Island of Hawaii Snorkeling Guide
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The big island of Hawaii has many snorkeling opportunities. From shallow calm bays to underwater cliffs on exposed points, there is a snorkeling location for every skill level. Like most tropical islands, there is a windward (rough) side and a leeward (calm) side. On the island of Hawaii, the leeward side is the west side of the island centered around Kona and subsequently has almost all the snorkeling locations. This coastline stretches almost 100 miles long and we reviewed 30 different snorkeling locations. We explored the popular snorkeling areas and expanded from there to remote areas. From easy ladder entrances to hike-in snorkeling this review covers the best of Hawaii snorkeling.
Check out our downloadable PDF snorkeling map set for the Island of Hawaii that include extra detailed information about each location. Easy to use for quick offline reference.
Snorkeling in the Hawaiian islands is dependent on conditions...
The water temperature during the winter months can be chilly for snorkeling and wetsuits may be needed. The summer months are much warmer with calmer conditions. However, wind and waves can be also an issue during the summer months. Several areas listed in this snorkeling guide are protected from waves all day long. Other locations need to be chosen on calmer days. On average, the calmest wind is early morning until midday. It is common to see folks recreating at beaches before 9 AM.
Two unique wildlife encounters listed on this guide are the Spinner Dolphin Tour and nighttime Manta Ray Tour. The chance for encounters is high on these tours and they are some of the few places on the planet where you can experience.
Unlike other snorkeling guides, here at Snorkeling Quest we personally snorkel and video each location we list in our guides. We do the hard work so you don’t have to. Our goal is to save you time on your vacation and bring you directly to the snorkeling spot. Please enjoy this snorkeling guide and check out our downloadable pdf maps of the Island of Hawaii for even more detailed information.
Island of Hawaii Snorkeling Map
(Click the box on the map header to open in Google Maps app)
Click to jump to each location:
- 49 Black Sand Beach
- Akoni Pule Hwy, Beach 8.5
- Anaehoomalu Point
- Captain Cook Monument
- Honaunau Bay (Place of Refuge, 2-Step)
- Honomalino Beach
- Kahalu’u Bay
- Kahoiawa Bay
- Kailua-Kona Harbor
- Kauna’oa Beach (Mauna Kea Resort)
- Keawaiki Bay (Lone Palm)
- Kilholo Bay
- Kiholo Bay Turtles
- Kona Dog Beach
- Kua Bay
- Leleiwi Park
- Mahai’ula Beach
- Mahukona Beach Park
- Manini Beach
- Manta Ray Night Snorkel Tour
- Mile Marker 4
- Miloli’I Harbor
- Old Kona Airport
- O’oma Beach
- Pahoehoe Beach Park
- Pauoa Bay
- Pua Ka ‘llima ‘O Kawaihae Cultural Surf Park
- Puako Church
- Puako Village End
- Richardson Ocean Park
- Spinner Dolphin Tour
49 Black Sand Beach
Good snorkeling and nice easy beach entrance. The bay is also protected from waves all day long. The best areas to snorkel are the left (west) side of the small bay. Coral pillars and small caves are in this area. Overall, not an extensive area to snorkel, but the beach is peaceful and uncrowded. Facilities, but no food available at the beach.
The beach is inside a private community, but state law requires public access. Check in at the guard station on the way in and tell them you are going to the beach. Be polite, but don’t let them tell you need a secret handshake or the parking lot is full. They are legally obligated to give you access.
Akoni Pule Hwy, Beach 8.5
Great spot. Little hidden beach a 10-minute hike from the highway. Enter at the cove and swim out and to the left (south) for the best areas. Healthy coral with crevasses in between. Once you are beyond the cove, look to the north shoreline and you will see a cave along the water line. It doesn’t go back far, but still fun to explore.
The pull-off area on the highway is unmarked, it’s just north of milepost 8.5 on Akoni Pule Hwy. Use the point on the digital map for navigation. The trail/road down to the shore is not recommended driving. Only higher clearance trucks can make it.
More for the adventurous snorkeler. Moderately difficult entry, you will have to choose your entry point. The best option is a sandy entrance just south of the point. There’s a short swim out to the drop-off wall that extends all the way to Puako. Moderately shallow wall starting less than 20ft. The main feature is the cliffs and ledges to explore.
