Where to Snorkel in Hawaii: Our Favorite Spots

Written by Flo Updated on 14/06/2018

Breaking news: On 06 June 2018, the lava from Kilauea reached Kapoho and buried the whole city and the magnificent Tide Pools in a few hours. This incredible snorkeling spot has gone, although we still mention it in this article.

Following the impressive floods on the island of Kauai in April 2018, the Kuhio Highway (route 560) is closed to visitors from Hanalei (the road is only open to permanent residents). The renovations are very important and there is currently no specific date announced for the re-opening. However, maintenance services are planning a re-opening by 'early mid-summer'. This closure makes impossible the access to all the beaches beyond Hanalei, such as Tunnels beach mentioned in this article.

In this article, we will talk about snorkeling in Hawaii, or underwater hiking in good French. Why this activity specifically? Simply because Hawaii is full of snorkeling spots scattered all over the archipelago. Snorkeling is therefore an essential activity in Hawaii, as the seabed is so rich and beautiful.

For the 4 main islands (Kauai, Big Island, Maui and Oahu), we will list the beaches best suited to observing underwater life, but for the sake of objectivity, we will only develop those that we have been able to reach.

But before we get to the heart of the matter, a small question arises.

Is snorkeling in Hawaii dangerous?


The fauna you can encounter in Hawaii is quite varied. Sharks are present in large numbers in the archipelago, and there are about ten attacks each year (which are very rarely fatal). However, let's not stigmatize because according to statistics, you have only one chance in Hawaii of being bitten by a shark in more than a million. Bites are therefore relatively rare.

In order to put all chances on your side, some precautions are to be taken, such as not bathing in areas where danger is reported. In the areas in question, a sign with a shark is usually prominently displayed. It should also be noted that the vast majority of attacks occur in areas which are not necessarily conducive to snorkeling as they are generally protected by a coral reef. 

To learn more about sharks and attacks in Hawaii, you can visit this comprehensive site, which also provides some behavioural tips to reduce the risk of attack: http://dlnr.hawaii.gov/sharks/

The moray eels

Observe a certain distance with small moray eels that can be aggressive if you become a threat to it. These are very frequent and often covered in cavities. So don't be tempted to titillate them and take another route if you see a moray eel in front of you (which doesn't line the bottom).

Sandrine had a bitter experience of it when she passed close to a moray eel that swam in 60 cm of water. She suddenly jumped on her face, but fortunately, without touching her.

In case of bite, do not hesitate to go to a pharmacy, they are used to.

Snorkeling spots in Kauai

Hideaways Beach

This beach is well named after him. Hidden in the middle of the Princeville Resorts, this beach is a small pearl. Shaded, pleasant and not much frequented, we really enjoyed this snorkeling spot.

A particularly clear water, rocks sheltering tropical fish scattered near the beach, everything is done to make the most of the observation with mask and snorkel, even when the ocean is a bit agitated. Located on the edge of Hanalei Bay, it is well protected from the big waves of the Pacific Ocean. On the east side of the beach, large rocks are near the edge and harbour many fish, as well as some corals.

To get to the beach, you must park in a very small car park with only 8 parking spaces (the adjacent car parks are all reserved for residents of the hotel complexes). To locate it, look at the GPS point on the map at the end of the article, because it is not easy to find. 

Once parked, a small path goes to the right of the car park towards the coast. Once at the bottom, one word: enjoy! And to see more details about the Hideways beach and funds, go to the end of our vlog 07.

You should equip yourself with adequate shoes to go down to the beach because the access is very steep and you will have to make sure that you hold the rope which acts as a guardrail firmly. Note that there is no shower and more generally, no convenience near the beach. This one is shaded.

Anini Beach 

Anini Beach is a large and very pleasant beach situated in a relatively quiet area north of Kauai, it is even the longest beach on the island. Some precautions must therefore be taken before venturing there.

