Best Snorkeling in Maui: Top Spots, Tips, Maps, & Turtles (2022)

Best snorkeling in Maui blog cover image.  Text overlaying an aerial view of Olowalu Reef in Maui.

The opportunities for snorkeling in Maui is unlike any other place on Earth.

Imagine strapping on a mask and walking straight from a golden sand beach into the impossibly clear waters of the Pacific Ocean. Suddenly, you are in a whole new world with thriving coral gardens and scurrying tropical fish as a resident honu (Hawaiian green sea turtle) comes up for a breath.

Oh, and it’s free!

In this complete guide to the best snorkeling in Maui, you will learn the best spots to snorkel from beach to crater, tips and considerations for first time Hawaii snorkelers, safety information, and recommended tours for those spots that require them.

Best Snorkeling in Maui Overview

Underwater photography of a green sea turtle taken off the shore of Kaulahao Beach.

This guide will cover everything you need to know about snorkeling in Maui.

This includes top tips, an interactive map showing the exact locations of the best spots, highest-rated tours, and more. You will also find descriptions, locations, and photos for each of the best places.

The top 25 best snorkeling spots on Maui are:

  1. Molokini Crater
  2. Honolua Bay
  3. Turtle Town (Maluaka Beach)
  4. Olowalu Reef
  5. Coral Gardens
  6. Napili Bay
  7. Ulua & Mokapu Beach
  8. Black Rock (Ka’anapali Beach)
  9. Ahihi Bay
  10. Five Caves & Makena Landing
  11. Kapalua Bay
  12. Slaughterhouse Bay (Mokulē‘ia Bay)
  13. La Perouse
  14. Po’olenalena Beach (Chang’s Beach)
  15. Oneuli Beach (Black Sand Beach)
  16. Keawakapu Beach
  17. Polo Beach
  18. Charley Young Beach
  19. Kamaole Beach Park
  20. Little Beach (Makena Beach)
  21. Kahekili (Airport Beach)
  22. Mala Wharf
  23. DT Fleming Beach
  24. Wahikuli Wayside Park
  25. Canoe Beach (Hanakao’o Park)

7 Important Tips for Snorkeling in Maui

Before we get into the best places to go, we recommend you first read the following tips for snorkeling in Maui to ensure the best possible experience.

In addition, these will help keep you, and the environment, safe.


1. Bring Your Own Snorkel Gear

A woman standing at the back of a van in a bikini holding snorkel gear, with the beach behind her.
Save time and money by bringing your own snorkel gear to Maui.

Unless you’re only planning on only snorkeling with a tour, we highly recommend bringing your own snorkel gear.

Renting snorkel gear in Maui can quickly add up, with rates averaging $20 daily and $50 weekly for average quality gear. These costs can sometimes exceed $100 per week at some beach kiosks!

Additionally, bringing your own gear ensures you’ll have the flexibility to go snorkeling whenever you like without having to worry about picking up or dropping off rentals.


2. Only Use Reef-Safe Sunscreen

A young woman applying reef-safe sunscreen before snorkeling in Maui
Make sure you use reef-safe sunscreen.

The NPS estimates 4,000-6,000 tons of sunscreen pollute our reefs every year, with popular visitor spots being the most concentrated.

Hawaii is the first state to mandate the sale of reef-safe sunscreen. However, many “reef-safe” sunscreens still use harmful chemicals. Always check the ingredients prior to purchasing, and look for mineral sunscreens such as this one by Stream2Sea.

You can also reduce the amount of sunscreen you use by wearing a long-sleeve rashguard to protect you.


3. Protect the Reef

A pair of butterfly fish seen snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach Park Big Island Hawaii

Coral reefs are extremely important. They provide a home to millions of different species while also protecting coastlines from storms and erosion.

Understand that while corals can look like rocks, they are actually an animal and are very fragile.

Be careful when snorkeling to avoid touching or stepping on coral. Not only can it be broken easily, but touching it damages its protective layer and exposes the coral to pathogens.


