The Maldives vs Bora Bora (on Nick’s mind)

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Two years ago, I spent 8 nights in Bora Bora split between the St. Regis Bora Bora and the Conrad Bora Bora (recently named #2 and #3 in Travel & Leisure’s Top 5 South Pacific Resort Hotels). Since our recent trip to Le Meridien Maldives, several readers have asked me my take on the age-old question: Do you prefer the Maldives or Bora Bora? (Ok, that’s not at all an age-old question, it’s the type of question that only a miles & points enthusiast would ponder). The answer isn’t simple; during my recent stay at Le Meridien, I booked a return stay for next year (mostly in case it increases in category). But after considering it more, I think I am more likely to return to Bora Bora. That is surely in part because my experiences in Bora Bora were at higher-category hotels and my opinion here is definitely not a one-size-fits-all answer but rather the one that fits me the most. I look forward to readers weighing in with their own opinions in the comments.

Le Meridien Maldives was fantastic for service, snorkeling, and relaxing

I want to start this out by saying that Le Meridien Maldives was fantastic. We’ve noted a few times now that management at Le Meridien comes from a Ritz-Carlton background and it shows. Service was well beyond what I would expect in the sense that staff were outgoingly friendly and proactive in anticipating what you might need or at least asking often enough that you never had much time to realize what it was you needed before someone asked. I don’t always need that, but it was relaxing and enjoyable (you can read more about the hotel in this full review).

Le Meridien Maldives staff were outgoing and proactive in attending to our needs.

That said, frequent travelers will know that while outstanding service is special, it is easy to find at luxury hotels throughout much of Asia. One needn’t travel all the way to the Maldives for excellent service.

What draws most people to the Maldives is either a sense of isolation or the sea life (that exists in no small part thanks to the isolation). Le Meridien doesn’t disappoint in that regard. It has the best coral reef that I’ve seen that was swimmable from shore (or really from the end of the west jetty). I’ve been to the Great Barrier Reef and gone scuba diving in a handful of places, so I’ve seen some good reef before, but never comparable reef that didn’t require a boat to reach. Two-step in Hawaii offers fantastic snorkeling from shore (and I’ve seen a number of sea turtles there in close proximity), but the reef at Le Meridien looks like something you would expect to need a boat to reach.

But the thing here is that some people will need a boat to reach the reef. It’s not an Olympic swim from the west jetty / shore, but I think that Greg and I each questioned whether we were swimming to something we could see — or just heading out to sea — a couple of times on the first trip out. I am obviously a capable enough swimmer to have done it a couple of times, but I’m not going to win any swimming events of any sort. While I was a track & field athlete in a previous life, I probably wouldn’t have beaten anyone in a swimming event even when I was running a 4:20 mile in high school.

If I don’t sound overly confident in my swimming ability, trust me when I say that my wife has less confidence in my swimming ability than I do….or at least the thought of her needing to save us both in a pinch doesn’t appeal to her. I said to Greg that I don’t think she and I would have made it to the reef because I think she probably would have gotten nervous about “what happens if” before we’d have gotten there and I wouldn’t have argued with her. Again, it’s not that the reef is miles away, but some people surely aren’t going to swim to it (and if you do, you should definitely wear the life jacket from your room and wear a set of free fins from the dive shop).

That’s not a knock on the place. Le Meridien has a great reef with a really nice drop-off where I’m sure you’ll often see plenty of tropical fish and also things like sea turtles and maybe even sharks. Snorkeling gear is free. Staying a swimmable distance from a reef like that which can be snorkeled for free is awesome. I could easily spend hours each day swimming around in what felt like an aquarium.

However, the things I could spend hours doing at Le Meridien Maldives were basically limited to snorkeling the reef and sitting on the deck of my overwater villa. I recognize that sentence doesn’t sound like a drawback for some, and I certainly did enjoy that, but the truth is that there just wasn’t yet a lot to do at Le Meridien if that’s not your thing. The swimming pools were quite small for a resort and though the beaches were nice and they are obviously making an effort to rake them regularly, they weren’t quite as soft and powdery as I imagined them to be (there was a lot of broken coral on the beaches on one side of the island, so it was a little rough in some places when barefoot).

