Northwest of Tahiti in French Polynesia, the snorkeling in Bora Bora is well-known for it calm conditions and biodiversity. The main island of Bora Bora is surrounded offshore by an atoll barrier reef. Inside the barrier reef, the lagoon offers very calm water which is habitat to hundreds of species of colorful tropical reef fish among the a few healthy, but scattered, patch reefs. Throughout the year, the lagoon varies widely in temperature and water clarity thus greatly affecting the marine life species present. During the hot and rainy summer months of November through March, the lagoon is too warm for larger species including manta rays and sharks, and the water clarity is also much lower. Near the passes through the barrier reef to the open ocean, you may encounter stingrays, manta rays and reef sharks. Outside the atoll in the open ocean, snorkelers may encounter lemon sharks, black-tipped reef sharks and grey sharks. The best Bora Bora snorkeling can be found at the following dive sites in order of level of difficulty from beginner to advanced.
The most popular Bora Bora snorkeling with the tourists is Matira Beach. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean it has the best snorkeling. Matira Beach is located on the western side of the southern tip of the main island of Bora Bora. With all of the natural sand that attracts the plentiful visitors, any wind or surf tends to greatly reduce the water clarity. The best Matira Beach snorkeling is found at the western end of this crescent beach where you will find some scattered coral heads in the sand flats. But, don’t expect plentiful marine life except for some trumpet fish, goat fish, butterflyfish, sergeant majors, squirrelfish and solderfish. Close to shore, the visibility is typically not very good with a maximum of around 30 feet. Further from shore near the deeper channel, you may see an occasional manta ray from April to October. Matira Beach is accessible from the main Circle Island Road, and there are several cafes and parking areas.
The best Bora Bora snorkeling is found at the Aquarium dive site off the south end of of Motu Piti. This dive spot is located just off the southeast end of the main island of Bora Bora and to the east of Matira Point. While some strong snorkelers will swim out to Motu Piti and others will use kayaks, most snorkelers take a boat out to the islands. The Motu Piti islands are known for their diverse marine life among the coral heads. The waters are generally protected and calm. During Motu Piti snorkeling, you can typically encounter angelfish, needlefish, butterflyfish, triggerfish, trumpetfish, parrotfish, giant moray eels, stingrays, eagle rays, juvenile reef sharks and possibly sea turtles. The highest quality snorkeling is located off the south side of the western island, Motu Piti U’u Uta, which is known by locals as the Bora Bora Aquarium. It has waters from 3 to 10 feet deep. At the boat-accessed Aquarium spot, there are several mooring buoys, which are very, very popular with the small snorkeling boat tours. The north end of Motu Piti has the Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island resort.
Another easy snorkeling spot is the artificial InterContinental Thalasso Resort Lagoon. These very protected waters are home to dozens of man-made reef formations covered with over 700 transplanted coral colonies. While designed and promoted as a stingray feeding area, the stingrays are rarely seen in the lagoon. But, there are about eighty species of reef fish present around the coral garden habitat. During Thalasso Lagoon snorkeling, you may encounter goatfish, wrasse, pufferfish, box fish, triggerfish, moorish idols, damselfish, giant moray eels, reef octopus, pearl oysters, sea cucumbers and urchins among the cactus coral, staghorn coral, mushroom coral and colorful giant clams (20cm). Note, it is recommended to not wear fins while snorkeling in the artificial lagoon. As a side note, the snorkeling directly off the Thalasso Resorts sandy beach is very poor with no coral and very limited reef fish to observe.
The other easy snorkeling spot is the Bora Bora Lagoonarium located at the St Regis Resort. This artificial lagoon has man-made reef formations with transplanted coral and giant clams. The Lagoonarium provides habitat for colorful reef fish, stingrays and some black-tipped reef sharks. As a side note, the snorkeling directly off the St Regis Resorts sandy beach is very poor with no coral and very limited reef fish to observe.
Off the south end of the main island, the InterContinental Le Moana Resort has an artificial reef program with dozens of placed reef formations located near shore under both sets of overwater bungalows. Also, there are scattered artificial reefs placed further offshore of the southernmost set of overwater bungalows. These artificial reefs have plenty of transplanted coral and giant clams. They provide habitat to typical reef fish and octopus. During Le Moana snorkeling, you may encounter reef octopus, lionfish, pennant bannerfish,longfin bannerfish, moorish idols, butterflyfish, sergeant majors, juvenile black-tipped reef fish, stingrays, spotted eagle rays, and giant moray eels. As a side note, there isn’t much worth seeing in the sand flats between the two sets of overwater bungalows. But, there are some nice scattered coral heads to the north of the northernmost overwater bungalows. With the boat dock near by them though, a diver down flag is recommended to explore these formations.
At the southeastern edge of the lagoon, there is a very popular shark and stingray feeding zone. Many of the small snorkel boat tours make this a major stop on their tours. Also, divers who rent the small powered boat tend to make it out to the location after a long slow boat ride.
