Hawaii is an ocean paradise coveted for its calm crystal clear waters, epic surf breaks, and abundant, brightly colored marine life and coral. This is why we rank it one of the best destinations for snorkeling in the world. Deciding where to snorkel on this idyllic Pacific Ocean island is the hard part, there are so many stunning snorkeling spots, it’s hard to narrow down. But we tried. Enjoy our guide to snorkeling in Hawaii whether you’re a beginner or a die-hard ocean fan.
Snorkeling Masterclass: If you’ve never snorkeled before, Hawaii is the perfect location thanks to its calm waters and excellent visibility. Snorkeling is a fantastic way to get out and experience marine life without having to go through the steps of becoming scuba certified (if you’re interested here are our favorite places to learn to dive). Unlike many other aquatic activities, being a strong swimmer is not a requirement for most snorkeling trips. If you choose to wear a life vest and float along at your leisure that is totally okay. All of the places on this list will offer you the opportunity to use the basic snorkeling gear including a mask, snorkel, and a set of fins. A few things to keep in mind before hopping in the water for your first time. Check to be sure both the mask and the fins fit securely. Nothing derails the experience faster than a mask filled with water. Secondly, you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience if you pick a spot where you can easily see fish or coral. Luckily, snorkeling in Hawaii makes the second one a cinch.
Snorkeling in the Big Island
Night Manta Snorkel
Snorkeling at night isn’t common, but that’s what makes the Night Manta Snorkel experience so much more exciting and unforgettable. A tour guide will illuminate your way with waterproof lights that inspire the plankton to follow the light along the ocean floor which in turn attracts the manta rays. These amazing sea creatures have wingspans of up to 20 feet and can weigh 3000 pounds so they are truly a sight to behold. Marvel as the manta rays feed on plankton and do flips under the water, swimming up close enough for you to touch them, but we recommend you don’t.
Book A Tour: Watch the manta rays glide through the water on this nighttime tour and enjoy a beautiful Hawaiian sunset on your boat ride to the snorkeling location.
Where to Stay: The Fairmont Orchid, is a luxury resort along the Kohala Coast set on 32 acres of tropical gardens with waterfalls, a private beach, and a lagoon.
Snorkeling in Molokai
On the southern coast of Molokai, you’ll find Fringing Reef, a 30-mile stretch filled with natural, unspoiled coral and wildlife that is perfect for snorkeling. The reef’s crest, almost a mile offshore, protects the reef from damage caused by human interaction. In the interests of preserving this natural wonder and because of its hard to access from the shore location travel to the reef is by boat or kayak. The best time to plan your visit is December through March as it’s whale watching season so you might be lucky and spot one of these magnificent ocean giants.
Book A Tour: For beginners, we recommend taking a guided tour as your instructor can point out the best places to see unspoiled coral, reef fish, and other marine life including hawksbill turtles and spotted eagle rays.
Where to Stay: Hotel Moloka’i has oriented their guest rooms from east to west so you can feel the trade winds and hear the soothing sounds of the ocean. As a bonus, you can even snorkel directly from the hotel.
Snorkeling in Maui
As you can guess by the name Turtle Town will indeed provide you with an up-close encounter with a ton of Hawaiin green sea turtles, along with angelfish, moray eels, and octopus. Located between Nahuna Point and Black Sand Beach in the southern district of Makena, underwater lava formations caused by eruptions from submarine volcanoes create the perfect home for the turtles. The sea is super calm here as it’s hidden behind the mountain of Haleakala preventing the water from being disturbed by tradewinds, creating the perfect conditions for snorkelers of all levels.
Book A Tour: Book a tour via Get Your Guide which includes kayaking on and snorkeling in Makena Bay and learning about the island of Maui and its rich culture.
Where to Stay: The Four Seasons Resort at Wailea is an oceanfront resort with three pools (one of which is adults-only), six restaurants, and a curated lineup of activities from helicopter rides to an organic fruit farm and whale watching with an underwater photographer and marine experts.
A marine life conservation area, Honolua Bay is known for its diverse and abundant sea creatures. The area is sheltered from the wind by the rocky cliffs surrounding the cove, making it the perfect snorkeling location. Here you can expect to see butterflyfish, blue striped snapper (or ta’ape), pufferfish, unicornfish, sea urchins, and plenty of bright beautiful coral. And yes, more sea turtles. Aside from snorkeling, Honolua Bay has one of Hawaii’s best surf breaks.
