Best Snorkeling In Hawaii

For some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii you need look no further than the Big Island, and in particular the Kona coast. Brilliant coral reefs, deep underwater crevices and lava tubes, an incredible variety of fish, sea urchins, green sea turtles, and other interesting creatures, lie just below the surface of our calm, crystal-clear blue ocean waters. Your Big Island snorkeling adventures will undoubtedly prove to be the most rewarding of all your Hawaii snorkeling.

The ocean that surrounds the Big Island has a stunning clarity. Water clarity is impacted by the presence of sediment and organic particles in the water. The Big Island's coastal reefs help limit water turbidity, and lack of nutrients limits the growth of algae and phytoplankton (microscopic plants) commonly found in the coastal waters of mainland beaches. The result is a visibility unparalleled throughout much of the world.

Hawaii snorkeling with Yellow Tang at Kahalu'u Beach Park

Even if you've never snorkeled, the calm water off the west coast of the Big Island makes this a great place to learn. Snorkeling in Hawaii can be as simple as renting a mask, fins and snorkel from any of the local rental shops. Keep it in your car and go whenever the mood suits you. We like to bring our snorkel gear along anytime we're near the shore, just in case.

Butterfly Fish Snorkeling Big Island

Snorkeling in Hawaii off the Big Island often means swimming in areas where coral is prominent. Keep in mind that coral is a fragile, living organism (actually an animal) that is a critical component of the ocean ecosystem. Oils from your skin and certain sunscreens can harm the coral. Most of today's popular sunscreens are not reef friendly. Try to use a sunscreen that is biodegradable and mineral-based or even labeled "reef safe."

When swimming in and around coral, make every effort to avoid stepping on, touching or drifting into it. Oil from your skin can kill the coral polyps. If you need to stand up to clear your mask, try to do it in an area where you won't risk stepping on and damaging the coral.

Colorful Coral Big Island Snorkeling

Snorkeling with dolphins

Many of the bays along the Kona-Kohala coast are frequented by dolphins, particularly in the early part of the day. If you are lucky, you might find yourself snorkeling with them.

Snorkeling and swimming with dolphins in Hawaii - Big Island

First time snorkeling in Hawaii?

If you are snorkeling for the first time, breathing with your face in the water can be a strange sensation! Before heading out, stand in shallow water and breathe normally through your snorkel with mask on. Gradually place your face in the water and continue breathing normally. Continue as long as necessary until you can breathe without gasping for air.

Prior to donning the mask, wipe the inside of the lens with an anti-fogging solution, available at any dive shop. Or if unavailable, wiping with your own saliva will suffice. Then submerge the mask to fill it with water, wait a few seconds and pour the water out. Press the mask lightly to your face, breathing in through your nose to create suction. Pull the strap over the back of your head. Avoid resting the mask on your forehead, as this will cloud the lens.

Favorite snorkeling spots on the Big Island

  • Our favorite Hawaii snorkeling spot is the Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay.

  • For ease of access and excellent Big Island snorkeling, check out the reef and bay at Kahalu'u Beach Park

  • Though deeper, Two Step and Honaunau Bay adjacent to Pu'uhonua o Honaunau can be almost as nice as Kealakekua when conditions are right, particularly on a clear, sunny day.

  • The shoreline adjacent to the tiny town of Puako, 40 minutes north of Kona, has a phenomenal reef, especially popular for diving.

  • More experienced snorkelers will find excitement in Pawai Bay north of the Old Airport Beach. Pawai Bay is not the easiest snorkeling spot to reach but worth the effort for advanced snorkeling.

  • For a truly unique experience, the Kapoho tide pools offer perhaps the best snorkeling on the east coast of the Big Island, especially on a sunny day.
Moorish Idol Big Island Snorkeling

Stay alert and use caution whenever snorkeling on the Big Island, as currents and conditions can change quickly. Also a good idea to invest in a cheap pair of water shoes to get around on the rocks. If you prefer to go with a guide, several companies offer boat tours

Tours and adventures in snorkeling

  • We particularly enjoy the 4-5 hour Zodiac Raft and Snorkel Adventure to Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument. A maximum of 16 guests per boat make this a much more personalized experience than many other commercial tours. Their rigid hull inflatable boats will speed you across the open ocean from Honokohau Marina north of Kailua-Kona, stopping to snorkel at Kealakekua Bay. With a knowledgeable and friendly captain, this ride is a real hoot! The trip follows the coastline, exploring sea caves and lava tubes. All equipment, beverages and a picnic snack are provided. 
  • For a slightly more elaborate option to Kealakekua Bay that includes a tropical breakfast and BBQ lunch, come aboard the Fair Wind, a deluxe catamaran with its own waterslide and other amenities.
  • For our friends along the Kohala coast and resorts north of Kailua-Kona, we offer a unique snorkeling opportunity, a 3.5 hour tour via catamaran complete with breakfast, lunch and open bar. Starting just south of Hapuna Beach, this tour travels north along the coast to some interesting snorkeling spots.
  • For an absolutely out-of-this-world experience, join us for a night snorkel with Manta Rays. Watch these graceful creatures dance under water like "Butterflies of the sea."

If you're on the Big Island, you owe it to yourself to experience what is arguably the best snorkeling in Hawaii. Enjoy!


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