Inside: Trying to decide between Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora? Here are 3 reasons Moorea is without a doubt the best choice in French Polynesia.
Yes, Round the World #6 is nearing its inevitable end, but luckily I still have another dreamy destination or two remaining on the itinerary.
You can file this next stop under, “the travel rich keep getting richer.”
I should mention that up until last week, I thought Moorea was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. And then I arrived on Aitutaki.
Read More: The Cook Islands: Tahiti without the French
Thanks to careful planning and an inexplicable desire to explore every tropical South Pacific outpost within my logistical reach, today I am flying from the paradise of the Cook Islands to the Eden of Moorea.
Does it get any better than a direct flight between bliss and nirvana?
My return trip to the French Polynesian island of Moorea was an intentional do-over for my ill-fated trip to Bora Bora last year. That particular Tahitian adventure included a brush with the memorable Cyclone Oli and 17 hours worth of quality evacuation time.
Paradise, it was not.
But before I move on to exactly why Moorea is so incredible, a quick overview of the islands is in order.
Where is French Polynesia?
An overseas collectivity of France, the 118 islands and atolls of French Polynesia stretch lazily across the South Pacific Ocean covering more than 1,200 miles.
The islands are divided into 5 island groups, the most famous of which are the Society Islands which includes Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea.
Is Tahiti the same as French Polynesia?
Though “Tahiti” is sometimes used interchangeably as the overall name for the islands (as I did in the title of this post for the sake of brevity), it’s actually just one island in the French Polynesian group.
Tahiti is, however, home to the only international airport in the islands (Papeete – PPT). Meaning all trips to French Polynesia begin and end there.
Tahiti sounds like paradise…right?
Before my first visit to Tahiti on Round the World #4 I received some unsolicited advice from a friend who had visited the islands on his honeymoon a few years before.
“Don’t waste your time on Tahiti,” he urged, “go straight to Moorea.”
At the time I thought to myself, I’ve seen beautiful pictures of Tahiti all my life, it looks like paradise! Overwater bungalows, blue lagoons, how could it be that the island wasn’t worth a visit?
Is it possible I have friends who are too good for Tahiti? Perish the thought.
But I took his advice and booked a few days on Moorea in addition to two nights on Tahiti (because trust but verify).
Read More: Blowing the Budget in Tahiti
It turned out that he was mostly right, Tahiti is a fine island…until you compare it with Moorea.
Note: Depending on the logistics for onward travel to the other islands, an overnight stay on Tahiti after arrival or prior to departure is likely for most visitors.
3 Reasons Moorea is Better than Bora Bora
While Tahiti and Bora Bora are likely more familiar names to most people, I would argue that Moorea is the lesser-known superstar of French Polynesia.
With visits to all 3 islands now under my belt, I feel sufficiently qualified to make the case for Moorea as the best island to visit in French Polynesia.
1. Moorea is much easier to get to
Getting to Bora Bora requires an additional flight from Papeete. The flight is relatively expensive and, due to the small planes used on the route, luggage size is restricted. I travel carry-on only and even I had to leave some things behind at my Tahiti hotel to reduce my luggage weight and avoid additional fees.
Conversely, getting to Moorea is as easy as a 30-minute inexpensive (and gorgeous) ferry ride. No luggage limit necessary.
Even more importantly, as I learned during the cyclone, once they cut flights to Bora Bora ahead of an approaching storm, you’re stuck. And in my case, this happened with little to no warning. Had I been on Moorea, I could have easily returned by ferry to the relative safety of larger Papeete to ride out the storm.
2. Moorea is way cheaper
Cheap is, of course, relative in French Polynesia. Nothing (and I mean nothing) is actually cheap. Food, taxis, hotels, you’ll spend more on all of those things than nearly anywhere else in the world.
However, compared to Bora Bora, Moorea is a bargain. A coveted overwater bungalow can still be had for less than $1,000 a night on Moorea. That’s an impossible feat on Bora Bora where you’ll likely pay $1,500+ per night for similar accommodation.
3. Moorea is far less touristy
Maybe I’m just overly sensitive, but while on Bora Bora I felt like everyone was trying to sell me something. Whether it was the pearl shops offering free rides from the resort or the endless excursion options, it just felt more touristy than I wanted.
To further illustrate my point, I like to compare the three islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea to the Hawaiian Islands.
Tahiti is Oahu. Most visitors arrive there and stay a few nights before moving on to other islands. Sure, there are a few nice things to see, but it’s crowded and the traffic sucks.
