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Does Kona Have Good Snorkeling?

a couple swims on the surface above a coral reef with lava rock coastline nearby and a tree overhanging the water

Does Kona Have Good Snorkeling?


Kona is known for a few things. Kona coffee, the Ironman World Championship and Kona Brew Company beer. But there’s something else that puts Kona on the map internationally and it’s not easily exportable or well advertised. Kona Snorkeling.



underwater view of a couple snorkeling on the surface with coral and fish below in calm water

A couple enjoys the reefs on the Deluxe AM Snorkeling Tour


“The snorkeling Kona has is easily some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii. This is because of a few different factors but it all comes down to the fact that the Big Island of Hawaii is the world’s largest active volcano.”


What Makes Kona Snorkeling So Good

Is the Big Island Good For Snorkeling?

What Makes Kona Snorkeling Different from Snorkeling elsewhere in Hawaii?

Hilo versus Kona for Snorkeling

What Makes Kona Snorkeling Different from Snorkeling Elsewhere in the World?

Where to Go Kona Snorkeling in Kona


What Makes Kona Snorkeling So Good?

While some places like Maui or Oahu may have a few good or even great snorkel spots, it’s no surprise that residents of those islands will take a flight to the Big Island for it’s underwater superiority. Especially considering that most of the Kona coastline is fantastic for snorkeling.


Read about the factors that contribute to the great snorkeling Kona has. These factors should answer the question: does Kona have good snorkeling?


Visibility is excellent here in Kona snorkeling. This is because the island is so new (geologically speaking) that there isn’t as much sand as you will find in other places. This lack of sand means clear water!


Calm Waters

The Big Island has a few things going for it that make it so good for snorkeling. Firstly it’s huge. All of the other Hawaiian islands combined can easily fit into the footprint of the Big Island. If you go from the top to the bottom it’s 94 Miles (151 Kilometers). The coastline is 428 Km or 265 miles long. This means most of the western half of that 265 miles of coastline is well protected by the other half of the island. The western side of the Big Island is also sheltered from swell by the other Hawaiin islands which take the brunt of the winter swells coming from the northwestern Pacific.


Water Temperature

As we discuss in our water temperature guide Kona’s waters are about 5-6 degrees warmer than the ocean on the opposite sideof the Island with a range of about 76 – 84 degrees and an average temperature of 80 degrees F (26.7 C). This makes it possible to be in the water for long periods of time without getting cold.


Is Big Island Good for Snorkeling?

Compared to snorkeling in Hawaii in general the Big Island has superior snorkeling. This can vary however because the Big Island’s best snorkeling is in Kona on the western half of the Island. If you snorkel on the eastern side you may be disappointed by your experience. For more details on what makes the western (Kona) side of the Big Island so good for snorkeling read the section above What Makes Kona Snorkeling So good?


What Makes Kona Snorkeling Different from Snorkeling elsewhere in Hawaii?

Kona is located on the western half of the world’s largest volcano and is protected by other islands so it has a unique benefit from both it’s newness and it’s neighbor’s being nearby. For more details on why snorkeling Kona is so good check out the above section on What Makes Kona Snorkeling So Good?


Is Snorkeling Better in Maui or Kona?

In general snorkeling is much better in Kona. This is due to a number of factors like large animal life, visibility, reef structure, and proximity to the best snorkeling spots.

Staying in Kona you would have access to a number of excellent snorkeling spots within 20 minutes drive. This is not the case in Maui where some of the best snorkeling is only available on a long boat ride to Molokini crater or Molokai which are completely different islands.


Maui snorkeling is typically more shallow doe to the age of the island being older. This also means it has more sand and that creates lower visibility in the water making it harder to see. It also has less coral due to the abundance of sand and less lava rock to cling to. The Big Island is mostly fresh lava rock on the western half and so the coral has lots of places to cling to and thrive.

healthy coral reef

Kona has some of the best coral reef in Hawaii

Is Hilo or Kona better for snorkeling?

