best places to snorkel big island

Big Island is a great place to snorkel. There are many different spots on the island where you can go and watch the underwater wildlife. If you are interested in seeing some of the most beautiful beaches and snorkeling locations, then this is the place for you!

There are many different spots to explore on Big Island but if you want to get away from it all and have a relaxing time, then Waipio Valley is one of the best places to go snorkeling. It is located near the town of Hilo on the western side of Big Island. This spot is known for having clear waters with amazing views of sea turtles and tropical fish! You will also see dolphins swimming by while they are feeding in these shallow waters.

Another great spot for snorkeling on Big Island is Keauhou Bay Beach Park near Kailua-Kona. The water here is very clear due to its shallow depth so you will be able to see all kinds of marine life swimming around in it! The beach itself has white sand that extends out into deep blue ocean waters so it makes for a pleasant experience for those who enjoy walking along shore lines or sitting down with friends while watching sunsets over open ocean waters!

This article would provide you with more information on best places to snorkel big island, best snorkeling in kona, best place to stay on big island for snorkeling, best beaches big island, big island snorkeling spots, best time to snorkel big island, and beginner snorkeling big island.

best snorkeling in kona

The following 14 snorkel spots are popular destinations for locals and tourists alike. They have been ordered on geographical location, from south (first entry) to north (last entry).

  1. Little Cayman: This is the best place to snorkel in Cayman Islands. The island has no roads, so you can only reach it by boat. The water is crystal clear and there are some excellent coral reefs around the island.
  2. Belize Barrier Reef: Located off the coast of Belize, this is one of the largest barrier reefs in the world. It’s home to over 500 species of fish and more than 1,500 species of coral! It’s also one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth–there are over 3,000 different species living there!
  3. Bonaire: This small island off Venezuela has some beautiful beaches where you can snorkel and see turtles swimming around you! But be careful–the currents can be strong at times!
  4. Roatan: If you’re looking for an adventure while snorkeling in Honduras, then Roatan is a good choice because it has some great caves with lots of marine life inside them! There’s also a reef nearby where you’ll see dolphins swimming around too!


Snorkeling here is excellent when the water is calm. There is easy access into the water with a sandy entry point, the best fish and coral can be found next to the rocky points at either end of the beach. Parking space at Mauna Kea beach is limited, so show up early!

Distance from Kona: 33.6 miles (47 minutes by car).Kauna’oa or Mauna Kea Beach, Hawaii | Photograph by Steve Dunleavy on Flickr under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license


One of our 3 favorite spots on the island, best reached by boat tour but also reachable with a kayak or after a tough hike. Kealakekua bay directions and snorkeling info.

Distance from Kona: 17 miles (34 minutes by car).


One of our 3 favorite spots on the island, and also very popular with local surfers. Make sure to stay at the left (south) side of the beach while snorkeling. Kahaluʻu bay directions and snorkeling info.

Distance from Kona: 4.9 miles (14 minutes by car).


A small, fun beach in Kona, named for the fact that the beach’s sand comes and goes seemingly overnight with big storms. If the waves are small this beach is well-suited for snorkeling. Go out a few hundred yards and to the right to see some nice corals and larger fish.

Distance from Kona: 3.7 miles (11 minutes by car).


Very easy to reach beach in central Kona. Perfect for an early morning or late afternoon snorkel.

Distance from Kona: 0 miles (downtown Kona).


There is a small beach directly north of the Honokohau harbor where you can find good snorkeling, but little more.

The beach does not have life guards, bathroom facilities, or trash cans, and to get there you need to walk over ~65 meters of lava rock. This beach is locally know as “Kona Dog Beach” because it is one of the few beaches where dogs are allowed off-leash. Don’t go if that scares you.

The beach at Honokohau harbor is directly south of the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park which is very much worth a quick visit. This park also has a long “salt and pepper” sand beach (the sand is made up of a mix of small particles of white coral and black lava rock) from which you can enter the water for snorkeling.

Distance from Kona: 3.7 miles (10 minutes by car).


This beach is protected from high surf by an offshore reef. It is an okay spot for snorkeling, and an absolutely beautiful beach to spend the sunset.

Distance from Kona: 25.6 miles (37 minutes by car).


Small beach on the south end of the Mauna Lani resort property. Easy entry and exit, shallow reef with immediate payoff of reef fish, coral heads, octopus, and eels. Further out the water clears and more coral and larger schools of fish can be seen.

