Kauaʻi’s list of snorkeling spots might not be as lengthy or extensive as those of the Big Island, Oʻahu, and Maui, but remember, it’s a much smaller island, and a large portion of its coastline is only accessible by boat.
Rest assured, while there might not be as much quantity, Kauaʻi does have its fair share of quality. It has walk-in and boat-in reef options, including protected areas for beginners and families, snorkel boat tours along the Nāpali Coast, and advanced locations with underwater features, like lava tubes, for experienced swimmers and divers.
Table of contents
Table of Contents
- Best snorkeling spots for families, for beginners, and to see turtles, fish and corals.
- Map of snorkeling spots
- Complete list of snorkeling spots
- Snorkel Tours
- Snorkeling essentials (local snorkeling tips, safety pointers, and a word on using reef-safe sunscreen).
First, let’s address some common questions about the best snorkeling spots for families, beginners, and experienced adventurers. Then, we move on to some local snorkeling tips, a map of Kauaʻi’s top snorkeling sites, descriptions of the snorkeling sites, and what you need to know about snorkeling tours on Kauaʻi.
Best snorkeling spots on Kauaʻi for families, for beginners, to see turtles, fish, and coral.
What’s the best snorkeling spot on Kauaʻi? The answer depends on who you are and what you’re looking for.
See our overview of Kauaʻi for more of our local favorites.
Map of snorkeling spots
Below is a map of Kauaʻiʻs top snorkeling spots. Click on a site name for a short summary or scroll down to find more information.
List of top snorkeling spots
Below, we explore and explain Kauaʻi’s top snorkeling spots.
- Poʻipū Beach Park
- Lydgate Park (Keiki Pond)
- Keʻe Beach
- Nualolo Kai
- Tunnels (Makua) Beach
- Hideaways Beach
- Koloa Landing
- Lawaʻi Beach
- Anini Beach
- Salt Pond Beach Park
- Lehua Crater and Niʻihau
Poʻipū Beach Park
Overview: A great beginner snorkeling area thanks to its typically-calm waters and lifeguards. First timers and children can stick to the rocks that line the shore, graduating to the small reefs that sit just offshore.
Good to know: Poʻipū can get crowded, especially on weekends, so its best to snorkel in the morning before the rush.
Lydgate Park (Keiki Pond)
Overview: Keiki Pond – or children’s pond – is a walled-off section of Lydgate Beach Park that creates a safe, calm swimming area for small children. Building to a depth of about ten feet, the pond is a great place for beginner snorkelers to practice in flat-water conditions.
Good to know: This experience is for first-timers and small children only. While there are fish to spot, there is no actual coral inside Keiki Pond.
Overview: The gateway to the Nāpali Coast, Keʻe Beach offers great scenery above and below water. Take in the views of the cliffs, then enter the water. The reef, which sits just offshore, is home to a myriad of tropical fish and green sea turtles. Many times in summer, the water is as calm as a swimming pool, allowing you to enjoy both the above and below-water scenery.
Good to know: In the winter, snorkeling here is dangerous and not recommended. In summer, chat with lifeguards prior to entering the water. It’s usually calm but, sometimes, rip currents can exist off the left side of the beach.
Overview: Located along the Nāpali Coast, Nualolo Kai, sometimes referred to as Kauaʻi’s “secret garden,” is only accessible by boat via a tour. It offers some of the best snorkeling on the island thanks to its remote location away from development and human impact.
Good to know: Nualolo Kai was once an remote fishing village in ancient Hawaiʻi. You can find ruins within the Nualolo Valley, including houses, cultural sites, canoe houses, and areas where taro and other crops were once grown. This snorkel spot is only accessible by boat via a snorkel tour (see below).
Tunnels (Makua) Beach
Overview: Underwater lava tubes and large rocks create a wonderful habitat for sea creatures of all kinds at Tunnels Beach. Beginners can stay close to shore and spot the tropical fish, while advanced snorkelers can venture farther offshore to the barrier reefs and enjoy diving down for a closer look at the large coral heads and volcanic formations.
Good to know: Enter via one of the sand channels that runs parallel to the reef. Once in the water, look back to the shore to take in the lush, green forest behind it. It’s a good place to post up for the day to enjoy both the beach and the snorkeling.
Overview: Located in Princeville, Hideaways is usually relaxed due to its “hideaway” location behind the resort area. Coral, channels, and other topography changes keep things interesting, as do the abundance of fish and the possibility of a turtle sighting. The beach itself is narrow and backed by steep cliffs, with partial views of the Nāpali Coast.
Good to know: Accessing Hideaways requires a descent down a steep staircase and then a walk/scramble down a slippery dirt trail. Those with physical limitations may find reaching the beach to be a challenge. Parking is also extremely limited, so one must arrive early (by 8 a.m.) in order to secure a spot.
Overview: Koloa Landing is not your typical beach snorkeling spot, but it can be a rewarding experience. In fact, there is no beach at all; instead, you enter the water via a concrete boat ramp and snorkel the rock walls that line the coast in Hanakaʻape Bay near Poʻipū. Expect to find sea creatures of all kinds.
