Bora Bora Vs. Maldives: Which Should You Visit?

Filed Under: Travel

As I finish up this trip report series, I figured I’d answer a question I’ve been getting quite a bit — do I prefer the Maldives or Bora Bora? These are two of the most popular “exotic” island vacation destinations, so I figured I’d chime in.

Before I do so, let me note that:

  • I’ve only been to Bora Bora once, while I’ve been to the Maldives a handful of times
  • There’s more to French Polynesia than just Bora Bora, as there are other islands you can visit; however, I only went to Bora Bora, so that’s all I’ll chime in on

I’ll compare various aspects of visiting the destinations, so let’s get right into it:

Maldives vs. Bora Bora: getting there

First let me address the actual process of getting to either Male International Airport in the Maldives and Papeete International Airport in French Polynesia:

  • French Polynesia is an eight hour nonstop flight from the US West Coast, and can be reached from Los Angeles or San Francisco on Air France, Air Tahiti Nui, French Bee, or United
  • The Maldives can’t be reached nonstop from the US, but rather you can either connect in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East, on literally dozens of airlines

So in terms of travel time from the US mainland, French Polynesia is significantly faster to get to, especially if you’re originating on the US West Coast.

Air Tahiti Nui’s new 787-9 business class

However, in terms of the quality of airlines and the ability to redeem miles, the Maldives is going to be much better. There are lots of options for redeeming miles, and you can fly some really spectacular airline products.

You can fly Etihad’s spectacular A380 first class enroute to the Maldives

Whether you prefer faster or more comfortable obviously comes down to individual circumstances.

Winner: It really depends, though living on the US East Coast I personally prefer getting to the Maldives, since it’s not that much further, and I can fly much better airlines with access to a lot more award availability.

Maldives vs. Bora Bora: inter-island transfers

There are two parts to getting to most resorts in the Maldives or Bora Bora — first you have to get to the major international airport, and then you have to get to the actual resort.

To compare the two processes:

  • In French Polynesia you’ll take a scheduled flight on Air Tahiti to Bora Bora, and then it’s a 20 minute (or so) boat ride to the resort; the cost is typically about $350 roundtrip per person for the flight, and then maybe another $150 for the hotel transfer
  • In the Maldives resorts can be reached by speedboat, domestic turboprop flight, or seaplane, depending on the resort you’re going to; the cost is typically in the range of $600-1,000 roundtrip per person, depending on whether you’re going, and that includes getting all the way to the hotel

One thing to note is that in French Polynesia you’re just booking a scheduled commercial flight, so you know exactly when you’ll fly.

Air Tahiti plane in Bora Bora

In the Maldives you typically arrange the transfer through your resort, and they often only let you know a day or so in advance at what time you’re flying, which can be stressful for some.

Trans Maldivian Airways seaplane

Winner: Personally I prefer the Air Tahiti transfer experience, given that it usually has a lower cost, and is also more predictable, since you’re booking a scheduled flight.

Maldives vs. Bora Bora: hotels

One thing the Maldives really has going for it is the number of spectacular hotels. Even when it comes to points hotels, you have the incredible St. Regis Maldives, which is only a couple of years old, and the Waldorf-Astoria Maldives, which is opening soon.

Beautiful St. Regis Maldives overwater villa

There are a countless number of other hotels. If you’re looking to redeem points, there’s the Park Hyatt, Conrad, W, and many more.

As far as points properties go, Bora Bora has the St. Regis, Conrad, and InterContinental. There are some hotels on other islands as well, but in general you won’t find quite the same quality of points hotels.

Significantly less beautiful St. Regis Bora Bora overwater villa

Now, both regions have some other incredible non-points hotels. While not in Bora Bora, the Brando in French Polynesia is often regarded as one of the most spectacular hotels in the world. Similarly, Cheval Blanc in the Maldives is regarded as one of the top hotels there.

Winner: I’d say the Maldives has more options, and also a lot more cutting edge, new hotels.

