To be honest, it’s a question that I have been asked so many times by email that I have decided to try to answer it once and for all! Very often, I recommend that people who are travelling to French Polynesia start planning an itinerary proprietarily in regard to their desires and then very often to their budget. Because going to the Marquesas or the Gambier Islands is extraordinary, but it has a price. As a result, most travellers choose a “classic tour” of the Windward Islands – Leeward Islands, then a few days in the Tuamotu archipelago! Among the variety of island options, people most often choose between: the classic Bora Bora or Maupiti island?
Honestly, people ask me for my opinion once or twice a week, which promotes this as the main dilemma for tourists. Some time ago, I would have told you without hesitating to avoid Bora Bora and go to Maupiti, for more authenticity, more “real French Polynesia” if we can say that… However, now, after three stays in Bora Bora, I must say that I’m starting to change my mind a little bit. I am not sure that there is a simple answer to this question, since each of the two islands is different and both have their own attractions. So this is my opinion on the subject.
I have in fact decided to review all the elements that I think are important to consider when making this choice. Ideally, if you have time during your stay in French Polynesia, I would probably advise you to visit both islands for a few days. But unfortunately not everyone can do that!
Let’s just start with the topic that concerns a lot of people. Most of you would actually think that going to Bora Bora would cost more than Maupiti during a trip to French Polynesia. In reality, this is not necessarily true. Well, it all depends on how you travel. In terms of transportation, you will probably choose an Air Tahiti Pass “Bora Bora – Tuamotu” to visit the archipelagos of the Leeward Islands and the Tuamotu. So, in theory, it won’t cost you more to go to Bora Bora, Maupiti or even to both of the islands…
The only thing that will really change the budget is all the points mentioned henceforth, i.e.: where will you sleep? Are you going to do any paid activities? If you travel on a budget, you can very well limit your expenses on both islands anyway. If you want to treat yourself, you will spend more money in Bora Bora with its very nice overwater bungalows, beautiful restaurants and much larger range of paid activities than in Maupiti. A small detail that is important is that Maupiti can be visited on foot or on bicycle. Bora Bora is much bigger so it may be necessary to rent a car there. However, it should be noted that through this link, you can rent bicycles, scooters, electric bicycles or 2 seats cars in Bora Bora! I personally go through them every time I go there.
This is a subject that I am often asked via email. From what I have seen, the majority of tourists who come on their honeymoon to French Polynesia choose to spend time on the island of Bora Bora and enjoy a few nights in an overwater bungalow. Only a few people choose to go to Maupiti for a honeymoon. I personally had the opportunity to test a few nights in an overwater bungalow in the beautiful Maitai Bora Bora hotel. I tell you everything in the article!
Beautiful spots of the Pearl Beach Resort and Spa…not bad for a honeymoon trip to Bora Bora, right?
The main reason? There are simply no hotels with overwater bungalows in Maupiti, the island having refused (for the time being) the installation of the large hotel groups. So, for a honeymoon, I would probably recommend you to go to Bora Bora if you are looking for beautiful accommodation….
Now, as far as accommodation goes, you can find more or less everything on both islands. For small budgets, there is no official camping on these two islands, but you can still find places to pitch your tent. I know that some residents in Bora Bora offer Camping through Airbnb website. In Maupiti, to my knowledge, only the guesthouse Auira allows the option of setting up tents.
For those who are used to Airbnb and cheaper accommodation, the options are much better in Bora Bora. You will find some offers from Airbnb in Maupiti but they are far more limited.
For family boarding houses, you have a great variety of choices on the island of Maupiti. On the other hand, in my experience, the availability decreases very rapidly, especially from the period of June through September. In 2019, for example, by January, everything on the island was almost full for the (French) summer, including flights and guesthouses. If you plan to visit Maupiti during the summer period (May to September), I strongly recommend that you book in advance, as early as January, to be sure you have a place somewhere. If you are looking for beautiful guesthouses on the shores of the lagoon, Maupiti could be a perfect choice, in my opinion.
For people looking for beautiful accommodation, as mentioned above, it is best to stay in Bora Bora, which offers a wide range of luxury hotels, often located on the motus on the reef.