This is an exposed point in an isolated area, subject to strong waves. Advanced snorkelers only. Go early and pick a calm day. Park in the public parking lot on Waikoloa Beach Drive. Walk on the nature trail through the ponds to the shore and take a right (north) to the point.
Captain Cook Monument (Kealakekua Bay)
Excellent snorkeling, some of the best on the island. Well worth the journey out here. The north side of the bay has extensive coral reef that sharply drops to the depths below. Plenty of shallow and deep water snorkeling for all skill levels. Great fish diversity. The bay is protected from waves and can be enjoyed most of the day. Due to its popularity, it can get crowded in the water as the snorkeling area is condensed along the north tip of the bay. Tour boats usually show up later morning.
There are several ways to access by either hike, boat or kayak. Hiking is the cheapest option. There is parking along Napoopoo Road at the trailhead. The hike is moderately difficult at 1.75 miles long and drops 1,200 ft to the water. Save some energy for the hike out. Not much shade along the hike. The first part of the hike has a lot of collapsed vegetation. If it rained recently (which it does often) the vegetation will be covered in mud, which will get all over your legs as you hike. Another way to get to the bay is on a snorkel boat tour. This is a popular area for snorkel boats, and you should have no problem finding a tour here. The other way to get is by paddling a kayak across the bay from the Manini Beach area. There are a couple kayak tour operators across the bay.
Honaunau Bay (Place of Refuge, 2-Step)
Very popular snorkel and shore dive area. Easy entrance, just find the 2 steps! Protected bay with calm water all day long. Coral surrounds the bay. The best snorkel areas seem to be the south end. There is a deep-water area to the north side of the bay. Spinner dolphins may be seen loitering in the deep water, occasionally coming up for air. Try to not approach too close.
This area is located next to Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. There is limited free parking but pay options available.
Hike-in to a secluded black sand beach. The snorkeling here requires some intermediate skills. The best snorkeling is near the outside of the bay requiring a longer swim. You will arrive on the trail along the north end of the bay. Take a right (west) and walk till the sand ends. Enter here. Snorkel along the north tip to the point. There are some coral pillars at the point. Near the center of the bay is a sandy bottom with coral islands in about 30 feet of water.
To find the trail out here, park at the county park pavilion in Miloli’I and walk south. A small trail will be on the right side of a private driveway. After a short distance your feet will get wet, just keep going. Honomalino Beach is about ¾ of a mile hike.
Very popular beginner snorkeling area. Large shallow bay area has a natural breaker area that protects the bay from waves. Snorkeling can be done all day long. Average coral but decent fish diversity in the bay. Depths do not exceed 10 feet. Entrance to the water can be difficult. Sharp lava rocks with no beach entrance. The surrounding beach park has a large parking lot, but it fills up quickly in the morning.
Hike-in snorkeling at a secluded beach. The snorkeling is average, but the seclusion and peacefulness make up for that. The entrance point is the small sandy beach in the bay. It is the only sand entrance to the water, so locating it should be straightforward. Snorkel to the right (north and east) inside the partially protected bay. Staying close to shore will reduce the wave exposure. This is a secluded area, so be careful and don’t attempt anything above your skill level.
The hike-in is less than half a mile. The parking area is along the same road to Kua Bay. There is a large gravel “parking” area near Pu’u Ku’ili hills, or you can park along the road. The large gravel pull-around area is your starting point. A trail should start at this larger parking area and head straight to the shore. It will be hard to locate the start of the trail, but you can see an obvious trail opposite the small ravine. Bushwack if needed to reach the trail. Follow it to the shore, you will intersect a 4wd road, take a left turn. Follow that to the beach. Where the trail reaches the 4wd road may be hard to locate on your way back. Pile rocks to make a cairn at this intersection on your way in. Thorns, cactus and sharp lava rocks along the trail, be careful with your feet.
You don’t need to travel far outside the city to see good reef. The snorkeling right in Kona Harbor is similar to other areas on the island. Courtyard Marriot has a small beach right next to the pier in Kona. It’s tempting to enter from the pier, but there are signs discouraging it. Swim from the beach out to the pier and turn right (south-west). There is not much to see until you reach the pier and beyond. Follow along the shore and enjoy the reef. Don’t be tempted to swim farther into the bay, the best reef is along the shoreline and going into the bay will expose you to boat traffic. Stay along the shore, but also be mindful of any boat traffic from the harbor.
