Starting to think about a 2021, post-Covid getaway? We're here to help you decide between two bucket list destinations: the Maldives and Bora Bora. As two of the most romantic spots in the world, they routinely rank on list of best honeymoon destinations.
Below, we run through the benefits and trade-offs of each island paradise with considerations for accessibility, cost, weather, culture, vibe, etc.
Overview of the Maldives
The Maldives is inextricably linked to visions of barefoot honeymoons, nearly-neon blue waters, plentiful reefs, pearlescent white sand beaches, and the signature stilted overwater bungalow architecture. Although this nation of islands in the remote Indian Ocean spans 90,000 square kilometers, less than 300 of that is dry land. Islands abound in 27 fragile atolls that collectively house 1,200 low-lying coral islands. And yet, only 200 of those islands are inhabited, which gives you a sense for the exclusive tranquility you’ll find here. The country is at the forefront of sustainable tourism, with many hotels committing to coral regeneration efforts, hydroponic gardening, and minimal plastic refuse. There’s a vibrant wellness scene here, too, with everything from aerial yoga to Ayurvedic treatments available. But then again, if you wanted to do nothing besides perch yourself in an overwater bungalow for the day, well, that’d be fine too.
Overview of Bora Bora
Tucked away in the Western corner of French Polynesia (aka Tahiti) is Bora Bora, an island that’s famous for its coconut trees, crystal-clear lagoon, and aqua-centric luxury resorts that occupy their own islands, or motus. At your resort, you’ll be treated to quiet seclusion, unparalleled views, and even room service via an outrigger canoe. Venturing out, you’ll happen upon the main village of Vaitape whose streets are lined with charming local boutiques and restaurants. Lush green mountains dot the landscape, including the two soaring peaks that formed as remnants of an extinct volcano: Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu. The island, one of the most celebrated in the South Pacific, certainly lives up to its hype.
Cost to get there
Although both destinations are far from the US (and thus pricey), you’re more likely to come across airfare deals to Papeete in Tahiti than to the Maldives. Plus, the seaplane transfer in the Maldives will run you around $700 vs $200 for the short flight from Tahiti to Bora Bora.
Cost once you're there
There are several factors to consider when weighing the in-destination cost of a trip to the Maldives vs Bora Bora.
When it comes to accommodations, you’ll have a better chance of spending less in the Maldives since there are a handful of three-star accommodations, versus the predominantly luxury, five-star options in Bora Bora. However, in Bora Bora, it’s easier to head into the nearby towns to purchase groceries or drinks, as well as more affordable meals, if that’s something you’re open to.
It’s also worth noting that, in the Maldives, there’s a 22% tax added onto everything that’s purchased—10% as a service fee and 12% for the government, which adds up quickly.
Stand-alone destination or best as one stop on a multi-destination trip?
For the Maldives…
It’s best to stick to one island during your stay in the Maldives (five days should suffice). From there, if you’re craving adventure, head to Sri Lanka to experience history, safaris, hiking, tea, and more. It’s only 2-3 hours by plane from the Maldives, and you’ll want to budget 10 days in order to see it properly.
While it’s not impossible to island hop in the Maldives, it may require routing back through Male. Plus, many of the islands are dominated by private resorts, so jumping from one island to the other just means experiencing different resorts, not the local culture of different islands like it does in Bora Bora.
For Bora Bora…
If you want to go island hopping, you’re in the right place. Bora Bora is located within close proximity to Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Maupiti, Rangiroa, Tikehau, Fakarava, Fiji, the Cook Islands, and Tahiti. In order to visit another resort hotel or the main stretch of the island, you’ll just need to pay $50 round-trip for a boat ride, vs the $500 you’ll dish out for a seaplane ride in the Maldives.
Type of trip / traveler
The Maldives and Bora Bora are both incredibly romantic destinations that are suited for couples, especially honeymooners.
Best time to go
For the Maldives…
Weather-wise, it doesn’t get much better than November to April, which is when precipitation levels are low and the temperature is nice and warm. As expected, this room rates are at their most expensive during this time of year.
From May to October, there can be upwards of 5 - 10 inches of rain every month, but it’s sporadic and storms move quickly off the island. Although you’ll have a better chance of scoring a discount during this time, they won’t be significant. The Maldives is an expensive destination all year round. What the off-season does have going for it, though, are bigger waves that make for optimal surfing conditions.
