Maldives vs. Bora Bora: Which remote island chain should you visit?
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Congratulations, you’re facing one of the world’s best “dilemmas.” If you found this article, that means you’re at least loosely debating the pros and cons of visiting the Maldives or Bora Bora — easily two of the most exotic, luxurious, bucket-list-worthy island chains in the world.
The good news is you can’t go wrong: both are once-in-a-lifetime type destinations. But, having had the good fortune to have visited both spots (and by fortune, I mean I visited on points), I can tell you that for all their similarities, Bora Bora and the Maldives do have their differences from each other.
Of course, right now French Polynesia — the gateway to Bora Bora — is closed to tourists. Watch TPG’s guide to the reopening of international destinations for updates. To enter the Maldives right now, you just need proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 96 hours of departure and complete a Traveler Health Declaration within 24 hours prior to travel.
So, if you’re planning a trip further out when both destinations are open to tourists, which should you choose for a big international beach getaway? Let’s find out.
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Getting to the islands
It won’t surprise you that both the Maldives and Bora Bora are pretty far from the U.S. mainland. However, one is much easier to reach than the other.
As the crow flies, Male (the airport you will fly into for a trip to the Maldives) is 8,721 miles from New York City. Bora Bora (BOB) is 4,181 miles as the crow flies from San Francisco (or more than 6,300 miles from NYC). You’re going to have to connect to get to either, but Male is going to be a much longer journey.
To reach Bora Bora from the West Coast, you can fly to Tahiti (PPT), the gateway to Bora Bora (BOB), from either Los Angeles or San Francisco on United Airlines, Air Tahiti Nui, French Bee or Air France. Expect the flight to clock in at about eight hours — just a couple hours longer than a flight from the West Coast to Hawaii.
Saver award prices on United start at 35,000 miles in economy. If you want to fly in lie-flat business class, a better bet than United (which rarely has saver availability) might be spending 80,000 American Airlines miles to fly on Air Tahiti Nui.
Once you get to Tahiti, you’re still an hour-long flight away from Bora Bora (BOB). You’ll book that flight on Air Tahiti. While you can use fixed-value points to cover the charge, you won’t be using traditional airline miles. Expect to spend about $400 round-trip on this flight, and a little less for children 12 and under.
From the airport in Bora Bora, you’ll still need to take a boat to get to your hotel.
There is a free water taxi to the main island in Bora Bora, but most guests at hotels such as the Conrad, St. Regis, and InterContinental pay to take their respective hotel’s boat to check in. Fees are around $80 per adult.
For the Maldives, you have more ways to get there, but all of them are a much longer haul from the U.S.
From the U.S. to the Maldives, you’ll likely connect in Europe, the Middle East or Asia. When I came home from the Maldives a few years ago, I flew from the small airport nearest the Park Hyatt Maldives to Male (MLE), then on to Singapore (SIN), connecting to Taipei (TPE), then across the ocean to Los Angeles (LAX) and finally home to Houston (IAH). It took 30-something hours, and even though it was all in business class, we were thoroughly wiped out. It’s far. And getting there — from Houston (IAH), to Amsterdam (AMS), to Istanbul (IST), to Male (MLE) — wasn’t much faster.
(Here are the best ways to get to the Maldives using points and miles.)
Once you’re in Male, you’re still not all the way to your paradise. You’re likely still a flight, boat ride or flight and boat ride away from your island hotel. This could be a potentially free speedboat transfer if you book direct at the Sheraton Maldives, which is relatively close to the airport. Or it can be a $600 (plus 23.3% tax) per person yacht transfer to the Waldorf Astoria Maldives. (Here is your guide to boat and plane transfers in the Maldives.)
A final pro tip about flying to the Maldives. If you can’t find flights you want to Male, try Colombo, Sri Lanka (CMB) and then add on a cheap flight from there to Male.
Best times to visit
As you probably guessed by the abundant presence of overwater villas, neither Bora Bora nor the Maldives has a hurricane season to speak of, but they do have seasons in their own ways.
