In 1768, the day he got close to Tahiti for the first time, French explorer Bougainville is said to have said: “this is heaven on earth!”. There at least is one truth here: French Polynesia is an underwater paradise. With its 14 dream islands (Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora being the most well-known), the Society Islands has a wide range of snorkeling sites ensuring you unique underwater experiences. Here, every snorkeler gets the chance to explore warm, clear waters and meet stingrays, blacktip reef sharks and a host of multicolored reef fish.
Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, and the 11 other islands that make the Society Archipelago attract snorkelers from all over the world. At the foot of the green peaks, dozens of world-class snorkeling spots await, all offering their own unique sea life and experience.
From shallow lagoons awash with blacktip and butterflyfish to vibrantly colored reefs with a spectacular selection of marine life, here are some of the best snorkel spots that Tahiti and the Society Islands have to offer.
In Tahiti, most of the snorkeling spots are located on the west coast of the island. The coastline of Punaauia and Paea indeed offers several kilometers of sandy beaches bordered by a lagoon, that locals call by their kilometric point (PK, point kilométrique in French) from Papeete.
The best spots are located at Tahiti Ia Ora Beach Resort (PK15, formerly Le Méridien), Toaroto Beach (PK15.5), Vaiava Beach (PK18), and Mahana Park (PK18.5). All these locations feature shallow lagoon with vibrant reef life, despite corals in pretty poor condition overall.
Pointe des Pêcheurs (also known as “La Source”), at the northern tip of Punaauia’s lagoon, is considered the best spot in Tahiti to see eagle rays and sea turtles, but don’t go there without someone who knows the spot well, as currents can be strong and dangerous at this location.
If you stay at the InterContinental Resort Tahiti, near Faa’a airport, consider snorkeling around the overwater bungalows and in the hotel’s artificial lagoon, the Lagoonarium.
Located just 30 minutes by ferry from Papeete, Moorea Island is one of the best snorkeling destinations in the archipelago.
The most famous snorkeling location on the island is the Sharks Sandbank in Tiahura. It offers a unique opportunity to swim alongside blacktips and pink whiptail rays in their natural environment. If you get to the Shark Sandbank by kayaking from Hotel Les Tipaniers, combine it with a visit to the channel between Motu Tiahura and Motu Fareone, which is home to a nice coral garden.
In the same area, don’t miss Tiahura Beach: a drift snorkel, starting from the shore, will lead you to a pass called Home by many green turtles. Other public beaches offering good snorkeling in Moorea include Ta’ahiamanu Beach in Opunohu Bay, as well as Temae Beach, which boasts crystal clear waters filled with a rainbow of fish.
If you dream about snorkeling at the foot of an overwater bungalow, the Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort and the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa are both great options.
With its jade lagoon dotted with motus and overwater bungalows, Bora Bora is the most celebrated Polynesian island. Many snorkeling spots, some truly exceptional, are scattered all around the island and its lagoon.
Two famous shore access locations are found along the coast of the main island: the iconic Matira Beach, bordered by white sandbanks and coral patches, and Pointe Ta’ihi, known for its Manta rays cleaning station. Don’t miss it if you dream of swimming freely with these majestic creatures.
To explore the legendary lagoon of Bora Bora, embark on a day boat trip. The Shark Pass (a deep area of the outer reef visited by large blacktips), The Shark Bank (a sandbank where stingrays and small sharks abound) and The Aquarium (a reef with translucent water filled with fish) are among the most popular sites with day trippers.
Finally, if you are lucky enough to stay in a hotel located in the lagoon, most of them offer good snorkeling around their overwater bungalows. This is the case, for example, at the Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa.
The sister islands of Tahaa and Raiatea (the second largest island after Tahiti) share the same lagoon. Both offer great opportunities to explore the Polynesian underwater treasures.
In Raiatea, Motu Ofetaro is a popular spot with frequent sightings of radial firefish, orangefin clownfish and several species of butterflyfish.
One of the most spectacular reefs in Tahaa is a site called The Coral Garden, located at the edge of the Taha’a Island Resort & Spa, home to colorful coral gardens populated by sergeants, butterflyfish and parrotfish. Still in Tahaa, but on the main island’s shore, don’t miss the Manta Ray cleaning station found at Pension Au Phil Du Temps (accessible from the pension’s pontoon or from the main road).