Distance from Kona: 29.6 miles (42 minutes by car).


Small, black(ish) sand beach with lava rock cliffs and a shoreline fisherman’s trail. Clear water and excellent, unspoiled reef. Pinnacles and reef in shallower water to the left (south), deeper reef to the right (north).

Distance from Kona: 29.6 miles (42 minutes by car).


This beach is a good place for beginning swimmers or snorkelers. It is protected by large lava rocks that surround the beach, and a sand bottom entry into the water makes it even more pretty. When the ocean conditions are favorable (low surf) swimming outside the protective rocks offers good snorkeling opportunities.

Distance from Kona: 29 miles (41 minutes by car).


The best reefs at this beach are on the southern side of the bay, but there is also plenty of coral around the rocky prominence inside the bay and close to the rocky point on the right (north) side of the beach. The weak point for snorkeling here is the possible murky water. Snorkeling here is best with calm ocean conditions.

Distance from Kona: 31.3 miles (44 minutes by car).Waialea Beach is a somewhat “off the beaten path” beach in between the Waikoloa resorts and Hapuna beach


One of our 3 favorite spots on the island. Clear water and very close to one of our favorite national parks: Puʻuhonua o Honaunau.

Honaunau bay directions and snorkeling info

Distance from Kona: 23 miles (40 minutes by car).


Hāpuna beach is one of our favorite white sand beaches on the Big Island. Snorkeling is good at Hāpuna beach if the water is calm. You can either go snorkel around the small cliff to the north of the beach  or around the rocky point on the South of the beach.

Distance from Kona: 31.8 miles (43 minutes by car).There is little shelter from the sun at the long white sand beach at Hapuna bay. Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson


The main features of Lapakahi State Historical Park features are the partially reconstructed ruins of the ancient fishing village of Koai‘e, dating back to the 1300s. The park is also a Marine Life Conservation District, which means that you can do some good snorkeling here!

High surf occurs during winter months, and throughout the year there are currents outside of Koai‘e Cove. This means that you should stay within the cove for snorkeling and swimming.

Within Koai‘e Cove are two small beaches consisting of coral rubble (there is no sand beach). The cove provides the easiest access to the water. The cove’s northern portion has some good coral growth close to shore, but coral and fish are most abundant in the southern portion. Considerable marine life is also found around the outcropping of rocks to the right of the cove’s center.

Distance from Kona: 45.5 miles (58 minutes by car).

best places to snorkel big island

The Big Island of Hawaii is home to some of the most spectacular snorkeling in the world. With dozens of beaches and bays with incredible coral reefs, it’s not hard to see why.

From Kailua-Kona to Hilo, you can find some of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii right here on this island. The water is a beautiful shade of blue, and the fish are abundant!

There are so many great places on this island where you can go snorkeling, but we’ve picked out our favorite spots for you below.

1) Kealakekua Bay

2) Honokohau Beach

3) Keauhou Bay

4) Waipi’o Valley

The Big Island of Hawai’i is home to some of the best snorkeling sites in all of the Hawaiian Islands. The shoreline on the western side of the island (Kona side) is comprised of many sheltered volcanic bays, where corals, reef fish, and larger marine life thrive! Known globally for the exciting opportunity to swim with manta rays at night, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to revel at one of nature’s gentlest giants.

The Big Island offers some of the most diverse snorkeling options in all of Hawaii. From Kona’s west side, where you can see huge sea turtles and schools of colorful fish, to Hilo’s east side which features lava tubes that are perfect for beginners and seasoned divers alike! If you’re looking for an adventure then head over to Waipi’o Valley where you’ll be able to swim with dolphins while they jump out of the water around you!

1. Manta Ray Night Snorkel

Manta Village is undoubtedly the main draw for nature lovers to the waters around Kailua-Kona, to swim with the incredible manta rays. The species frequently seen in Hawaiian waters is Manta alfredi, reef manta rays, and are the second largest species of manta rays on the planet! Mantas are filter feeders, feeding on plankton that they sieve out into their large mouths. The group that lives off the coast of Kona does not migrate and lives permanently in these tropical waters.

