Of all the Hawaiian islands, the Big Island is the best snorkeling. The underwater world is teeming with coral gardens, tropical fish, and wildlife.
Most notably, the Big Island of Hawaii offers the opportunity to swim with dolphins in the morning or manta rays at night. These encounters are among the most transcendent moments we have ever personally experienced!
We visit the Big Island of Hawaii about once per year, always seeking new beaches and reefs to snorkel. In this guide, we will reveal what we consider to be the top 20 best snorkeling spots on the Big Island of Hawaii.
In addition, we will provide tips for free snorkeling spots, tour options, driving directions, and everything else you need to know.
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THE PERFECT 7 DAY BIG ISLAND ITINERARY
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🤿 Overview: Best Snorkeling on the Big Island
The top 20 best snorkeling spots on the Big Island are:
- Manta Ray Village Night Snorkel
- Captain Cook Monument
- Two Step (Hōnaunau Bay)
- Kahaluʻu Beach Park
- Magic Sands Beachv Park
- Kamakahonu Beach (King Kam Beach)
- Kaiakeakua Beach
- Makaiwa Bay (Mauna Lani Resort)
- Mauna Kea Beach (Kaunaʻoa Beach)
- Hapuna Beach
- Ho’okena Beach
- Richardson Ocean Park (Richardsons Beach Park)
- Waialea Bay (Beach 69)
- Waikōloa Beach (ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach)
- Punalu’u Beach (Black Sand Beach)
- Kua Bay (Manini’owali Beach)
- Honokaope Bay (Beach 49)
- Ohaiula Beach (Spencer Beach Park)
- Pau’oa Bay
- Lapakahi State Historical Park
You can see a photo for each snorkel spot listed in the gallery slideshow above.
The remainder of this guide will cover everything you need to know about each of these destinations.
🗺 Map of the Best Spots for Snorkeling on the Big Island
Above is an interactive map quick includes pins for all of the best snorkel spots on the Big Island that are featured in this guide.
Rather than hunting them down one-by-one, simply click on the image above or here to open the interactive map in a new tab!
🐢 20 Best Snorkeling Spots on the Big Island
1. Manta Ray Village Night Snorkel
Few experiences compare to floating in the ocean under the stars as a gentle giant appears, majestically swooping just below you. It is truly magical to watch the manta rays come belly-to-belly with you for a mouthful of dinner.
Not only is it the best snorkeling on the Big Island, it is also the one “must-do” on your Big Island bucket list. Having personally done this tour five times (yep, we love it that much), we cannot recommend it highly enough!
If you only book one tour on the Big Island, make it this one!
No snorkeling experience is required; you’ll just float with your feet on a noodle!
🐠 Snorkel Tip: If possible, book the earlier tour to allow you to watch the sunset from the boat on your way to Manta Village.
2. Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay Marine Life Conservation District
With warm, calm, and clear waters, Captain James Cook Monument is a world-renowned snorkeling destination and is considered the best snorkeling spot in all of Hawaii.
Captain Cook Monument is the iconic feature for which this snorkel spot is colloquially known, but you will actually be entering the waters of Kealakekua Bay Marine Conservation District.
As you may have surmised from the name, this is a marine sanctuary that protects an underwater world. Within the bay, you will find pristine waters that offer a spectacular diversity of marine life.
In addition to schools of brightly colored fish, you can also expect to see the occasional sea turtles and will almost always see pods of spinner dolphins from the boat.
While it is technically possible to get to this snorkel spot without a tour, it requires a very long drive and a challenging hike or kayak. The boat tours are affordable provide a much more pleasant experience, and save a lot of time as well.
During the winter months, you will also likely spot a few migrating whales if you do a boat tour!
🐠 Snorkel Tip: Choose a morning tour for the best chance of good weather and ocean conditions.
3. Two Step (honaunau Bay)
Most agree that Captain James Cook Monument is the best place to snorkel on the Big Island, but Two Step comes in a close second and does not require a tour or long hike.
The coral garden at Two Step is rich and teeming with aquatic life, making it easy to check many species off your Hawaii reef fish guide! The deeper waters in the center of the bay are regularly visited of spinner dolphins and Hawaiian monk seals.
