Here’s a good article from the folks at Big Island Guide on the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island. Sea Paradise Sailing and Snorkel is the best for snorkeling on the leeward side of the island.
Our Picks for the Best Snorkeling on the Big Island
If you’re looking for our top recommendations for the best snorkeling on the Big Island of Hawaii, look no further! World famous for its crystal clear, warm waters and diverse native marine life, Hawaii needs no introduction as a tropical vacation destination. Dense with fish of every size, shape, and color, there’s plenty of great spots around the Big Island to see the marine life up close, but there are areas better suited for snorkeling than others. Remember that these areas are sensitive marine habitats and that you should wear only reef safe sunscreen or use a sun shirt instead of sunscreen to help protect the coral. To get you prepared for your Big Island adventure, these amazing snorkeling locations and hotspots should be at the top of your travel itinerary:
Best Big Island Snorkeling South of Kona
Honaunau Bay (Two Step)
84-5571 Honaunau Beach Rd
Captain Cook, HI 96704
Known to the locals as “Two Step,” this snorkeling site is incredibly popular, and for good reason – it’s among the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island. Two Step derives its name from the natural rock step at the water’s edge that serves as a perfect access point for fin-wearing visitors. The Snorkeling here is incredible with large schools of fish, lots of varied terrain, healthy coral and a wide variety of other sea life.
There’s no beach, but there is plenty of space to have a picnic on the lava rock shelf under the palm trees. This area is easily accessible, but a little out of town, so bring water and a lunch or snacks and plenty of sunscreen. There is a porta-potty and a few picnic tables, but no other facilities or showers. You are very close to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park so stop by and check out the amazing Hawaiian history across the bay.
82-6099 Puuhonua Beach Rd
Kealakekua, HI 96750
A pristine marine preservation site bursting with colorful sea-life, dolphins, and coral, the bay is well-known for its snorkeling. The bay is somewhat protected by lava formations that keep the water relatively calm, but windy afternoon conditions and chop can occasionally result in difficult swimming, especially in the winter months. Because of the historical and protected nature of the surrounding area, access to this bay is closely controlled. Your easiest option is to take a snorkel cruise or kayak tour to the area with one of the tour companies that are licensed to take snorkelers to the bay.
If you want to try it alone, there is a strenuous hike down the cliff that allows you access to the bay or you can get your own permit and rent a kayak. You aren’t allowed to land your kayak in the bay though, so you will have to get in and out of the kayak in the water and keep it tied to you as you snorkel. This one is worth the tour, just make sure that the company you choose actually goes into the bay. Some less scrupulous vendors will make you think you are going to the bay, then take you just outside the area, and it just doesn’t compare.
Kahalu’u Beach Park
786702 Ali’i Dr
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
Open 6 AM – 11 PM
A fun and family-friendly beach with coarse salt and pepper sand, Kahalu’u Beach Park’s better known for its snorkeling and surfing than its beach. Well-protected from aggressive waves and boasting shallow, crystal-clear waters, this is a great place for beginners to get used to the water or for experienced snorkelers seeking a perfect underwater shot. With its convenient location right in Kailua-Kona, it’s easy to fit in a quick morning snorkel before you head out for other adventures. Green Sea Turtles tend to like feeding in this area so you have a pretty good chance of running into some.
When the tide is low the water is really shallow and maneuvering can be difficult, so try to time your visit to when it is not low tide. Because of the closed in nature of this bay and the shallowness of the water, please do not wear anything but reef safe sunscreen in the water. I actually wear a sun shirt when I snorkel here instead of sunscreen to make sure I’m not hurting the coral. Also, never step on or stand up on the coral in the bay, it will damage or kill it and remember it is a living organism.
Best Big Island Snorkeling on the Kohala Coast
Waialea Bay (Beach 69) at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area
Hapuna Beach Rd
Waimea, HI 96743
Waialea Bay Beach is just a few minutes south of the wildly popular Hapuna Beach and as such, it’s an incredibly popular site for tourists and locals alike. It can get very busy, especially as the day goes on, so it is worth showing up early to catch the best snorkeling. The gate is open from 7 am to 8 pm. There are showers, restrooms, picnic tables and shade at this beach.
Snorkeling is good in several locations across the bay, both the northern and southern edges as well as the rockier area in the middle. Due to the shallower water, you have good visibility throughout much of the bay, but watch for surges when you are near the rocks in the center. You will see lots of types of fish, some healthy coral formations, some unique lava flow terrain and possibly some turtles.
Best Snorkeling on the Big Island East Side
Kapoho Tide Pools
14-4984 Waiopae Rd
Pāhoa, HI 96778
2018 UPDATE: Kapoho Tide Pools
The Kapoho Tide Pools have been destroyed by the 2018 Volcanic Eruption of Kilauea. Sadly this amazing snorkeling location was covered by the active lava flow originating from Fissure 8 and is closed to the public.
The incredible interconnected tide pools, that made a network of unique swimming holes and played host to tropical fish of every sort is gone. It is truly sad to have lost this unique marine habitat, and only time will tell what the area will be like in the future. Most of this shoreline is now covered in new lava or black sand created by the new flow. The Big Island of Hawaii is constantly changing and that includes our reef habitat.