When it comes to snorkeling, there are few places in the world that rival the Hawaiian island of Maui. For beginners, we’re talking warm water that averages in the high 70’s, calm ocean conditions, and incredible underwater views. For the more experienced, there are over 120 miles of coastline and 30 miles of beaches to keep you occupied with endless opportunities to experience diverse, exotic marine life.
Snorkeling Molokini Crater is a right of passage for any Maui snorkel aficionado. The crescent-shaped islet about three miles off the coast of southwest Maui has some of the highest visibility around, thanks to the protective curves of a volcanic atoll. Even better, the site is considered a Marine Life Conservation District (no fishing allowed), so there is a huge amount of exciting ocean life to see. On any given day, the visibility exceeds 100 feet, and some days 200 feet, but even the shallow spots are teeming with healthy coral and sea creatures. Molokini is only accessible by boat, so visitors will have to book a snorkel tour to experience its crystal clear waters.
Black Rock Beach
Located at the north end of Kaanapali Beach, it's hard to miss massive Black Rock rising out of the sea. There’s no reef here, so the ocean life actually revolves around the rock itself, which attracts smaller coral formations and fish with its many nooks and crannies. The local Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles love the protection that the cliff provides from the north swells, and you can often see them underwater looking for algae to munch on. This beach is in easy access to luxury resorts and restaurants, so be prepared to pay for parking as there are limited public spaces in the area. The rock is also a popular cliff diving spot, so be sure to keep an eye out for jumpers if you’re snorkeling below.
Another stunning Marine Life Conservation District, Honolua can be found on the northernmost side of the island. Rip currents and high surf aren’t uncommon when there are rough waves here, but when the water is calm inside, the high cliffs keep it almost completely sheltered from the wind. Going in from the beach is not recommended, as you’d have to swim pretty far to get past the murkier water near shore (it gets clearer the further you go out). There are usually a lot of tour boats dropping snorkelers directly into the water, but going by kayak is a fun way to get there too.
Ahihi Kinau Natural Area Reserve
The cove at Ahihi Kinau is a nice spot for beginner snorkelers and families who want to experience snorkeling in the open water. The water starts very shallow, with lots of fish to see without swimming too far out, while more experienced swimmers can venture further (there’s no lifeguard on duty). To get in the water, walk to the sandy far north side of the beach to avoid the sharp rocks and shoot for early in the morning before the wind picks up. The coastline is made up of a combination of lava rock and coral, so it's a pretty unique and delicate ecosystem. Non-residents will have to pay $5 per vehicle to access the parking lot, which fills up fast.
Well adapted to beginner snorkelers, Kapalua Bay on Maui's northwestern side is a white sand beach protected by two reefs. The shape of the bay keeps the water calm, and the prime snorkel spots are effortless to get to—walk right into the water from the shore. Since this is a popular spot, it pays to know the best areas to get in. Try walking to the north end of the beach and avoiding the center of the bay. This way, you’ll steer clear of the cloudiness picked up by the activity and instead snorkel along the rocky parts where the fish like to hang out.
Sometimes referred to as “Turtle Town,” Maluaka Beach is located south of Wailea at the end of Makena Road. This area tends to be overlooked by most tourists, which means fewer crowds and more relaxed snorkeling. In fact, most beachgoers here are guests from the neighboring Westin Maui Prince Hotel. The sandy beach becomes a bit rockier on the south end, where you’re most likely to spot turtles, and the beach is also a hotspot for viewing Humpback whales during the winter season. The water is usually quite calm, with clear water and plenty of fish.
Thanks to its shallow waters and protection from the wind, Olowalu is an excellent option for snorkelers of all levels. The reef here is hundreds of acres long and truly epic; Known as one of Maui’s largest and healthiest, some of the coral is estimated to date back 500 years. It's just south of Lahaina, so on clear days, it is possible to view the island of Lanai across the channel and even spot whales off the coast during whale watching season.
On the north end of Maui between Kahana and Kapalua, Napili Bay is a wonderful little cove with a family-feel just outside of the busier tourist areas. Great for beginners, the long sandy beach boasts incredible snorkeling at either end of the bay from the north to south. It is located in a residential area with condos and casual beach rentals, so there isn’t much parking (try to get there early). There are some cute tide pools here to explore as well for those who don’t want to get wet.