Trying out a new activity – especially one that involves the ocean – can make a lot of people nervous. So, if you find yourself a little anxious about snorkeling for the first time on your upcoming trip to Hawaiʻi, don’t worry, you’re not alone!
It’s completely normal and natural for beginner snorkelers to experience butterflies, especially if you don’t live near the coast or spend much time in the water. But, rest assured that snorkeling is a wonderful and safe activity for people of all abilities, and that a little mental and physical preparation will help you adjust in no time.
Table of contents
Table of Contents
- Beginner snorkeling tips
- Easy Big Island snorkeling spots
- Easy Kauai snorkeling spots
- Easy Maui snorkeling spots
- Easy Oahu snorkeling spots
- Getting started with snorkeling Q&A
Tips for Beginner Snorkelers in Hawaiʻi
Here are some quick tips that will help you enjoy your first time snorkeling:
- Stay close to shore. One of the biggest challenges for beginner snorkelers is stamina. Staying close to shore in shallow water in which you can stand is a good safety net for when you need to rest.
- Snorkel with a buddy. Never snorkel alone! Stay close to a buddy so you can look out for each other.
- Use a flotation device. A pool noodle or life jacket can help you stay on top of the water, conserve energy, and extend your snorkeling session.
- Go on a snorkel boat tour. Boat tours offer a great beginner-friendly environment with instruction, flotation devices, and lifeguards on duty. Some tours visit multiple snorkeling sites.
- Give yourself some time. If this is the first time you try to breathe through a tube it is bound to feel a bit weird. Don’t worry, it will become second nature after the first couple of minutes.
For more a more complete run-down of all things you should consider when starting to snorkel in Hawaiʻi you can scroll down to our “getting started with snorkeling Q&A“.
Beginner snorkeling spots on the Big Island
Here are our 3 favorite snorkeling spots on the Big Island for beginners:
1: Kahaluʻu Beach Park
Kahaluʻu Beach Park is located just south of Kailua-Kona. It’s reachable by the town trolley and offers a great opportunity and easy access for beginners. There’s a surf shop just across the street (which allows for convenient rentals), the near-shore surf is relatively calm, and there’s a lifeguard on duty.
The entrance is a bit rocky (be mindful when entering the water), but it’s a good thing in that you don’t have to swim out far – you can begin snorkeling immediately upon entering the water, looking for tropical fish and sea turtles, while remaining close to shore. The sandy beach is a great place to take a break between sessions.
Read more in our guide to Kahaluʻu beach park.
2: Kealakekua Bay by Boat
A boat trip for your first or second outing? You bet!
Kealakekua Bay is an underwater marine sanctuary, often visited by dolphins and sea turtles, with strong historical significance (it’s where Captain Cook was killed). The bay is not accessible by car – you either have to hike, kayak, or arrive by boat. We recommend the latter.
Snorkel boats leave from Kailua-Kona and are a great way to get introduced to snorkeling. The boat trip down the coast is enjoyable and scenic, and once at Kealakekua, staff will provide snorkeling instruction, flotation devices, and constant lifeguard monitoring. A mix of shallow and deep water, Kealakekua offers beginners a real adventure.
Have a look at the following (highly recommended) tour, or read more about visiting Kealakekua Bay on our website.
Afternoon Sail & Snorkel Tour to Kealakekua Bay
Sail to one of the best snorkeling spots on the island past the scenic Kona coastline with a spacious 50 foot catamaran from Keauhou to Kealakekua Bay. Notoriously difficult to reach over land, this is one of the best snorkeling spots on the island with pristine clear blue waters and a vibrant reef.
Duration: 3 hours
By: Sea Paradise
Free cancellation: up to 24 hours before tour
3: Richardsons Ocean Park
If you’re over on the Hilo side of the island, Richardsons Ocean Park is a nice option for beginners. It’s typically sheltered from the surf, with shallow water, easy entry and exit, and sea turtles are often seen here. The black sand beach adds a lot of intrigue, as do the small tide pools that can be explored during snorkel breaks.