On the flip side, the island was very lush; we were told that the island and its vegetation was natural rather than being artificially planted there. As you walk the path through the center of the island, you definitely get the feel of being on a lush and tropical island. And there were activities like sunrise yoga and afternoon beach volleyball and beach soccer that we could have tried.

I imagine that the experience is likely different at other Maldives resorts in terms of both things to do and quality of beaches. But at some level, no matter which Maldives resort you choose, you are pretty isolated from everything else.

If lounging on this deck for hours appeals to you, the Maldives might be a good fit.

To be clear, I like that isolation. I could sit out on the back deck and listen to the ocean and keep my eyes peeled for rays and other fish without seeing or hearing anyone else for hours and be just fine with that. In fact, both our 40K to Far Away challenge and this recent trip to the Maldives taught me that I actually enjoy some solitude. These trips have helped me realize that the sense of peace is probably what appealed to me about training for a couple of marathons a few years ago — the quiet relaxation of a long run. Most of my life is spent pretty constantly on the go and with a to-do list and a lot of noise. I imagine that most who enjoy the Maldives like the contrast it offers. Some will be bored in 1 day. I could enjoy this for a week without a problem.

Most of the island at Le Meridien looked like this — empty and quiet. That surely appeals to some and not others.

Bora Bora was easier with a family

In some ways, Bora Bora isn’t all that different from the Maldives: it is pretty isolated and you are stuck at your hotel for the most part. However, you can hire private boat transport to take you to other hotels for dinner and most hotels have a shuttle boat that provides service to the main island. While I didn’t take advantage of that, I know that it is possible to visit some local villages and do some hiking on the main island and that would have appealed to me if I weren’t traveling with a baby who needed to nap twice a day.

We booked our own private boat transfer between hotels in Bora Bora and could have booked other boat excursions separately from the hotel.

One area where the resorts had a clear leg up in Bora Bora was in terms of beach set-up. We spent a lot of time on comfortable beach loungers playing in the sand with our son. There was less of that at Le Meridien Maldives. Le Meridien did have some day-beds…

But the beach setups at the St. Regis and Conrad in Bora Bora were more extensive (in no doubt partly because the St. Regis accommodates far more guests and both properties are higher-category).

Beaches at the Bora Bora resorts we visited had far more beach lounge furniture set up. At some Maldives resorts, you can probably find comparably-furnished beaches.

In terms of snorkeling, it was a lot easier for a beginner or single swimmer at the St. Regis. That is because the resort has its own enclosed lagoon. To some extent, snorkeling on the grounds of the St. Regis is cheating: it basically is an aquarium rather than just feeling like one. But the advantage is that my wife and I were able to trade off on baby duty on shore while the other of us got in the glassy-calm water and swam around with the fish.

One of us could easily snorkel with the fish in the lagoon….
….while the other of us stood on shore with our son.

In fact, the lagoon was so calm that even our son could get in at just 19 months old.

We certainly could imagine spending time on the beach with our kids in the Maldives, but at least at the St. Regis and at the time of year we were there, beach and water time required less swimming strength. That wasn’t only true in the lagoon — the waters in general around the resort were pretty glassy and smooth.

Check out the stingray in the water — easy to see even at some distance thanks to calm waters.

And while the beach villas at Le Meridien have shrubbery to provide privacy that blocks any view of the water from the villa, the beach villa at the St. Regis had a fantastic beach view from the back deck.

The St. Regis Bora Bora is both a much larger property than Le Meridien Maldives and it is also a significantly higher-category Marriott (and comes with a matching significantly higher cash rate), so it isn’t a fair point of comparison and that obviously affects my perceptions of the places. The extensive development at the St. Regis Bora Bora (and also the Conrad Bora Bora) meant that pushing a stroller around on a walk was very enjoyable and easy to do.

This was the walk down a paved path to breakfast from our room at the Conrad Bora Bora.

By contrast, apart from the wooden docks where the over-water villas are located, paths around Le Meridien Maldives were entirely sand. A stroller would have been totally useless.

This is what the paths around the island looked like at Le Meridien Maldives.

