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Maui is ranked as one of the best destinations in the world for snorkeling thanks to a combination of calm, shallow waters and several marine protected sanctuaries where you can see a variety of wildlife ranging from schools of brightly colored tropical fish to ancient turtles maintaining the health of the reefs. You can’t go wrong snorkeling at any of the beaches we’ve listed below, but if you had to choose only one, we think the best snorkeling in Maui is Molokini Crater for its remote exoticism and crystal clear conditions.
Whether you’re a beginner snorkeler looking for a relaxing excursion to see what’s lying just beneath the ocean’s surface, or an experienced snorkeler who wants to dive down several meters to make an up-close communion with the coral reef, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite Maui snorkeling spots to explore its diverse ocean drop offs, ledges and overhangs so you can get in the water with confidence.
Things to Know Before Snorkeling in Maui
You won’t find good snorkeling just anywhere on Maui. Aside from a few calm days in the summer months, generally we would not recommend snorkeling on the North Shore or Windward (East) side of Maui, as those locations are home to big waves, high surf and frequent rainfall; all of which contributes to reduced visibility in the water. South Maui and Leeward (West) shores typically yield calm, dry conditions perfect for peeking into the underwater world.
How do I know if it’s a good day to snorkel?
It’s a good rule of thumb to ask yourself the following three questions before you head out on your snorkel trip:
- What does the weather look like? Dark skies and rain equal poor visibility.
- What does the water look like? Big waves kick up a lot of sand and can be dangerous.
- What time of year is it? You don’t want to keep your ears open for whale songs when they’re still in Alaska!
When is the best time of day to snorkel?
Typically, the best time to snorkel is between 8am-3pm. This is due to the sun’s position in the sky and the angle of its light penetrating the water. More light means better visibility. You can still snorkel later in the day but be aware the trade winds tend to pick up in the afternoon causing choppier waves and lower visibility. Fortunately, the trade winds are predictable, and you can usually expect calm mornings getting progressively gustier by the late afternoons. If you do arrive at the beach one morning and find rain or choppy conditions, it’s usually the remnants of a storm in the Pacific, and we would recommend saving your snorkel for a calmer day. Afterall, what’s the fun of going into the ocean to see wildlife, when all you can see looks like a murky, sandy washing machine?
What can I see when I snorkel in Maui?
When the conditions are just right, you can see diverse ocean topography, stunning corals and many varieties of fish and wildlife, such as the brightly colored yellow tang, the elongated trumpet fish, Hawaiian green sea turtles and our state fish, the iridescent Humuhumunukunukukuapua’a, otherwise known as the rectangular triggerfish. And if you catch a stroke of good luck, you may also see moray eels, spinner dolphins and manta rays.
How close can I get to marine life?
As beautiful as the topography and marine life in Maui are, please make sure to give them the space and respect they deserve by refraining from touching the sea life, or from standing on the reef, as that can sicken and kill it. Hawaiians believe every rock, coral and creature are their ancestors, and it’s a sign of respect to leave them untouched in their habitat. In fact, Hawaiian state law prohibits touching and harassing marine life, and you could get slapped with a hefty fine up to $50,000 and five years in prison for the felony violation.
So when you see a sea turtle perusing the coral reef, keep your distance.
Do I have to use reef safe sunscreen?
It’s recommended you wear reef safe sunscreen anytime you enter the ocean, as common chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate cause coral bleaching and harm marine life. As of January 2021, the sale of all non-reef safe sunscreens became prohibited by law in the islands. Although you can bring your own sunscreen into Hawaii and you will not be fined for wearing it at the beach, it’s better to buy the reef safe brands sold locally here so you can contribute to the health and maintenance of the natural environment.
Is it safe to snorkel alone?
We recommend you always snorkel either with a buddy or a group to avoid any safety complications, plus it’s more fun that way!
Not all snorkel spots are created equal, so we’ve compiled a list of the best snorkeling in Maui to take the guesswork out of your vacation.