4. Follow Leave No Trace Principles

The underwater ecosystems you’ll encounter while snorkeling in Maui are very delicate.

By following leave no trace principles and being respectful of the environment, we can help keep the beauty of the oceans intact for generations to come.

Be respectful to wildlife and do not touch any animals. Marine life is particularly susceptible to the germs we carry and even a gentle touch can do a lot of damage.


5. Stay Safe with the Buddy System

A couple taking a selfie while snorkeling in Hawaii.
Stay safe by always snorkeling with a buddy.

While snorkeling in Maui is relatively safe, there are always risks when swimming in the ocean. You can minimize these risks with the following steps:

  • Always check current conditions, including weather, warning flags, and currents.
  • Know your own limits.
  • Only snorkel with a buddy (or consider booking a tour).
  • Use a life vest if you’re not a confident swimmer.
  • Stay close to shore.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Do not use full-face masks (these create a CO2 buildup which can cause you to become disoriented, or, even lose consciousness).
  • Only snorkel during daylight hours.

6. Choose the Right Time of Day

While it is possible to snorkel on Maui throughout the day, some times are definitely better than others.

The best time of day to snorkel in Maui is in the morning, about 1-2 hours after sunrise.

This means that for the best chance of good visibility and calm water, you will want to head to the beach early. Typically, there will be less wind and therefore better water conditions for snorkeling in the morning hours.

If you get there too early, however, the sun will not be overhead enough yet to provide valuable light. This is why it is best to wait a couple hours after sunrise.

Avoid snorkeling after heavy rain or during high winds. During these times, visibility is reduced and water conditions can be less ideal.


7. Bring an underwater camera

Underwater image of a Hawaii green sea turtle coming up for air.

Surrounded by a rainbow of brightly colored, tropical fish, the underwater scenes you’ll encounter while snorkeling on Maui are breathtaking.

These are the moments that will make your Hawaiian vacation so special; make sure you are able capture these memories to treasure forever!

There are many different underwater cameras you can get depending on your skill level and interest in photography. However, the GoPro, or similar adventure cameras, are the smallest, toughest and easiest to use while also being reasonably priced.


Map of the Best Spots for Snorkeling in Maui

Map of the best snorkeling in Maui

You can find all the best Maui snorkel spots featured in this guide on the Google Map above.

Click here or on the image above to open the map in a new tab.


Top 25 Best Places to Snorkel in Maui

One of the best snorkel spots in Maui; Honolua Bay as seen from the overlook.
Honolua Bay is one of the top Maui snorkel spots.

Of all the Hawaiian islands, Maui has the best snorkeling. There are more sheltered coves and beach access points than any other island, and the water is crystal clear.

While you can snorkel anywhere with water and your gear, some places are certainly better than others!

The South and West Maui regions offer the best snorkel beaches as these are more sheltered from the tradewinds. In these areas, you’ll find calmer waters and better visibility, along with an array of colorful marine life.

Conversely, most beaches on the east are not well suited for snorkeling. Strong changing currents and poor visibility make swimming and snorkeling difficult, and dangerous at times.

Maui Snorkel Tours


1. Molokini Crater

An aerial view of snorkeling boats at Molokini Crater, Maui

Molokini Crater is not just considered one of the best snorkel spots in Maui, but one of the best snorkeling destinations in the world!

As a protected marine reserve, the conditions are pristine and the reef is abundant with underwater life. While snorkeling, you can spot manta rays, sharks, turtles, and an array of tropical fish that inhabit the coral reef.

As the crater is located a fair distance off the south shore of Maui, a boat tour is required for this underwater adventure! There are a number of tour companies that offer snorkeling trips to Molokini Crater.

Snorkeling Tip: As this is one of the most popular tours in Maui tours fill up weeks in advance. Be sure to book as early as possible to avoid disappointment.