Walking around Le Meridien was more work since you were always on sand. That wasn’t a bad thing to us — both of us enjoyed the exercise and constantly turned down offers to ride in golf carts in favor of walking except a couple of times when we were in a hurry. You didn’t have to walk, but if you wanted to it might be worth knowing that there were no paved pathways. Again, that can be viewed as a strength — the island is certainly more natural at Le Meridien. But if you have mobility issues, it could make things more difficult.

Again, my experience in the Maldives isn’t representative of all resorts. It looks like the St. Regis Maldives has pretty extensive boardwalk. On the other hand, I stayed at the Sheraton Maldives on a previous visit and I recall walking paths similarly being sandy paths rather than paved. Our stay there was before having kids and admittedly I probably never would have thought of this contrast point if not for the fact that I have stroller-aged kids now. There is also obviously the contrast in property category to consider. While at Le Meridien, Greg questioned whether properties costing more points could offer enough additional luxury to justify the price. In hindsight, I see some ways they can and did in Bora Bora.

I think Le Meridien could probably up their game in terms of beach activities. You can currently rent paddleboards and sea kayaks / canoes for free and they separately have jet skis and a catamaran available for rentals. The St. Regis in Bora Bora additionally had pedal boats like the “bicycle” you can see in the water here. We took that out a few times with our 19-month-old and had fun pedaling around.

My experience at Le Meridien was only a few nights, but the waves may have been less conducive to that type of activity as the ocean did have a bit more movement to it there. Greg and I tried taking out paddleboards one day. Unfortunately, we picked a day and moment when a rainstorm was moving in from far out at sea and just as we tried to paddle out the wind came blowing in. I fell off several times trying to get on my paddleboard and we eventually turned back in. We probably picked the worst possible moment to try – I saw others paddleboarding during our stay who seemed to be enjoying it. And I paddleboarded at the Sheraton Maldives a few years ago and saw small sharks and other sea life and felt very comfortable.

There are also more land-based activities at the resorts I visited in Bora Bora. The St. Regis and Conrad Bora Bora both had mini-golf courses (admittedly in poor condition at the St. Regis, but kids probably don’t care much) and I believe both the St. Regis and Conrad had tennis courts. There were also bicycles available for kids at the Conrad.

The Conrad Bora Bora had free mini golf, though we somehow didn’t get around to playing.
Free bikes for kids at the Conrad Bora Bora
I was surprised that Le Meridien didn’t have a tennis court. This was the court at the Conrad Bora Bora.

There was also evening entertainment at resorts in the Bora Bora like this Polynesian-themed show at the Conrad Bora Bora.

Le Meridien Maldives has an outdoor movie screen set up but it wasn’t yet operational. There otherwise wasn’t anything going on at night while we were there. Similarly, I don’t recall evening entertainment at the Sheraton Maldives (it’s possible that they did and I just didn’t notice as we weren’t looking for it at the time).

Le Meridien movie nights will be awesome once they get this up and running.

For a family traveler, another strength at the St. Regis Bora Bora was that kids under a certain 6 ate for free. We were reminded of that several times and even when at the beach an attendant came by to see if we wanted to order any (free) food for the baby. At restaurants, we were able to order a dish from the kids menu for him for free. That was huge. I didn’t think to ask whether Le Meridien offers something similar – it is possible that they do (according to this page on the Marriott website, it sounds like this is a program feature across Asia Pacific properties). Several Marriott resorts in the Maldives (and also the St. Regis Bora Bora) also offer free breakfast for kids 12 and under, though Le Meridien is not listed as one that does.

Even at the St. Regis Bora Bora’s fancy restaurant with glass floors, our son ate from the kid’s menu for free — getting a full entree and free ice cream.

Another thing that may have been temporary (mentioned in that same older article on the Marriott site) was that all kids got free ice cream when we were at the St. Regis. Our son’s first experience with ice cream was at another Asia-Pacific region Marriott (the Courtyard Hakuba) and he continued to wolf it down at the St. Regis in Bora Bora. Again, you may be able to get this benefit at Maldives properties as well (YMMV).

Our son was a big fan of the free ice cream.

As a much bigger resort, the St. Regis Bora Bora also had free sunscreen stations dotted around the property which was quite convenient.

