Bora Bora is world-famous for its vibrant turquoise lagoon, soft, white sandy stretches of beach and luxurious resorts. With such a dreamlike setting, this magical island is, unsurprisingly, a great spot to plan a getaway. But that doesn’t just mean you need to spend it sipping cocktails in a pool-side lounge chair.

Sure, Bora Bora might be known for its luxe resorts but this French Polynesian paradise has so much more to offer. With activities for ocean lovers, hikers and cultural enthusiasts, here are ten top things to do in Bora Bora to make the most of your stay.

Snorkel with sharks and rays

Many of the society islands, including Bora Bora, have a snorkel spot filled with blacktip reef sharks and stingrays. It started because local fishermen used to clean their daily hauls here and that attracted the wildlife which, in turn, attracted the tourists. You are no longer allowed to feed the sea life (although, unfortunately, a couple of tours still do), however, it’s safe and fun to get in the water with them.

The sharks tend to be shy and keep their distance but some of the stingrays are quite friendly and will come right up to you as if to say hi and welcome you to the island. Always be respectful of the marine life and do your best to give them plenty of space. This sandbank in the lagoon is a popular diving site and is located well off the main island – it can only be reached by boat. You will need to join a snorkel trip, day excursion, or rent a boat to visit.

A group of people snorkeling in shallow water near a boat in Bora Bora
A lagoon excursion with a local is the perfect way to see the whole island and learn about its history © Patrick Ward / Getty Images

Explore Bora Bora by land and sea

Spend a full day exploring the lagoon around Bora Bora by joining a lagoon excursion. This activity is offered by several companies and includes multiple snorkel stops (including the shark and ray spot described above) as well as a sea-side lunch on a motu. Lunch is poisson cru which is a raw tuna dish served with lime juice, coconut milk, and a mixture of fresh vegetables. You will also likely get some barbeque chicken, fresh fruit, rice, and other island picnic essentials. It’s a fun way to spend a day exploring Bora Bora by water.

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.

Hike the mountains of Bora Bora

Bora Bora is a popular hiking destination, although many of the island’s most popular trails are well hidden in the lush, tropical jungle – having a guide for the big trails such as the Sacred Cave of Anau or Mount Pahia is essential. These trails are not for the faint of heart; you can expect a time of about 6+ hours plus some climbing. However, those who make it will be rewarded with stunning birds-eye views over the island and motus of Bora Bora and the lagoon.

For a less strenuous hike, you can do a three-hour guided hike through the Valley of the Kings. This will take you past ancient villages and historical cultural sites. Again, you will want a guide as the paths are not well marked, plus, your guide can teach you about the local plants and the area’s history. For those interested in hiking in Bora Bora, speak to your accommodation who will help you find a guide.

Manta ray and a scuba diver in Bora Bora
Stay still and watch the majestic manta rays glide around you in Bora Bora © Bernard Radvaner / Getty Images

Dive with majestic mantas

Bora Bora isn’t considered to be one of the best dive destinations in French Polynesia, but for those who take the plunge, you won’t be disappointed. It's home to a couple of manta ray cleaning stations, the most popular of which is Anau. Divers who visit early in the morning can expect to see a dozen or so mantas gliding by in the morning light. Stay still and quiet and they will get very close.

Note: Anau is also a snorkel spot but visibility isn’t great and the mantas tend to be deeper so diving is the better option.

Try your hand at kitesurfing

From the months of May to December Bora Bora turns into a fantastic kitesurf destination. Whether you are brand new and interested in learning or a kite-surfing expert looking to add some tricks to your repertoire, you can get in touch with Kite Surf School Polynesie to set up a lesson suited to your level of experience. They will pick you up from your hotel and provide all the instructions and equipment. You just need the essentials (sunscreen, swimsuit, sunglasses, water shoes) and the excitement to learn!

A couple parasailing beneath a colorful parachute in Bora Bora
Get a view from the top while parasailing in Bora Bora © Michele Westmorland / Getty Images

View Bora Bora from above on a parasail

If kitesurfing sounds a bit too intense but you are still up for an adventure, why not go parasailing? Bora Bora Parasailing offers 25-minute tours with a rope length of about 305m (1000 feet). You’ll be able to take in some incredible views of the island, resorts, and even the sharks and mantas in the lagoon below.

Uncover Bora Bora’s viewpoints by quad

A fun way to explore the island, learn a little about the history, and take in some impressive views is to join a quad tour with a local. This half-day activity will take you around the island where you will stop at multiple viewpoints, some of which still have the coastal guns brought over by the Americans during WWII when they used the island for a base. The perk about going with a local guide is that they will also fill you in on some of the island’s history, turning this activity into a cultural and adventure sightseeing tour. Get in touch with Many from Bora Bora Quad Adventures for an exciting half-day quad tour. Added bonus: his mom makes delicious coconut cake as a snack!

Cycle around the island

Bora Bora is not very big. In fact, you could walk it if you want but it’s probably more enjoyable to rent a bike and circle the road surrounding the island. The freedom of having a bike means that you can stop whenever you like whether it’s to take a photo of a viewpoint, a refreshing dip in the lagoon, or even for a cold drink at one of the ocean-side restaurants. You can rent a bike from most car rental offices or enquire at your accommodation. 

Appreciate the local culture at Heiva I

If your visit is in July, extend your stay on Bora Bora for the hugely popular Heiva I Bora Bora, or the “Celebration of Life”. Heiva I Bora Bora is the island’s premier festival. It is held in Vaitape at Place Tu Vavau and everyone is encouraged to come and enjoy the celebrations. The festival consists of singing, dancing, and sporting events. If you are looking to experience some of the best of French Polynesian culture, then it might be worth timing your visit around this festival. If you can't make it during July, there are plenty of other wonderful events throughout the year.

A decorated outrigger boat rests on the beach in front of overwater bungalows in Bora Bora
They may not be cheap but overwater bungalows in Bora Bora are definitely worth it © Erich Schmidt / Getty Images / imageBROKER RF

Relax in an overwater bungalow

If you have ever dreamed of staying in an overwater bungalow, Bora Bora is the place to do it. While you can find these luxe accommodations around the world now, they actually originated in French Polynesia and you can immediately see why so many other destinations adopted the idea.

There is no shortage of luxury resorts with overwater bungalows here, however, perhaps the top-rated one is Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora. It is considered to be not just one of the best resorts in Bora Bora, but in the world, and the overwater bungalows here offer beautiful views overlooking the lagoon, white sand beaches, and Mount Otemanu. Now, we can't pretend that staying in one of these stunning suites is cheap. But, if you treat your resort stay as an experience in itself rather than just a place to sleep, it’s worth the money and will provide you with some great memories of your time in Bora Bora.

You may also like:
Bora Bora's best beaches: find your own stretch of paradise
Bora Bora on a budget: the best free (and nearly free!) things to do
The best time to visit Bora Bora: budget or blow out, here's our guide

This article was first published March 2013 and updated December 2021

Explore related stories