Best Snorkeling on the Big Island: Free Spots & Epic Tours (2023)

Best snorkeling on the Big Island of Hawaii blog post cover graphic.  Text overlaying an image of a turtle resting on the coral reef with a female snorkeler seen freediving in the background.

Discover the top 20 best snorkeling spots on the Big Island of Hawaii, as well as what to know and how to get there, in this complete guide.

Of all the Hawaiian islands, many consider the Big Island to be the best of them all for underwater wildlife and coral garden viewing. Most notably, the opportunity to swim with manta rays at night or dolphins by day top the list for every visitor’s Hawaii bucket list.

Read on to discover top tips for snorkeling the Big Island as well as best locations, maps, photos, and more.


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🤿 Best Snorkeling on the Big Island Overview

A woman snorkeling on the Big Island of Hawaii with a green sea turtle

The majority of this guide will cover everything you need to know about snorkeling on the Big Island of Hawaii. For quick reference, the top 20 snorkel sites are listed below.

The top 20 best snorkeling spots on the Big Island are:

  1. Manta Ray Village Night Snorkel
  2. Captain Cook Monument
  3. Two Step (Hōnaunau Bay)
  4. Kahalu’u Beach Park
  5. Kamakahonu Beach (King Kam Beach)
  6. Kaiakeakua Beach
  7. Makaiwa Bay (Mauna Lani Resort)
  8. Mauna Kea Beach (Kaunaʻoa Beach)
  9. Hapuna Beach
  10. Richardson Ocean Park (Richardsons Beach Park)
  11. Honokaope Bay (Beach 49)
  12. Waialea Bay (Beach 69)
  13. Magic Sands Beach Park (La‘aloa Beach)
  14. Ohaiula Beach (Spencer Beach Park)
  15. Punalu’u Beach (Black Sand Beach)
  16. Kua Bay (Manini’owali Beach)
  17. Pau’oa Bay
  18. Ho’okena Beach
  19. Lapakahi State Historical Park
  20. Waikōloa Beach (ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach)
  • Underwater photo of a manta ray coming up for food on a night snorkel in Kona.
    1. Manta Ray Night Snorkel

🐠 7 Important Tips for Snorkeling the Big Island

Before we get into the best places for snorkeling on the Big Island, we first recommend you read the following snorkeling tips to ensure the best possible experience.

In addition, these tips will help to keep you and the environment safe, as well as saving you a few bucks!

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 the Big Island.

Unless you plan on only doing snorkel tours on the Big Island, we highly recommend bringing 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 the convenience of being able to snorkel whenever you want 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.

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 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

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

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 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.

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, and therefore better ocean conditions 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

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

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.

🗺 Map of the Best Spots for Snorkeling on the Big Island

Below you will find a map of all the best snorkel spots on the Big Island.

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

Google Map of the best snorkel spots on the Big Island of Hawaii

🐢 Top 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

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.

Located within Kealakekua Bay marine sanctuary, the pristine waters 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.

A pod of spinner dolphins swim under the Sea Paradise boat at Captain Cook Monument.

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 and 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 (Hōnaunau 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.

🐠 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 chose to wear water shoes, be sure that you only stand on 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. Kamakahonu Beach (King Kam Beach)

A view of Kamakahonu Beach in a tropical setting on the Big Island in Kona town.

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.

6. Kaiakeakua beach

A girl enters the calm waters at Kaiakeakua Beach in Kailua-Kona Town

Just 30ft south of King Kam Beach on the other side of Kailua Pier is Kaiakeakua Beach. While the beach is more just a small patch of sand than a true beach, it serves as an entry point for snorkeling 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.

7. Makaiwa Bay (Mauna Lani Resort)

A butterflyfish seen while snorkeling on the Big Island of Hawaii

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.

Just 20 yards from the shore you will discover the coral reef and the many creatures that call it home, including reef fish, octopus, and eels.

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.

8. Mauna Kea Beach (Kaunaʻoa Beach)

Reef triggerfish or humuhumunukunukuapua'a is the Hawaiian state fish, seen here while snorkeling on the Big Island of Hawaii

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.

Public parking is available but is limited so 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.

9. 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 so good due to mixed-in sand and a freshwater layer that sits 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 line of sight of the lifeguards here. Therefore, we only 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.

10. Richardson Ocean Park (Richardsons Beach Park)

A longnose butterfly fish amongst coral seen while snorkeling in Hawaii

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 the east side of the Big Island. There are several factors that lend to this beach being such a choice spot for snorkeling.

Its waters are fairly shallow and almost entirely current free making swimming here easy. On top of this, 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 at the weekends so try to visit during the week to avoid the crowds.

🐙 More Best Big Island Snorkel Spots

A trumpetfish and other tropical fish seen amongst coral while snorkeling on the Big Island of Hawaii

Rounding out the list of the Top 20 best Big Island snorkeling spots are some of the “honorable mentions” for beautiful underwater exploration.

While they may not be the most spectacular or famous, many are special in their solitude if noting else. If you find yourself nearby or want something less popular, consider these other 10 snorkeling spots.

  1. Honokaope Bay (Beach 49)
  2. Waialea Bay (Beach 69)
  3. Magic Sands Beach Park (La‘aloa Beach)
  4. Ohaiula Beach (Spencer Beach Park)
  5. Punalu’u Beach (Black Sand Beach)
  6. Kua Bay (Manini’owali Beach)
  7. Pau’oa Bay
  8. Ho’okena Beach
  9. Lapakahi State Historical Park
  10. Waikōloa Beach (ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach)

🐬 Best Big Island Snorkeling Tours

An over-under image showing a woman in a yellow swimsuit freediving beneath a Sea Paradise snorkel tour boat on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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 give you a unique perspective of the island, as well as 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.

The most popular places for Big Island snorkel tours include Manta Village Night Snorkel and Captain Cook Monument, both of which we have done repeatedly and highly recommend.

Top Rated Big Island Snorkeling Tours

Manta Ray Village Night Snorkel: 5/5 ⭐️

Underwater photo of a manta ray coming up for food on a night snorkel in Kona.

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.

Deluxe Sail & Snorkel to the Captain Cook Monument: 5/5 ⭐️

A woman seen snorkeling in the background with a turtle tucked into the coral reef in the foreground.

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, you will also learn more about the history of the area 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.

Kona Wild Dolphin & Reef Snorkel Adventure: 5/5 ⭐️

Underwater photo of a snorkeler swimming with dolphins on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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.

Kayak and Snorkel Combo Adventure: 5/5 ⭐️

This 2.5-3 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.

🧳 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:

Printable Hawaii Packing List: Essentials + 25 Overlooked Items

❓ Snorkeling on Big Island FAQs

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 some of the best in all of the Hawaiian Islands. It is also the only Hawaiian island where you can 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!

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