Should you go to Bora Bora or to the Maldives – you’re facing perhaps the best dilemma in the world! No matter where you end up, you will have a wonderful time and you’ll be at one of the best and most beautiful vacation spots on the planet. But there are pros and cons to each and depending on where you’re going from and what you enjoy doing, one of these places is ultimately the better option for you.
From how long it takes to get there to what you can do when you arrive – this detailed guide covers everything you need to know about both Bora Bora and the Maldives. So, read on to see which slice of heaven is the better option for you!
Bora Bora is an idyllic island chain in the South Pacific and one of the most popular honeymoon destinations in the world. At least for the people who can afford it, since it’s considered one of the priciest vacation spots on the planet.
Bora Bora is full of 5-star luxury resorts and getting there alone costs a small fortune in airline tickets and fees. But once that soft white sand is under your bare feet and you’re staring at the turquoise ocean, all the horror of multiple layovers and crammed seats evaporate from your memory.
The islands are under French administration and the influence is particularly noticeable in culture and cuisine. But that doesn’t mean all you will be eating are croissants and onion soups – popular dishes in Bora Bora include a lot of fruit because it is easily accessible on the island. Banana purees are probably the most popular desserts, and mangoes and papayas are everywhere.
The Maldives are an island chain in the Indian Ocean, about 700 kilometers away from mainland Asia. The capital city is Malé and it’s the only city with an international airport in the Maldives. That’s where you’ will arrive after your excruciatingly long flight, and from there expect to take a boat or seaplane transfer to your island resort of choice.
The Maldives is a proper country with its own president but the Indian influence is noticeable, especially in the culture and cuisine. Expect to eat a lot of spicy seafood, curries, tuna and rice in this slice of heaven!
The Maldives is a much larger island chain than Bora Bora, with more than a thousand islands and over 850 accommodation establishments. That includes resorts, guest houses and even safari vessels, so whatever you’re into, we’re pretty sure you’ll find it in the Maldives. There are also hundreds of luxury stay options, so if you want an extravagant and luxurious vacation, you definitely won’t be disappointed.
With more than a thousand different islands in the Maldives, how do you choose where to stay? Well, in terms of weather and beaches, it doesn’t really matter – the climate is the same everywhere, and the beaches are equally spectacular. It’s best to check accommodation prices and see which islands are within your budget.
Once you’ve narrowed down the options, look for things to do in the area – if you want to go swimming with dolphins but only one of the islands in your budget offers that, it’s pretty obvious where you should stay.
Before I go into excruciating details about flights and layovers, I want to give a quick disclaimer. It’s 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic is still raging all over the world and travel restrictions are in place everywhere. Everything I’ve said below reflects those restrictions.
Which of these two island chains is better for you largely depends on where you’re traveling from. As a general rule, Bora Bora is easier to reach for travelers from the US, while the Maldives remain the more convenient option for everyone from Europe, Australia, and most of Asia.
The bad news is that there’s no direct flight to either of the island chains and depending on the airline and where you’re flying from, you might have three or more layovers. And even when you get to the idyllic islands, there’s still the matter of getting to the resort via a boat or another plane.
It usually takes about 12 hours to get to the Maldives from major European airports. Heathrow Airport (London) and Vienna Airport both offer direct flights to Malé, which is the quickest and least painful option.
There are also direct flights from Istanbul, Dubai, Frankfurt and Moscow. Flights from other European cities will include a layover in at least one of the cities above. On average, it’s a 10-12 hour flight to Malé from the major European cities.
Once you get to Malé, there’s the small issue of reaching your chosen resort either by boat, seaplane or both. It’s going to depend on the hotel you booked – some will offer free transport for the airport, and others will charge you a ludicrous amount to send a yacht to pick you up and get you to your hotel.
There are no direct flights to Malé from the States. The easiest way to reach the islands is to fly to Dubai from either LAX or JFK, and then directly to Malé from there. But that’s at least 20+ hours in the plane plus a layover.