Around sunset, boats leave the harbors in Kona and typically travel to one of two sites deemed “Manta Village” and “Manta Heaven.” When arriving, boats shine lights into the water and set up giant rafts with floodlights that point down into the waters. The light attracts the diurnal plankton to the surface, this way drawing groups of manta rays to come and feed on their nightly snack. Snorkelers hold on to the sides of these rafts and gaze below as these gentle giants swim and turn in circles to feast on this plankton soup. It is a truly magnificent experience and sight to behold. Make this your top priority when visiting the Big Island!

Fair Wind offers daily trips to Manta Village from Keauhou Bay around sunset, the trip taking about 1.5 hours in total.

2. Kealakekua Bay (Captain Cook)

Kealakekua Bay is Big Island’s only underwater state park and is one of the most excellent places to snorkel in all of Hawaii! It’s a bit difficult to access from land, as the parking is 1.9 miles away from the bay, requiring a long hike down to the water in the hot sun, which you will have to climb back up when you are finished with your visit. The easiest way to access the bay is via boat, allowing you to see the beautiful coastline from the water and ensuring that you can experience the best snorkel spots in the bay. Check out the boat cruises offered by Fair Wind out of Keauhou Bay, which include snorkel gear, snacks, refreshments, and a considerable amount of interesting cultural, historical, and essential information about the bay. Another option is to rent a kayak, with a permit, and paddle out to the farther reaches of the bay to snorkel. This site boasts excellent visibility and commonly features spinner dolphins, sea turtles, lizard fish, eels, and beautiful corals.

Kealakekua Bay is considered a sacred site to native Hawaiians and was the location where Captain Cook made landfall for the second time in Hawai’i during the makahiki festival.  The celebration is of Lono, the fertility god, whom Captain Cook was mistaken for when his ships with white sails came into the bay, looking incredibly similar to the white kapa banners flown on crossbars that symbolize the god!  Cook was showered with gifts for two weeks before setting sail out of Hawai’i. After the makahiki festival, a kapu, or prohibition, had been placed on the bay, and when Cook encountered a fierce storm, he and his crew were forced to return to the bay.  The Hawaiians were disenchanted with his return, believing that no god would encounter defeat in his own domain, the sea and helped themselves to coveted metals from his ships in exchange for all of the supplies they had willingly given to this false god. To retaliate, Cook took nine sailors ashore in an attempt to capture Chief Kalaniopuu to force the return of his goods, but a battle occurred resulting in the death of Cook and four of his men on February 14, 1779.  The British erected the Captain Cook Monument to honor him in the place that he died.

3. Honaunau Bay (Two Steps)

With coral and sea life in abundance, Honaunau Bay is a fantastic place to explore! This site is well known for its clear waters (up to 100-foot visibility) and was named “America’s Best Beach” in 2004. On the left side of this bay is the 182-acre Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, where the name Honaunau is derived and is worth walking through to see a preserved ancient Hawaiian village. This was a place of refuge for Hawaiians that had broken the kapu, or sacred laws, that were punishable by death. Once reaching the boundaries of Pu’uhonua, one was safe and protected. The name even translates to “City of Refuge.”

The entrance into the bay isn’t from a beach, but instead out over the farthest reach of lava rock. Wear slippers and walk out over to the center of the lava rock (other people will likely be gathered here) to access the lava rock “steps” into the water. Once in the water, there is a shallow area for beginner snorkelers towards the shore where coral heads are in about 6-10 feet of water. One can spot many types of fish and maybe even an octopus! Further out, there is a deep sandy area with a patch of cement blocks that someone has shaped to spell out “ALOHA.” If you are a more experienced snorkeler, go to the left of where you entered to explore coral reef canyons, channels, and walls (around 30 ft depth) where honu, or sea turtles, tend to be spotted. Exercise caution when entering and exiting the water as surge waves can occur. Also, the seafloor does drop out rapidly to about 100 feet, so keep your eyes on the reef!

4. Mauna Kea Beach, Kauna’oa Bay

Recognized for its white sands and possibility of manta ray sightings, this is a sight you shouldn’t miss! Kauna’oa Bay holds the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, which is where the name is derived. The public beach access is through the hotel gate, where you can receive a parking pass, but we recommend arriving early as space tends to be limited with only 10 parking spaces! When the conditions are good, visibility and snorkeling can be fantastic. Enter the water from either side of the bay near the rocky points through the sand, then swim out past the shallow corals to access stunningly beautiful reefs teeming with life.