Maldives vs. Bora Bora: price

Both destinations are bloody expensive. Obviously the nicer of a resort you stay at, the more expensive it’s going to be. So there’s no “one size fits all” answer here. The Maldives has high import taxes on things like alcohol, while French Polynesia has a high minimum wage, so labor is more expensive.

In general I’d say that Bora Bora was perhaps marginally less expensive for most things. I’d say prices on the menu in the Maldives and Bora Bora were roughly comparable, while in Bora Bora the price displayed includes tax and service, while it doesn’t in the Maldives.

It’s also worth noting that in Bora Bora you can take a boat into town and eat there if you want a more reasonably priced meal (though the boat transfer typically isn’t cheap, so will likely wipe out any savings).

Winner: Bora Bora, but only by a little bit.

Maldives vs. Bora Bora: natural beauty

The Maldives and Bora Bora are popular for a reason — they’re both naturally stunning. I will say that I think Bora Bora was perhaps marginally more beautiful, if that’s possible.

Why? The Maldives has gorgeous ocean and beach, though land is flat.

St. Regis Maldives

In Bora Bora you have beautiful ocean and beach, and also have the benefit of mountains, thanks to Mount Otemanu, which adds a further depth to the scenery.

St. Regis Bora Bora

Winner: Bora Bora thanks to the mountains.

Maldives vs. Bora Bora: activities

The focus of both destinations is obviously the beach and ocean, and most go to relax. There are some differences, though:

  • In the Maldives you’re “captive” on an island, so can’t really go to a local town for dinner, etc.
  • In Bora Bora you can take a boat to the main island, and while it’s not the coolest town you’ll ever visit, it has some good restaurants and is cute enough

I’d also note that Bora Bora having an actual community means that you can plan all kinds of activities with outside tour operators, which isn’t typically possible in the Maldives. This means the tours will often have lower costs (though they’re still far from cheap).

Arranging outside tours in Bora Bora is easy

Sting ray tour in Bora Bora 

Winner: Bora Bora, given that you’re not completely isolated.

Maldives vs. Bora Bora: safety

I’m not suggesting this should be a concern, but rather I know a lot of people have safety concerns when traveling. Personally I think the safety concerns are overblown. For example, in the US a lot of people think it’s dangerous to travel to London and Paris, and don’t even consider the number of mass shootings we have here.

That being said…

I’d note that there aren’t really any major safety concerns in Bora Bora that I can think of, as that part of the Pacific is pretty peaceful.

In the Maldives there’s always the fear of terrorism. The government sometimes lacks stability, and on a per capita basis, more ISIS recruits come from the Maldives than any other country (of course the country has a small population, but still). Add in the lack of real defense in the Maldives, and it sure seems like the individual islands are quite vulnerable.

Is this something I’m personally concerned about, and that informs my decisions? No. But I know it’s something that others do think about.

Winner: Bora Bora.

Bottom line

There’s no absolute right answer as to whether Bora Bora or the Maldives is “better.” There are so many different circumstances to consider, and I’m barely scratching the surface here.

This is also somewhat tailored to those who are into miles & points. I can also only speak based on the activities I like. For example, I don’t dive, but I know that’s a reason many people travel to places like this.

I was pleasantly surprised by how different Bora Bora was from the Maldives. I preferred the scenery and liked that you could go into town and weren’t totally held “captive” at the resort.

That being said, personally I also sort of feel like Bora Bora was a “been there, done that” kind of place, and I don’t always get that feeling from the Maldives.

The thing about the Maldives is that every private island feels different for a variety of reasons, so going to a different island gives you a different experience.

Meanwhile in Bora Bora I sort of feel like the resort locations, etc., are similar enough so that I don’t need to return anytime in the near future. I can’t fully explain why I feel that way, but I do.

So I guess my conclusion is that both are worth checking out. If you’ve been to the Maldives several times, give Bora Bora a try, and vice versa. They’re different.

