Best Snorkeling in Hawaii, the Big Island

Best Snorkeling on Big Island of Hawaii is our article for those thinking about or going to the Big Island. The island is generally split into Kona, which is the western, and Hilo which is the eastern side of the Big Island. This island, being the youngest in the chain, boasts some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii due to the raw coastline, underwater crevices and wide range of weather. With over 266 miles of coastline, the number of places to embark on your adventure will astound you. It is recommended to snorkel on the western side because it has better visibility to make the experience that much more satisfying and enjoyable. Since the Big Island is so big and snorkeling locations are spaced out in some areas, it's essential to plan ahead of time to ensure you are able to visit those on your itinerary. Since some of the locations are exposed and not protected by rock bays, you may encounter to surges, currents, winds and waves at some point and it is advised to snorkel as early in the morning as possible to lessen the intensity of the experience. Read Best Time of the Day to Snorkel and Snorkeling From Shore.


One of the first spots to snorkel is at the Captain Cook Monument. It has incredibly clear water, fish and coral to see. Located on the northern shore of Kealakekua Bay, it cannot be accessed by vehicle and you must either get there by a boat, kayaking or through hiking. Snorkeling occurs along the shore directly to the left and right of the obelisk on the monument. Visibility is a primary benefit and it is possible to see up to 100 feet in some locations. There are schools of fish of a variety of species along the shore to view including the Bullethead Parrotfish and black and pink triggerfish.


Another common and well-liked spot to snorkel on the Big Island is known as Two Steps, since there are two natural rock steps snorkelers walk across to get to the area where snorkeling occurs. It is officially the called the Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park and also shortened to Honaunau. The visibility is not as clear as it could be due to the presence of cold fresh water springs in the area. Coral can be found at shallow depths of only 6-10 feet of water and you will also find many types of fish or even an octopus here. If you want to go deeper, you'll notice that at depths up to 20 feet you may find turtles and large fish among coral.


If you've visited both the Captain Cook monument and Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, yet still want to see something else, you may wish to go snorkeling in the Kapoho Tide Pools in the Wai'opae Tidepools Marine Life Conservation District. The tide pools are protected and access is granted to these private waters by the Kapoho community. There are numerous pools to explore in the area which you can switch between at your leisure. Some allow you to swim from one to the other, while others require you to exit the water before switching. If you go snorkeling here, you'll likely see turtles, sea cucumbers, urchins and many species of native fish.


If you're a fan of seeing other people, you'll definitely want to make sure you visit and snorkel at Hapuna Beach. It is listed as one of the top ten most beautiful beaches in the world and it's always crowded with visitors. Since the beach is exposed, conditions can be a bit rougher than you're used to or expecting. The live coral reefs also require a bit of a swim, which makes the location more geared towards advanced snorkelers. Access to the water is easily obtained by walking to the edge of the beach and doesn't require any fancy foot work or extensive balance work. Coral can be found at both the left and right sides of the beach, although they're shallower along the right side. You'll also notice more turtles and fish in the rockier shallows here. Visibility ranges from a few feet close to the beach up to 25 feet as you distance yourself from it. Expect to see a range of fish species, sea cucumbers, turtles and urchins on your adventure.


Last, but most certainly not least, is snorkeling at the Mauna Kea Beach. It is accessible to the public but the number of parking passes given in the area is extremely limited and you will want to arrive early to ensure you're not waiting for someone else to leave. Walk to either side of the beach to snorkel so you can gradually enter in the sand. Along the north/right side, you'll see plenty of coral and amazing topography to experience. The fish are plentiful and visibility is clearer as you go further out into the water away from the shore. It's possible to snorkel along the south but visibility is lower and the currents are usually rougher.

The best snorkeling on the Big Island of Hawaii truly depends on your experience level and what you hope to see and explore.

By Roy Jamason

Updated July 22, 2015

Related Products

ScubaPro Snorkeling Set