Overwater bungalows. Insanely blue water. Out of my league.
The first time we thought of going to Bora Bora, these three things came to mind and made us believe it was totally out of our budget. But we were young, planning a honeymoon, and looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience! So we did the package deal; a three island tour of French Polynesia with flower leis, brunch buffets, excursions, and yes, overwater bungalows. It was magical. It was a tropical dream. And it was so expensive!
So, when 10 years later, we were looking at our trip around the world and debating the pros and cons of the various pacific islands (Fiji! Samoa! Hawaii!), we knew that French Polynesia would be expensive, but we also knew that it was a place we truly wanted to visit and that it could easily be another 10 years before we’d get to visit again.
We painstakingly compared flight costs, flight routes and lodging across all of the pacific islands and found the best non-stop flight option for us to be this route:
NZ –> Cook Islands –> French Polynesia –> San Francisco
A visit to Bora Bora wasn’t at the top of our world tour list, but Rangiroa was. And the easiest way for us to get to Rangiroa was via a long layover in Bora Bora… so… we gulped, booked flights, and started to plan!
We knew we’d have to find some creative ways to enjoy ourselves while sticking to some type of budget in Bora Bora. We looked at Airbnb, VRBO and almost all the hotels on the island. We researched activities, beaches, and how to get around the island. We assessed food options and grocery stores. And honestly? It’s still expensive. But we had a good idea of what we’d spend and we prioritized how we’d spend it.
So, without further ado, here are our tips for making Bora Bora more affordable:
Lodging. Did you know Bora Bora has Airbnb? Also, did you know that those fancy overwater bungalows are just a small part of larger hotels with standard rooms as well? There are plenty of lodging options that are not overwater bungalows and can save you big! We chose to stay in a hotel near Matira beach. We were able to walk to the beach and also visit some of the markets and more low-key restaurants in the area and avoid renting a car and eating at our hotel every night.
Flights. Tourism in French Polynesia has increased a ton over the past few years. We found a new discount carrier, French Bee, that offers service between San Francisco and Tahiti, for significantly less than United and Air Tahiti Nui. We found one-way tickets from Tahiti to San Francisco for less than $300 per person. Also, Air Tahiti, the region’s main airline, offers package deals for a fixed rated if you’re flying to multiple islands. Booking the package deal is often cheaper than booking your flights a la carte.
Supplies. Pack food and supplies from home or pick them up at a grocery store in Tahiti (Champion is our go-to store). Sunscreen, pasta, snacks and toiletries are some of the best items to stock up on before you get to Bora Bora. Just remember that you can’t bring fruit through customs, but most other prepackaged items are fine. Most basics are still available on Bora Bora if you run out, but can be significantly (like 300%) more expensive. Yikes!
Excursions. There are so many fun activities on the water in Bora Bora!!! It’s hard to chose just one! If you opt for a half day tour, you might be able to fit more than one into your budget. You often get a discount on tours if you do a half day AND, added bonus, kids under 4 are often free! We prefer half day tours because they are easier on Liesel, we get to eat our own lunch, and we still have our afternoons free to explore a bit on our own.
Meals. Make sure you plan a few meals that you can eat in your hotel or apartment. With most meals ringing in at $15-$20 per person, we ate a lot of ramen in our hotel room!
You don’t need a ton of time in Bora Bora to get a good taste of the island. There are many other islands in French Polynesia that carry a slightly lower price tag, and you’ll want to explore them all! We feel that 3 or 4 nights is plenty of time to stay in Bora Bore before moving on to the next stop.
So, there you have it…our best budget tips for Bora Bora! If you have any questions, let us know below!