Bora Bora is a completely different story. No matter where you’re flying from, you’re heading to Tahiti first. That’s the major international airport in the area, and you’ll get to your desired resort from there either with a boat or a seaplane.
Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu are the only three places in the States that offer a direct flight to Tahiti though, so you’ll have to reach one of those to begin your 9+ hour journey to French Polynesia.
There are no direct flights to Tahiti from Europe. Air France flies from Paris to Tahiti, but with a layover in LA. If you’re from Europe and you really want to get to Bora Bora, you should mentally prepare yourself for an excruciatingly long and exhausting journey.
Australia and New Zealand are kind of in the middle between the two island chains, so it’s a tie. Currently, there are no direct flights to Malé, but there are direct flights to Tahiti so it will be a little quicker to reach Bora Bora.
Bora Bora and Maldives are both accessible year-round, but there is a high season and a low season in either place. The tropical climate means it’s warm and the weather is nice practically any time of the year, but the heavy rains might dampen your mood if you visit during the wet season. Pun intended, obviously.
The best time to visit Bora Bora is from May to October. This is the dry season in the islands when the temperatures are high and the rain is minimal. April and November are shoulder seasons, and they’re also a good time to visit if you’re okay with the rain. It doesn’t rain that much, and the accommodation prices are somewhat lower. And the temperatures average 29-30 Celsius (85-87 Fahrenheit), which is actually higher than during high season.
Islands in the Maldives also have dry and wet seasons, but the temperature stays in the high twenties and low thirties (Celsius) throughout the year. January, February and March are the driest months, and the best time to visit. That’s why so many Europeans flock to the Maldives in the dead of winter!
Peak season in the Maldives is January to April, and that’s when hotel prices are at their highest. However, surfers actually enjoy visiting the islands during the wet season (May to October), since the southwest winds and rain mean bigger waves and swells.
Bottom line, if you’re looking for a proper summer vacation, Bora Bora is the place to be. But if you want to escape from the January cold and snow, pack your bags and head to the Maldives!
Accommodation availability is where these two island chains start to differ a lot. The Maldives are much bigger, with over 1000 islands total. Not all of them are accessible to tourists obviously, but the island chain does boast more than 800 hotels total. This means you have a lot of choice and variety, which isn’t exactly the case with Bora Bora.
In the Maldives, you can stay at a guest house or a basic three-star hotel. It might not be as glamorous as an overwater villa, but you’re still in one of the most beautiful places in the world!
Bora Bora is much smaller, with a little over 100 islands total, and even fewer hotels. Booking.com has 59 hotels you can book in Bora Bora, and that’s a lot fewer options than you have in the Maldives. When you also consider that most of those 59 hotels are luxurious five-star resorts, it becomes pretty clear why Bora Bora is such an exclusive destination.
If you want to vacation in Bora Bora just like celebrities, head to the Conrad, Four Seasons or St. Regis. And if you’re wondering the most Googled thing about Bora Bora hotels, the Kardashians stayed at Conrad Bora Bora Nui and Kim lost her earring in the waters below her presidential villa, creating one of the most iconic memes of our generation.
What type of cuisine is dominant in these islands, and what type of restaurants can you expect to find?
Bora Bora is heavily influenced by French culture, and that’s most obvious in the cuisine. Expect most of the restaurants to feature French staples, with some influence of Italian and Japanese cuisine. Most of the restaurants are within the resorts, and some resorts will have as many as five or six restaurants to choose from. But the meal prices are pretty consistent with accommodation prices, so if you’re spending outrageous sums of money on a bed, expect to overpay for your breakfast.
Maldives are in the Indian Ocean and the cuisine is Indian for the most part. There’s lots of curry, rice, seafood and coconut everywhere, and tuna is the essential ingredient of most dishes. If you enjoy Indian cuisine, it’s a no-brainer.
