Deciding which paradise destination to set your feet in the sand on is one of the best problems life can pose. The only way it could be better? Deciding between Bora Bora and Bali. Both are at the peak of pure island life, complete with exotic beaches, lapping waters and scenic mountains that make them the ultimate postcard (or these days, Insta-worthy) hotspots. But when it comes to making memories that last a lifetime, any traveler knows there’s more to it than that.
When considering Bora Bora vs Bali, it’s crucial to look beneath the sun-speckled surface at what truly sets them apart. Besides some similarities in striking beauty, you’ll find there’s much to make them two very different trips. For starters, one has 10,000 inhabitants, while the other has over 4 million. One is a place of exclusivity and private moments, while the other prides itself on a pulsating culture-mix of people. One is set within the turquoise lagoon of the South Pacific, while the other’s shores are met by the sparkling hues of the Indian Ocean. Bora Bora is the precious pearl of the Polynesian Islands, and Bali is the tropical treasure of Indonesia.
In this guide, we’ll not just dip, but dive into, which island destination is the dream trip for you. We’ll look at how they match up in terms of accommodation, cuisine, culture, activities and nightlife. And finally, we’ll figure out just how deeply-lined your pockets will need to be.
Bora Bora vs Bali: Location
Over 6,000 miles separate these two islands, so it helps to have an understanding of where each one is and how to get there.
Bora Bora forms a part of The Society Islands in French Polynesia. Sitting in all its splendor just northwest of Tahiti and only 6 by 3 miles, it’s somewhat considered a secret and far-flung love affair that only so many get to see. Wherever you’re coming from, you’ll have to fly into Papeete (Tahiti International Airport) first. Only from there can you embark on an enchanting one-hour flight that takes you over the towering Mount Otemanu towards Bora Bora. Magical? Sure. But with only four planes touching down per day, this privacy will come with a price tag (more on that later!)
Bali, on the other hand, is part of the Indonesian archipelago islands, and is by far the most popular and globally known of the major five. Its charm combines nature, a content atmosphere among its people and a completely spiritual surrounding, sitting peacefully at 95 miles wide. There are many direct flights into the airport at Denpasar (the capital of Bali), at which point you can take a 40-minute taxi ride north to the zen-like locations of Ubud, or down towards the southern tip. Here you’ll discover seaside resorts such as the busy beach town of Kuta, or Jimbaran Bay. You’ll also be close by some exciting neighboring locations, where you can explore the Gili Islands and more.
Round 1: Bora Bora vs Bali – Accommodation
It’s likely that your accommodation will serve a different purpose depending on which place you pick. Bora Bora is typically the island of choice for romantic trips and honeymoon vacays, where you may be spending more time at your resort than anywhere else. Bali however, brings a range of people to its island, from travelers on a budget to adventure junkies, as well as those looking for that luxury getaway trip. With that in mind, these different demographics are reflected in the range of accommodation on offer.
You’ll soon see that Bora Bora is expensive and not commonly suited to backpackers, so there’s less low-end lodging and more luxury. For a little under $30 per night you can sleep in a tent on the beach (albeit under a beautiful Mango tree!), with hotels ranging between $250-$1600 per night. The real reason people come to Bora Bora, though? Those breathtakingly beautiful overwater bungalows across the lagoon. If you want to tick this off the list but don’t have crazy amounts of cash to splash, the Oa Oa Lodge is one of the best choices. If money isn’t an object however, (the motto for much of Bora Bora living), then you’ll find extravagant resorts like The Four Seasons, St Regis and the Conrad Nui can give you the most epic of experiences.
As we said, Bali works best for a wider spread of habitual situations, from budget-friendly guest houses and losmen (hostels), to hotels and resorts as well as fully-serviced villas. You’ll find a vast array across all popular locations including the art and culture capital Ubud, to the surf destination of Canggu and seaside towns on the Southern tip. And that doesn’t mean you can’t get romantic hotels in Bali, or that lavish luxury that many are longing for. Bali has much of the same branded resorts (such as St Regis and Conrad) for around half the price of Bora Bora, and even has one hotel (Hoshinoya in Ubud) that made Conde Naste’s 2021’s Best Hotels in the World.
Round 2: Bora Bora vs Bali – Food
Food is a tough one to compare because it all comes down to people’s taste. For example, Bora Bora’s influence is French fusion cuisine, and being in a secluded part of the South Pacific, you’re going to get local, tasty seafood by the boatload. Bali however, brings heaps of Pan Indonesian and Asian food, and is known around the world for an explosion of flavors that fulfil vegans, veggies and meat eaters alike.
