Best Snorkeling Tahiti (French Polynesia)
Tahiti (French Polynesia) is one of the most magical places I have ever been with spectacular beaches, the best snorkeling, diving, sailing and so much more. After just coming from spending 3 weeks there in lots of the islands Bring your snorkel and Mask where ever you go because you really can see so much on any island on almost any beach! To be broad Tahiti is part of the French Polynesia that is part of 118 islands that span over 1200 miles in the South Pacific. It is about a 9 hour flight from Los Angeles, 5 and a half to Auckland, New Zealand and about 12 hours from Tokyo just to give you an idea. There are 5 groups of islands that make up the French Polynesia and all have amazing snorkeling. Of the 118 islands only 67 are inhabited and the most populated is Tahiti. French is the primary language but the official language is the Tahitian Language (Reo Tahiti). Of course I will get into all of the details of snorkeling but a few things first to consider when you are going to the French Polynesia are:
To and From
If you are looking for a trip of a lifetime, this is the one you need to go check out. Regardless of where you fly into, you will need to go to Tahiti first (Tahiti Faaa Intl, PPT) and then go from there. If you are on this site you are most likely looking up best snorkeling spots which I will go into great depth but there are also tons of other activities and trips to consider once you are there.
After you fly into Tahiti there are lots of options depending on where you are going. Some places you will need to fly and others you can take a ferry or if you are the adventurous type you can always rent your own sailboat and go right from there. Prices from Canada and the United States will start around $1500 USD depending on the time of year (low season is January to May and High season is November to December) keep checking because sometimes Air New Zealand or Qantas has cheap deals that come up so just keep checking.
Once you are there the only domestic airline is Air Tahiti so it makes life quite easy. The longest flight is to Gambier which is around 3.5 hours and the shortest is to Mo’orea which is only 7 minutes!!!. The planes are small but offer a great view as you are flying on those clear days.
Before you go!
There are a couple things that you will definitely need to know before you go!
Best Snorkeling Spots, Diving Spots and so much more. There are 3 main criterias to know to keep you safe and enjoying your holiday.
Cone shells - be very careful of any cone shell shaped coral coral reef objects. They are poisonous and within minutes can leave you dead.
Stonefish - These types of fish can be very hard to see because they blend into their surroundings and such as sand and coral but if you step on them once again can be very dangerous and poisonous only leaving you a limited amount of time to get help.
When you are on land always look above. Falling coconuts are the third most dangerous thing that can happen to you while you are on vacation so look up and when you hear the words “duck” cover your head quite.
These 3 simple things will ensure you have a great safe vacation.
There are 2 things that can help really well to… Invest in some great water shoes and/or snorkeling fins. And buy a rash guard Shirt to protect from the UV and of course if you do brush upon a cone shell or Stonefish you have a little protection but I won’t recommend buying a helmet and walking around on land!
A few other notes:
On all of the islands you will need to rent a car or scooter if you want to see the islands. This is the best way to see everything and check out great snorkeling spots. The stores have strange hours and are usually open in the morning from 530 am to about 11 am then they are closed for lunch of course. They will reopen between 2-3 pm and then stay open some until 8 or 10. If you want to buy booze and alcohol you can until 10 or sometimes noon on Sundays and holidays. If you are watching your carbohydrate intake this is not the place to be. It is a French Colony and they love baguettes! If you are going out to dinner or lunch you may want to bring some money with you because it is quite expensive. For lunch you can expect to pay 1500-2500 per meal xpf which is the Franc currency and for dinner it can be up to 4500 xpf. A glass of beer will run you about 500 xpf or in the store a big bottle will be 230 xpf and remember to keep your bottle for a refund (60 xpf).
As there are 118 islands you have to fly into Tahiti (Papeete is the airport), if you are staying at one of the bigger resorts you will receive a beautiful flowered lai but if you are at a small hotel or vacation rental or even Air B and B, don’t expect much unless you go into town and buy yourself one. Most people who go to the French Polynesia will fly into Tahiti and then fly right out to one of the other islands. Tahiti is about 75 miles around the entire island and you can rent a scooter or car and drive around the island in one day no problem! However, if you are looking for great snorkeling spots on the main island it is few and far between. Make sure you bring a few snacks because there is not much around the island. There is a few stores and markets but you have to watch for them.
To be perfectly honest if you are a huge snorkeling fan this is not the best place by far. It is once you get to the other islands such as Bora Bora, Mo’orea, Raiatea and so much more where you will be absolutely blown away as I was. You only need a day here max to see the island, bring your snorkeling gear and you may find a couple nice spots to hope off in Papenoo and Maheena and it is definitely worth checking out Teahupoo for the waves and if you are around in August they have the Billibong World Surfing competition that is spectacular.
