Snorkeling Moorea and Bora Bora, French Polynesia - Trip Report
by Patricia R Ogden
Here is my Moorea and Bora Bora snorkeling trip report from April and May 2011. We stayed at the Hilton Lagoon on Moorea and Bora Bora and at the Sofitel on Bora Bora.
Overwater bungalows at the Hiltons were spectacular - snorkeling from the bungalow was very good in Moorea, and OK in Bora Bora. The Bora Bora Hilton faces the open water, with only bungalows numbered in the 100 series with a shore or hill view. The Chapel at the Hilton was very beautiful - I would love to get married there but I already am.
The Sofitel on Bora Bora has very good snorkeling off the motu, their best site. The Sofitel on Moorea is also a lovely setting. We requested the boat shuttle from the shore drop us there and we swam back to the Sofitel motu dock and took the boat shuttle back. I saw a giant moray here, the only one on the trip.
The Sofitel basic garden bungalows are average, with no light when you close the sliding glass door or windows, which you must for privacy. Nice staff. Hilton food was average. Sofitel was better than average. A hamburger was about $25-30, a tropical drink $15, glass of wine $12-15 at all hotels. Shuttles to small town nearby for fee. Local fish were best choices.
We went in late April - early May. It rained four days and was somewhat cloudy others, and windy. This was disappointing. We'd say to go later in the year. Snorkel visibility was better than average. Water was very warm.
Activity desks at the hotels only provide information about their proprietary offerings, making it difficult to discover snorkeling locations. Their trips offered 30 minute snorkel drops or duplicated visits to see sharks and rays.
Use the tourist pamphlets titled "Island Guide" available in the Papeete Airport and at public visitor information centers, or at tahitiguide.com. These guides were not available in the hotels.
Fodor's guide does not identify snorkeling separate from diving sites, and most dive sites are too deep for good snorkel viewing.
On Moorea besides the Bora Bora Hilton itself, our best snorkel was at The Lagoonarium Village. We hired a catamaran but there are tours with a pick up shuttle on certain days. The coral garden there is beautiful, and there was also many species of fish. I also did a Hilton Activities Desk trip that left from the Intercontinental to see rays and sharks. They did a coral garden 30-minute snorkel that was very good also.
My husband went deep sea fishing and caught a five pound tuna, the only catch on the boat that day. The captain stated that the very large fish were gone from overfishing.
On Bora Bora we got a dive boat company (Bora Bora Blue at the Pearl) to take us with them, but we had to accept their dive itinerary. We did three locations - one outside the reef at Haapiti. This was deep but I saw a giant triggerfish, sharks, and a cowfish, unusual sightings. Then to Anau, inside the reef, with a lovely coral garden, and frequent ray sightings. I saw a turtle here. The afternoon dive was at Toopua. This was beautiful, inside the reef, but with heavy current. These dives were unsupervised, but OK for confident careful snorkelers. The price was reasonable.
A day trip from Bora Bora to Maupiti was possible using the public ferry, but again, was not offered by the hotel. Inter-island transit mostly goes through Papeete, making island-hopping a time-eater, as do boat shuttle transits on Bora Bora.
Dive centers did not have separate snorkel tours, and weren't knowledgeable about snorkeling venues either, in general, nor were the hotels, unlike the Virgins and Hawaii vacations we have been on. Plan excursions the day before because not all are offered each day or morning departures are missed while doing planning.
Bora Bora is very very beautiful, as is Moorea. For overall vacation bucks value, Hawaii and the Caribbean are very good alternative choices, if you can give up the dream of seeing the far South Pacific. Ten days is plenty of resort hotel living, too, by the way. Hotel access for snorkeling is private - you must pay a user fee or stay, or eat lunch, depending on the hotel. We were told that the bays were not good for snorkeling. I estimate I saw over 100 species, all different from Hawaii and the Virgins.