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Top 5 Big Island Snorkeling Spots

The big island has A LOT of coastline. So you’d think it would have a ton of great snorkeling spots right? It does but because Hawaii Island is so new it’s fresh lava coasts can be some of the most challenging entry and exit points for snorkeling from shore. Here’s the top snorkeling spots in order of awesomeness. Not all of them are easily accessible. Check out the descriptions to learn more about accessibility. 


  1. Kealakekua Bay aka Captain Cook Monument aka K bay
  2. 2-step aka Honaunau
  3. Pawai Bay
  4. Kahaluu
  5. Kailua Bay


Kealakekua Bay is Hawaii’s Best Snorkeling Spot

Kealakekua BayView of Kealakekua Bay from Shore



#1 Kona’s best snorkeling spot | Kealakekua Bay aka Captain Cook Monument aka K-bay

Depth 5-25ft

K-bay is one of those magical places. Dolphins, golden schools of fish, and beautiful corals are prevalent here. While it is possible to hike from shore I would not recommend it. It’s hot, steep, long, and rough. Instead take a tour with one of the local boat operators like Kona Snorkel Trips. They visit the site daily and aside from being quick and easy they provide all of the gear snacks, drinks, and some of the history behind the site and surrounding area.


Snorkeler finds a turtle in Hawaii's beautiful waters

Snorkeler encounters a turtle in Kealakekua Bay near Captain Cook Monument


#2 2-Step aka Honaunau aka Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau

Depth 10-35ft

Ever since Kealakekua Bay access from shore was restricted from kayak rentals 2-step has been the go-to place for people going from shore. That is to say it gets very very busy. The entry is only 2 steps at the entry point and the snorkeling is fairly shallow with a lot of reef in the 10-30 foot range. The bay also drops off really quickly allowing for some deeper reef slope and sand very close to shore. The dolphins appreciate the depth and will often visit this site with about a 30% show rate. The ‘beach’ is mostly lava rock so bring a chair or a thick towel to protect yourself should you choose to hang out on land.

two step honaunau entry

#3 Pawai Bay

Depth 15-40ft

Pawai bay is located just north of the old Kona airport. It’s best accessed by boat. It abounds with schools of fish, nice corals and some unique swim-through’s and arches. Like the other sites its well protected from the common northwest swell making it nice most of the time even when the rest of the coast is under attack by swell.


#4 Kahalu’u Beach Park aka Snorkel Beach

Depth 5-15ft 1.5-3m

Kahaluu is great for beginning snorkelers. It’s shallow and frequented by turtles. There’s lots of great reef fish among the coral. The coral itself is not in the best of shape. It’s important to be sure to use reef safe sunscreen or a sun shirt to keep the coral looking healthy <<<<see our blog on reef safe sunscreens>>>. The best part about Kahaluu is how well protected from swell it is. Probably being the best protected from south swell of any of the spots listed. Ironically Kahaluu is also good for beginning surfers. The swell is consistent and ofen just the right size but oddly enough it doesn’t seem to have too much negative effect on the snorkeling.


Kahaluu Beach Snorkel Beach Kona



#5 Kailua Bay downtown Kona Pier

Depth 10-25ft 3-7m

Located in the heart of town this spot is the home of the Ironman world championship race start and finish. Swimmers are often using the buoy system along shore to get a workout. In recent months the state has begun restricting access to the pier area so its best to stay near the swim lane and out of boat traffic.

Kailua Bay can have poor visibility because it has a fair amount of sandy bottom. This brings in some interesting critters like triton’s trumpets, goatfish, moi (the royal fish), and dolphins. One of the most unique sights that Kailua Bay offers over all of the others is the akule school which often frequents the area. Akule are a silvery baitfish that school in massive tight balls. They like the shallows and it’s really a delight to swim through them as they flow around you. Truly a unique experience.


Join us for some of Hawaii’s best snorkeling – We make it easy to find the best snorkeling in Kona, Hawaii


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