Snorkeling on the Big Island Hawaii offers a wealth of underwater diversity, perfect for first-time snorkelers or those with decades of experience. The Hawaiian island is known for green sea turtles, plus more exotic finds such as octopus and eels.
Whether you’re looking for a secret spot that few travelers ever visit or a well-known destination where you can get tips from fellow snorkelers, the Big Island has it all. Some spots require a short walk or even a hike into, whereas some lie in the heart of Kailua-Kona. Most exciting of all, the Big Island offers snorkelers the chance to swim at night with reef manta rays, some as big as 18 feet across. Here are the best spots for snorkeling in the Big Island.
Kamakahonu Beach, aka King Kam Beach
This beginner-friendly site and popular beach on the Big Island offers a sandy entry and bottom, typically flat conditions and lots of facilities, including restrooms and showers. Plus, because it lies in the heart of Kailua-Kona, it's a good pick for those staying in the area without a rental car.
Do note that the reefs are not the Big Island’s healthiest, but they do deliver yellow tang fish, red sea urchins and a few other colors that will delight those new to snorkeling.
Old Kona Airport
Day boats often bring snorkel guests to this location, but you can skip the fare if you’ve got a rental car to take you just north of Kailua-Kona and if you’re willing to walk 20 minutes.
Reach the beach — be prepared for a rocky entry — and then it’s smooth snorkeling among healthy corals and an abundant fish population.
Black Pebble Beach
If you’re comfortable swimming past a few waves, this site, also a favorite among local scuba divers, is rewarding for its big schools of fish, plus eels and, in the early mornings, spinner dolphins.
But you won’t locate this spot on Google Maps. Rather, from Highway 11, between mile markers 96 and 97, you’ll find a sign for the Kona Paradise neighborhood. Find the beach at the end of this drive.
Kealakekua Bay State Park
To snorkel this spot known for epically clear water, sometimes of 100 feet and greater, you need to book a snorkel tour, or prepare yourself for a steep, 2-mile hike.
Here, you’ll see gardens of well-preserved mound and lobe corals. These lay the foundation for a healthy fish population, including schools of yellow, Achilles and lavender tang fish. One not to miss that you’ll often find here is the saddle wrasse, a cigar-shaped fish with a turquoise and purple head and a flank of fiery orange along its pectoral fin.
Milolii Bay, aka Honomalino Bay
Few travelers know about or visit this beautiful, secluded black-sand beach on the Big Island's southwestern tip. You may not know you're in the right place until you hop into the water and begin exploring, looking down at healthy corals, fish skittering about and green sea turtles tucked between the reefs.
Plus, it’s not uncommon to witness spinner dolphins here, which sometimes stay for an hour or so because this quiet spot is safe for them to cruise undisturbed. If you can, stay for the sunset at this west-facing location.
For something different, try a spot called Four Mile, creatively named for its location near mile marker 4 on Ali’i Drive just south of Kailua-Kona. This is a spot you won’t find on most maps, but local scuba divers know the site.
It’s welcoming of snorkelers thanks to its 40-foot depth. Here, you’ll find more than just fish — you’ll find critters. We’re talking eels, sea stars, crabs and even sleeping white-tip sharks.
Kahaluu Beach Park
This is, hands down, the best snorkeling in the Big Island for families with kids. Find the small, protected cove on the west side of the island. Much of the park is no deeper than 10 feet, which makes it anything but intimidating.
Green sea turtles can’t seem to get enough of the sea grass buffet here, so it’s easy to spot several on most trips. Plus, if you don’t see one in the water, you may see one on the beach as they seem to enjoy après-munching naps.
Night Snorkel with Manta Rays
This experience starts at dusk to let everyone slowly ease into the idea of snorkeling on the Big Island in the dark. Once darkness falls, big underwater lights are switched on, flooding the bay with brightness and ushering in plankton. Then they come.
Reef manta rays descend upon the site to swoop and scoop up as much plankton as possible. These animals can measure 18 feet across, averaging 14 feet. They’re fish, but there’s something to the magic of locking eyes with a manta.
It may not seem possible, but they're utterly curious and they seem to recognize something when they meet our gaze. As for safety, we recommend booking with a local dive and snorkel operator, such as Kona Honu Divers.
Two Steps, aka Honaunau Bay
We love this west shore cove for the fact that you can see the coral heads from shore. This site teems with life, from peacock grouper and pufferfish to schools of butterflyfish and goatfish.
Here, you’ll possibly spy an octopus, especially if you know to look for that knobby eye and hyphen-like pupil. On occasion, sea horses have also been seen here.