The local specialty in Bora Bora is poisson cru (a raw tuna marinated in fresh lime juice and coconut milk), with other tropical fish including mahi-mahi and grouper. You’ll also find the freshest of fruit in abundance here too, from pineapples and papayas to banana juice. Most tourists that travel to Bora Bora tend to eat at the resorts. That said, one notable restaurant is La Villa Mahana, the island’s best and most exclusive eatery with only 6 tables. Another exception is independently owned and internationally famous Bloody Mary’s, which offers a more casual setting and serves steak, seafood and signature cocktails. For those nights where you don’t want a proper sit-down service, head to Bora Bora’s main town and port Vaitape to live like locals with cheap, cheerful meals from the ‘roulottes’ (food trucks). These will offer the likes of crepes, pizzas or simple steak and chips.
Balinese food is predominantly an eclectic mix of Pan Indonesian, with varying shades of South Asian, Malaysian and Chinese. You’ll find much to satisfy your stomach in Bali. From Nasi Campur (a common meal of rice and mixed goodies), to Mia and Nasi Goreng, as well as grilled meat, Jimbaran barbequed fish and the most famed dish of all: Babi Guling (suckling pig). With such a diverse food culture, there are of course many ways to get your fill. Casual eating is the main custom, from street vendors to warungs (locally owned cafes), as well as rumah makans (known as eating houses with a buffet-like style). But of course, there are many restaurants found in the cities and tourist destinations.
While the seafood in Bora Bora is something else, Bali tips the scales for its range of authentic food and flavors, where food is often even better at the small-scale dining experiences than the fancy five-star restaurants!
Round 3: Bora Bora vs Bali – Nightlife
When it comes to nightlife, it does really depend on your own definition. In Bora Bora, most of the evening plans will take place at the resorts (otherwise your hotel will have to arrange transportation), and places close around 10pm. Bali is certainly the livelier of the two: it has hundreds of beach bars for socializing and luxurious roof terraces as well as a standout party vibe.
Bora Bora is famous for those special nights with your significant other, making memories you’ll never forget against a romantic backdrop that could be plucked from a movie set. Usually it’ll involve an ambient dinner, followed by a fruity cocktail while unwinding or watching the sunset before bed. That’s not to say there aren’t any after-hour places, though. In fact, after your dinner at Bloody Mary’s (we’re choosing to believe you took our food reco!), why not stay for a nightcap for all the feel-good fun and music you can get? Finally, you’ll find one nightclub in Bora Bora called The Recif. It’s mostly frequented by locals, but for those hardcore honeymooners, you can enjoy a disco with live DJs, EDM and house.
Bali on the other hand, is a world class destination for all sorts of nightlife. It has plenty of places to sit and watch the sunset: from the famed Rock Bar at Ayana, boasting a stunning cocktail bar above the jutting rocks and ocean, or the likes of Sundara in Jimbaran Bay. But it doesn’t stop there. No matter what you’re after, you’ll find it — from pubs and clubs to beach bars, as well as multi-story dance floors that feature top tier DJs from around the globe. Most of this takes place in the South of Bali, including the likes of Kuta, Seminyak, Canggu and Uluwatu. One notable place to try is Desa Potato Head, which goes from day to night and features day beds, an infinity pool, a swim-up bar and three restaurants.
Round 4: Bora Bora vs Bali – Culture
Balinese culture is felt all around, but no more so than through the friendly customs of its people. With a mainly Hindu religion and a background strongly rooted in spirituality, Balinese people see the joy in all things, and it’s infectious for anyone that spends time around it. Miraculously, while six million tourists flock to Bali every year, the island has managed to strike a balance between its culturally-rich traditions and a warm and tolerant attitude to its tourists.
It’s impossible not to get wrapped up in the wonderful ways of life in Bali, and the good news is – you could search forever and still find there’s more to unravel. Aside from its amazing people, teach yourself through trips to the many temples (try Tanah Lot, Tirta Empul and Uluwatu), the rolling rice paddies in Ubud, or climb to the top of Mount Batur to take in the true breadth of Bali in all its glory. There is one particularly beautiful custom to be aware of in Bali, as a mark of respect to its people. You will find ‘Canangs’ almost everywhere – small containers made from coconut leaves left out as offerings to the Gods. If you can, try not to disturb them during this ritual.
When it comes to Bora Bora, we’ve got to be honest. Basically all of Bora Bora’s income comes from tourism, so much of the island is tailored to satisfying luxury travelers like yourself. You’ll see it in the romantic packages wherever you go, the lavish lagoon villas and the otherworldly resorts. But this doesn’t mean there isn’t any culture, and hiring a bike for the day is one of the best ways to make sure that it doesn’t pass you by. In other words: if you seek, you shall find. If you don’t, then… you probably won’t.
