We are addicted to Big Island snorkeling, and have explored it extensively. It offers the best spots of all the Hawaiian Islands.
So, where are the best beaches and spots to snorkel and why do we love it so much? This is a very big island, with widespread locations, but the majority are along the drier, west side of the island (see the map below).
What's great is that nearly all of the spots are accessible from shore. And once you get in the water, the vast fields of healthy coral will astound you. Not to mention seeing loads of gorgeous fish and many turtles, in perfect snorkeling depths. You also have the chance to snorkel with giant Manta Rays and Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins, so what's not to love?
Click on each location below, for full details and pictures. Also don't miss the movie, pictures and more about what you can expect further down the page.
Captain Cook Monument - This is the most iconic and recommended spot on the island and all of Hawaii. Getting there is an event in itself and you are rewarded with clear water, many colorful fish and sea turtles.
Two Steps (Honaunau) - When we are asked to name a favorite spot, this is it. A beautiful little cove so alive it is surprising. You will not be disappointed.
Kapoho Tide Pools - For the unexpected experience, snorkel this spot. Your snorkeling needs will be satisfied; colorful corals you see nowhere else, intimate encounters with fish, all enclosed in lava rock tide pools.
Hapuna Beach - Popular for it's beauty, great swimming, and boogie boarding, the snorkeling here is good as long as you are a good swimmer and can read ocean conditions.
Anaehoomalu Bay (A-Bay) - You may have seen this beach recommended for good snorkeling; we say you can find better!
Beach 69/Waialea Bay - A beautiful, shady beach with three distinct snorkeling areas, you could easily spend the whole day here getting your fill.
Mauna Kea Beach - On calm mornings, you will be treated to interesting diverse topography, beautiful corals, fish and turtles.
Night Snorkel With Manta Rays - The chance to snorkel at night and watch Manta Rays feed is one of the most amazing experiences we have ever had snorkeling, and that really bumps Big Island snorkeling up in our minds.
In our well reviewed Big Island Hawaii Snorkeling Guide we share 34 of our favorite snorkeling spots, many of which are missed by most snorkelers. This 219 page highly detailed guide also includes a color picture fish identification guide, loads of useful equipment tips, and some potentially life saving tips about ocean safety. For the best snorkeling experience on the Big Island, you will want to check out this guide.
Watching this movie is the best way for you to get a sense for what Big Island snorkeling is really like. It is from many locations over numerous trips.
1. Amazing Shore and Beach Access
We really like free snorkeling from shore. We prefer going on our own schedule instead of a boat company's (not to mention saving a ton of money). The Big Island is great for this. There is really no snorkeling spot on the Big Island that you have to take a boat to. And while a few of the better spots are accessed from rocky shores, many are accessed from the most stunning beaches in the world.
2. The Best Corals In All Hawaii
By far the Big Island has the most stunning hard coral formations of all the main Hawaiian Islands. And we believe that over the last ten years the corals have gotten even healthier, which is not the case almost everywhere else in the islands and world. So if you love coral reef habitats, you will love the Big Island.
3. Beautiful Tropical Fish & Turtles
Probably because the Big Island is a bit less populated and visited, and due to the health of the coral reefs, the Big Island supports a healthy abundance of beautiful tropical fish.
And although the turtle populations don't compare to Maui, you are still likely to see many sea turtles.
4. Excellent Depths For Snorkelers
There are many Big Island snorkeling spots that are ideal for snorkelers in terms of water depths. You can find whatever you like: super shallow spots where the fish are right in your face, to spots that range in depth from 5 to 25 feet, to locations for the more adventurous that have deep drop offs to over 50 feet in super clear water.
5. Super Clear Water
There are locations on the Big Island that have some of the best visibility available in all Hawaii. In several locations you can snorkel along a wall in 10 feet of depth, and look down to over 50 feet through super clear water and see the sea floor below.
Many of the best snorkel spots are exposed. Yes, you can find a handful of snorkel spots on the Big Island that are fairly protected in small bays. But the majority of the great snorkeling happens around rocky points between beaches, and in open ocean along shorelines. That means that you are more exposed to wind, waves, surge and currents.
It can be windy! Although not as windy as Maui, the Big Island, like all the islands, experiences regular trade winds that generally blow out of the east. This is the main reason that most of the best snorkeling is on the west side (see our Big Island snorkeling map above).
So the rule of thumb is to go snorkeling as early in the mornings as you can, because the winds tend to pick up as you approach noon even on the west side. These trade winds also deposit lots of moisture and rain on the east side of the island, which is another reason why the better snorkeling is in the west.
You will be amazed how different the west side is from the east. One side is almost a desert, and the other side is a tropical rain forest.
Careful trip planning makes all the difference. All the other Hawaiian Islands could fit inside the Big Island. Because of it's size, and how spread out the locations are, driving times are a real consideration. We suggest you try and decide what snorkel spots you want to hit before you decide where to stay. For the easiest snorkeling access, we make recommendations about where to stay on our Big Island snorkeling accommodations page.
If you are early in the planning stages, also consider timing your trip for when the conditions are best for snorkeling. Read our when to snorkel in Hawaii page.
Must Snorkel Kahalu'u Beach Park
Monty the Monk Seal
"End of the Road" Puako
Snorkeling With Kids On The Big Island
Snorkeling Ke'ei Beach
One Day To Snorkel The Big Island
Snorkeling Old Kona Airport
Snorkeling Milolii Boat Launch
Follow The Shadow
See Every Big Island Post