Services are limited here, so plan accordingly. Also, it is so named because it requires two slippery steps to get into and out of the water. People with mobility issues may struggle at this location and should instead consider Kahalu’u Beach Park.
While visiting, be sure to pop into Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, located beside Two-Step. This NPS-run site protects a fascinating history of the sacred grounds there while offering photogenic scenery worthy of a postcard.
Be aware that there is absolutely no entering the water at the historic park, but Two Step is fair game!
🐠 Snorkel Tip: From the entry steps, head out at a 45-degree angle to the right; you will come to a sand patch at about 30-40ft with “Aloha” written out in cinder blocks on the bottom.
4. Kahalu’u Beach Park
Kahalu’u Beach Park offers a wide protected bay on the Kona coast with some of the most easily accessible and best snorkeling on the Big Island.
The fringing reef helps to protect the bay and typically keeps it free from currents. Additionally, its easy shore access and shallow depth make it a good place for kids and beginner snorkelers.
For those that are more experienced, head to the center of the bay where you can find larger coral heads.
The entrance for snorkeling is at the southern end of the bay and involves walking over some rocks, which can be slippery and uncomfortable. If you choose to wear water shoes, be sure that you only stand on the sand once in the water.
There is a convenient patch of sand after entry where you can stand and put on your snorkel gear.
🐠 Snorkel Tip: Be sure to chat with the volunteers at the Kahalu’u Bay Education Center in the park. They provide a wealth of knowledge about the underwater world here.
5. Magic Sands Beach Park
Magic Sands is easily the best beach in Kailua-Kona. While it is small and often crowded, it is also picturesque and very near town.
The snorkeling at Magic Sands is not as spectacular as many others in this collection, but the ease of access and beautiful beach scenery make it a must-see in South Kona.
This is a family-friendly beach, but mind the lava rock! Beach shoes may be preferable.
6. Kamakahonu Beach (King Kam Beach)
Kamakahonu Beach, also known as King Kam Beach, is located right in the heart of Kona Town.
The small, sheltered beach provides shallow and usually gentle waters, making it ideal for beginner snorkelers just learning.
As well as being a popular snorkel spot on the Big Island, it is also a site of cultural importance. It was the final home of King Kamehameha from 1812 until his death in 1819, and a reconstruction of his personal temple can be seen just offshore.
🐠 Snorkel Tip: Head to the right (north) out of the bay for the best snorkeling. However, once out of the bay be aware of boat traffic. Do not turn left as this area is busy with boats coming in to and out of Kailua Pier.
7. Kaiakeakua beach
Just 30ft south of King Kam Beach on the other side of Kailua Pier is Kaiakeakua Beach. While it is more of a small patch of sand than a true beach, it serves as an entry point for snorkeling at Kailua Bay.
The water here typically has excellent visibility and it’s a common place to spot local honu (sea turtles in Hawaiian).
🐠 Snorkel Tip: Snorkeling is only permitted within the buoys as the pier is used for large boats.
8. Makaiwa Bay (Mauna Lani Resort)
Soft white sand and crystal clear waters await you at Makaiwa Bay within Mauna Lani Resort. The small beach provides easy entry for snorkeling the shallow reef here.
You will discover the coral reef and the many creatures that call it home, including reef fish, octopuses, and eels, just 20 yards from the shore.
More advanced snorkelers can venture further out where the water clarity becomes even better and large schools of fish can be found.
🐠 Snorkel Tip: This is a great Big Island snorkel spot for beginners or snorkeling with kids, as the bay is sheltered and usually has calm water.
9. Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (Kaunaʻoa Beach)
Along the Kohala Coast north of Kona and Waikoloa, Mauna Kea Beach provides excellent snorkeling in the summer when the water is typically calmer.
Considered one of the best beaches on the Big Island, the picturesque white sand beach provides easy entry to the water. Mauna Kea Beach Hotel services it, but you do not have to be a guest to access it, as all beaches in Hawaii are public.
Public parking is available but is limited. Be sure to arrive early to ensure a spot. Visibility is also better in the morning, so it’s a win-win!
