The islands of Hawaii are some of the most desirable vacation destinations for Americans to travel to. This tropical haven is so desirable known for their crystal clear warm tropical waters. One of the top snorkeling destinations in the world, snorkeling in Hawaii should be at the top of your bucket list.
When planning your trip to Hawaii, be sure to bring along your own gear paying particular attention to getting a quality snorkel. With the abundance of marine life in this area and the many colorful reefs, you will likely be quite tempted to dive below the surface to get a better look.
No matter where you go in Hawaii, make sure you bring along a quality underwater camera so that you can capture all the beauty in these gorgeous turquoise waters.
Quick Answer: 8 Best Snorkeling Spots in Hawaii
- 1. Mauna Kea Beach (Kauna’oa Bay) – Big Island
- 2. Kealakekua Bay – Molokai
- 3. The City of Refuge (Honaunau) – Big Island
- 4. Kahalu’u Beach Park – Big Island
- 5. Kealakekua Bay (Captain Cook) – Big Island
- 6. Magic Sands Beach Park (La’aloa) – Big Island
- 7. Makaiwa Bay – Big Island
- 8. Honokaope Bay (49 Black Sand Beach) – Big Island
- 9. Kapoho Tide Pools – Big Island
1. Mauna Kea Beach (Kauna’oa Bay) – Big Island
This is one of the most famous snorkeling spots in all of Hawaii. It has been named Travel Channel’s world all-time best beaches list of 2004. This means it can get busy so prepare to arrive early even if you aren’t planning on spending the day here. Plan to bring along your own snorkel as it will allow you beat any lines. It is also a substantial walk from the parking lot to the beach so plan accordingly with some quality water shoes. But all of this is worth it.
The beach is picturesque. It features white sand and perfect blue water. It also has modern amenities including showers and restrooms. The Hotel also has an excellent bar and restaurants if you get hungry during the day.
If you are trying to plan where to set up for the day head towards the right side of the beach. This will give you the quickest access to the best snorkeling. You have your pick of many different spots along this side. There is a rock wall, shallows, and even canyons that you can explore.
Water varies in depth depending on where you swim. The shallows can range from 4 to 11 feet while the canyons can extend up to 30 feet deep. This makes it great for any age and skill level. Even kids can play in the water without fear.
Pro Tip: This beach is right next to the Mauna Kea Hotel which shines lights into the water which bring plankton to the area which in turn bring Manta Rays to feed on them. Even if you don’t snorkel this is one of the top sights to see in Hawaii and should be on your to-do list while on the island.
2. Kealakekua Bay – Molokai
Molokai is a real treasure of an island. With all the beauty you can expect of Hawaii and none of the tourists, this island can seem more like a secret paradise. Known as the friendly island it is rather small at a mere 38 miles long and 10 miles wide. While it may be small in size, there is plenty to see and do while here including some of the being home to some of the best snorkeling in all of Hawaii. There are many different types of reefs on this island.
The best snorkeling in all of Molokai can be found at Kealakekua Bay. While this area is only accessible by water it is easy to rent a kayak and paddle to. Your efforts will provide great rewards the moment you see this beautiful haven. Be sure to keep an eye out for dolphins traveling with you on your paddle. In this reef, you will see many colorful butterfly fish, yellow tangs, parrot fish and countless other colorful fish.
The best part of this beach: you will likely have it all to yourself. That is right, a short paddle will get you to this secluded oasis full of dolphins and many beautiful fish. The shoreline here is quite rocky which is why the reef is so healthy. Be sure to wear water socks in this area to ensure your feet stay safe.
3. The City of Refuge (Honaunau) – Big Island
This is another of the top beaches in the world. Honaunau is in a bay which makes the waters calm and has incredible visibility almost year round. Much like many snorkeling places in Hawaii this location has limited parking and no restaurants or showers. This means you should get here early and bring all the food you want to eat.
Don’t expect to have a sandy beach at this location. Instead, there are large lava rock flats that you use to enter the water. Water can range from 10 feet around the shore to over 30 feet the farther you from shore. The shallower water will be more clear giving you more ability to see the variety of fish swimming below you.
Pro Tip: This is also an excellent scuba diving locations. The center of the bay opens up to over 100 feet.
You also have the opportunity to see Hawaiian Spinner dolphins here. If they decide to come to the bay they will more than likely stay for the entire day. These dolphins like deeper water. If you stay towards the right of the bay you will have the best chance of seeing these majestic animals.
4. Kahalu’u Beach Park – Big Island
This beach is on the west side of the island in a small cove and has loads of fish for you to spot. It has restrooms, showers, and even picnic tables to eat at. A lifeguard on duty also makes this an excellent beach to bring your whole family to. You will be able to know your kids can play without constant supervision.