I prefer the hotels and comfort of getting to the Maldives, while I think I prefer most other things about Bora Bora.

If you’ve visited the Maldives and/or Bora Bora, which did you prefer?

  1. Sad that there’s no comparison of the cultures, especially given the rich cultural history of the Polynesians and the interplay with French influence.

  2. Been at Bora Bora to Conrad, St Regis, Meridien (my son got anaphylaxia there btw due to poor overshight) and Four Seasons. I have been to the Maldives at FS LG, Constance Hallaveli, Jumeirah Vittaveli and Soneva Fushi. For me Maldives win hands down. There is just something about being bare foot for 7 days and walking in sand for 7 days that is unbeatable. Its also just more beautiful imho.

  3. @ Sco — I speak from experience when I say that comparing cultures on a global blog usually doesn’t end well. 😉

  4. Dear Ben,
    maybe you have already addressed this elsewhere in the comments, and I may have missed it, but what happend to James?

  5. @ El Plauzo — James made the decision to pursue other opportunities. He’s a great guy, and we wish him the best. We were caught off guard as much as you guys. I think that’s about all I can add on that front.

  6. Never been to Bora Bora before, but I heard traveling out of America helps expand your mind and have a greater respect for life.

  7. Definitely the Maldives since it’s got a more vibrant history and culture, which are important to me, as a traveller. If only going for the “behind the wall” resort experience, just go with the lower cost.

  8. Bora Bora is one single island, while the Maldives are hundrets, so this whole article doesn’t make much sense.

  9. Thanks for the heads-up Ben! I’m glad to hear that he is fine and nothing bad has happened to him, but it is sad to hear that he has left OMAAT.

  10. I’ve been to bora bora, and am going to Maldives for the first time in June. I have spent the past 2 months agonizing over staying at the four seasons kuda huraa or the new lux north male atoll. We have to stay by male since we get in at 10pm. I wish I knew if the water at lux was the clear blue like the lagoon of bora bora. It’s such a new resort there’s almost no pictures online. Do you ever roll the dice on an unknown hotel, lucky?

  11. @Lucky: I didn’t even realize that James had gone. He wrote some great stuff (his article on Berlin Brandenburg was very high quality) and provided some great new perspectives to the site. Sad to see him go, but I can understand why blogging wouldn’t be for everyone.

  12. @ Tom — First of all, Bora Bora isn’t a single island. Or at least the hotels aren’t on the same island. For the most part you can’t get between hotels other than boats. But the reason I’m comparing the two is because they’re both popular island destinations. This isn’t about similar geography, but rather about people with similar travel styles deciding between the two.

  13. @Lucky: I like the comparison of Bora Bora vs. Maldives. Do you think there is a comparable Caribbean destiiation? There are some stunning beaches and islands down there, and comparably priced resorts! I’m thinking of some of the Oetker properties, MO Canouan, St Barts etc…

  14. What type of plane and seats does Air France fly to Papeete?

    @DNN that’s true for people who live in just about any country…

  15. I’ve been to all the FP islands several times and maldives a couple of times.
    I LOVE the sea plane transfer and that each island is its own resort. There are usually many options for water sports in Malvives and not so much in Bora bora…
    I think both are nice but Maldives superior…

  16. I’ve never been to Maldives but I really loved Tahiti and would go back to explore the different islands (I only went to Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahiti, and Tahaa thus far.) I understand what you mean by the ‘been there done that’ feeling by visiting Bora Bora since I felt that too after staying there for 5 days. However, visiting a different island like Tahaa (vanilla island) was awesome and felt less touristy/honeymoony. There are still great resorts in the other Tahitian islands and the culture is quite rich as well.
    Since the Tahitians islands are quite remote, I noticed most of the other tourists there tend to be French/Australian/American/Japanese/Chilean/Kiwi (pretty much the places that have a direct flight there). I have a feeling the tourists who go to Maldives tend to be more diverse given more airlines from different countries fly there and in general it’s just easier to get there too.

