We love Big Island snorkeling, and have explored it extensively. It offers great snorkeling, second only to Maui in the Hawaiian Islands, in our opinion. It used to be our favorite of the islands, but coral health and fish quantities have declined. It's still very good though!
So, where are the best snorkel spots and why do we love it? This is a very big island, but the majority of locations are spread out along the drier, west side of the island (see the map below).
What's great is nearly all the sites are accessible from shore although there are some fun boat tours too. You will swim with loads of gorgeous fish, turtles, and giant Manta Rays, over reefs with some healthy corals, all in perfect snorkeling depths.
Click on each location below, for full details and pictures. Also don't miss the Big Island snorkeling video, pictures and more about what you can expect further down the page.
Big Island Snorkeling Guide eBook - The sample locations below are just a few from our popular eBook guide. You get:
Two Steps (Honaunau) - Full of life, this cove is outstanding for snorkeling.
Kapoho Tide Pools - Sadly, this spot no longer exists. It was covered by lava in the eruption the summer of 2018.
Captain Cook Monument - One of the best spots on the island, reached by boat tour or tough hike.
Mauna Kea Beach - See many fish and some fun topography at this lovely resort beach.
Beach 69/Waialea Bay - There is a lot to explore from this pretty shady beach.
Hapuna Beach - Beautiful, busy beach with decent snorkeling.
Anaehoomalu Bay (A-Bay) - A popular resort beach, but not great snorkeling.
Night Snorkel With Manta Rays - One of the most amazing snorkel experiences we have ever had.
Watching this Big Island snorkeling video is a good way for you to get a sense for what it is really like. It is from many locations over numerous trips.
1. Amazing Shore and Beach Access
We really like free snorkeling from shore. The Big Island Hawaii is great for this. Many locations are accessed from the most stunning beaches in the world but a few of the better ones are accessed from rocky shores.
2. Beautiful Tropical Fish & Turtles
Probably because the Big Island is a bit less populated and visited, it 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.
3. Excellent Depths for Snorkelers
Big Island Hawaii snorkeling offers ideal water depths. You can find whatever you like: super shallow areas where the fish are right in your face, reefs that range in depth from 5 to 25 feet, or for the more adventurous, deep drop offs to over 50 feet.
4. Some Healthy Coral Reefs
The Big Island is home to some healthy coral reefs which are mostly reachable from shore.
5. Super Clear Water
There are areas 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.
Generally we think the snorkeling is best in the summer months on the Big Island, but there are exceptions to this. Read more details about the snorkeling conditions on our when to snorkel in Hawaii, including air and water temperatures, swell, wind, rain, hurricane season, and tourist high seasons.
Water temperatures for the Big Island vary a bit from winter to summer. You can find a chart of monthly average water temperatures of the Big Island on this page. We prefer to visit when the temperatures are near 80°F.
snorkeling depends on low winds and no waves. The wind on the Big
Island is fairly predictable, meaning it is almost always windy. You can
find a wind forecast for Kona Airport here.
Once the day heats up, the wind can turn to onshore winds, so it is
best to snorkel in the morning. Waves, also known as swell or surf, need
to be low for snorkeling. You can see a swell forecast for Kona Airport here.
Choose your daily snorkeling spot according to the wind and swell forecasts above, but please note these websites were created for the folks who want high winds (wind and kite surfers) and high swells (surfers). As a snorkeler you want low winds and low swell.
Rainy season in Hawaii is between October and April and hurricane season goes from June to November, both of which affect snorkeling conditions. Hurricanes and tropical storms affect the islands primarily in July, August, and September. Plan your trip as you will and consider trip insurance if traveling in hurricane season.
Careful trip planning makes all the difference. All the other Hawaiian Islands could fit inside the Big Island. Because of its 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.
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