Maui’s gorgeous natural landscapes attract millions of tourists to its shores every year. Between the otherworldly panoramas in Haleakala Crater, the lush waterfalls and rainforests of East Maui, the palm-tree-lined beaches of South Maui, and the dramatic ocean views along the West Maui coastline, the Valley Isle offers visitors and residents alike unforgettable vistas on a daily basis.
However, if you want to see all that Maui has to offer, make sure to peek under the crystal-clear waters surrounding this incredible island. In other words, grab a snorkel set, and get ready to explore an entirely different ecosystem. We’ll show you what to know before you go, where to snorkel, and what kind of amenities you’ll find so you can pick the best spot for you and your group.
First, let’s talk about how to set yourself up for a great day of snorkeling.
3 Things to Know Before You Go Snorkeling Around Maui
It’s All About the Conditions
Wind, weather, and waves will make all the difference between the best snorkeling of your life and a less-than-awesome day in the water.
Before you pick your spot for the day, check the weather conditions. Maui’s tradewinds blow east-northeast for a good chunk of the year. When the tradewinds are honking, the east-northeast side of the island won’t be the best spot to snorkel. Instead, tuck in on the west side of the island for calmer waters and better visibility. Additionally, if there’s a significant swell rolling in, you’ll want to avoid affected areas so you can enjoy a more serene snorkel experience—and much clearer waters.
Insider Tip: Sign Up for the Maui Snorkel Report
Every morning, the Snorkel Store on Maui issues a free daily report that lists the best places to snorkel for the day’s conditions. If you’re an avid snorkeler, this is a must-have resource for planning your day. Sign up at thesnorkelstore.com.
Take It Slow
Especially if it’s your first time snorkeling, it’s tempting to zip around the reef as fast as you can to take in all the sights. However, you’ll see much more interesting stuff if you cruise at a leisurely pace. Some of the ocean’s most fascinating species are masters of camouflage, and you’ll only spot them if you look really carefully. Octopus, for example, can change color to blend completely with their surroundings. (Look for a blinking eye or a “rock” that’s breathing!) So, relax, slow down, and enjoy every inch of the reef.
Protect Our Reefs
Play your part in preserving these delicate ecosystems for generations to come. Be careful not to step on or touch the reef. Coral is a living organism, and it can be easily damaged. Additionally, choose reef-safe sunscreen, which is free of chemicals that can damage our reefs. If you need some advice on finding reef-safe sunscreen, check out this article from Hawaii magazine. Mahalo for your kokua!
Now that you’re set up for snorkeling success, let’s talk about the best places to explore Maui’s underwater environment.
Maui’s 9 Best Snorkel Spots
Best for a quiet and serene snorkel
Remember those West Maui coastal views we mentioned? Soak them in on your way to gorgeous Honolua Bay, located in one of Maui’s three Marine Life Conservation Districts. Parking is limited at this lovely little spot, so you’ll want to arrive early. Off the rocky shore, you’ll find some of Maui’s best snorkeling. That said, when the swell is right, Honolua is also an excellent surf spot. Make sure you go on a calm day to enjoy the pure serenity of this location. Honolua Bay also doesn’t have any amenities, so bring your own rinse water if you don’t want to stay salty for the rest of the day.
Mokuleia Bay / Slaughterhouse Beach
Best for relaxing on the beach after your snorkel
Want to get double the bang for your West Maui snorkeling buck? After you explore Honolua, head one bay southwest to Mokuleia Bay, which is also included in that same Marine Life Conservation District. In Mokuleia, you’ll find the best snorkeling on the north side, along the coastline that separates Mokuleia from Honolua. Unlike Honolua, Mokuleia has a wide, sandy shoreline, so you can set up for the day to enjoy the sun, sand, and surf. However, there aren’t any concessions for miles, so you’ll need to BYOEverything.
In the winter, this beach can get rocked by some serious waves, so make sure to check the forecast before you make the drive. Like Honolua, there are no facilities and limited parking. Additionally, you’ll need to walk down a fairly long set of stairs to access the beach, so plan accordingly.
Best for experienced snorkelers with a sense of adventure
Adventure is often its own reward. But at Olowalu Reef, there’s another payoff: an amazing reef, one of Maui’s best. This spot isn’t marked, per se, and there’s no real parking lot. However, all you need to do to find Olowalu is pull off Honoapiilani Highway near mile marker 14. (Watch out for deep sand!) Gear up, and head for the shoreline. Once you’re in the water, you’ll find a huge, vibrant coral reef, teeming with life. Additionally, you won’t be sharing the reef with that many other snorkelers. While this means plenty of room to spread out, it also means it’s a good idea to snorkel with a buddy. Finally, if there’s a significant swell from the south or west, pick another spot for the day.
By the way, if you’re hungry when you’re done, continue toward Lahaina on Honoapiilani Highway, and pull over at Leoda’s for one of their savory sandwiches or a mini chocolate haupia pie.
Kahekili Beach Park
Best for easy snorkeling, right off the beach
Everything is easy about snorkeling at Kahekili Beach Park: There’s plenty of parking, plus showers and restrooms. Plus, the reef is literally just a few steps into the water. No long swim required. As a result, Kahekili is great for families who are juggling a lot of gear and need a gentle spot everyone can navigate. Just head out right in front of the beach pavilion, and you’ll be good to go. The sandy bottom quickly turns into reef, so make sure you’ve got all your gear on and ready to go as you enter the ocean. Keep your eyes peeled for turtles!
Black Rock Beach
Best for easy and convenient first-time snorkeling
Black Rock is perhaps best known for its nightly torch-lighting and cliff-diving ceremony. However, its amazingly clear water also makes Black Rock Beach a great place to snorkel. It’s also an incredibly convenient spot for those staying in the popular Kaanapali area. So if you want to try snorkeling before committing to a full-blown undersea adventure, Black Rock is a great place to start.
Once you’re in the water, drift along the rock wall to gaze at the brightly-colored fish that make their home in the area. Keep your eyes peeled for eagle rays, which often cruise this zone. Just don’t get too close to the point. You might end up in the path of the cliff jumpers from above, and the currents around the point can get intense.
With all the resorts lining the beach, public bathrooms can be hard to find. However, you’ll find showers in a few spots up and down the beach. Additionally, the other thing that’s hard to find in Kaanapali is free parking. Look for the free spots near the public beach access signs, or pay for a spot in the Whaler’s Village parking lot. If you happen to make a purchase, you can get your parking validated.
La Perouse Bay
Best for advanced snorkelers who have seen it all
Earlier, we mentioned the otherworldly terrain in Haleakala Crater. This next snorkeling excursion will take you through another out-of-this-world environment—a jet-black lava field. On your way to La Perouse Bay, you’ll drive through the volcanic rock landscape in Makena, formed by a 1790 volcanic eruption from a vent along the slopes of Haleakala. The flow went so far as to reach the beach, and that will be your setting for a snorkel adventure at La Perouse Bay.
The bay is often exposed to wind, waves, and currents, so this is an advanced-only snorkel. However, those with the experience to make the swim will be treated to tons of vibrant coral and marine life—including dolphins every now and then. If you’re one of those snorkelers who’s “seen it all,” head to La Perouse. If nothing, the extraordinary setting makes for an unforgettable experience.
There’s also a hiking trail in the area with memorable coastal views, so you can make your visit to La Perouse a land and sea adventure. That there are no facilities at La Perouse, other than a porta potty. Make sure to bring any supplies you’ll need.
Best for a quieter snorkel in the heart of Kihei
At the northern end of Kamaole Beach Park I (known locally as “Kam 1”), you’ll find Charley Young Beach. Charley Young is often less crowded than Kam 1, 2, and 3, which makes it a favorite for snorkelers in Kihei. For the best snorkeling at Charley Young, swim toward the rocks at the north end of the beach. You’ll find colorful fish and coral in and around that area, as well as occasional turtles. When you’re done, you can clean up at the nearby facilities at Kam 1, which include showers and restrooms.
Plus, since Charley Young sits in the heart of Kihei, you’ll find plenty of concessions and restaurants close by. It’s an easy place to set up for the day and send someone for provisions when you get hungry or thirsty. It’s also a great spot to watch the sunset, so you may want to stick around.
Maluaka Beach (a.k.a. Turtle Town)
Best for exploring a hidden gem
If someone asks you whether or not you’ve been to Turtle Town on Maui, your safest response is “maybe.” For whatever reason, there are a bunch of spots on Maui that bear the nickname of “Turtle Town.” Maluaka Beach is one of those spots, probably because you’re pretty likely (although not guaranteed!) to see a turtle.
Even though this beach has its own parking lot on the south end, it’s one of the quieter beaches you’ll find in South Maui. There’s snorkeling near the rocks on the northern and the southern ends of the beach, so take your pick! If you decide to make a day of it on this gorgeous beach (and why wouldn’t you?!?) you may want to bring your own shade.
By Boat: Molokini Crater
Best for those who love adventure on the high seas
While you’re on Maluaka Beach, look west and you’ll see a little crescent-shaped islet in the middle of the Alalakeiki Channel between Kahoolawe and Maui. You’re looking at Molokini, a sunken volcanic crater that’s accessible only by boat. Hop on a catamaran from Maalea to head out to Molokini and enjoy snorkeling in the reef inside this sunken volcanic cinder cone. (Scientists believe it was formed more than 230,000 years ago!) There, you’ll find an abundance of tropical fish that make their home in these protected waters. If you head out to Molokini during whale season, you may also be treated to the sight of humpback whales breaching, playing, and training their young in Maui’s waters.
Schedules and amenities vary from boat to boat, but most include a bathroom and access to a fresh water shower. Plus, you’ll also enjoy picturesque views of Maui from the water.
Exploring a Whole New Side of Maui
Once you strap on a mask and slip into your fins, you’ll discover a whole new appreciation for the wonders of the island of Maui. The Valley Isle has plenty of fantastic underwater sights. Snorkeling will give you a whole new appreciation for the massive ecosystem and the myriad inhabitants who call the Pacific Ocean their home.
Considering a move to Maui so you can enjoy these snorkel spots year round? Our Kahului-based team would be happy to help! We’ve got solutions for moves of all sizes. Just reach out to one of our Hawaii moving experts for a complimentary consultation to get started.
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