Guide to Visiting Hanauma Bay

Sandy coastline and green cliffs, Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Charles Davies / Getty Images

The calm, shallow waters of Hanauma Bay have helped this beach earn its undisputed title as the best-known snorkeling spot in Hawaii. Located on the eastern windward side of Oahu, the sandy crater formed by volcanic activity helps protect the reef from large ocean swells, attracting snorkelers and swimmers of all levels. The living museum sees anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 visitors each day (capped at 3,000 to avoid negative impact on the ecosystem), so planning ahead and knowing what to expect will certainly give you a leg up for a perfect day on the bay.

One important thing to know is that Hanauma Bay is closed every Tuesday. After the years of visitor activity wearing down the natural coral and eroding the beach, the Hawaii government made the decision to turn Hanauma Bay from a beach park to a regulated nature preserve. The bay is closed every Tuesday so that the fish have one day of undisturbed rest, as well as Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

History

The curved bay lies inside of a volcanic cone created by a series of eruptions about 32,000 years ago. The literal translation of the name comes from the Hawaiian word “hana” which means bay and “uma” which means curved. Over the years, Hanauma Bay became a favorite spot for the Hawaiian people for swimming and fishing and was even frequented by Hawaiian royalty in the 1800s.

Although Hanauma Bay has been a protected marine life conservation area and underwater park since 1967, the lack of regulations meant that the bay saw upwards of 10,000 visitors daily at its peak. By 1990, The City and County of Honolulu acknowledged the environmental repercussions from the millions of visitors coming to snorkel and laid out a conservation plan to help preserve the area, reduce the impact of visitors, and restore the bay to its former glory.

How to Visit

The entrance opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. Once you arrive, plan on at least 30 to 40 minutes before even getting into the water. You’ll have to wait in line to pay the admission fees and then watch the 10-minute video in the Marine Education Center on preservation and safety rules before heading down to the beach.

Costs

  • Park Entry Fee: $7.50
  • Locals with State ID, active military, and children 12 years and younger: Free
  • Standard Snorkel Set: $20
  • Premium Snorkel Set: $40
  • Parking lot fee: $1
  • Small Locker: $10
  • Large Locker: $12

Getting There

A taxi from Waikiki will run between $40 to $50 each way, or take the #22 Bus for $2.75 one-way for about 45 minutes. If you’re driving, take the H1 Freeway until it ends and becomes Kalanianaole Hwy. The entrance to Hanauma Bay is located on the right at the top of the hill just past the city of Hawaii Kai, about 8 miles down Kalanianaole Highway.

While driving yourself will allow you more freedom, be advised that the parking lot can fill up quickly—typically anywhere between 7 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Look closely, and you’ll see parking attendants keeping tabs on how many cars are coming in and out. Don’t be surprised if there is a “lot full” sign when you drive by; chances are if you come back later, the lot will be open again. There are only about 300 stalls available for visitors, and it costs $1 per vehicle.

Tours to Visit Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay organizes two tours from Waikiki to the bay. The extended snorkeling tour to Hanauma Bay has three shuttles that leave daily at 7:15 a.m., 8:45 a.m., and 10:15 a.m., and give you about four hours to explore. The $25 cost will include round-trip Waikiki transportation with fins, mask, and snorkel ($7.50 entry fee not included).

There is also a North Shore & Hanauma Bay combination tour that includes round-trip transportation from Waikiki with a tour guide, 2.5 hours at the bay with snorkel gear and lunch included, and stops at Banzai Pipeline Beach, Waimea Bay, Dole Pineapple Plantation, and add-ons for kayaking or paddleboarding are available. The full-day tour usually runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Tips for Visiting

  • Bring reef-safe sunscreen (Hanauma Bay advises against aerosol sunscreens, as well as any containing oxybenzone, octinoxate, or octocrylene.)
  • Arrive early for parking, Hanauma Bay has between 2,000 and 3,000 visitors daily. If you’re worried about parking, book a shuttle.
  • Bring your own snorkel and fins to save money (don’t forget defogger).
  • After arriving, ask the staff about the best side of the bay to snorkel on for that day.
  • Stop by the volunteer booth on the beach level to learn about the conservation of the reef and the types of fish that frequent the water.
  • Although the walk down to the beach and back up again is part of the experience, those with mobility issues can pay a little extra ($1 to get down and $1.25 back up) to ride the tram instead.
  • Shady spots are few and far between on the beach, so be sure to pack extra sun protection such as hats, sunglasses, and umbrellas.
  • Visitors are allowed to bring a small cooler with snacks or non-alcoholic beverages. Large coolers are not permitted.
  • If you talk to a local person who grew up in the area, they might mention night snorkeling or fish feeding at Hanauma Bay. Both of these, however, were discontinued several years ago, so don't plan on being able to do either of these activities.

What to Do Nearby

Koko Head: A high-intensity hike built on abandoned train tracks just across from the bay.

Waimanalo Beach: One of the most pristine white-sand beaches on the island can be found about 7 miles to the north.

Koko Marina: A local shopping center with stores and restaurants, perfect for grabbing breakfast or lunch to fuel up for snorkeling.

Halona Blowhole: A popular turnout just past Hanauma Bay.

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