Also, the restaurants in the Maldives are a bit more affordable than those in Bora Bora. The reason is simple – the cheaper resorts are paired with cheaper restaurants so that people can truly have a somewhat affordable experience. But there’s one restaurant in all of the islands in the Maldives that stands out, and it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience worth it even if you had to sell your house.
Ithaa Undersea is an underwater restaurant with spectacular food on the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. It’s outrageously expensive and pricier than some three-star Michelin restaurants, but for crying out loud it is entirely underwater! The experience is magical, and something you’re going to remember for a really long time.
What most travelers do in either of these places is just go with the all-inclusive package that provides you with all the food you can eat ‘for free’. It’s not actually free since the all-inclusive package is much more expensive than just the room, but it’s the best deal if you’re not looking to overpay for every single meal or starve while you’re there. And since there are not too many restaurant options outside of the resorts, you’ll be eating the same things you’d eat without the all-inclusive package.
If you’re not someone who can spend entire days just laying on the beach and soaking in the sun, you should consider what else is there to do on the islands before you decide to go anywhere.
Bora Bora is very popular with honeymooners for a good reason – there’s a lot to do on the islands. Romantic cruises, hikes, snorkeling and even swimming with sharks are all exciting activities suited for adventurous travelers. And Bora Bora is particularly enjoyable for avid hikers because of the two dormant volcanoes that offer extraordinary scenic views from the top.
The Maldives are more suited for relaxed travelers who aren’t really into crazy adventurous things. They’re more of a hedonistic oasis, perfect for people who are content with just swimming in the ocean and lying on the beach. This doesn’t mean there’s nothing else to do in the area – the Maldives is very popular for casual island hopping in fact, which is awesome if you love being on a boat. There are also lots of snorkeling opportunities on the islands, and you can even go on submarine tours.
But in general, the Maldives is better suited for people who are just looking to relax and get cozy, while Bora Bora takes the crown as the better destination for adventurous travelers.
If you’re considering traveling to either of these places, I assume you already know it’s not going to be cheap. Airline tickets and fees alone cost a small fortune, especially if you’re not looking to spend a 20+ hour flight crammed in economy class.
When it comes to hotel and resort prices, both Maldives and Bora Bora are pricey. Which makes sense – they’re both considered luxurious destinations that you’re visiting only if you have cash to burn. Bora Bora is particularly expensive, since most of the accommodation types on the islands are five-star resorts with villas directly on the water. It’s an idyllic place that feels out of this world, but only those with pretty deep pockets can experience this fairytale.
The Maldives are also pricey, but they’re actually not as expensive as Bora Bora. Especially for Europeans – a lot of European travel agencies offer trips to the Maldives that start as low as 1000 Euros a person, which includes airplane tickets, taxes and accommodation for some five nights. I’m not saying that’s cheap, but if you’re from Germany, that’s pretty much just the cost of tickets to get to Bora Bora. It’s definitely more affordable than Bora Bora, and it’s within reach for people who aren’t vastly wealthy – so, what’s the catch?
Well, there’s a lot more three-star hotels in the Maldives than in Bora Bora. There’s just more accommodation options to choose from, and if you’re not dead-set on getting a water villa, you can actually have a great time in the Maldives for a reasonable amount of money. If you want a villa on water, you will need to spend much more money, and if you’re looking for that luxurious experience of having a slide from your room into the ocean, add an extra zero to that price.
Bottom line, both Bora Bora and the Maldives offer different types of accommodation on all of their islands. Bora Bora generally has higher prices since it is aimed at wealthier travelers, while there are more two- and three-star hotels in the Maldives. And if you have tens of thousands to spend on the vacation, either one of these places can wow you with extravagantly luxurious accommodation. Like a hot tub on your deck literally in the ocean.
Which one is cheaper ultimately depends on where you are traveling from, since airline fares are a major factor in the overall cost of the vacation.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.