When I was planning my 5-week trip through French Polynesia with my friend one of the things I knew I HAD to do was go scuba diving. French Polynesia was my first trip outside of Canada for 18 months because of COVID-19 and I missed the ocean and diving like crazy. However, while French Polynesia is a chain of islands, they aren’t all great dive destinations, especially in the Society Islands. However, the Tuamotu Islands are some of the best dive destinations in the world. So if you are wondering where to scuba dive in French Polynesia and dream of seeing sharks, mantas, dolphins, and more then add the Tuamotu Islands to your dive list!
About the Tuamotus
The Tuamotus are a chain of islands north of the Society Islands. There are about 80 islands in the archipelago but the majority of them are atolls. The landscape here is very different from the Society Islands and the Marquesas as they are incredibly flat and skinny.
There are three main islands that tourists visit in the Tuamotus; Rangiroa, Fakarava, and Tikehau. If you get a Tahiti Air Pass that includes the Tuamotus you can visit all three. If you are a scuba diver, you will probably want to. Each island may look similar but offers different diving experiences. However, if you are not a scuba diver, then I wouldn’t recommend visiting these islands. There isn’t much to do other than dive and you can make better use of your time exploring more of the society islands or, venturing up to the Marquesas.
How to Get to the Tuamotus
As mentioned above, you have to fly to the Tuamotus. They are included on the Tahiti Air Pass or you can book flights individually. You fly from Tahiti or from some of the society islands such as Bora Bora. If you are planning on visiting multiple islands, getting a Tahiti Air Pass is definitely the best value. And if you are a diver, don’t forget to show your dive card on check-in to get an extra 5kg of checked luggage for free!
Best time of Year to Visit the Tuamotus
So when is the best time of year to visit the Tuamotus? This will depend on your plans. You can dive year-round but from April to November is the dry season. This means sunnier days and more typical ‘beach’ weather. So if you are travelling around a few islands including the Tuamotus and the Society Islands then it might be best to plan your trip during this time.
However, if you are keen on seeing the hammerheads then you should know that hammerhead season is between December and March with the months of February and March being your best bet.
It’s also worth mentioning that humpback whale season is July to November. So if you are more excited about whales, then time your visit for those dates. Mo’orea offers whale swims (not dives) but they are magical. If that sounds interesting, you can read my article about swimming with whales in Tahiti.
Scuba Diving in Rangiroa
Rangiroa is probably the most popular and best-known scuba diving destination in the Tuamotus. While you can see all kinds of things here including sharks and manta rays the big highlight is the local dolphins.
There is a pack of about 30 dolphins that live in Rangiroa year round. They can be found at the Tiputa Pass playing in the waves. You cannot get in and swim or snorkel, but you can dive just outside of the pass and hope to see them.
The dolphins of Rangiroa are unique because of the group, there are four who love interacting with humans and will come quite close in the hopes of belly rubs. According to our dive guide at Top Dive Polynesia, this started years ago with one dolphin who since taught three more. And, if you are lucky, you will get a visit during your dive from these dolphins who will come right up close to say hello!
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to give any dolphin belly rubs during my dives but I did see and hear them passing by which was incredible. I have swum with wild dolphins in Hawaii, but this was my first time diving with them!
Note that since the diving here is by a pass, it can get rough and there can be a big swell. A couple of people on our boat worried about getting sick on the surface, but once you drop down it’s fine!
Who to dive with: TOPDIVE Polynesia
Find accommodation in Rangiroa here.
Scuba Diving in Tikehau
Tikehau is famous as well for all the fish in the area. In fact, it’s been labelled as the ‘fishiest’ atoll in the world which is immediately obvious as you drop down below the waves. I have never swum with so many schools of fish in my life. It was absolutely stunning! Though I have to say my favourite was a group of puffers who came right up to our faces.
Tikehau also has a good chance for sharks. We say some white tip reef sharks but if you are lucky you could see hammerheads of some of the resident tiger sharks that live in the area. Usually, they hang out by Tikehau’s only pass but the conditions need to be right to dive it. Unfortunately, the conditions were not in our favour so, despite my wishful hopes, no hammerheads or tiger sharks for me! Still, it was beautiful.
Who to dive with: Tikehau Diving
Search for accommodation in Tikehau here.
*Note: We booked late and stayed at Hakamanu Lodge which is quite far out. We had to pay an additional $60 to be picked up/dropped off. So if you are diving, I wouldn’t recommend staying here as that is a big added expense.
Scuba Diving in Fakarava
So, I didn’t get to Fakarava (insert sad music here). Not for lack of trying, but since my friend and travel buddy Chantae and I booked so last minute (thanks COVID) we couldn’t make flight times line up with the rest of our schedule.
However, I do have major FOMO because Fakarava is known as THE shark dive destination. Sharks have been protected here since 2006 so there are tons in the area. You could dive with dozens upon dozens of sharks. According to National Geographic, Fakarava has the highest concentration of grey reef sharks in the world, although you could also see other species as well.
Fakarava is divided into the North and South. The south is home to the best dive sites but it is far from the airport (2 hours) and more remote and isolated with fewer dive shops. However, it does mean you get to the sharks earlier than everyone else.
Note: My friends who have done these dives told me that the current can be crazy strong. So you probably want to have some diving experience under your belt before you tackle Fakarava’s shark wall.
Who to dive with: TOPDIVE Polynesia
Find accommodation in Fakarava here.
Final Thoughts on the Tuamotu Islands
As I said earlier, the Tuamotu islands are amazing for scuba diving, but not much else. There is a Blue Lagoon tour in Rangiroa and you can snorkel with manta rays and visit the pink sand beaches in Tikehau but that’s about it. So if you are coming here to dive, plan a few dives and book in advance because there aren’t very many shops and they fill up in advance.
A Note on Travel Insurance in French Polynesia
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.