Snorkeling Hanauma Bay was how Galen got his snorkeling start, at 12 years old, on a vacation with his mother. Since then we have snorkeled it several more times in a variety of conditions. It is definitely the most visited Oahu snorkeling spot and it may be the most visited snorkeling spot in the world. Before they started limiting daily visitors in 2021 with a reservation system, there were over 3,000 visitors a day, over a million a year! Now they restrict it to 720 visitors a day.
Is snorkeling Hanauma Bay worth it, even though it is busy? We think so if you like to see fish up close and personal. There are often many fish here, and they are so used to people that they don’t swim away when you get near. This results in good photo opportunities. On the other hand, if you prefer to look at corals and view amazing underwater topography, then the snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is not the best choice. There are a few channels to explore but there is very little in terms of live coral. And the visibility is sometimes very low, particularly if the wind and waves are up.
Overall, we really like snorkeling Hanauma Bay with its gorgeous turquoise waters and stunning beach. We also enjoy watching all the different people from around the world trying out snorkeling, many for the first time.
Because it is so busy here, there is a lot of infrastructure involved. There is a separate fee for parking for longer than 15 minutes. If you are driving your own vehicle, plan on coming early, because the parking fills up and you could be turned away.
Make your reservation here a couple days before you want to go. If you did not pay a reservation fee online, you must pay an entry fee when you arrive. You are also required to watch an educational movie before you can go down to the beach for snorkeling Hanauma Bay, which will be scheduled with your reservation. After the movie you can either walk down the steep hillside to the water, or pay a small fee to ride the shuttle.
Once at the beach you can rent snorkel equipment. It is very convenient but a little pricey. You can save some money by renting it in the city before you drive to the bay.
We prefer to get here very early in the morning, before 7 a.m., to ensure our parking spot, to see the most fish in the early morning hours, and to possibly catch a time of lower winds. So we recommend an early reservation for snorkeling Hanauma Bay.
Snorkeling Sunburns Suck!
Check out the snorkeling rash guards, wetsuits, and reef safe sunscreen we use to protect ourselves and to protect fish and coral from sunscreen chemicals.
Water Entrance for Snorkeling Hanauma Bay
Look at the beach and water with your polarized sunglasses before you walk or ride down the hill. You will notice that the reef comes almost to the beach in many places, so the entry is better from the areas where the sand goes out a ways. There are two channels in the reef where the currents can be strong because the water in them exits into the open water of the bay, so be very careful if you choose one of these as your entry. Walk out in a sandy area and when the water is deep enough, slip your fins on.
Where to Snorkel
Snorkeling Hanauma Bay is possible along almost the entire length of the beach, but some of it only if the tide is high and the waves are calm. Nearly the entire stretch of beach is protected by a barrier reef.
The two channels where water exits the beach area back to the larger bay are the exceptions. One is just to the right of the middle of the beach and the other is on the far left side, looking out from the beach. These channels can have strong currents and unless it is a calm day or you are a very confident swimmer, don’t explore them. Most people stay behind this reef in the protected shallow waters, making it a fairly safe snorkeling spot.
In snorkeling Hanauma Bay, you are swimming around and sometimes over a flat reef that is primarily covered in algae. There are a few bits of live coral here and there, but mostly you are here for the fish that live in the reef, and you might get lucky and see a turtle.
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You can get in at one end of the beach and swimming in and out of the reef, snorkel down to the other end of the beach, exit and walk back. The visibility does get low when the wind and waves are up because the sand gets kicked up. The depths through most of the inner reef are about 2-8 feet.
We have read accounts of folks swimming out one of the channels to snorkel the outer reef edge. It has not been calm enough for us to ever attempt it. But if you are an experienced snorkeler, the wind and waves are down, and the currents in the channel are not overly strong, you might attempt it yourself. We have heard that the outer coral reef is alive and interesting.
What We Saw While Snorkeling Hanauma Bay
In the reef you may see some sea urchins in the holes they have made. You also have a decent chance of swimming with a turtle here. Seeing fish up close and personal is the main reason for snorkeling Hanauma Bay.
- Boxfish, Spotted
- Butterflyfish: Ornate, Raccoon, Threadfin
- Filefish, Barred
- Goatfish, Manybar
- Mullet, Sharpnose
- Parrotfish: Bullethead, Palenose, Redlip, Spectacled
- Sergeant, Blackspot
- Snapper, Bluestripe
- Surgeonfish: Blue-lined, Orangespine, Ringtail
- Tang: Convict, Lavender, Sailfin
- Wrasse: Bird, Saddle
- Sea Urchin, Pale Rock-Boring
Snorkeling Other Islands?
If you plan to visit more than one Hawaiian island, take our Hawaii Snorkeling Guide eBook with you. It contains a map and many more pictures of snorkeling Hanauma Bay and plus all the other Oahu locations too.
Driving Directions From Waikiki
1. Get on Ala Wai Blvd. heading northwest (one-way only in that direction) and follow it to McCully Street and turn right.
2. Go to the next intersection, with Kapiolani Blvd., and turn right again.
3. Follow Kapiolani Blvd. until you see the signs to get on H-1 East and do so.
4. Continue on H-1 East for about 9 miles noticing when H-1 changes into Hwy 72 (Kalanianaole Hwy). The road will cross over water and climb a hill, and at about the top of the hill you will see signs and a turn to the right to enter the park. Follow the road downhill to the parking lot.
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There are many facilities available here including ecologist education booths and signs, snorkel gear rental, lifeguards, restrooms, water, picnic tables, showers, and shade. There is also a concession stand up on the hill with grill foods.