Top 15 Places For Snorkeling In Hawaii (& Which Tours To Book)

Hawaii is among one of the best destinations to go snorkeling, thanks to the protected marine areas surrounding the islands. From its crystal-clear waters, its teeming sea life, and the tropical, vacation-like weather, there's almost no place like it.

Snorkeling in Maui offers some of the best opportunities for swimming with sea turtles. If you're interested in a deeper understanding of the marine biology of Hawaii, join Ocean Ramsey's research team in Oahu. Anini Beach on the island of Kauai provides snorkelers with access to the Rhe Honoiki Reef, the largest coral reef in Hawaii. And if you want to walk away from your trip with a one-of-a-kind experience, swim at night with reef manta rays on Hawaii's Big Island.

It doesn't matter which island you choose. If you're snorkeling in Hawaii, you are sure to enjoy your underwater adventure. Here are the best places for snorkeling around the Hawaiian Islands, plus the specific sea life you can expect to see below the surface.

Fringing Reef - Molokai

Get here by boat or kayak and prepare to be wowed by the longest fringing reef in Hawaii, which attracts everything from hawksbill turtles to spotted eagle rays. Plan your trip during whale-watching season (December through March), when thousands of whales show up and serenade each other (and you).

Where is it? South coast of Molokai.

How to experience it? Let Snorkel Molokai take care of everything, from the boat ride and gear to special tips and instructions, if necessary. All gear is included in the cost of the 3-hour tour, which is $119 for adults, $95 for children 7-12, and $85 for children 3-6. Children under 2 are free. 

Who is it suitable for? All levels.

Turtle Town - Maui

On Maui's southern coastline, a series of underwater lava formations created by eruptions of submarine volcanoes makes a cozy home for sea turtles — and a gorgeous place to snorkel. Just remember: Look, but don't touch. These guys are endangered. Angelfish, moray eels, and octopus are an added bonus.

Where is it? At Maluaka Beach, south of Kihei, near the Makena Beach and Golf Club.

How to experience it? A tour company like Maui Snorkeling will take visitors there for a 5-hour morning adventure; $176 for adults, $166 for youth (ages 13-17), $130 for children 4-12, and children under 3 are free. A heck of a way to start a day.

Who is it suitable for? All levels.

Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park - Big Island

Hawaii's Big Island offers numerous scenic snorkeling spots. Kayak along the calm waters of Kealakekua Bay while keeping your eyes peeled for Hawaiian spinner dolphins; they like to put on a show. Once you reach the protected shoreline of Ka'awaloa, hop out and snorkel alongside turtles, eels, reef sharks, and rays.

Bring a picnic lunch and sit a spell near the monument of British explorer Captain James Cook; however, if you kayak on your own, you are not allowed to dock on shore.

Where is it? 12 miles south of Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona) in south Kona

How to experience it? Sign up for some "Morning Magic" with Kona Boys and enjoy a 4.5-hour guided tour of this magical area at the best time of day. This tour is $225 for adults and $199 for kids. 

Who is it suitable for? All levels.

Keauhou Bay - Kailua-Kona

Here, tour operators set up waterproof spotlights on the ocean floor to attract plankton — a surefire way to bring giant Pacific manta rays galore. Even though they are closely related to sharks, have wingspans up to 20 feet, and can weigh a whopping 3,000 pounds, snorkeling with them is perfectly safe. Their underwater performance has all the theatrics of Cirque du Soleil — back flips and all.

Where is it? Fronting Outrigger Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, south of Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona)

How to experience it? During lobster season, Shoreline Snorkel makes the $139 nighttime tour even more exciting. And sometimes, an octopus might even swim by. The experience begins at 7:20 p.m. every night.

Who is it suitable for? Those with an intermediate skill level are best suited for this location.