Best Maui snorkeling spots:
- Molokini Crater - Best overall
- La Perouse Bay - Best for experienced snorkelers
- Maluaka Beach / Turtle Town - Best to see sea turtles
- Ulua Beach - Most family friendly on the South side
- Ka’anapali Beach / Black Rock - Most family friendly on the West side
- Napili Bay - Best beaches for beginners
- Honolua Bay - A local favorite
- Baby Beach - Best for beginner swimmers
- Coral Gardens - Most private experience
Molokini Crater - Best overall
The most popular snorkeling on Maui is at the spectacular Molokini Crater. Towering 160 feet above the water off the shore of West Maui, it is the remnants of a volcanic eruption from 230,000 years ago. Although it looks sparse and barren from above, once you dip below the water’s surface, you’re in for a treat. The sunken crater provides a protected cove from the open ocean, which houses hundreds of varieties of tropical fish, marine mammals and corals.
- Molokini Crater is a marine life protected area and is only accessible by boat tours.
- The best visibility is in the early morning, where you can sometimes see as far as 150 feet deep.
- If you arrive in the appropriate season, you may see and hear whales in the distance.
- Since the water gets choppier as the morning gets later, if you have a choice between a 7am or a 10am departure, I’d grab your cup of coffee and head out earlier.
There are several tours to choose from that will take you to Molokini. Some offer breakfasts and an additional snorkel trip to Turtle Town. Some boats have small groups, and others are quite crowded for a discounted rate. We’ll break down our most highly recommended snorkel tours at the end of this article so you can choose the adventure that’s right for you.
La Perouse Bay - Best for experienced snorkelers
La Perouse Bay, a local favorite and one of the best spots for experienced snorkelers, is the last South Maui beach reachable by car, past Wailea and Makenna. Located in the marine protected ‘Ahi Kina'u Natural Area Reserve, you can reach this bay by driving past all the resorts in Wailea to the southernmost tip of the single lane road. This is a perfect spot for experienced snorkelers, as you’ll need time and strong swimming technique to venture past the often-choppy waves to the reef. However, once you get to the reef, it’s more than worth it. You can see a beautiful coral head and schools of tropical fish. Dolphins can be spotted all around the coast as this is a protected area for them.
- The uneven terrain of the beach is covered in rocky lava flow (a’a), so make sure to wear suitable footwear as you make your way to the ocean
- You’ll need to be aware of strong currents and swells, as the conditions can change quickly.
- Between the visibility issues and the necessity for powerful swimming and energy to get out to the reef and back, we do not recommend this site for beginner or intermediate snorkelers.
Maluaka Beach/ Turtle Town - Best spot for spotting sea turtles
Located directly in front of Makena Beach and Golf Resort is Maluaka Beach, also known as Turtle Town, which, as you guessed, is home to one of the densest populations of Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu), and provides the best snorkeling on Maui to see turtles. Maluaka Beach’s location is hidden behind Haleakala Mountain, protecting it from Hawaii’s strong trade winds, which results in calm blue waters lapping against its white sand beach. Snorkeling is easy and relaxed here, but watch out for rogue waves that could push you into the rocks. When you’re ready to take a break on land, soft white sand and grassy knolls await you and your snorkel buddy for picnics, tanning and merriment.
- To find the best snorkeling spot along this beach, walk south until you hit the rocks, that’s where the reef begins. The reef slopes gently, so you can determine the depth in which you’re most comfortable snorkeling.
- You have a good chance of seeing lots of varieties of fish and sea turtles swimming or feeding on seaweed, but remember to keep your distance.
Ulua Beach - Most family friendly in South Maui
Ulua Beach is one of the most family friendly beaches in South Maui, located in front of Wailea Elua Village. The reef is located on the north side of the beach, separating Ulua Beach from Mokapu Beach. Thanks to its protected shallow cove and a sandy entrance from the beach, serene waters make this location one of the best for beginner snorkelers. You can stay in shallow water or follow the coral out to deeper slopes. As you skim the reef, you’ll be dazzled by schools of fish, healthy corals and turtles further out toward the point separating Mokapu.
This is one of the most popular and best snorkeling beaches for families and beginners on Maui, so to avoid the crowds (and secure a decent parking spot), the earlier you get out there, the better.