This is another location to spot manta rays! The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel shines bright lights into the water in the evening to attract plankton, and often manta rays do come to feed. Hop in the water around “Manta Ray Point” just after sunset for a chance to see these magnificent creatures. Please, be extra careful at night and keep an eye on the shore.

5. Kahalu’u Beach Park

Kahalu’u Beach Park is a fantastic place for beginner snorkelers because there is a lifeguard on duty and has easily accessible, shallow, and sheltered waters. There is an excellent concentration of fish, as well as tide pools to explore! Kahalu’u Bay is famed for the honu, sea turtles, that frequent the bay, feeding on limu, seaweed, and sunning themselves on the rocks. When snorkeling, stick to the left side of the bay, as surfers use the spot as well when swells roll in. The park is proud to support the ReefTeach Program with volunteers to educate the public on how to take care of honu, other reef animals and tips to avoid damaging corals.

6. Hapuna Beach

Hapuna Beach is one of the most beautiful white sand beaches on the Big Island and is usually sunny! There is a lifeguard on duty year-round, making it a good beach for families. With that being said, it is a very popular spot and has limited parking so go early. The beach itself is more exposed than other sites, making it apt to higher wave action and lower visibility. That coupled with a long swim to the coral reefs at either end of the beach make this site more suitable for advanced snorkelers. Most of the locations around Kohala have the best conditions for snorkeling in the morning. The north (right) end of the beach has more to see in the shallows once you swim out to the corals, with turtles and fish frequenting the waters along the rocky walls and canyons. The south (left) end of the beach also requires a long swim out to the corals, where there is a small bay that holds lots of fantastic coral formations and fish. You will be out of sight of the lifeguards here, so please be safe and turn back before you are tired.

SAFETY: Once you get closer to the point on either side of the bay, currents and surges will become stronger, and it can be dangerous if you aren’t prepared for those conditions or become fatigued. Stay in shallower waters and always go with a buddy. Even capable swimmers can get tired and run into trouble in deeper waters.

7. Waialea Bay (Beach 69)

Just down the road, Waialea Bay or “Beach 69” tends to be more accessible and less crowded than nearby Hapuna Beach. This site was designated a marine life conservation district in 1985 and hosted beautiful reefs. Winter tends to be the season when the ocean is calm, and visibility is improved. The bay also has trees along the shore for shade from the sun on those hot summer days. In the winter, the sand tends to erode out, and stronger surf yields low visibility and less safe snorkeling conditions.

This bay is more protected and calmer than Hapuna Beach and hosts three different areas that you can snorkel in. Our favorite area is the south end of the bay (left side), accessible from the beach where lots of immature fish frequent the shallower waters close to the rocks. As you swim out towards the point, there are larger coral heads and fascinating reefs to explore. To snorkel the center of the bay, swim out behind the rocky point in the middle and on the other side is a small coral reef that hosts a ton of fish. Here you can circle around a rock outcropping towards the left side in about 7-10 feet of water and see healthy reefs with lots of fish. Towards the north end of the beach, follow the rocky point out from the right side, after which you can explore the coral fingers that stretch out to a comfortable depth of about 15ft.

8. Kamakahonu (King Kam Beach)

Kamakahonu, or King Kam Beach, is a small beach in the heart of Kailua-Kona and is known for being calm. Enter the water from the sand (not near the rocky pier) and swim out of the bay over to the right. Boats frequent the left side of the bay, so make sure you swim left! The reef has lots of tangs, butterflyfish, and other tropical fish to enjoy. There are also shops in the area where you can rent snorkel gear or organize snorkeling tours around Kona.

9. Mauna Lani Resort

Honokaope Bay
To the far left (south) of the bay, along a shoreline fisherman’s trail is a small black sand beach named “49 Beach.” The water is clean, and the reef is in excellent condition, featuring pinnacles and shallow water to explore.

Makaiwa Bay
To the north of Honokaope Bay, still on the Mauna Lani property, is a small bay known as Makaiwa Bay, with deeper reefs that are also fantastic to explore.

Pau’oa Bay
Slightly further north in front of the Fairmont Orchid Hotel is a protected beach surrounded by large lava rocks with a sandy bottom entry that is perfect for beginners. When low surf conditions arise, snorkeling on the other side of these protective rocks is possible.

