Matira Beach, Bora Bora
Bora Bora is one of the magical islands that make up French Polynesia in the South Pacific. Just 18 miles long, this lush little slipper of land lies in a protected lagoon edged by fine white sandy shores -- the best located at Matira Point. There are a number of reasons why Bora Bora boasts the nickname "the Romantic Island," including the secluded beaches, intimate hotels and quiet atmosphere that embraces visitors. But don't confuse candle-lit serenity with boredom - there are plenty of activities for adventure-seekers, such as joining other fearless visitors on a shark-feeding expedition on the lagoon or a half-day Jeep tour through the island's rough interior. The hunt for the perfect black pearl may take devoted shoppers on a chase through town and back to the main island of Tahiti. And history buffs will find a wealth of World War II memorabilia from the days when Bora Bora served as a refueling base for American troops. A coastal defense gun installment is visible from Matira Point and a driving tour around the island uncovers military landmarks and hotspots from the old days. Everyone will enjoy the most popular activity of all: lazing the day away on a secluded stretch of Matira Beach and watching a brilliant sunset over the bright turquoise water.
Nearest Major International Airport: Visitors must first fly to Papeete in Tahiti, a flight that takes about seven and a half hours from Los Angeles. From there, they can catch a short flight to Bora Bora's tiny airport on the Motu Mute. This is not a good time to catch a light snooze - passengers will want to keep their eyes open to take in the dramatic scenery and the brilliant azure waters as the plane lands on the narrow island airstrip.
While there is no public transportation on the island, most of the hotels offer shuttle service to get around the island. Guests looking for freedom to explore at their own leisure may consider renting a car, scooter or even a bicycle.
A visit to Bora Bora is in order any time of year; the South Pacific is a year-round destination blessed with ideal weather. The average temperature rests around 79 F (26 C), while the water maintains temperatures ranging from 79 F (26 C) in the winter to 84 F (29 C) in the summer.
The island is home to a number of resorts offering prices for the budget seeker and the gold-card holder. Most resorts feature a mixture of traditional rooms and the popular bungalows, but don't let that term scare you away - while some bungalows are more rustic, most provide all of the expected amenities and then some. The over-water bungalows at the luxurious Hotel Bora Bora (011-689-60-44-60) are romantic, cozy and convenient - guests can snorkel and swim right from the front porch. The Sofitel Coralia Marara (1-800-763-4835) offers reasonable prices and a desirable Matira Beach location. For travelers looking for the best beach for the best price, the no-frills Hotel Matira (011-689-67-70-51) is located just steps from Matira Point.
Local cuisine draws on the homegrown flavors of sweet coconut, delicate vanilla and, of course, fresh seafood. Tahiti's national dish is poisson cru, a medley of raw fish and diced vegetables soaked in a mixture of lime juice and coconut milk. While the specialties may be Polynesian, hungry travelers will find a range of restaurants serving up everything from fancy French dishes to crusty pizza, spicy Chinese food and down-home American grub. Visitors, celebrities and locals all head to Bloody Mary's (011-689-67-72-86) for American-style barbecue and a few cold ones, while Chez Ben's (011-689-67-74-54) on Matira Beach is the perfect excuse to move from the chaise lounge - crispy pizza and local treats are served at this snack bar.
Bora Bora may not be the best choice for nighttime revelers looking for sun, sand and hot discos. The peaceful island nightlife means that after-hours activity is limited to romantic strolls on the beach and quiet drinks at intimate beach bars - an ideal getaway for some travelers. While there is some action at the nearby Club Med's nightclub, it's mainly in the form of live music and dinner theater rather than wild parties and trays of shooters.
While you are there
New divers and more experienced SCUBA explorers will find plenty of opportunities to get close to creatures under the sea. Plunging anywhere from nine to 200 feet underwater, divers are certain to bump into eagle and giant manta rays; striking, colorful coral beds; and slow-moving turtles. Some dives even bring humans nose-to-nose with sharks. Try the Bora Diving Center, on Matira Beach next to the Bora Bora Hotel (011-689-67-71-84 or 011-689-67-74-83).
To fake that you've been there
Brag to friends about your brush with fame and a Hollywood hottie or starlet at Bloody Mary's - but then explain that you left behind the photographic evidence to hang on the bar's wall with the many other celebrity pics.
Linking for a better vacation
For more information, visit Tahiti's Tourism Board at www.tahiti-tourisme.com.