Ka’anapali Beach/Black Rock - Most family friendly on the West side
Ka’anapali, meaning rolling cliffs, is a 3-mile stretch of white sand that once won the title of “America’s Best Beach.” Located a few miles northwest of Lahaina, Ka’anapali is one of the most stunning beaches in Maui, boasting picturesque views of Lana’i and Molokai, tranquil surf and warm, powdery sand.
As this is quite an extensive stretch of shore, we recommend you make your way to the north end of the beach to Black Rock (Pu’u Keka’a), a Hawaiian historic area, where Maui locals flock for the best snorkeling this west Maui gem has to offer.
- Snorkeling is best along the rock wall and out to the furthest point, but remain cautious that the current can get very strong the further out you swim.
- There are almost daily reports of tourists getting caught in strong currents and unpredictable waves around the point, creating dangerous conditions in which they are unable to swim back to shore. Stay aware, and only go out if it is calm and you’re confident in your swimming abilities.
- In good conditions, you can see corals and several schools of fish along the rock. As you round the first point, you can explore inside a small cove.
- Past the furthest point, there is a 30-foot flat wall over a sandy bottom, where many marine-life like to hang out. If you’re out that far, make sure to look toward the open water, as you may be surprised to see some bigger animals, like mantas, swimming past.
Coral Gardens - Most private experience
On your way to Lahaina, south of Olowalu, you will pass Coral Gardens. Facing the West Maui Mountains and nestled in a bay, the water is typically calm, especially in the morning. With visibility ranging as far as 40 feet, its a top spot for snorkelers looking to see an abundance of tropical fish and sea turtles. While you can get there on your own, its recommended you choose a tour instead. Fourwinds Maui is the only company that takes snorkelers out there, making it feel like an exclusive spot.
Napili Bay - Best beaches for beginners
Napili Bay is located just south of Kapalua, on the northwest side of Maui, and is one of the best beaches for beginner snorkelers and families thanks to the shallow water (3-8 feet), luminescent visibility and peaceful conditions. The seabed consists mainly of rocky coastal benches and little coral, but it’s an ideal place to get up-close and personal with a multitude of fish.
- The best area to snorkel is at the north end of the bay near the rocky point. You’ll find the most interesting conditions on that side along the rocks rising from the water less than 30 yards from the beach. You can enter the water opposite this point to access it easily.
- Along the southside of the bay, you can find Hawaiian sea turtles bobbing gracefully up and down with the current.
- Napili Bay is an amazing spot to view the cotton candy sunsets of Maui, and if you are there in whale season, you may be able to view mama and baby whales breaching just beyond the bay.
Honolua Bay- A local favorite
Located on the Northwest side of Maui and surrounded by majestic looming cliffs, Honolua Bay, known as a favorite snorkel spot for locals, is a Marine Life Conservation District where fishing is illegal and marine life is abundant. The untouched bay is large, requiring a half mile swim if you want to explore the whole area. Because of the surrounding cliff faces, the water remains generally calm even when the trade winds are blowing. On this magnificent reef, you’ll see a wide variety of fish, turtles and healthy coral cover.
- To access Honolua Bay, you’ll take a short hike from the main road through a beautiful forest, and down to the rocky shores.
- You’ll want to wear some decent shoes, as traversing the rocks at the beach can be slippery with algae at times.
- Keep in mind that this bay has one of the best surf breaks in the world, so when a north swell comes through the island, it’s a good idea to leave the water to the surfers and watch the athletes rip from the beach or cliffs overhead.
- Avoid swimming out to the edge of the bay where you’ll hit the surf break.
- On the left-side of the bay is a stream bed that has occasional run off into the ocean due to wind and rainfall, creating murky visibility next to the shore. However, if you walk along the rocky shoreline on the right side of the bay and swim out about 600 feet along the rocks, the visibility greatly improves.
- To explore the opposite side of the bay, where the topography of the reef changes, you can either swim across the sandy bottom in the center of the bay, or get out of the water, have a quick lunch break and re-enter on the other side.