Bora Bora is Maui. There’s no arguing with the fact that it’s beautiful. But it’s also expensive, touristy and lousy with honeymooners (if you’re one of those honeymooners, you might not mind).
Moorea is Kauai. Fewer tourists, more laid back island vibe, and far less pretentious. I love Kauai, it’s my favorite Hawaiian Island (which is probably why I loved Moorea – to me, it’s the French Polynesian Kauai).
Now that I’ve made my case, I’ll leave it up to you to decide which island appeals most to you. But for now, let’s dive deeper into magical Moorea…
Arrival in Tahiti
My Air Tahiti flight from Rarotonga to Papeete was a flawless 2 ½ hours. I landed in Papeete at 2:15pm, made it through immigration and customs, reclaimed my bag, and was in a cab by 2:30pm.
In town, I had my cab driver wait for me outside a bank so I could change a little money (Moorea may be paradise but it doesn’t come cheap…or with ATM’s) and then drop me at the Aremiti Ferry terminal.
The Hilton Moorea
I caught the 3:00pm ferry to Moorea and by 4:00pm I was settling into my magnificent overwater bungalow at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa.
The weather was decidedly overcast but I didn’t care. I was so happy to be back in Moorea and I was convinced that the sun would come out eventually (it did).
As far as Hilton properties go, it doesn’t get any better than the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort. It truly is paradise. Whether you choose one of the incredible overwater bungalows or a garden bungalow you really can’t go wrong.
Overwater Bungalow or Garden Bungalow at the Hilton Moorea?
Well duh. Of course, you came to Tahiti for the overwater bungalow experience.
But if you’re on a budget (or using Hilton points), I recommend spending your first few nights in a Garden Bungalow and then switching to an overwater bungalow for your last few nights. The garden bungalows are a bit larger and also feature a private plunge pool.
Hint to honeymooners: The Garden Bungalows actually offer more privacy. You will inevitably have kayakers paddling by (or God forbid under!) your overwater bungalow.
When using points, you’ll typically be offered the opportunity to upgrade to an overwater bungalow for a reasonable additional fee (that’s how I managed to afford one!). This offer generally comes not long after you make the booking so you’ll be able to confirm it well before you arrive.
What to do on Moorea
On my last trip to Moorea, I rented a car for a day to explore the island. I drove the ring road around the island, stopped at all the deserted pristine sandy beaches, and ventured up to the Belvedere Lookout for panoramic views of the island’s spectacular lagoon.
Read More: Blue Lagoon Paradise in Moorea
Satisfied that I had already tackled island exploration, I was feeling free to do absolutely nothing on this visit to Moorea – which is exactly what this idyllic island does best.
I spent my days jumping into the crystal blue lagoon off my own personal dock and snorkeling around for hours. When I wasn’t in the lagoon, I kept an eye on it from my bungalow through the glass panel in the floor known locally as “Tahitian television.“
The lagoon is the primary form of entertainment in Moorea for good reason – you could spend countless hours there and never see the same thing twice. It’s simply mesmerizing.
In the evenings, I strolled down the boardwalk to Toatea, the Hilton Moorea’s overwater creperie and bar, to watch the black-tip sharks swarm the lagoon at feeding time under the evening lights.
Note to self: Don’t swim in the lagoon at night.
It was truly the most relaxing few days I’ve had in years.
I realized sometime around lunch on day three that I hadn’t put shoes on since I arrived.
Who needs shoes in paradise?
And so, to recap, here’s your perfect 3-step plan to the ideal Tahitian vacation:
#1) Fly to Papeete (because you have to)
#2) Take the ferry to Moorea and don’t look back
#3) See #2
And there you have it! All you really need to know about planning your Tahitian holiday. Along with my 3 most persuasive arguments for skipping Bora Bora in favor of lesser-known Moorea.
Sadly, the next morning I had to take the ferry back to Papeete to catch my flight back to LA for my final stop in Cabo.
It’s been an amazing couple of days in my own private paradise. I can’t wait to return someday. (2015 Update: Who could have guessed that I’d be returning just a few years later on my honeymoon!)
Read More: Honeymoon Paradise in Tahiti
As the ferry docked in Papeete, I was greeted with a beautiful rainbow over the town proving that sometimes even the least attractive part of Tahiti can take your breath away.
Next up…a full week of whale watching and obligatory poolside margaritas in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Then, back to the real world (zero stars, do not recommend).