The Islands of Hawaii undoubtedly have some of the best snorkeling opportunities in the world. With clear calm waters, and a wide range of marine life to spot, there isn’t anywhere else you need to go to experience the snorkeling adventure of a lifetime.
The Big Island of Hawai’i is known to have some of the finest snorkeling locations out of all the Hawaiian Islands. The Island’s western shoreline (Kona side) has multiple sheltered volcanic bays where reef fish, corals, and larger ocean life provide exceptional snorkeling opportunities.
Snorkeling at The Big Island of Hawai’i will undoubtedly give you an experience like no other. To be prepared before your journey, it is recommended that you take a look at the top-rated snorkeling sites, as well as the costs involved. The Island’s western side has calmer waters, so it is a perfect place for beginners to practice.
Snorkeling In Big Island Hawai’i
The Big Island is known to be a fantastic place for snorkeling. Some of the things that make it such a great area are its fantastic shore and beach access. Many beautiful snorkeling destinations can be accessed straight from the beaches, making it a perfect, free snorkeling opportunity for those who have their own snorkeling gear.
The Big Island is also home to some excellent tropical fish and turtles. This may be because the Big Island is less visited and populated, allowing for an abundance of healthy shoals of tropical fish. Even though the turtle population isn’t the biggest in the Hawaiian region, you will still likely spot many sea turtles.
Another reason Big Island is so popular amongst snorkelers is that there are multiple water depths choices according to your skill level or comfortability. Anything you like, you will be able to find. There are shallow spots where the fish swim right up to you and coral reefs that range in depth from between 5-25 feet. For the more adventurous snorkelers, there are even deep drop-offs that extend down 50 feet or more.
The Big Island is home to numerous healthy coral reefs, most of which are reachable from the shore. Certain areas on the Big Island have some of the best visibility throughout the Hawaiian Islands due to the super clear waters. In some areas, you can see over 50 feet, down to the ocean floor.
The Top Spots For Snorkeling In Big Island
While there are numerous places for you to go snorkeling in Big Island, there are a few spots that many snorkelers have rated the best.
Manta Ray Night Snorkel
One of the more popular tourist snorkeling attractions is undoubtedly Manta Village, which draws all nature lovers to the waters surrounding Kailua-Kona, where they can experience the incredible opportunity of swimming with manta rays.
The Manta alfredi, or reef manta ray, is the second most prominent species of manta rays in the world. This species is frequently seen in the waters surrounding Hawaii. The group of manta rays that lives off the coast of Kona can be found permanently in these waters, as they do not migrate.
Near sunset, boat tours leave the Kona harbor and travel to either Manta Village or Manta Heaven. Upon arrival, the boats will then shine lights into the water while setting up large rafts with floodlights attached that point down into the waters.
These lights attract diurnal plankton to the surface, the manta rays’ source of food, which in turn draws the manta rays to the surface to feed. Snorkelers hold onto the side of the rafts and can see the manta rays swimming below them. It is an incredible experience for anyone to enjoy.
Honaunau Bay (Two Steps)
Honaunau Bay is an exciting place for snorkelers to explore. From coral reefs to an abundance of marine life, this is not a snorkeling site you’d want to miss. The waters at this bay are so clear that you will be able to see for up to 100 feet.
You cannot enter the bay from a beach, but instead, you will need to go over the farthest reach of lava rock. You will need to wear slippers to be able to walk out to the center of the rock, where you will find ‘steps’ that lead into the water.
Once you have entered the water, there is a shallow spot for beginner snorkelers towards the shore. Here, coral heads are only in around 6-10 feet of water. There are multiple species of fish that you can spot, and if you are lucky, you may even be able to see an octopus.
More experienced snorkelers can go to the left of where you entered the water, where you will be able to explore coral reef canyons, walls, and channels at around 30 feet depth. It is common to spot sea turtles, honu, and tend.
Kealakekua Bay (Captain Cook)
As Big Islands only underwater state park, it is easy to see why Kealakekua Bay is so popular amongst snorkelers. It is not a simple place to access from land, as all the parking areas are 1.9 miles from the bay. This requires a long hike down to the waters, under the hot sun, where you will have to climb back up once you are finished.
However, it is still many snorkelers’ favorite site to go snorkeling despite all of this. There is also a way to access the bay via boat, which gives you the opportunity to see the coastline from out on the water.
The Fair Wind boat cruises include snorkeling gear and will take you to the best snorkeling sites in the bay. They also provide snacks and refreshments as well as guided tours explaining the historical, cultural, and essential information on the bay.
Another option for reaching the snorkeling sites without hiking is renting a kayak. From here, you can paddle down to the farther end of the bay, where you will be able to spot sea turtles, spinner dolphins, lizard fish, eels, and beautiful corals.
Kahaluu Beach Park
Kahaluu Beach Park is one of the nicest places for those new to snorkeling, as there is a full-time lifeguard on duty at the beach, and the waters are shallow, sheltered, and easily accessible.