The size of the crowds won’t be as much of a concern when weighing peak season versus off-season in the Maldives since the resorts inhabit their own private islands.
For Bora Bora…
Like the Maldives, Bora Bora has two main seasons: dry and wet.
The dry season, which runs from May to October, offers the most visibility for scuba diving (but also larger crowds and higher rates). November to April is the wet season, characterized by increased precipitation, humidity, and cloud cover.
Both the Maldives and Bora Bora are sit-on-the-beach-type destinations, with the opportunity to participate in water sports (scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, kayaking, paddle boarding) if you so choose. But beyond that, there’s not much entertainment, which is part of the allure. After all, you’re there to relax.
Maldives activity highlights...
- Scuba diving
If you’re a scuba enthusiast, we recommend the Maldives. This is not to say that Bora Bora doesn't have scuba options (it certainly does), but the Maldives is home to 5% of the planet’s reefs and is one of the best destinations in the world for scuba diving. The most popular spots are Banana Reef in North MaleAtoll, Kurumba, Full Moon, and Farukolhufushi. We suggest booking a live aboard boat trip to access the most remote reefs beyond those in the vicinity of your resort.
- Experiencing the bioluminescent beach
The Maldives joins San Diego, Vietnam, Australia, Thailand, and Jamaica as one of the few destinations around the world with a glow-in-the-dark bioluminescent beach. The phenomenon is caused by sea planktons that produce ethereal lights which are visible at night. Keep in mind that you'll have to stay on Vaadhoo or Mudhdhoo Island in order to experience it.
- Taking a dolphin-watching trip
Dolphins are everywhere in the Maldives (and very friendly!), but for the best chances of spotting them up close, it’s best to organize an excursion to Meemu Atoll.
Bora Bora activity highlights...
- Feeding sharks and stingrays
If you're interested in getting up close and personal with animals, we recommend Bora Bora, where there are options to feed native blacktip reefs sharks and stingrays in their natural habitats—which is far less frightening than it sounds since the sharks are small and the stingrays, harmless. Plus, the water is shallow (only around knee-deep).
- Explore the mountainous terrain on four weeks
If you need a break from the beach, Bora Bora offers customizable 4X4 island treks. In addition to capturing some of the best views from above, you'll come away with interesting cultural and historical tidbits about the island—although it should be noted that the tours can be bumpy, hilly, and depending on rainfall, muddy.
- Go snorkeling in vibrant coral gardens
Along the way, you'll spot anemone fish, moray eels, Manta rays, Eagle rays, and other marine life.
A note on overwater villas and bungalows
Although you'll find overwater villas and bungalows in both destinations, the Maldives generally has them in greater abundance. In fact, with the creation of Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, Hilton became the country’s first international hospitality brand in 1997, pioneering the now-signature stilted overwater bungalow architecture.
Privacy / seclusion
If you’re looking for ultimate privacy, opt for the Maldives. Although it should be noted that, for the most part, you’ll be staying in your resort and relying on them for all activities, dining, etc.
You can certainly attain the same level of seclusion and privacy in Bora Bora, but you'll be less isolated in the sense that you also have the option of venturing into nearby small towns or going through a third party company to arrange excursions.
If you’re based on the West Coast of the United States, Bora Bora is the more accessible destination (nine-hour direct flight from Los Angeles to Tahiti, vs a 27+ hour flight to the Maldives with a layover or two). From the East Coast, the Maldives is more accessible, but not by much. And if you’re traveling from Europe, Africa, or Asia, Maldives is the clear winner.
Note that both the Maldives and Bora Bora require additional transportation from the international airport. In the Maldives, you’ll need to take a seaplane from Male to the resort island, and in Bora Bora you’ll take an hour-long flight from Tahiti.
Protip: If you’re having trouble finding suitable flight options into Male, try looking at Colombo, Sri Lanka. Spend time exploring the temples, shrines, natural scenery, and beaches here first before ending your trip on a relaxing note in the Maldives and flying home from there.
Still unsure about which destination is best for you? Schedule a free call with one of our experts to discuss further.