We visited Bora Bora for a familymoon… and I can’t believe we waited to so long to visit! Part of the Society Islands of French Polynesia about 143 miles northwest of Papeete, the islands were discovered and named by Captain James Cook during his first voyage. He supposedly called them the Society Islands because they lay contiguous to one another. The islands are divided into Winward and Leeward islands. Bora Bora, Tahaa, Huahine are part of Leeward Islands and Tahiti, Moorea, Tetiaroa are part of the Windward Islands. Here is our family guide to Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora and why we think you will love it too!
In ancient times Bora Bora island was called “Pora pora mai te pora“, meaning “created by the Gods” in the local Tahitian dialect. This was often abbreviated Pora Pora meaning simply firstborn. Because of ambiguities in the phonemes of the Tahitian language, this came to be pronounced Bola Bola or Bora Bora. During our trip, we also visited Moorea, the island that is roughly shaped like a heart from overhead. Eight voluminous mountain peaks rise from its translucent lagoon, creating a distinctive and rugged silhouette visible from the western coast of Tahiti. Splitting the northern shore are two symmetrical bays: Cook’s or Paopao and Opunohu Bay. The hills were a verdant green against the turquoise bay with abundant plantations of pineapple.
Tahiti is often touted as a honeymoon destination and was not on our budget or radar until this trip, but when we were there we saw a lot of families and multi-generational families which made us wonder why we waited so long to visit this beautiful slice of paradise.
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10 Day French Polynesia Itinerary
Here is what our 10 day Itinerary in the French Polynesia looked like. By the end of the trip we stayed at 3 overwater villas including the Hilton Moorea and Conrad Bora Bora and the unexpected upgrade in Intercontinental Tahiti, needless to say we feel in love with each island for different reasons.
Depart from LAX to Papeete, we stayed a couple of day in Los Angeles since we were flying from Dallas
Day 1 : Arrive in Tahiti, overnight at Intercontinental resort
Day 2 : Flight to Bora Bora in the morning
Days 3,4,5 : Bora Bora
Day 7 : Bora Bora to Tahiti and ferry to Moorea
Day 7, 8, 9 : Moorea
Day 10: Leave for Tahiti by ferry to catch the flight back to LAX with a day wandering and lunch in Tahiti
Family Guide to Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora
Start with a day if possible more at Tahiti
The main island of Tahiti. We just thought of it as just a stopover on the way to other islands, but when we got there late night from out flight from LA on Air Tahiti Nui and we were warmly welcomed by the Intercontinental Tahiti resort staff – felt at home already. We got upgraded to an overwater bungalow and woke up the next morning and didn’t want to leave on the morning flight to Bora Bora, the views were just so beautiful. The resort was just waking up, the water was quite with the mountains in the background as we had our coffee and morning macaroon that was left for us in the room. The property was beautiful and our villa was well appointed with a nice veranda overlooking the distant mountains, really big bathroom and we had requested for additional beds for the kids. They were still sleeping while we went for quick walk around the grounds of the resort wishing we had planned for a couple of nights here but there is always next time right!?
There’s a lot to do and see here, and it’s less expensive compared to the other islands… so plan on a few nights in a garden villa here, you can splurge on an overwater bungalow later in the trip. You can shop for Tahitian-style fabric in the main market, you can the visit the Museum of Tahiti or the Black Pearl Museum, or go further to visit the beautiful Papenoo Valley or the Marae Arahurahu, one of the best-reconstructed marae or sacred places on the island.
Side note: Tetiaroa is where Marlon Brando’s all-inclusive and super exclusive resort the Brando is located which is short plane ride away.
Magical Moorea with Family
The mystic, mysterious and mountainous Moorea is just a short 30 minute ferry ride away from the main island of Tahiti since it is located only ten nautical away. We stayed at the Hilton property here. The water villa was located in the lagoon waters about 5 feet or so deep but crystal clear. I would wake up in the morning and have coffee with the fishes and could see the colorful fishes swimming around, didn’t even have to get in the water. Since it is easier to get to the resort from mainland it was pretty crowded, we saw a lot of honeymooners and a few families. One of our neighbors was on a honeymoon and one morning while enjoying the view heard them in action, I quickly ran inside not to embarrass them or be embarrassed, but kids were not awake yet so no issues there. We later saw the couple move to a garden villa, so that is an option – where people spend a day or two in an overwater villa and the rest of the time in the garden villas or the interior and easy on the wallet villas. One rainy day we splurged on the Spa for a Moorea Lagoon massage and a heavenly pineapple scrub. It was truly a traditional massage inspired by ancestral Tahitian techniques that release tensions from the body and helps to relieve stress and the scent of the fresh scrubs and oils were divine.
