Maldives vs Bora Bora (Where Is Better To Visit In 2020?)

maldives vs bora bora

…..and as the sun sets, the last fading rays shimmer like precious jewels on the crystal-clear turquoise lagoon; the only sound the plaintive call of a lone skyhawk as he circles lazily in the……. OK, stop! This is not going to be a piece full of superlative scribings and poeticised prose. We know there are plenty of websites that already offer this, and they do a great job.

Instead, we’re going to give you a plain-speaking, unbiased comparison of these two amazing holiday resorts.

Let’s face it: if you’re reading this then you’ve already decided to take the trip of a lifetime. And we’re betting that you’ll be with your special someone, because both locations are tailor-made for honeymoons or a romantic getaway.

Neither of these resorts are cheap, and the similarity between the two makes the decision all the more difficult. So let’s take a more detailed look, and we promise not to use any poetic phrases (well, maybe a few…..)     

Where is The Maldives?

maldives island
Maldives Indian Ocean

Good question! So first, a little bit of geography (and some history thrown in for good measure).

The Maldives, officially a republic, is a chain of 1,192 small islands, grouped into a double chain of 26 atolls and set in the Arabian Sea. It’s just over 620 miles south west of Sri Lanka, which is at the tip of India.

If you head south from The Maldives there’s nothing but water until you hit Antarctica, which is over 6,000 miles away, and its remote location is one reason that people envisage it as a far-away paradise. It’s the smallest republic in Asia, with a population of about 515,000 ruled over by a President who is head of state and head of government. His home is in the capital city of Malé, which is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Originally a Bhuddist republic, its official religion is now Islam and the official language is Dhivehi, although most locals are fluent in English (in fact The Maldives re-joined the British Commonwealth in February 2020).

For many years The Maldives’ main industry was fishing, but since 1970 tourism has been the main source of income.

(Fun fact: The Maldives is famous for cowrie shells that you can find on most of its beaches. Although they’re now a popular souvenir, they were used as the main currency right up to the 1850s.)

Where is Bora Bora?

bora bora island

Bora Bora is one of the Leeward group of Islands, which form part of the Society Islands in French Polynesia located in the heart of the South Pacific. It’s about 160 miles north west of Tahiti, and about 2,600 miles south of Hawaii, so if anything it’s even more remote than The Maldives. It’s a tiny island, less than 6 miles long and 3 miles across, and it’s surrounded by a turquoise lagoon and coral reef, with a twin-peaked volcano right in the middle (don’t worry, it’s extinct). Its population is just over 10,000 who either follow the local Tahitian religion or are converts to Christianity.  Bora Bora was an independent kingdom until 1888, when it was annexed by France and so the official language is French, although most locals speak good English. Like The Maldives, Bora Bora relies on tourism as its main source of income.

(Fun fact: in ancient times, the Tahitian-speaking locals called the island ‘Pora Pora Mai Te Pora’, meaning ‘created by the gods’, which was later abbreviated to just ‘Pora Pora’. This can also be pronounced ‘Pola Pola’,Bola Bola’ or ‘Bora Bora’. Take your pick!)

The Maldives vs Bora Bora, Round 1: Accommodation

bora bora hotels

Usually, we start our comparisons with details of the entertainment on offer, or the nightlife in the local bars and clubs. But in this case, we think the quality of the accommodation is probably the most important factor. We will get to the nightlife later on, but we figure you’ll be spending most of your time in your room or on the beach. So let’s take a look at the accommodation.

The most popular resorts, without doubt, are the over-water villas and bungalows. These are not the only options, and it’s possible to get a hotel room on a backpacker budget, but these are the ones you’ve seen in the brochures and, especially for couples, these are the ones to focus on. The first thing to know is the rates for villas and bungalows are expensive whichever resort you choose; starting at about £350 per night and going up to over £3,000 for the VIP villas. Because of the comparative size of the islands, The Maldives has far more physical choices than Bora Bora (over 1,000 hotels compared to about 35), but both resorts offer incredible, over-the-top luxury if that’s what you’re looking for. 

A quick note on privacy: some of the overwater villas in the Maldives offer a totally remote island experience, as they are detached from the main island and can only be reached by boat. Conversely, you should note that many of the bungalows in Bora Bora don’t offer much privacy, especially on the outside balconies, so don’t get too carried away….     

Our opinion: It’s a bit like comparing a Rolls Royce with a Bentley – both are expensive and both offer the height of luxury (if you’re willing to pay top dollar). But for the range of resorts, The Maldives just edges it.  