Kauna’oa Beach (Mauna Kea Resort)
Average snorkeling, but amazing beach. You need to swim out a fair distance before the coral gets interesting. Protected from waves, the beach is suitable for beginners. The middle of the bay is sand, but the edges of the beach along the rocks have coral. The north end of the bay seems better.
To access the beach, enter through the resort and check in at the guard shack. The general public is allowed on the beach.
Keawaiki Bay (Lone Palm)
Good but not great snorkeling. Short hike from the highway and easy pebble beach entrance. The bay is partially protected from waves. Coral stretches across the bay with a steep drop-off not far offshore. The visibility on the bay could be better, halocline from fresh water and general cloudiness reduce sight distance. You can see the shallow coral areas just fine, but peering over the drop-off to deeper water is limiting.
To access the bay, park near the highway and walk in. There is a private property at the end of the road, you need to take a right turn and walk along the fence line. Wear shoes.
Great snorkeling in a small quiet community. Good ledges and cliffs to explore not far offshore. Calm protected area from waves. To get here, go down the small unpaved Ke’Ei road until you reach the community. The road will dead-end in in the community. Enter at the boat launch area. This area is better for snorkeling than the actual beach area. You will be closer to the underwater cliff wall. Snorkel along the wall in either direction.
A personal favorite of Snorkeling Quest. Large open bay area with excellent snorkeling and many diverse areas. Extensive coral reef can be found right off the black sand beach and extending over a large area. The left (west) side of the beach offers continuous coral reef, while farther right (east) areas of sand open up between coral islands. The entire bay gently slopes to deeper depths and can be enjoyed by all skill levels. A large snorkeling area that can be visited multiple times during a vacation. The bay is partially protected from waves, so go early in the day to enjoy the calmest water. The best snorkeling is off the west side of the bay. Drive in and take the left turn towards the camping area. Drive till the end of the road and park. Snorkel right off the beach, or walk to your desired area. Coral reef extends the entire coastline.
There is camping available right on the beach through the State of Hawaii. Basic camping with limited facilities. Don’t forget about visiting the far east side of the bay where turtles are commonly seen. See Kiholo Bay Turtles.
Kiholo Bay Turtles
Chance to see turtles in Kiholo Bay. The far east side of the bay has a cove area where turtles are commonly seen. The water in the cove is shallow and murky, making snorkeling difficult. The best way to enjoy this area is to ditch the fins and use water shoes with a mask and snorkel in the shallow water. Turtles can be near shore and going out deeper into the bay does not seem to increase the chances to see one. The water is murky with less than 20 ft of visibility. You may come across one in the shallow water. Remember, turtles are protected in Hawaii and signs will indicate how close you are supposed to approach them. The best area to see turtles seemed to be off the west side of the small island, inside the larger cove. Turtles seem to feed on the algae fuzz that grows on the larger rocks just offshore. Use water shoes to walk to the small island and submerge with your mask on off the west side. Water is shallow and you can walk along as you look for them.
To get here, you need to walk along the beach from the main Kiholo Bay State parking area. Private land prevents parking closer. The walk is approximate 1 mile long.
Kona Dog Beach
Protected bay with easy entrance to the water. Can be enjoyed on a windy day. Easy snorkeling inside the bay, but the better reef is just outside the small bay and to the left (west). Dive boats are commonly moored out here. Tiger sharks are known to cruise the area looking for fisherman’s dumped catches. They are most common out by a large navigation buoy. However, this is in the navigation boat channel and is too dangerous for snorkelers to reach. Near the dive boats is safer and good coral below. Shore divers are a common site. As the name also implies, off leash dogs are common at the beach. To access the beach, drive to the end of the marina and walk in a short distance.
Popular beach with an easy entry. Also, a known shore dive location. Good snorkeling off the north end of the beach. Coral starts right off the beach. Follow out and to the right (north) as far as you are comfortable. Coral islands scattered with a sandy bottom. This area is moderately exposed to waves, try to go early in the morning.
Located near Richardson Park, Leleiwi offers an alternative to the limited protected snorkeling at Richardson. Entrance is more difficult and harder to locate, but you get access to a wider snorkeling area. Conditions can be rough and halocline on the surface limits visibility. Coral and fish diversity is better than Richardson.