One final thing that might make a difference to some: while both the Maldives and Bora Bora require an expensive transfer from the international airport that can not be booked as an award ticket, flights from the international airport in Papeete, Tahiti to Bora Bora are operated by the domestic airline (Air Tahiti – not to be confused with international carrier Air Tahiti Nui) and can be booked via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. That means you can easily use points at a value of 1.5c per point if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve (and that’s what we did). At the time when we went, those flights were about $450 round trip per person — about 30K Ultimate Rewards points each. Note that you need to book those flights separately from your hotel (unlike in the Maldives where it gets added to your hotel bill and you may be able to pay for the flight using gift cards). While the planes are small, they are much bigger than the sea planes used in the Maldives.

Bottom line

Overall, Bora Bora felt more of a family-friendly destination thanks to more developed resorts. Some will not prefer the fact that those resorts are so highly-developed. I definitely didn’t get the same sense of isolation in Bora Bora that I did in the Maldives, but at the stage in life where I am right now (with two young kids in tow for the vast majority of our travels), I think I’d take Bora Bora again. There is also the fact that you can fly to Tahiti nonstop from the west coast in 8-9 hours rather than having to connect at least once and fly for more like 20 hours to get to the Maldives. Those things make me lean towards Bora Bora.

However, and this is a big point, if you want to book an overwater villa using points, you have a number of options in the Maldives to book an overwater villa as a standard room there. In Bora Bora, you’ll be on the hook both for more points for a standard garden villa and for a cash upgrade if you want to be over the water. While some say the overwater experience is overrated, I sure don’t say that. If I were to take a trip alone or with just my wife, I could see going back to the Maldives for a cheap (in Marriott points) overwater villa once more.

Finally, my conclusion is no doubt influenced by the difference in category between hotels. Greg questioned whether a higher-category hotel could provide luxury commensurate with the additional points required. I guess my final answer is yes — I’ll take the St. Regis Bora Bora for the win. It’s pretty incredible to be able to ponder not only one trip but returning to either of these bucket-list destinations. That choice is only possible for me thanks to the games we play, so I’ll be glad to keep on playing for at least one or two more trips to an isolated island paradise before I kick the bucket.

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Andrew

Great comparison. “It depends” is sort of the age old answer when someone how to get into points/miles and even travel. I’ve been to both Maldives and Bora Bora. If you were to ask me which one I preferred it would be Maldives hands down. That’s because I value the seclusion and quality of the hotel I got in the Maldives. Despite that I would most likely book a trip back to French Polynesia (less so Bora Bora) before I went back to the Maldives. Being on the West Coast the with a flight of 8 hours and some great deals it just makes a lot of sense.

If I’m planning a big trip or in the region I’ll definitely be going to the Maldives. Otherwise any other get tropical getaway would be French Polynesia.

David

For us it was the opposite… We preferred Maldives over Bora Bora, and it really wasn’t close. Although like you, most of this came down to the resort we were staying at. The Waldorf Maldives is far and away a better resort than the IHG Thalasso. And there really isn’t a resort in Bora Bora that can compete with the hardware at the Waldorf. The service was also far superior to Thalasso.

With 9 different restaurants on the Waldorf island, we found the food to be far superior to that in Bora Bora… And yes we ventured to the main part of Bora Bora to eat at different places aside from the resort.

We live in California, and even though Bora Bora is a far easier trek… We will be visiting the Maldives again for our next tropical trip.

All that said… I do think the lagoon in Bora Bora is better… But for everything else, we choose the Maldives.

[…] Maldives Vs Bora Bora:  First world problems, I know….. But when accumulating points for a “once in a lifetime” vacation, you want to be happy with your decision.  While the Maldives and Bora Bora are gorgeous, luxurious destinations, they are very different.  Which is ideal for you? […]

[…] vs. Bora Bora: This post on Frequent Miler has a good comparison between the two. I’ve never been to either, but Bora Bora has always […]

Arthur

Bora Bora might be more expensive but is the best choice for the emre reason that Maldives still is based on abusive labour, and has an outrageous approach to ecology, if any – thilafushi aka the garbage island, where the resort’s pile up all their trash, which is them burned open air and leaks in the ocean….