Yes it is as great as you have heard and to be honest maybe even better! You will have to fly from Papeete to the Aeroport de Bora Bora and will cost around 300 USD return most often but again check Air Tahiti for best flight options and they fly out daily. Once you are there you will see on the water bungalows everywhere. Now French Polynesia is not a cheap place but it can be if you do vacation rentals or hire a boat yourself. Inside the reef it is easy to get around and there are no waves so this makes life simple.
Reef Sharks and Stingrays
At first I was a little scared but I have been told by everyone I met that there has never been a shark or stingray incident inside the reef so there is nothing to worry about. You can charter any guide because they are all of the island and to be honest it is an absolute must! It is just south of Motu Tapu and once you jump in get ready for excitement. You can see reef sharks up to 1 meter and stingrays that are about 1.5 meters long and they are everywhere. The guide will take you out and you will see 50-75 of each in such a small amount of time it really is remarkable. You can feed the stingray fresh fish and it can be a little frightening for a second but then you will see how beautiful these creatures are.
When it comes to the sharks they do feed them but you will want to stay out of the way but you can touch the ocean floor with your water shoes (about 1 meter deep) or look under the water through your snorkel mask and it is spectacular. We spent one week sailing so we had a little rubber dingy and could go anywhere and we went everywhere but it was easier once we could see where all of the tour boats were and did some research ahead of time that worked really well.
Further down south of Motu Toopua you can even see spotted eagle rays. They are very similar to sting rays but are almost a black color with spots
Motu Piti Aau
On the east coast of the island there is Motu Piti Aau and at the most southern point you will find what I would say is the best snorkeling I have ever been to. It is free, very little people and your are at one with the sea. I really have never seen so many fish before in my life. With amazing corals and fish you will be blown away. I will go over all the fish that I saw throughout the islands unless it is more of a rare fish in the specific article mentioned like the sharks and stingrays.
Just to the east of the actual mainland there is Anau where there is even more great snorkeling that is accessible by land or tour and this is just as exciting because through this area you may get a chance to see a Manta Ray up to 5 meters long! When we went snorkeling in this area we did not see the Manta Ray but after we had heard that he is there every morning we decided we should probably go diving in this area. Let me tell you though… it was just as exciting as the reef sharks and stingrays.
As we descended about 5 minutes into our dive sure enough we look up and there she is, about 4 meters long with sucker fishes, small tuna and other sea life enjoying the ride and protection. It was something out of a movie. I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life (except my girlfriend of course). We watched it for 15 minutes swimming and floating around and it was just as they had described. A lot of snorkelers saw it from the top as well so depending on where you are there is a good chance of seeing one in the morning.
Bora Bora thoughts
There really is no bad place to snorkel. If you are on one of the huts you can jump off your deck and enjoy right from that very spot, but I would recommend checking out some of these other spots and every hotel will have some sort of dive shop or snorkeling tour that you can take. Most of the tours will have 10-20 people in them and some may have a lot more so make sure you ask first how many people will be with your group because of course, smaller numbers are always better even if you have to pay a little more.
As far as diving goes I would recommend Bora Diving Center
Telephone: + (689) 87 77 67 46
They don’t go in groups bigger than 5 and it makes for a more personal experience!
I wouldn’t recommend Top Dive. Even though they are a bigger dive company sometimes they go out with 15+ divers and it really makes it tough to enjoy and see everything especially people are not the greatest divers and they are kicking up all of the silt and sand from the bottom.
There is so much to see and do here I would recommend at least 5 days especially if you love snorkeling because you will never get bored of what you may see!
As I mentioned about any place you go snorkeling is wonderful, however here we really enjoyed for one particular area. Just south of the airport there is a small Pension (hotel) called the blue beach lodge and there is a dock that says it is private but it is not and if you have a car or scooter it can be easily reached and at the end of the dock we found some amazing snorkeling! We stayed at an Airbnb and spend hours on end snorkeling in the area and there is a small island just outwards maybe a mile or so that you can reach so make sure you are good confident swimmer if you are going to go there and just watch for boat traffic. Normally there is just paddlers but there are boats and just be cautious but it is safe and the motu is called Passe Miri Miri.
What is interesting about Raiatea is that there are no actual beaches. Kind of strange when you think how every other island actually has some of the most beautiful and spectacular sand and water I have ever seen in my life. On the southeast side of the island there is one area called Opoa Beach which is a man made beach and has some good snorkeling but nothing fantastic.
