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Top 15 Spots for the Best Snorkeling Big Island, Hawaii

map of kona snorkeling spots

Top 15 Spots for the Best Snorkeling on Big Island, Hawaii

While some of the Hawaiian Islands may have some truly great snorkeling, none have the sheer number of amazing snorkeling spots that we have on the Big Island of Hawaii. The Big Island has a massive coastline that’s so long it would take weeks to walk it all. This means more snorkeling than you could do in many years time. We’ve put in the time to snorkel much of it and distill it down to what we think is the best snorkeling Big Island has. Some spots are a bit more challenging to access while others are easy. We focus on the snorkeling spots that have the best experience underwater first. Read on to find out more about what makes each snorkeling spot one of the best snorkeling on Big Island and how to get there.

a couple floats on the surface of the ocean with reef and fish below

A couple snorkeling on the reef in Kealakekua bay on a Captain Cook Snorkeling Tour

 


Top 15 Spots for the Best Snorkeling on Big Island, Hawaii

  1. Kealakekua Bay – Captain Cook Monument
  2. Pawai Bay
  3. Two Step
  4. Suck e’m Up
  5. Kaloko National Park
  6. Fishbowl
  7. Road to the Sea
  8. Ho’okena Beach
  9. Keahou Point
  10. Kahaluu Beach
  11. Kailua Bay
  12. Manini Beach
  13. Ke’ei Beach
  14. Puako end of the road
  15. Mauna Lani

Click on a spot above to read more or check out the Best Big Island Snorkeling Spots map below


 

Click here to Check ocean conditions for these sites.

For the right snorkel gear for your adventure check out our Gear for Snorkeling on the Big Island, Hawaii Guide

 

 

Why is Hawaii’s Best Snorkeling on Big Island?

You may or may not know it but the island of Hawaii is home to some of the best underwater scenes in all of the Hawaiian Islands. This is because of a number of factors mostly having to do with the fact that we are a massive volcano poking out of the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Because we are a freshly made island from a geological standpoint (still have 2 active volcanos), the waters here are exceptionally clear with excellent visibility. This is because the coral and fish eating the coral have not had enough time to make a lot of sand. And the sand they do make ends up running down the underwater slopes away form the reefs. This lack of sand means there’s less tiny particles for the ocean swell to kick up into the water lowering visibility. Try snorkeling on Oahu, Maui, or even Kauai and you’ll see (or maybe not see) what we mean. Kona specifically has some of the best snorkeling on Big Island because of the visibility with the added bonus of relatively easy access to snorkel spots by car or short boat ride. Another reason why we have some of the best snorkeling Big Island has is because the fresh lava rock gives the new corals something to grab a hold of. Coral won’t grow on sand but it loves rock. The Big Island has plenty of it. In fact we grow rocks here! This rock is so freshly made that many of the snorkel sites here have some really amazing features to explore like pinnacles, walls, caverns, caves, and arches. The abundance of these features is what sets the Big Island apart from the other islands. There are thousands of lava tubes up and down the coast. The big island and specifically the Kona and Kohala side are well protected from the ocean swells that are generated from storms thousands of miles away. The other islands shelter us from much of this mayhem. This means great snorkeling conditions most of the year around. Lastly the steepness of the sides of our volcano mean the bottom drops off rather quickly. This is especially the case in Kona where you can venture a few hundred feet away from shore and be in over a hundred feet of water. This is unique among the islands. This means some of the open ocean creatures may come in close to shore. It’s not impossible to see a whale underwater while snorkeling in 60 feet of water! Not to mention all of the other large animals that frequent the Big Island’s underwater habitat.

 

Some of our other Guides:

Kona Snorkeling Spots

Secret Snorkeling Spots On The Big Island

The Best Sea Turtle Beaches & Snorkeling Spots

 


Reasons Why the Big Island of Hawaii has Hawaii’s Best Snorkeling

  • Clear Waters
  • Less Ocean Swell
  • Plentiful Corals
  • Dramatic Lava Rock Features
  • More Large Animals

 

Top 15 Best Snorkeling Spots on the Big Island

Because of the size of our volcanic home (the largest in the world) we have lots of coastline. This makes it challenging to select from the thousands of places to snorkel along the coast because there’s just so much snorkeling. Each snorkel spot has its plusses and minuses. For an avid snorkeler most of these snorkeling spots might be worth the extra effort to get there. Some of these snorkeling sites are relatively easy to get to while others can be a challenge. Read on for a more detailed description of each spot and how you can get there to experience the beauty of our big volcano.

 

Kealakekua Bay – Captain Cook Monument

One of the most coveted and popular destinations for the best snorkeling on Big Island. Kealakekua bay or K-bay has it all except it is challenging to get there. It is arguably one of the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island let alone Hawaii because of it’s combination of dramatic coastline, beautiful shallow reefs, and cultural significance. Captain Cook sailed all around the world discovering new cultures and this is where his life ended.