The Maldives vs Bora Bora, Round 2: The Dining Experience

maldives dining

You’re going to spend most of your time in the resorts, and they all have their Michelin-starred restaurants which offer whatever your heart desires. So let’s look at the local food. Bora Bora is part of French Polynesia so, as you’d expect, the influence is French. The Maldives, on the other hand, is greatly influenced by Indian and Asian cuisines. 

Authentic Maldivian food is based a lot on curry, coconut, and seafood. One local speciality is mas huni, a fresh, spicy blend of tuna, coconut, chili and onion, seasoned and served with chapati bread. Or try handulu bondibai (sweetened sticky rice), which is a unique dessert usually reserved for special occasions like the birth of a child (but just tell them it’s your honeymoon – after all, it’s special for you!)

fine dining

In Bora Bora, one local Polynesian speciality is poisson cru which is raw tuna marinated in lime juice and coconut milk), but other local seafood worth trying includes mahi-mahi, grouper, and saumon des diex, (‘fish of the gods’) which tastes like a mixture of tuna and salmon. As for fruit: pineapple, coconuts, and bananas are locally grown and they’re all wonderfully fresh. And the French influence means Bora Bora has superb bread and pastries as well. Or, for a cheap and authentic Tahitian experience, try the roadside diners, known locally as roulottes

Both resorts offer beautiful settings for couples and honeymooners – a romantic candlelit dinner-for-two on the beach, or even on a private sandbank. However, there is one unique dining experience only available in The Maldives, and that’s the all-glass underwater dining restaurants, including the ‘5.8’ at the Hurawalhi resort which is the largest in the world.  Truly amazing. 

Our opinion: Food is, of course, subjective. As the saying goes: ‘one man’s fish is another man’s poisson’ (see what we did there?!) Both resorts offer plenty of mouth-watering options but, purely because of the amazing underwater restaurants, we’re giving a win to The Maldives.

The Maldives vs Bora Bora, Round 3: Activities 

If you’re looking for theatres and concert halls, neither of these places is for you! Of course you might want to spend your day chillaxing on a beach, and we’ll cover that later, but there’s plenty of other great ways to fill your day.

Although staying at The Maldives can be quite isolating, it is very popular for snorkeling and diving due to the warm water, which is crystal clear and offers a great view of the local marine life. This area of the Indian Ocean alone is home to 1, 100 species of fish, 5 species of sea turtle, and 21 species of whale. You’ll also have a chance to swim and dive with 20 different types of dolphin, including the ever-popular spinner dolphins. Watersports are really popular, and all the resorts offer excursions for paddleboarding, surfing, jet skiing and kayaking. There’s even a local shipwreck called The Viceroy, which sank in 1981 and has since become a popular diving spot.

diving maldives

Bora Bora also offers great diving and watersports, including snorkeling at the Lagoonarium, a natural aquarium where you can interact with blacktip reef sharks and stingrays in their natural habitat. But it differs from The Maldives in that there is a real town to go and visit, so you can walk around the boutique marketplaces and perhaps sample some local street food. If you’re into hiking there are some easy walking trails, such as the Valley of Kings with old pathways through lush tropical vegetation and ancient cities, or there are guided climbs that take you to the top of Mount Pahia, one of the twin peaks of Bora Bora’s iconic volcano. There’s also the offer of island-hopping: for example a ‘Tuamotu Pass’ includes Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Maupiti, Rangiroa, Tikehau and Fakarava.

Our opinion: If you want to try some water-based adventures then both resorts have plenty on offer. But with the added bonus of local culture, nature, jungle and mountains, we think that Bora Bora wins this one.

The Maldives vs Bora Bora, Round 4: Beaches

For most of the visitors to these resorts, the beaches are what it’s all about. Perfectly white sand, breathtaking coral reefs and crystal clear lagoons are the stuff of dreams. Every beach will give you Instagram moments, and we encourage you to visit as many as you can, but here are a few that we think you should start with.

maldives beach

In the Maldives, it’s possible to rent a boat and find your own secluded island beach, such as Dhigurah beach, but we’ve been asked to remind you that local laws respect the Islamic customs and so, legally, topless (and nude) sunbathing is banned. Bikinis are allowed on private resorts, but not usually on public beaches. That being said, one of the most popular public beaches is Bikini Beach on Rasdhoo Island. 

Another popular choice is Reethi, which is one of the resort beaches on a tiny tropical island called Baa Atoll. Access is by seaplane, and you’re sure to find some secluded areas to kick back and relax.

