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If you’re looking for the best snorkeling in Hawaii, you pretty much can’t go wrong on any of the islands.
Well, let’s get a little more specific than that. The Hawaiian islands in general have amazing snorkeling, although you’ll find much of it on Maui and the Big Island, with a ridiculous amount of choices for snorkelers from beginner to expert. Blessed with clear blue water, tropical weather and teeming with marine life, from turtles to sharks, Hawaii is a smorgasbord of delights for even the most discerning of snorkelers.
Of course, this is an adventure travel blog and you dig lists, yes? OK fine, so let’s whittle things down a little. You really can’t go wrong snorkeling anywhere in the Aloha State. But if you’re looking for the best snorkeling in Hawaii, these are your spots.
1 – Molokini Crater – Maui
Ever been to Santorini? If you have, you’ll see a similar pattern at Maui’s Molokini Crater. Like your favourite submerged Greek volcano, Molokini is a crescent-shaped crater, and you’ll need a boat to get there. But it’s worth the trip – visibility at Molokini can top a hundred feet on a clear day. You’ll see a lot at Molokini too, with over 250 fish species to see here, including yellow tang, parrotfish and even the odd whitetip reef shark (don’t lie – I know you wanna see a shark…). If you’re looking for the best snorkeling in Hawaii, Molokini will be on the list.
What You Might See: Yellow Tang, Parrotfish, reef sharks, moray eels and 250 species of fish – with excellent visibility.
Location: About 3 miles off the west coast of Maui
Skill Level: All Levels
2 – Hanauma Bay, Oahu
Back in 2010, when I sucked at blogging, I went snorkeling at Hanauma Bay (hey, it was my first ever blog post, cut me a little slack), about 45 minutes from Waikiki, on the east coast of Oahu. Being that close to tourist central, you might expect said tourists to over run the beautiful bay/nature preserve. Well, it’s getting there – but with totally sweet caves, crevices, fish and, not to mention, great views you’ll see here, Hanauma Bay is still hanging in there as some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii, and certainly the most convenient, given its proximity to Waikiki.
Just be respectful, don’t trample, and don’t feed the fishies. A little snorkeling etiquette goes a long way.
What You Might See: Turtles, Damsel Fish, Squirrel Fish, Porcupine Fish, Trumpet Fish and, on shore, mongoose – an invasive species in Hawaii. But they are kinda cute. And I’d totally love to see a mongoose fight a cobra. But I digress…
Location: Oahu’s east coast. Take the H1 highway out of Waikiki.
Skill Level: All Levels
3 – Makaha Beach, Oahu
Hanauma Bay not your thing? We can work with that. Makaha Beach is the second most popular snorkeling spot on Oahu, and there’s a good reason for it. Makaha Beach has some wicked underwater caves and tunnels (yes, I just said ‘Wicked’ and I make no apologies). It’s a large beach, and a beautiful one at that, where you’ll see coral, turtles, and, yup, possibly even dolphins. There’s a catch though – Makaha gets wickedly (there’s that word again) crowded with surfers when the waves are up. Snorkeling at Makaha Beach tends to be best in summer.
Also, there are currents here and it’s a bit of a swim to the good stuff. It’s worth the effort, but Makaha Beach snorkeling is best left to experienced snorkelers.
What You Might See: Live Coral, Turtles, Yellow Tang and – possibly – dolphins.
Location: 35 Miles South of Waikiki.
Skill Level: Advanced
4 – Honolua, Maui
You’ll be sharing your snorkeling with surfers at Honolua on Maui’s northwest shore, but hear me out because this is some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii. There’s a whole lot to see at Honolulu – it’s a marine life conservation area just teeming with marine life in a beautiful setting. Think butterfly fish, pufferfish (yup, the deadly sushi fish from The Simpsons), unicorn fish and sea urchins. The rocky cliffs surrounding you help keep wind down as well. The caveat? You can only snorkel at Honolua in summer.
What You Might See: Live coral and all those fish I just mentioned. Just, well, don’t bite into one of those pufferfish, as their poison is roughly 1,200 times more powerful than cyanide. I am not kidding.
Location: Maui’s Northwest Shore
Skill Level: Intermediate
5 – Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii
Your inner history buff may enjoy snorkelling at Kealakekua Bay on Hawaii (the big island). It’s here that British explorer James Cook was killed on February 14, 1779 by locals who didn’t see eye-to-eye with him. And speaking of eye-to-eye, you may spy a few spinner dolphins while snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay. Visibility is excellent too, and the water is a stunning shade of blue. With regular boat tours to help you explore the area, Kealakekua belongs on any list of the best snorkeling in Hawaii.
What You Might See: Dolphins, turtles, eels, reef sharks and rays – and a monument to some guy named James Cook who’s called this place home for the past 240 years.
Location: West coast of Hawaii (the big island), near Kona
Skill Level: All Levels
6 – Night Manta Snorkel, Hawaii
They named a place ‘Manta Village’ after Manta alfredi – the second largest manta rays on the planet with wing spans that can hit 18 feet. These mantas don’t migrate either. They live in Hawaii permanently and their underwater theatre tricks are worthy of a Cirque Du Soleil performance. You’d be a fool to be a snorkeler on Hawaii and not do the Night Manta Snorkel. Just hop on one of the nightly boat trips from Keauhou Bay and you’re good to go. It’s about 1.5 hours.
What You Might See: Arguably the best manta snorkeling experience on the planet.
Location: West coast of Hawaii (the big island) at Keauhou Bay (south of Kailua-Kona, by the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa.
Skill Level: Intermediate
7 – Makua (Tunnels) Beach, Kauai
You might think the best snorkeling in Hawaii is on the three islands we just discussed. Well it is – generally. But Kauai’s Makua Beach (also called ‘Tunnels’) is, in a word, “Stunning”. Even if you don’t snorkel, head to Makua and just lie on the beach. The rock formations, contrasted against the stunning blue water here will drop your jaw. Of course, snorkelers at Makua Beach will be handsomely rewarded too, with underwater caverns, tunnels, turtles, trumpet fish and a variety of sea creatures that put Makua near the top of best snorkeling in Hawaii.
Note you’ll want to avoid snorkeling here in winter as the waves can be a little on the freakish side – a common theme among many snorkeling beaches in Hawaii.
What You Might See: A stunning location, goatfish, hogfish, green sea turtles, moray eels, trumpet fish and more.
Location: Kauai’s north shore, off Highway 560 near Haena Beach Park
Skill Level: Beginners (Inner Reef), Advanced (Outer Reef)