🐠 Snorkel Tip: For the best snorkeling, head to the rocky outcrop at the south end of the beach.
10. Hapuna Beach
When the water is calm, Hapuna Beach provides some of the best snorkeling on the Big Island. However, the visibility is typically not very good due to sand mixed in with the water and a freshwater layer on the surface.
The water around the rocky points to the north and south of the beach provides the most interesting areas for snorkeling.
Turtles are more frequently seen at the northern end of the beach.
Reaching these spots requires a bit of a swim and takes you out of the lifeguards’ line of sight. Therefore, we recommend this only for advanced snorkelers with a buddy.
🐠 Snorkel Tip: Do not snorkel here if the surf is up, as the waves can get big, making snorkeling dangerous.
11. Ho’okena Beach
12. Richardson Ocean Park (Richardsons Beach Park) in Hana
While the Kona and Kohala coasts on the west of the island are most famed for their impressive snorkel destinations, Richardson Ocean Park should not be overlooked.
Located on the east coast of the Big Island, Richardsons Beach Park offers the best snorkeling on that side of the island. Several factors make this beach a choice spot for snorkeling.
Its waters are fairly shallow and almost entirely free of currents, making swimming easy. Furthermore, part of the beach is a protected marine conservation area. Finally, fresh water feeds into the ocean from nearby springs, creating an ideal environment for marine life to thrive.
🐠 Snorkel Tip: This is a popular spot for local families on weekends, so try to visit during the week to avoid the crowds.
13. Waialea Bay Marine Conservation District (Beach 69)
The Wailea Bay beach is a remote getaway located just down the road from the famous Hapuna Beach Park. It does not have as many services available as you will find at Hapuna, but as a Hawaii marine conservation area, you can count on discovering a thriving underwater world.
You will typically hear Wailea Bay referred to as Beach 69 because of a utility pole located at the entrance numbered 69.
Showers and restrooms are available, as is free parking.
The best snorkeling at Beach 69 is on the south side of the bay. The beach itself is often submerged in winter when the surf is high but tends to be plentiful albeit coarse in the summer months.
14. Waikōloa Beach (ʻAnaehoʻomalu Bay)
Waikoloa is the most popular place to stay outside of Kona, and the entire Kohala region nearby is home to the best beaches. Among them, Waikoloa Beach is near the top of every must-see list.
Whether seeking a beach day or a snorkeling adventure, or both, the crystal clear waters of ʻAnaehoʻomalu Bay are sure to impress.
If you think the name ʻAnaehoʻomalu Bay is a mouthful, you’re not alone! Locals and visitors alike typically just refer to this area as A-Bay.
15. Punalu’u Beach (Black Sand Beach)
While there are many black sand beaches on the Big Island, Punalu’u is the one being referred to when someone mentions Black Sand Beach without further context. This is the most famous and spectacular on the island (apologies to Waipio Black Sand Beach, which is also phenomenal).
Punalu’u Beach is actually rather difficult to snorkel in as it is very shallow and the waters are rough, but it is a noteworthy snorkel spot due to the vast number of sea turtles that live there.
Any time of day, you will typically find at least one of these peaceful guys sunning on the shore. Strap on a mask, and you will equally quickly tend to find one nibbling away underwater.
16. Kua Bay (Manini’owali Beach)
The beach at Kua Bay just might have the softest sand on the Big Island. It is also an incredible place to watch the sunset, with clear westerly views and, frequently, migrating whales splashing in the distance.
There is absolutely some great snorkeling available, but most visitors come for a casual beach day. Of course, there is no rule against both!
As you can see in the photo above, the north edge of the bay has a bit of coral and lava rock, where you will find the best snorkeling off of Manini’owali Beach.
Parking, restrooms, showers, and picnic areas are all available.
17. Honokaope Bay (Beach 49)
Beach 49 is another black sand beach, but it is the only one located in the Kohala region.
It is the shoreline that leads to Honokaope Bay, where you will find less crowds and clearer water than many of the best Big Island snorkel spots listed above. Unfortunately, it is also located within a gated community, and parking is very limited.