Off the west coast of the main island Bora Bora at the southern end of Toopua, the snorkeling around Toopua Iti near the Hilton Nui is popular for its coral and eagle rays. During To’opua snorkeling, you may also encounter parrotfish, angelfish, triggerfish, butterflyfish, needlefish, moray eels and possibly sea turtles amongst patch coral heads. The eagle rays frequent the channel between To’opua and To’opua Iti though the water may be murky due to the current. The water depths range from 10 to 50 feet deep. On the deeper reefs, keep an eye out for giant clams, clownfish and for the occasional shark. A good starting point for this snorkeling dive is the Hilton Bora Bora Nui at the south end of To’opua. The channel dive spot is considered by many to be the second best resort snorkeling in Bora Bora. Off the southwest shore of Toopua Iti is a deep water snorkeling site typically frequented by scuba boats. The water depth here is 15 to 30 feet deep and the water clarity isn’t known to be great. During Toopua snorkeling, you may encounter great barracuda, trumpetfish, moorish idols, wrasse, surgeonfish, whitespotted puffer fish and bannerfish.
Off the west coast of the main island Bora Bora, the snorkeling off Tevairoa offers protected and calm dive conditions. There are two good shore-accessed dive spots off the southern end of the island. The most popular Tevairoa snorkeling is off the southeast end of the island off the Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort. The resort has recently planted new coral heads to promote future growths. The best Tevairoa snorkeling is off the desolate southwest side. The waters are filled with scattered coral heads.
Northeast of the main island Bora Bora off Motu Tofari, the snorkeling in the Four Seasons Bora Bora Resort lagoon is known for some coral especially under the westernmost over-water bungalows. During Four Seasons snorkeling, you can typically encounter needlefish, parrotfish, angelfish and possibly sea turtles amongst coral heads. Keep in mind that since these are sand flats, the visibility is usually not too good.
Northeast of the main island of Bora Bora and east of Tuivahora Point, the snorkeling at Anau Fafapiti is known for manta rays and blacktip reef sharks. If you are coming for manta rays, you'll want to snorkel at Anau from May through December. Manta rays frequent the north-south pass east of the island and hang out here at cleaning stations. Make sure to be very calm around the mantas and do not try to touch them. During Anau snorkeling, you may also encounter giant wrasse, snapper, butterflyfish, angelfish, moray eels, sharks and remoras. At this boat-accessed dive site, the water depths range from 10 to 70 feet deep. While the water clarity is usually pretty good at Anau Fafapiti, it can be poor from January through April.
West of the main island Bora Bora, the snorkeling at Teavanui Pass offers and open ocean dive feel in a gap of the barrier reef. During Teavanui Pass snorkeling, you may encounter jacks, stingrays, moray eels, giant wrasse, white-tipped reef sharks, black-tipped reef sharks, barracuda and manta rays. At this boat-accessed dive site, the water depth ranges from 15 feet to 60 feet deep. Most boat tours only go out to Teavanui Pass in the morning before the wind kicks up the surf.
Also, west of the main island Bora Bora, the snorkeling at Tapu is an open ocean dive with big fish. Snorkelers love this deeper dive because the water clarity makes the water color seem other-worldly. During Tapu snorkeling, you may encounter giant wrasse, black-tipped reef sharks, lemon sharks and sea turtles. At this boat-accessed dive site, the water depth ranges from 30 feet to 90 feet deep. Most boat tours only go out to Tapu in the morning before the wind kicks up the surf.
Unless you are snorkeling the waters directly off your resort, you’ll probably need a boat to reach more snorkeling spots around Bora Bora. One option is to rent a boat, but unless you have a valid captains license, only small boats under 6HP can be rented, such as those from La Plage Bora Bora (689) 87-284-866. Another option is to get on a snorkeling tour, but those can be hit or miss. The larger, well-established scuba dive boats may offer to take snorkelers, but since they carry scuba divers, they tend to only go to the deeper water sites that may not be of interest to serious snorkelers. Alternately, the informal snorkeling-only tour boats tend to go to the same to places over and over (Aquarium and Shark/Ray Feed Zone), and cater to very inexperienced snorkelers. That leaves only hiring your own boat with a captain to tour the island at your direction to really experience the snorkeling sites. On Bora Bora, that latter option is quite expensive and typically runs $1,000 to $1,500 USD.
To reach the Bora Bora snorkeling from Tahiti by air, fly into the Bora Bora Airport (BOB) on Motu Mute which is located to the north of the main island of Bora Bora. The inter-island airline provides a free ferry service to the main town of Vaitape (15 minutes) on the west coast of Bora Bora. Some of the high-end resorts offer a direct shuttle boat transfer service for a one-way fee. If you do use the Vaitape ferry service, you need to be on the ferry at least 75 minutes prior to flight departure. There are inter-island flights on Air Tahiti from capital city of Papeete on the island of Tahiti via Fa’a’a International Airport (PPT), along with direct flights from some of the other nearby islands. The main international airlines serving Fa’a’a Airport are Air Tahiti Nui (Los Angeles), Hawaiian Airlines (Honolulu) and Air France. To continue on to one of the many islands within French Polynesia, the inter-island airline is Air Tahiti. Due to unusual flight times with long layovers on Tahiti, you might appreciate the day room rentals at the Intercontinental Tahiti.
Overall, Bora Bora is the 4th most popular snorkel dive spot of all 13 snorkeling dives in French Polynesia.