2. Honolua Bay

Snorkelers seen in the crystal clear water of Honolua Bay, the best Maui snorkeling place.
  • Nearest Town: Kapalua
  • Parking? Small parking lot at northern entry and streetside parking.
  • Public Bathrooms? Portapotties at parking lot.
  • Showers? No.
  • Lifeguard? No.

Tucked away in a small cove in West Maui, crystal clear waters and thriving coral gardens are in abundance at Honolua Bay, arguably the best Maui snorkeling spot accessible by land.

As a Marine Life Conservation Area, it protects the myriad of aquatic creatures that call it home. Accordingly, you can expect to encounter huge schools of vibrant, tropical fish, as well as turtles.

Make sure you pack your beach shoes, as well as your snorkel gear! The beach has no sand but is comprised instead of bulbous rocks.

Snorkeling tours at Honolua Bay are a popular option for visitors short on time and equipment. However, the park is public and can be accessed without permits or tours.

Snorkel Tip: Take a tour for a much easier way to get directly to the best snorkel areas at Honolua Bay.

DISCOVER EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW:
COMPLETE GUIDE TO HONOLUA BAY


3. Turtle Town (Maluaka Beach)

Maluaka Beach as seen from the ocean.

Nearest Town: Wailea
Parking? Yes.
Public Bathrooms? Yes.
Showers? Yes.
Lifeguard? Yes.

Rather than one specific location, Turtle Town is a stretch of the coastline in Makena from Nahuna Point to Oneuli Black Sand Beach. Aptly named, Turtle Town is home to a large population of Hawaiian green sea turtles.

With its golden sand shores, Maluaka is considered the best beach for snorkeling in Turtle Town. While turtles are frequently seen here, keep in mind that they are wild animals and, therefore, sightings are not guaranteed.

You will often see boats here as it is a popular place for snorkel tours. However, it is easily accessed from the shore. If you’re already planning a snorkel tour to Molokini Crater (which we highly recommend), it will also likely include a stop at Turtle Town.

Snorkeling Tip: For the best chance of seeing turtles, head to the lava rocks along the south end of the beach.


4. Olowalu Reef

An aerial view showing Olowalu Reef, one of the best Maui snorkel spots.

Nearest Town: Lahaina
Parking? Roadside.
Public Bathrooms? No.
Showers? No.
Lifeguard? No.

Just one glance at the aerial photo of Olowalu above and below and you’ll realize why this beach had to be included in our top 5 snorkel locations on Maui!

Olowalu Reef, also known as Turtle Reef, encompasses over 100 acres of some of the oldest reef structures in the Hawaiian Islands.

The unique reef that thrives here is an immaculate coral garden, teeming with all sorts of aquatic life and large coral heads that are hundreds of years old.

There is also a manta ray cleaning station, black tip reef shark nursery, and frequent turtle sightings, so it’s an excellent place to spot an array of marine animals.

The shallow water, calm conditions, and easy entry make it a great spot for beginners to learn.

The coral gardens of Olowalu make for an amazing Maui snorkeling spot.
An aerial view of Hwy 30 and the stunning reef at Olowalu.

For those that prefer tours, there are some great snorkel tours offered here, many of which included kayaking. They are, of course, not required, but may provide a better experience by leaning on the expertise of a local captain.

Olowalu provides the only major reef protected from the tradewinds so it’s one of the few places that’s good for snorkeling in Maui in the afternoon.

Snorkeling Tip: The reef is very shallow meaning you can’t snorkel here at low tide, so make sure you check tide times prior to visiting.


5. Coral Gardens

An underwater image of a pair of triggerfish in Hawaii

Located off the West Maui coast and accessible only by boat, Coral Gardens is a true underwater treasure trove. With crystal-clear waters providing visibility reaching 40-feet and an abundance of marine life, it’s no wonder that Coral Gardens is touted as one of the best Maui snorkel places.

As is the case with much of Hawaii’s landscapes, Coral Gardens was formed through volcanic activity. Over 500,000 years ago, lava from Mauna Kahalawai crater flowed into the ocean creating lava fingers.

