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.
There is a recurrent Polynesian cliché figuring a shallow crystal clear lagoon in which snorkelers are surrounded by small blacktip sharks, pink whiprays, and hundreds of double-saddle butterflyfish. More than a dream, it is actually a must-do in the Society Islands.
But Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, and the 11 other islands that made up the Society Islands are not all about splashing with sharks. Dozens of delightful snorkeling spots await you at the foot of the green peaks; whether you are a beginner or an experienced snorkeler.
The snorkeling locations range from shallow lagoons teeming with colorful fish to gorgeous reefs bordering unexplored motus (sandy islets grown on coral) or atoll passes where manta rays and turtles meet in the deep blue.
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 opposite the Tahiti Ia Ora Beach Resort (PK15, formerly Le Méridien), Toaroto Beach (PK15.5), Vaiava Beach (PK18), and Mahana Park (PK18.5).
Pointe des Pêcheurs, at the northern tip of the lagoon, is considered as the best spot in Tahiti to see rays and sea turtles, but don’t go there without someone who knows the spot well (located at a “pass “, the currents can be strong and dangerous).
If you stay at the InterContinental Resort Tahiti, near Faa’a airport, snorkeling is possible around the water bungalows and in an artificial lagoon, the “lagoonarium”.
Located only 30 minutes by ferry from Papeete, the island of Moorea is a true snorkeling paradise. The most famous spot on the island is the Sharks Sandbank in Tiahura, where you can swim with blacktips and pink whiprays in a few meters of water.
Motu Fareone and Tiahura Beach are two other great options in the northwest of the island. To snorkel at the foot of overwater bungalows, opt for the superb lagoons of the Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort and the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa, where coral restoration projects have been carried out for several years.
The other islands of the archipelago are all home to fantastic spots, including in Bora Bora, where boat tours to the lagon to swim with rays and sharks are a must-do. In Raiatea, we recommend Motu Ofetaro, where a shallow reef allows you to spot clownfish and butterflyfish on a shallow reef.
The Coral Garden, located near the Taha’a Island Resort & Spa, is a must-see for snorkeling in Tahaa, and arguably one of the best spots on all of the Society Islands. Maupiti, often described as a “miniature version” of Bora Bora, is renowned for its Manta Ray Cleaning Station, where you can swim freely with these sublime giants of the sea.
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-seasons 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 pay a visit to the Islands and go snorkeling, even though trade winds sometimes shake the otherwise quiet ocean. August and September are said to be the best months to visit Tahiti and its archipelago.
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ADD A SPOT
You can’t miss them at Sharks Sandbank; common on many other spots, especially in Moorea and Bora Bora lagoons
Unmissable at Sharks Sandbank; also frequently seen at Motu Fareone
On all spots, sometimes in large schools, for instance at the Coral Garden
Frequent on reefs bordering motus; common in the Coral Garden (Tahaa) and Motu Ofetaro (Raiatea)
On all reef spots
On all spots, even a few meters from the beach
On all spots
Drift snorkeling in a shallow channel with coral and reef fish
Level: Resort nearby
Shallow sandbank with blacktip sharks and stingrays
Level: Free shore access
Shallow lagoon area where manta rays come to be cleaned by small fish
Shallow lagoon with coral and reef fish
Level: Free shore access Resort nearby
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