Snorkeling French Polynesia February 2022

By Mark Kolsen

I spent a month snorkeling French Polynesia in February 2022. I flew into Papeete (Tahiti) and then spent two weeks on Moorea, a week on Bora Bora, and a week on Raiatea.

Snorkeling Moorea – The Best

If you have less time, spend it on Moorea: Temae Beach (next to the Sofitel) is both lengthy and beautiful, with by far the best snorkeling among the three islands I visited. The most gorgeous shades of lavender and purple I’ve never seen.

Damselfish and anemones in French Polynesia
Purple coral in French Polynesia

Most of the best coral lies in front of the Sofitel, so when you enter the Temae Beach parking lot, drive as far as possible towards the Sofitel’s overwater bungalows, and then enter the water as near as possible to them.

Snorkeling is also good off Tipanier Beach across from Motu Tiahura; enter the water in front of the Hotel Tipanier; to your right (as you look at the water) you will see a blue lane used by boats; use that lane to snorkel out to the red buoys in deeper water, as the near shore water is very shallow and swimming over and around the nearshore corals is difficult.

Stingray and trevally in French Polynesia

If you’re into tours, you can take a much advertised “snorkel while feeding the stingrays and nurse sharks” tour that takes you to the motus; it’s fun and reasonably priced.

Snorkeling Bora Bora

Bora Bora is dingier and less fun to snorkel; its only public beach has no coral in front of it. A boat tour to the “coral gardens” was worth it: the guide coaxed a moray eel out of its den, the largest moray I have ever seen.

Snorkeling with a Manta Ray in Bora Bora
Orangelined Triggerfish and staghorn coral in French Polynesia

Bora Bora also has an isolated shallow reef where a few mantas hang out; after snorkeling it for 20 minutes, I encountered two of them (photo), and for a full 30 minutes they swam at and around me, inspecting me all the time. It was the most “magical” snorkeling experience of my life. IF you intend to snorkel in Bora Bora and would like to know the spot where these mantas apparently hang out, comment and I will do my best to pinpoint the location.

Snorkeling Raiatea

Raiatea has some beautiful reefs surrounding its motus, but unless you’re a very strong swimmer, you need a kayak or boat to reach them. If you book Raiatea’s top rated airbnb, the owner will happily take you out to snorkel the motus. Raiatea is a beautiful island, much less touristy than Bora Bora.


  1. Great info Mark.

    On Moorea, snorkeling out at the Motu Tiahura is also great. One of my favorite spots on Moorea is if you rent one of the little two person boats at Tipanier Beach and head out to the motu. There is a small food shack out on the motu as well that also has great food. The best snorkeling on Moorea is from Tipanier Beach south to Pizza Daniel. This is all private land but if you can rent a house along this side of the island and access the snorkeling it is spectacular.

    Also, I notice all over the internet that a lot of people think there is so-so snorkeling on Bora Bora. This can be true if a person gets spoiled snorkeling Moorea first, because it is very common to end on Bora Bora. But if you know where to look snorkeling can be great on Bora Bora as Mark said.

    There are a number of good boat spots which any tour operator can provide. But they can be pricey and sometimes hit and miss depending on captain.

    But a lot of people ask about public beaches and resorts for snorkeling. There are very few good public beaches to snorkel in Bora Bora. Not worth even trying to find them. From a resort standpoint, none of the primary motu resorts have any snorkeling (St Regis, Thalasso, Four Seasons, etc).

    There are only three resorts in all of Bora Bora that have shore snorkeling. The Conrad Bora Bora, Maitai Bora Bora, and Sofitel Private Island all have very nice house reefs. My favorite is the Conrad since it also has pretty spectacular bungalows, a very private motu location, and easy boat access to town for a great inexpensive plate of poisson cru.

