Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

The Best Snorkel Spots on the Big Island

Tiffany Mueller

Snorkeling in Hawaii's clear blue waters allows you to get a front row seat to watch the islands' tropical fish in their natural habitat. You can see colorful marine life, sea turtles, eels, octopi, and so much more in the waters that surround Hawaii. And don’t stress if you didn’t bring your own gear, there are plenty of places on the Big Island where you can rent snorkel equipment! In this guide, we'll share some of our favorite snorkel spots on the Big Island. 

Best Kona Side Snorkeling

The warm, calm waters of the Kona coast create the best snorkeling conditions on the Big Island of Hawaii. There are also loads of beaches and spots to choose from, so you’ll have some options. Among the many locations you might pick, here are our favorites. 

Magic Sands

Snorkeling Spots Big Island Hawaii Shaka GuideMagic Sands Beach | Photo by Hari Nandakumar

Difficulty: Beginner to Intermediate 

Shaka Guide Tour: South Island Epic Coastal Journey or Kona Big Kahuna Loop

Magic sands is a lovely white sand beach on the Kona Side. Along the rocks to the left, you can often see an abundance of tropical fish and sea life. The best time to go is when the tide is low and the waters are calm, which you can check via this calendar. You’ll see less marine life when tides are high, and the difficulty will also increase with the stronger currents and swells. 

Lapakahi State Historical Park

Snorkeling Spots on the Big Island Hawaii Shaka GuideUser:Makana Chai, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Difficulty: Advanced

Shaka Guide Tour: Kohala Coast Backcountry Tour

Lapakahi State Historical Park is a beautiful place to spend a day and an outstanding spot for snorkeling. This spot is best during the dry summer season since winter swells can make it quite difficult to access the best areas for snorkeling. 

We rate this spot as advanced since there is no beach from which to enter the water. You’ll have to scurry across rocks and dead coral to get to the swimmable snorkeling area. The southern end of the cove has the most marine life. 

Honaunau Bay aka Two Step 

Snorkeling Spots Big Island Hawaii Shaka GuideRobert Linsdell from St. Andrews, Canada, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Difficulty: Beginner to Intermediate

Shaka Guide Tour: South Island Epic Coastal Journey or Kona Big Kahuna Loop

As one TripAdvisor reviewer put it Two Step is "a snorkel must!". The bay is surrounded by lava rock and features an abundance of sea life. Just know, this spot can get crowded we recommend visiting on a weekday or arriving early.

Kealakekua Bay (Captain Cook)

Difficulty: Intermediate

Shaka Guide Tour: South Island Epic Coastal Journey or Kona Big Kahuna Loop

The marine life conservation district has an abundance of sea life to check out on your snorkeling adventure. And it's just down the road from Two Steps -- you can plan to visit both in the same day! 

Best Hilo Side Snorkeling

A few of the best snorkeling spots on the Hilo side were destroyed by the 2018 lava flows, but there are still a couple of great places to check out these days! If you see Kapoho Tide Pools or Champagne Ponds in your snorkel destination research, know that these areas are tragically no longer available.

Shipman Beach

Difficulty: Intermediate

Shaka Guide Tour: South Island Epic Coastal Journey (this beach is not on the tour)

The snorkeling itself is quite easy at Shipman Beach, but you’ll need to hike in to find it. However, the 2.5-mile hike is a beautiful attraction in itself and well worth the trip. The trail is well maintained and, as a bonus, the hike acts as a barrier to overcrowding. You’re quite likely to see sea turtles or even a rare Hawaiian Monk sea lounging on the rocky banks adjacent to the beach, and you’ll certainly find a few tropical fish once you’re in the water. 

Richardson Beach

Snorkeling Spots Big Island Hawaii Shaka Guidedronepicr, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Difficulty: Beginner to Intermediate 

Shaka Guide Tour:  South Island Epic Coastal Journey (this beach is not on the tour)

Richardson Beach offers good snorkeling with an awesome location just outside of downtown Hilo. The area does get a bit rocky, but there are also plenty of beachy areas for entering the water. Once you’re in, you are likely to see sea turtles swimming about the area!

Best Snorkel Spot Near Volcanoes National Park:

If you're looking to snorkel near Volcanoes National Park, your best bet is to check out the Hilo-side snorkel spots: Shipman Beach and Richardson Beach. These are about 45 minutes away from the park. 

Best Spot for Snorkeling With Kids:

Kahalu’u Beach

Difficulty: Beginner

Shaka Guide Tour:  South Island Epic Coastal Journey or Kona Big Kahuna Loop

This beach is extremely safe and easy to access. It is protected by a cove, which means the waters are calm and perfect for first-time snorkelers. There is also an abundance of tropical fish, so the kiddos shouldn’t have a hard time spotting something beautiful. You'll find this beach on the Kona side of the island, about 15 minutes from Kailua-Kona. 

Snorkel Rentals

There are lots of great places from which to rent snorkel equipment on the island, so don’t fret if you didn’t bring your own. On the Kona side, Boss Frogs and Snorkel Bobs are popular establishments. For Hilo side, you can look into Hilo Ocean Adventures here or the Nautilus Dive Center here. 

Hopefully, equipment is the last piece of the puzzle to get you in the water with Hawaii’s beautiful tropical sea life. Once you make your rental, pick any of the spots on this list (or any of the dozens of other spots) and get to snorkeling! 

Parting Thoughts...

During your snorkel excursion on the Big Island, please be respectful of the marine life you encounter. Animals like Hawaiian monk seals and sea turtles are protected in the State of Hawaii and you need to keep a safe distance. If not, get ready for a hefty fine! 

And remember... ocean conditions can change in an instant. Please use your best judgement when visiting any beach in Hawaii. Some of these stops don't have lifeguards on duty, so be sure to bring a snorkel buddy and know your limits.

When you're in Hawaii, remember that the beaches and marine life are fragile. Please show your aloha by wearing reef safe sunscreen, respecting the animals - don't get too close or touch them EVER - and by leaving the beach better than you found it. For more on how to be a safe and responsible traveler when you visit Hawaii, click here.

RELATED: According to Our Research, Shipman Beach is Big Island's Most Underrated 

Shaka Guide has a total of five tours on the Big Island. They're the perfect travel companion and visit many of the snorkel spots listed here. 


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