  17. Interesting comparison Lucky! I’d note that you can fly to Sri Lanka and then down to the southern airport Gan and get boat transfers (usually free!) directly to the few resorts down that way (including the scrumptious Shangri-La Villingili). Because it is via a major airline you don’t pay such extravagant flight costs as the private air transfers to the northern islands via Male airport. I would also note that the southern region can be nicer weather even when the Male area has monsoon like rains in the rainy season.

    I flew from Male to Gan for work (yes work!) and it was an interesting experience, including the Arabic prayer prior to take off, after the security demo, and the fact that locals pay significantly less for inter-island flights, which only makes sense. There is a real move for the local populace to the capital island of Male, and it has resulted in some interesting island expansion efforts to accommodate this burgeoning population. Oh, and there was a hermit crab casually walking down the aisle on my flight to HK from Male. It was hilarious. No idea where he came from.

  18. “So in terms of travel time from the US mainland, French Polynesia is significantly faster to get to, especially if you’re originating on the US West Coast.”

    This is clearly true from the west coast as you mention… but east coast its negligible. Picking a random day NYC to PPT is ~16.5 hours and MLE is ~18 hours, both one stop.

  19. I’ve been to both. If this were 30 years ago, I would say the Maldives. But today, I would have to say Bora Bora, because the coral reefs in the Maldives are DEAD, DEAD, DEAD. And that part of the human experience is now gone.

  20. @lucky….don’t forget about Zika….Maldives has had reports of Zika but French Polynesia is Zika-free according to CDC

  21. Wife and I spent a week in the Maldives in 2014 in the Conrad Rangali and the and 2 weeks in French Polynesia in 2015 spending 6 nights in the IC Thalasso, 4 nights in Rangiroa and 4 in Fakarava. Both are incredible destinations but for us FP has the advantage. That said, Rangiroa is the place that has it all we want: seclusion, good food, amazing snorkeling and scuba.

    We thought the Maldives bungalows are much more crowded then those in Bora Bora, and the Mount Otemanu views are amazing, if I had to choose to come back I’d choose French Polynesia, but I would not mind at all going back to the Maldives 😉

  22. I’ve been to both Bora Bora and the Maldives. I saw much more of French Polynesia than just Bora Bora, which is why I would probably say I prefer it to the Maldives.

    Getting to the Maldives from the US west coast was a great adventure on Etihad via NYC on their A380 apartments & Abu Dhabi, while the trip to Tahiti was just on an Air France 777 in business… no comparison.

    Once on the ground though, I found the diving in Rangiroa and the Marquesas to be exceptional (all part of French Polynesia). The sea life in Maldives was a bit disappointing.

    The different geographic features of French Polynesia were truly spectacular as well. As much as I enjoyed the hotel staff in the Maldives at the Park Hyatt, I found the French influenced culture to be more interesting in Tahiti.

  23. @Lucky – curious as to why you didn’t add Seychelles in this comparison, especially after having gone there last year.

  24. I feel 50% of your readers are rich. Either by MS or by nature.

    I am planning my honeymoon to either of these and we’re just so confused. I loved the article. Really made us wanna go to Bora Bora but then the comments are mostly pro Maldives.


    p.s. Lucky you’re the best. Sometimes it’s like you read my mind.

  25. Been to both. Maldives is bettter below the surface. Bora Bora above the surface.

    You can bring booze to French Polynesia but not to the Maldives

  26. What about crowds? I loved that Park Hyatt Maldives felt deserted, even when it was fully booked during Lunar New Year.

  27. I think something important to add is the ability to (legally) bring in alcohol to Bora Bora vs the Maldives. We bought duty free at LAX before the trip and it likely saved us hundreds on drink costs alone. Even at the local Chin Lee supermarket a handle of Jack Daniels was $100+. Also the ability to stock up at the local supermarkets on Bora Bora for snacks, etc. to help offset some food costs were a huge perk in my view as well.