There is a little beach for you to enter from and has rock formations that break waves and keep waters calm. This makes Kahalu’u an excellent starting point for beginners to the sport. The water here is very shallow only maxing out at 10 feet meaning you will be able to see everything clearly as the sunlight can reach the bottom. You will be looking down to a lava rock bottom with some coral gardens. This is a great place for a full face snorkel as you will be wanting uninterrupted views of the beautiful ocean floor.
You will notice that the fish are tame and actually come to greet you as you enter the water. At low tide there are pools that you can explore, just remember that the rocks can be slippery.
If you are looking to catch a glimpse of sea turtles this is the place to do it. They love the shallow water and rocky shore. If you are exploring the rocks keep your eyes open as their shells blend in with the rocks.
5. Kealakekua Bay (Captain Cook) – Big Island
This is one of the scenic spots on the big island. There are ancient religious temples and historic monuments near this site you can also explore but are only accessible by foot or kayak.
Hiking to the monument can vary in time but is 3 kilometers (2 miles) there and back. It is not an easy hike with steep sections and not a lot of shade. Be sure to bring a lot of water and everything you need for the entire day including your snorkel gear.
The best spot to go snorkeling is directly across from the parking lot. This is the place that has the best sights or the coral. If you get there early enough you can even have a chance of seeing spinner dolphins. This is one place you will want to make sure you have a quality mask as there is so much marine life to enjoy.
6. Magic Sands Beach Park (La’aloa) – Big Island
You will be able to spend days at this beach. Not only does it have great snorkeling but also surfing, scuba diving, and even boogie boarding. The weird thing about this beach is its sand has a tendency to disappear during different tides, usually in the winter months. This causes the beach to be almost too dangerous due to exceptionally strong tides and currents.
This can be a busy beach so get here early in the day to beat the crowds. It features showers, restrooms, drinking water, a lifeguard and even volleyball nets at Magic Sands Beach Park.
The tide can be a little tricky here so it is best suited for intermediate to advanced swimmers. This is one area you will want to ensure you are wearing a life vest as the currents can get strong. There is a riptide that is particularly dangerous. It is best to talk with the lifeguard before entering the water.
7. Makaiwa Bay – Big Island
This is a small beach that is great for snorkeling and scuba diving. You can expect a white sand beach where you can set up for the day and enter the water. There are public bathrooms which you have access to at this beach. It is also great for kids and beginners as the water here is shallow and features a large reef with lots of fish.
It is in a protected bay making the waters smooth and clear. You can expect to see loads of reef fish, eels and even octopus swimming with you. On top of the great swimming and snorkeling, you can rent boats and kayaks as well. This will give you another perspective of the island and allow you to get to places you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
8. Honokaope Bay (49 Black Sand Beach) – Big Island
This is a beach where you will really get to see all the beauty of the big island. The dark grey sand is a stark contrast from the crystal clear turquoise waters. Sitting in the middle of the volcanic rim this beach is a sight to behold. With lava rock cliffs surrounding the bay, you are sure to enjoy this warm clear water.
The southern edge of this beach features shallow waters that are perfect for exploring. The northern side of this beach offers a deeper reef that is a joy to explore. Be sure to pack along your fins as you won’t want to get out of the water. If you swim to the north side, in the mouth of the bay, you will find a manta ray cleaning station. The reef here looks remarkably untouched. Healthy and full of color you are sure to enjoy the beauty here.
9. Kapoho Tide Pools – Big Island
This could be one of the best places on the island. If you are looking for a different day you should head to these tide pools. This could be one of the best places to snorkel, possibly in the world. Since there are exposed rocks it is best to wear some sort of water shoes for extra traction and protection from the hot rocks.
The Kapoho Tide Pools are situated in a bay that provides sheltered from waves and surf. They are literally pools that are carved out of lava rock from tides. They aren’t like small regular tide pools – they are wide and deep enough for many people to swim in. Water is hotter than in the ocean and can even reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).
This is a great place for intermediate swimmers. The tide can be tricky during changing tides. It is best to come during high tide so you can easily swim in the tide pools. There are even coral and fish living inside some of the bigger pools. You can expect to see grouper and loads of reef fish swimming around this area.
This island provides some of the best diving in the world. Even though some of these sites may be hard to get to, the diving will be exceptional. With unspoiled healthy reefs and plenty of colorful fish, you are sure to enjoy your snorkeling experience in this area. While you may feel like you do not need a wetsuit in these warm waters, a thin shortie style wetsuit will help protect you from the harsh sun and the many corals in these waters.
Did your favorite Hawaiian snorkeling spot make it on our list? Tell us about it in the comments below.