Typically Kona has much better snorkeling than Hilo. This is because the water is warmer, the ocean surface is calmer, and the visibility is better in general.



What Makes Kona Snorkeling Different from Snorkeling Elsewhere in the World?

Snorkeling in Kona is distinct in a few ways. Here we will cover the marine life, ocean conditions, and geography of Kona snorkeling as well as the things that make snorkeling Kona so well known. 


Marine Life


Kona and hawaii have hard corals mostly. So while in the caribbean or indonesia you will see clams, soft corals, sponges, and octocorals those things are much less common if non-existant here.


About 30% of the fish species found here in Kona cannot be found anywhere else in the world. On top of this there are even a few varieties of fish that are found here in greater abundance than in the other Hawaiian islands like the black Long-nose butterfly fish. Kona is also known as the gold coast because of it’s great abundance of yellow tangs. These fish are commonly seen in saltwater aquariums and about 80% of them came from our waters until the aquarium trade was recently banned.

2 yellow tangs swim above a coral reef once being a juvenile

A couple of young yellow tangs hang out on Kona’s reef during the Deluxe Am Snorkel Tour.


Kona also has a great abundance of eels. This means you will often see eels swimming around during the day or poking their heads out from the coral.



Kona has lot’s of octopus on our reefs. It’s possible to see several in a single 45 minute snorkel session. Kona has lots of reef and these guys like to make it their home. You’ll se them climibg around sometimes flashing colors or even hunting with a pack of goatfish and jacks working together to find prey in the coral crevices.


Large Animals

Kona is one of the best places in the world to see large marine life. We have whales, dolphins, whale sharks, sharks, monk seals, and turtles among other things like manta rays that are a common sight here. Compared to other destinations in the world Kona is perhaps in the top 5 for large animal encounters. To see some of this incredible marine life check out the Open Ocean Safari.


One of the most unique large animal encounters is the manta ray night snorkel Kona snorkel trips runs every night. Snorkelers can swim with manta rays just a few feet away. These animals can weigh up to 1200 lbs (550 kg) and have a 12 foot wing-span.


Ocean Conditions

Water Temperature

Compared to other places in the world the water in Kona is warm but not as as warm as say parts of the caribbean or other hot spots near the equator.  The warmest parts of the sea can vary from 84-90 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmest water we typically get here when snorkeling Kona is around 83-84 degrees fahrenheit with average temperature being 80 degrees and the winter months going as low as 76 degrees fahrenheit. For more on Kona water temperature by time of year check out out Kona Water Temperature Guide.


Surface Conditions

The swell and surf here in Kona are typically pretty low. Compared to some places like the caribbean or mediterranean its not usually as calm in Kona. This is because we are more exposed to the thousands of miles of open ocean around us while those other places are more confined by continents nearby.



The distance you can see underwater or visibility here in our Kona waters is typically very good. On a normal day you can see anywhwere from 30-80 feet underwater. This is considered excellent by many people’s standards.



The way the Big Island is shaped and its place in relation to the other Hawaiian islands make it an excellent place to snorkel. The fresh lava makes for some dramatic underwater scenery including arches, pinnacles, caverns and much more. This is one of the most interesting things about the Big Island because there are few places in the world that are as new geologically speaking as the Big Island of Hawaii.


Time to Get Wet!

Now that you’ve set your sights on snorkeling Kona, Hawaii it’s time to delve into where to go and how to do it.


Kona Snorkeling Tours

Kona Snorkel Trips offers 4 different tours daily and Snorkel Tour Combo-Package so you can experience the best snorkeling Big Island has.


Kona Snorkel Spots

We’ve snorkeled all of the best (and worst) spots on the Big Island and included them all in this Guide to the Best Snorkeling on Big Island. Before you head out check Big Island Ocean Conditions.


Snorkel Gear Guide

Check out our Snorkel Gear Guide for a complete rundown of everything you’ll need for snorkeling Hawaii from the basics to the little things you may not have thought of.