If you want to get off the beaten path and experience a side many don’t bother with in Bora Bora, you won’t regret it. One of the best things you can do is ride among the local residential areas on your way to finding the perfect view of the island at Pāopāo Point. Alternatively, if you’re into your art and history, the Alain Despert Studio of Bora Bora, or the Art Du Pacific is ideal for those wanting to see local artwork, while learning about the history and culture of the French Polynesia in full. And if you happen to be here in the summer months, look to the most colorful cultural experience of all: The Heiva Festival.
Round 5: Bora Bora vs Bali – Entertainment
We’re happy to report that both of these islands will give you many out of the ordinary experiences to look back on for years to come. Bali is built for adventurers of all sorts, from mountain climbers to bikers, surfers, street-art admirers and yogis. And while Bora Bora may be a small blip of land, it’s not short of sun-chasing activities particularly centered around the sparkling waters.
Bali’s astounding breadth of activities knows no bounds. No really, there are no limits to the things that you can do here, which is perhaps why so many people choose Bali as a more permanent home. It is especially renowned for its 10,000-plus temples, as well as its mountain treks to the top points of Mount Batur, and world-renowned waterfalls including Kanto Lampo and Tagenungan Waterfall. And if you’re into your surfing, then catching the waves in Uluwatu or Canggu is incomparable to almost anywhere else in the world.
When it comes to water-worshippers and sun searchers however, Bora Bora truly shines. Beach-wise, both have beautiful havens, but Bora Bora wins (mainly thanks to the pink sands of its public Matira beach). Whether you opt for paddle-boarding, boat cruising, snorkeling or aqua safari-ing, the pure, crystal clear waters will provide you with the perfect setting for any oceanic activity. If you want to admire the sea life surrounding you, take a trip to the Coral Gardens. And for the daring among us, head down to the Bora Bora Lagoonarium to swim with sting rays, manta rays and blacktip reef sharks.
Round 6: Bora Bora vs Bali – Price
By now it’s probably become clear that there’s a big price difference between the two islands, but here we’ll break it down some more.
Firstly, it’s important to consider your airfare (often the most expensive part of any long-distance trip). We turned to Skyscanner, and looked at most common airport across the UK (London Heathrow), America (Hartsfield-Jackson) and Australia (Sydney Airport) to find the cheapest roundtrip flights per person. For Bora Bora, these came in at around $1730, $1381 and $1705 respectively. Looking at these same airports for Bali, it was $646, $1,000 and $358 respectively. Bear in mind however, these are during their cheapest season and always subject to change, particularly in a COVID landscape.
Next, we wanted to know how much it would cost across a range of accommodation options, as well as your typical evening meal out. We know that most people here will be looking for a mid to luxury getaway, so started with mid-range hotels and worked our way up. We used Booking.com for the hotel prices, and Numbeo for the price of pleasurable food in paradise:
|3* hotel||$251 per night||$36 per night|
|4* hotel||$762 per night||$77 per night|
|5* hotel||$1583 per night||$244 per night|
|Three course meal for 2|
|$312 per night||$28.62|
Bora Bora or Bali: Where is better?
When it comes to picking which is better, the main thing to point out is that they’re just… different. For one, if you’re on a budget, then you’ll get far more bang for your buck in Bali. In fact, if you’re on any budget at all, Bora Bora may be best enjoyed another time. If cost isn’t an option however, it’s time to come on to the next consideration.
Next, ask yourself how you’ll spend your days. Both places can satisfy a beach and sunset holiday, there’s no doubt about that. And if you want to turn that up a notch with a package of pure heavenly, over-the-top opulence and romantic havens, there’s a clear winner. You can bask in its beauty in a bubble of love, enjoying some of the best beaches the world has to offer. Ultimately, if you’re looking for that vibe where you won’t need to lift a finger, other than to lift a cocktail to your lips: it’s Bora Bora all day long.
We’ll be honest though, Bali is much more multi-faceted with so much more to see. It’s the abode for adventurers. Whatever type of trip you’re planning: solo travelling, a couples getaway or a week of partying, it has somewhere suitable for every situation. Whatever you’re into, from sun lounging to snorkeling, sightseeing, mountain trekking, golfing and surfing, there’ll be an abundance of things to do, and the sense of discovery truly never stops. Bali is a heady cultural concoction, and a heavily social place, with plenty of people sharing in its paradise and promise. It’s why people tend to come to Bali for a week and stay for a year; it does something to you that’s not easy to explain.