I know a lot of people who have been to either the Maldives, the Seychelles, or Tahiti / Moorea / Bora Bora, but I think few people have been to all 3 places… especially over a span of 4 years. Usually going to one of these places is enough, so I’m not quite sure why my wife and I have been to all 3. I think we mostly did it to experience the first class flights more than the actual locations.
I’ll be comparing the 3 locations based on my own experiences at the hotels I’ve stayed at. If I had stayed elsewhere, I think it may slightly change my view of the location, but I think for the most part, it should stay the same. Trip reports:
- Tahiti / Moorea / Bora Bora (sorry this was pre-blogging days so no trip report but we stayed at the Hilton Moorea and the Intercontinental Thalasso)
- Maldives – We stayed at the Conrad Maldives as Gold members
- Seychelles – We stayed at both the Hilton Northholme and the Hilton Labriz as Diamond members
Out of the 3 places, I think most people would probably recognize Tahiti first. Not many people know that Bora Bora is a short expensive (~$500) seaplane away from Tahiti; I surely didn’t before I did my research. I’m sure no one knows where Moorea is, but I say it’s the most underrated place in the French Polynesia and I’ll tell you why later. Plus it’s a relatively cheap 1 hour ferry from Tahiti. After French Polynesia, I think most people have heard of the Maldives (add ~$500 for a seaplane to the fancy hotels,) and lastly, hardly anyone knows where the Seychelles is.
Tahiti / Moorea / Bora Bora
A quick note about Tahiti. While we flew into Papeete, we didn’t spend the night there. We went directly to the ferry terminal to go to Moorea for 4 days and then we took a sea plane to Bora Bora for 4 days. If you do go to Tahiti, I HIGHLY SUGGEST YOU spend some time on Moorea. I had read Tahiti proper isn’t the prettiest place, so I wouldn’t spend time there if you don’t have to.
The great thing about Moorea is that you have lots of things to do there. We did a cool ATV tour while we were there. We also did a shark / sting ray feeding excursion which was pretty cool. We rented a car and drove around a bit on Moorea. There are also overwater bungalows on Moorea; while they aren’t as beautiful as Bora Bora, it’s still pretty cool to stay in one of them. You also have a lot more restaurant options on Moorea than you do at Bora Bora. When we went in 2013, the restaurants will also pick you up and drop you off at your hotel for free! Because you have restaurant options and not stuck on your own island, it’s probably the “cheapest” dining option. Once you’re done exploring and doing activities on Moorea, head over to Bora Bora.
Which location is the most beautiful? Hands down Bora Bora. If you look at the map, you’ll see that Bora Bora has a mountain in the middle and a ring of land around it. It forms like a shallow lagoon that is just a gorgeous backdrop. The hotels are all situated on the ring, facing the mountain, and almost all of them have the overwater bungalows. Since you’re in the “lagoon,” there are no waves. Just clear blue water. It’s almost shallow enough for you to walk through the water from the mountain to the inside ring. We took a kayak out from the Intercontinental Le Moana and went pretty dang far out and we could still see the bottom of the lagoon. The view from your overwater bungalow, hopefully is of the clear blue water and this mountain in the background. There were times at night I would just be in awe of how gorgeous it was.
In the Maldives on the other hand, while you’ll most likely have an over water bungalow, when you look out at the horizon, while you’ll still see this clear blue water, there’s no mountain there to give you perspective. What I’m trying to say is that you can get a similar view by staring out at the ocean (minus the clear blue water.) It’s just not as “magical.”
The Seychelles on the other hand doesn’t have over water bungalows (due to the tide and waves.) What this means is that while you can walk out pretty far into the clear blue water, you’re not sleeping “over water.” You can’t take a ladder from your hotel room straight down to a coral reef. You can’t watch or feed fish from your room. You can’t snorkel beneath your room. The Seychelles is like a quieter, more beautiful version of Hawaii.
Best time to visit
Seychelles – April to November. DON’T GO in December to March due to the wet season and mosquitos. We went at the end of November and it had rained the week before, so the mosquitos were coming out.
Maldives – November to April. We went around Thanksgiving and it was great.
Bora Bora / Moorea – November to April. We also went around Thanksgiving and it was great. I think there were a couple of days where it sprinkled but nothing major.
How long to stay
Seychelles – If you’re on the Hilton island, I think 4 days is about right, especially if you’re getting eaten up by mosquitoes. You can spend a full week if you plan on doing both islands. If I could do it again, I’d spend an extra day on Northolme and do the 1 day tour of that other island. This assumes you’re not diving, but from what I hear, all 3 places are great diving spots.
Maldives – If you’re stuck on your own island, once again, 4-5 days tops, assuming you’re not diving. That may be the location with the least things to do because you’re stuck at your hotel the whole time. Plus did I mention the sun is blistering hot? I didn’t snorkel until about 4pm every day, until the searing sun was gone.
Bora Bora – Similar to Maldives. However, if you’re at the IC, you can at least get the free shuttle to the main island. Other hotels may have this option too.
Moorea – This one I could stay for a week. You get the OWB like Bora Bora (minus the better view) and you’re also on land, so lots of things to do. Think of a smaller Maui but with OWB.