Sealife is abundant at Kahaluu also, with many species of fish and tide pools for you to explore. A famous attraction at the bay is the sea turtles and honu that frequently visit the bay to feed on Limu and seaweed before sunning themselves on some rocks.
While snorkeling, it is best to stick to the left side of the bay, as sometimes there are surfers that will also use this spot when the swells roll in. The park is a proud supporter of the Reef Teach Program, which educates the public on caring for the reef animals, honu, and valuable tips for avoiding accidentally damaging corals.
Mauna Kea Beach (Kauna’oa Bay)
Famous for its white sandy beaches as well as the chance to spot some incredible manta rays, the Mauna Key Beach Hotel in Kauna’oa Bay is a popular destination for those who are passionate about snorkeling.
The public beach has an access point through the hotel gate, where you can then receive a parking pass. It is recommended that you arrive earlier on the day as there are only ten parking spots available.
In good conditions, the visibility when snorkeling in Kauna’oa Bay is fantastic. Entry points into the water can be found on either side of the bay, near the rocky headlands, and through the sand. From here, you can swim out past the shallow corals, where you will be able to view breathtaking reefs that are teeming with ocean life.
The Mauna Beach Hotel is another good spot for manta ray viewing. The hotel shines spotlights into the water at night to gather the plankton that the manta rays often feed on. You will need to get into the water at ‘Manta Ray Point’ near sunset for a chance to spot these magnificent creatures.
Hapuna Beach is known for its beautiful sandy white beaches, as well as fantastic weather conditions. There is a full-time lifeguard on duty year-round, so it is the perfect beach for families. Being such a popular snorkeling spot, there is limited parking, so it is best to get there early.
The beach is a lot more exposed than other sights on the Island, meaning there are higher waves and lower visibility here than in other places. Due to the fact that it is quite a long swim out to the reef, Hapuna Beach is more suited for experienced snorkelers.
The best conditions for snorkeling at a majority of the locations around Kohala are in the mornings. The right end of the beach (north side) has more for you to see in the shallow waters. Once you have swum out to the corals, there are numerous species of fish and turtles that frequent the waters along the rocky canyons and walls.
The left side of the beach (south) would require a long swim to reach the corals, but it is worth it as there is a small bay that houses many fantastic coral formations as well as unique fish. This bay is out of sight from the lifeguards, so make sure to turn back as soon as you start feeling tired.
Waialea Bay (Beach 69)
Nearby Hapuna Beach, Waialea Bay, or “beach 69,” is a lot less crowded. This snorkeling site was designated as a marine life conservation district back in 1985 when it hosted beautiful reefs teeming with ocean life.
Many trees along the shore will provide shade on those blistering sunny days. The bay is calmer than Hapuna, and it is also a protected area. There are three different snorkeling sites that you can visit.
One popular site is at the south end of the bay (left side), which can be accessed from the beach where many smaller fish will frequent the shallower waters and closer to the rocks. As you swim further out, you can explore much larger coral heads and breathtaking reefs.
Mauna Lani Resort
There are three different snorkeling spots on the Mauna Lani Resort, which you can explore.
To the south (far left) of the bay, running along a fisherman’s trail, you will see a small black sand beach which is called ’49 Beach’. There are clean, calm waters at this beach with a coral reef that is in excellent condition, accompanied by pinnacles in shallow waters that can be explored.
To the far north of Honokaope Bay (but still staying on the Mauna Lani property), there is a little bay known as Makaiwa Bay. Here you will find deeper reefs that a more experienced snorkeler would find fascinating to explore.
There is a beach, slightly further north, right in front of the Fairmont Orchid Hotel. This beach is a protected area surrounded by large lava rocks and has a sandy bottom entry making it easily accessible for beginner snorkelers. It is possible to snorkel on the opposite side of these protective rocks during low surf conditions.
Also known as King Kam Beach, Kamakahonu is a small beach found right in the heart of Kailu-Kona and is perfect for beginners to practice their snorkeling skills, as the waters are known for being extremely calm.
You should enter the water from the sand and not near the rocky pier. From here, you can swim out of the bay and over to the right side, as boats tend to frequent the left side of the bay. The reef in this bay has lots of butterflyfish, tangs, and much other tropical fish to spot.
Snorkel Tours In Big Island
If you are new to snorkeling, don’t have your own gear, or you simply want the entire experience and package, there are many snorkeling tours available on Big Island. You can find them here.
|Captain Cook / Kealakekua Bay||$95|
|Night Manta Ray Adventure||$70|
|Afternoon Sail & Snorkel Captain Cook Monument||$82.73|
|Deluxe Snorkel BBQ Adventure: Luxury Catamaran||$170.81|
|Kona Shore Excursion||$139|
|Morning Reef Snorkel||$70.01|
|Keauhou Manta Ray Night Snorkel Kailua-Kona||$79|
The Big Island has some of the most fantastic snorkeling sites in Hawaii. There are multiple sheltered bays and beaches in which you can snorkel, and an astonishing amount of corals reefs, sea turtles, and manta rays you can spot.