Our room had a similar setup as the one in Tahiti with the addition of a glass-bottom area around the table where we could see the fishes from. The resort service was not that great given the number of people there, so we spent less time on the property. We went on an ATV tour through the mountains and then one day we rented a car and drove around the island, which took all of 4 hours even with lots of stops for photographs. We visited the Intercontinental Moorea and liked it better, it was quieter and better service, they even have a turtle center that rehabilitates injured turtles. But we also found out the water near the Hilton is shallow and better for kids to snorkel and see the fishes compared to the Intercontinental resort. We had dinner at the Toatea Creperie and Bar where the reef sharks were circling, we saw a few stingrays too. We loved Le Mahagonay, for dinner and went there a couple of nights, they offered pickup and drop off service to the resorts. Snack Mahana is another place to try for lunch, they make fresh fish in many different ways, and very popular with locals. So in Moorea, the resort choice really depends on what you are looking – kid friendly beach or friendly and attentive staff! The other choices are Sofitel, Moorea Pearl, there are also a few small hotels and private guesthouses known as pensions available throughout the island.
Activities in Moorea
Like any other aqua-centric vacations, there is so much to do in the Society Islands of French Polynesia from Snorkeling to Scuba diving to Paddleboarding, with many remote islands a few minutes away for a picnic with your sand in the feet. In Moorea during mating season, August to October, you can go on a whale watching tour with resident marine biologist Dr. Michael Poole. Another incredible experience is an encounter at the Moorea Dolphin Center, the only natural refuge where you can swim and play with dolphins. For some adventure and exhilaration, you can try parasailing or skydiving and enjoy unforgettable panoramic views of the island. You can also explore the scenic hillsides by Jeep or ATV (which we highly recommend) or on foot. There are a variety of hiking trails suitable for everyone from the casual walker to the high-intensity hiker. Regardless of how you prefer to get there, plan to see the view from Belvedere Lookout.
Bora Bora with Kids
I don’t know why we waited so long to visit Bora Bora, that is what our kids said too… Why didn’t we come here before?! Every December we spend a few days at a beach resort, it has been Cancun or the Caribbean for most years, sometimes Hawaii. We never made the trek out to French Polynesia – it is just a 9 hour flight from LA to Tahiti and a 1 hour (and a few hundred dollars flight) to Bora Bora but oh so worth it. Maybe because it is marketed as a Honeymoon destination but we loved visiting Bora Bora with kids.
The short flight doubles as a scenic flight where you can see the pretty blue shades of the lagoon and ocean water and the islands. Once you land in the scenic little airport on the Motu in Bora Bora you are in paradise already, it is probably the tiniest and prettiest we have ever seen. Your resort boat is waiting to whisk you to away and you feel like a little celebrity when the staff meets you with leis! Bora Bora is so picturesque with the barrier reef, turquoise lagoon and in the center of the island are the remnants of an extinct volcano rising to two peaks, Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu.
The service at Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort and Spa was impeccable, the staff so friendly and always ready to pamper us and make us feel special. We had a welcome package of champagne, several bottles of water, macarons, cookies, fruits, chocolates waiting for us when we were dropped off by the golf cart at our bungalow. We didn’t even finish half of it! The water near our villa was less than 3 feet, make sure you request that since different villas are in different depths of water, all still seemingly floating in the lagoon and utterly gorgeous. Again a similar setup in our suite with the additional beds added. When we travel we look for family time rather than couples time, so this configuration works for us. Our kids went on to try paddle boarding and snorkeling while we just relaxed in the infinity pool we mostly to ourselves. We ate mostly onsite since we didn’t feel like leaving the resort. We had planed to go to Bloody Mary but heard it was too overrated and food not that great, so we skipped that. We splurged on a picnic on the private island of Motu Tapu for a day, it was a special and once in a lifetime experience where we had the entire place to ourselves and the crew prepared a scrumptious meal for us! Our Bora Bora family vacation is still one of the best trips ever.