The main concern is not to divert by the currents and therefore not to lose sight of your towel. The other trick would be not to realize the distance from the beach.  The shallows are far away, and the desire to explore the area is great, especially when you're upside down and looking for the most colorful fish, the brightest colored corals... But the moment comes when you have to come back to the beach, and you need forces to do that. Don't let yourself be overwhelmed by the euphoria, advice from the beginner that I am;)

As for the fish, they are less numerous than the other snorkeling spots we tested, but we have seen here some species that we haven't found elsewhere. Finally, beautiful corals line the seabed and are sometimes scattered on the clear sand, which makes the aquatic walk very interesting. We unveil some pictures at the end of our vlog 05 - Kauai Paradise - East cost beachs

Next to the sloping floor plan, you will find showers, several parking areas as well as sanitary facilities and picnic tables. The beach is large and some areas are shaded.

Poi'pu Beach

Here is one of the most touristic but also the most accessible spots in Kauai. Here, beginners will find what they need to get their hands on in this new activity, in relatively shallow water, and may have the chance to see a turtle like us. Here you can also easily see fish "checkers".

But don't expect to have corals here. The soil is composed of coarse rocks and is not very photogenic. We'll go to Poi' pu for a first contact with the ocean. You will be able to see it a little better by viewing our vlog 4 - Sea and snorkeling near Poi'pu

The beach is watched, however, be careful however, as the area on the right, at rock level, can be dangerous with a strong lateral current. Prefer to stay in the area near the cabin of the lifeguards.

A large parking lot is available. You will also find showers, toilets and picnic tables. There is little shade on the beach, but you can shelter under the trees that are on the sides.

Lawa’i Beach

Located near Poi' pu Beach, this area is reputed to be one of the best snorkeling spots in the south of Kauai. Unfortunately, Lawa' i has not lived up to our expectations. We had the opportunity to go there twice, but each time the conditions were not ideal, the water was relatively cloudy because of the turbulent Pacific Ocean.

We did have the opportunity to see a lot of small, less fearful yellow fish, which still makes the place interesting, but it should be noted that the seabed is not very nice there. Fairly few corals and some breeze blocks in the water.

The beach is quite small and is located close to the road. An area to the west of the beach is grassy and can be pleasant to land under some high palm trees.

It is a spot not very well protected from the whims of the waves, so do it when the conditions are calm, otherwise you will be constantly wandering. A shower is located on the outside wall of the public toilets across the road from the snack bar. Parking is along the road right by the beach.

Tunnels Beach

Not far from the departure of the Kalalau Trail, here is one of the most beautiful spots of the Hawaii archipelago, for all levels, but which we did not have the opportunity to test, with great regret, for lack of opportunity.

Here, the coral reef makes it a quiet area almost all year round, and its fauna is abundant. Not having tested it, we won't be able to tell you more about it, but from the many people we met on the island and other lucky people who had the opportunity to go there, this spot is reputed to be exceptional (we were even told on the spot that it was the best of the island).... We'll have to come back and confirm that ;)

tIt should be noted, however, that the areas on the sides forming a passage between corals, can be dangerous because of the current which can be strong at these places. Do not venture there, and privilege the bottom of the zone, in the middle, inside the reef.

Other Kauai spots

There are of course plenty of other places to snorkel in Kauai, the island being mostly surrounded by coral reefs. Feel free to explore certain areas that you feel are suitable for observing marine life.

Big Island snorkeling spots

Kapoho Tide Pools (no longer exists)

Here is one of the paradise for snorkeling enthusiasts in Hawaii and also our favourite spot, all islands combined. The place is not particularly beautiful on the surface, but here hides a tremendous abundance of fish and corals. In short, a life-size aquarium! 

Don't try to relax, the sand is almost absent. You will have the right as a beach to a basaltic and sometimes sharp (be careful with the feet) which delimits on the surface of the kind of small natural swimming pools. And that's exactly what makes this place a nugget for underwater observation.