Highlights

  • Home of the Historical Captain Cook Monument
  • Massive Cliff Face Provides Dramatic View
  • Many Tours go here
  • Lots of fish
  • Nice shallow reef

Access

There are 4 ways to get to the Captain Cook monument area of Kealakekua Bay.

Many people take the boat tour option because it’s the easiest and most comfortable. The crew will give you gear to snorkel and food and drinks. Along the way you may even see whales or other critters. The hike is rather steep and the way down is not so bad but the way up is very steep and you will end up hot and sweaty at the top. Most people complain about the hike. It’s important to bring plenty of water. To take a Kayak you must rent from one of the approved Kayak tour providers on the island like Kona Boys.

 

Pawai Bay

Located right in Kona town Pawai bay has plentiful coral teeming with reef life. This is easily one of our favorites and we visit this site regularly because it’s just so good! Tiny reef fish hug the bright colored corals. Octopus and eels hide just poking out from the reef below. Arches and swim throughs add to the fun and sometimes you’ll even see a whale or dolphin come nearby. You never know what the ocean might deliver. Easily one of the top of the heap when it comes to the best snorkeling Big Island has.

Highlights

  • Beautiful Reef
  • Lots of fish
  • Interesting Reef structure
  • Off the beaten path
  • Close to Town

Access

The best way to get to Pawai Bay is to take a snorkeling tour with Kona Snorkel Trips. We offer a morning snorkel that take you to 2 different snorkeling spots. One of them can me this beautiful place.

Join one of the many Kona snorkel tours

 

 

2 Step

2 Step used to be a sleepy little lava beach with a few tourists coming down to hop in the water. Canoes and fishermen launch at the shallow boat ramp. The Pu’uhonua O’ Honaunau National park is located just south of 2-step. Ever since the closing of Kealakekua bay to easy access by Kayak 2-step has exploded in popularity. It’s easy in and easy out as well as good protection from winter and summer swell that makes this such a great spot. Though with it’s increase in popularity it can be a challenge to find parking. People used to come here to swim with dolphins though that has lately been discouraged by locals and authorities who will occasionally stop by to ensure the marine mammal protection rules are being followed. An exclusion zone is being proposed to limit access to this already overcrowded area to protect the dolphins while they rest. This is a no-brainer addition to the best snorkeling on Big Island hits list.

Highlights

  • Beautiful Reef
  • Lots of fish
  • Easy in easy out
  • Located next to the City of Refuge National Monument
  • Porta-loos

Access

A 45 minute drive south of Kona the parking is one of the greatest challenges.

  • 2 Steps and you’re in the ocean!

 

 

Suck E’m Up

Only accessible by boat Suck E’m Up is a popular spot for scuba diving because the reef is so good here. It’s located within a 5 minute boat ride from Honokohau Harbor. The lava rock formations make for many interesting pockets and points where schools of fish hide and sometimes take cover in the shade. There’s a huge variety of marine life to be found in this area. You never know what might cruise by. It’s also well protected from the winter swell so on rougher days you might see several boats tucked in here.

Highlights

  • Beautiful Reef
  • Interesting Lava Formations
  • Lots of fish

Access

 

Kaloko National Park

Located just to the north of the Honokohau Harbor Kaloko-Honokohau National park is just onshore from this spot. While not often mentioned in guides because of it’s tricky shore access it is truly one of the spots that has the best snorkeling on the Big Island. The reef is nice but the main feature of this spot is all of the arches. If you are a competent snorkeler you can swim through these many arches which start in 20 feet of water and go as deep as 40 feet. Having trouble getting down and staying down? Take a freediving course with Kona Freedivers to improve your bottom time.

Highlights

  • Lots of Arches
  • Interesting Lava Formations
  • Near Kona Town

Access

 

 

Fishbowl

Located just south of Honokohau Harbor this secluded little cove is great because it is home to many different kinds of fish and invertebrates like nudibranchs. Shaped like an underwater amphitheater this spot is a great option for anyone looking to bring their family on a private Kona snorkel tour. The shallows have steep rock faces, caves, and arches. It’s such a unique spot and because of it’s steep drop-off and nearness to the open ocean you may even get lucky and see some pelagic animals or even whales just outside! Check out this video of a tour we took to this spot to see why it’s clearly the best snorkeling on Big Island. Shhh, don’t tell anyone!

Highlights

  • Loads of fish
  • Interesting Lava Formations

Access

 

 

Road to the Sea

One of the most breathtaking yet difficult to access spots on the list. If you can make it down you will be rewarded with sand dunes atop which you can gaze at dramatic views of the rugged coastline. A green sand beach, and some of the best coral on the island are also noteworthy features of this spot. The sheer underwater lava walls provide for dramatic underwater scenery and the potential to see pelagic animals swim by. If it weren’t for the wind that often picks up on this part of the island later in the day and the difficulty to access this spot many more people would likely come here. It’s just that good. For those of you who crave adventure add this one to the top of your list for the best snorkeling Big Island has.

