Tahiti and Maldives. These two places are the kings of honeymoon and ‘once in a lifetime’ destinations. They are places that require a whole lot of research and planning before departure. Where to stay, what to eat, what to do.
I was in the Maldives 2 months ago, and in Tahiti (Moorea & Bora-Bora) less than 2 years ago. Before I even returned from my Maldives trip, there were already tons of requests for me to do a comparative write up of the two.
I apologise it took a while, but I didn’t want to just haphazardly write something for the sake of fulfilling. There are a lot of comparisons to consider. And just because the two are paradise holiday destinations doesn’t mean they are the same.
“Which destination is better? Maldives or Bora-Bora?”
“Should I go to Tahiti or Maldives for our honeymoon?”
These are just some of the questions I received after my Maldives trip. And the jist of it is wanting an answer on which of the 2 destinations are better.
To be honest, I cannot make that decision for you. It really depends on your travel personality. (And location/budget too)
Just as you can be either a cat person or a dog person, I can definitely tell you that there’s a person suited for the Maldives, and one suited for Tahiti.
And while I cannot give you a definite answer to the question, what I can do is give you honest and straightforward observations on many aspects of each place to help you make an informed decision.
Without further adieu, here are the comparisons based on my personal experience and observations.
Where in the world is the Maldives? Where is Tahiti in the map? How can I fly to the Maldives/ Tahiti?
I’ve taken the liberty to spot the Maldives and Tahiti in a Pacific Ocean-centered world map. Take note that both places are really a group of small islands (and in the Maldives’ case, atolls), so where I’ve marked the spot are just approximations.
So the biggest, glaring difference is Tahiti is in the Pacific Ocean, and the Maldives is in the Indian Ocean.
And because they are located in different oceans, where you are from is a big factor on determining how you get there.
For a general idea on how to get there, I have summed up flights to the 2 places from areas of where most Holy Smithereens readers are.
POPULATION / TOURISTS & CROWD FACTOR
Do you like exclusivity in your holiday? Or are you happy to run into someone you know?
Population-wise, the Maldives & French Polynesia are almost similar. Maldives has a population of 393,988 (July 2013 estimate), and French Polynesia has a population of 277,293 (July 2013 estimate). Source.
However, it is with the number of tourists per year that these 2 places greatly differ. While French Polynesia receives more than 250,000 tourists per year (source), the Maldives has reached their annual target of 1 million visitors for 2013. (source)
In April 2014 alone, the Maldives welcomed 105,309 tourists. (source)
In terms of the top generating markets, most visitors in the Maldives come from China, Germany, UK, Russia and Italy, with India and Korea making it in top 10 as well. (source)
In line with this information, I’ve come across an article where some Chinese tourists have boycotted the Maldives as some hotels denied them electric kettles inside the room. While the article makes no mention of it (and used the reason as Chinese tourists needing the kettle for their instant noodles), I have spoken to a number of people from the tourism industry in the Maldives and have told me a common thing: In the recent years, a number of Chinese tourists have been caught catching crabs and fish from the ocean, taking it to their hotel room, and boiling them using the electric kettles.
This is of course, not to say that all Chinese tourists do that, but its the sad law of a few ruining it for everybody.
There are other tales of tourists’ ignorance or apathy towards marine life (such as taking baby reef sharks out of the water and playing with it) that makes my blood boil, however with the increasing number of tourists in the Maldives, the government and all hotel chains are also taking measures to spread knowledge and prevent further damage.
The tourists crowds are a good mix – families, honeymooners, couples and groups of friends.
In French Polyesia, more than 80 percent of its tourists come from the United States, with French visitors next. The Japanese and Australians and New Zealanders make it to the top 5 as well. (source)
On our flight from Los Angeles to Tahiti, almost 90% of the passengers were newlyweds /honeymooners – matching or themed outfits, with women sporting fresh-from-the-wedding french-tipped acrylic nails.
There really isn’t any major problem regarding tourists being a threat to Tahiti’s marine life. But while it enjoys the occasional spike and minimal increase, tourism in Tahiti has in general declined since 2010. (source)
My thoughts and conclusion:
The 2 island destinations seem to be going in opposite directions. I can see a major boost and drive of tourists in the Maldives over the next coming years as it gets more and more affordable. Tahiti, in the meantime, remains almost stagnant (perhaps stable?) in its pricing, offering the occasional sale and package deals but overall the same high costs.
