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Waikoloa Snorkeling Guide

Guide to Waikoloa Snorkeling on the Kohala Coast Big Island

Some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii is on the Big Island of Hawaii’s western coast. Unfortunately most of it is not in the Waikoloa area. But there are a few gems nearby that can be pretty good on a calm day. 

underwater view of a large rock

Puako is one of our favorite spots just north of Waikoloa


Waikoloa resort area is home to the largest number of hotels, condos, and rental homes for the Big Island’s many visitors. It’s a great jumping-off point for exploring the island with Kona 25 minutes to the south, Puako 10 minutes north, Waimea 30 minutes east, and Hawi 40 minutes north. While Waikoloa has some great things to do, snorkeling is simply not one of them.


In This Guide

What is Waikoloa Snorkeling Like?

Waikoloa’s Geology

Waikoloa is part of the older formation of Big Island and the Kohala mountains. These were the first mountains that created the Island of Hawaii back when it was much a smaller and newer volcano. The Kohala mountains over time have weathered and worn into a smaller and muddier version of their initial volcanic shelves.

Similarly, the corals that grew on the fresh lava rock coastline have been eaten away over time by parrotfish and waves turning into sand and receding inland. This means lots of shallow sandy beaches. This is a stark difference from the rocky deep coast off of Kona.


What is Waikoloa & Kohala Snorkeling Similar to?

The snorkeling Kohala coast and the Waikoloa area will be more similar to Maui or Oahu snorkeling than Kona snorkeling. This means it will be shallower and lower visibility with less reef. This is primarily due to geology. Although if there is coral it will often be more abundant and in better condition off of the Big Island’s Kohala coast than Maui or Oahu.


Recommended Waikoloa & Kohala Snorkeling Spots


Recommended Waikoloa Snorkeling Tours

Wildlife Encounter Snorkel

Manta Ray Night Snorkel

Puako Kayak & Snorkel


Waikoloa & Kohala Snorkeling Spots

Hilton Lagoon

Located inside the Waikoloa Hilton Hotel, the lagoon is probably the only true Waikoloa snorkeling spot on the list as it’s located in among Waikoloa’s resorts. While it’s essentially a manmade lagoon that has a connection to the ocean, it’s not going to be the same as snorkeling in the ocean. The water from the lagoon also feeds into the dolphin pens where they keep bottlenose dolphins at the resort.

overhead satellite image of Waikoloa lagoon at the Hilton resort


Mauna Lani Makaiwa Bay

One of the southernmost good Waikoloa snorkeling spots is located in the Mauna Lani resort area. It requires going through a security gate but the beach club, showers, bathrooms, and King’s ponds make for a really nice little snorkel cove with some perks. Visibility is usually low here but the coral is good and the entry is well protected from the summer south swells.


Puako End of the Road

Not only is the drive down Puako’s only road scenic but the coastline and the underwater topography are pretty great as well. One of our favorite snorkeling and diving spots on the Big Island the reef here is in good shape, the lava features make for interesting topography and the marine life is excellent.


Puako House 38

This is not a well-known spot; this is simply a little shore entry point between houses. It may not look like much but head out past the reef dropoff and you’ll be treated to one of the few turtle cleaning stations on the Big Island.


Looking to go with a guide? Check out the Kayak & Snorkel tour.


Beach 69

One of our favorite beaches for chillaxin in the northern part of the island 69’s has plenty of shade and easy access to the water. It’s also well protected from swell and has pretty decent shallow snorkeling. Visibility is typically on the lower side here but the underwater trees make for a unique snorkeling experience.



Maumae Beach

A great beach for dogs, Maumae is a bit off the beaten path. It’s got a nice easy entry and the snorkeling is pretty good and shallow. There’s limited shade here and wind can be an issue but the entry is as simple as strolling into the water. Though there’s lots of sand here the visibility can be decent and the abundance of fish is surprising.



Kawaihae Harbor

One of the best kept secrets is the shipping port located adjacent to Kawaihae boat harbor. The entrance looks pretty industrial but once inside there’s a well protected beach with easy access to the ocean and even some platforms to jump from. There’s another section with showers and a nice sunset view in the back near the canoe club. Another interesting point about this location is the military will use it to transport vehicles on and off the island. So you may get to see some interesting activity like hovercrafts driving around.


Lapakahi State Park

A marine life conservation district or marine reserve, this is not a usual snorkel spot as most will come here for the historical park aspect but the snorkeling, while shallow, is some of the best snorkeling Kohala coast has. It’s possible to see lobster crawling around during the day here which is almost unheard of anywhere else!

Mahukona Park

Easy in and out via the concrete pier ladder this site gets a bit deeper but will typically have better visibility than some of the beaches. There’s more coral and less sand here. This is a popular spot for scuba diving.


Manta Point

a sunset over a body of water

There is a manta ray snorkeling site just off the point from Mauna Kea Beach Resort


Other Snorkeling Guides & Activities

There are a lot of snorkeling opportunities all around the Big Island. We’ve spent a lot of time checking them out so you don’t have to! Our guides are designed to deliver the best snorkeling Big Island has to offer. While the best snorkeling Kohala coast has is good, it just doesn’t offer the visibility and abundance of coral found in the Kona area.


Snorkeling Spots Guides


Gear Guides


Snorkel Tours


Other things to do in Waikoloa


Frequently Asked Questions

Can you snorkel at Waikoloa Beach?

Yes, but it is not recommended. Anaemaholu Bay or A-bay as it is called by most has terrible visibility and lots of wind. Most of the good snorkeling is located north of Waikoloa in the areas of Mauna Lani, Puako, and north of Kawaihae on the Kohala coast. For even better snorkeling check out Kona’s snorkeling.

While it’s not a natural snorkeling spot, Hilton Lagoon is a well-protected man-made snorkeling lagoon that people can snorkel in and is possibly the best Waikoloa snorkeling opportunity in the immediate area.


Can you swim in the lagoon Hilton Waikoloa Beach?

Definitely. The lagoon allows for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, and is even great for those who want to try scuba diving! It has fish and other sea creatures that make their way in from the channel connecting it to the ocean.