Located 195 miles (315 km) northwest of Tahiti, Maupiti is often described as a “miniature version” of Bora Bora. Maupiti has several locations that are great for snorkeling, and its Manta Ray Cleaning Station, where you can swim freely with these sublime giants of the sea makes a name for itself as the best.
In the northern part of Maupiti’s lagoon, the drift-snorkeleable Fausse Passe, is the perfect location for observing the local shallow waters sea life. Butterflyfish, in particular, enjoy gathering around snorkelers.
Huahine is one of the most authentic and picturesque islands in the Society archipelago. It has several shore access locations. A 10-minute drive from Faré, the Coral Garden is one of the most famous. Its coral heads attract a swarm of colorful fish but watch out for the current, which can be strong in the area.
In Avea Bay, at the southern tip of Huahine, you can walk straight off the beach into a spectacular snorkeling experience. The Mahana Hotel jetty shelters marine life including snappers, batfish, and anemone gardens filled with clownfish. 6 miles (10 kilometers) away, the very beautiful Hana Iti Beach also offers pleasant underwater explorations.
Want to explore the lagoon? Many agencies organize boat tours around Huahine. Typically, tours include two or three snorkeling stops. Among the most visited are the Natural Aquarium (opposite Faré, where blacktip sharks are easy to see) and Motu Vaiorea, fringed by a colorful reef.
The Society Islands are one of the world’s best destinations for snorkeling with big fish. Their shore waters are loaded with blacktip sharks and stingrays, and on very specific spots you will easily encounter green sea turtles, manta rays and eagle rays.
The blacktips are found almost everywhere, but the Sharks Sandbank in Moorea, easily reached by kayak, is a favorite spot if you want to see them without a tour. For green turtles, Tiahura Beach in Moorea is probably the best site (freely accessible from the shore), while manta rays are mainly seen at three locations: the Maupiti Cleaning Station, Pointe Ta’ihi in Bora Bora, and Pension Au Phil Du Temps in Tahaa.
If the Polynesian coral reefs are less colorful than in other regions of the world, they still feature a diversity of hard corals, including massive porous corals, finger corals and some massive branching corals.
At reef abound wrasse, dozens of species of butterflyfish, pufferfish, schools of goatfish and angelfish. Orangefin clownfish are easy to see at shallow depths, especially around Raiatea, Tahaa and Huahine.
In the protected areas, snappers, trevallies and emperors abound along the drop-offs. In the most visited sandy lagoons, double-saddle butterflyfish and threadfin butterflyfish are used to congregate in the hundreds around boats, creating great backdrops for underwater photography (don’t feed them).
French Polynesia is a huge territory and each of its archipelagos has its own climate. A tropical rainforest climate rules over Society Islands and sets a two-season rhythm. Summer (November to April) is wetter while winter (mid-April to mid-October) brings a dryer climate.
During summer, temperatures can rise as high as 86°F/30°C and the air is damp. Showers occur frequently, they can be particularly intense in December and January. Hurricanes are less frequent than in many South Pacific areas, but they are more likely to happen during these months.
During winter, humidity lessens and showers are scarce. The sun shines a lot and temperatures are easier to cope with (81°F/27°C on average).
It is the best moment to visit and snorkel the Society Island, even though trade winds sometimes shake the otherwise quiet ocean. August and September are said to be the best months to visit the archipelago.
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ADD A SPOT
You can’t miss them at the Sharks Sandbank; common on many other spots, especially in Moorea, Huahine and Bora Bora lagoons
Mainly seen at three locations: the Maupiti Cleaning Station, Pointe Ta’ihi in Bora Bora, and Pension Au Phil Du Temps in Tahaa.
Easy to spot at Tiahura Beach in Moorea and Pointe des Pêcheurs in Tahiti
Frequent on reefs bordering motus; common in the Coral Garden (Tahaa) and Motu Ofetaro (Raiatea)
Unmissable at Sharks Sandbank; also frequently seen at Motu Fareone. Pretty common at Matira Beach in Bora Bora
On all spots, sometimes in large schools, for instance at the Coral Garden
Drift snorkeling in a shallow channel with coral and reef fish
Shallow sandbank with blacktip sharks and stingrays
Free shore access
Reef drop-off visited by Manta rays
Shallow lagoon with coral and reef fish
Free shore access
Patch reef with coral and reef fish
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