Also as you head around the island there is not much option for food except in the main city at the north end of the island. There is a small island on the south side of the island that has great food but the owner was not the friendliest however, the food did make up for it.
Sailing around - we stayed just north of the main harbor and swam out to a small motu that you can see from the mainland and once we got there on our dingy a bunch of reef sharks showed up and we fed them canned tuna and by the end of the can there was 30 reef sharks swimming around our boat and it was surreal, we anchored and waited there for a couple hours and it was just amazing. Just remember if you are feeding the sharks do not get in the water with them. There were also lots of stingrays that did show up as well as a big family!
Just north of Raiatea is Tahaa which is easily accessible by taxi boat to check out the island and all along the north side of the island there are many motu’s (which are the small islands) which have great snorkeling and you can charter a boat or go on a tour. If you go to the island you have to go to the vanilla farm on the east side of the island near the Hibiscus.
Once again another beautiful island that is just a quick 30 or 45 min ferry ride away from the main island of Tahiti or a 7 min flight, whichever you choose. Always check ferry schedules though and if it is a Sunday or a Holiday you might be waiting around a lot or even out of luck.
Once you arrive by ferry you will be on the east side of the island. The island takes about 1 hour to drive around and if you are stopping all along the way turn it into a whole day adventure and stop at the local beaches and go snorkeling, once again all of the beaches are beautiful and there are 2 main beaches in the north side of the island that are perfect to stop and cool off along with checking out a few fishes.
Just north of the ferry is Sofihotel. There is great snorkeling just outside of the resort. Now even if you do not want to spend a lot of money you can go to their beach, just act as if you belong there and there will be no issues. That’s what we did and there was great snorkeling all around the reef there. If you are looking to dive there you can for 1 dive is 8000 xpf and 14,000 xpf for 2 dives which is cheaper than Bora Bora and just as good. If you are there from August to November you may get a chance to see some whales.
Depending on where you are staying all around the south part of the island it is much quieter if you are in a pension (guest house) or airbnb, most will offer a kayak. That is great because a quick 10-15 minute paddle will put you in the middle of the reef and you can tie up to markers that they have all along the coral and shore. Be Cautious though because if there is a current it does make it much more difficult to enjoy. I would recommend going out early in the morning when the water is flat and you should not have much to worry about. You can see stingrays all over and just remember though if the tail is pointed up it can think you a predator but just ease off and the stingray will relax and there will be nothing to worry about snorkeling through the reefs of Mo’orea!
Fish you will find in the French Polynesia
This is a really long list and I have seen all of these fish in all of the islands and you will not be disappointed I promise.
Reef Sharks, Stingray, Spotted Eagle ray, wrasse, lemon shark, trumpet fish, fire clown fish, two spot hawk fish, warted and painted frog fish, gold ribbon soap fish, tuna, titan trigger fish, blue/giant/island trevally, daisy and pacific slopehead parrotfish (quite large to, about 8-9 inches).
We saw lots of different kinds of grouper as well but not the giant ones unfortunately but we did see - blacktip, honeycomb, starspotted, red tailed, surge, greasy and there were lots more that we didn't see or didn't remember.
Butterfly fish - sunset, fourspot, mailed, melon, tahiti, hawaiin, vegabond were the ones that I did see but there are about 4 other kinds that I did not see.
Wrasse - humhead, snooty, floral
Overall we saw so many fish and this is just a sample of what we did actually see. I know nobody actually reads all of the different fishes but this just gives you a little taste and of course you know the main one is the reef sharks and stingray swim that was once again unbelievable. If you see the option to do it, do not hesitate, just go because it is a once in a lifetime experience!
So I did only mention 5 islands and the reason for that is the other islands were just to expensive to get to after and already very expensive trip. Most of the islands are very similar... Not very touristy, you need a car to get around, Hinano beer is amazing!, and there is world class snorkeling everywhere you go.
I would recommend spending 1 day in Tahiti to drive around the island and check things out. From there head out to Bora Bora, Raiatea, Tahaa, Mo'orea and enjoy. I have traveled a lot of places and by far this was my most favorite vacation. There is so much marine life and so many once in a life experiences. Nothing is fished out like Mexico and the Caribbean and every coral formation gives you such a variety of marine life. Make sure you take an underwater camera, my recommendation is the Drift Ghost 4k camera. I bought it before I went and I am blown away about how real the pictures turned out. All you really need is about 3-4 days on each island and you will be able to see everything and relax on top of easy snorkeling!
If you have the opportunity just go because it is amazing!