Expected Value

Let’s not overthink this. Scenery is huge and the contrast of Mt Otemanu and the volcanic island with the beach and bungalow cannot be beat. Bora Bora is the bungalow, the beach, the snorkeling. But it is also a magical landscape that will leave you with the thrill of adventure. It is that otherworldly atoll at the end of the world you are dreaming of. The sense of adventure is doubled if you add on a trip to jurassic Park-esque Moorea.

What else are you looking for in a tropical island vacation?

Brant

Nick, you’re screwing with my mojo! I already booked 10 night at the Le Meridian Maldives for next year in September! Now I gotta figure out how to get to Bora Bora from there? Come on! Ok, how do I get to Bora Bora from MLE?

Ken

Maldives has better service
Many stop-over possibilities (Singapore, Dubai, London, Madrid, Istanbul etc)

Last edited 1 year ago by Ken
SamL

I booked a stay at Le Meridien Maldives based on Greg’s rave reviews. Now that I am sold on Bora Bora…could you guys do an “overwater villa bookable w/ points” post for it?

Drew

(Ok, that’s not at all an age-old question, it’s the type of question that only a miles & points enthusiast would ponder). The answer isn’t simple; during my recent stay at Le Meridien, I booked a return stay for next year (mostly in case it increases in category).

Since you’re using semicolons, you should’ve also used one after “age-old question.” One can also argue for a period after “Ok.” Just saying…hehehe

Last edited 1 year ago by Drew
Lukas

Thanks for the comparison, I appreciate it. BTW, Bora Bora is not hyphenated. You have it both ways in the article.

Lea

Do any of these resorts offer bedding configurations other than 1 King plus sleeper sofa? I often travel with two friends and we each like having our own bed.

Steve

Stayed at the St Regis Bora Bora last October after being moved from the Le Meridien since it closed for remodeling. 50k points per night! It was amazing and not crowded at all. We could snorkel under our overwater villa with the local Eagle Rays who hung out daily. Scuba diving was great since we got to dive with the Manta Rays but Moorea diving was just as good. Would definitely go back.

JN2

Nick, interesting comparison. I think the biggest thing, particularly in the Maldives where you are basically “stuck” at the resort is to pick a resort that is a good fit for individual preferences. My experience as a guest at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island and at the Intercontinental Thalasso in Bora Bora is quite a bit different than yours at different resorts in both places. A great beach is important to me, and Rangali Island far exceeded the IC Thalasso. The reef at Rangali Island was pretty easy to swim to (I was snorkeling alone and am not a strong swimmer). By the way, you guys might have had rougher water conditions since you were in the Maldives during the “wet monsoon” season, even though you did not have much/any? rain. I didn’t do a lot of activities, but I appreciated the Conrad Maldives’ larger physical footprint (two guest islands connected by a bridge or boats), multiple dining outlets with different styles, and multiple beach areas. In contrast, since I did not have small children with me, I had zero interest in snorkeling in the “fake” lagoon they built and filled with fish at the IC Thalasso. Overall, I enjoyed both the Maldives and Bora Bora, and being a “regular” person, I am very thankful for the “hobby” that has allowed me to have these and other amazing travel experiences.

Drew

“…you were in the Maldives during the ‘wet monsoon’ season…”

Is there a dry monsoon season?

JN2

There are two seasons characterized by the monsoon direction, so technically yes, but most people probably just refer to the other season (Nov/Dec – Mar/Apr) as dry season. Not sure if I can post a link or not, so search if the link does not work: Seasons in the Maldives: Weather and Climate (seasonsyear.com)

whocares

nice link.

JN2

There are two seasons characterized by the monsoon direction, so technically yes, but most people probably just refer to the other season (Nov/Dec – Mar/Apr) as dry season.

P.S. I’m responding without a Maldives weather link, since my previous response got hung up awaiting approval

Andrew

My experience with the reef was the same as yours. The one is Rangali was really great (I had other issues with the hotel though). I stayed at the Conrad Bora Bora and there wasn’t any reef except for the ones they trying to grow (which takes a long time and is sometimes more wire than reef). Feel like underwater Maldives usually wins (some atolls in FP are really great for diving) but overwater it’s hard to beat the diversity in FP.

DavidS

Buried lede?: 4:20 mile in HS. 🙂 (As a retired miler, but still a frequent miler, appreciate the stats.)

