If you’re heading to Hawaii and planning to spend a lot of time in the ocean – these are our top picks for best snorkeling in Big Island when you visit.
The Big Island of Hawaii is home to some of the best places to go snorkeling. Beginners and diving professionals flock to these gorgeous tropical waters in droves, hoping to catch a glimpse of coral reefs, manta rays, and an array of other unique marine life.
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Best Snorkeling In Big Island
Snorkeling on the Big Island is a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable experience. If you are unfamiliar with the Big Island’s best snorkeling spots, use this guide to help get you started.
Kahalu’u Beach Park
Kahalu’u Beach Park is one of the best places to go snorkeling on Big Island, Hawaii for beginners. They have an on-site gear rental facility with daily and weekly rental rates, as well as on-duty lifeguards.
The conditions here are perfect for snorkeling. The wide bay is sheltered from the tempestuous ocean and brimming with crystal-clear, shallow waters. While snorkeling at Kahalu’u Beach Park, you are likely to catch a glimpse of schools of colorful tropical fish, octopus, sea urchins, and even sea turtles.
The best place to enter the water for snorkeling is on the south side of the bay near the church Saint Peters by the Sea. In addition to snorkeling gear, water shoes are recommended footwear as the waters closest to the beach are covered in slippery lava rock.
The bay is also a historical site with significant cultural significance for the Hawaiian people. The temple overlooking the bay, Ku-emanu Heiau, was once used as a spot for prayer and observation.
Conservationists and environmental lovers can also take advantage of Kahalu’u Beach Park’s ReefTeach Program. This incredible educational course teaches people how to protect and care for the Big Island’s most precious resources, including wildlife and corals.
Beachcombers and advanced snorkelers alike enjoy the stunning Hapuna Beach. Hapuna Beach is a State Recreation Area with numerous camping spots, bathroom facilities, and a small restaurant to satisfy your post-snorkeling hunger.
The beach features a stretch of golden sand that butts up against blue-green, crystal-clear waters that are perfect for snorkeling. Snorkelers can enter the water off of the beach to observe different types of marine life.
The waters at Hapuna Beach see relatively large waves as it is less sheltered than other Big Island snorkeling spots. It is not a good spot for beginner snorkelers or weak swimmers.
The best snorkeling requires you to swim farther out. There are several rocky outcroppings on either side of the beach and a nearby bay that snorkelers often explore. In these spots, the water can reach depths of 30 feet. The common marine life here includes:
- Sea Cucumber
- Sea Urchins
Although the coral at Hapuna Beach is limited, lobe and mound coral is visible in certain areas.
Richardson’s Ocean Park
The black sand beaches at Richardson’s Ocean Park make this one of the best places to go snorkeling on the Big Island. Richardson’s Ocean Park is a sheltered spot on the east side of the Big Island with calm waters, protected lagoons, and tide pools. A lifeguard is also on duty from 7-7 pm daily.
Richardson’s is a marine conservation area bursting with unique marine life. The ocean is fed by cool freshwater springs that mingle with the warm ocean water. These optimal water conditions are preferred spots for Hawaiian Monk Seals and Green Sea Turtles. You may even spot a migratory whale in the distance.
Richardson’s is an excellent spot to visit if you are an inexperienced snorkeler or want to share the experience with family.
Honaunau Bay (The City of Refuge)
Honaunau Bay is a popular Big Island location for deep water snorkeling. There are several ocean entry spots from the beach, incredible views of the bay off the back rock, and a wide range of underwater life thriving below the surface.
The best time to snorkel at Honaunau Bay is in the morning when the bright sun illuminates the world below the water. The deeper waters here are home to Spinner dolphins, an uncommon but delightful treat to view during a snorkeling excursion.
The waters on the bay’s south side are shallower and can offer glimpses of sea turtles and schools of tropical fish. On the north side of the bay sits a coastline made of lava cliffs to explore as well.
Most experienced snorkelers and locals agree that Kealakekua Bay is one of the best places to go snorkeling on the Big Island. The underwater sanctuary is naturally isolated from the wind and waves, giving snorkelers a calm and beautiful spot to explore.
Under the water in Kealakekua Bay are a vibrant community of colorful fish, beautiful coral structures, and fingers of pillow lava. Lizardfish, butterflyfish, and flame angelfish make their home in the bay.
It can be tricky to get to Kealakekua Bay as there are no paved roads that lead directly to it. However, this has helped keep the conditions here pristine. As a result, snorkelers can see down more than 100 feet into the water.
The bay also has cultural significance to native Hawaiians. This spot is where ancient Hawaiians would come to honor the fertility god Lono-i-ka-makahiki during the annual Makahiki festival.
Mauna Kea Beach (Kauna’oa Beach)
Mauna Kea Beach is a family-friendly spot with white sandy beaches, a forest of palm trees, and magnificent blue water perfect for snorkeling.
The beach is part of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and stretches for over half a mile. There are places to rent snorkeling equipment at the beach if you don’t have your own.
The area is good for both beginner and advanced snorkelers. However, the water occasionally experiences strong rip tides and large waves that make snorkeling dangerous.
Mauna Kea Beach is the best place to go snorkeling on the Big Island for people who want to observe Manta Rays. Every night snorkelers can dive into the warm waters and view the gentle giants hunt for plankton.
Waialea Bay (Beach 69)
If you’re looking for a quiet Hawaiian beach to frequent during your stay on the Big Island, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Waialea Bay. It is a popular but secluded spot. The beach features traditional white sand slopes and pristine blue-green waters that are perfect for exploring.
You can snorkel anywhere off of the beach. However, the places with the best marine life are on the south side of the bay. Unique tropical fish call the coral structures and large rock formations home. In the winter, lucky visitors may see humpback whales on the outskirts of the bay.
Snorkelers will have the best luck at Waialea Bay if they stick to the rocky edges along the shoreline. The water in these areas is no more than 15 feet deep, which makes catching a glimpse of marine life much easier.
La’aloa Beach (Magic Sands)
When the tide rolls in at La’aloa Beach, the luxurious white sands disappear to reveal incredible rock formations of all shapes and sizes. The phenomenon is what gives the beach the name Magic Sands.
Thanks to the strong tide and large waves, La’aloa Beach is not a spot for beginner snorkelers to frequent. However, experienced snorkelers who brave the waters are rewarded with views of incredible marine life. The waters are home to larger marine life like whales, dolphins, moray eels, sea turtles, and manta rays.
Many fish are visible while snorkeling, including clownfish, pufferfish, and yellow tang.
The beach has several bathroom facilities as well as an on-duty lifeguard.
Mauna Lani Beach – Makaiwa Bay
Mauna Lani Beach sits along the Kohala Coast. This spectacular cove has safe, calm, and shallow waters ideal for snorkelers of any experience. There are numerous natural wonders to behold here, such as octopi, eels, and beautiful coral reefs in many colors.
A ways from shore the bay opens up and even more marine life is visible. If you are a strong swimmer, snorkeling farther out in Makaiwa Bay will let you see larger animals like sea turtles.
When you’re tired from snorkeling in the bay, you can enjoy sunbathing on the beautiful sandy beach or sip a luxurious cocktail under an umbrella.
Final Thoughts – Best Snorkeling in Big Island
The Big Island in Hawaii is full of beautiful places to snorkel. Some of the best places to go snorkeling on the Big Island are sheltered bays with shallow, calm waters. Whether you’re a beginner or a proficient snorkeler, there are beautiful wonders to experience below the water’s surface.