We list our 3 favorite snorkeling spots on the Big Island to help you make the best of your time on Hawaii. 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, describe our best snorkeling spots on the Big Island. We recommend the following because of their abundance of marine life and easy accessibility:
If you want to find out more about snorkeling safety and the best places to rent (or buy!) your snorkeling gear on Hawaii, check out our Big Island snorkeling guide. Also, if you have not done so already, please take 8 minutes and have a look at this informative video about Hawaiian Reef etiquette.
Another very exciting snorkeling adventure – at night – on the big island that you might want to consider is the Manta Ray Night Dive. Imagine floating in the dark ocean holding only a flashlight, looking down on giant Manta rays (up to 12 ft wide) swirling below you while they feed on plankton!!
Kahaluu Bay is a great place for people that have never been snorkeling before. An unremarkable beach park very close to Kona (±20 minutes drive south of the airport) hides one of the best places to snorkel on the big island! The easily accessible sheltered shallow bay is home to one of the highest concentrations of fishes on Hawaii. At low tide there are plenty of tide pools to explore which are teeming with tropical fish.
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.
Kahaluu beach park is located off of Ali’i Drive in Kailua-Kona. There are restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and two large pavilions in the beach park. This is also one of the few beaches with a lifeguard on duty. The parking lot can get full quickly so the earlier you go the better.
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, also known as “Captain Cook” is an underwater marine sanctuary, with dolphins and sea turtles. To get there you have to drive approximately 17 miles south of Kona along Highway 11.
There are plenty of good spots for snorkeling, but the best snorkeling spot is on the opposite side of the bay from the parking area. To get there you either have to swim for a mile and half (bad plan!), hike to the opposite side of the bay, or rent a kayak and paddle out to the Captain Cook monument yourself. [update: it is now illegal to kayak without a permit in Kealakekua bay - please see the instructions on obtaining a permit below]
The center of the bay is deep, and yo can often find a pod of spinner dolphins playing around here.
If you are not into kayaking yourself, you can find many snorkeling boat tours in Kona to visit this secluded sanctuary.
The local ecosystem in Kealakekua Bay has recently suffered greatly under its own popularity. To prevent further damage to the shoreline and coral reef, the Division of State Parks now issues mandatory permits for people seeking to land vessels along the Ka‘awaloa shoreline or moor at the wharf adjacent to the Captain Cook Monument in the bay. For additional information on how to obtain a permit contact the State Parks office in Hilo at (808) 974-6200.
There will be people offering kayak rentals on the side of Hwy 11 – please ask for their permit since they also are required to obtain one. Only four companies have been issued permits by the Division of State Parks to lead guided commercial Kayak Tours to the Captain Cook Monument: Adventures in Paradise, Aloha Kayak Co., Hawaii Pack and Paddle, and Kona Boys, Inc.
Honaunau Bay is often referred to as the “City of Refuge”, after the Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park (also know as – you guessed it – 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.
Honaunau Bay is often rated the second best place on the Big Island for snorkeling after Captain Cook. The waters are usually clear and it averages about 20ft in depth. Often you will see pods of dolphins swimming close to shore. There is a very easy place to go in called “2 Step”. It is at the end of a finger of lava and easy to see because you will see lots of people getting in there.
The north (right) and south (left) side of the bay are very different because of their different depths. We recommend to visit both so you don’t miss anything. The left-hand side is the shallower side and tends to be where I see the most turtles. The depth averages from about 10 to 25 feet. The right-hand starts out shallow and slowly descends to over 30 feet and then again dramatically to well over 100. In this deeper water is where the spinner dolphins like to hang out.
To get to the city of refuge, drive 23 miles south of Kona over highway 11. There is no parking lot so you have to park your car along the road. Because of this, and because the sky will often become cloudy later in the day, mornings are the best time to snorkel here. If you can make it, we recommend to be in the water no later than 10 A.M. There are no concession stands or showers. Remember to bring your own food and water. There are port-a-potty restrooms available.