I know it’s a buzzword that upsets a lot of people! As I explain in my article on the island of Bora Bora, it is quite possible to see something other than luxury hotels on the island, but it is also necessary to try to get away from this situation. If you make the effort, you can stay, as I did, in guesthouse or even with a French Polynesian family in an Airbnb. You are then sure to see another side of the island, the one that is not often shown in the magazines. This way, you’re going to be closer to the locals, which is cool in my opinion. If you are curious and interested in people, you can learn a lot and it’s very interesting.
After that, it must be said that Bora Bora’s success in tourism does not always help. Unfortunately, I would say that it would be easier to be considered a ” real tourist ” in Bora Bora than in Maupiti. There is no doubt that Bora Bora is more business oriented than Maupiti. This is obviously even truer if you only stay in your hotel on the motu, which is what most tourists actually do. I’m not criticizing, everyone travels as they wish, but if you choose this option, you will honestly miss out on the authentic side…
Having been to Maupiti Island several times, I find that the overall mood is better there. It’s certainly quieter, calmer, less animated, which suits me much better. I, personally, find the island as beautiful as Bora Bora. If I speak from the heart, I would still advise you to go to Maupiti rather than Bora Bora based on the authenticity of the island.
For people seeking activities (both on the sea and in the mountains), the choices will be much more varied in Bora Bora than in Maupiti. All the big hotels in Bora Bora offer a series of excursions around the island by boat, for example to discover the splendid lagoon and its turquoise waters. You will also have the opportunity to discover the interior of the island in a 4×4. For the reservation of activities, I have been recommending this site for some time now, which offers a whole range of activities, for instance, all the activities on Bora Bora.
Also, on the itinerary for the island of Bora Bora: Jetski, parachute jumping, flying over the island by seaplane with Tahiti Air Charter (I’ve tried it, it’s amazing) and many more. Unfortunately, as I write these few lines, the excursion as done at the time is no longer available. However, you can do the same trip by helicopter and fly over Bora Bora and Tupai. It is just as beautiful! To give you some ideas of what you can do in Bora Bora, here is a selection of 3 activities that I find very interesting to do on the island.
- Excursion on the lagoon in a traditional pirogue : Here is an outing with excellent feedback allowing you to explore all the beauties of the island
- Snorkeling trip in the lagoon : Leave for half a day to explore the underwater world, accompanied by a local guide who knows exactly what's going on!
- Visit Bora Bora island by 4x4 : This is a very different way to explore the island, less touristy but just as nice!
On Maupiti, the choice is more limited. You will still have the opportunity to discover the beautiful lagoon, the motus where you can enjoy a superb local meal, made with grilled fish/raw fish and coconut milk. All guesthouses offer this excursion. Also on the island: swimming with manta rays in the lagoon and scuba diving (lagoon or ocean side).
Let’s just say that if, like me, you don’t need to do any extra paid activities on the island to enjoy the experience, Maupiti will be a very good choice!
To put it bluntly, Bora Bora is renowned for having one of the most beautiful lagoons in the world. At least that’s what the magazines say! Surprisingly I would say that you don’t really get to appreciate it from the shore. I really understood its beauty as soon as I went higher up in the mountains. The flight over Bora Bora by seaplane is a real pleasure for the eyes and honestly, I think it is one of the most beautiful views I have had the opportunity to see since I have been traveling in French Polynesia. A cheaper way to experience the beauty of the lagoon is to hike along the interior of the island. I talk about this in the dedicated article in which I have already given some amazing ideas to do there.
As far as the beaches in Bora Bora, the only real beach on the island is the Matira Beach, which is also very beautiful. However, there may be a lot of people around depending on the season. The other beaches are actually on the motus off the island. If you are cycling around the island, you can stop without any problem to swim at various points along the lagoon, which is always enjoyable.
Maupiti looks like a “little Bora Bora” as far as the beaches are concerned since there is also only one real beach on the island, the renowned Tereia Beach. I try not to compare them too closely, but to be honest, I find it just as beautiful as Matira beach in Bora Bora although maybe it’s slightly less turquoise! Not to mention that there are fewer people and you don’t have any bars or restaurants, which makes the environment much more natural, and authentic to me. It is also perfect for swimming. A bonus is that you can walk at low tide to the motu opposite, a very nice experience.
Apart from this beach, you will enjoy the more or less deserted beaches of the motu during a day trip to the lagoon. Also superb and much less developed than the beaches of the motus of Bora Bora.