Large bay and great beach, but poor snorkeling. Very popular and crowded area. Typically, we don’t review poor snorkeling areas, but this area is advertised as a popular snorkeling area. This review is to inform. Water is murky and coral is very limited. Fish diversity is poor. The bay is protected from waves though. The beach also has endangered monk seals that occupy a closed off beach area. Volunteers on the beach make sure you don’t come close. The beach is also in the flight path of the airport, some people may enjoy watching them land. The road into this area is short, but extremely rough. Any car can make it, but it takes about 20 minutes to drive the short distance from the highway.
Mahukona Beach Park
Public park with a ladder entrance to the water. The best coral seemed to be to the left (south). Overall, average to good coral. The remains of a shipwreck are right outside the harbor. Try to find the large metal chain. Water seems to be slightly murky. Located way up on the north end of the island, the waves are known to be rough on average. Going early in the morning reduces the chances for that.
Opposite side of Kealakekua Bay from Captain Cook monument. There is a great little county park and easy entrance to the water. Peaceful and quiet area to visit. The bay area is well protected from waves all day. You will find coral on the edge of the bay and a large sandy area in the center. Beyond the sandy area and closer to Kealakekua Bay Boat Ramp, are coral towers along the shore. You will be able to see some of these towers sticking above the water. The coral tower area seems to be the best snorkeling in the bay. The rocky beach next to the boat ramp is not a recommended entrance point. There is limited parking at Manini public park. You are not allowed to park anywhere else in the neighborhood due to very narrow roads. From this side of the bay, you can also rent kayaks and paddle across to Captain Cook Monument. Search for kayak rentals and tours in this area.
Manta Ray Night Snorkel Tour
Amazing animal encounter. One of the few places in the world where you can see manta rays up close all year. You will have to take a tour to see. Being one of the most popular tours on the island, you should have no problem finding a way to experience. There are two primary locations to choose the tour from. North of Kona from Honokahau Marina. Those tours seem to primarily visit a small bay right off the International Airport. Or you can go south of Kona from Keauhou Harbor, where it’s a very short boat ride to the opening of the bay off Sheridan Kona Resort. This is the most popular location for the tour. Mantas are animals and there is no guarantee you will see one, but the southern location from Keauhou Bay seems to have much better viewing chances. The story goes, in the 80s the resort at the opening of the bay had lights on the water so the guests could see the shoreline. The lights attracted plankton, similar to an outdoor light attracting bugs. People soon noticed the mantas would come feed on the plankton attracted by the lights. There are no more lights at the resort, but each tour boat spreads out their own lights and the tourists hang onto the lights for a close encounter. Its more, hanging on face down in the water than actual snorkeling. The tour boats with the largest and strongest lights seemed to have the best action. This is one of the few cases where choosing the larger tour boat seems to be better. Because you are not moving for about 45 minutes in the water, you will get cold. Most tours provide wetsuits, but the warmer the night the better. It’s an amazing experience on a good night, mantas will come inches from your face. The tours are attracting their food with artificial lights, which is indirectly feeding the mantas to attract them. If you are looking for a more wild animal viewing experience, check out the spinner dolphin tours on the island.
Mile Marker 4
Common shore dive and snorkeling location. Locate the small rocky beach near the road mile 4 sign. There is limited parking on the road. Inside the small bay area is nice coral and fish diversity that beginners can enjoy. Outside the bay and to the left (south) you can find an arch and some underwater caves. Locate the small drop-off wall and follow that until you see canyons and caves. Overall, this is a good snorkeling location with decent coral and fish diversity.
Great snorkeling right in the town harbor, easy for all skill levels. You don’t have to go far to see coral heads in shallow water. Farther out the harbor, along the north side is an underwater arch in about 20 feet of water. Outside the bay and to the right (north) is a dramatic cliff wall. Overall, good coral not far offshore and a dramatic drop off wall makes this a great snorkeling spot. You are in an active harbor. Boat traffic should be minimal but stay alert.
Old Kona Airport
Excellent snorkeling area, great underwater topography with good coral and fish diversity. This is more for experienced snorkelers. The entrance is moderately difficult and the bay is positioned for a direct hit from waves. To enjoy, go early in the morning for best chance of calm weather. To the left (south) of the bay is a small cliff wall. Directly out of the bay is a deeper sandy area. To access the bay, drive to the end of the old airport runway. The entire coastline is a public park along the old airport runway.
