For us, Kauai snorkeling is always an exciting adventure. The island's steep green mountains, rainstorms, exposure and ocean currents, make for unique and challenging snorkeling.
We love Kauai for it's stunning beauty and raw, undeveloped feel. There is free access to nearly every snorkel spot from beaches, as well as the opportunity to swim with some big Green Sea Turtles and lots of fish in perfect depths.
But most of the snorkel areas are exposed to the trade winds and seasonal swells. And there are far fewer quality locations than you will find on the Big Island or Maui. It's also a bit more dangerous than the other Hawaiian islands because of ocean currents, waves, rainstorms, and steep slippery trails.
Having said that, everyone of every experience level can have fun snorkeling on Kauai, if they choose locations carefully.
Click on each location below, for full details and pictures. Also don't miss on this page the movie, pictures and more about what you can expect.
South Shore Locations:
Lawa'i Beach (Beach House Beach) - This popular and shallow beach tends to have tons of fish, but unfortunately very little healthy reef.
Koloa Landing - This is an interesting bay to snorkel because it has a wide range of depths, and is unique for having some live coral heads along with lots of fish and turtles.
Po'ipu Beach Park - This is a very popular snorkel location down on the drier, sunnier part of the island, but is not the best you can find.
North Shore Locations:
Tunnels (Makua Beach) - This is the quintessential snorkel site on Kauai, with amazing mountain views down the beach. Just make sure you learn where to swim for the best stuff, because this spot is huge.
Hideaways Beach (Pali Ke Kua) - If hiking straight down a steep hillside does not bother you, this is a fun snorkel beach, with spur and groove reef topography, lots of fish and turtles.
Na Pali Coast
Kauai offers one of the most scenic snorkel boat tours in the world. You get to one of the best snorkel spots on the island and you see the iconic sheer green cliff scenery of the Na Pali Coast. And it can be a thrilling and harrowing boat trip out there and back. We have experienced Na Pali snorkel boat tours from the north and south sides of the island. In our eBook guide below we share more about what it is like, our preferred boat companies, the best season to go and the best place to start from.
Check out our Kauai Snorkeling eBook Guide with detailed descriptions and pictures of 19 snorkel spots. In this 181 page guide you also get a color picture fish guide and important in-the-water safety tips. Staying flexible and knowing all your location options will help you have the best possible Kauai snorkeling experience.
Watching this movie is the best way for you to get a sense for what Kauai snorkeling is really like. It is from many locations around the island.
1. It's Always An Adventure
Kauai snorkeling always gets our blood pumping. To be honest, it does not offer the quantity or quality of snorkeling spots of say the Big Island or Maui, although we like it better than Oahu. But what it does offer is adventure, in a way that the other islands don't. There is just something raw about this island that makes you feel like you are an adventurer exploring Jurassic Park. That is probably why they filmed a lot of those movies on Kauai.
2. Natural Beauty In Abundance
There is no doubt that the natural beauty of this island adds to the enjoyment of the snorkeling. Around every corner, with each changing moment, Kauai is showing off it's good looks.
3. Free Snorkeling At World Class Beaches
We love to snorkel from beaches, at our own leisure, without boat tour expenses. And Kauai delivers. Nearly all the snorkeling on Kauai is reached from shore, from beautiful beaches.
4. Snorkel With BIG Turtles
We always seem to find turtles on Kauai, and more often than not they are the biggest turtles we have ever seen. With their large tails, and slow graceful swimming, these giants almost seem like dinosaurs.
5. Like Fish? No Problem
There are a handful of locations on Kauai where you can get up close and personal with a lot of fish, both on the north and south side of the island.
Strong Currents & Reef Cuts
Look at our Kauai snorkeling map below to see how all of the snorkel areas are on the south, north and east sides of the island. This is unlike Maui and the Big Island where most of the snorkel sites are on the more protected western side of the island. Since the spots are more exposed to the prevalent trade-winds and waves, stronger ocean currents are common in Kauai.
And while much of the snorkeling is behind fairly protective barrier reefs, the currents inside these areas flow out of cuts in the reef back out to sea. So you must be cautious not be caught up in that outflow. For example, look at the picture of the very popular Ke’e Beach at right. Notice the big channel in front of the beach that is darker blue? The waves come over the shallower reef farther up the beach and all that water exits out that channel. If you have not yet read our safety tips page about currents you can here.
Long & Steep Hikes
Kauai is a mountainous island, and the way you get to a handful of the better snorkeling beaches is by hiking down (and back up) some steep and often slippery and long trails.
Planning Your Trip Around Kauai Rain & Seasons
Kauai is so beautiful because it is one of the rainiest places on earth. But as you can imagine all that rain can impact your snorkeling. Many times we have hiked to a beach in the rain, or had a torrential rain squall and winds suddenly come across us in the water. So staying flexible with your plans is essential for a fun Kauai snorkeling trip. Read our Kauai snorkeling accommodations page for tips on the sunnier and rainier areas to stay for snorkeling.
Because a lot of the snorkeling on Kauai is located on the north shore, it is often inaccessible in winter. It is affected by the same north swell that makes Oahu a surfing mecca in the winter. You may find it useful to read our When To Snorkel Hawaii page to help you plan your trip for when the conditions are best for snorkeling.
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