On our flight to Male, I even overheard passengers sitting in front of me talking about a person that I know. It can be a small world in the Maldives and at the same time, one might feel like he/she didn’t really get away from the crowds.
There are a lot of tourists in the Maldives, and your privacy and exclusivity greatly depends on the hotel and resort of your choice.
In Tahiti, it’s really honeymoon land and if you are travelling solo or not with your significant other, you may feel abit out of place.
In this round, I pick TAHITI as I value privacy in holidays the most.
HOTELS / ACCOMMODATION
In French Polynesia , I visited 3 islands- Tahiti, Moorea and Bora-Bora. These 3 islands are where most tourists go to and therefore have the concentration of most number of accommodation. Collectively, the 3 islands have a registered number of 52 accommodations. (17 for Tahiti, 17 for Moorea and 18 for Bora-Bora). Most of these are internationally-owned luxury hotel chains (Four Seasons, Intercontinental. Le Meridien Sofitel, Hilton, St Regis). If going with an international brand, the lowest priced option will be a 4-star hotel at the minimum. There is unfortunately a very slim middle ground. (The most popular ‘middle option’ in Bora-Bora would be the Hotel Mai Tai) From luxury hotels, the next step down are usually locally owned lodges and inns.
It is because of this that Tahiti’s price in general remains at a stable high value.
The moment you step off the plane in Male, you will see rows upon rows of hotel desks at the airport. (as seen above). At the moment there are close to 190 hotels in total, with more being built, renovated and extended as I type this.
While I agree that yes, there are a lot of luxury resorts in the Maldives, the place isn’t overall an exclusive luxury destination anymore. With the boost in the number of tourists, there are resorts for every kind of traveller. From the backpacker, to the budget, mid-range, and luxury traveller, there will be more than enough resorts for you to choose from.
The brands of resorts are very varied, from international luxury chains to locally owned ones. And the good news is, the standards of the locally owned resorts are at par or even better than some international chains.
Be it Tahiti or the Maldives, it’s still very important to choose which resort you book as they could make or break your ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trip.
Because of the competitiveness of the resort and hotel industry in the Maldives, the rates of resorts are getting better. There are the ultra luxe brands whose rates always remain a stable high, but at the same time there are also more budget-friendly choices. In this round, I prefer the Maldives due to the more varied choice in accommodation.
The Maldives is a Muslim country. If you are in Male and in locally inhabited islands, you need to adhere to dress codes (even if the locals say they are tolerant of the way tourists dress I still think it’s important to adhere to them). No short shorts /skirts or anything too revealing. The easiest way is to always travel with a shawl to cover what needs to be covered. I’ve listed a comprehensive packing list to the Maldives that touches on clothing specific to the country Here.
Alcohol is not served in Male or the locally owned islands. Once you get to the resorts (where every resort is their own private island), you are free to drink and dress in style.
Most of the resort and hotel staff are male, with the exception of very few Maldivian women, and the foreign female staff. At times, you can feel an environment of fraternity/brotherhood due to the overwhelming number of male staff. Most resorts have a performance of the Boduberu (local Maldivian dance and music). It’s a very nice, hypnotic performance. And while it was nice to see this dance, I was hoping to see female local participation in this. But that is not to be, as all Boduberu performances that I’ve seen are an all-male cast.
I’ve also personally felt the consciousness of gender roles in the resorts. When we travel, I usually do most of the talking to staff, etc. But I noticed that some of the local male staff prefer to address and speak to Zombie. I was first put off by this. And I asked Zombie later on if he noticed it and he did. As Zombie spent the first years of his life in a Muslim country as well (Malaysia), he knows about this and explained to me that it is not something that should be taken personally or be offended by. I’ll be honest, I’m still unnerved by this. Not on a personal level, but more on how women are perceived there as a whole.
French Polynesia, as the name suggests, is a French colony with Christianity as the main religion. There are no dress codes or restrictions to adhere to (no walking around naked of course!), and the country is generally very open and happy.
There is a high gender equality among tourism industry staff, and having spoken to a number of locals, I can see that both male and female work in the family and have equal work opportunities.
Not only is gender equality high, but the LGBT community is very strong too, and widely accepted. Perfect example is that one night we attended the coronation night of the 2012 Miss Trans-Tahiti Pageant, held at the Sofitel Bora-Bora.
*Miss Trans-Tahiti is the annual beauty pageant for the trans-gendered Tahitians*
The Tahitians are very open in general and we have formed friendships with a number of staff from our visit. One even invited Zombie to their home ( I was nursing a cold that night otherwise I would have come too).