Baby Beach - Best for beginner swimmers
Located off Front Street, in the heart of Lahaina, Baby Beach is a perfect snorkel beach for families, beginner snorkelers and non-swimmers. Protected by a long, exposed reef offshore, this area offers warm, shallow swimming devoid of breaking waves, and is an ideal place for a novice to practice putting their face in the ocean and get used to breathing through a snorkel.
- Baby Beach is a favorite for local families with little ones who want to play in the gentle surf while parents don’t have to worry about them getting pummeled by rogue waves or swept out in strong currents.
- In the shallow conditions you can view corals, some fish and the occasional turtle swimming by.
- If you’re lucky, a monk seal can be found sunning on this beach from time to time. These rare, endangered species should be respected and given plenty of space, so please appreciate them from a healthy distance.
Should I book a snorkel tour?
Some spots, like Molokini Crater, are reachable by boat only, and in that case, a snorkel tour is your best bet to experience this premiere snorkeling destination. But there are several other reasons why you may want to book a tour with a company instead of going out on a solo adventure. First, you’re guaranteed to be dropped directly at the site of the best snorkeling reefs without having to swim and navigate potentially untoward conditions on your own. Second, for beginner snorkelers and non-swimmers, the snorkel guides are often trained lifeguards and have extra flotation devices like life jackets, floatation belts and boogie boards to assist you in feeling safe and comfortable in the water. The crew are well-versed in ocean conditions and keep a close watch on the quickly changing waters that surround Maui, assuring your utmost safety and best possible experience. Plus, they know the topography of the region and can guide you to the best spots with the most viewing potential, while regaling you with local wisdom and helping to educate you by identifying the marine life you come across.
Which snorkel tours are the best?
Our favorite tour company on Maui is Trilogy, a family owned and operated Kama’aina (local) company that delivers a first-class ocean experience, by providing unmatched Hawaiian hospitality combined with superior quality in all areas including food, equipment, boats and safety. Their crew exudes care for each other and the guests, while providing local insider tips and ocean education. Trilogy is Maui’s longest operating tour company, celebrating 50 years in the water, and have expertly honed their guest experiences to an artform. They have the largest and newest fleet of uniformed sailing catamarans in the state of Hawaii. As a Kama’aina company, they have placed immense importance on giving back to the local community through non-profit donations, volunteering and outreach, and education. Trilogy has operated its BlueAina Reef cleanup program for over 12 years – committing to bringing community volunteers out to clean up Maui’s reefs once a month. Trilogy is a certified ecotour company and has led the boating industry in sustainable changes like being the first boat company to stop pumping their waste out at sea, initiating the day-use mooring systems, and eliminating single-use plastics. They have a variety of snorkel tours and excursions to choose from all around West Maui, Lana’i and our personal favorite, Molokini.
Pride of Maui:
If you’re looking to snorkel around Maui in stability and comfort, Pride of Maui may just be the company for you. They boast a 65-foot maxi-powered catamaran with 3,000 sq. feet of deck space for unobstructed panoramic views as you comfortably walk around the vessel. Although this is a large boat, Pride of Maui only allows reservations up to 60% of their maximum capacity to ensure your ride is spacious, comfortable and sustainable for the environment. On board, you’ll be treated to impeccable service from the captain and crew while having access to an open bar, freshly prepared breakfast and a barbecue lunch. All your snorkel and snuba gear (think snorkeling tethered to an oxygen tank for deeper dives) and floatation devices are sanitized and ready for you to experience the ultimate water immersion. Once you’re dry, and you’ve finished your mai tai, you can even head up to the boat’s very own water slide to careen off a 10-foot drop into the crystal waters surrounding Maui.
Pacific Whale Foundation:
The Pacific Whale Foundation, famously known for their educational outreach and whale research, also provides a variety of diverse snorkel tours around the Maui nui as well. Based on nearly four decades of marine research and eco-tourism, each trip is led by certified marine naturalists who give equal importance to education and fun. You can expect top-rate amenities with food, drinks, snorkel gear, safety and education provided by the expert hands of the crew. There’s even a “learn to snorkel” class for beginners, ensuring that all bodies and ability levels feel safe and confident in the water. And the best part? All profits go to the Pacific Whale Foundation’s research, education and conservation programs protecting large marine animals and our ocean.