When traveling to a dream-list destination like Bora Bora, you want to choose the right resort, particularly since your room will likely cost upwards of $600 per night. You already know you want to stay in an iconic overwater bungalow. And, doing your homework, you can plainly see that most resorts have them (there are 566 in this South Pacific lagoon). So the question is...are they really that different? Um. Absolutely.
Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island
Best for: Those who like indie hotels and smaller luxury inns, and also snorkelers.
This is Robinson-Crusoe-luxe, with stone stairs and pathways leading up hills and into nooks. Polynesian culture flows into the dining room three nights a week when dancers arrive by canoe to perform. While there is no pool, a premium snorkeling spot is off the south side of the island and hotel guests can access Sofitel's other hotel, a three-minute boat ride away.
Insider Intel: With just 20 bungalows, Sofitel Private Island is intimate. Interiors are well crafted, with wood-carved Tiki symbols on bed boards, colorful throws and pillows, and mother-of-pearl mirrors. Rates start at $590.
InterContinental Le Moana
Best for: Polynesian culture and activity-centric tourists who like the convenience of staying on the mainland.
This resort is on Bora Bora, so no waiting for boats if you fancy shopping in the main town, or a drink at the famous beach bar, Bloody Mary's; even better, at your feet is Matira Beach, often cited as the world's best. This will make you feel more connected than properties on their own motus. The one restaurant, Noa Noa, has entertainment almost every night, and happy hour begins when the conch shell blows. The lobby is more buzzy than most. Le Moana also sells day passes to non-guests for use of the facilities.
Insider Intel: Rooted in Polynesian. Each of the 50 overwater bungalows are tastefully crafted from pandanus and bamboo with mother-of-pearl engravings and tapa cloth. Rates start at $882.
Hilton Bora Bora Nui
Best for: Beach lovers and watersporters who want a few hills with their lagoon. Reality-TV addicts (who might recognize it from Amazing Race and The Bachelorette)
Swimmers like this deeper part of the Bora Bora lagoon; and the extra large swimming pool, half-mile long beach, and resort's private islet a boat ride away will keep you close to the water. It's the only motu with proper hills, nice for breezes and views of Mt. Otemanu (the jagged peak is behind the resort so you can't see it from the bungalows). And it has an enviable unobstructed West-facing position for great sunsets.
Insider Intel: Some of the best corals are near the 86 Polynesian-designed overwater bungalows. So it's easy to drop off your deck into an underwater sea planet. Rooms are large, and the Nui is known for having the only two-level Presidential overwater bungalow. Rates start at $950.
Best for: Eco-lodge vacationers and view seekers.
This resort is a nice blend of "blue wilderness"-educational-lodge with luxury Bora Bora vacay. You can swim with sea turtles under the supervision of a marine biologist at The Ecological Center. Or you can soak in the deluxe views above the water, because the resort has a prime location on a motu across from Mt. Otemanu. One of the nicest perches is on the bar deck facing the jagged peak.
Insider Intel: The 99 overwaters are chic-Polynesian—natural materials blended with breezy, modern touches, including chairs built to resemble a tiare flower. They claim the largest glass-bottom floors. Rates start at $950.
Best for: Lovers of great design, views, and food. And, of course, Four Seasons junkies.
Every curve is perfect. Every opening frames a view. Around every corner is something that will make you feel pleasant and relaxed. The spa, with 72-foot soaring ceilings, looks more like a chapel. And the chapel looks more like a tribal chief's longhouse. The lobby's red coral-like chandelier is something to behold, with tiny lights on the tip of each delicate stem. It's a metaphor for the exquisiteness of the 54-acre private-motu resort, right down to the raked beaches and well-positioned over-water yoga platform. A golf cart is needed to get around.
Insider Intel: The 100 overwater bungalows seem to have an almost Asian symmetry and simplicity with Polynesian accents. Infinity plunge pools—in eight of the overwater bungalows—radiate artfulness. In-room robes are sumptuously rich with Tiki symbols on the sash. Rates start at $980.
Best for: Urbanites who gravitate toward the chic styles of Philippe Starck or Ian Schrager. Power spa-ers.
A lobby blends modern touches, like George Nelson marshmallow sofa and Eero Saarinen tulip chairs with gauzy drapes next to a vintage, sepia-toned wall-sized photo of Tahiti. The overwater-bungalow-only resort is remarkably peaceful and on a motu between the placid lagoon and choppy ocean, where pipes filter cool seawater to the only Thalasso spa in the region. The beach here is stellar as is the rimless pool.
Insider Intel: The very large, modern 80 bungalows are more like self-contained flats where you could feasibly live out the rest of your days with nary a want, and most every room has a view (even the bathrooms). Rates start at $1,140.
St. Regis Bora Bora
Best for An exclusive, country-club feel spread over four private motus. Foodies.
This may be the most exclusive address in Bora Bora: a 44-acre fantasy island with its own helipad, private yacht, butlers, and even a 13,000 square foot villa. You will want for nothing. Yes to a tennis court, bridal boutique, and multiple restaurants, including the over-water Lagoon by star chef Jean-Georges. A golf cart is needed to get around.
Insider Intel: The "smallest" of the 48 overwater bungalows are 1,550 square feet. It's enough room to get lost. Décor is upscale with a light Polynesian touch. Rates start at $1,368.
Photo credits: Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island; InterContinental Le Moana; Hilton Bora Bora Nui; Le Meridien; Four Seasons Bora Bora; InterContinental Thalasso; St. Regis Bora Bora