The lava flows that reached the ocean at this point formed small pools separated by only a few centimetres of water. These basins are lined with corals and are home to many species of sea urchins, fish and other crabs. Each basin is different and makes the exploration of the place fascinating.

At low tide, equip yourself with thick-soled shoes, such as a windsurfing board, to move from one pool to the other. At high tide, on the other hand, you can equip yourself with fins, but watch out for the currents produced by the water that fills the basins one after the other. In some places, there may be barely 30 to 50 cm of water. So be sure you can pass and not find yourself trapped by the falling tide having to pass from pond to basin with your fins. If you hesitate, drop your fins and take shoes.

You may be surprised (well, not anymore!) that some pools are warmer than others. Indeed, it depends on the physiognomy of each basin, which will fill more or less according to the tide.

Be careful, however, because the hotter a swimming pool is, the less water is renewed, and the more bacteria there are! So if you have sores on your body, even if they are minimal, don't do it yourself, or send someone to be spotted so that you can concentrate on the coldest, least risky pools! If you see water rushing into the pond, it's because it's renewed, so the risk will be less.

The further you get away from the shore, the wider and deeper the pools will be, but also more abundant in wildlife according to our observations. The corals also seemed more beautiful to us as we moved away from the shore. To see more pictures on the Kapopho Tide Pools, you can have a look at the end of Vlog 11

Access to the Kapoho Tide Pools is by foot, parking on Kapoho Kai Street. Here are the GPS coordinates of the car park: 19.491967, -154.823360. Signs will invite you to park along the roadside, with access to the subdivision reserved for residents. Once on foot, take the road that goes to the right after the mailboxes and continue for about 10-15 minutes until you reach the seaside.

Please note that there is no installation on site, no shower or sanitary facilities. As this is a lava flow, there is no shade either. Don't forget to bring water.

Kahaluu Beach Park

Here is certainly the least interesting spot we did, contrary to the various "top snorkeling places of Big Island" that we had seen on the net. The pebble beach is not very large or beautiful and the underwater fauna was not very abundant.

An American site was boasting about the place, highlighting the fact that small fishes, once in confidence, came to nibble on the dead skin of bathers! Either we were unlucky during our passage, or we didn't have dead skins to nibble on, or people with more dead skins than the average came to satisfy the fishes before our arrival! ;)

The seafloor near the beach is not very beautiful, there are no corals and the water was quite cloudy despite the absence of waves. To make the most of it, you have to walk away from the beach, along the road. Here you will see some corals, but the depth will be more important.

Sanitary facilities with showers and changing rooms are located at the rear of the building at the edge of the beach. There are some picnic tables.

Pae’a or Two Steps in Hōnaunau

Pae' a or Two Steps because of the 2 steps that are used to get in and out of the water, is located in the heart of Honaunau Bay under Mauna Loa. This spot is to experience the days of calm sea because otherwise it will be difficult to go back up again.

The spot is interesting in that we don't have to go far away to have the chance to cross beautiful specimens and myriads of small yellow fish. We even ran into a turtle there. In addition, corals are abundant. 

On the other hand, there's really no beach here. It is a basaltic zone and therefore of fine and sharp rocks and not very aesthetic. It's hard to lay out a towel here.

A word of caution, the area is full of sea urchins! So keep your hands in your pockets, it'll be safer. Delicate moment: take your time before getting out of the water, sea urchins nest everywhere even at the level of the 2 famous steps. However, they are nestled in small holes, so if you put your feet flat on the steps, you won't feel them. However, avoid bathing barefoot, choose flippers, or hard-soled shoes, such as windsurfing boards, or sea sandals.

To park, you will find paid parking in front of the basalt beach, but you can park just after the beach along the Honaunau Beach Road, which starts in the direction of Highway 160 (one way street). At the time of our visit, only a chemical WC was present for the conveniences.

Kealakekua Bay

Attention, this spot is intended for confirmed persons. We didn't go there for several reasons.