Poipu Beach Park - Kauai

Tikes will dig the shallow-water lagoon at Poipu Beach, not to mention the abundance of wildlife. Shoreside, you'll often find lounging monk seals. Offshore, it's common to see humpbacks during whale season. While snorkeling, look for blue parrotfish, sea cucumbers, and this tongue-twister: humuhumunukunukuapuaa, Hawaii's state fish.

Where is it? 25 minutes west of Lihue on Kauai's south shore

How to experience it? Exploring on your own in the morning or early afternoon is the best option for this one. Visitors who didn't bring the right gear can stop by Boss Frog's for everything from masks to beach chairs.

Who is it suitable for? All levels will enjoy this one.

North Shore - Oahu

Oahu's North Shore is one of the best places for snorkeling in Hawaii. Play marine biologist for the day by hanging out with Ocean Ramsey's research team. Galapagos sharks, tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, hammerheads, and sometimes even whale sharks roam these parts. If you're not a fan of the apex predator, this trip could certainly change your perspective. Humans aren't really on the lunch list.

Where is it? Halei'wa Boat Harbor, on the northern coast of Oahu.

How to experience it? Book a private excursion with Hawaii Real Nature Tours to get the most from an experienced guide in this magical location. Tours are 1.5 hours long and cost $70, gear included.

Who is it suitable for? All levels.

Tunnels (Makua) Beach - Kauai

Weird rock formations? Check. Large coral heads? Check. This spot in Kauai will keep you entertained with its caverns, channels, and tunnels. Look for goat fish, hogfish, filefish, green sea turtles, moray eels, trumpet fish, and wrasse. A word to the wise: Avoid winter when the waves can be gnarly.

Where is it? Kauai's north shore, off Highway 560 about a mile west of Hanalei Colony Resort, near Haena Beach Park

How to experience it? Kauai Sea Tours is one of several companies that showcase the best of the island's snorkeling with excursions that feature multiple stops. Might as well see it all! Prices vary depending on the package, but you can expect to pay around $200 for a 5.5-hour tour. 

Who is it suitable for? Different areas are good for different levels of experience, but everyone should remember not to step on the coral.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve - Oahu

This volcanic crater on Oahu's east side is a marine life conservation area sheltered from ocean swells and packed full of fish. Needless to say, it's wildly popular, so be prepared for crowds. Take a peek at crevices and caves while making friends with damsel fish, squirrel fish, porcupine fish, and trumpet fish.

Where is it? Oahu's east side; from Waikiki, take the H1 Freeway until it becomes Kalanianaole Highway, continuing roughly 10 miles. You'll find the entrance at the top of the hill.

How to experience it? Hanauma Bay Snorkel Adventures runs tours every day except Mondays and Tuesdays, as well as most major holidays. Tours start at $50.

Who is it suitable for? All levels.

Honolua Bay - Maui

Located on Maui's northwest shore, Honolua Bay is a marine life conservation area, so your chances are good of tracking down diverse sea critters. Plus, you'll be surrounded by rocky cliffs that help shelter the area from wind. Keep an eye out for butterflyfish, snapper, pufferfish, unicorn fish, and sea urchins. Afterward, watch the surfers to the right of the boat ramp. This spot happens to be one of the most epic surf breaks in Hawaii.

Where is it? About 13 miles north of Lahaina along Hwy 30.

How to experience it? Do it in style by boarding the luxury catamaran from PacWhale Eco-Adventures. The tour is 6 hours and includes food, beverages, gear, and more for $225 (ages 13 and over) and $175 for children 7-12. Kids under 7 are not permitted. 

Who is it suitable for? Intermediate.

Hulopoe Bay - Lanai

On the island's south shore, you'll find this crescent-shaped bay dotted with shallow tide pools that house hermit crabs, sea stars, and small fish. Below the surface, you're in for a delightful treat. Spinner dolphins and sea turtles frolic here frequently. Plus, bandit angelfish, Hawaiian green sea turtles, and humpbacks (in the winter).

Where is it? On Lanai's south shore near Sharks Bay — about 1 mile away from Four Seasons Resort Lanai.