Today, these volcanic formations provide the ideal environment for aquatic life to thrive.

Amongst the large coral heads, you can expect to spot all manner of tropical fish including triggerfish, butterflyfish, angelfish, and parrotfish. The fortunate may also find themselves swimming alongside a sea turtle or endangered Hawaiian monk seal.


6. Napili Bay

Nearest Town: Napili
Parking? Yes – at Napili Kai Beach Resort, plus some street parking.
Public Bathrooms? Yes.
Showers? Yes.
Lifeguard? No.

Napili Bay is one of the most beautiful snorkel beaches on Maui. The bay is well protected with generally calm, shallow waters, making it a good place for beginner snorkelers and families.

There is not as much coral here as some of the other snorkel spots. However, the rocky outcroppings at either end of the bay provide a home for ample marine life and the visibility is excellent.

Snorkeling tip: Snorkeling is not recommended here in the winter months when the surf is high.


7. Ulua & Mokapu Beach

Mokapu Beach at sunset, considered one of the best places for snorkeling in Maui
  • Nearest Town: Wailea
  • Parking? Yes.
  • Public Bathrooms? Yes.
  • Showers? Yes.
  • Lifeguard? No.

The golden sands of Ulua and Mokapu Beach are separated by a rocky reef formation stretching out from the shore. It is along this reef that you will find the greatest density of marine life, with humuhumunukunukuapua’a (reef triggerfish and the Hawaii state fish), butterflyfish, surgeonfish, and large schools of goatfish all choosing to hang out here!

The easy beach entry and generally calm water make it a great place for practicing your snorkel skills.

Deep down at the second reef is a turtle cleaning station. Here, turtles congregate to have their shells cleaned by small fish known as cleaner wrasse, so it’s not uncommon to see turtles coming and going!

Snorkel tip: Start at the north end of Ulua Beach and snorkel all the way around the reef to reach Mokapu, then either snorkel or walk back.

FIND OUT MORE:
COMPLETE GUIDE TO MOKAPU BEACH


8. Black Rock (Ka’anapali Beach)

Looking towards Black Rock from Kaanapali Beach, showing an expanse of white sand against vibrant blue ocean.

Nearest Town: Ka’anapali
Parking? Yes.
Public Bathrooms? No, the closest are at Whaler’s Village.
Showers? Yes.
Lifeguard? No.

Encompassing over 3 miles of white sand, it’s easy to see why Ka’anapali Beach was named America’s Best Beach. At the northern end of this impressive beach is Black Rock, a rocky outcrop that is a haven for tropical fish and sea turtles.

With its gradual sandy entrance, Black Rock is an ideal location for beginner snorkelers in Maui. However, the current can become strong quickly so caution should be used and only advanced snorkelers should venture around the point.

You will be snorkeling mostly over sand, following an underwater lava rock ledge teeming with brightly colored fish. The water clarity here is typically excellent, particularly further away from shore, and it is a great place for spotting turtles.

Snorkel tip: Black Rock is a famous cliff jumping location, so be aware of cliff jumpers here and avoid swimming beneath them!


9. Ahihi Bay

Ahihi Bay (ʻĀhihi-Kīnaʻu Natural Area Reserve) in Maui

Nearest Town: Wailea
Parking? Yes.
Public Bathrooms? Yes.
Showers? No.
Lifeguard? No.

Ahihi Bay is part of the protected ʻĀhihi-Kīnaʻu Natural Area Reserve. While the beach itself may not be impressive, the underwater world here is one of outrageous beauty.

Much of the reserve is closed to snorkelers, encompassing 2.1% of the Maui coastline where native marine life can live without human disturbance. However, the area that remains open is the most diverse and abundant reef in the reserve.

Snorkeling access is available at Kanahena Beach and ‘Āhihi Cove, and the best entry points are clearly signposted with a brown sign with a yellow butterfly fish on it.

Dolphins are often seen here, as well as sea turtles and monk seals.

