Smack dab in the middle of South Pacific Ocean, one thing that continues to draw tourist to Hawaii from all over the world is the incredible (and numerous) beaches and unparalleled snorkeling spots. With hidden coves, quiet inlets, volcanic craters, and expansive reefs, discovering the islands’ diverse and rich marine life is an opportunity of a lifetime. Here are the top spots to take the plunge, insider tips included!
Home to the state capital Honolulu and world-famous landmarks like Waikiki beach, Pearl Harbour and surfer mecca, The North Shore, this island also has calm, clear waters, coral reefs and sheltered bays ideal for snorkeling too. On the southeast shore lies Hanauma Bay, a large sheltered inlet full of coral (and probably the most fish in one place in all of Hawaii!). With an average of 3,000 visitors a day—this is the maximum the state now allows to protect this nature preserve’s ecosystem—it may be busy, but within this large space there is plenty to see and enough room for everyone, especially those novice snorkelers who take comfort in the safety of numbers. This old volcanic crater is protected from the ocean swells so it offers idyllic water conditions and a soft white sand shoreline for easy access to the water.
Pro Tip: Since this is a nature preserve there is parking, but get there early, the lot fills up fast (and costs just $1 for the day). There is snorkel rental onsite, as well as a picnic area and concession stand to buy food and drinks. There are also showers, lockers and restrooms for public use, and of course, lifeguards. Finally, the park is closed on Tuesdays so make your plans accordingly!
Where to stay on Oahu
The Big Island
The largest of the Hawaiian islands, the Big Island is filled with such rugged, natural beauty, it has to be seen to be believed. Whether it’s wild shores with natural pools or the many white, black and even green sand beaches, the striking nature you’ll encounter here will make you feel like you’re in a different world. For the best snorkeling, head to what locals call the City of Refuge (also known as Honaunau Bay). Calm and with excellent visibility most of the year, this bay sits in front of a large, smooth, flat lava field that is at the same level as the water making water entry incredibly easy. Near the shore, the average depth is only about 10 feet so perfect for snorkeling, but towards the center, it drops to 100 feet so if you want to try skin diving or scuba diving, this is also a good spot.
Pro Tip: Besides all the incredible marine life here, one real draw sure to make this trip worthwhile is the Spinner dolphins. These friendly creatures rest and take care of their young in the calm waters of this bay in the daytime. They may seem shy at first, but once they realize you’re not a threat, they will swim up to you and even show off their babies! There are no concessions here so bring food and drinks, and finally, the afternoons here tend to cloud over so it’s best to get in the water early for better visibility.
Where to stay on The Big Island
Arguably the most sought-after destination within the island chain, Maui is known for its diverse geography, incredible range of outdoor activities, exciting local cuisine and of course, its beaches. Also a popular snorkeling island, there are several choice spots, but Molokini has the clearest water in the whole state, with normal visibility at 100 feet (which rises to 200 feet on clear days). This tiny island is about 3 miles off the southwest coast is made from an ancient volcano that rises out of the sea in the Alalakeiki Channel between the islands of Maui and Kahoolawe. The northern rim of the island has eroded away, allowing the sea to flood the crater, forming a unique crescent shape. Only accessible by tour boat, there is no fishing allowed in this marine life conservation district so there’s an abundance of underwater life. Some of the many fish you might see include butterfly fish, parrot fish, triggerfish, snapper, eels and reef sharks. There have even been sightings of humpback whales, whale sharks, manta rays, and Hawaiian monk seals visiting the crater.
Pro Tip: Since this location is only accessible by boat, chose your charter wisely; bigger tours mean bigger boats that have more amenities and comforts, but smaller groups offer more individual attention (and fewer crowds). If you’re uneasy on the sea, choose a twin hull catamaran as they tend to be the most stable and finally, find out what your tour includes so that there are no surprises if you have to pay extra for snorkel equipment, wetsuits or lunch. Your Luxury Retreats concierge can organize a personalized tour for you.
Where to stay on Maui
Nicknamed “The Garden Isle” thanks to the rainforests that blanket most of this island, there are many reasons why Kauai is often considered the state’s hidden gem. With less hype than Maui and fewer tourists than Oahu, Kauai is truly the nature lover’s island. The most northern of the island chain, it’s also the oldest one and is covered in vivid green valleys, rushing rivers, cascading waterfalls and mountain peaks. For experienced snorkelers (or experienced swimmers), exploring the cinematic waters of the north shore and its beautiful beaches can be almost endless as there are 90 miles of coastline, but where do you go if you want to snorkel with young children or novice swimmers? Keiki Pond at Lydgate Park. This “children’s” pond is protected year-round from the surf by a man-made rock wall and the fish tend to swim in through cracks and holes. There’s no coral for kids to accidentally scrape against, and no ocean currents or crashing waves, making this an ideal spot to give the little ones a mask and flippers and let them explore in a safe environment.
Pro Tip: There is even a smaller pool attached to Keiki Pond that is good for toddlers or babies to play in, as well as several pavilions with picnic tables and a playground for young children with multiple slides, swings and play areas; definitely enough activities to keep your kids busy all day long.
Where to stay on Kauai