It’s a matter of taste, I know, but if you are looking for a natural, local, authentic atmosphere, Maupiti will also be the better choice. It should be noted that I didn’t have the opportunity to fly over Maupiti by seaplane but I imagine that the experience would be worth the effort given the splendid shades of blue in the lagoon.
Even though the majority of people come to French Polynesia for white sand beaches and coconut palms, I advise everyone to go and discover the inland area of the islands. You often get access to splendid views. To compare the two islands based on hiking opportunities I think Bora Bora would be more suitable.
Indeed, during my last visit to the island, I had the opportunity to explore the interior of the island through a few short walks that were easily accessible (1-2h maximum). And honestly, I was blown away. This is really where you see the beauty of the island and its lagoon. Some pictures to show you what it looks like.
Some views of the hikes in Maupiti (top) and Bora Bora (bottom)!
However, Maupiti has no need to be jealous of Bora Bora for hiking. The only difference is that Maupiti offers fewer options, in my opinion. You can reach the top of the island through a small path that starts from the village and honestly, you will be amazed by the beautiful views over the lagoon as well. But, I don’t really know of any other possibilities on the island (there may be some of you who know others).
I wanted to clarify a few points because I think this is important when choosing between the islands. Of course, the vast majority of you will arrive on a flight from Europe or US to Tahiti. For the cheapest flights from the USA to Papeete, I advise you to compare prices here. For Canadians, I would advise you to do this in two steps. Take a flight from the nearest major city to San Francisco (between $250 and $350 depending on the city). Then, take a flight from San Francisco to Papeete, around 700/800$.
Then, you will probably use an Air Tahiti Pass to travel and visit the islands (see the detailed article). The options to go to Bora Bora by boat exist but it is quite complicated to arrange in advance, it was almost impossible when I wanted to try it. Even if the boat option is much cheaper than the plane option, it is also much longer (it takes 1 full day from Tahiti). Only a few of you will be interested in trying to take a boat and most will be flying. And that’s where problems arise very quickly.
Indeed, it is quite possible, if you wait too much, let’s say only a few months in advance, that the flights to Maupiti Island will be already full. Depending on the season, there are only 2 to 3 flights per week maximum going to Maupiti while there are at least 4 to 5 flights per day going to Bora Bora. You will have to be careful with your arrangements. I receive emails weekly from people who would like to go to Maupiti but who didn’t book in advance. The result? It is impossible to get there, unfortunately… Obviously, getting to Bora Bora will be much easier than Maupiti.
Finally, last but not least, the island of Maupiti is very small and can therefore be visited on foot or by bicycle without any worries (it is almost completely flat). The island of Bora Bora is much bigger (relatively speaking), and will often require the rental of at least a scooter or a car, in my opinion.
Well why not do both? I’m kidding, but honestly, it’s not that simple to recommend one island over the other. A lot of people tell me by email that they don’t want to go to Bora Bora because it’s an island that’s too touristy. This is probably true, but if you stay in a family boarding house on the main island, take the time to talk to the locals, avoid boat trips with hordes of tourists, you will be surprised at how few tourists you will encounter. So yes, it is possible to visit Bora Bora and stay off the beaten track. I’m not really a regular visitor to the tourist attraction areas and I really enjoyed my last stay in Bora Bora. It all depends on how simply you travel….
As for Maupiti, it’s a place I’ve kept close to heart for quite some time now and I think that it’s my preferred island of the Leeward Islands. It has managed to avoid the crowds of tourists, although more and more people are visiting it nowadays. I really appreciate the wild side of the island and the general atmosphere of the “small Polynesian island” is superb. You can walk around the island, quietly with the possibility to swim and talk to the locals, which is really enjoyable.
It is therefore difficult for me to conclude indefinitely. An ideal solution for many people would be to spend 3 days in Bora Bora in a beautiful hotel with overwater bungalows and continue their journey for 3/4 days to the island of Maupiti to see another side of French Polynesia, in a more authentic way.
So, I hope that this article will help you make your choice slightly easier. If you can, go visit both islands, you won’t be disappointed, in my opinion. For those who have already been to French Polynesia, what do you think of it? Which island would you recommend? Why? The opinions of everyone are always interesting to share!
See you soon,