First, the area is turbulent and open to the Pacific Ocean, and according to some sites, it is not uncommon to see strong currents pushing you out of the bay.

Secondly, the way to the Captain James Cook Monument, the starting point of this snorkeling area, is quite steep and requires a minimum of logistics to cover it on the way and back with the necessary equipment for water observation.

And finally, third point, parking at the starting point of the road is not easy. When we passed it, it was impossible to find a place, even on the Mamalahoa Bypass Road, which runs along the first few hundred meters of the trail. Too bad, because we at least wanted to go to the James Cook Monument.

Other options include going to the small village on the other side of the Bay, accessible by car, and finding a boat to cross the bay for $150. Another possibility is to rent a kayak, but not at anyone's house. Only 3 rental companies are allowed to rent kayaks: Adventures in Paradise, Aloha Kayak Co. et Kona Boys.

Swimming with Manta rays

It is possible to make an excursion to swim at nightfall with the Manta rays. Departures are around Kona. This experience is one of the most incredible of our stay! We've told everything in this article: Snorkeling with the Manta rays in Hawaii: an unforgettable experience!

Maui snorkeling spots

Ahihi Kinau Natural Area Reserve

Here is the only snorkeling spot we were able to test on Maui. We pass some of the sandy beaches to Kihei where we have not seen anything.

As this is a preservation zone, you will be asked to follow a few rules before venturing into the water. It is forbidden to walk on corals (as everywhere in the end) and especially not to enter the water with sunscreen, unless you have applied it to your skin at least 15 minutes before swimming or use a cream that does not contain products harmful to marine life.

Here it is not uncommon to encounter turtles and species of fish that you will not have seen elsewhere. Don't look for sand, this is a gray pebble beach accessible at the end of a 300m long path starting from the recent (free) car park with only chemical toilets. A ranger was on hand to brief us on the attitude to the preservation area and will also be able to give you advice on the fish that can be seen.

Our advice is to come here if possible in the morning when the ocean is calm, and not hesitate to approach the rocks to find the most beautiful specimens of fish. As you walk away, you may be able to see us like a school of hundreds of catfish!

SlaughterHouse Beach & Honolua Bay

What can we say about these two spots next to each other, except that it is one of our great regrets that we did not have time to explore them? Quite simply, it is for us the most promising area of Maui in terms of snorkeling. Quiet, turquoise and crystal clear waters, high depths, rocks lining the bottoms on either side of the two bays... If you pass here, please dive for us and tell us how it was, just to make us dream about what we missed!

O'ahu snorkeling spots

Hanauma Bay State Park

7.50$ per person (free if under 12 years old) and 1$ per vehicle. From there we turned back. Not that we were close to $16, but the accumulation of entrance fees and other parking fees in O' ahu mixed with the extreme affluence of this park will have made us renounce one of the most beautiful beaches in the USA (according to the official site of the park...).

However, there is much to explore in this bay formed after the collapse of part of the Hanauma Crater. A lot of underwater life has taken up residence there, the fact that the bay is classified as a Natural Reserve is no stranger.

Here the snorkeling is accessible to all, the different lagoons being protected from the waves, and it is not uncommon to see turtles. There are amenities available to the public, a lifeguard is there if necessary, a café is even close to the large parking lot, enough to spend a whole day on the spot!

On the park website, you can also book a shuttle bus for about $25 (without park admission fees) that will take you from Waikiki to Honolulu, to the park, plus return. A rather clever way to enjoy the bay for example on the first or last day of your trip to Hawaii when you don't have a vehicle and/or you want to spend the first or last day in relaxing mode!

On the other hand, expect to find yourself alongside hundreds of other snorkelers. We had been there in the middle of the morning and the car parks were full to the brim. There was even a queue to access the payment booths at the park entrance. Finally, the park is closed every Tuesday, so choose another day to access it.

Ah, I've just been told that access to the park wouldn't be charged if you arrived before the opening, at 6am. But since we have not been able to verify this information, it is to be taken with tweezers.