  2. In the last 3 years we’ve spent almost 8 weeks snorkeling in French Polynesia. We’ve been to 10 different islands. I guess I need to do a write up on it…

    We’ve snorkeled many places in the world. My top 2 favorite are in Bora Bora. But, you HAVE to have a boat to get you to them. If you are in Bora, you are probably spending a bunch of money anyway. Hire a private boat to take you in behind the reef on the south end of the motus.

    • We are headed to French Polynesia in September, hoping you get around to doing a write up. We are going to Moorea and one other island, that I have yet to pick. We are also doing the Paul Gauguin out to the Tuamotus Islands. We were thinking of skipping Bora Bora because of the cost, but your report might change our minds.

  3. Thank you for sharing this valuable information. We are heading out to Moorea in February and will be staying close to the Motu Tiahura, but will definitely make a trip or two to the Sofitel.

  4. Hi Mark, I would love any good snorkeling info ahead of our stays on Moorea and Bora Bora in March. The Conrad and Matira Beach areas are on our itinerary in Bora Bora. Many thanks.

  5. Searching for manya rays…

    Mark, Great information. Visiting Bora Bora in June with the family and some aren’t able to dive. Would love to find a place where we can snorkel with decent chance to catch manta rays. Thanks!

  6. We have been to French Polynesia four times in the last 10 years. You know that once in a lifetime trip that you get addicted to… We went on the Paul Gauguin 10 night trip to the Tuamotos and have gone to Moorea a few times and Bora Bora a few times. We are going back in March/April 2024 to Bora Bora and another island and staying in AirBnB’s.

    Here are my opinions on the snorkeling in French Polynesia:

    Moorea – The water is warm and clear most the time. We stayed at the Moorea Hilton three times, last time during COVID when it took four tests to go and come home. They have amazing house reef snorkeling and we love the Over Water Bungalows. We have also snorkeled by the Sofitel many times on the Long Beach. The snorkeling is also really nice but can have strong current during certain times of the year.

    Bora Bora – We stayed at Sofitel Private Island twice. I’m so sad it is closed now. It closed even before COVID. There is an amazing coral garden on the back side that many boat tours still go to. There is also beautiful from shore snorkeling there. I have also boat snorkeled a few times in Bora and it’s beautiful.

    Tuamotos – We were on the Paul Gauguin liveaboard which has beautiful snorkeling tours. The trip is amazing traveling through the islands at sunset.

    Just my thoughts.

    P.S. We love to snorkel and went on a double trip with Tropical Snorkeling trip partners this year in Indonesia. It was amazing. Misool Resort in Raja Ampat on the Coralia Liveaboard. Both were over the top!

  7. Thanks for all the suggestions! I used them already on Mo’orea. I was wondering if you would share the manta ray snorkeling location?

  8. We would like to take our grown kids and two granddaughters (9 and 12) snorkeling in french polynesia summer 2025. Maybe we’ll combine three days on Bora Bora or Moorea with a week on a catamaran in the Tuamotos. Does anyone know of a snorkeling liveaboard starting in Fakarava? We would like lots of fish, but don’t need to scare the kids with walls of sharks.

  9. We are planning our third French Polynesia trip for next fall. We keep looking for better snorkeling (or even as good) and haven’t quite found it. Kusu Island in Indonesia is close, but these islands have a special pull for me. Just the brightness, the variety and the feeling of being in an aquarium – gorgeous!

    Our faves:
    – Vahine Island, a Motu off Taha’a. Completely romantic and private with amazing food. Snorkeling right off the resort is shockingly good – feels like you are IN the movie Finding Nemo, the colors are so vivid
    – Opoa Beach Hotel, Raiatea – the hotel is just OK but you can kayak to bird island where we saw the most clownfish we’ve ever seen in one place
    – Bora Bora, the reefs off of Sofitel, particularly the private island, were amazing (sad that has closed, we would love to go back).

  10. We are going to Moorea for a week at end of March 2024, staying at Manava Beach Resort in an Over Water Bungalow, but plan to snorkel all over. I’ll try and give feedback when we return.


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