If you haven’t been snorkeling in Hawaii, there are some excellent spots to go – some of them off the well beaten trail. Frequent and expert snorkelers consider Hawaii to have some of the absolute best water in the world for seeing marine animals and plants. The water can be crystal clear, and the diversity of bio-life – just astounding. Below I cover two of the best snorkeling areas of Hawaii!
I love snorkeling, and yet, I cannot stomach the idea of diving. I’ve been swimming since I was 5 years old in a big YMCA swimming pool. I learned the right way to swim, and I experimented a lot to swim in all sorts of ways. I competed in triathlons with swimming events. I surf, bodyboard, bodysurf, free dive and snorkel. I won’t ever go diving.
Why won’t I dive in Hawaii or elsewhere? Two reasons…
1. I saw a “Faces of Death” movie while in Hawaii. In it, a few divers were down and videotaping a school of barracuda. One of the barracuda veers toward the camera and literally rips the face off the guy with the video camera. He ended up with hundreds of stitches attempting to repair the damage. It was horrific. In Maui, while snorkeling, a two feet long barracuda bit the guy next to me in the arm – his arm was instantly shredded. Sharks, and barracuda while I’m deep underwater diving and need to come up slowly to avoid the bends? No thanks.
2. I don’t like the idea of relying on a contraption to feed me oxygen. I wouldn’t go up into space either.
Snorkeling is much different than diving – I feel much safer with a snorkel in my mouth. I can snorkel all day long, and have, in some of the most pristine areas I never knew existed prior to finding the spot while driving around one of the Hawaiian islands. When I snorkel or free dive – I feel free. Free of apparatus that must work 100% correctly in order for me to continue breathing oxygen. Free of the dozens of pounds of SCUBA equipment weighing me down. When snorkeling I’m free to move faster and more fluidly.
The Most Well Known Snorkeling Spot in Hawaii?
Hanauma Bay snorkeling on the island of Oahu is the most well-known area, and is definitely among the top 100 places in the world to splash around in your snorkeler’s gear for a few hours. Hanauma is great for families with kids and great for those that are not strong swimmers or that feel confident to swim in the deeper water without a float.
If you are on Oahu, I wrote an intro on Hanauma and snorkeling here, and a big, information packed article about snorkeling at Hanauma Bay here.
Snorkel with someone, you never know when one-off unfortunate event might occur – and another person can literally save the day.
Where is the Best Snorkeling in Hawaii?
I am partial to the island of Maui when it comes to snorkeling. I think it has the best snorkeling of all the Hawaiian islands.
I will start with my all-time favorite place to snorkel…
Honolua Bay, Maui
Honolua Bay is a protected conservation area on the west side of Maui island, Hawaii. Marine species – both flora and fauna are at their most diverse at this little bay. The reason? Fishing or collecting of marine species of any kind is prohibited and the penalties are steep. There are a couple of good snorkeling tours that come to Honolua Bay, but you can also just drive over yourself and park just off the side of the road, and walk through the forest for 100 meters or so – arriving in no time at snorkelers paradise!
When I first visited Honolua Bay I was living on Maui and we were just driving around the western side of the island to see what we might find. We saw about 4 cars parked on the side of the road after coming down a short, steep incline. We parked too and followed the path toward the Pacific Ocean.
When we got there we were treated to a wide vista – maybe 100 meters wide bay, surrounded by steep, lava-made rocks and dirt. The beach has thousands of large rocks covering it – and it would not be a great place to layout on soft fluttery sand, but, it’s a perfect place for snorkeling. We didn’t have our equipment that day, but watched some others snorkel both on the snorkeling tours and those that drove themselves and saved $50 a person.
There are many ways to easily spend your money on Maui, but, if you’re cheap like me – you’ll drive to Honolua Bay for your snorkeling!
When we did finally get over to this bay with our masks, snorkels, and fins, we we overwhelmed by the different fish we saw. If you head straight out from where the forest path meets the ocean, you’ll have some muddy water to get through for a while before you get to the open, deeper water around 20 feet deep in some places, where most of the cool fish and other marine life are found.
Some people head to the right side of the bay – there is a lot of coral over on the right – just under the surface. Visitors can walk over the dangerous rocks to enter the water on the right hand side of the bay – but, I think it’s nicer to swim over. Risking a cut foot before I enter the water, or on exit – is not my idea of fun!
What Marine Life Will You See?
I have seen many fish I didn’t recognize by name, and barracuda, octopus, puffer fish, peacock bass, mullet, jack crevalle (Ulua), bright green and turquoise colored parrot fish, surgeon fish, moray eels, trigger fish, Humuhumunukunukukuapua’a (Rhinecanthus rectangulus) – Hawaii’s state fish (once again since reinstatement 5/2/2006).
There are no changing rooms, restrooms, or vendors in the area so bring what you need, and she-she in the forest if need be. You’ll see the catamarans and trimarans bringing tour groups to the bay – they always park on the right side where it’s a little deeper and where the best fish can be seen. Definitely head over to the right side and see the best Honolua has to offer.
Getting to the bay on your own is easy – just follow Highway 30 – Honoapi’ilani Highway in western Maui past Napili traveling north and west, and go about 1/2 mile past mile marker 32.
Best Hawaii Snorkeling Spot #2, “Molokini”
There is a small, crescent moon shaped island just about 3 miles off the coast of south-central Maui near Makena State Park, and 4.5 miles from Kaho’olawe island, called, “Molokini”. This is also one of my favorite snorkeling places to go on Maui, but honestly I prefer Honolua Bay as mentioned above, because it is free – I don’t need to pay a tour boat to take me out. That counts for a lot because when living in, or visiting Hawaii – I am always cost conscious. I’m cheap – OK?
There are advantages to taking a tour boat out to various spots to snorkel, if you’re interested in hearing them there is more information about “Why Take a Tour Boat in Hawaii“ here.
Molokini is not a habitable island, there is nobody that lives there, actually it is against state law to step up on the land there. It is big enough to provide shelter from the wind and waves that can tear up a snorkeling spot, which makes it ideal. Actually the bay is well protected and the water has been called the most crystal clear water in Hawaii for snorkeling. That’s really saying something!
How clear is it?
Brace yourself… up to a couple hundred feet of visibility on the good days!
Molokini is actually the rim of a volcano protruding out of the water slightly in the Alalakeiki channel close to Maui and Kaho’olawe islands – just enough to block waves and a lot of wind.
There is no fishing or collecting of wildlife allowed at this Hawaii State protected area.
While you can see all the marine species I mentioned above at this location, a friend saw a Hawaiian Monk Seal – a protected species, up on the volcano rim. I have seen a whale shark, and of course humpback whales and porpoises on the boat ride out to the crater.
Tip – it can be cold in the winter, both on the boat trip out to the spot – and while snorkeling you might chill quickly. Bring long-sleeves if that is the case, especially if the sky is overcast during a cool winter’s day.
Map of Molokini Island (click to enlarge)
Below is an excellent video compiled from a few different Hawaii snorkeling trips. There are Hawaiian sea turtles, dolphins, and many other kinds of fish. If you watch one video about snorkeling in Hawaii – watch this one.
That looks so lovely I could jump in right this very minute! I was looking for a place to take my kids that wasn’t the same as Hanauma bay or Molokini, this seems maybe to be perfect for us, thank you! Aloha!!