That concludes this chapter on snorkeling in Hawaii. Do not hesitate to share your experiences with us in the comments :)

The translation may not be accurate. If you detect any errors, please let us know , and we will correct them immediately. Thank you and sorry for this inconvenience. Sandrine & Flo

  1. Author avatar
    Van reeth

    Bonjour, Nous sommes allés faire du snorkelling cet après midi à lawaii Beach dont vous parlez. Effectivement pas de coraux, mais plutôt des pierres, mais de très nombreux poissons tous très différents et tres colorés , plusieurs poissons perroquets, plusieurs bans de poissons jaunes,des murènes:. Au total au moins 30 espèces de poissons différents :c'était du niveau de la Guadeloupe, nous y retournerons certainement avant la fin du séjour. Bravo pour vos récits! VIncent

    • Smartrippers avatar

      Merci Vincent pour ton retour d'expérience! On est heureux de voir que ce spot tient toutes ses promesses :-) Les conditions peuvent tellement changer d'une visite à une autre. Pour nous, la Martinique nous avait parût en dessus du niveau d'Hawaii, comme quoi !

  2. Author avatar

    Bonjour les Smartrippers. Je viens juste faire un petit retour d'expérience, si cela peut aider... Je confirme l'information pour Hanauma Bay State Park. Nous nous y sommes rendus en Juin dernier. Nous attendions devant l'entrée 10minutes avant l'ouverture avec quelques autres voitures. Et effectivement, quand les barrières se sont ouvertes, personne ne nous a rien demandé, ni pour l'entrée, ni pour le parking. Nous avons donc eu accès au site complètement gratuitement. Nous n'avons même pas visionné la vidéo de présentation (de mémoire pourtant obligatoire avant de descendre sur le site). Les guichets étaient encore complètement fermés à notre arrivée et une personne nous a accueilli en nous donnant en 30secondes quelques consignes élémentaires. Elle nous a aussi dit que c'était comme cela tous les matins. L'arrivée matinale a eu le double avantage d'être gratuite, mais aussi d'être tranquille sans trop de monde pendant une 1h minimum dans l'eau. Nous y étions restés plus de 2h, et nous n'avons pas eu le sentiment d'être les uns sur les autres, bien que, à notre départ vers 9-10h du matin, le parking étaient déjà plein et que les voitures rentraient au compte gouttes. Je pense par contre qu'après 9h30-10h, ca commence à sérieusement se remplir, sachant que beaucoup de gens arrivent avec glacières et jeux de plage avec la ferme intention d'y passer la journée entière. Pour ce qui est de Tunnels beach à Kauai, nous y sommes allés pour y rester le temps d'une session de snorkelling, en solution de remplacement car nous n'avions pas réussi à nous garer à Hideways Beach, et nous y avons passé au final une bonne partie de la journée ! La plage était top, et le snorkelling a été pour nous le meilleur que nous ayons fait à Kauai. Nous y avons vus des tortues, mais aussi des bancs d'énormes poissons blancs comme je n'avais jamais vu de ma vie (je suis nulle quand il s'agit de nommer les poissons, mais en tapant sur google images, on tombe tout de suite sur des bancs de ce type) . Et pas du tout farouches. On s'est retrouvé au milieu du banc de poisson comme si nous en faisions partis, c'était juste dingue. La plage étant assez longue, nous ne nous sommes pas sentis du tout à l'étroit. Cette année, nous y retournons, et nous testerons sans aucun doute Honolua Bay à Maui !!!!! Pourquoi ne pas avoir citer Molokini Crater dans cette liste ? Est-ce que c'est parce que l'endroit devient trop fréquenté ? De nos lectures, il nous a semblé que c'était le meilleur spot de tout Maui, nous avions prévu d'y aller cette année, comme nous n'avions pas eu le temps de le faire l'année dernière. Mais ce qu'on peut lire sur le nombre de snorkellers nous fait réfléchir un peu... Nous retenterons également notre chance avec Two Steps ! Je misais d'énormes espoirs car c'est un spot réputé pour les dauphins, mais malgré notre arrivée avant 7h du matin sur le site 2 matins de suite, nous n'avons rien vu du tout, et à chaque fois la mer un peu agitée nous dérangeaient énormément (le 2ème jour, nous n'avons même pas mis les pieds dans l'eau au vue de la difficulté que nous avions eu pour sortir la veille). Je confirme la présence des oursins, pierres coupantes etc... Nous avions les pieds/jambes coupés en sortant. A nouveau, merci pour votre site, A bientôt !!!

