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Hawaii is known for it’s underwater beauty, and snorkeling has become one of the most popular activities for Hawaii Vacations to try out while on island. It’s safe, easy, extremely affordable, and offers a fun and new experience every time you find a need snorkeling spot. Many people want to come to Hawaii and explore the ocean life of the tropics, complete with colorful schools of fish, turtles, and even dolphins. However, it’s important to know the best places for snorkeling because that way, you maximize your adventure. Finding a snorkel spot that is vibrant with life is key to the underwater experience, so we’re going to give you our top 5 picks of the best snorkeling in Hawaii.
My first highlight is on the garden island of Kauai. Known as Hawaii’s oldest island, this landmass of greenery is notorious for its untouched reefs and secluded snorkeling spots. While most Kauai guide books will lead you to the typical places like Ke’e or Tunnels Beach, or Poipu Beach, I’m going to tell you a lesser known place, located on the south side of Kauai down Lawai Beach Road. Next to The Beach House Restaurant and beaching PK’s (Prince Kuhio) surf break is a small sandy cove known as Lawai Beach. The beach butts up against a natural lava wall, so it is relatively away from the traffic, however, it is located on a popularly traversed road. I like this snorkeling spot best because of the array of underwater life you inevitably see. Humus, clown fish, angel fish, puffer fish, schools of silver fish, electric colors of purple, blue, and yellow, wana, pencil urchin, manta rays, turtles, eels, the life is endless! I also like this beach because it’s small and cove-like, making it a safe swimming zone with calm waters and protected shorelines. This is my favorite place to snorkel on Kauai, and you’ll soon see why.
Oahu has abundant reefs and many incredible snorkeling spots. Places like Hanauma Bay and Waikiki have become world-famous, but I’m not going to recommend something because of its popularity. I’ll only give recommendations of what I truly feel is the top snorkeling spot on island, and my Oahu choice is Shark’s Cove on the north shore. Not only is this place an underwater playground of caves, tunnels, and reef structures unlike anywhere else, it’s also a marine preserve, which means the fish and turtles are abundant. This cove is also great because it has two sides to it, the shallow, wading area (where you can see schools of fish, great for young kids), and the deeper side where the fish varieties are endless and the turtles are everywhere. With easy access and plenty of parking, Shark’s Cove is a very loved place of the locals. You can expect just as many locals as you can tourists, and this is because it provides a large swimming area for everyone to enjoy. If you’re brave, you can traverse the outer parts that drop down to 30 feet, where you’ll likely see large green sea turtles, big uluas, and plenty of scuba pers. This is honestly a place where you can spend hours at, so make sure to get your fill of snorkeling here at Shark’s Cove.
On the west side of Maui there is a famous surf break known as Honolua Bay. During the summer months however, there is no surf to be seen for miles, and this bay becomes a calm protected area for swimmers and snorkelers. I recommend starting from the left side of the bay (facing the water) and swimming across the waters to the right side, against the cliff. This way you can see the fish that swim around the middle of the bay as well as the coral and reef dwellers that hang around the cliffside. You’ll see an abundance of baby fish that hide amongst the coral heads, calling this their home until they grow big enough to swim the open seas. This makes for colorful sights of many types of fish, not to mention larger species like aku and ulua. Bait balls of opelu are sometimes visible during the summer months, with large electric blue and yellow ulua corralling the smaller fish. Many catamarans will drop anchor near shore here, and once out of the silty shores, the visibility is great. The only downside to this spot is that there is no sand on the beach, only big round lava rocks. But if you need a place to lie down, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that rocks are quite comfortable. Plus, there’s a large sandy beach just south of Honolua Bay, just in case you need some beach time.
One of the best features of this next snorkel spot on Big Island is its black sand beach entrance. Kahaluu Beach Park is 5.5 miles from Kailua-Kona and calm enough for snorkeling nearly year round. Its shallow waters make for a safe snorkeling experience, and the schools of fish are extremely tame, swimming close to you than normal fish to investigate for food. There is colorful coral, vibrant schools of fish, and green sea turtles that call these waters home, so you’re likely to have an incredible adventure out at this spot. Known to be one of the best on Big Island, Kahaluu has over 100 species of fish swimming around, as well as underwater rock formations and plenty of reefs for underwater habitats. Access is easy to this beach, and you can swim straight off the blank sand beach. As with any snorkeling spot, make sure to be cautious of wana (urchin), as their spikes are known to send people to the emergency room! It’s common for people to step of wana, since they tend to hide in crevices and holes in the reef, but a trip to the ER is not necessary. If you happen to get step on wana, soak the infected area in vinegar, as this helps to dissolve the spikes and ease the sting. But don’t let this you steer away from snorkeling! Especially not from this Big Island gem, it surely is a must-see.
Our last snorkeling spot in Hawaii highlight is circling us back to where we started on Kauai. If you get the chance to take a Na Pali coast boat tour, then you definitely want to see the underwater life teeming out there too. The Na Pali coast stretches from Kauai’s west side to the north shore, and is emphasized by the dramatic cliffs that jut straight into the ocean. The snorkeling is in deep waters, but because it’s off the shores of the cliff, you will likely see some incredible life out here. Dolphins are also very common along this coast, and if you don’t see them while snorkeling, you’re guaranteed to see them while sailing along the ocean. The Na Pali coastline is one of the most spectacular places on earth, and we recommend taking the opportunity to seeing the underwater version of it all. Most tours offer snorkeling; just make sure to bring your underwater camera for this experience!