The island of Kauai is unlike any island you have been to before. The least developed of all the Hawaiian islands, it has been the backdrop to many Hollywood films. Nicknamed “the garden isle” this island is known for being remarkably untouched and left to its pristine and wild glory. The land is full of lush jungles and a surprising amount of free roaming chickens. But heading below the water’s surface is where you are bound to be really impressed.
Snorkeling in Kauai offers some of the most untouched and beautiful sights that you will ever see. With flourishing reefs full of colorful coral and lots of fish you will want to make sure you have your waterproof camera with you at all times. There are many different snorkeling spots scattered around this island that are not to be missed. As this island is largely undeveloped, some of these places can be quite difficult to get to. The trade-off for your efforts is that you will likely not face crowds on this island and in some cases, you may even feel like you have found yourself a completely private oasis.
Quick Answer: 8 Best Snorkeling Spots in Kauai
1. Nu’alolo Kai
This is one of the most beautiful places on Kauai, but also one of the least accessible. It is encompassed by a 2300 foot cliff that makes land entry not possible. But, if you are the adventurous kind, you can rent kayaks and paddle to this slice of paradise. Keep in mind that landing a boat on the beach is prohibited but you are able to anchor offshore and swim in. This may seem like more effort than it is worth, trust us it will definitely be worth it.
This beach is the definition of private. Since it is so difficult to reach it sees nearly no people. There is also an archeological site not far from here that is worth exploring as well. If you search the area you can also find some petroglyphs. This is a great place to bring your gear package as there are no rentals on site.
Much like other dive sites throughout Hawaii, this place features crystal clear water and lots of fish and coral. The best time to snorkel here is in the morning as the winds pick up later in the day. You should plan your visit in months from April to September when the weather is ideal.
The reef off the coast of the beach is large and provides loads of sea life. If you head to the north part of the beach you may even be able to see some Monk Seals playing in the water.
2. Ke’e Beach
Situated along the North Shore, Kee Beach is an excellent snorkeling destination. This spot is at the end of a road and has toilets and showers. It is recommended that intermediate snorkelers take to this beach. Beginners and kids can have a hard time with the currents at this beach. With that being said, there is a lagoon where kids can play without worry.
Pro Tip: We suggest swimming along the right side of the reef as there is a rip tide to the left.
There is a barrier reef that houses many sea animals including balistes, papillons, turtles and even a white tipped reef shark. Waters can be quite shallow over the reef ranging from 2 to 10 feet deep. There is no lifeguard on duty so take care and make sure that you are wearing a life vest. This is also a remote site with no restaurant nearby so pack any food or drink you will need throughout the day.
3. Tunnels Beach (Makua)
This is one of the best and largest snorkeling on the island. Like most of Kauai, the best time to snorkel is in the summer months as it sees calmer surf. This beach does not have any restaurants nearby or have public toilets or showers. Also, parking is limited so be sure to get here early if you are wanting to stay for the entire day. There are actually two places to snorkel at this beach. They both have entries that are from sandy beaches but vary in level of difficulty.
The one snakes along the shore is great for beginners. It features water that runs from 3 feet in its shallowest part to 20 feet at the end of the coral. You can see parrotfish, tang and hawkfish to name a few. Hawaiian Monk Seals are known to soak up the rays from the beach. Like its name implies you can swim through tunnels in the coral, just be careful not to disturb it.
Another reef has a horseshoe shape and creates a protected lagoon to swim in. This area is a bit of a swim from shore and is great for intermediate swimmers. Waters here can range from 3 to 40 feet in depth so it is important to be aware of your surroundings. Do not swim on the outside of the reef as the current is strong and can pull you.
4. Hideaways Beach
Aptly named this snorkel haven has so much to offer with only one catch. Getting to this beach is not for the faint of heart. A true hidden gem you will have to trek a steep trail and enter only on foot to get to this beach. You will know you have reached your destination as soon as you see the beautifully clear turquoise blue waters. A true slice of paradise, this beach isn’t heavily frequented which means you will feel like you found yourself on a private island.
This spot offers instant rewards as the reef sits in fairly shallow water. We recommend a full face mask as you will want uninterrupted views of the reef. You can practice your free dives with the many deep pockets nestled into the reef. Full of things to explore and countless fish swimming all around you this will quickly become a favorite diving spot.