No culture is better than another as we are all different. But no second thoughts about this, I embrace and feel more comfortable in French Polynesian culture.
Tahiti , the island was itself formed through volcanic activity. French Polynesia has a lot of mountains and peaks, and along with the blue waters, it can make for a very dramatic backdrop and scenery.
The Maldives, on the other hand, has endless stretches of the Indian Ocean. As far as your eyes can see. Save for the occasional island (which in most cases will be a resort), the view of the sea is uninterrupted.
I like both views actually. At first, I preferred the variety of ocean and mountains that French Polynesia has. This was enjoyed most especially at the far end location of the water bungalow we stayed at in Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island, where one side of the room has the sea view, and the other side a mountain view.
However, with the endless ocean stretch, the Maldives offers the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. (Most spectacular sunsets were seen at the west-facing overwater bungalow in The Residence Maldives)
Due to the country being a French colony, Tahiti knows its bread and pastries very well. I’m normally not a bread person but there’s something about waking up to the aroma of freshly baked croissants and bread with the breath taking ocean view. They are made fresh and the quality is really good. I can bet you the fish in Tahiti have more refined taste in bread since they are usually fed left over breakfast rolls!
Vanilla is one of the major products for export in Tahiti. They use this on their cooking and one of the best meals I’d ever had in my life (a bold claim but very true!) is Mahi-Mahi in Vanilla Sauce which we had in Moorea. It’s been 2 years but the fragrance and taste is still unforgettable.
Food is expensive in Bora-Bora but we never really had a disappointing meal there. Yes there was that $60.00 takeaway pizza by the roadside , and while we were disappointed at the price, the pizza itself wasn’t so bad.
Maldivian food is based on a lot of curry, coconut and seafood. 3 things I love! I sampled seafood that’s grilled over coconut-infused charcoal in Kurumba Maldives and it was really heavenly.
The growing number of hotels and resorts in the Maldives also means that variety of food and its price range is more varied. Take for example, the Shangri-la’s Villingili Resort & Spa where the variety and quality of resort food was so excellent that it required a whole blog article of its own.
But bear in mind too, that the bigger number of hotels with restaurants are, the more chances of mediocre food there will be. It can sometimes be a hit and miss in food quality here, but overall we had a pleasant dining experience.
As a lover of seafood, I fell in love with food on both countries. It’s hard to pick one. The approach will just vary abit, in Tahiti, be prepared to shell out quite a bit in food, but know that the quality is really good. In the Maldives, most resorts offer an all-inclusive package and as mentioned, as there is a huge number of hotels, there’s also a larger room for average food quality.
While both destinations have tropical weather, I found Tahiti to be cooler, more so in the evenings with cool breeze. Same with the water too. The Pacific Ocean (Tahiti) tends to run hot and cold at times. But braving abit of chill is worth it because I found the fish and underwater creatures of Tahiti to be the happiest! I also had my sting-ray moment here when, while snorkelling I stopped and stood to fix my mask, when all of a sudden this huge silky blanket embraced me from behind. Yes, a sting-ray had shimmied on my back! I was hooked since then 🙂
Maldives on the other hand seems to have a more consistent warm weather with balmy evenings. I also found the Indian Ocean much much warmer (on this part of the ocean anyway) and therefore more inviting to jump and spend hours snorkelling.
Marine life wise, both are quite abundant, although the difference is, in the Maldives you can spot whale sharks, and in Tahiti, its the actual shark-sharks that there are a lot of. I plan to return to Tahiti one day and fly to Rangiroa to dive the shark pass.
But that also reminds me that when we scuba dived in Adu Atoll in the Maldives, we actually came across a tiger shark (about 6 feet) we sadly have no good footage of this as all of us in the group were frozen in amazement, and only when it passed us by did we all remember to shoot!
To get a better idea, I invite you to watch the underwater footage we took from each trip:
Shark Diving in Bora-Bora:
Diving with Manta Rays in Bora-Bora
Whale Shark Swim in the Maldives
Scuba Diving in Adu Atoll Maldives
Dhaalu Atoll Maldives Scuba Dive
Free Diving in Huvafen Fushi
Tahiti (Bora-Bora) and the Maldives are , in travel speak, “same-same but different”. There is always a category where one will be better than another but you have to look at it as a whole.
As always, the above observations are from one man alone (yours truly!), it’s still best to see these with your own eyes as every experience is subjective.