The Hawaiian Islands are world-renowned for their incredible beaches, tropical weather, and abundance of aquatic life. For snorkelers, the clear blue waters surrounding the islands provide the perfect environment to observe Hawaii's diverse marine ecosystems up close. But with six major islands to choose from, deciding the best Hawaiian island for snorkeling can be a challenge. After researching the offerings of each island, two clearly stand out as the top spots for snorkeling in Hawaii: Maui and the Big Island.
Why Maui is One of the Best Islands for Snorkeling
Maui is consistently ranked as one of the best islands for snorkeling due to its variety of snorkel sites and diversity of marine life. The leeward side of Maui offers many protected bays and coves that allow for calm conditions and excellent underwater visibility. Some of Maui's most popular snorkeling destinations include:
This marine preserve on the northwest corner of the island boasts a shallow reef abundant with tropical fish like parrotfish, butterflyfish, wrasses, and more. Sea turtles are also commonly spotted here. The bay's protection from large waves and winds means it's suitable for snorkelers of all levels.
Maluaka Beach (Makena Beach State Park)
On Maui's southern shore, this salt-and-pepper sand beach offers premier snorkeling along its rocky points and coral reefs. Spot eagle rays, green sea turtles, and schools of colorful fish. The beach has lifeguards, showers, and restrooms.
Black Rock (Ka'anapali Beach)
Located in front of the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, Black Rock is renowned for its excellent snorkeling around underwater lava formations. You're almost guaranteed to see sea turtles here as well as many types of angelfish, wrasses, and parrotfish.
Accessible only by boat, this crescent-shaped islet off Maui's southern coast offers some of Hawaii's clearest water and most pristine coral reefs. A sunken volcanic crater, its protected waters teem with marine life like manta rays, tropical fish, coral, and more.
Less crowded than many snorkel spots, Olowalu has shallow coral reefs perfect for beginner snorkelers. Spot a variety of reef fish, green sea turtles, and the occasional octopus here.
With so many prime snorkeling sites, Maui provides numerous options for every snorkeler's ability and interest level.
The Big Island's Snorkeling Wonders
Although less visited by tourists than Maui, the Big Island (Hawaii Island) holds its own as one of Hawaii's premier snorkeling destinations. Its clear waters, with visibility exceeding 100 feet in some spots, showcase a dazzling diversity of marine creatures and coral. Top snorkel sites on the Big Island include:
This historic bay, famous as the site where Captain Cook was killed in 1779, now serves as a protected marine sanctuary. Teeming with tropical fish and coral, it's one of the best spots to snorkel with Hawaii's native spinner dolphins. Sea turtles and eagle rays are common sightings as well.
Honaunau Bay ("Two Steps")
Part of the Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park, this bay's claim to fame are the "two steps" lava ledges leading into the ocean. Snorkelers can spot an abundance of tropical fish and green sea turtles here, as well as Moray eels tucked into crevices in the lava rock.
Kahalu'u Beach Park
One of the island's most popular snorkeling beaches, Kahalu'u offers beginner-friendly waters and high probabilities of spotting green sea turtles munching on the lush seagrass. Other common sightings include parrotfish, surgeonfish, tangs, and convict tangs.
Kapoho Tide Pools
Formed from ancient lava flows, these shallow tide pools near Kapoho Crater provide excellent snorkeling opportunities to spot Hawaii's colorful reef fish and invertebrates in all their glory. Sea turtles, eels, and octopuses are sometimes spotted here as well.
With its clear waters, abundance of marine life, and variety of snorkeling sites, the Big Island stands up to Maui as one of Hawaii's premier snorkeling destinations.
The Hawaiian Islands offer snorkelers a world-class experience to observe the state's rich marine biodiversity up close. With their protected bays, stunning beaches, vibrant coral reefs, and abundance of sea turtles, tropical fish, manta rays, and more, Maui and the Big Island stand out as Hawaii's top islands for snorkeling. Whether you prefer the beginner-friendly sites of Maui or the wilder, less-visited spots on the Big Island, Hawaii's waters guarantee incredible underwater sights. Do your research, pack your gear, and prepare for an amazing aquatic adventure on your next Hawaiian vacation.