While the temperatures in Bora Bora are in the 70s to 80s much of the year, the winter months are generally marked with more rain. April through November average the most sunshine and least amount of rainfall, while December through February are the wettest months. And, of course, with all that rain comes … mosquitoes.
We visited Bora Bora in November over Thanksgiving break and while it did rain most days, the rain didn’t last all day and didn’t have a huge impact on our trip.
The Maldives is a moody destination when it comes to weather and it has a true monsoon season. Typically, the drier months in the Maldives run from December to April. May to November bring with them more rain, more wind and more storms. We visited the Maldives in early May and the rain wasn’t constant, but it impacted our trip by canceling most of our planned outdoor activities.
If you have the luxury of choice, head to the Maldives from January to March, when you’re most likely to have sunshine far more than rain. Save Bora Bora for the rest of the year (April to November or December). This may help immensely in deciding which one to choose if you have firm travel dates.
Related: Best time to visit the Maldives
Here’s where things get good — really good. Your hotel points are as good as gold in Bora Bora or the Maldives. That said, hotels at both destinations are at the extreme high end of the award chart, availability can be scarce and resort fees can be painful with some chains.
First things first. The day you land in Tahiti, you should probably just stay in Tahiti. If you have points, check out the InterContinental Tahiti, just a five- to 10-minute cab ride from the Tahiti airport (PPT). The hotel rooms aren’t breathtaking, but the pools and oceanview are plenty great for an overnight.
Expect to spend 50,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night at this property, though award availability is tight.
After that overnight on Tahiti, some top points-friendly hotel options in Bora Bora include:
- Conrad Bora Bora: 89,000 Hilton Honors points per night, no resort fee
- St. Regis Bora Bora: Category 8: 70,000 to 100,000 Marriott points per night
- InterContinental Bora Bora Thalasso: 70,000 IHG points per night
- InterContinental Le Moana Bora Bora: 70,000 IHG points per night
- Le Meridien Bora Bora: Category 7 — 50,000 to 70,000 Marriott points per night
While I’ve only stayed at the Conrad Bora Bora, so I can’t truly compare all the options, on paper it feels like the best value of the bunch when you factor in free breakfast for Hilton Gold elites and above (which you can get just by having the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card) and the lack of a resort fee when staying on Hilton points. In fact, I’d argue that Hilton points are the best type of point for a hotel stay in Bora Bora.
- Conrad Maldives: 95,000 Hilton points per night, no resort fee
- SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection: 85,000 Hilton points per night, no resort fee
- The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort: Category 8 — 70,000 to 100,000 Marriott points per night
- Park Hyatt Maldives: 30,000 Hyatt points per night, no resort fee
- The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort: Category 7 — 50,000 to 70,000 Marriott points per night
- JW Marriott Maldives: Category 8 — 70,000 to 100,000 Marriott points per night
- InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort: 100,000 IHG points
- Holiday Inn Resort Maldives: 25,000 IHG points
- Sheraton Maldives: Category 6 — 40,000 to 60,000 Marriott points per night
- W Maldives: 70,000 to 100,000 Marriott points per night
- Waldorf Astoria Maldives: 120,000 Hilton points per night, no resort fee
Just about any of the high-end resorts in the Maldives get rave reviews and could be a fantastic home base for your vacation.
Things to do
You probably go to Bora Bora or the Maldives with one main goal in mind — relaxation. If you desire lots of diverse things to do, neither is actually the right beach destination for you. However, there are some things to do on each such as snorkeling, spa-ing, going out on a boat and scuba diving.
Those that are into scuba diving say the Maldives is a must-visit destination. I don’t scuba, but I can say we had the best time snorkeling in Bora Bora.
Related: Activities at the St. Regis Maldives
What I liked about Bora Bora more than the Maldives was that there was real “civilization” of sorts nearby. While staying at the Park Hyatt Maldives, we were basically isolated on that private island with resort guests. At the Conrad Bora Bora, you could take an affordable boat transfer or water taxi into a real (small) town very nearby.
You could also hire a boat to take you out and do things such as snorkeling and sightseeing without having to rely solely on the hotel for all of your entertainment and needs.
