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Beautiful Maui is Hawaii’s second most visited island, and nearly everyone who comes wants to get into the water somehow, be it swimming, canoeing, diving or the hugely popular snorkeling. It’s possible to head into the water to see gorgeous tropical fish and other wildlife from nearly any beach on the island. But if you want to see the really good stuff — sea turtles and such — consider having a local guide show you around to the very best snorkeling spots, and explain some of what you’re looking at. These are best-guided snorkeling tours that Maui has to offer.
Best Molokini Crater Tour: Small-Group Molokini Snorkel
The Molokini Crater — the crescent-shaped top edge of a long-extinct volcano off the western coast of Maui — is one of the world’s greatest snorkeling destinations. The shape of the old volcano crater creates a natural reef-filled lagoon, where the water is calm and clear and you can see hundreds of feet in each direction. This five-hour, small-group tour leaves at the crack of dawn from the Kihei Small Boat Ramp and zips passengers out to Molokini on a small, eco-friendly craft. Because of the early start time, participants are generally alone in the crater for their first snorkel. The boat makes three more snorkel stops, at the untouched back side of the Molokini Crater, at the dolphin-filled La Perouse Bay and at the aptly named Turtle Town. Light breakfast and lunch are served on board and snorkeling gear is provided.
Best South Side Tour: South Maui Kayak and Snorkel Tour with Turtles
If you’re staying in one of the many resorts on Maui’s southern end, in the Wailea or Makena area, consider this small-group tour, which combines kayaking and snorkeling for a full morning of fun. The tour, which is appropriate for all levels of kayaker and snorkeler, leaves from Makena and explores the Turtle Town stretch of beach, known for its calm waters, teeming reefs and frequent visits by giant green sea turtles (sightings are guaranteed). Kayaks and snorkeling equipment are provided.
Best Maui-to-Lanai Tour: Lanai Island Dolphin and Snorkel Cruise From Maui
Departing from Lahaina harbor, this boat tour chugs across the short strait between Maui and the tiny island of Lanai. During the 45-minute crossing, guests dig into an island-style breakfast of pastries and fruit while watching for the dolphins and humpback whales that swim through these waters. Once at a coral reef-packed area of the untouched Lanai shoreline, the boat moors up and guests spend 2.5 hours swimming, snorkeling and even sliding down the boat’s onboard waterslide into the sparkling blue waters. On the ride back to the harbor, the crew breaks out the BBQ for a simple buffet lunch of burgers, hot dogs, salads and cookies. Post-snorkel cocktails are available, as well. Snorkeling equipment is provided.
Best Tour for Families: Molokini and Turtle Town Snorkeling Adventure
If you have kids in tow, consider this tour, which specifically caters to all ages, providing all sizes of snorkeling equipment, plus flotation devices, instruction and even a lifeguard, so the whole family can relax and enjoy the breathtaking underwater views. The boat leaves early in the morning from the harbor at Ma’alaea and heads out to the spectacular Molokini Crater, where the whole family can enjoy swimming near turtles and hundreds of species of tropical fish. (Challenge your kids to spot Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a — or heck, just to say it!) The day’s second snorkeling stop is at either Turtle Town or, dependent on conditions, an area called Coral Gardens. At the end of the trip, enjoy a deli-style lunch while you cruise back to the harbor.
Best Eco Tour: Molokini Wild Side: Snorkel and Cruise from Maui
A certified marine naturalist will be your tour guide on this freeform small-group eco-adventure that sails out of the Ma’alaea Harbor on a single-deck catamaran. The tour visits the inside of the Molokini Crater for a snorkel in its thriving reef and also swings around the less-visited backside of the crater’s wall, where your guide will point out seabirds and geological formations. Depending on conditions and seasonal migrations, the tour may also swing through La Pelouse Bay to search for spinner dolphins or humpback whales, Turtle Town for a snorkel with sea turtles or a number of other sites for nature-spotting, above and below the water. A healthy continental breakfast and BBQ lunch with vegetarian options are provided, as are snorkeling gear and training.
Best Canoe Tour: Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe and Snorkel Adventure
Take a tour the traditional way, in the Hawaiian outrigger canoes called “wa’apea,” which have taken Hawaiians to sea for hundreds of years. Your locally born and raised guides will help you push off from Polo Beach and paddle out into the ocean (you don’t have to help, but you can), where you’ll follow the shoreline until you reach an isolated cove. There, you can hop out and go snorkeling. You’ll definitely see hundreds of fish, and odds are good that you’ll see turtles, too. The tour lasts two hours and includes the use of snorkel equipment, as well as digital photographs, which will be e-mailed to you after the fact.
Best Spearfishing Tour: Spearfishing in West Maui
“If you can snorkel, you can spearfish,” says the guide who leads these private spearfishing lesson/tours off the West Maui coast. You’ll meet at a beach (decided on the day of departure based on weather and surf conditions) where your guide will give you a quick spearfishing intro and get you fitted with snorkeling and spearfishing gear, and then you’ll head out into the water together to practice this ancient fishing technique. It’s a fully hands-on experience, and anything you catch, you keep — your guide will clean it for you and you can take it back to your condo (or the grill at a beach park) and enjoy it fresh that evening.