Seychelles – Taxis are pretty expensive. I know some people rode the bus from the Hilton into the downtown area, so it’s possible if you have free time. You could also rent a car (left side driving) and drive around the island if you wanted. If you’re at the Hilton Labriz, they have bikes you can rent but you’re not going very far (free for Diamond)
Bora Bora – Feet, kayak
Moorea – Feet, rental car, restaurants will pick you up. I suggest you rent a car and drive to Snack Mahana
Seychelles – There are day trips to smaller islands for ~$200 a head. There’s diving. There’s hiking at the Hilton Labriz. Fishing excursions too.
Maldives – Snorkel, dive, fishing excursions
Bora Bora – Snorkel, dive, fishing excursions. Free stingray feeding at the IHG Thalasso
Moorea – Snorkel, dive, fish. ATV excursion.
Award flight availability
The Seychelles and Maldives are equally easy/hard since you’ll most likely be flying through the Middle East. The availability from the Middle East to the Seychelles/Maldives was pretty wide open when we went; I think I saw up to 6 seats in business class on Etihad. Thus your bottleneck will be the USA – ME longhaul flight. If you book close to 9 months in advance, you should see 2 seats in F availability on Etihad using AA miles. Emirates seems to open up F availability close-in, so book in business and then cross your fingers F opens up last minute and change the ticket. One thing to point out – the Maldives is considered a part of the ME, so using AA miles on Etihad, it’ll cost you 40K / 70K / 115K per person ONE WAY to get to Male. Seychelles is considered a part of the Indian subcontinent, so you’ll have to add an extra 17.5K / 30K / 40K.
Tahiti on the other hand is pretty tough to get to, especially in a premium cabin. When we went, we used AA miles on Air Tahiti and booked almost when the calendar open. And they still only have angled seats in business! I know some people are routing to Tahiti via Hawaiian Airlines these days, which seems to have better availability. You could also try Air France as well. The point is – it’s not easy to get to Tahiti in premium seats using miles.
Award Hotel availability
Seychelles – I’ve talked about this before. There’s really only 3 points hotels there – the Le Meridien and the 2 Hiltons. Award availability is pretty open if you book far enough in advance.
Maldives – Lots of points options as well. Most people prefer the Park Hyatt; we chose the Conrad because of the free breakfast and free Happy Hour with Gold. The underwater restaurant was a bonus. You don’t read too many SPG reviews from the Maldives.
Moorea – Looks like there’s only the Intercontinental and the Hilton. I’d highly reco the Hilton just for the free breakfast with Gold.
Bora Bora – Everyone wants to stay at the Intercontinental Thalasso since that’s the best IHG redemption. However, availability is SPARSE! Set up alerts on Hotel Hustle and cross your fingers! If you don’t get that, the IC Moana isn’t bad although not ideal since you can’t see the mountain in the background. I have a friend who paid cash at the St Regis TWICE! If I didn’t do those, the Le Meridien or the Hilton wouldn’t be the end of the world.
All three locations are pretty expensive for food since they are islands and it’s costly to get food transported there.
Seychelles – If you’re at the Hilton Labriz Seychelles, you are forced to eat at the hotel unless you want to cut up your own coconuts. For reference, a burger was around $20. The main dinner buffet was around $75.
Maldives – If you’re in the Maldives, most likely, you’ll be eating at the hotel as well. The Conrad we stayed at had happy hour from 5 to 6pm every night for Gold+ members, which had free alcohol and light snacks. We made sure to take advantage of that every day! If we were still hungry, we went to the bar and had the Maldivian lobster dish for about $40. We dined at a restaurant one night; while pricey, I remember it wasn’t as outrageous as the Seychelles. Just know the champagne and snack for 2 in the underwater restaurant Ithaa was probably $150 per couple. Definitely a YOLO moment like having afternoon tea at the Burj aj Arab.
Moorea /Bora Bora – If you’re in Bora Bora and staying at the Intercontinental Thalasso, you do have the option of taking the free shuttle over to the other IC and eating at the restaurants outside the hotel. One night, we ate at Bloody Mary’s (think decent casual seafood.) I believe they picked us up for free from the hotel. When you’re on Moana, all the restaurants will pick you up for free, and there are over a handful of options. We never ate at the Hilton on Moorea. The dinner buffet at the Thalasso was close to $100 if I recall. The restaurants on Moorea/BB were probably around $20 an entree, so it wasn’t unreasonable. This was our first major trip, and we did bring miso soup packets from home to make for breakfast (no status back then either except IHG Plat with the card.)
In a distant 4th place is the Seychelles. Too pricey. No over water bungalow. Not much to do. Maybe if we did some diving, our mind would change.
The Maldives would come in third. You get the OWB, but the problem is that you’re most likely stuck at your hotel. Unless you are diving or snorkeling, there’s not much to see or do in the Maldives besides eat and lay by the beach.
Bora Bora would come in second. You get the OWB and just gorgeous scenery. But once again, there’s not much to do besides the beach. I rank this higher than the Maldives because a) I think it’s prettier b) you at least have the option of food outside your restaurant and c) you can see and pet wild stingrays here.
First place and the one place I’d love to visit again is Moorea. You get the OWB. Not quite as gorgeous as Bora Bora, but I’ll trade some of that beauty for having more activities and food options. Remember, Moorea is only a 1 hr ferry ride from Tahiti, so stop by here first and then take a seaplane to Bora Bora. If you’re going on your honeymoon, I’d budget 1.5 weeks or so and spend 2/3 of your time in Moorea and knock out all your excursions. Then relax for the remainder of your time in an OWB in Bora Bora.
What’s next on my bucket list? I want to visit the Conrad Koh Samui one day. Maybe Mauritius too.