Highlights

  • Pristine Beautiful Reef
  • Dramatic coast with green sand beach
  • Lots of fish
  • Underwater Lava sheer walls
  • Sand Dunes
  • Mermaid Pond

Access

  • Rough 4×4 only

 

Ho’okena Beach

A sleepy little local fishing village located south of Two step with a black sand beach and camping sites. This charming little beach park has ample shade with tables and decent surf for kids. The long shallow entry makes for good snorkeling far off shore. The black sand makes for a different experience with some interesting coral patches with critters surrounding them. The sand can have a few surprises as well.

a tent on a black sand beach in hawaii

Highlights

  • Black Sand
  • Shade
  • Lots of shallow water
  • Shower and Restrooms

Access

  • Shore

 

 

Keahou Point

Keahou Bay is home to a harbor and canoe club. Only a few boats are moored here but they are a consideration when transiting the area. It’s best to have a float to let boaters know you’re in the water here. You can get in the water near the hotel using a ladder that is removed at night. Another access point if your staying on the north side of the bay in a place like Keauhou Gardens is the beach on the north end but you must swim through the harbor from that route.

a close up of a plant

If you’re staying on the north end you can enter at the beach by the canoe club

Highlights

  • Protected from south swell
  • Schools of Akule
  • Manta Cleaning Station

Access

 

Kahalu’u Beach

Located near downtown Kona this is one of the most popular snorkeling spots in Kona. Upon arrival and seeing all of the people you might think, “Really? Can the snorkeling actually be good here?”. Well put that snorkel gear on because this is a well frequented snorkel spot for a reason! While not necessarily our go to favorite it is deserving of one of the spots for the best snorkeling Big Island has. The entry can be a bit sketchy because snorkelers have to crawl over the rocks. The snorkeling is surprisingly good here with plenty of shallow water and coral to see in 6 feet of water. A lifeguard is on duty most of the day. It’s also oddly a great surf spot where the surf is immediately to the north of the snorkel spot.

Highlights

  • Close to Kona
  • Shallow
  • Marine life in your face
  • Lifeguard
  • Shower and Restrooms

Access

  • Shore

 

Kailua Bay

Located in the heart of Kona, Kailua Bay is where all the action is. The entry and exit is relatively easy if the swell is down and the snorkeling is great and shallow from the very beginning. Stay near shore for the best coral. Massive schools of akule fish can be seen here and sometimes dolphins and other interesting critters. It’s surprisingly good for its location and business. You can rent a set of snorkel gear across the street from Ali’i Adventures and hop in where the stairs lead into the swim lane start for the Iron Man. It’s proximity to town and ease of entry combined with good marine life and shallow water make this a great addition to the best snorkeling on Big Island guide.

 

Highlights

  • Lots of shopping and dining nearby
  • Shallow
  • Easy Entry and Exit
  • Showers and Restrooms

Access

  • Shore

 

 

 

 

Manini Beach

Out of the way from the every day hustle and bustle of the touristy hot spots Manini is a little sleepy neighborhood on the south end of Kealakekua Bay on the other side from the Captain Cook Snorkeling Monument area. The entry is a little tough but the snorkeling is nice. The area is a marine reserve which often makes for better marine life.

Highlights

  • Out of the way from the crowds

Access

 

 

Ke’ei Beach

A little neighborhood that ends in a coastal entry where there are plenty of shallow reefs and schooling fish. Easy entry and exit and off the beaten path from the usual hot spots.

Highlights

  • Out of the way from the crowds

Access

 

 

Puako end of the road

One of our favorite scuba diving spots. The visibility here and it’s exposure to the northwest swell can lower the visibility here. Despite this it is still some of the best snorkeling on Big Island. A pleasant drive down Puako road ends in a shady parking area with restrooms and a coral beach. The shallow reef is covered with good marine life and schools of fish. The visibility is usually lower here than other places. Swimming further out leads to a reef drop-off and lava channels with lots of lava tubes, arches and tunnels. Fun for snorkelers who like to freedive down a bit deeper.

 

Highlights

  • Out of the way from the crowds
  • Amazing Reef Structure for more advanced snorkelers
  • Turtles are common

Access

  • Shore

 

 

 

Mauna Lani

The entry is easy from the sandy beach here with nice corals and a shower and shade nearby. The kings fishponds are directly onshore and make for some interesting exploration.

Highlights

  • Easy Access
  • Good corals
  • Shade
  • Showers and Restrooms

Access

  • Shore

 

 

Not sure where you want to go?  Check out out our Kona snorkel tours where we take you to some of the best snorkeling Big Island has hassle free!

 


For even more detailed ideas get the book Snorkel Hawaii from our Shop in Town

Snorkel Hawaii book Cover for the Big Island