    • Smartrippers avatar

      Bonjour Elodie! Déjà un énorme MERCI pour ton commentaire super précieux! Il sera vraiment très utile à tous ceux qui préparent un voyage :-) Tu confirmes certaines infos dont on n'était pas sûr, ce qui est top! et tu nous en apprends de nouvelles. Du coup nous allons mettre à jour demain l'article et le compléter avec tes remarques, elles seront plus utiles dans le contenu de l'article :-)

      Concernant Molokini, nous n'en avons pas parlé car nous avons eu des retours très mitigés. On essayera d'y aller la prochaine fois (on espère en 2019) pour nous en faire un avis. Pour certains c'est effectivement le plus beau spot de snorkeling d'Hawaii, alors que pour d'autres, c'est une usine à touristes où finalement les fonds marins sont similaires aux spots réputés de Big Island. Ce qui est sûr c'est qu'il faut mieux choisir une excursion en petit groupe pour bien en profiter, mais ça ne doit pas être donné :-/

      Pour Two Steps, il y a effectivement parfois des dauphins, mais le mieux est de louer un kayak pour les approcher vers le Monument de James Cook, ils sont beaucoup plus fréquents à Kealakekua Bay. C'est aussi quelque chose que nous n'avons pas pu faire et qui sera au programme de la prochaine fois ;-)

      On te remercie d'avoir pu partager toutes ces infos et à bientôt!

  3. Author avatar
    Vincent Rougier

    Bonjour, Une réflexion sur Kealakekua bay : en 2015, nous logions à proximité pour 4 nuits en Airbnb, et nous sommes allés explorer la baie de deux façons : en descendant le sentier vers le monument du capitaine Cook, avec nos affaires de snorkeling. Se garer ne fut effectivement pas simple, mais nous avons cependant trouvé une place en vue du début du Trail.. La descente est facile, la remontée plus fatigante, il suffit d'avoir de l'eau à boire et de faire des pauses ! Nous étions quatre dont deux ados de 14 et 17 ans, ma fille a trouvé la remontée pénible. Par contre le spot de snorkeling est le plus magnifique que nous ayons vu sur la grande ile et Oahu réunies ! Le lendemain, nous sommes allé en kayak (2 de 2 places) depuis l'autre bout de la baie. Demie-journée incroyable, à nager parmi des dizaines de dauphins, une expérience inoubliable ! Il n'y a que deux ou trois compagnies de location qui ont le permis pour aborder la côte près du monument, mais bien plus de compagnies qui louent dès kayak sans ce droit. C'était le cas de la notre, puisque nous étions déjà allés au monument à pied, nous souhaitions seulement voir les dauphins de près et nous n'avons pas été déçus ! Cordialement Vincent

    • Smartrippers avatar

      Bonjour Vincent, et un grand merci pour ton précieux retour d'expérience! Nous avions eu également le retour d'autres voyageurs et le tien apporte la confirmation que nous avons vraiment raté quelque chose! J'ai donc apporté une modification à l'article en spécifiant ce que tu indiques, et par la même occasion, remonté la note à 4/5. J'hésite à mettre 5 étoiles car on nous a signalé que les Tide Pools étaient un cran au dessus en ce qui concerne le snorkeling. Mais pour cela, il faudra qu'on retourne vérifier ça :)

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