Book A Tour: The best time to visit is May through September when it’s almost guaranteed the bay won’t have much surf but plenty of sea turtles. Book a tour with Sail Trilogy which includes a visit and snorkel of Honolua Bay, sail to another snorkeling site, food, and drinks.
Where to Stay: The Westin Maui Resort and Spa, Ka’anapali, steps from the Pacific Ocean and with a backdrop of volcanic mountains is a luxury resort and spa with five restaurants and surfing experiences.
Snorkeling in Kauai
Poipu Beach Park
Meet Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a at Poipu Beach Park, a snorkeling site in a shallow-water lagoon that’s perfect for all levels. During whale season, see them breaching the water off in the distance and find lounging monk seals on the shore (don’t go too close as these beauties are an endangered species). The crescent-shaped beach also has picnic areas for a post-snorkel lunch and wide stretches of beach for lazing under the Kauaian sun.
Book A Tour: At Poipu Beach Park there’s no need to book a tour. Grab your snorkeling gear from Nukumoi Surf Co. and head straight into the sea. Just be careful to avoid touching the coral.
Where to Stay: Marriott’s Waiohai Beach Club is a luxury villa-style resort with four pools and one of the best snorkeling spots right out front.
Tunnels (Makua) Beach
For beginner snorkeling, the inner reef at Tunnels (Makua) Beach is a dream come true thanks to its strange rock formations, caverns, tunnels, and large coral heads. In these formations, you’ll be able to see goatfish, hogfish, sea turtles, moray eels, and trumpet fish. The outer reef is best for advanced snorkelers who can handle stronger wave conditions. That said, this snorkeling site is best visited outside of the winter months since the waves can be rough making it better conditions for surfers than snorkelers.
Book A Tour: Rent your snorkeling gear at Hanalei Surf Co., a few miles away in the town of Hanalei, and dive right in.
Where to Stay: Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu, Autograph Collection, located on the South Shore of Kauai, offers sunny beaches, hiking, surfing, golf, tennis, and horseback riding, perfect for the adventurer. You can even book a snorkeling or scuba diving tour through the hotel’s concierge.
Snorkeling in Oahu
North Shore – Sharks Cove
Oahu’s North Shore is known to be one of the best locations for snorkeling. Unlike the other sites, you’ll see Galapagos sharks, tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, hammerheads, and sometimes even whale sharks. Don’t worry, they don’t bite. Marine life hides in the small caves and ledges formed by large boulders and coral heads found on the bottom floor. Beginnings are best to start in the tide pool as it’s shallower, has warmer water and a sandy seafloor then once you’ve found you’ve got your groove venture out into the deeper waters of the cove itself, to see all the amazing marine life.
Book A Tour: This tour extends beyond snorkeling to a complete island adventure with visits to beaches all along the North Shore, stops at local restaurants, hiking, paddle boarding, and kayaking.
Where to Stay: The Four Seasons Oahu at Ko Olina has vast ocean views, a golf course that weaves through waterfalls, and the Naupaka Spa and Wellness Center.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
Sheltered from ocean swells and filled with many species of fish, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a marine life conservation area located in a volcanic crater on the east side of Oahu. With a calm shoreline, you can wade into the water with no difficulty, even if it’s your first time snorkeling. Once you make it over the coral reef, you can peek your head into the caves and hidden spaces where the fish swim happily, oblivious to the many snorkelers who regularly inhabit their home.
Book A Tour: Take a snorkeling tour to a secluded location away from other snorkelers to Waimea Bay from Haleiwa through Get Your Guide.
Where to Stay: Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach offers panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, Diamond Head, and cityscape from your suite. It is also home to one of the most Instagrammable infinity pools with a gorgeous deck, private cabanas, tiered daybeds, and firepits.
Snorkeling in Lanai
Home to hermit crabs, sea stars, and small fish, Hulopoe Bay is a crescent-shaped bay with shallow tide pools. You’ll frequently find spinner dolphins and sea turtles at this snorkeling site. In the winter, you may even run into whales and spot Hawaiin green sea turtles. The tide pools are carved out of volcanic rock and produce calm conditions for snorkeling. As a protected site, it’s extra important to leave all creatures and formations in their place. Similar to the other locations, the best time to visit is in summer when the surf isn’t as rough.
Book A Tour: Lanai Ocean Sports offer a luxurious sailboat ride to top snorkeling sites.
Where to Stay: Four Seasons Resort Lanai, set right on the bay is perfect for snorkelers. Take strolls through the botanical gardens, indulge in Japanese fare at NOBU LANAI on property, and lounge by the lagoon-style pools.