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Kauai has some incredible territory for snorkeling—and plenty of coastline to take in as you make your way to the snorkeling site. There’s the gorgeous Na Pali stretch of shoreline, which boasts cliffs that rise more than 4,000 feet, as well as plenty of sea caves to explore—and some of Hawaii’s famous waterfalls to pass under, should your boat be agile enough (and plenty on our list are).
We love the idea of an organized tour for excursions like this: Having everything rented and accounted for under one booking—plus the expertise of local guides and sailors—is hugely important to a successful excursion, and these tours we rounded up certainly deliver. There’s a wide range of tour types on offer that make the cut, from one that lets little kids get up close and personal with some cool sea turtles to a romantic catamaran cruise that lets couples enjoy both snorkeling and, back on board a catamaran, a three-course dinner backgrounded by a tropical sunset. Read on for the best snorkeling tours in Kauai.
Best Dinner Cruise: Na Pali Sunset Dinner Cruise
If cruising along the coastline in a breezy catamaran—plus a dip in the ocean for snorkeling—sounds like your idea of a relaxing evening, this tour might be the one for you. The five-hour excursion, overseen by a USCG-licensed captain, leaves from Port Allen Marina Center before taking guests along the lush coastline of Na Pali, where cliffs, valleys, and other stunning landscape as the sun sets, making for stunning vacation photos and memories. You’ll stop off along the way, should conditions permit, to snorkel or simply swim in the ocean, catching glimpses of brightly colored fish under the waves. First-timers need not worry: Instruction will be provided. After the time in the water, head back on board for a three-course buffet dinner, taking in the sinking sun as it inflames the sky with vivid tropical colors. Mai Tais, beer, and wine (as well as soft drinks) are included for dinner, too.
Best for Families: Sea Fun Snorkel
This tour will delight both grown-ups and little kids thanks to the sheer variety of wildlife and fish you’ll glimpse on this fun-filled four-hour tour. You’ll depart from the Old Koloa Sugar Mill—handy for families staying on Kauai’s South Shore—to head out to Lawai Beach, a clear, shallow area (eight to 10 feet deep) with coral gardens perfect for first-time snorkelers (and for spotting a few turtles). If swimmers aren’t comfortable enough snorkeling on their own, they can hold on to handled surfboards and kick around to ease into it.
And don’t worry about packing a tote with rations: There are plenty of snacks and bottled water on board for between swims, too—all you need to bring are towels and sunscreen. If the conditions aren’t right for taking in Lawai’s marine life, you’ll relocated to Anini Beach on the island’s north shore, which is just as beautiful.
Best for Waterfall-Lovers: Na Pali Coast Snorkel and Rafting Adventure
Take to the seas on this small-group expedition, which will transport you and your family or friends on a motorized raft. Not only will you catch plenty of ocean spray, but the agility of the light craft means you’ll be able stop at the many sea caves that line the Na Pali coast, as well as pass under waterfalls, if the conditions are right. Along the way, you’ll spot spinner dolphins, sea turtles, and depending on the time of year, migrating humpback whales. The raft only holds 14 people, so you won’t be crowded for space—or picture-taking—as you pass along the shore.
You’ll also head to Nu’alolo Kai for snorkeling over a gorgeous reef, and learn about the marine life you’ll be spotting, thanks to some fun facts delivered on board by the crew. Hotel pick-up and drop-off aren’t included, so you’ll have to get yourself to and from Port Allen, but it’s a fairly central location on the island.
Best All-Rounder: Na Pali and Ni'ihau The Forbidden Island Kauai Snorkel Cruise
This tour might sound ominous, but it’s anything but: You’ll spend a glorious seven hours on a sailing and snorkeling excursion that takes guests from Port Allen along Kauai's northwestern Na Pali coastline. You’ll catch the incredible scenery—the cliffs reach up to 4,000 feet—from a 65-foot catamaran, which comes equipped with plenty of great places to view the coast from: an inside cabin, spacious sundecks, and lounging trampolines.
Along the way, the crew will explain some Hawaiian history and legends that have a connection to the sights you’re taking in. You’ll also head near Ni’ihau, the forbidden island itself, to snorkel in the turquoise water of Lehua Crater—widely considered to be one of the best snorkeling spots in the state. (The island itself does live up to its name as it’s closed off to outsiders.) A continental breakfast and lunch, usually a deli-style menu, as well as refreshments are included.
Best With Hiking: Na Pali Coast Snorkel, Hike and Picnic
If you want to split your time between exploring the waters and exploring the shore, the Na Pali Coast Snorkel, Hike, and Picnic is a great excursion. You’ll start the six-hour trip from Kekaha, where you’ll board a motorized raft, which is handy for zipping in and out of the caves and waterfalls that dot the Na Pali Coast shoreline. Once you get to Nualolo Kai, you’ll jump off the boat for the hiking portion of your trip: exploring the 800-plus-year-old ancient fishing village whose ruins lie near the beach. It’s also a great place for snorkeling: You’ll head into the clear waters equipped with snorkeling equipment to take in the marine life underwater, including tropical fish and turtles.
Back on board, there’s a hot buffet lunch with island dishes like kalua pork and pineapple (in winter, the menu switches to deli sandwiches) before cruising back to where you started the day.
Best Full-Day Tour: Niihau and Na Pali Coast Kauai Snorkel Cruise
With seven and a half hours out on the water, this full-day tour is a fantastic way to spend a day in Kauai. Setting off from Port Allen, the trip takes guests on a breakfast cruise along the stunning scenery of the Na Pali coast before heading out to Niihau, whose nickname happens to be the slightly foreboding “forbidden island.” The crew will explain a little bit about local life there before you hop off the boat to snorkel and swim in the clear Hawaiian waters.
There’s also the option to SCUBA on this trip on both an introductory and certified dive, making it great for anyone who loves a bit of time in the water. You don’t have to worry about bringing anything: You can rent wetsuits and underwater cameras on board if you’d like. After plenty of time to catch marine life, you’ll get back on board to dry off and enjoy a late buffet lunch with beer, wine, and Mai Tai cocktails.
Best With SCUBA Option: Deluxe Na Pali Snorkel Tour w/Optional SCUBA
This deluxe tour isn’t quite as long as the full-day tour with a SCUBA options, but it really shines with what it can offer guests—and those who have been on this excursion love it. Five and a half hours, the length of the tour, is still plenty of time to see incredible marine life, scenery, and wildlife as you sail west along Kauai’s Na Pali coast; you’ll want to keep an eye out for dolphins, turtles, and plenty of fish. You’ll depart from Port Allen Marina Center, with starting times at 7 or 8 a.m. or 1:15 or 1:30 p.m.
During the cruise, those who want to snorkel can; others can upgrade to SCUBA, splash around in the ocean or head down the boat’s water slide. All told, there’s about an hour of time in the water. Included on morning tours are soft drinks, a continental breakfast, and a deli-style lunch; unlimited beer, wine, and Mai Tais are also served with the lunch or dinner meal, depending on cruise time.