Bora Bora is just as famous for its beach paradises. There’s an island saying that ‘visiting artists have tried to paint the scenery, but give up when they realise no colour in their pallet can ever do justice to the lagoon.’  The local public beaches are very used to topless visitors, and boat rides to the motus (the tiny coral islands) will offer complete privacy if you fancy some skinny-dipping. 

bora bora vs maldives
Caribbean tropical beach with a beautiful red starfish in white sand

Matira Beach was once voted the most beautiful beach in the world (by Conde Nast Traveller) and is perhaps the most famous in all of French Polynesia. It’s a popular spot with tourists and locals for watching the sunset, snorkeling and sunbathing, and as it’s one of the only public beaches on Bora Bora, it’s totally free.  Get there early to stake out a good spot.

One of the most picturesque private motu beaches with accommodation is at the Pension Alice et Raphael in northern Bora Bora. It‘s a small beach, but with a very limited number of rooms available it’s all but deserted.

Our opinion: Please forgive us, but it’s impossible to choose a winner. If you want beautiful, secluded, picture-postcard beaches then both locations have an almost unlimited choice. This one’s a draw.

The Maldives vs Bora Bora, Round 5: Nightlife

As you’d expect, most of the nightlife on these islands centres around the resorts. There will be a number of bars at your particular resort, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay there. It’s often a good idea to take a water taxi over to one of the smaller islands and check out the bars there. And at least once a week, each resort will put on some sort of late night event, so there’s no fear of being bored.

cocktails

In Bora Bora every night is Polynesian Night somewhere – for instance on Monday it’s at the Four Seasons, on Tuesday it’s Conrad Nui and on Thursday it’s St Regis. You can expect to pay a small cover charge, but you’ll get a great show – such as the fire dancers in our picture – and drinks on the beach.  Most places close at around 10pm, but there are a few bars that stay open for longer. The ‘Lucky House’ (Fare Manuia) is one of them and it’s the closest thing to a pub in the islands. It’s very popular with the locals, and it stays open late if enough people are enjoying themselves. 

If you’re getting tired of relaxing and fancy some dance music then head to ‘Recif’, which is literally the only nightclub in Bora Bora. It starts out as a karaoke bar, but by midnight the live DJs start up with EDM and house, and by 1am the place is packed. 

four seasons maldives

As The Maldives is a Muslim country, the locals don’t drink alcohol. But that doesn’t mean they won’t serve it! All the resorts have bars and nightclubs, mostly open ‘til 2am. At the W Retreat & Spa, on North Ari atoll, you’ll find the ultra-chic ‘15 Below’, which is a nightclub set 15 feet below the beach. We’re pretty sure you’ve never been to a club like it, so check it out! Also worth a visit is the ‘Subsix’ all-glass underwater nightclub at the Niyama resort, the first of its kind in the world. Your other option is to head to the capital city, Malé, and spend a night with the locals. There’s a great range of coffee bars and clubs that offer live music, particularly jazz, but remember that alcohol is not available in the capital.

There’s one more Maldives night-time activity we’d like to mention which we think is pretty amazing, and that’s a visit to a glow-in-the-dark beach on Vaadhoo Island. Yes, the scientists will tell you it’s a “natural phenomenon caused by blooms of disturbed bioluminescent phytoplankton”, but when the sand around your feet glows at each step, part of you will want to believe in magic! 

Our opinion: There are great nightlife options wherever you go, but to us it seems there’s a bit more choice in Bora Bora. So the Polynesian wins this round. 

So….The Maldives vs Bora Bora: Which is better?

maldives sunset
Sunset in the Maldives with a view of the lagoon and bungalows

If you’ve made a note of our opinions, you’ll see that it’s a draw. And this is perhaps the only fair result, because both of these places will offer a holiday of a lifetime. If you’re looking for a ‘people place’ then you’ll probably prefer Bora Bora; if you want to feel like you have a whole island to yourself, then your choice should be the Maldives. 

The resorts in the Maldives are constantly trying to outdo each other with what they offer their guests, and over-the-top opulence is everywhere. Bora Bora is a little more grounded and basic, but it’s still one of the most luxurious holidays you’ll ever take. 

But we promised to pick a winner, and so for us it’s Bora Bora. It just feels a little more ‘real’, and the beautiful natural scenery is the icing on the cake.  That’s not to say we don’t appreciate the lavishness of the Maldives resorts – we certainly do – but when we picture those overwater bungalows, we somehow always hear the words “Bora Bora” being whispered in our ear at the same time……  

 


More Travel Guides:               

The Best Viewpoints In Bali
Top Things To Do In Gili Islands
Best Beaches In Uluwatu
10 Things To Do In Uluwatu