  28. I prefer Maldives and not staying in a resort but on a local island gives you access to local culture, local food, and dramatically lower prices. I recommend people try out both — there is such incredible diversity in the Maldives and the capital of Male is also a funky and intriguing place to spend a day.

  29. Interesting post; I appreciate these types of comparisons and have also been to both destinations: Bora Bora (and Moorea) once and the Maldives twice.

    One point that tips the decision about where I would be more likely to return that I did not see in the post or other comments is related to weather. Living in the US mid-Atlantic region and hating cold weather, my preferred time for tropical beach vacations is during the colder times of year at home (late November – late April) timeframe. The Maldives dry season corresponds well to this period; I had great, mostly sunny weather with very little rain on two trips in February and March. French Polynesia’s “dry season” still gets more rain than the Maldives dry season, and it corresponds to late spring to early fall at home, which is a less desirable time of year for me to travel to this type of destination.

  30. This is like “should I go to Las Vegas o Macau?”

    I can understand comparing Hawaii with Fiji, Zurich and Vienna, or japan and South Korea, but Maldives with Bora Bora?

  31. one thing killing me about bora bora ihg: points availability. there is hardly ANYTHING for availability unless going there like tomorrow or a few days, and thats with the chase free anniversary night. quite irritating to find availability so i may just use my points elsewhere.

  32. “Obviously the nicer of a resort you stay at, the more expensive it’s going to be.”

    That is just wrong.
    There are plenty overpriced resorts that aren’t as “Nice” as cheaper resorts, especially in Maldives

    Also, can you quantify “Nice”?

  33. Would you please add in a comparison of the Seychelles? I’ve been on a yacht charter in French Polynesia (including Bora Bora), but wanting to go to the Seychelles or Maldives next. If you can also comment on sailing and scuba that would be helpful. Thanks! Love your blog!!! keep up the good work, especially with points, credit cards and award travel!!

  34. @Tomas
    It depends what kind of activities you want to do on your honeymoon. Do you want to do activities and visit multiple islands? Or do you want to just go to one hotel and do nothing? If it’s do nothing, then just go to which ever is cheaper. If you want to do activities and go to multiple islands/hotels, then I would say go to FP. While you can also do that in Maldives, it’s just much easier in FP. We’ve been to both. And we are at a stage now that when we go on that type of vacation, we just want to do nothing so we tend to prefer Maldives now. But our honeymoon was in FP. This was our itinerary: one night IC Tahiti, 3 nights at Hilton Moorea Lagoon and 5 nights at IC thalaso spa in bora bora. In moorea you can swim with dolphins, rent a car and drive around island and go Tahitian pearl shopping (great souvenir for wife). In Bora bora: reef shark feeding, snorkeling trips that are really close, take a boat into town where you can hiking and/or go to bloody Mary’s for dinner, etc. Which ever destination you choose just make sure you stay at in an overwater bungalow.

  35. Thanks @Ed! Yes we are thinking definitely a relax vacation, so doing nothing is our goal. But in 7 days we may want one just one day do something whether that is rent a boat or scuba or something.

    I do appreciate the fact of money saving by going to main island markets to stock posted above.

  36. Both are great of course, though my beach boy heart will probably always belong to amanpulo in the philippines, what a happy place. Learn to scuba! It’s like flying underwater, you’ll love it! Fish are so stupid and cute!

  37. Oh, let me add an admittedly douchy tip for the splurging US beach seeking crowd, consider a 3 to 5 bedroom house in mustique, very private, so beautiful, easy to get to, staffed, and on par in cost in shoulder season to one week alternatives in the Maldives/Brando. Cheaper even if you have some splurging friends to share it with.