10. Richardson’s Ocean Park (near Hilo)

The eastern side of the Big Island tends to have rougher ocean conditions than the west, often leading to lessened visibility and fewer sheltered bays and beaches suitable for snorkeling. However, Richardson’s Ocean Park is sheltered from the surf, with a black sand beach and tide pools. The conditions tend to be calm, and the site itself is pretty shallow hosting lots of tropical fish and sea turtles!

best time to snorkel big island

The best time of year to snorkel in Hawaii is summertime, May through September. 

If you’re looking for the best snorkeling in Hawaii, you should choose the time of day that’s right for you.

If you’re an early riser, you can definitely snorkel in the early morning to see more sea life. However, if you’re not a morning person and want to spend more time on land, afternoon snorkeling is probably better for you.

Late morning or early afternoon tends to be the best time of day for Hawaii snorkeling. If you are an early riser, you can definitely snorkel in the early morning to see more sea life. While it may not be as busy then because everyone else is still asleep!


For just about any snorkel spot in Hawaii, the morning is going to be the best time. The winds around the island can pick up as the day goes on, making the water pretty rough. You don’t want to have to deal with that when you’re trying to relax with a refreshing snorkeling adventure, trust us. That’s what makes the mornings so ideal for an open sea exploration or tour.

If you’re planning on snorkeling in Maui, it’s important to know when the best time to go is. While the water can be calm at any time of day, there are some times that work better than others for swimming around in the ocean.

The worst time to go snorkeling is during high tide because the waves will be too choppy and make it hard for you to see anything underwater. Not only will choppy waters make it harder for you to swim around in, but you’ll have an even trickier time trying to spot the local fish (i’a) and marine life. Since the entire reason you planned on snorkeling was to enjoy the fish, then morning snorkeling is your best bet to ensure calm waters and plenty of views!


It’s no secret that Hawaii is a windy island, and the winds are in full force as the day goes on! You wouldn’t want to be out in the open sea during the afternoon. Thankfully, there is a solution if you want to go for an afternoon snorkeling session! Coves and protected beaches with man-made walls or coral reef walls make for the perfect destination for afternoon snorkeling.

You’re on the Kona Coast, so it’s almost time for your afternoon swim.

The sun has been beating down all day, and the waves have been beckoning you since you woke up. The only thing standing between you and your afternoon swim is a quick dash across the street to the beach.

You know that the walls will shield you from most of the wind, and that if you’re lucky, there won’t be any surfers in your way. And besides: what’s a little wind if it means you can dive right into those warm waters?


We’ve covered the morning and the afternoon, but what about the night? As enticing as a night swim might sound (since certain marine life only comes out at night), you’re not going to want to get caught snorkeling alone. If you do, you’ll run the risk of meeting some predatory marine life and sharks (mano) since they’re more likely to be out at night. While sharks are still fun to look at, you’ll put yourself in danger if you get too close.

If you’re certain, you want to experience a night snorkeling session, though not all hope is lost. Make sure you do so in a large group (a snorkeling tour, for example). Night snorkeling tours are actually famous on the island and involve swimming with manta rays (hahalua). You won’t find manta rays (hahalua) all that often in the day, so it’ll make for a rare experience exploring the waters at night!

best beaches big island

If you’re looking for a beach that’s got something for everyone, Hawai’i is the place to be.

The island of Hawai’i is home to a diverse assortment of beaches with options for swimmers, surfers, snorkelers, and nature lovers. In addition to white-sand beaches, the Big Island has several black-sand beaches that were created by lava rocks, as well as a stunning green-sand beach, one of only four worldwide.

For those who prefer to swim in warmer waters, there are several islands off the coast of Hawai’i where you can find clear waters and sandy beaches. On Kauai you’ll find Hanalei Bay known for its great snorkeling spots or on Maui check out Wailea Beach where it’s hard to beat the sunset views!

Due to the island’s relative youth, the sand here tends to be more granular, and many beaches have an assortment of rougher lava rocks that can make walking tough without the proper footwear. It’s also good to remember that even the lighter sand quickly soaks up the hot Hawaiian sun, and that the darker beaches can burn bare feet.

