10 best places to snorkel in Hawaii

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By Sarah Sekula, published on islands.com

Hawaii snorkeling offers some of the best underwater sights, thanks to the protected marine areas surrounding the islands. Here are the best places to snorkel around the Hawaiian Islands, plus the specific sea life you can expect to see below the surface.

1. Fringing Reef – Molokai

Get here by boat or kayak and prepare to be wowed by the longest fringing reef in Hawaii, which attracts everything from hawksbill turtles to spotted eagle rays. Plan your trip during whale-watching season (December-March) when thousands of whales show up and serenade each other (and you).

Where is it? South coast of Molokai

Who is it suitable for? All levels

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2. Turtle Town – Maui

On Maui’s southern coastline, a series of underwater lava formations, created by eruptions of submarine volcanoes, makes a cozy home for sea turtles. Just remember: look, but don’t touch; these guys are endangered. Angelfish, moray eels and octopus are an added bonus.

Where is it? At Maluaka Beach, south of Kihei, near the Makena Beach & Golf Resort (the resort is closed, but it’s still a good landmark)

Who is it suitable for? All levels

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3. Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park – Big Island

Kayak along the calm waters of Kealakekua Bay while keeping your eyes peeled for Hawaiian spinner dolphins; they like to put on a show. Once you reach the protected shoreline of Ka’awaloa, hop out and snorkel alongside turtles, eels, reef sharks and rays. Bring a picnic lunch and sit a spell near the monument of British explorer Captain James Cook. (Note: If you kayak on your own you are not allowed to dock on shore. If you go with an outfitter like Kona Boys, you may.)

Where is it? 12-miles south of Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona) in south Kona

Who is it suitable for? All levels

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4. Night Manta Snorkel – Big Island

Tour operators set up waterproof spotlights on the ocean floor to attract plankton, a surefire way to bring giant Pacific manta rays galore. Even though they are closely related to sharks, have wingspans up to 20 feet and can weigh a whopping 3,000 pounds, snorkeling with them is perfectly safe. Their underwater performance has all the theatrics of Cirque du Soleil — back flips and all.

Where is it? Fronting Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay; south of Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona)

Who is it suitable for? Intermediate

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5. Poipu Beach Park – Kauai

Tikes will dig the shallow-water lagoon at Poipu Beach, not to mention the wildlife. Shoreside, you’ll often find lounging monk seals. Offshore, it’s common to see humpbacks during whale season. While snorkeling, look for blue parrotfish, sea cucumbers and this tongue-twister: humuhumunukunukuapuaa, Hawaii’s state fish.

Where is it? 25 minutes west of Lihue on Kauai’s south shore

Who is it suitable for? All levels

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6. North Shore – Oahu

Play marine biologist for the day by hanging out with Ocean Ramsey’s research team. Galapagos sharks, tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, hammerheads and sometimes even whale sharks roams these parts. If you’re not a fan of the apex predator, this trip could certainly change your perspective. Humans aren’t really on the lunch list.

Where is it? Haleiwa Boat Harbor

Who is it suitable for? All levels

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7. Tunnels (Makua) Beach – Kauai

Weird rock formations? Check. Large coral heads? Check. This spot will keep you entertained with its caverns, channels and tunnels. Look for goat fish, hogfish, filefish, green sea turtles, moray eels, trumpet fish and wrasse. A word to the wise: Avoid winter when the waves can be gnarly.

Where is it? Kauai’s north shore; off Highway 560 about a mile west of Hanalei Colony Resort; near Haena Beach Park

Who is it suitable for? Inner reef (beginners), outer reef (advanced)

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8. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve – Oahu

This volcanic crater on Oahu’s east side is a marine life conservation area sheltered from ocean swells and packed full of fish. Needless to say, it’s wildly popular, so be prepared for crowds. Take a peek at crevices and caves while making friends with damsel fish, squirrel fish, porcupine fish and trumpet fish.

Where is it? Oahu’s east side; from Waikiki take the H1 Freeway until it becomes Kalanianaole Highway, continue 10 miles. You’ll find the entrance at the top of the hill.

Who is it suitable for? All levels

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9. Honolua Bay – Maui

Located on Maui’s northwest shore, Honolua Bay is a marine life conservation area, so your chances are good of tracking down diverse sea critters. Plus, you’ll be surrounded by rocky cliffs that help shelter the area from wind. Keep an eye out for butterflyfish, snapper, puffer fish, unicorn fish and sea urchins. Afterward, watch the surfers to the right of the boat ramp. This spot happens to be one of the most epic surf breaks in Hawaii.

Where is it? 10 miles north of Lahaina along Hwy 30

Who is it suitable for? Intermediate

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10. Hulopoe Bay – Lanai

On the island’s south shore you’ll find this crescent-shaped bay dotted with shallow tide pools that house hermit crabs, sea stars and small fish. Below the surface, you’re in for a treat. Spinner dolphins and sea turtles frolic here frequently. Plus, bandit angelfish, Hawaiian green sea turtles and humpbacks (in the winter).

Where is it? Between the Four Seasons Resort Lanai and Manele Bay

Who is it suitable for? All levels

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