Snorkel tip: The reef begins close to the shore at Kanahena Beach so be careful on entry to not step on any sharp rocks or damage the reef.


10. Five Caves & Makena Landing

A turtle comes up for air in front of a snorkeler at Makena Landing in Maui

Nearest Town: Wailea
Parking? Yes.
Public Bathrooms? Yes (at Makena Landing Park).
Showers? Yes (at Makena Landing Park).
Lifeguard? No.

Just south of Chang’s Beach, Five Caves is a top snorkel spot in Maui for more experienced snorkelers.

It is also known as Nahuna Point, as well as Five Graves due to its proximity to a graveyard, and is the most northerly part of the coast known as “Turtle Town”.

Accessing this snorkel site can be tricky due to its rocky shoreline, and it is only recommended for advanced snorkelers. For those that can get here, it is a rewarding place with a large population of sea turtles, huge schools of fish and the occasional eagle ray.

While Five Caves is a mostly rocky shoreline and recommended only for advanced snorkelers, Makena Landing to the south can be enjoyed from the shore by beginner snorkelers.

The underwater caves here provide a popular place for scuba divers but are too deep for most snorkelers to safely reach.


Best Beaches for Snorkeling in Maui

The Kapalua Bay Beach cove as seen from the beach resort in West Maui.
Kapalua Bay Beach

Rounding out the list of the Top 25 best Maui snorkeling spots are the most popular beach-access points.

All of these remaining destinations are free, public, and require nothing more than strapping on a mask and wading straight into the water.

While they may not provide as grandiose an experience as those featured in the Top 10, the ease of access makes each worth considering if you find yourself nearby.

  1. Kapalua Bay
  2. Slaughterhouse Bay (Mokulē‘ia Bay)
  3. La Perouse
  4. Po’olenalena Beach (Chang’s Beach)
  5. Oneuli Beach (Black Sand Beach)
  6. Keawakapu Beach
  7. Polo Beach
  8. Charley Young Beach
  9. Kamaole Beach Park
  10. Little Beach (Makena Beach)
  11. Kahekili (Airport Beach)
  12. Mala Wharf
  13. DT Fleming Beach
  14. Wahikuli Wayside Park
  15. Canoe Beach (Hanakao’o Park)

Best Maui Snorkeling Tours

A sail boat heading out to sea in Maui

Some of the best snorkeling spots in Maui can only be reached by boat, such as the most famous site of Molokini Crater. Additionally, there are some specific benefits to taking a snorkel tour rather than doing it yourself.

By booking a tour, you will have expert guidance from a local who knows the reefs better than anyone. This means that you’ll get to the best places based on the current conditions and have someone to direct you to the most beautiful areas.

Most tours will also include some refreshments, snorkel equipment, and interesting information on the area. During the winter, you may also spot migrating whales from the boat.

The most popular places for Maui snorkel tours include Molokini Crater, Honolua Bay, Turtle Town, Coral Gardens, and Lanai.

Top Rated Maui Snorkel Tours

Maui snorkelers in Honolua Bay

Below are the top-rated Maui snorkel trips.

It is worth noting that many tours do not list their exact snorkel locations. This is because they will choose the destination on the day based on current weather and ocean conditions.

Each tour has different start times, durations, sites, and inclusions, so make sure you compare them to find one that’s right for you. It is also not uncommon for tours to be fully booked during peak season, so it is worth booking in advance.

Molokini Crater and South Maui Coast Adventure from Kihei: 5/5 ⭐

Get an early start and be one of the first to Molokini Crater. Departing at 7am,  this 5-hour tour includes breakfast and lunch. After snorkeling the crystal clear waters of Molokini, you’ll head to ‘Turtle Town,’ stopping on the way to see some recent lava flows at La Perouse Bay.

Honolua Bay Snorkel Sail from Lahaina: 5/5 ⭐

Explore Honolua Bay and one other snorkel spot on this 6-hour tour with a certified marine naturalist. As well as enjoying the incredible aquatic life, indulge in breakfast and a BBQ lunch aboard.