Beach 49 is certainly worth considering if you want to get away from the crowds and can get there early, but Beach 69 is probably the better option for most in this region.
18. Ohaiula Beach (Spencer Beach Park)
The photo above says it all, doesn’t it? The water at Spencer Beach Park is incredibly clear, and a lush bed of coral provides a sanctuary for tropical fish and other marine life nearby.
Ohaiula Beach provides one of the easiest access points to coral gardens that you will find, and most services are available. Despite all this, this is one of the lesser-visited snorkel spots on Big Island… which is great news for you!
19. Pau’oa Bay
The Fairmont Orchid Hotel maintains the beach at Pau’oa Bay, but like all beaches in Hawaii, you do not have to be a guest to enjoy its white sand shore!
Plenty of turtles live nearby, so there is a good chance of spotting one, though the crowds and inevitably screaming children that you will find in this family-friendly snorkel spot tend to scare most of them off.
Pauoa Bay is absolutely recommended for anyone staying nearby or for families with small children, but is one to skip if you are in search of anything quiet and secluded!
20. Lapakahi State Historical Park
One final Hawaii Marine Life Conservation District rounds out the list of the best snorkeling on the Big Island.
Lapakahi State Historic Park is the northernmost spot we suggest considering for your snorkeling itinerary.
Where was once an important fishing village and coastal settlement is now just ruins and a fantastic place to grab some fins and jump in the water.
🐬 Best Big Island Snorkeling Tours
While there are some great snorkeling beaches on the Big Island, some of the best places for snorkeling can only be reached by boat.
There are also some other benefits that come with booking 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.
Boat tours also offer a unique perspective of the island and provide the opportunity to spot other wildlife, such as dolphins and whales.
Most tours will also include some refreshments, snorkel equipment, and interesting information on the area. However, check individual tours for specific inclusions.
Top Rated Big Island Snorkeling Tours
Manta Ray Village Night Snorkel: 5/5 ⭐️
If you book only one tour on your entire Big Island vacation, make it the manta ray night snorkel. It is hard to overstate the feeling of watching these ghost-like giants swimming toward you, then majestically rolling as they go belly-to-belly for a mouthful of dinner.
Take a sunset sail out to Manta Ray Village before donning your wetsuit and snorkel gear for a guaranteed manta ray sighting. After encountering these majestic creatures, climb back aboard and warm up with hot chocolate and snacks.
Set sail down the Kona coast on a half-day cruise to two incredible snorkeling sites. Explore both the incredible reef at Captain Cook Monument as well as another snorkel site.
In addition to providing breakfast, lunch, and all equipment, they will also give you more information about the area’s history and expert snorkeling tips.
Both the morning and afternoon snorkel tours offer an unforgettable experience. However, we recommend the morning tours as the conditions tend to be better.
For adventurous adrenaline seekers, this speedboat snorkel experience is a great way to explore the coast, looking for wildlife before jumping in and discovering the Big Island’s impressive underwater world. With a maximum group size of 14, this snorkel tour also provides a more personalized experience.
This 3-hour kayak and snorkel tour is ideal for those looking for a more active experience. Starting at Napoopoo Pier, you will follow your guide for a strenuous kayak across Kealakekua to reach your snorkeling spot at Awili Cove near the Captain Cook Monument.
Your reward is a refreshing swim as you admire the breathtaking underwater treasure trove that is one of the Big Island’s best snorkel spots.
In addition to providing kayak and snorkel gear, this tour also includes exclusive state permits to land near Captain Cook Monument and visit this site.
🐠 7 Important Tips for Snorkeling the Big Island
Now that you know all of the best places for snorkeling on the Big Island, we recommend you read the following snorkeling tips to ensure the best possible experience.
In addition, these tips will help keep you and the environment safe and save you a few bucks!
1. Bring Your Own Snorkel Gear
The cost of renting snorkel gear on the Big Island is less than on some other islands at around $10-15 per day. However, it is still typically cheaper to buy your own gear!
Additionally, having your own snorkel gear provides flexibility and convenience. You can snorkel whenever you want without having to worry about picking up or dropping off rentals.
