Bora Bora is more than just warm turquoise water, lush green mountains, palm trees, and overwater bungalows (although it certainly is that). It’s also a snorkeler’s paradise. We spent a good deal of our trip face down in the water, and saw all sorts of marine life, from tropical fish and sea turtles to stingrays and sharks.
My favorite snorkeling spot in terms of fish was our hotel‘s interior lagoon. There, we swam with many different kinds of tropical fish, including brilliantly colored parrotfish and unicorn fish, which I love because they always look surprised. Although the coral wasn’t particularly vibrant, the fish count was very high and, thanks to the fact that the lagoon is never more than about chest deep, snorkeling was really fun because the fish were so close to your face.
Most of the marine life at Le Méridien isn’t much different than what you can find in Hawaii or the Caribbean, but we did see some things like clownfish (Nemos!) and giant clams that are unique to the South Pacific.
Although we weren’t lucky enough to see a sea turtle in the wild, we enjoyed watching and swimming with the rescued turtles at our hotel’s turtle sanctuary.
We really only left our hotel to snorkel once, but it was the highlight of our time in Bora Bora. We booked an excursion that took us to different spots around the island (including outside the sheltered lagoon that separates the main island from the resorts), to snorkel and swim with sharks and stingrays. This is a very popular activity in Bora Bora, and for good reason: if you do one excursion there, this should be it.
When we reached the first place we would swim with sharks, the guide chummed the water and waited until a few sharks were circling our boat, their fins slicing the water and their jaws chomping at the bait, and then said to me (since my husband had kindly agreed to “let” me go first) “Ok, you jump in now!” Even though I hadn’t been apprehensive about this activity at all up until that point, there’s something about jumping into deep water filled with hungry sharks (even ones that are supposedly harmless to humans) that I think would make even the bravest person a bit nervous.
Once I got in the water, however, I wasn’t scared at all. As the guide had promised, the sharks completely ignored me. In fact, it was hard to get good pictures because whenever I approached them they swam away.
Almost all the sharks in this area were blacktip reef sharks, but there was one lone lemon shark hanging out on the ocean floor. Our guide dove down, grabbed onto the shark’s fin and let the shark pull him along for a little ride, but I was perfectly content to observe from the surface. I wouldn’t say I was scared of the lemon shark, exactly, but I believe in a healthy respect for nature…especially when nature has teeth like that.
Our next stop – the stingrays! – was absolutely the highlight of the tour for me.
I’ve loved stingrays since I was a kid. I did a “swimming with stingrays” excursion on a cruise once, but it was a pretty lame thing where everyone queued up in knee deep water to take turns petting a stingray that a guide carried around, so I was excited to really swim with them.
I feel like stingrays get an undeserved bad rap because of the Crocodile Hunter incident. They’re really gentle animals and only sting in self-defense (and even then, their stings are very rarely deadly; that was a freak accident). And unlike the sharks, which completely ignored us, the stingrays were like dogs, friendly and curious and wanting to jump up on us (and each other) and check us out.
We were back inside the lagoon here, and the shallower water was great, because stingrays tend to hang out on the bottom of the ocean and this meant they weren’t too far away. As soon as our boat stopped, we had a large group of rays clustered around us, and this time I wasn’t hesitant to jump in at all.
There were blacktip reef sharks at this stop too, and because the water was so much shallower, we were a lot closer to them. It kind of made me wish we’d skipped the first shark stop and spent more time at the combined shark and stingray stop, although seeing the lemon shark was definitely pretty cool.
Stingrays move through the water so gracefully!
I had the chance to feed the rays, and that only further solidified my opinion that they are the puppies of the sea. As soon as they had any hint that I had food they were jumping out of the water and climbing up onto me to try to get the food!
Although I could have stayed with the rays forever, we had to go on to our next stop, where we concluded our tour with a visit to a motu (one of the islets that surround the central island) with beautiful views of Bora Bora.
We explored the motu while our guide prepared a delicious BBQ lunch, and then we sat down to dine under a thatched roof table just steps from the water.
All told, I was as enchanted by Bora Bora’s underwater sights as I was by its beauty, and it certainly deserves a spot on any avid snorkeler’s life list.