Beginner snorkeling spots on Kauaʻi
Kauaʻi has many good snorkeling spots – here are our 3 favorite ones for beginners:
1: Lydgate Beach Park
If you’re brand new or on the fence about snorkeling, Keiki Pond (children’s pond) at Lydgate Beach Park is a walled-off, calm swimming area that builds to depths of ten feet.
There is no coral reef here, so beginners are able to stop and stand up if they need to. Conditions are typically flat, with tropical fish swimming about. It’s a place you will grow out of quickly, but that said, it’s a great spot for nervous first timers and small children to get their feet wet.
2: Poʻipū Beach Park
If you’re staying in Poʻipū, you don’t have to go far for a great beginner snorkel spot.
Typically calm and lifeguarded, Poʻipū Beach Park provides a safe and fun environment to give snorkeling a try. Start out by exploring the rocks close to shore, then graduate to the reefs slightly farther offshore. Because Poʻipū is typically busy, you will never be swimming or snorkeling alone.
3: Salt Pond Beach Park
Salt Pond has three snorkel areas, allowing a snorkeler multiple areas to explore and grow. Our favorite spot is in front of the airport on the east side where there are small tidal pools to explore, with a variety of marine life and clam, clear water.
Between sessions, check out the local salt ponds from which the beach park gets its name. Here, local sea salt is produced in the traditional way. You can learn more about how the salt is made here.
Beginner snorkeling spots on Maui
If you’re new to snorkeling on Maui, here are 3 spots that are good for beginners:
1: Kahekili Beach Park (Airport Beach)
Everything about Kahekili is easy – ample parking, grassy areas, white sand, and facilities. There are no lifeguards, so be sure to swim with a buddy, but the reef sits just beyond the water entrance, meaning you don’t have to swim far offshore to start snorkeling.
2: Molokini Snorkel Boat Tour
Maui also has memorable, beginner-friendly snorkel boat tours that go out to Molokini, a crescent-shaped volcanic crater two miles off Maui’s west coast.
Molokini Snorkeling Tour & Catamaran Sail
Sail a catamaran to Maui’s most incredible snorkeling destination: Molokini. Breakfast and lunch are included!
Duration: 5 hours
By: Sail Maui
Free cancellation: up to 24 hours before tour
The boat trip out to the crater is a wonderful, scenic experience, and once you arrive at Molokini, beginner snorkelers are offered everything they need: Gear, instruction, flotation devices, and supervision. Deep but typically calm water provides a thrill for new snorkelers, and the views of Maui and the surrounding islands are the cherry on top.
Whether you are going for the very first time or have a couple sessions under your belt, Olowalu is a great choice for its range of options.
It has a sandy entrance with shallow water and normally calm conditions, making it easy to approach for beginners, with big coral heads not far offshore. The reef continues farther out, however, allowing those new to the sport to gradually increase their distance from shore and get more comfortable. Experienced snorkelers will also enjoy Olowalu for this reason, with much to see in deeper water. It’s a great place for beginners and experienced snorkelers to spend a day together.
Beginner snorkeling spots on Oʻahu
Oʻahu has a great selection of beginner snorkel spots. Here are 3 to try out:
1: Hanauma Bay
If you’re a beginner snorkeler on Oʻahu, Hanauma Bay is hands-down the best choice. A protected nature preserve, it offers shallow water and large reefs, home to some of Oʻahu’s best coral and sea life. Lifeguards are always on duty, conditions are usually calm, and the sandy beach makes it a great place to spend the day.
reservations have to be made to get into the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. These reservations get sol out quickly and can be made starting at 7 a.m. two days prior to the desired visit (i.e. reservations for Wednesday can be made the Monday before at 7 a.m.) through the Department of Parks and Recreation website. There also is a $25 entry fee.
Read more in how to visit in our complete visitor guide to Hanauma Bay.
2: Shark’s Cove
Located on the north shore, Shark’s Cove is a naturally-protected swimming area that’s perfect for beginner snorkelers during the summer due to its calm waters and contained nature. Natural rock walls block the surf and keep fish inside, and the water is shallow, so you can stand up at any time. A food truck park across the street provides a place to rest and refuel. Note: Shark’s Cove is not safe during the winter months due to rough waters and big swells.
