Snorkeling Hawaii – Where to Go and What to Expect

Pennant Bannerfish seen while snorkeling Hawaii

Snorkeling Hawaii is what opened our hearts to the fantastic beauty of the underwater world, and the joy of floating on warm tropical waters. And we have snorkeled the dickens out of Hawaii over many years now. This is true tropical snorkeling bliss. Beautiful beaches, perfect weather and water and fun boat tours.

Explore below to learn what snorkeling Hawaii is like, an overview of where to find the snorkel spots and the best time of year to plan your trip. We also share what islands are the best overall. You can also just jump to the individual island you are interested in to get highly detailed descriptions for our favorite snorkeling spots and beaches.

Pick Your Island or Learn More Below

Which Island Has the Best Snorkeling in Hawaii?

This is pretty easy to answer. Maui and the Big Island far exceed Oahu and Kauai in terms of the amount of snorkeling locations and the quality and quantity of healthy reefs, fish, and other sea life. Maui currently has the healthiest corals and the most Green Sea Turtles, and is our favorite island for snorkeling in Hawaii. But, the Big Island is a close second with lots of fish and some healthy corals to see, not to mention manta rays!

Get All of Our Hawaii Snorkeling Guides in One Resource

Can’t decide on what island to go to, or are you visiting more than one? Get our Hawaii Snorkeling Guide eBook, so that you can easily find the best spots on all the islands.

Hawaii Snorkeling Guide eBook Cover

What’s Snorkeling Hawaii Like?

Easy Free Snorkeling in Hawaii

Snorkeling Hawaii couldn’t be easier. Rent yourself a car, drive to the beach, put your gear on, get in the water and snorkel! That is really the biggest pleasure of snorkeling in Hawaii, no schedules! Of course you can go on a wonderful boat tour too, like Molokini from Maui or Captain Cook from Big Island (both are worth doing).

Sea Life and Reef Structure

Map showing the four main Hawaiian Islands.

In Hawaii you are primarily snorkeling fringing reefs, made up of varieties of hard corals. Very often this means snorkeling around the rocky exposed points between beaches, instead of inside protected bays.

The best snorkel spots have beautiful, healthy corals in interesting topographical formations. You will also find lots of fish in many varieties. And some of them have surprises, like turtles and manta rays.

You will also find many snorkeling Hawaii spots with excellent reef depths of 15 feet or less.

Be aware, though, that it is illegal to snorkel with the Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins. Read more here.

Where to Find Hawaii Snorkeling? Focus on the Dry Sides

Generally speaking, the west sides of the islands (leeward side) are drier and have better snorkeling than the east sides (windward). This is because it is more rainy on the windward sides and the rainfall tends to create murky, poor visibility and cold conditions which are not great for snorkeling. There are many exceptions to this rule, but for the most part try to plan your snorkeling adventures for the leeward sides of the islands.

Hawaii Requires Reef Safe Sunscreen

We suggest buying this reef safe sunscreen, that we have tested, before you go. Or better yet, limit how much you use by wearing rash guards instead.

What Time of Year for Snorkeling Hawaii?

The most popular time to visit Hawaii is winter to spring. But we recommend going in the summer to have a great experience snorkeling Hawaii. It can be hot and a bit humid at times in the summer, but the upsides are worth it. The waters are warm, clear and generally calm.

You will be able to snorkel in great areas that in the winter are extreme surfing spots with 20 foot waves. There is a secondary high season in the summer when the rates go up from mid June through August, so if you need to save money, try to go early in June or in September. Read more on our when to snorkel Hawaii page.

Note: Our suggestions are based on knowledge of the area. We hope you find them helpful. You can help us if you use the link(s) below. We may make a small commission, at no extra cost to you.

Plan Your Trip

After exploring our site, the following websites offer some good general information to help you plan your trip.

First we almost always search TripAdvisor when planning our Hawaii trips.

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