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.
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, giant Manta Rays, and Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins, 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 good snorkeling.
Anaehoomalu Bay (A-Bay) - A popular resort beach, though not a favorite.
Night Snorkel With Manta Rays - One of the most amazing snorkel experiences we have ever had.
Watching this Big Island snorkeling video is the best 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 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, 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.
3. Excellent Depths For Snorkelers
Big Island 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.
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.
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