  38. My two cents…Both have wonderful features, specifically the unique resort-on-its-own-island in the Maldives and the sunsets in Bora Bora. But, if the weather does not cooperate, I would much rather be in Bora Bora where at least you can travel to other islands. The 3 straight days of rain we experienced at the Four Seasons in the Maldives at the height of the “dry” season drove us nuts as we were stuck in our rooms (after having had all of the spa treatments).

  39. Not Bora Bora but we did Fiji on the way back from Auckland and we were blown away by the snorkeling….the people……and the prices at the SPA!……….We could do the spa for a week and not spend as much as Half

  40. In terms of safety, you really only touched on terrorism and national security, which I consider to be a non-issue in 95% of tourist destinations, the danger being extremely overblown in the media.

    Is local crime basically nonexistent in both?

  41. I am currently at the PH Maldives. My second trip. I have stayed at the intercontinental Bora Bora Le Moana and was upgraded to an overwater Bungalow, and shared a speed boat with a movie star and her director husband. Never had an overwater villa in the Maldives. But, the Maldives is significantly better than Bora Bora. I can’t speak for the rest of French Polynesia, but there is no comparison in my mind. The Maldives is far superior if you want true escape in paradise. I would not go back to Bora Bora. Plus, the airport in Papeete, Tahiti is the most uncomfortable I have ever felt in any airport in terms of climate. Bring your deodorant and lots of water.

  42. They both sound awesome, but I’d probably go with the Maldives. And I could never fly on “French Bee”, that’s the fourth-worst airline name in the world (after “SCAT” and “WizzAir”, both names for…”biological functions”, and U-Land, apparently gone now, apparently people didn’t find the airline’s confidence in you actually landing very comforting.)

    And French Bee’s logo isn’t even a bee, more of a stylized butterfly. If you’re going to name your airline after an insect, stay on brand, guys.

  43. I have not visited any other property in the Maldives and Bora Bora aside for the Conrads. I strongly favor Bora Bora for the accessibility. Once the new local carrier starts service and competes with Air Tahiti, the PPT to BOB flights should be much cheaper.

  44. My wife and I live in NYC and have been on a bit of a bender when it comes to the islands…it began with Maldives in 2015 and we also have knocked off Fiji, Seychelles, Bali, and Palawan. People ask all the time our favorite and Maldives still gets the vote as we loved the remoteness of our resorts and the snorkeling was amazing (we head back in January). Our tips:
    Maldives is a long trip from NYC but using miles to fly Singapore Air business class makes the trip more pleasant.
    Don’t fear staying at a hotel near the Male airport if you arrive late or leave early…staying there for a night in those situations will save you a few hundred bucks, at least.
    Our first trip we did two resorts…one that was a quick boat ride from Male airport so that we didn’t need to spend time waiting at the airport to make a connecting flight. And then we stayed at Mirihi which required a 45 minute flight.
    But we definitely expect to visit Tahiti at some point (not sure about Bora Bora as snorkeling is at the top of our list).

    Oh, and in general:
    Seychelles amazing beaches but they can get crowded like an American Beach. But La Digue was our favorite island there.
    If snorkeling or diving is your thing Fiji’s Taveuni island is amazing as the Rainbow Reef truly lives up to its name.
    Palawan Island was also wonderful and if you stop in Manila there are good hotels near the airport to stay a night in advance of the flight to Palawan. And feeling tense after the flight? Massages in Manila can be had for $10 an hour (even in room).

  45. The Maldives is a very strict Islamic country which still practices some odd system which can best be described as “Tourism Apartheid”. Tourists are not even allowed on many of the islands inhabited by locals (some have opened up to visitors for economic reasons recently). Many activities condoned on the resort islands are completely forbidden on the inhabited islands, this includes beachwear (especially for ladies), pork, alcohol and -as a matter of interest- homosexuality.
    French Polynesia on the other hand is a modern democratic state with a pluralistic society.
    I appreciate that Lucky didn’t want to start a debate on cultural differences, but I would think twice about where to take my tourist dollar.

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