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10 of the Best Snorkeling Experiences in Hawaii

These magnificent islands offer some of the best underwater adventures for any style of vacation.

Updated:

January 12, 2023

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 to all the luxuries a Hawaiian vacation has to offer, 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.

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Fringing Reef—Molokai

A fringing reef in Molokai,Hawaii, is a great setting for snorkeling, as it is a great spot to see eagle rays.
Molokai’s reef attracts spotted eagle rays. Shutterstock

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-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 instruction, if necessary.

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Who is it suitable for? All levels

Turtle Town—Maui

Located in Maui, Oahu, Turtle Town is everything the name suggests—a fantastic place to spot sea turtles.
There’s really no mystery why they call it Turtle Town. Shutterstock

On Maui’s southern coastline, a series of underwater lava formations, created by eruptions of submarine volcanoes, makes a cozy home for sea turtles. 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.

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How to experience it? A tour company like Maui Snorkeling will take visitors there for a 5-hour morning adventure. A heck of a way to start a day.

Who is it suitable for? All levels

Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park—Big Island

Hawaii Snorkeling in Maui, Oahu: Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park
Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park on the Big Island Shutterstock

Hawaii’s Big Island offers numerous 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.

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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 guided tour of this magical area at the best time of day.

Who is it suitable for? All levels

Night Manta Snorkel—Big Island

Night snorkeling in Maui, Hawaii, can lead to amazing encounters with mantas.
One of the best Big Island snorkeling experiences involves seeing these amazing creatures at night. Shutterstock

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 nighttime tour even more exciting. And sometimes an octopus might even swim by.

Who is it suitable for? Intermediate

Poipu Beach Park—Kauai

Poipu Beach Park in Kauai is a great place to catch some sun, but even better for snorkeling.
Just looking for a sandy to spot to rest and relax? Kauai’s Poipu Beach Park will do the trick, but the water is even more amazing. Shutterstock

Tikes will dig the shallow-water lagoon at Poipu Beach, not to mention the 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? Visitors who feel like exploring on their own but 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

North Shore—Oahu

Oahu's North Shore is most famous for surfing, but the snorkeling is amazing, too.
When it comes to Oahu’s North Shore, most people think about surfing, but there’s great snorkeling, too. Shutterstock

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 roams 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? Haleiwa Boat Harbor

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.

Who is it suitable for? All levels

Tunnels (Makua) Beach—Kauai

Kauai's Tunnels Beach (or Makua) is one of the best snorkeling experiences anywhere in the Hawaiian islands.
Tunnels Beach, also known as Makua, is arguably Kauai’s best snorkeling location, if not all of Hawaii. Shutterstock

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 showcases the best of the island’s snorkeling with excursions that feature multiple stops. Might as well see it all!

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

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve—Oahu

Oahu's Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a favorite for snorkeling at all experience levels.
Oahu’s Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a very popular place, so get there early for good parking. Shutterstock

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, continue 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.

Who is it suitable for? All levels

Honolua Bay—Maui

Hawaii Snorkeling in Maui, Oahu: Honolua Bay
Honolua Bay on Maui Shutterstock

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, puffer fish, 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? 10 miles north of Lahaina along Hwy 30

How to experience it? Do it in style by boarding the luxury catamaran from PacWhale Eco-Adventures.

Who is it suitable for? Intermediate

Hulopoe Bay—Lanai

Spinner dolphins at play in Lanai's Hulopoe Bay.
Lanai’s Hulopoe Bay is a great place to spot spinner dolphins. Shutterstock

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 treat. Spinner dolphins and sea turtles frolic here frequently. Plus, bandit angelfish, Hawaiian green sea turtles, and humpbacks (in the winter).

Where is it? Between the Four Seasons Resort Lanai and Manele Bay

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.

Who is it suitable for? All levels

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