Big Island, as the name suggests, is the biggest island in the Hawaiian chain. It’s not just big in size but offers a staggering variety of sights and activities to enjoy. Whether you’re into hiking up volcanoes, exploring lush valleys, visiting must-see waterfalls, or enjoying the best snorkeling on Big Island, there are several ways to explore the island’s beauty.
Of course, if you’re reading this, you’re planning to explore the world beneath the waves on a snorkeling adventure. And you won’t be disappointed. Big Island offers some of the very best snorkeling in the island chain. We’ve got you covered with our list of the best snorkeling on Big Island.
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Here's what we're covering:
- Top Spots for the Best Snorkeling on Big Island
- Map of the Best Snorkeling Spots on Big Island
- Top Tours to the Best Snorkeling in Big Island
- Frequently Asked Questions
Top Spots for the Best Snorkeling on Big Island
If you were to look at the Big Island snorkeling map, you’d quickly see that the best snorkeling in Big Island happens along the west coast or Kona region of the island. This drier side of the island experiences much less rainfall run-off so the water remains clearer. In addition, there are plenty of sheltered volcanic bays where corals and reef fish thrive.
Below is a list of Big Island’s best snorkeling spots and a few secret snorkel spots on Big Island.
1. Honaunau Bay (Two Step)
Abundant sea life, healthy corals, and a variety of depths to explore make this location one of the best for snorkeling on Big Island. The bay is adjacent to the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park where you can visit a preserved ancient village with a fascinating history.
If you’re visiting with kids, there’s a protected area on the left of the bay for safe splashing. Make sure to get there early as the parking can fill up fast.
2. Kealakekua Bay
The warm, clear, and calm waters here ensure some of the best snorkeling in Kona. It’s also Big Island’s only underwater state park. Accessing this top Big Island snorkeling spot can be tricky by land unless you’re keen on a rather strenuous hike. The easiest way to get there is by boat, as part of a tour, but you can rent a kayak (permit required) and paddle there.
Whichever you choose, you’re sure to be rewarded with excellent visibility and loads of sightings, including spinner dolphins, sea turtles, lizardfish, and amazing corals.
3. Kahalu’u Beach Park
Kahlu’u Beach Park offers some of the best snorkeling on Big Island for both visitors and locals alike. You’ll need to share the waters with beginner surfers making the most of the break. As long as you keep to the left side of the beach this isn’t a problem.
Ideal for first-time snorkelers and families, this snorkel spot has picnic tables and gear rentals, and a lifeguard on duty. The shallow, sheltered waters are home to excellent concentrations of fish and are frequently visited by sea turtles.
4. Mauna Lani Beach
Located on the south end of the Mauna Lani Resort, the shallow reef is great for spotting reef fish, octopus, eels, and coral heads. If you swim out a little further, visibility improves. There are more coral and larger schools of fish a little further out.
After you’ve enjoyed some safe and relaxed snorkeling, you have the benefit of drinks and dining at the resort mere steps away.
5. La’aloa Magic Sands
Magic Sands gets its name from the beach’s sand that appears or disappears seemingly by magic with the tides. What seems a beautiful sandy beach is transformed into a rocky shore almost instantly when the tide comes in.
This spot offers some of the best snorkeling on Big Island and is very popular, so it’s a good idea to arrive early. For optimal visibility, visit in the early morning when the waves tend to be calmer. This isn’t a great spot for beginners, especially when the swell gets bigger.
6. Mauna Kea Beach
This beautiful white, sandy bay offers excellent snorkeling, especially when the sea is calm. It’s a fairly exposed, open bay, so when the waves are up, visibility will be lower. Mornings tend to be calmer in the water. Parking is very limited so it’s better to arrive earlier in the day anyway.
Swimming out past the shallow corals will take you to a gorgeous reef bursting with life. If you’re keen to spot manta rays, this is a great place to do so as they often come here to feed, especially just after sunset.
7. Hapuna Beach
A favorite sandy beach on Big Island and a good snorkeling spot when the water is calm. Since this is an exposed site, the wave action causes lower visibility and trickier conditions, so is not ideal for beginners or children.
It’s highly recommended to get here early as it’s a very popular beach. More so, if you’re planning to snorkel, waves are usually less in the morning. The north end of the beach offers good sightings in the shallows, while the south end requires a bit of a long swim to the corals and fish.
8. Waialea Bay
During calm conditions, snorkeling here is good. Unfortunately, when the waves are up, the waters can become quite murky. The southern side of the bay has the best reefs. There’s still good snorkeling to be had on the north side close to the rocky point.
This protected bay was declared a marine life conservation district so there’s plenty of healthy reefs to explore. In the summer months, you’ll benefit from the many shady trees along the shore, while in winter, you’re likely to spot humpback whales.
Another name you might see for this area is Beach 69.
9. Kamakahonu Beach
Also known as King Kam Beach, this small beach is known for its calmness, making it an ideal spot to snorkel with the kids. This is one of the best Big Island snorkeling spots when it comes to ease of reach – it’s super central and right near the Kona Inn Shopping Center.
This is a great spot to squeeze in an early-morning or late afternoon snorkel. Expect to see loads of tropical fish in the reef. Another tick for absolute convenience: there are plenty of places nearby to rent gear or organize a snorkeling tour.
10. Honokohau Beach
Not so much a secret snorkel spot on Big Island as one that’s a bit out of the way and definitely worth a visit. This small beach is located directly north of the harbor and offers some fairly good snorkeling.
The beach is known among locals as the Kona Dog Beach, because it’s one of the few places where dogs can run around off-lead. There are no shops here and no bathroom, but, once you’ve crossed over the 65 meters of lava rock to get here, just a salt-and-pepper sandy beach and good snorkeling.
Map of the Best Snorkeling Spots on Big Island
Here is a list of all of the snorkeling spots on Big Island mentioned above so you can get a sense of where they are located on the island.
Top Tours to the Best Snorkeling in Big Island
Most of the best snorkeling in Big Island is easy to access on your own. However, heading out on a Kona snorkel trip will certainly offer its advantages. Snorkeling boat trips often include stops at secluded, secret spots on Big Island that aren’t overly crowded. Also, these trips often include equipment, a guide, and refreshments.
Head out for a half-day boat cruise to some of Big Island’s best snorkeling sites in Kealakekua Bay. Explore the reefs beneath the Captain Cook monument, swim among the underwater lava formations of Red Hill, and see coastline views not often seen by other visitors.
Be sure not to leave before you’ve experienced the best manta ray night snorkel in Kona. Swim with these incredible giants off the Kona Coast just after sunset. This 75-minute experience includes a short boat ride and the chance to safely swim among the manta rays as they feed on plankton attracted by a floating light. After a magical experience like few others, warm up with hot chocolate and cookies as you make your way back.
While most of the best snorkeling on Big Island happens on the west coast, there are exceptions to the norm, and Hilo is one of them. This pristine volcanic coastline offers black beaches and bays and lagoons to explore. See octopus, eagle and manta rays, corals, and tropical fish galore, but most notably sea turtles and dolphins, on this three-hour adventure.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, all of the snorkeling locations mentioned in this article are free to go to.
For the most part they are but you need to be careful of the tides, waves, and current while you’re in the water.
As a rule of thumb, early in the morning are the best because winds pick up throughout the day which make the water rougher and visibility worse.
The weather is calmer on the west side of the island which is why you’ll see that most of the snorkel sights are near Kona and the west end.
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