Pro Tip: Be sure to do your research to find a quality snorkel before heading to this spot. You wouldn’t want to brave the steep trail only to have a snorkel malfunction.
5. Koloa Landing
Koloa Landing is located on the south side of the island. This is one of the few locations that is ideal to swim in the winter.
You will be surprised to find out that there is no beach at this spot. In fact, you will be launching from an old boat ramp. Since this can be a slippery entrance you should consider getting a pair of water shoes for added traction. But that doesn’t mean the snorkeling is bad, just the opposite.
This snorkel site is suited for intermediate or advanced divers. It is rocky in this spot and even the shore has large boulders making it difficult to exit the water quickly. The water here can range from 4 to 19 feet and since it isn’t in a defined cove it can get deep quickly. You will be able to see lots of fish and even some turtles and the occasional ray. Stick to the left side of the launch site for the best coral.
6. Lawai Beach
This is a great snorkeling destination for those with some experience snorkeling as it is protected by a barrier reef. Be sure to grab your fins and prepare to do some swimming as the visibility gets much better the farther out towards the reef you go. The coral in the reef is much healthier and more rewarding as well making this a great spot for every skill level.
While this area does get crowded, the views are well worth it. The busyness can be attributed to the ease of access but luckily the beach is large enough to accommodate the crowd. Be sure to notice for weather changes as this area is prone to high winds which can lead to some choppy water.
While you can enter the water in bare feet, it is a bit rocky so you may want to wear some water socks for added protection. There are many snorkel tours offered at this beach for beginners and families that will tour you around the waters.
7. Poipu Beach Park
This treasure of a spot is found on the south side of the island. This is one of the busiest sought-after spots on our list so make sure you grab your mask and head to the water early. One of the biggest attractions of this area is the pristine white sandy beach. Made popular by the Travel Channel announcing it as one of “America’s best beaches”.
This beach actually consists of two different beaches leaving much to be explored. Normally quite calm waters this is an ideal spot for beginners. The north side of the beach is referred to as Poipu Beach and is on the smaller side. With most of the ocean floor being covered in sand, this is a great spot to dive below the surface with your dry snorkel and practice your free dive skills. There are some rocks on the far right side that offer some coral to look at and quite a few fish. This beach is frequented by rare monk seals that enjoy baking on the hot sand.
Head over to the south side, referred to as South Shore and you will find more people. While it is more populated, it is also much more beautiful. Here is where you will really want to snorkel, you will quickly understand why Hawaii is home to some of the best snorkeling in the world. From the moment your toes hit the water you will be surrounded by fish. Years of tourists have left these fish no longer afraid of human contact. Instead, you will notice the fish swarming around you as you snorkel. In addition to the wide variety of fish, sea turtles frequent these waters so be sure to keep your eyes peeled.
Pro Tip: This is one spot that you will want to wake up early for in order to beat the crowds. We promise the snorkeling will be well worth it.
8. Anini Beach
This is a great place to learn the ins and outs of snorkeling. There are restrooms, showers and even picnic areas for you to enjoy your day at. You can even get lucky and have a food truck roll into the parking lot so keep your eyes open for that. This isn’t a busy beach so you can spread out and bring your big blanket.
The shore has a gradual slope which makes this great for children as well. Be prepared to swim here in the morning as it can get choppy and windy later in the day. You can spend the morning in the water and the afternoon relaxing on the beach and splashing in the waves.
There are great places to explore at this beach but are a bit of a swim to find. Head straight out from the parking lot and bathrooms for the best sights though. The water is quite shallow here, especially during low tide, so you can feel confident with your children playing in the water.
Kauai is one of the most unique places in America. Full of lush jungle and not a huge tourist scene this is a great place for those who love outdoor activities. While the land is unbelievably beautiful and full of all untouched havens, the water is no different. A great place to take up scuba diving, you will be absolutely amazed by all the beauty you see underwater. Be sure to come prepared for your trip as you will likely want to spend all of your time enjoying the immense amount of life under the sea.
Have you ever visited the island of Kauai and explored their beautifully untouched reefs? Share your experiences with us in the comment section below.