Visitors should note that not all beaches are appropriate for swimming due to rough conditions, and that lifeguards are not on duty at all beaches. Some of the island’s most beautiful beaches are the most dangerous, and even more popular spots can be tricky, so always check local conditions before considering a dip. In general, the water is calmer during the summer and more turbulent during the winter, although more protected areas may be suitable for swimming or snorkeling year-round.

1. Hapuna State Beach

The Big Island’s most popular beach is located on the Kohala Coast on the northwestern shore of the island. This half-mile stretch of white sand is loved by many for its calm swimming conditions that are perfect for families with younger kids, as well as great for bodyboarding and snorkeling.

There are lifeguards on duty, and the park provides showers, and restrooms; there are also food and beverages available, as well as shaded picnic tables. Due to its popularity, Hapuna Beach can get very crowded, so it is a good idea to arrive early to ensure a parking spot and a shady place to set down your blanket.

The southern end of the beach is the best place for snorkeling, and experienced snorkelers and divers will want to go even farther south around Kanekanaka Point. This large reef curls around the point that divides Hapuna Bay and Waialea Bay, offering a huge underwater world for exploring. Note that there are no lifeguards in this area, however.

Tourists can stay just steps from the beach at The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort, a large four-star luxury resort that is also right next to the Hapuna Golf Course. The resort welcomes all family members, even four-footed ones, and has plenty to do on-site.

2. Manini’owali Beach

Also known as Kua Bay Beach, this white-sand beach sits on the western shore facing Kua Bay, just north of the town of Kona within the borders of Kekaha Kai State Park. During the summer, this is an excellent spot for snorkeling and swimming, and during the winter months, the waves can become quite big, allowing for great surfing conditions. Visitors often catch a glimpse of dolphins playing in the distance, and sea turtles are frequently spotted.

Be sure to wear sneakers or footwear that will allow you to climb over the lava rocks on your way to the sand, and beach umbrellas are recommended since there is no shade here. You will also want to bring your lunch, snacks, and water, as there are no concessions here.

Fortunately, the beach is now staffed by lifeguards, and there are restroom and shower facilities. As with most of the Big Island’s most popular beaches, Manini’owali Beach can be very crowded on weekends, and parking can be tricky.

The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is an excellent five-star resort located on its own private stretch of sand adjacent to Manini’owali Beach. If the ocean swimming conditions aren’t ideal during your stay, there are seven pools within the complex, including a saltwater pool, adults-only pool, kids pool, and more.

3. Kaunaoa Beach

This popular white-sand beach is located on the Kohala Coast close to Hapuna Beach, and is known for its swimming, snorkeling, and a family atmosphere. It is also known as Mauna Kea Beach because of its location along the property of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, the island’s first resort, however the beach is open to the public. It is well-protected by reefs, which sit at each end of the crescent-shaped beach, both excellent spots for snorkeling.

Although parking can be a bit of a walk if you don’t make it early enough to snag one of the hotel’s public parking spaces, the availability of hotel amenities is a definite upside to the hotel’s location. In addition to lifeguards and basic facilities, visitors can splurge at the hotel restaurant and take advantage of snorkel gear and other equipment rentals provided by the hotel.

Another advantage is that each night, the hotel floods the beach and surrounding reefs with light. This attracts plankton, which in turn attracts manta rays, which can be seen gliding through the water. Special nighttime SCUBA and snorkeling sessions are also facilitated by the hotel.

4. Punalu’u Beach

Punalu’u Beach sits on the eastern shore of Hawaii about halfway between Pahala and Naalehu just off the Mamalahoa Highway, making it incredibly easy to access. It is also commonly known as Black Sand Beach thanks to the granular lava that composes the shoreline. Visitors who want to swim should check the conditions first, as the water can have strong currents, however there is a lifeguard on duty who will always have the most up-to-date information.

Visitors should remember that this black sand absorbs the heat of the Hawaiian sun, so be sure to bring proper footwear. Fortunately, this same heat is what attracts green sea turtles (locally known as honu) to make this beach their home. It is common to see at least a few of these beautiful, endangered creatures swimming or warming themselves on the hot sand.

Those hoping to do some snorkeling at the black-sand beach won’t be able to see much, but there is excellent snorkeling at nearby Ninole Cove, which can be reached easily via a short path from the beach parking lot. This same path provides a lovely seaside hike with excellent views.