West Maui Half Day Snorkel from Ka’anapali Beach: 5/5 ⭐

Discover two snorkel spots, chosen on the day for the best snorkeling, where you can swim alongside green sea turtles, tropical fish, and vibrant coral reef. This half-day tour includes breakfast and lunch.

Lanai Dolphin Adventure & Snorkel: 5/5 ⭐

Travel to the nearby island of Lanai with a small group of no more than 22 passengers. The 4-hour tour includes snorkeling at 1-2 stops off the coast of Lanai where you may see turtles, octopus, manta rays, and dolphins, as well as tropical fish.

What to Pack for Snorkeling in Maui

While putting together your packing list for Hawaii, you may want to consider a few key items specifically for snorkeling:

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE EVERYTHING FOR YOUR VACATION:
Printable Hawaii Packing List: Essentials + 25 Overlooked Items

Snorkeling in Maui FAQs

Use the drop-down list below to find the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about snorkeling in Maui.

Where is the best snorkeling Maui?

The best snorkeling in Maui can be found on the west coast in South and West Maui. The beaches here are more sheltered from the tradewinds and therefore have calmer waters and better visibility for snorkeling.

Molokini Crater on Maui is considered the best snorkel spot in all of Hawaii, but requires a boat or tour to reach.

What is the best snorkeling beach in Maui?

The best snorkeling beach in Maui is Honolua Bay. While it is less ideal for relaxing due to its pebbly beach, the bay is a protected marine reserve and provides an underwater paradise for snorkelers.

What month is best for snorkeling Maui?

The summer months from May to September typically provide the best conditions for snorkeling in Maui. It is, however, possible to snorkel on Maui year-round.

Where is the safest snorkeling on Maui?

The beaches along the west coast are the safest for snorkeling in Maui. The waters on the west are typically calmer and have better visibility. Some of the best specific areas include Napili Bay, Kapalua Bay, Ulua Beach, Mokapu Beach, and Maluaka Beach.

What is the best snorkeling spot to see turtles?

The coast between Nahuna Point and Oneuli Beach is known as “Turtle Town” and is one of the best places for snorkeling with turtles in Maui. Maluaka Beach and Five Caves are particularly good snorkel spots within Turtle Town.

Which side of Maui has the best snorkeling?

The best conditions for snorkeling in Maui can be found along the west coast in South and West Maui. This side of the island typically has the calmest waters and best visibility due to its protection from tradewinds.

Is there good snorkeling on Maui?

Yes! Maui is often considered the best of the Hawaiian islands for snorkeling with an abundance of incredible snorkeling spots where you can swim with a rainbow of tropical fish, turtles, and more.

What time should I snorkel in Maui?

While it is possible to snorkel on Maui throughout the day, some times are better than others. For the best chance of good visibility and calm water, head to the beach early. Typically, there is less wind and therefore better water conditions for snorkeling in the mornings.

Avoid snorkeling after heavy rain or during high winds. During these times, visibility is reduced and water conditions can be less ideal.

Is Molokini a good place to snorkel?

Molokini Crater is considered the best place to snorkel in Maui. As it can only be reached by boat, ensure you book your tour early to avoid disappointment.

Do I need to know swimming for snorkeling in Maui?

Snorkeling most involves floating on the surface so it is not essential to know how to swim for snorkeling in Maui. However, if you are not a confident swimmer be sure to stay within your limitations and use a flotation device. Many snorkel tours will provide lifejackets for you to use.

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4 thoughts on “Best Snorkeling in Maui: Top Spots, Tips, Maps, & Turtles (2022)”

  1. We are headed to Maui in October so this post was timely. We definitely want to go snorkelling. It is amazing how many different spots there are. And I was glad you said we should bring our own snorkelling gear. On the packing list now! It will be hard to pick just a few spots for our week visit. Good reason to go back!

    Reply

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