora the water is still pristine from what we had seen. The trash were so far limited to inland..This island is so small that it could have really easy to maintain.
      Interesting to know that they have the same burial practice in places in Indonesia. I guess it’s not a unique practice after all. It’s just to the unfamiliar, it a bit shocking to see.

  9. Agness

    It’s a perfect honeymoon destination!!! Love the crystal clear sky and water <3 Ahhhhh! I wish I could be there right now ;-).
    Agness recently posted..Dublin For Less Than $25 A DayMy Profile

    • Hi Agness, the surrounding islets absolutely makes it a perfect honeymoon destination.

    • Thank you, Noel.. Maybe in other islands the trash may not have stand out as much but for an island that is surrounded by sublime beuaty, a little pile really stands out.. Yes, it was a fund jeep drive indeed.

  10. It’s unfortunate that the locals litter on the main island. Don’t they know what a beautiful environment they live in?! Still, the photos around the main island are stunning – especially the view from across Bloody Mary’s. It’s funny because in Jamaica, locals bury their loved ones on their land as well. While I’ve seen some plots in front yards, if a family has more land, the burial grounds will typically be further away from the house. Jave can’t wrap his head around American cemeteries and thinks it’s tragic that anyone would be buried on land that’s not theirs with other dead souls that aren’t family. I love learning these kinds of cultural tidbits. Thanks for sharing!
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted..Dead to the World: from Niland to the Salton SeaMy Profile

    • Hi Dana, I know it’s sad that they take their environment for granted.
      Wow, that’s an interesting cultural perspective about what Jave thought of about American cemeteries.. For those of us not use to backyard burial, it’s also hard to wrap around our heads to the very idea.

  11. I love your earlier photos of Bora Bora, but even this one also shows how gorgeous the island is. Too bad that it’s like the Philippines, where you can find a lot of trash even in paradise. I really hope both tourists and locals alike would learn the importance of eco-tourism.
    Aleah | recently posted..Sunset at Skaros Rock in SantoriniMy Profile

    • Hi Aleah, glad you enjoyed the photos.
      I know it’s sad about the trash in paradise. You know in Bora Bora, they implement eco-conciousness in most resorts. I wish they also educate locals about it so they can implement it in their own surrounding.

  12. I love that the restaurant had a sandy floor, too cool! Also great that you guys ventured out and explored the entire island…haha I have a feeling I would have planted myself right on the beach/back of my bungalow and not moved the entire time;-)
    Jess @UsedYorkCity recently posted..My Summer With Jeff KoonsMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Jess, it was really interesing to venture out into the mainland and see the otherside of paradise.

  13. My parents visited Bora Bora on their most recent cruise, but I can tell you that your photos are a heck of a lot nicer than theirs were! 😉 They had a similar thing to say about Bloody Marys to you, however: they found it a bit of a tourist trap, and though they were glad for the experience of dining there once, they didn’t get the hype. And they also said that garbage was a real problem, but I suppose that is a common plight in much of that part of the world. It’s such a shame though, when there is so much natural beauty that is being ruined by rubbish!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Mirissa: Finding Sri Lanka’s Heart on the Southern CoastMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Steph, yeah, Bloody Mary was really a toursit trap. I know the rubbish issue is a common flight in many part of the world. but the island is so small that it is easy to maintain if the locals really care. I wish they take pride in preserving their surroundings like the locals in the neighboring island of Huahine.

    • Tommy

      Four score and seven minutes ago, I read a sweet artclie. Lol thanks

  14. Stunning ph0tos again … your behind the scenes experience in bora bora is very much common in many developing countries including my own.
    Interesting, we also bury our dead on the family land, in some tribes this tradition is so deep that even if one were to die in a far away land, tradition dictates that the body must be flown back (come hell or high water) and buried in the ancestral land.

    • Marisol

      Hi Rachel, it’s interesting to learn through your comments and serveral others here that the burial in family land is actually common in many countries. It now gives me a different perspective to this tradition. thank you for the insight.

  15. Hi Marisol! I’ve seen so many pictures of Bora Bora and from friends and relatives who have visited but this is a first I’ve seen of the actual town. Thanks for taking us behind the scenes and a glimpse into the locals’ lives. That is so surprising about them burying their dead in the backyard. It’s heartbreaking to see the trash around here especially with a gorgeous back drop of paradise. I hope someone educates them soon or someone makes an initiative for a clean-up. We’re hoping to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary here next year so thanks for the virtual tour for now 😉

    • Marisol

      Hi Mary, I really hope there will be some kind of initiative soon to educate the locals about cleaning up their environment,. If their neighboring islands can do,it I’m sure they can.
      It’s surrounding motus, however, are really pristine and breathtaking and will definitely be a perfect destination for your 15th.

  16. Freya

    WoW what a stunning place. I would love to relax there for a few days. The lagoon looks so blue and the views are amazing. It’s so sad to find piles of trash in such beautiful place
    Freya recently posted..Top 5 things to do in the AlgarveMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Freya, it truly is a stunning place and that’s why the lack of care from the residents is truly sad.

  17. There are always two sides to every paradise. I felt that way when I visited Nassau. While the travelers with money seclude themselves in the beautiful resorts, the locals live not-so-glamorous lives. There were piles of trash everywhere and tiny rundown houses.

    I love the sarong dyeing pictures. They look beautiful!

    • Marisol

      Hi Kendra, so ture that there’ two side to paradise in many places.
      The sarong dying was fun to photograph, so many splash of colors and really pretty.

  18. cindy

    I don’t understand what is so surprising about any of this. . . as in most places where rich people vacation, the local people who live on Bora Bora are quite poor. Those fancy hotels don’t pay a lot to the local people who clean rooms, serve food, maintain the grounds, etc.. Poor people the world over have a lot more to worry about than keeping their own homes looking pretty! Moorea has made a concentrated effort to address this, providing lots of social services (including public projects to manage trash and clean up the island) in an effort to bring more tourist dollars to local businesses and not just to foreign-owned resorts and businesses. It seems to have made a difference, but it’s a model that takes a lot of effort. Good for you for getting out and taking a look beyond your resort. More people need to do that — if more people understood the impacts of tourism, maybe they would do more to ensure the local community is truly benefiting from those tourism dollars. In the end, that is the best way to address unsightly poverty!

  19. Navya

    Thank you for this since it really helped me in my Design project. :) It’s not everywhere on the internet one comes across the bad side too

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