Just a five-minute drive from the beach, Pahala Plantation Cottages offer a lovely retreat in a small town surrounded by coffee and macadamia nut farms. Guests can stay in the main house or in one of the two-bedroom cottages, which feature fully furnished kitchens and family rooms.

5. Waialea Beach

One of the Big Island’s busiest beaches, this white-sand beach is a summertime favorite located on Waialea Bay. There is a gradual slope to the surrounding reefs, which protects the water from the turbulence and currents of the open sea, making this a top beach for families. These reefs are also home to some of the region’s most diverse marine life, and this is a top snorkeling and SCUBA diving destination. During the winter, when the sea is too rough for swimming and snorkeling, visitors can often see expert surfers out on the waves here.

Visitors will find restroom and shower facilities on site, however there is no lifeguard on duty. When looking for the beach parking lot, keep an eye out for the utility pole numbers, and turn when you see number 69-this indicator has become so much a part of the beach’s identity, many simply refer to it as “Beach 69.”

6. Kahalu’u Beach Park

Kahalu’u Bay is one of the best places on the Big Island for snorkeling, conveniently located near Kailu-Kona, a top tourist destination. The coral reefs here are teeming with life, including a variety of bright tropical fish, endangered sea turtles, sea urchins, and even octopus. Even swimmers who stay in the shallower water often see schools of the smaller fish, as well as sea turtles, and the water conditions here are usually calm and safe for kids.

Vacationers without their own gear have a couple of options for equipment rentals, but most prefer to go with Kahalu’u Bay Education Center since the proceeds go toward conservation and education about the bay’s unique ecosystem. The southern end of the bay is where snorkeling is the best, and a second lifeguard tower marks the surf zone, so that snorkelers can be sure to stay within the safety of calm waters.

Kahalu’u Beach Park provides restroom and shower facilities on site, and there are shady spots for those who arrive early enough to claim them. There are also picnic tables and a pavilion, and the beach is within walking distance to town where you can find restaurants and snacks.

7. Kamakahonu Beach

This small beach is also commonly known as Kid’s Beach or King Kam Beach, and is an excellent choice for families with younger kids thanks to soft sand and incredibly calm water within the protected cove. Kamakahonu Beach sits between Kailua Pier and the Kamakahonu National Historic Landmark in Kailu-Kona, and although it has only about 200 feet of waterfront, this is a popular spot any day of the week.

There is an equipment rental shop right on the beach that has a great variety of water sports options, including not only snorkeling gear but also kayaks and motorized vessels. A shop on the pier also rents a wide variety of equipment and offers beginner snorkeling and SCUBA lessons. Visitors will also find a restaurant right on the beach, as well as multiple options within a two-minute walk.

8. Spencer Beach

Located on the northwestern shore of the Big Island, also known as the Kohala Coast, Samuel M. Spencer Beach Park is a family favorite thanks to its calm water. Parents also appreciate the abundance of shady trees, as well as a large covered pavilion with picnic tables, and the sand here is among the softest on the island. The reef that protects the beach from big waves and strong currents is an excellent spot for snorkeling and SCUBA diving.

Visitors can also start out on the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail from here, a scenic hike that has stunning views of the bay and surrounding landscape.

While visiting the area be sure to stop by the Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, home to a temple built in 1791 by Kamehameha I.

9. Makalawena Beach

Thanks to the 20-minute walk along a path in the lava, a visit to Makalawena Beach takes some effort, resulting in a much less-crowded beach that is perfect for seclusion seekers and nature lovers. Once past the lava, the sand becomes ultra-soft before sloping gently down into the clear water. This is a favorite spot for snorkeling thanks to the shallow reef that skirts the shore.

Shady spots and a few picnic tables can be located under the scattered trees that fringe the shoreline, but this is as close as you will get to any sort of amenities. Since there are no facilities, concessions, or lifeguards, this beach is not recommended for children or inexperienced swimmers. What you may find, however, are some wandering chickens and goats who like to ensure that no food goes to waste.

Makalawena Beach is located in Kona Coast State Park, just north of Kona.

10. Papakolea Beach

Papakolea Beach, also known as Green Sand Beach, is not a place for swimming due to its rough waves and unpredictable currents. However, it is one of the Big Island’s most famous beaches for its unique geology. One of only four beaches like it in the world, the sand here is an olive-green shade. This phenomenon is caused by deposits of the aptly named olivine, a crystal formed millions of years ago during a volcanic eruption.

