Hawaii is famous for its warm tropical waters and extremely diverse marine life. The waters around the Big Island are teeming with tropical fish of every size and color, and snorkeling is the perfect way to explore this beautiful underwater world!
Snorkeling is an activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. Snorkeling gear is easy to carry along and cheap to rent, and it is a great addition next to your sunscreen and towels to take to the beach (If you are looking for a map of beaches on the Big Island, click here).
If you are snorkeling for the first time, you will need a little bit of practice to get used to breathing through your snorkel, but that is all there is to it!
It is important to behave respectful towards the ocean and its inhabitants. Marine mammals are protected and should not be fed or actively approached by boats or swimmers. However, most sea-creatures are curious, and if any of the dolphins or turtles decides to approach you it’s perfectly all right! (back to top)
If your main goal in snorkeling is to find many fish, keep in mind the following: Fish need shelter and food, so the best place to look for them is near coral and the rocks! If you are entering the water somewhere where there are only rocks, be careful not to step on coral of sea urchins! A sandy strip is the best way to get into the water.
We think that if you put on your snorkeling gear and start swimming around the Big Island, you [a] will never get bored, but [b] will be busy for a long, long time. Because you probably do not have the luxury of time, we have selected three of the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island. We recommend the following because of their abundance of marine life and easy accessibility.
For a more extensive description of these spots, including hints and directions, read our article on the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island!
- Kahaluu Beach Park: Kahaluu Beach is also famous for it’s Honu, or sea turtles. On any given day you’ll be able to see quite a few of them feeding on seaweed and sunning themselves on the warm rocks. If you are staying in Kona, its proximity makes the beach park an ideal place for a last minute snorkel. Getting there and back plus an hour of leisure snorkeling will only cost you two hours!
- Kealakekua Bay: Kealakekua, also known as “Captain Cook” is an underwater marine sanctuary, with dolphins and sea turtles. To get to the best spot, you need to take a long hike or rent a kayak. If you are not into kayaking yourself, you can find many snorkeling boat tours in Kona to visit this secluded sanctuary.
- Honaunau Bay – the City of Refuge: The Travel Channel named Honaunau Bay one of “America’s Best Beaches 2004”. A big reason for this is that due to a very advantageous layout of the bay, the water is almost always calm and the waters have exceptional visibility most of the year.
Malama Kai – Take care of the Ocean!
The ocean is Hawaii’s most important resource, and it has an incredible fragile and diverse population. More than a quarter of the sea life here is found nowhere else on the planet. It is therefore important for everyone – locals and visitors - to practice an ancient Hawaiian tradition: Malama kai. Loosely translated that mean take care of the ocean.
If you have 8 minutes to spare, please have a look at this informative video about Hawaiian Reef etiquette. The video features local fish (most prominently the Humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa) that tell the do’s and dont’s of conservation with a Hawaiian dialect, against a background of original music and chants, and narration from some of Hawaii’s top entertainers.
If you are planning to use your snorkeling gear at least a couple of times, it might be worthwhile to buy a cheap snorkeling set at the local supermarket. You can get them as cheap as $20-30 for a complete set. Buying has the big advantage that you don’t have to return your rental gear at the end of the day. The quality and ease of use of the cheapest snorkel sets probably wont be as good as the gear you can rent.
Snorkeling gear can be rented cheaply around the Island. Expect to pay between $5-10 a day for a full kit, and between $25-40 for a week. If you are renting in Kona, Snorkel Bob has some good deals! (back to top)
All inclusive Snorkeling Tours
If you are not confident you can find all the best snorkeling spots on your own, or just don’t want to invest the little time you have on the Big Island into renting gear and taking care of everything yourself, you can choose for a snorkeling tour. Snorkeling tours typically last 4 to 6 hours, and the organizers have their own boat that takes you to their favorite snorkeling spots. They also take care of snorkeling gear, food and drinks, and sometimes even the photo’s!
If you are looking for a snorkeling tour for the east coast of the Big Island, we recommend the Castaway snorkel adventure.
- Be prepared. Rent high quality snorkel gear. Fins, mask, de-fogger and sun screen are a good start. A fish ID card finishes of your gear nicely. Booties to protect your feet sometimes also come in handy.
- Be careful: Never snorkel in high surf conditions and never snorkel alone. If you are a beginner, start in shallow water and only venture further out when you feel comfortable. As soon as you start feeling anxious, return to the coast.
- Use your gear properly: Ask the personnel at the rental shop if there is anything you need to know about the gear, be sure to ask how to clear your mask under water (generally: while floating with your feet down and your face up: exhale a burst of air through your mouth to bas the water out).
- Time your snorkeling properly: The best time to snorkel or dive is generally in the morning. Water conditions are most clear and the fish are more active.
- Be respectful and have fun!: The reef is a living animal! It may look like plants and rocks, but in reality it is made up out of millions of tiny animals. Only rest on sandy bottom or bare lava.