If there is one question I have gotten more often than all others lately, it has been whether Bora Bora or the Maldives wins for a honeymoon destination. While I have my personal preference, I’d like to start off by noting that you cannot go wrong between the two idyllic locations. Deciding which you would prefer, however, has many factors to consider from sand quality, natural features, price, accommodation style and more. Keep reading to pick my brain on a topic that has occupied my mind (and my Instagram DM’s) since I returned from the Maldives in February!
Geography & Natural Beauty
The Maldives and Bora Bora differ drastically from each other in terms of their landscapes. The Maldives are flat, sandy islands, lush with palm trees. Close your eyes and picture a deserted, paradise isle, and you have the Maldives! The highest point anywhere in the over 1200 islands is just under 8′ (2.4m) high. Each island is surrounded at least partially by a house reef, leaving a fully or semi protected shallow lagoon in the center, dotted with coral reefs throughout. From the resort islands is an uninterrupted view of the sea.
Bora Bora consists of one central island surrounded by coral atolls, known as motus, an island structure similar to much of French Polynesia. The central island of Bora Bora boasts two main mountains, the highest of which, Mt. Otemanu, rises dramatically to over 2,300′ (700m). Most of the luxury hotels face the mountain, which lends itself to some of the most iconic views on Earth.
Verdict: Visually, both are stunning in their own right, surrounded by violently blue crystalline seas that are too beautiful to render appropriately in photographs. For me, Bora Bora wins in terms of natural beauty because of both the land and seascape.
Sand & Beaches
The Maldives is home to brilliant white sand beaches, with a very fine, powdery texture. Fun fact, the reason for the softness is because the sand is created by parrotfish, who eat corals, absorb the nutrients, and excrete (read: poop) out the sand! In Bora Bora, the sand is also white, but tends to be a bit more coarse, because the motus are made from coral that is less broken down. Bora Bora boasts many lagoons within the motus themselves, which are excellent swimming spots! Beaches in both destinations are flanked with palm trees and abundant tropical flora.
Verdict: The soft sands of the Maldives make my inner beach connoisseur jump with joy!
Lagoon & Coral Reefs
Without a doubt, the seas in both the Maldives and Bora Bora are among the purest in the world. The lagoons in both destinations are both a very saturated hue, lending to a picturesque tropical feel. Water clarity is similar in both locations. In Bora Bora, the lagoon much deeper and sandy at the bottom. As a result, there is actually not a lot of coral in the shallow areas near the hotels, but from a boat excursion, the snorkeling is quite impressive. As a contrast, in the Maldives, every resort island has a house reef. This reef is often accessible directly from your overwater bungalow itself.
Verdict: Both destinations have abundant undersea life. It is perhaps more easily accessible in the Maldives, but the quality is similar overall.
Hotels & Water Villas
In the Maldives, all hotels are located on private islands (other than local guesthouses). This afford guests an unparalleled level of privacy in their bungalows, as the outdoor decks are most often designed to be completely private from your neighbors (unless they happen to snorkel by). With well over 100 resorts to choose from (and climbing) there is a range of accommodations, from 3-5* hotels, with corresponding prices. While the Maldives is not a budget destination by any means, there are attainable value-conscious options that offer quite a lot for your money. Luxe, however, is what the Maldives does best. If you are looking for the most over the top & luxurious villa (with a price to match), you will be hard-pressed to beat the Maldives’s ample options.
In contrast, the resorts of Bora Bora are, for the most part, located on the motus that surround the main island. There are currently only a few dozen properties in Bora Bora. With limited supply and high demand from honeymooners worldwide, the prices are steep with very little drop-off for value properties. As a result, many of the hotels are older, and by default, their rooms tend to be smaller and less updated than their Maldivian counterparts on the whole.
Verdict: Though our Overwater Suite with plunge pool at the Intercontinental Thalasso was new and luxurious, I know from browsing that perhaps you would get more for your your money in the Maldives (butler, anyone?). We chose more value oriented properties for our stay in the Maldives, so while perhaps it is like comparing apples to oranges, I will choose the Maldives to win in this category for quality, variety, and value!
Bora Bora is absolutely teeming with activities to experience. Most hotels offer shuttles to the main island from the surrounding motus so you can easily experience dining and activities outside of your hotel. Hiking in the mountains and exploring the interior of the island of Bora Bora is a mere short boat ride away. Taking snorkeling/diving or jetski tours are readily available from your hotel as well, and the entire lagoon is at your fingertips.
On the other hand, the Maldives is perfect for the person who is content to relax in one location, and truly seeks solace in a destination. There are activities abound, including sandbank picnics, local village trips, and the requisite snorkeling and diving excursions. However, there will not be as many excursions as the islands of the Maldives can be quite far from one another. This is why choosing the resort island to fit your preferences is very important, because you are essentially going to be spending most of your time there. But, who’s complaining, right?
Verdict: Both Bora Bora and the Maldives offer ample activities if you have the budget. Doing excursions tends to be very expensive in both locations. Overall, Bora Bora has a bit more to offer conveniently in this category, and has the added bonus of having greater ease for experiencing local culture.
The region of the world you are traveling from, and the duration of your trip has large bearing on which destination will be right for you.
The Maldives are located in the Indian Ocean, a 4 hour direct flight from Dubai. Coming from California, we were essentially traveling halfway around the world to visit these islands. With nonstop flights from SF to Dubai coming in around 16 hours, you do the math. However, if you are coming from Europe or Africa, the Maldives are a much more convenient choice.
Bora Bora, on the other hand is located in the South Pacific, a 5 hour flight due south from Hawaii. It takes about 8hrs to fly direct to Tahiti from California, plus a short 1 hr on a regional aircraft. Bora Bora is a more convenient choice if you are living in North/South America or Australia.
Fun fact: If you’re flying from Japan, the Maldives and French Polynesia are close to equidistant, with flight times around 10hrs.
Time of Year of Your Trip
Deciding whether to visit Bora Bora or the Maldives depends largely on the time of year you have allocated to visit. If you’re looking to skip the rainy season (my main criteria for the best time to visit any island destination), the two destinations are basically opposites. For Bora Bora, the best time of year to visit is May to October. In contrast, the dry season in the Maldives is November to April. Traveling outside of the dry season is not a sentence to guaranteed downpours, however. In both locations, rains tend to be brief and intense during the wet season. The temperature year round in both locations is fairly consistent, though more humid during the wet season, with increased prevalence of mosquitoes during this time as well.
If you were looking for a clear winner here, I’m sorry to report that writing this summary made me realize even more that Bora Bora and the Maldives are two very distinct destinations. Though both have killer exotic allure, exclusivity, and unparalleled beauty, they are very different in their vibe. I sincerely do not think you would regret a trip to either destination! Keeping your location and the time of year you have to travel are very important considerations as well as your personal preferences for accommodation. I hope that I’ve framed the differences in a way that helps you realize your preferences and choose your ideal honeymoon escape or splurge trip!