Good to know: The water here gets deep quickly and drops off considerably (it’s also used as a boat channel). You should be a strong swimmer to explore this area. The lack of beach means that it’s mostly avid snorkelers and divers that make their way here.
Overview: Just west of Koloa Landing is a more beginner-friendly option, Lawaʻi Beach. It features a narrow beach and sand entrance that makes it easy to enter the water. You can explore the rocks along the left side of the beach, or swim out to the reef itself a couple hundred feet offshore. Expect a variety of colorful, tropical fish as well as eels, needlefish, and turtles.
Good to know: The reef here is home to many urchins, so keep your eye out for them and your feet safe. Waves may break farther out on the reef, so beginners should stay closer to shore.
Overview: One of the longest beaches and reefs on Kauaʻi, Anini Beach is about two miles in length and provides ample opportunity for snorkelers of all abilities. The shallow water and near-shore reef makes things easy for beginners, while advanced snorkelers can explore the channels that cut through the reef further out (be aware of strong currents in the channels).
Good to know: Conditions at Anini Beach can sometimes result in poor visibility, making snorkeling less than ideal. Be sure to inquire about conditions before making the trip (or bring a book and beach chair as backup).
Salt Pond Beach Park
Overview: Salt Pond breaks down into three areas, and the best spot for snorkeling is away from the main beach park area, in front of the airport on the east side. There, you will find small tidal pools for snorkeling, home to a variety of marine life and clear, calm waters.
Good to know: Salt Pond gets its name from the nearby salt ponds, where locals produce sea salt. You can take a walk to see the ponds and learn more about the process here.
Lehua Crater and Niʻihau
Overview: Lehua Crater is located off the north coast of Niʻihau. Similar to Molokini off of Maui, Lehua is the remains of a volcanic crater, and its isolated location makes it a popular destination for snorkel boat tours and scuba divers.
Good to know: Lehua Crater is a Hawaiʻi State Seabird Sanctuary and home to 16 species of sea birds. It is reachable only by a snorkel tour (see below). A visit to Niʻihau is a unique experience, as the island is typically off-limits to tourists.
Snorkeling tours are a great way to access offshore reefs that require a boat to reach, and they offer all the gear and expertise you need for a safe and memorable experience. The tours range from a half to full day and vary in what they offer. Some tours, for example, offer food and drink. Some boats are small, others large.
On Kauaʻi, the Nāpali Coast is the perfect place to explore via a tour. Not only will you get to experience its untouched, pristine waters, but you’ll also encounter quite a bit of scenery along the way – a snorkel boat tour of the Nāpali Coast essentially doubles as a scenic boat ride.
Before booking, consider the type of experience you are looking for. For example, Nualolo Kai (discussed above) can only be visited by small boats, while larger catamarans provide more services. Most tours leave from Port Allen.
Check out the offerings from these companies:
- Makana Charters and Tours
- HoloHolo Charters (only company to visit Lehua Crater)
- Kauaʻi Sea Tours
- Captain Andy’s
- Kauaʻi Sea Riders
Below, you will find a collection of tips to help you get the most from your snorkeling trip.
Local snorkeling tips
- The Nāpali Coast, which is inaccessible by car, is the focus of snorkel tours. The reefs and waters along this coastline are well-protected and healthy thanks to the lack of development.
- Check local conditions before deciding on a snorkel site, as localized swells or wind could make one location more comfortable than the other. Generally, the wind is calmest in the morning, meaning the water has less chop.
- Wear a protective covering, such as a rash guard, when snorkeling to prevent sunburn on your back.
- Use reef safe sunscreen that doesn’t cause harm to the reef. See below for a further explanation.
Snorkeling safety tips
All snorkelers are encouraged to remember the following:
- Gear Up. Use high-quality snorkel gear and familiarize yourself with it before use. Fins, mask, de-fogger and sun protection are a must, and most rental centers can provide all you need. A fish ID card helps keep track of what you’re seeing. Booties can protect your feet and add comfort.
- Be careful: Beginners should start in shallow water until comfortable. Return to shallow water if you feel anxious. Be mindful of waves, coral, rocks, and sea urchins when entering the water. Watch for incoming waves when snorkeling year rocks.
- Snorkel with a buddy: Snorkeling with a companion is the safest thing you can do. In an emergency, a snorkel partner could be the difference between life and death.
- Take care of the reef: The coral reef is a living animal and can be harmed when stood upon or touched. Be mindful not to hit your fins on the reef, and try to rest and stand on the sandy bottom only.
Important: use reef-safe sunscreen
On January 1, 2021, Hawai‘i law banned sunscreen made with oxybenzone and octinoxate, harmful chemicals that studies have shown to be bad for marine ecosystems and reefs.
Please inspect your sunscreen closely. You should know that many sunscreens labeled as “reef safe” still contain one or more of these chemicals. Look at the ingredients thoroughly before buying. The most ecofriendly option for sunscreen is a zinc-based cream.
Learn more about the harmful effects of certain sunscreens in the following video: