The Hawaiian islands offer unparalleled snorkeling opportunities with their crystal-clear waters teeming with sea life in and around the coral reefs. Whether swimming with turtles during the day or with giant manta rays at night, there is surely something exciting for everyone to experience. In fact, each island offers unique snorkeling adventures with an array of marine life to see. In this article, we help you discover the 26 best snorkeling beaches in Hawaii.
Snorkeling here offers a glimpse into the world of hawksbill turtles, spotted eagle rays, reef fish, and coral structures. This natural 30-mile fringing reef is located about a mile offshore, as such access is only by boat or kayak. During the months of December through March make sure to watch the migrating whales from the shore.
Underwater lava formations on the southern coast of Maui provide a perfect home for a variety of marine life. As a result, such creatures as sea turtles, trumpet fish, butterfly fish, parrot fish, eagle rays, angelfish, octopus, and moray eels call this home. In fact, the coral reef at Turtle Town, on the southern end of Maluaka Beach, is estimated to be 1,500 years old, the largest on the islands. Manta rays and small reef sharks may also be seen in the area.
Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park—Big Island
Twelve miles south of Kona near the Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay is one of the most famous kayaking and snorkeling areas in the world. Furthermore, it is the largest natural bay on the island with flourishing corals found in every direction. Past the rocky point, the waters become deep and there are channel currents and rough tides. This is home to tropical fish, rays, reef sharks, eels, sea turtles, and sometimes spinner dolphins.
Night Manta Snorkel—Big Island
While we discover the best snorkeling beaches in Hawaii consider this unique experience. Take a tour to swim with the manta rays found off the coast of the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort and Spa. Since their wingspan is up to 12 feet and they weigh around 1,000 pounds, take precautions when swimming nearby. Tour operators attract manta rays to the plankton they feed on with illumination in the night.
Poipu Beach Park—Kauai
Some of the inhabitants of these waters are devil scorpion fish, triggerfish, parrot fish, and sea turtles. For example, Brennecke’s Beach one of the beaches in the area, offers a calm place to view a variety of fish. Additionally, the area at Koloa Landing near Whaler’s Cove Resort boasts large coral heads which are home to a variety of marine life.
Some of the best snorkeling on the north shore include these locations:
- Turtle Bay: where you can swim with green sea turtles
- Kaunala Gulch: to see spotted eagle rays
- Malaekahana Beach: home of green turtles, tropical fish, and Goat Island a protected offshore seabird sanctuary
- Mokuleia Beach Park: a shallow reef rich in marine life
- Waimea Bay: in the Pūpūkea Marine Life Conservation District rich with coral reefs, tropical fish, and spinner dolphins
Tunnels (Makua) Beach—Kauai
Explore the coral reefs at Haena State Park. Unusual rock formations and large coral heads are filled with reef triggerfish, parrotfish, and arc-eyed hawkfish. Additionally, there are monk seals found resting on the beach.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve—Oahu
The bay is protected by vertical crater walls formed in a volcanic cone east of Honolulu at nearby Koko Head. This reef ensures tranquil waters ideal for snorkeling and swimming. Hundreds of species of coral and fish such as butterflyfish, moray eels, sea turtles, spinner dolphins, and octopus inhabit the reef.
This sheltered bay is part of the Honolua-Mokule’ia Bay Marine Life Conservation District and is one of the places to discover the best snorkeling beaches in Hawaii. To get to the reef swim about a half mile out from shore to experience the marine life here such as sea turtles, sea cucumbers, urchins, zoanthid, and coral.
Shallow tide pools dot this crescent-shaped bay located between Manele Bay and the Four Seasons Resort Lanai. Within these tide pools are small fish, sea stars, and hermit crabs. Explore the depths to find such marine life as healthy coral reefs, spinner dolphins, Hawaiian spiny lobster, sea cucumber, and bandit angelfish. Humpback whales winter here so be sure to watch for them.
Off Maui’s south shore, this rare partially submerged volcanic islet is one of three in the world. It is also a Marine Life Conservation District Seabird Sanctuary. The crescent shape offers 150-foot visibility with nearly 250 species of fish and 38 species of coral. Inhabitants here include moray eels, reef sharks, and octopus. Humpback whales migrate here during the winter months.
Located between Honokahua Bay and Oneloa Bay, snorkeling at Kapalua Bay offers a bounty of tropical fish. Here you will find such species as cornet fish, hawkfish, porcupine fish, goatfish, triggerfish, chub, damsel fish, parrot fish, and butterfly fish. Drive time from Kahului Airport to Kapalua Bay is about 60 minutes.
Kumimi Beach (Murphy’s Beach)—Molokai
This large reef located near the town of Kaunakakai is home to eels, rays, and turtles. As you discover the best snorkeling beaches in Hawaii, you will find the best time to snorkel here is mid-high tide.
This series of tide pools is a great place for beginners and children. They can explore without the dangers of the open waters. Shark’s Cove is located on the south shore between Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline. Large smooth boulders and coral heads form small ledges and caves for fish to hide. Some of the fish here include butterfly fish, eels, parrot fish, damselfish, surgeonfish, mullet, tang, big eye, and triggerfish.
The coral flats are scattered with large rocks and shallow water and protected by a natural rock barrier. This a great spot for kids and beginners to snorkel. Fish here include needlefish, butterfly fish, parrot fish, porcupine fish, damselfish, unicorn fish, Moorish idol, big eye, tang, box fish, and wrasse. The white sand beach is east of the nearby Turtle Bay Resort on the north shore.
Reachable only by boat, book a tour to get there from nearby Waikiki Beach. Turtle Canyons is about 1.5 miles from shore and is a hotspot to view sea turtles as well as wrasse, tangs, angelfish, and damselfish. Indeed, the fish have a symbiotic relationship with the turtles who eat the algae off their shells. Other inhabitants include spinner dolphins and humpback whales (in the winter months.) Hawaiian sea turtles are a threatened species therefore please stay at least 10 feet away from them to avoid a fine.
Manta Ray Village—Big Island
For those with previous experience snorkeling and an interest in a nighttime adventure, the Big Island offers manta ray tours. Manta rays feed on the plankton illuminated by lights operated by tour boat operators. Manta Ray Village is located at Keauhou Bay six miles south of Kailua-Kona.
Mauna Kea Beach—Oahu
Located on the Kohala Coast, Mauna Kea Beach is north of Kona and Waikoloa. The calm waters are a great place for kids and experienced snorkelers and the clarity is unparalleled. Rocky outcroppings are home to many species of fish on both ends of the beach. Other marine life in the area includes zoanthid pillow, banded coral shrimp, and black-lipped pearl oyster.
Honaunau Bay—Big Island
This deep-water bay on the south Kona coast is about 45 minutes from downtown Kailua-Kona and is a popular snorkeling destination. This beautiful coral reef is home to tropical fish, an occasional sea turtle, and sometimes spinner dolphins. Waves crash on arched lava rock formations, with coves and blowholes dotting the coastline.
South Kona—Big Island
On the Big Island, there are many places to snorkel in the South Kona area which include Pu’u Ohau (Red Hill) and Pali Kaholo. Pu’u Ohau is north of Kealakekua Bay between Nenue Point and Keawakaheka Bay. This red volcanic cone is known for its rare marine life and coral gardens and is only accessible by boat. In South Kealakekua Bay, Pali Kaholo offers two spots to snorkel, Rob’s Reef offering underwater arches and sea caves, and Turtle Rock frequented by sea turtles.
At the top of Kauai’s north shore, underneath the Napali Coast cliffs lies this sheltered beach. During winter months the currents are strong and caution is advised. Here you will see a variety of fish on the reef crest including sea turtles.
Located on the south shore of the island near Poipu, is Lawai Beach also called Beach House Beach after the restaurant of the same name. This small bay has a protective reef about 500 feet from the shore that houses a variety of fish and a few large coral heads. Other marine life in the area includes urchins and sea cucumbers.
Na Pali Coast—Kauai
On Kauai’s most northern point is Nualolo Kai Beach, accessible only by hiking or boat. The area is rich in history, for example, ancient petroglyphs can be found all over the beach. The clear waters offer a view of many tropical fish, sea turtles, dolphins, and a variety of coral.
Makaha Beach Park—Oahu
Located on the west coast of the island near the town of Makaha are 40-foot-deep underwater arches, tunnels, and caverns. Some of the marine life here include dolphins, sergeants, eels, manta and eagle rays, tang, octopus, coral, and sea turtles. When the waves are up it is also a popular surfing spot.
This 2.4-mile beach shaded by Kamani trees on the north shore of Kauai has a barrier reef protecting its shallow bay. These calm waters are perfect for beginners as well as experienced snorkelers. The coral reef is filled with colorful fish, sea turtles, and an occasional giant manta ray.
Kahaluu Beach Park—Big Island
Near Kailua Kona, Kahaluu Beach Park is rich in cultural history and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The reef here is home to dozens of fish species as well as sea turtles, eels, sea urchins, and octopus.
Discover the 26 Best Snorkeling Beaches in Hawaii
|Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park
|Night Manta Snorkel
|Poipu Beach Park
|Tunnels (Makua) Beach
|Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
|Kumimi Beach (Murphy’s Beach)
|Manta Ray Village
|Mauna Kea Beach
|Na Pali Coast
|Makaha Beach Park
|Kahaluu Beach Park
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Miroslav Halama/Shutterstock.com
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