Understand Bora Bora geography in 5 minutes (+how to travel around)

Would you like to understand Bora Bora geography, travel around easily and access the secret spots and all the hidden gems you’ve heard of? Follow the guide!

Would you like to understand Bora Bora’s geography, travel around easily and access the secret divine spots and all the hidden gems you’ve heard of?

All those dreamy white-sanded beaches, pure turquoise lagoons, bungalows & hammocks over the water… Where are all these wonderland places? While people think Bora Bora is just one island with all its stunning locations easy to reach, that’s not entirely true. 

Most of these hide-aways are actually on Bora Bora’s tiny little islets (that surround a central island) called ‘Motus’ in Tahitian. But, you’re lucky! In this post, we explain EVERYTHING you need to know about Motus, the main island, and how you can move around. Plus, some of my insider tips from living on this gorgeous island for many years!

So, let’s get right into it! ;) 

Bora Bora geography: The absolute ‘must-knows’ before you arrive

Here are the top Bora Bora geography facts you should know about :

What country is Bora Bora in?

Papeete city hall
You’ll always find 2 flags on Polynesian city halls (Mairie) – The Polynesian flag (red and white) and the French flag

Bora Bora is a volcanic island in the Leeward group of the Society Islands of French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean and an overseas country of the French Republic (yes, even if it’s located on the other side of the planet it is part of the same country!).

Located about halfway between South America and Australia, Bora Bora is a 9-hour flight from Los Angeles (with a mandatory layover in Tahiti) and is approximately 2,600 miles south of Hawaii. This south pacific island is about 7 square miles in size and has a population of about 10,000 people.

The official languages are French and Tahitian. Yet, at the hotels, markets and tourist spots people speak fluent English so don’t worry about a language barrier. :)

How Was Bora Bora Formed?

Satellite view of Bora Bora

Bora Bora has formed millions of years ago, in the middle of the pacific ocean as the result of volcanic activity (like all society islands and most islands in French Polynesia).

The island is actually the top of an extinct volcano that is now surrounded by a coral barrier reef.

What makes Bora Bora’s geography different (and tricky)?

Bora Bora is a volcanic island surrounded by coral reefs meaning we have one big, central island (ofter referred as “the main island“) + a set of small islets located on the reef all around it. This unique geography, its white sand beaches & vibrant blue lagoon is best admired when arriving by plane.

Insider Tips

Make sure to sit on the left side when departing from Tahiti to get the most beautiful views 😉

On the main island, you’ll find the main town (Vaitape), several mountain peaks, including Mount Otemanu, which is the highest point on the island, and one (very pretty) public beach called Matira Beach. It is surrounded by smaller islets, lagoons, crystalline waters, and a thick coral reef.

Most of the islets are owned by the best resorts in French Polynesia, ensuring you’ll get full privacy with no tourists wandering around, daily cleaned white sand beaches, and many exclusive services.

Bora Bora geography: Where are the prettiest laidback spots of the island?

Alriiight. Shall we explore the island a little bit? 

Many people (including Tales of the South Pacific author James Michener) claim Bora Bora’s the most beautiful island (not only in French Polynesia but) in the world, and I definitely agree! Also, locals call it the pearl of the South Pacific, and for good reasons.

Bora Bora’s geography highlights you shouldn’t miss

Although I said that the true magic of Bora Bora is the Motus (the islets), the main island’s got some breathtaking locations too! And of course, I had to include them in my Bora Bora geography post.  

You’ll find here two volcanic peaks —the iconic Mount Otemanu and Mount Pahia, both offering stunning viewpoints and one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Mt. Otemanu 

Bora Bora Geography  : Otemanu
Otemanu view from The St Regis Bora Bora

Mt Otemanu is THE one majestic mountain you see on every postcard and Insta pic of Bora Bora. The name Otemanu means ‘sea-bird’ and according to legend, it was the place where phaetons gathered.

The summit of Mt. Otemanu reaches 2,385 feet and until recently, it was impossible to climb up. This is because of the fragile volcanic rock, which cannot support the weight of an average human. 

Now, however, during the recent Covid-19 lockdown, local kids got so bored that they safely climbed up to the top. The terrain is still very dangerous though and if you’d like to get close to the summit, I recommend booking a helicopter tour.  

Mt. Pahia

mt Pahia Bora Bora

Mount Pahia is the second-highest summit on Bora Bora island and a popular hike for adventure junkies. Despite its summit being lower than Mt Otemanu, Mt Pahia is safe to hike to the top if you are feeling fit (though keep in mind common-sense safety precautions).

The return hike from Vaitape takes six hours and guarantees great sweat & mind-blowing panoramic views all the way around. 

As always, stay careful and never attempt to hike on your own. There have been many cases of hikers getting lost or injured along the way. Since the path is very slippery and dangerous, make sure to hire a local guide to stay safe. 

Matira beach

Matira beach in Bora Bora
Matira beach

Matira is the only public beach on the island. It is located on Matira point, on the south side of the island and has white sand and clear blue water.

