Snorkeling is one of the best beach activities for travelers visiting Hawaii, but the truth about snorkeling is it’s not just for the tourists. Locals often snorkel because it’s such an incredible way to experience the warm ocean and underwater life. And no one wants to miss out on that! It’s exciting yet calming, a free activity yet such an incredibly rich experience, outdoorsy yet protected. Snorkeling is such a fun adventure and it can provide hours if not days of entertainment for families, couples, travelers and locals.
We receive a lot of questions about snorkeling in Hawaii, particularly for beginners. Things like where the best spots are, what the gear is like, how to rent it and what the basics of snorkeling is are just a few of the inquiries. On today’s podcast we’ll be covering these questions and more, including two of the very best snorkel locations on the four main islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Big Island.
Learn the basics of snorkeling so you can be ready for the water when you arrive. And for those of you already experienced, you might learn something new from our tips and recommendations we have for you today. With snorkeling being such a popular and truly fun Hawaii activity, we highly suggest you take advantage of the tropical waters and explore the unique underwater life of the Pacific.
What to Know About Hawaii Snorkeling
The first thing you need to know is what snorkeling entails. For maximum comfort and safety, a mask, snorkel and fins are recommended. The snorkel is what you breathe out of and is attached to the mask, while the fins are slipped on your feet to allow quicker and more fluid kicking motion underwater.
You can rent gear for anywhere between $5-$20 a day, but if you plan to do a lot of snorkeling you might just want to invest in your own gear. You can purchase a decent mask and snorkel set at the local grocery or convenience store for $10-$20, which might be the more cost efficient way for you and your family to snorkel. And if it’s too expensive, go without the fins. They’re not super necessary for snorkeling and if it ends up saving you money then it might be worth it. If you do snorkel without fins or reef shoes on, be careful of your footing when getting in and out of the water. Sea urchins (a.k.a. wana) are known to lurk in the nooks and crannies of reefy areas.
How to Rent Snorkeling Gear
Snorkel gear rentals are easy to spot and easy to come by. They are usually near most popular snorkel locations in the form of activity huts, shops and windows. The people renting the gear are typically friendly and helpful and will brief you on the equipment and how to use it properly.
Is Snorkeling Easy?
The snorkel takes the most time getting used to, as many people aren’t comfortable having their nose restricted by the mask and breathing out of just their mouth. But after a few strokes in the water with your face down, you should be just fine. Stay calm and try to slow your breathing down, this helps you get used to the snorkel.
What’s it Like to Snorkel in the Ocean?
If you’re nervous about snorkeling in the open ocean, try getting familiar with the process in the hotel pool first. Once your comfortable with the gear, the ocean experience will be much easier and more fun. Now here are some of our favorite snorkel spots on each main island of Hawaii.
Top Snorkeling Destinations in Hawaii
Our first snorkeling recommendation on Oahu is Haunama Bay near the east end of Waikiki. And we’ll be honest about this place… It’s crowded. But the marine life in this protected bay is so beautifully overwhelming it is definitely worthwhile. Just be sure to arrive early, and if you have your own gear you should bring it. There is a short video before you hit the beach that is mandatory for all visitors. It informs guests of proper snorkeling protocol, which includes not standing on the reef or harassing the wildlife. The video is a good way to learn about the fragility of the reef ecosystems so that you can be informed and aware throughout your entire stay in Hawaii.
Our second favorite snorkeling location on Oahu is Shark’s Cove on the North Shore. Many visitors mistake the shallow, rocky pool next door just beyond the beach as Shark’s Cove, but it’s actually the deeper blue pool of water that is protected by two points in the reef. Here you’ll see a variety of fish, from humumunukunukuapuaa to angelfish to schools of triggerfish and stick fish, plus turtles are common to see as well as manta ray sightings. There is a snorkel gear rental shop directly across the street from Shark’s Cove, as well as a local grocery store (Foodland) that sells mask and snorkel sets.
The number one snorkel recommendation on the south side of Kauai is Poipu Beach. Here you can snorkel the reefy underwater world and spot turtles, fish and eels, and then enjoy a gorgeous beach park afterwards. There is also a neighboring beach called Waiohai that is good for snorkeling, just make sure you don’t get in the way of any surfers! Poipu Beach is fun, safe and a great introductory snorkel spot for beginners. It’s also ideal for a family beach day, since showers, restrooms, pavilions, picnic tables and lifeguards all help to make up this beach park.
Ke’e Beach is our second snorkeling recommendation and is located on Kauai’s north shore. The parking lot can become congested, but the underwater adventure is definitely worth your time. Ke’e is great for beginners because there is a shallow pool of water with a sandy bottom to help you become comfortable and familiarized with your gear. You’ll also see schools of fish pass by in this saltwater pool, which is fun for kids. Just beyond the sandy bottom bay is the unique reef, with crevices, caves and arches to explore. Abundant with fish, Ke’e has clear waters and a beautiful backdrop of the Na Pali coast. Ke’e beach is also the starting point of the Hanakapiaia trail, which courses along the famed Na Pali coast and up to a breath-taking waterfall.
Along Maui’s west coast you’ll find the white sands and turquoise waters of Kaanapali Beach. At the west end of this beach is Black Rock and here is where snorkeling is best. There is a gradual slope from the beach into the water, which is a great introduction for beginning snorkelers. Like most sandy bottom swimming areas, you’ll spot a few schools of fish here and there, but it’s along the reef that the real underwater life comes alive. Which is why we recommend snorkeling along Black Rock. For the adventure seekers, you can even climb up Black Rock and jump off it into the clear waters below.
Kapalua Bay is our next snorkeling choice on Maui because the calm and protected waters make it perfect for families and beginners. A c-shaped cove, Kapalua Bay begins with a sandy bottom then levels off into the reef. The further north you swim the clearer the water becomes, so you might want to set your towel down on the northern point of the bay for ultimate underwater visibility. With public showers, restrooms and parking lot, Kapalua Bay is a great place to spend the entire day relaxing at the beach. And the fish varieties you’ll see will amaze you!
On the Big Island
On the Big Island we like to recommend Kahaluu Beach Park, which is right in the town of Kailua Kona. We like this spot for snorkeling because the fish are so unusually tame and friendly. There’s nothing like feeding wild tropical fish right from your hand, and at Kahaluu you can enjoy this rarity. This small sheltered cove is great for beginners because it’s not overwhelming and it is very contained. Just about neck deep, Kahaluu barely gets deeper than 10 feet, even during high tide. With such shallow and calm waters and friendly fish, Kahaluu is perfect for the first time snorkeler.
Our last snorkel spot recommendation is Mauna Kea, otherwise known as Kaunaoa Bay. Uncrowded, expansive and incredibly picturesque, this beach is sandy, calm and clear. For the best snorkeling, be sure to enter the water at one of the rocky points on either end of the beach (Although the north/right side of the beach is better for snorkeling and water visibility). Since ocean life congregates around the coral and the rocky reefs, you’ll see a variety of tropical fish here, and then be able to enjoy the white sand after a good snorkel.
There are many snorkel spots all over Hawaii that all provide their own unique and unforgettable experiences. Just like each island, no two are exactly alike, which is why we encourage you to explore as much of the islands as you can!