Underwater canyons and walls, great underwater topography. Moderately challenging entry and exposed coastline subject to wave exposure. Recommended for advanced snorkelers only. Go early in the morning for best chances. This area is a known dive spot called Wacky’s. Dive boats can be seen moored directly offshore. Shore access is limited to the small beach area. Shallow swim out, watch out for urchins. Vehicles are allowed to drive along the beach, the closest entrance is from the south near Point Gabriela. Access from the north is only passible in large clearance vehicles.
Pahoehoe Beach Park
A nice little beach and entryway into the water. Try to go on a calm day. Coral here is average, but you will most likely be the only person snorkeling. Benefits are close proximity to Magic Sands. Also offers an alternative to nearby Mile Marker 4.
Good shallow snorkeling in a bay protected from waves. The reef starts scattered and gets better the farther out you swim, until coral covers the bottom. The bottom slowly gets deeper as you swim to the opening of the bay. There’s a cave arch near the middle of the bay. Find the small canyon feature and follow out. Start at the beach and swim through the mini-bay to get to the larger bay. To access this area, enter through Fairmont Orchid resort. As with any resort in Hawaii, the public is legally allowed to access the beach.
Pua Ka ‘llima ‘O Kawaihae Cultural Surf Park
This location is listed on this review because it is probably the easiest snorkeling access on the island. You can park right next to the shore and a metal staircase leads to the water. The reef is mostly dead with not a great diversity in fish species. Snorkeling farther out, the reef does not improve. The best areas are along the breaker rocks. Large boulders stretch for quite a distance in either direction. Fish hide amount the boulders. Depths around 10 feet. You need to drive through the active harbor to get here. Public park with shoreline access.
Good coral flat area and a long swim to a dropoff wall. The same wall extends to Puako Village End. The coral flat area is protected from waves, but the dropoff wall farther out is exposed. Only more experienced snorkelers should attempt to swim out to the dropoff. The entry point is a small public lane through the neighborhood to a small quiet beach. Park along the road opposite the church.
Puako Village End
Common shore dive and snorkel area. Shallow bay area with an extensive drop-off wall father out. Bottom of the wall is around 30 feet. The wall extends for miles along the shore. Caverns and caves to explore along the wall. Good fish diversity. This area is exposed to strong waves. Visit early in the morning for the calmest conditions. There is a very specific entrance point to the water. Along the rocks there is a narrow entrance way through the rocks to a small sandy area. Maybe only two people can access the water at a time. This is the only safe entrance to the water. To access this snorkel area, drive from the north, through Puako Village. The road is closed from the south. However, you could also park and walk in from Holoholokai Beach Park to the south.
Richardson Ocean Park
Easiest snorkeling access in the Hilo area. Public park protected by a breaker reef further out, causing calmer conditions than other places around Hilo. The protected snorkeling area is limited. Sand beach or a staircase entrance. Halocline from fresh water and churned up conditions exist. This is the windward side of the island and the seas are rough on average. The reef and coral are not great when compared to the west side of the island. However, this is the best snorkeling spot in the Hilo area.
Spinner Dolphin Tour
Wonderful tour. Spinner dolphins (known for jumping and spinning) are a resident species to the island. They feed nocturnally and spend their days resting close to shore in calm bays. Dolphins can sleep while they are still moving and won’t be laying still. They are a social species, so they group up into a pod during the day. As the pod is constantly on the move, the tours have no specific idea where they will be in the morning. You go out searching in hopes of finding a large pod. They will position the boat in front of the pod and drop you in as the entire pod passes through your group. Small fast tour boats are more maneuverable, so the better chance to get dropped in a good viewing spot. You are not allowed to wear fins and are told to not make a lot of movements as they pass through. The tours try to keep their boats away from the pods and will come back to pick you up after the pod passes. Dolphins are wild animals, so there is no guarantee you will see one, but the chances are pretty good on the big island. Early morning tours are better. The spinner dolphin tours have a large coastline zone they stay in. Wherever the boat leaves from, they all seem to explore the same areas. It’s the second most popular tour after the night manta rays, so you should have no problem finding a trip.
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For even more detailed information on these snorkeling sites, download our Island of Hawaii. Full color maps in .pdf version. Extra notes, tips and tricks to maximize your experience. Download for offline use and take with you to the snorkel spot.