There are plenty of palm trees and other tropical plants on the beach, providing plenty of shade. Matira beach is a great place to relax and enjoy the beauty of Bora Bora. Make sure to visit during your trip!

Bora Bora’s little pieces of paradise: the Motus

If you’re craving those untouched long white-sanded beaches, hammocks over the sea, Insta-perfect lagoons, mountain views and overwater bungalows… Bora Bora’s Motus (islets) are your place to be! Even the Bora Bora’s international airport is located on an islet (Motu Mute) surrounded by the lagoon. Pretty cool, isn’t it?!

Each of these Motus is owned by a different resort offering brilliant services, and their access is private to their guests. Before you visit some of the islets and stay in the resorts, make sure to first research them thoroughly and invest your money well. 

In this section, I share some of my faves! 

Motu Tehotu – Home of Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora

The 5-star Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora is one of those ‘pinch me-can’t be real’ resorts.

Families, honeymooners, and celebs love this place as it’s located on an exceptional site with a view of the majestic Mount Otemanu.

According to many experts, Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora is among the ten most beautiful hotels in the world. You’ll find here pristine private beaches, a lagoon with more than 100 species of marine life, overwater bungalow suites, beachfront villa estates, and plenty of underwater adventures. 

Motu Toopua & Motu Tapu – Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort 

Aerial view of the conrad bora bora
Conrad Bora Bora Nui at sunrise – @Eric Rubens

Even if it’s not directly facing the two peaks of the island, its islet Motu Toopua and its geography makes the Conrad Resort extraordinary.

First, you’ll find there the longest dazzling beach stretch of the island and, while most of the resort’s motus are flat, motu Topua offers a little hill (where you’ll find the resort’s spa). From the hill, you’ll get panoramic views of both Pahia and Mount Otemanu on one side and the ocean/lagoon on the other side.

Motu Tapu Bora Bora

Conrad Bora Bora also owns Motu Tapu, the most photographed islet in the South Pacific and just a five-minute boat ride from the resort. The islet’s beach used to be the private beach of Polynesian Queen Pomare IV. She held here her secret ‘VIP’ parties where access was ‘Tapu’ (invitation only). It is possible for Conrad guests to access this motu for a relaxing afternoon, romantic dinners, or even wedding ceremonies!

Motu Ome’e, owned by St Regis Resort

Inner lagoon at the St Régis Bora Bora
St Régis inner lagoon

Besides the incredible view of the mountain, what makes motu Ome’e (St. Regis resort) truly remarkable is its wonderful inner lagoon, a real outdoor aquarium!

Here you can have an up-close experience observing myriad species of tropical fish and coral that are impossible to see while snorkeling in the open water. If this sounds like your jam, St. Regis Bora Bora might be your best choice! 

Choosing any of these resorts will create an unforgettable tropical experience that you’ll remember for a lifetime. :) 

How to travel around the island & Motus

Map of bora bora view points of interest

Okay, you’re ready to see all the beauty and the dreamy places of Bora Bora island.

But how do you move around?

How do you get to them?

While I’ll have a dedicated article for that too. In the meantime here are some simple tips. 

Traveling around the island

Since Bora Bora has no public transport, the easiest way to move around Bora Bora is to rent a vehicle. You’ll find several options and fun electric vehicles at a fair price like the cute little Twizzy.

The island’s main road is a 32km (mainly flat) circle so touring the island is totally doable by bike. Just make sure to bring enough water with you as biking under the sun can be draining.

Taxis are also available but make sure to book them in advance as you won’t see them cruising around for clients.

Traveling on the lagoon and around the Motus

Rent a self-drive motorboat

If you fancy island hopping at your own pace you can rent a four-seater motorboat (no license is required). You’ll get a map featuring all the available spots you can visit, life jackets, a cooler and petrol. If you decide to adventure on your own, we recommend bringing a picnic and snorkeling gear. ;) 

Please remember that all islets are private properties so do not dock without asking first.

Book a private excursion

The best way to discover the Bora Bora’s lagoon is to book a snorkeling tour. Here are some of the best ones on the island, plus you’ll get to swim with the sharks and stingrays!!

Traveling from Bora Bora airport to Vaitape

As I explained before Bora Bora international airport is located on its own motu. A 15 minutes boat ride will take you to Vaitape dock. The shuttle is free for every Air Tahiti & Air Moana passengers. And if you need to go back to the airport make sure to be at Vaitape’s dock at least 90 minutes before your flight.

Traveling from Bora Bora airport to the resorts

In case you’d like to go straight to your resort from the airport, just let your resort know and they will greet you at the airport and arrange the boat transport for you (at a fee). Private boat transfers are also possible.

Traveling from the resorts to the main island

And finally, if you wish to get to the main island from your resort you’ll have to book a boat transfer from your resort. Price will vary depending on the resort you’ll stay in, and can be costly, be warned.

And, voilà!

Hopefully I’ve helped you understand Bora Bora’s geography a bit better and how to travel around the island while you’re here. Do not hesitate to drop your questions in the comment section if you have any :)

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I’m Billie. With my intimate knowledge of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora I'm your expert guide to crafting the ultimate vacation in French Polynesia.

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