Learn more about snorkeling at Shark’s Cove.
3: Sans Souci Beach (Waikīkī)
Staying in Waikīkī? Sans Souci Beach is the best place to snorkel in Waikīkī, and it’s a great place for beginners, too. It is part of the Waikīkī Marine Life Conservation District, with multiple reefs, tropical fish, and sea turtles. Access is easy, walkable from many hotels, with a sandy beach entrance. The reef extends out into deeper water, offering opportunity for growth, with wonderful views of the Waikīkī skyline and coast.
Check out our guide to Sans Souci Beach.
Another very easy Waikiki snorkeling spot – Turtle Canyon – is one of the most dependable places to see sea turtles on the south shore. It has many small dense coral formations and serves as a “cleaning station” for turtles, who come to have their shells cleaned by small fish. This area is located offshore of Waikīkī and is best visited via a catamaran or sailing tour.
Turtle Canyon Snorkel Excursion (large group, super affordable)
Enjoy a large group (super affordable!) snorkeling trip along the Waikiki Coast to the Turtle Canyons snorkel site.
Duration: 2 hours
Free cancellation: up to 48 hours before tour
The trip to the snorkeling spot is pretty standard and always offers great views. The biggest difference between providers is the boat (and group) size, which in turn influences the price. See for example the following 2 tours that use vessels with a 40 (shown above) and 6 people (shown below) max capacity:
Turtle Canyon Snorkel (Small-Group Tour with 100% Turtle Guarantee)
If you're adventurous and like escaping the crowds - this is for you! Small (6 ppl max) group tours with Turtle Guarantee or Ride again Free.
Duration: 1.5 hours
By: Captain Max
Free cancellation: up to 48 hours before tour
How to get started and comfortable with snorkeling
Though the idea of snorkeling can be a little intimidating to newbies, it is a very simple activity overall, and you’ll be much more at ease once you get comfortable with the basic equipment and technique.
Snorkeling is a very accessible activity, requiring only a mask (goggles), breathing tube, and fins. They are inexpensive to purchase or rent and widely available both in Hawaiʻi and on the mainland.
The aspect of snorkeling that gives people the most pause is swimming with their head in the water and breathing through the tube. If possible, it helps to practice in a calm body of water, such as a swimming pool, to get a feel for how it works. Pick up a snorkel set and get familiar with it.
Another thing that will help you be a better snorkeler is to become a better swimmer. Practice swimming with your head in the water, then stop and tread water for a while, and then start swimming again. Use a flotation device for extra support until you get comfortable without one. Increasing your stamina and endurance in the water will help you enjoy snorkeling in Hawaiʻi. Start out in a calm swimming pool.
Yes! Though it may sound counter-intuitive, going on a snorkel boat tour is one of the best options for beginners because the staff is trained to help people who are new to the sport. Beginner classes are given on board before the snorkeling session, flotation devices are available to help support you in the water, and lifeguards are on duty the entire time.
The golden rule here is easy to follow: Just look – don’t touch or disturb anything. It’s as easy as that.
Coral reefs are living organisms and are sensitive to human touch. Enjoy the underwater world and remember that you see with your eyes, not your hands! Never stand on the coral. If you must stand to rest, look for a patch of open sand. It’s always best, however, to use flotation devices so you can rest without disturbing the sea floor.
Don’t forget reef-safe sunscreen or, even better, bring a rash guard.
Many sunscreens contain harmful chemicals that damage the coral reef slowly over time. For this reason, we recommend using a zinc-based sunscreen and advise you to avoid any creams that use oxybenzone or avobenzone (you’ll need to read the ingredient list, as many sunscreens advertise themselves as being reef safe while containing these harmful chemicals).
The best way to protect yourself and the reef is to wear a rash guard. This will protect you from the sun (especially your back) as you swim while limiting the amount of sunscreen you need. Don’t forget to protect your calves, as they can burn when you are swimming face down.
Video – Beginner Snorkeling Class
For a demonstration of how to snorkel, check out this video: