10 Must-see snorkeling destinations when visiting The Big Island of Hawaii
by Eileen Strauss on April 01, 2022
The Big Island, officially named Hawaii, is the largest island in the United States' Hawaiian islands in the Central Pacific. The diverse terrain includes colored-sand beaches at Papakolea (green), Punalu’u (black, and lush rainforests. There are also two active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa.
Some say the Big Island comes in second after Maui when it comes to the best snorkeling spots in the chain of islands, but there are those who still believe the largest Hawaiian island is still the best.
As it is aptly named, the Big Island is quite large, with the majority of the best snorkeling found on the west side of the island.
Part of what makes this island so special is that nearly all the sites are accessible from shore where visitors can be sure to see loads of gorgeous fish, turtles, dolphins, and giant Manta Rays, all day, every day.
Underwater photography is at its best on The Big Island, so be sure to bring a waterproof case for your phone so you won’t miss a memory!
We’ve tried to narrow down our list to the 10 best snorkeling destinations on the Big Island, but there are many more to explore.
Manta Ray Village
Not to be missed, Manta Ray Village on the Big Island is one of the most spectacular snorkeling destinations in the entire chain of islands. Reef manta rays are the second largest species of manta rays on the planet and the group that lives off the coast of Kona does not migrate, living permanently in these tropical waters.
Mantas are very gentle, with no teeth, stingers, or barbs. They are big and beautiful, with wingspans that can exceed 15-feet in width. These gentle giants come to Manta Ray Village every night to feed on the plankton.
Bring your underwater camera when heading to this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Mauna Kea Beach
Located near the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in Waimea, Mauna Kea Beach (aka Kauna’oa Beach) is one of the best places to snorkel on the Big Island.
Perfect for kids, beginners, and experienced snorkelers, the water at Mauna Kea is almost always calm, and the ocean clarity is intense in the mornings.
Honaunau Bay (Two Steps)
Honaunau Bay is a deep water bay with some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii. The bay is fronted by a smooth pahoehoe lava rock shelf, with the easiest ocean entry from Pae'a, or “Two-Step.”
Two-Step refers to the way the lava rock has been worn by the surf to create a convenient two-step entry point into the water.
NOTE: Exercise caution when entering and exiting the water as surge waves can occur. Also be aware that the seafloor does drop out rapidly to about 100 feet, so keep your eyes open!
Kealakekua Bay (Captain Cook)
There are few places in all of Hawaii more historic than Kealakekua Bay, the spot where Captain Cook lost his life in a battle with natives.
One of the best places to snorkel on the Big Island of Hawaii, visitors can spot dolphins and admire the volcanic coast.
The water is always calm and clear with visibility up to 100 feet. Coral varieties appear in purples and pinks, and at certain times of the year, the coral reef looks like a technicolor movie screen.
Hapuna Beach is one of the sunniest and most beautiful white sand beaches on the island! There is a lifeguard on duty year-round, making it a good beach for families. The beach itself is more exposed than other sites, making it apt to higher wave action and lower visibility, so the best time to snorkel is early in the morning.
*NOTE: Currents and surges become stronger as you get closer to the point on either side of the bay. These conditions can be dangerous if you aren’t prepared. So, staying in shallower waters and always going with a buddy is well-advised.
Mauna Lani Resort
Honokaope Bay: South of the bay, along a shoreline fisherman’s trail, is a small black sand beach named “49 Beach.” The water is clean, and the reef is in excellent condition.
Makaiwa Bay: To the north of Honokaope Bay is Makaiwa Bay where you’ll find deeper reefs.
Pau’oa Bay: A perfect spot for beginners, Pau’oa Bay is a protected beach surrounded by large lava rocks with a sandy bottom.
Hilo Dolphin Snorkel Tours
If you’re keen on seeing some adorable dolphins, Hilo has dolphin snorkeling tours made just for you! Visitors board a 20-foot inflatable boat and motor past the break wall of Wailoa Harbor along a scenic route on their way to the tour-guided destination. Explore untouched coves, sand patches, and reef structures, and encounter playful dolphins playing in pods.
Don’t forget to bring your waterproof camera on this tour to capture memories with your new ocean friends!
Richardson’s Ocean Park
The eastern side of the Big Island tends to have rougher ocean conditions than the west, but Richardson’s Ocean Park is sheltered from the surf, so the conditions tend to be calm.
Great for kids and beginners, the site is shallow, hosting lots of tropical fish and sea turtles!
Kahalu’u Beach Park
Kahalu’u Beach Park is a fantastic place for beginner snorkelers and children because there is always a lifeguard on duty and has easily accessible, shallow, and sheltered waters.
Kamakahonu (King Kam Beach)
Kamakahonu, or King Kam Beach, is a small beach in the heart of Kailua-Kona, known for its calm waters, making it a popular destination for kids.
It is illegal to touch Hawaiin sea turtles, an endangered species.
Go snorkeling early in the morning because the winds tend to pick up as you approach noon.
The rainy season is between October and April.
Hurricane season is from June to November.