Best Snorkeling in Hawaii – The Ultimate Guide!

hawaii beach landscape
Tegan
Written by Tegan

Hawaii, the Island paradise in the middle of the Central Pacific ocean. Known for many great things, hikes, waterfalls, surfing, beaches and of course snorkeling and scuba diving.

Largely due to the protected marine areas, the sea life is abundant in Hawaii. This along with a nearly constant water temperature of 77 Fahrenheit makes it inviting all year round.

This chain of Islands is snorkelers heaven so in the following post I’ll break down the best snorkeling in Hawaii.

Oahu

1. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Not only renowned within Hawaii but Worldwide this is a snorkelling location not to be missed. Declared a marine life conservation area in 1967 this is home to an abundance of sea life.

Formed within a volcanic cone, this bay has been loved to death but now has measures in place to protect this gem. Upwards of 10,000 visitors would pass through daily before restrictions were placed on it. The restriction being that the park is closed every Tuesday – all day so be sure to schedule your trip around this.

Nowadays an estimated 4,000 visitors pass through daily – yes this means it is very busy. My advice is to get there as early as possible. There is a small entry fee but this goes directly back into the conservation efforts.

Before entering the park you are briefed by a video explaining the safety precautions and what not to do – ie. do not stand on the coral reef!

Expect to see swarms of fish, turtles and more. There is also very little shade on the beach so definitely take an umbrella if you plan to spend the day at Hanauma.

Entry Fee? Yes

Suitable For? All levels

2. Sharks Cove – North Shore

Don’t let the name put you off, this is a beautiful, protected area on the North Shore of Oahu. A large bay with a rocky outcrop creates a make shift pool. Shallow on the low tide, the rock pools can be explored but for snorkeling, high tide is best.

Broken into two ‘pool’s the rock pool part is great for kids and beginners when the tide is full. The other part does get quite deep and goes out to the ocean so be careful here if you are not a strong swimmer.

I saw a huge array of colorful fish, stingrays as well as three turtles in just one snorkel! If turtles are high on your to see list then the North Shore is where you need to be. The beaches from Haleiwa all the way to Turtle Bay resort are full of turtles.

Entry Fee? No

Suitable For? All levels

3. Baby Makapu’u Waimanalo

Located on the Waimanalo side of Makapu’u Beach Park this is on the Eastern side of the Island. Also known for its surf during the winter months this is packed with sea turtles. A beautiful beach that is reasonably quiet, this is a great place to spend the day.

If you do go here there is also a lovely walk to do along the beach and under the Makai Research pier.

Entry Fee? No

Suitable For? All levels

Maui

1. Molokini Crater

This was the former tip of a volcanic that has a small part exposed above the waters surface. The crescent shaped volcanic crater is a little way off the coast of Maui, so you need to be a part of a boat tour.

The snorkeling is amazing, it is so surreal to snorkel around here and look back to the Island of Maui. Protected against any waves and currents, this crystal clear water makes snorkeling a dream all year long.

Entry Fee: Yes – boat needed to access

Suitable for: All levels

2. Honolua Bay

Located in North West Maui, this bay is home to a plethora of sea life, this area is best snorkeled in the morning as this is when the visibility is best.

This is a marine reserve so you can only imagine the density and variety of sea life here. Although predominantly rocky, this area isn’t well suited to younger children. There isn’t a sandy beach to set up on for the day.

Entry Free?: No

Suitable for?: Ages 7 and over

3. Napili Bay

Located in Western maui this is a world famous snorkeling location. Due to this it does get very busy so plan to arrive as early as possible.

When you do arrive, the best snorkeling is towards the far right of the beach, it is slightly more protected here and offers a wide array of fish including needle fish and reef fish.

For any advanced snorkelers or swimmers the left hand side of the bay has plenty of rocky alcoves, just be careful with any swell that is pushing into the bay.

Entry Fee?: No

Suitable For?: All ages

The Big Island

1. Night Manta Snorkel – Kona

Only available on a guided tour, the night time manta snorkel is an absolute must. One of the most surreal experiences I have had! From sunset onwards boat tours operate, taking you out to the snorkeling spot.

To be honest, it isn’t far from shore so it is not as scary jumping into a pitch black ocean when you can see the shore. Basically your group holds onto a foam surfboard that has LED lights under neath. The lights attract plankton which attracts the majestic manta rays.

Safe, manta rays do not have a stinging barb so you have nothing to fear from these creatures. They are HUGE and the first time one swims up can be quite the workout for your heart!

For roughly 45mins you’ll be in the water and it goes by in a flash. A really amazing experience that I couldn’t recommend enough.

Entry Fee?: Yes

Who is it suitable for? Intermediate

2. Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park

To access this park you’ll need a kayak or boat, it is a beautiful paddle and you may even spot a few Hawaiian spinner dolphins. Once you reach your destination of Ka’awaloa bay you can’t actually dock on shore unless you are a part of a tour company which allows this.

If you want to come via the road then you’ll have a very long hike ahead of you. The best option if you aren’t interested in the hike or the kayak is to book a tour.

There is a monument of Captain Cook here and the best snorkeling is right in front of it.

Entry Fee?: Yes &  No. Yes if you book a tour or hire a kayak, no if you hike

Who is it suitable for? All levels

3. Honaunau Bay

Also referred to as the City of Refuge is a very interesting and must see snorkel location. The thing that sets it apart is the underground lava rock, there are even hot pockets of water – no your aren’t losing your vision if you swim through it! The heat distorts the water and your vision!

Easy to access and both getting there and getting into the water, known as Two Step, there is literally a natural step to get you in and out.

Roughly 20ft deep there are sometimes pods of dolphins swimming close to the shore. Keep an eye out for the underwater Aloha someone has made from rocks.

Entry Fee?: No

Suitable For?: All ages

Snorkeling Vacations – Words of Advice

Snorkeling and scuba diving vacations are my favorite! There are a few things you can do to make sure your holiday runs seamlessly.

  • Clean your mask, scrub with toothpaste and test it in the shower
  • Check your gear for any scuffs, marks or cracks
  • Test your snorkel
  • Purchase some reef friendly defogger – the humidity and warm seas can sometimes make even the best mask foggy. I always recommend being over prepared for this!
  • Take plenty of reef friendly sunscreen and a hat
  • Have fun!

Bottom Line

Hawaii is an unbelievably beautiful and unique place to visit. There are more outdoors activities to do than you could dream of, snorkeling included! Regardless of which Island or Islands you visit there are plenty of snorkeling options for you!

About the author

Tegan

Tegan

Part time mermaid, full time ocean addict, Tegan has been scuba diving and snorkeling for most of her life. She has a wealth of knowledge of the underwater lifestyle and is a key contributor and product tester for all things water related

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