2. Only Use Reef-Safe Sunscreen
Did you know that traditional sunscreens are toxic to coral reefs? The NPS estimates that 4,000-6,000 tons of sunscreen pollute our reefs each year, with the most popular spots seeing the most damage.
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
In addition to providing a home to millions of different species, coral reefs also play an important role in protecting the coastlines from storms and erosion.
While corals can look like rocks, they are in fact, a living animal and are very fragile.
To ensure the protection of the reef, always 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 on the Big Island are very delicate.
By following leave-no-trace principles and respecting the environment, we can help keep the oceans’ beauty 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
You never know when you may run into trouble and sudden “shallow water blackouts” can occur. Having a buddy with you ensures you have someone to help out if you ever need it.
Better still, you have someone to enjoy the fun with!
6. Choose the Right Time of Day
While it is possible to snorkel on Big Island throughout the day, choosing the best time can tremendously help your experience.
The best time of day to snorkel on the Big Island is in the morning, about 1-2 hours after sunrise.
Head to the beach early for the best chance of calm water and good visibility. During the morning hours, there is typically less wind and waves, making the ocean conditions better for snorkeling.
However, if you arrive too early, the sun will not yet be overhead enough to provide valuable light. This is why it is best to wait a couple of hours after sunrise.
Additionally, 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
Pack an underwater camera to ensure you can capture the incredible, vibrant aquatic world that awaits you on the Big Island.
Few vacation memories compare to coming face-to-face with a turtle for the first time or being surrounded by a kaleidoscope of fish; make sure you can capture these moments 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.
More Snorkeling Safety Tips
While snorkeling on the Big Island 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.
🧳 What to Pack for Snorkeling on the Big Island
While putting together your packing list for Hawaii, you may want to consider a few key items specifically for snorkeling:
- Snorkel gear
- Reef-safe mineral sunscreen
- Long-sleeved rash guard
- Underwater camera
- Reusable water bottle
- Sand-resistant beach towel
- Hawaii reef fish guide
🧐 MAKE SURE YOU HAVE EVERYTHING FOR YOUR VACATION:
Printable Hawaii Packing List: Essentials + 25 Overlooked Items
🙋♀️ FAQs About Snorkeling on Big Island Hawaii
Use the drop-down list below to find the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about snorkeling on the Big Island.
🤿 Is there good snorkeling on the Big Island?
The snorkeling on the Big Island is perhaps the best of all of the Hawaiian Islands. It is famous for being able to snorkel with manta rays at night.
🐢 Is there good snorkeling on Kona?
The Kona coast has some of the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island. These include Captain Cook Monument (Kealakekua Bay), Two Step, Kahalu’u Beach Park, and Kamakahonu Beach (King Kam Beach). You can also snorkel with manta rays at night in Kona.
🐠 Is snorkeling better in Hilo or Kona?
The snorkeling on the Kona side (west coast) of the Big Island is much better than on the Hilo side (east coast). The Kona side typically has much better conditions for snorkeling, with the calmest waters and best visibility due to its protection from tradewinds, as well as more frequent sunshine.
🌅 What is the best time to snorkel in Hawaii?
The best time to snorkel in Hawaii is in the morning, about 1-2 hours after sunrise. The morning hours typically have less wind and waves, therefore creating better ocean conditions for snorkeling.
Additionally, waiting a couple of hours after sunrise provides ample overhead light to add vibrancy to the underwater world.
It is possible to snorkel year-round in Hawaii, however, the summer months (May-September) provide the best time for snorkeling in Hawaii as ocean conditions are calmer.
📖 More Big Island Travel Guides
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If you are planning your first visit to the Big Island, there is a lot to consider beyond just finding the best snorkeling spots!
Browse these popular planning guides for your visit and be sure to load any that are relevant to your upcoming visit!
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💬 Final Thoughts on Big Island’s Best Snorkel Spots
The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below 🙂
We truly hope you have found this guide useful as you plan your dream vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii. We are sure you are going to fall in love with the critters and reef you discover.
Now we’d like to hear from YOU!
Was there anything that was confusing, missing, or in need of updates? Was it everything you hoped for and more?!
Let us know in the comments!