Rumor has it Moorea (also in French Polynesia near Bora Bora) is an even better choice for those who want more activity options in their island paradise.
If you want to experience several different islands in one trip, your best option may be Bora Bora. Air Tahiti has some flight pass options that will include visits to multiple French Polynesian islands within a set number of weeks.
For example, the Bora Bora – Tuamotu pass includes Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Maupiti, Bora Bora, Rangiroa, Tikehau and Fakarava.
While it’s not impossible to island-hop in the Maldives, it often isn’t simple and may require routing back through Male most times. Additionally, many of the islands in the Maldives where you would stay are simply private resorts, so while you can certainly try a couple of different islands resorts while in the Maldives, you may not be truly getting the feel for different islands with more diverse offerings the way you can in French Polynesia.
Bringing the family
If this is a family trip instead of an adults-only getaway, your kids are in for a beach paradise treat in either location.
In both the Maldives and Bora Bora, many of the resorts have family pools and kids clubs on-site. That said, you’re not likely to find the waterslides and other trappings you might see in Mexico, Florida, the Caribbean or Hawaii.
When deciding whether to take a family trip to the Maldives or Bora Bora, factor in a couple of things. First, look at the distance. Do you want to travel close to 30 hours with your kids to get to the beach? (Of course, if you are working in stops along the way as part of a larger trip, the equation changes some.)
For most families in the U.S., Bora Bora is a considerably simpler destination to reach. If you take a daytime United flight from the West Coast, it isn’t much harder to reach than Hawaii.
Next, look at the accommodation options. Many of the hotels in both Bora Bora and the Maldives are actually villas rather than traditional hotel rooms — and some are overwater or have private pools. Some properties may not allow children under a certain age to stay in the overwater villas, so check those requirements. Additionally, some properties don’t allow more than two or three people in one villa — though the Conrad properties in both Bora Bora and the Maldives will allow two adults and two children 12 and under in many villas. Remember since they are villas are not traditional rooms, you can’t just book a second connecting room if one villa isn’t large enough for your crew. However, for additional points, you may be able to book a two-bedroom villa in some places, such as a two-bedroom overwater villa that goes for 125k Marriott points some nights at the W Maldives.
Talk to the hotel(s) you’re interested in to see what’s possible for your family. We were able to stay at the Conrad Bora Bora in a land villa with two adults and two children (ages 9 and 4 at the time) for no extra fee with the use of some complimentary rollaway beds.
Both Bora Bora and Maldives are expensive destinations on cash, points and miles. There are strategies to reduce the cost a bit in either location, but on average, it’s probably easier to have a slightly more budget-friendly vacation in Bora Bora than it is in the Maldives.
In Bora Bora, you can take a hotel shuttle or water taxi into Vaitape where you can stock up on groceries and drinks, and have some off-property (read: more affordable) meals. It’s still going to cost you to get to Vaitape and back to your resort paradise, but it’s more doable than from most popular resort spots in the Maldives.
It’s also more common to find flight deals to Papeete in Tahiti (the gateway to French Polynesia) from the U.S. than it is all the way to the Maldives. We’ve seen United offer 45% discounts on award seats to Tahiti and we’ve seen cash prices for airfare to Tahiti in the $400 to $500 range.
With points and miles and a big, included breakfast somewhere such as the Conrad Bora Bora thanks to Hilton status from your Hilton credit card, you’re well over halfway there to a relatively budget-friendly trip to Bora Bora. Just be sure and budget a little extra to take a boat out and enjoy some exceptional snorkeling and sightseeing.
If you like privacy, amazing underwater sea life, perfect beaches and some pretty epic points-friendly resorts, both the Maldives and Bora Bora should be on your travel wish list. They are absolutely both worth it in those regards.
However, for me, the Maldives are more of a once-in-a-lifetime (or more like once every decade or two) destination, while French Polynesia is a place I hope to visit a bit more frequently since it is more accessible from the U.S. and a touch more affordable.
Featured image by Summer Hull/The Points Guy
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