How to experience it? Book Amstar's incredible day tour from Maui to Lanai that takes visitors to Hulopoe Bay for exploring by land and sea. It is $358 for a massive 8-hour excursion, which includes breakfast, lunch, beverages, gear, and more. 

Who is it suitable for? All levels.

Ke'e Beach - Kauai

Ke'e Beach brims with sea life. Visitors kick through a calm lagoon to get to the reef, beyond which is the stunning open ocean. Don't venture past the reef (the currents are wicked), and keep away from the high cliffs to the left. There's not an abundance of coral, but snorkelers should see parrotfish, triggerfish, and, in the lagoon, possibly turtles.

Where is it? Along the rugged, stunning Na Pali coast on the North Shore of Kauai.

How to experience it? This is one to do on your own, though you can rent gear at Hanalei Surf. Co. Snorkel late morning or after for the best light.

Who is it suitable for? While it's great for all levels, intermediate to advanced snorkelers might feel more comfortable, given the proximity of hazards.

Ko Olina Lagoons - Oahu

A resort area with some exclusive properties, Ko Olina has four lagoons that present calm conditions year-round. The visibility and water quality are the same at each lagoon, but for a less-crowded experience, Lagoon 4 (the southernmost one) may be the best bet for those seeking a secluded adventure, as it is not as frequented by tourists. Don't expect much coral, but you'll see lots of fish, such as tang, wrasse, barracuda, and butterflyfish.

Where is it? On the western side of Oahu.

How to experience it? The lagoons are calm and small enough that visitors can experience them on their own, but if you want to go all out, 3-hour catamaran sail and snorkel tours via Ko Olina Ocean Adventures are available starting at $185 for adults. 

Who is it suitable for? All levels.

Kumimi Beach - Moloka'i

The sand here is so soft that you might feel torn leaving the beach, but the snorkeling at this spot, sometimes called Murphy's Beach, is not to be missed. The water is generally calm and shallow and is best explored in the morning when the light is ideal and the winds are gentle. Plan to visit at high tide since entry is rocky at low tide. In addition to the usual colorful tropical fish that dart around the reef, snorkelers are likely to see turtles, rays, and eels.

Where is it? On the eastern shore of Molokai, one of the lesser visited Hawaiian isles.

How to experience it? The beach is right by the road, and travelers don't need a guide. Molokai Outdoors rents gear on the island for a reasonable price. 

Who is it suitable for? All levels.

Salt Pond Beach Park - Kauai

Located close to the only salt ponds on the island, the beach has various sections, making it a fun place to explore. The main bay is the focal point, with a reef that helps break the rolling waves, keeping the water calm. Snorkelers can see eels, reef fish, and sea cucumbers. Come from December through April, and you might spy humpback whales from the shore.

Where is it? On the south coast of Kauai in Hanapepe. The sunsets are stunning.

How to experience it? There's ample parking nearby; then it's a short walk to the beach. Snorkelers don't need the services of a tour operator.

Who is it suitable for? All levels; kids will love it. Lifeguards on duty! 

Shark's Cove - Oahu

In addition to a good mask, snorkelers should bring water shoes to Shark's Cove, as the entrance to the sea is rocky. Rocks, in fact, are commonplace; visitors will need to navigate through patches of them to get to open water. The shallows yield to a deeper part of the bay, and fish, including boxfish, trevally, and unicornfish, hover around some of the lava tubes and larger rocks. If you're lucky, you might see an octopus — but don't worry, you won't see sharks, despite the name. 

Where is it? On the northwest coast of Oahu.

How to experience it? Active Oahu can set visitors up with everything they need for a reasonably-priced self-guided tour ($38 for 2 hours or $49 for 4 hours). Get to the location early, as parking is limited and quickly fills.

Who is it suitable for? All levels.

Our methodology

We looked at a variety of snorkeling sites and trusted travel blogs, magazines, tour operator pages, and official tourism sites and made sure to compile a list that showcases the wide variety across all of Hawaii's islands.