Last edited 1 year ago by DavidS
LivelyFL

Great comparison Nick. Thanks. I think I like Bora Bora better for some of the reasons mentioned here. I like island hopping and staying at different resorts. At the Conrad Bora Bora I think they had a boat that you could hop on everyday if you wanted to go somewhere else (I can’t remember the cost) and return in the evening. Maldives was special because of its remoteness. But one thing I did not like about the Maldives was the hotel booked my flight on the domestic airlines. We sat in the “lounge” for many hours (they should have communicated better than just saying we’ll call you when it’s time to get on the plane).

Jackson Waterson

The real question is which has the prettiest water? That’s the point of going to Bora Bofa or the Maldives over Aruba/Trunk Bay/Sardinia/Mallorca (I guess colder water can’t compare to warmer). Which hotel had the most postcard worthy water that actually looked like the postcard?

If you live on the West coast, Bora Bora is an easy choice. It is a trek from the east coast because it’s two flights (which I would break up) plus staying in Tahiti for a night or waiting for another flight to Bora Bora. It was easier when Nui had the direct NYC flight.

Bob

My wife and I enjoy traveling in a manner that allows us to enjoy the differences in the cultures. It sounds like we would have more opportunities to experience the cultural differences in Bora Bora. Disneyland or isolated resorts with other Americans is not our style of travel.

JN2

Bob, I have been both places and agree that in Bora Bora, it is easier to get to the main island (or stay there) and experience local culture, but I actually found that at the resort itself (Intercontinental Thalasso in Bora Bora and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island), there were more Americans in Bora Bora than the Maldives, which had more travelers from other countries. I also included a few days in Moorea when I visited French Polynesia and felt much more cultural connection in Moorea than Bora Bora. In general, staying on a private island (atoll/motu) high end resort probably is not the best choice for people who want to immerse themselves in local culture.

Andy

When my wife and I were in Bora Bora, we took a ferry to main island, rented bicycles, and then rode around the perimeter in a loop. Actually took a video of the whole thing too. Based on what you wrote, you might enjoy something like that. It’s not very challenging, and mostly flat. I remember there was one hill we walked up. But you see a lot of residents, people going about their lives, and we stopped at a couple places to look around and then later for lunch.

Cavedweller

When u ferried to the main island did u look @ Stock up Store prices ??
Thanks

Last edited 1 year ago by Cavedweller
missvacation

I went to Bora Bora 3 times and the Maldives 1 time. I much preferred Bora Bora because:

  1. scenery, you have the awesome mountain as backdrop, Maldives is flat.
  2. you can resort-hop in Bora Bora much cheaper, I visited 5 resorts on our last trip with the cost of boat rides only, less than $100 per person. Whereas, in the Maldives, you can only resort-hop by paying for the seaplane ride each time ($500+). I would be bored after 4 days in one resort.
  3. less expensive food option in Bora Bora if you venture out to the main town on the island, you can’t do that in the Maldives, you are stuck in the resort island.
  4. the Polynesian culture and the overwater bungalows looked more authentic and picturesque. When I saw photos of the bungalows in Le Meridien, they looked like concrete brick.
  5. lastly, on top of the expensive price, you need to add 23% additional for taxes and service charge on top of that! For example, a bottle of mineral water at the restaurants in Bora Bora is around $8 inclusive of taxes and service charge while at the Conrad Maldives was $14 + 23% taxes and service charge!
Roger

It’s depends of the resort . We did visit Finohlu Maldives and all food was delicious and all inclusive . We spend about 4K for all inclusive overwater villa . Fantastic experience. Yes the view from villas are better in Bora Bora and food is little cheaper if you are not in all inclusive program . You are limited to some resorts if you want to book with the points but if you paying with money there are some fantastic resorts in Maldives with life entertainment day and evenings

Ken

I hear so much about Maldives food being so expensive and the sea plane being so expensive and usually people never talk about it. I see people with their food suitcase for dinner because I like you we don’t get things paid for or written off or expensed or given to us since we are not blogging. I wish we had a real breakdown of cost for things

Gary

You can find menus listed for the different resorts on FlyerTalk. You can also find the cost of transfers to different resorts from Male on FlyerTalk.