Ah, Hawaii. The Big Island is such an incredible place, and not just because of everything above water: the world below the surface of the ocean is equally breathtaking. Needless to say, snorkeling is one of those must-do activities when in Hawaii.
With so much coastline to choose from, it might be difficult to know where to start; luckily, you don’t have to figure it out on your own. Here are the best snorkeling spots the Big Island of Hawaii has to offer:
On Honaunau Bay, Two Step is surely one of the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island thanks to clear blue waters, and a thriving reef. Two Step is also home to an abundance of colorful fish, tide pools, turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, and even clusters of dolphins early in the morning! Its accessibility further makes it a great choice for Big Island snorkeling.
Near Kailua-Kona, Kahalu’u Bay is another one of the best places to snorkel on the island. The small, sheltered cove is home to an elaborate and colorful coral reef, as well as sea turtles, tide pools, and tons of fish. The protected bay offers calm, shallow waters which allow for safe snorkeling and great visibility. Meanwhile, the bay is situated in an easily accessible location.
Kealakekua Bay is the perfect spot for snorkeling & kayaking. In fact, it is believed to be some of the best snorkeling in all of Hawaii, thanks to its population of spinner dolphins! Interestingly, this is the spot where Captain Cook first landed in 1778. The bay is only accessible via snorkeling tour or kayak, but you often need a permit to kayak there, so visiting with a tour is likely your best option. (Try this one!)
UPDATE 2022: Swimming with spinner dolphins in Hawaii is now banned.
Richardson Ocean Park is acclaimed to be the best place to snorkel in south Hilo. The black sand beach, tide pools, and swimming area are protected by a natural lava rock breakwater, making for calm, clear waters — perfect snorkeling conditions. It’s even complete with showers, bathrooms, and lifeguards for added convenience. This is an especially great choice of location if you’re sticking to the eastern Hilo side of the island rather than venturing over to the western Kona side.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, on the southern coast of the Big Island, is made up of tiny, solidified fragments of lava. It’s a hub for sea turtles, and it’s easily accessible, which makes it a hub for snorkelers, too! Interestingly, you’ll feel both warm and cold water when you snorkel here, as cool water from freshwater springs mixes with the warm, salty ocean water and rises to the surface as a result of the density difference. (Cool, right?) The fact that Hawaiian sea turtles bask on the beach here is a big deal, as sea turtles in most other places of the world don’t just lounge on the sand! A few warnings, though: the black sand gets hot in the sun, so be careful, and do not get too close to the turtles! Enjoy their presence at a distance. Also, and this goes for all of Hawaii, watch the current before you get in. It’s not always swimmable.
Aptly named, “South Point,” the southernmost point on the Big Island (and therefore in the United States) is a 40-foot cliff jump into the ocean. Once in the water, take advantage of the incredible marine life, especially the huge school of fish that you can swim with. There is even an ocean cave you can swim up to! Just keep in mind a few hazards: beware of the currents and ocean conditions at all times; sharp fishermen’s hooks are often present in the water; even sharks can make an appearance here and there.
Onekahakaha Beach Park near Hilo is a great snorkeling spot for a couple of reasons. For one thing, a natural rock breakwater ensures a calm, safe swimming area. Second, a shallow, sand-bottomed ocean pool keeps the snorkeling as safe as can be, so beginners won’t have to worry about drifting away with a current. Nearby tide pools also make for some great exploring, while lifeguards, picnic pavilions, restrooms, showers, and parking make Onekahakaha an overall convenient location!
Night Manta Ray Snorkel
Along the same vein, swimming with manta rays is just as awe-inspiring. This night manta ray adventure, a 2.5-hour trip, allows you to watch the mantas feed and interact with other sea creatures in their natural habitat, all from a floating neon raft. (An added bonus is that you get to enjoy a gorgeous sunset on the boat ride out!)
Though the Big Island has a wealth of adventures and may not be as well known for snorkeling as some of the other Hawaiian Islands, its bays and reefs rival the best of them. Enjoy the variety!