Bora Bora is synonymous with overwater bungalows and there are quite a few other 4 and 5 star resort options from like Four Seasons, St.Regis, Intercontinental and Sofitel.
Activities in Bora Bora
My only advice is don’t pack your days with activities in Bora Bora. You are in paradise after all, allow for lazy morning, making flower crowns and sunset watching with sundowners. The shallow, tranquil waters adjacent to resorts are exploding with life and perfect for snorkeling, you don’t have to go on a snorkeling trips very far with kids. We saw stingrays, reef sharks, colorful fishes right below us at both resorts in Bora Bora and Moorea.
Words of Wisdom
The Polynesians really do consider travelers honored guests, they don’t expect guest to tip but a few Tahitian words go a long way.
hello: ia orana (yo-rah-nah)
goodbye: nana (nah-nah)
welcome: maeva (mah-ay-vah)
thank you: mauruuru (mah-roo-roo)
cheers: manuia (mah-new-yah)
What to eat in Tahiti
Poisson Cru which is a raw fish dish, usually tuna that has been marinated with coconut milk, lime, and vegetables. The preparation is a bit like ceviche, but the flavors are totally different. I don’t normally eat fish but tried it a little, the boys loved it. Produce is usually limited to what can be grown in the islands or caught in the sea. Fresh local fish which is caught and prepare daily are mahi mahi, yellow fin, wahoo, bonito, etc. We were talking to our taxi driver and she mentioned a typical Tahitian breakfast consists of some fish soup, a lunch of fruits and bread followed by catch of the day grilled for dinner. There is also a little Asian influence to the cuisine, you can find chow mien with a lot of local greens and veggies which is something I lived on during the trip. We found little markets selling local produce of coconuts, banana, pineapple, papaya. As much as 80 percent of Tahitian vanilla is grown on Taha’a, an island not far from Bora Bora, and many fish dishes, such as shrimp and mahi-mahi, come drizzled in mouthwatering vanilla sauce and dessert menus include multiple options with vanilla as an ingredient.
Souvenirs from Tahiti
The famous Black Pearls of Tahiti which grow here because of the unique color of French Polynesia’s mollusk shells are perfect souvenirs. The pearls are not really black, but run from a dark aubergine to light pink, with blues, greens, and rusty-colored ones too. You can purchase one at a pearl farm—where they’ll also show you how the pearls are cultivated—from one of the large chain stores like Robert Wan which can be found in the resorts.
How to get to Tahiti
Air Tahiti Nui is the primary international air carrier of Tahiti, servicing the capital city of Papeete from Paris, Los Angeles, Auckland, Sydney, and Tokyo. Air France also flies to Papeete. I should mention that it was one of the most colorful and cheery interiors I have ever seen, puts you in an island mood right when you board the flight. Inter-island domestic air travel is provided by Air Tahiti. Flights operate daily between Papeete and other islands. Flights typically depart Los Angeles for Papeete in the late afternoon and arrive in Tahiti at 10:30pm or 11:00pm local time. Flight time from Los Angeles is eight hours. You can stay a night or more at a resort in Tahiti, which is a short cab ride from the international airport FAA. Flights from Tahiti to the different society islands depart the next morning or if you are going to Moorea you can take a 30 minute fast ferry run by the Aremiti.
Best time to go to French Polynesia
Mid June to October is the best time to go when the breezes keep temperatures in the low 80s and the humidity down as well. We were there in December the humidity was a little high, rained occasionally for like 15 minutes or so and cleared up to be beautiful and breathtaking again, we came home several shades tanner so don’t forget that sunblock. In July there will be a festival called Heiva, the outer islands hold local contests—in everything from outrigger racing to stone carrying and spear throwing, traditional dancing and singing to Tifaifai (quilt) making and the best go to Tahiti for the main festival.
Have you been to French Polynesia, if not hope this post inspired you to add it to your bucketlist!