Access to the beach is very difficult, and the journey should only be made by experienced hikers. After a two-mile trek through lava fields, visitors must then make their way down the sides of the volcanic cone that now forms a semi-circular bay where the beach is situated.

This spectacular beach can be found at the eastern side of the island’s southernmost point.

11. Waipi’o Black Sand Beach

Although this is not a beach for swimming due to rough and unpredictable waters, visitors looking for some of the island’s most breathtaking scenery will want to make the effort to get here. Located on the Hamakua Coast on the northern side of the island, the beach can be reached via a scenic hike down the hill from the Waipi’o Valley Lookout, or by car via a very rough dirt road that branches off from Waipio Valley Road.

The hike back up to the lookout can be strenuous, and the road will only accommodate 4WD vehicles, so there are also local tour options to get to the beach.

beginner snorkeling big island

If you’re a beginner snorkeler, the Big Island is a great place to start. It has beautiful coral reefs, lots of marine life, and it’s not too deep.

The first thing you want to do when you get in the water is make sure you have your mask on correctly. If you can’t see well, it’s going to be hard for you to find anything in the ocean and enjoy yourself. You should also keep an eye on your snorkel—make sure it stays above water while you’re swimming around.

When it comes to swimming with marine life, there are some things you should keep in mind: first, watch where you put your hands! Some fish will bite if they feel threatened by humans or their hands moving around too much; second, don’t try to touch any fish unless they seem approachable (like parrotfish); thirdly, don’t feed any fish if they’ve already been fed by other people (they may get angry).

And finally: have fun!


An unremarkable beach park close to Kona hides one of the best places to snorkel on the Big Island.

The easily accessible, sheltered, and shallow bay is home to one of the highest concentrations of fishes on Hawaii.  At low tide there are plenty of tide pools to explore that are teeming with tropical fish. Kahaluʻu Bay is a great place for people that are new to snorkeling.

Kahaluʻu Beach is also famous for its Honu (green sea turtles). On any given day you’ll be able to see quite a few of them feeding on seaweed and sunning themselves on the warm rocks.

Good to keep in mind: there are many surfers at this beach. Make sure to stay on the south (left when looking towards the ocean) side of the beach while snorkeling.

its proximity to Kona makes this beach park an ideal place for a last-minute snorkel. Getting there and back from downtown Kona plus an hour of leisure snorkeling will only take about two hours!

We like this spot so much that we have written a whole guide on it! Read more on our website about snorkeling in Kahalu’u bay.


Kahaluʻu beach park is located off of Aliʻi Drive, about 4.5 miles south of downtown Kailua-Kona. There are restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and two large pavilions present, and this i one of the few beaches with a lifeguard on duty.

The parking lot fills up quickly so the earlier you go the better.


Kealakekua bay is an underwater marine sanctuary where you can find many colorful exotic fish and often also dolphins and sea turtles.  To get here you have to drive approximately 13 miles south from Kona along Highway 11 and then follow the Nāpōʻopoʻo Road to the end.

The bay is also know as “Captain Cook”, after a 27-foot tall monument commemorating the death of the British explorer Captain Cook at this bay on February 14th, 1779.

The center of the bay is deep and you can often find a pod of spinner dolphins playing around here. There are plenty of good spots for snorkeling in the bay, but the best snorkeling spot is on the opposite side of the bay from the parking area, close to the captain Cook monument.

Getting to the other side of the bay on your own is difficult, and there are 3 sensible ways to get to the snorkeling spot: hiking, renting a kayak, or with a boat (snorkeling) tour.

We’ve done the research and talked to the experts. Here’s our conclusion: if you’re looking for the best places to snorkel on the Big Island, look no further than Honokohau Bay and Keauhou Bay!

Honokohau is known as a great place to see turtles and humpback whales, but it’s also got some of the clearest water in Hawaii. This spot is especially good for beginners, because you can see all kinds of fish without having to go too deep or stay out for too long. And it’s not just about what you can see—you’ll also hear them! There are plenty of opportunities for snorkeling tours here, so be sure to check out [company name] for more information.

Keauhou Bay is another great choice if you want to get up close with marine life. You may even see dolphins or whales on your way there! This bay has been nicknamed “the aquarium” because it’s so easy to see all kinds of fish here—even if they’re just hanging out at the surface.

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