The Best Snorkel Spots On Oahu
Thinking about snorkeling on Oahu? It’s a fantastic idea because there are some great locations on the island. Whether you’re a beginner or looking for something a little more advanced, you’ll find a snorkel spot on Oahu that’s perfect for you! Here are our suggestions:
Great Snorkel Spots For Beginners
Cristo Vlahos, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
If you’re a visitor to Oahu and have never snorkeled before, it’s good to ease into it. Be sure to go at your own pace and stay in waters that are comfortable for you. Many snorkeling locations on Oahu do not have lifeguards or require strong swimming skills, however, there are still many beginner-friendly snorkel spots on the island that are perfect for first-time snorkelers!
1. Kuilima Cove
Easily accessible from the North Shore’s Turtle Bay Resort, Kuilima Cove is a great snorkeling spot for beginners of all ages. While the North Shore is known for its big surf during the winter, Kuilima Cove is naturally protected from its rock wall.
2. Hanauma Bay
If you’ve been researching snorkel spots on Oahu, no doubt you’ve come across Hanauma Bay State Park. The view of the bay alone is well worth a visit and the variety of sea creatures that call this nature preserve home is vast. Attendance is limited and you do have to make a reservation and pay an entrance fee upon booking your date.
RELATED: Hanauma Bay Travel Guide
3. Sans Souci Beach
Located in front of the Waikiki Aquarium, this snorkel spot is a part of the Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District. While the rest of Waikiki is popular for swimmers, surfers and bodyboarders, Sans Souci Beach is for marine life and even fishing is not allowed here.
4. Turtle Canyon
With a name like Turtle Canyon, don’t be surprised if you see turtles! If you decide to do a snorkeling tour in Waikiki, they’ll probably take you to this spot where the local turtles love to congregate. Just remember to keep a safe distance from any marine life you see - especially turtles. These are protected animals in Hawaii and getting too close will result in a fine.
Popular Snorkel Spots
Jon Michel Alexander, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The best snorkel spots on Oahu tend to be extremely popular, but also a little dangerous due to seasonality or wave strength. As always, make sure you are comfortable swimming and snorkeling in the ocean before you venture out.
5. Electric Beach
Also known as Kahe Point Beach Park, Electric Beach is located right in front of the Kahe Point Powerplant on West Oahu. There are two large pipes here coming from the powerplant that release warm water, which attracts all matter of sea life. The currents here can be rough, so we recommend this spot for strong swimmers only. If you’d still like to snorkel this area, sign up with a snorkeling tour and they’ll take you to calmer areas along the West Oahu coastline.
6. Shark’s Cove
An extremely popular snorkeling spot on Oahu’s North Shore, Shark’s Cove has an enormous variety of sea life from turtles to schools of fish. Another great place to snorkel is right next door at Three Tables. Both locations are a part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District, which means fishing is not allowed. The waters can get rough here on especially windy days and during the winter months when the big surf hits the North Shore.
7. Waimea Bay
During the winter months, Waimea Bay is a popular spot for big wave surfers. During the calm summer months, you can explore the rocks on both sides of Waimea Bay. Parking can be tight so get here early if you want to get a decent spot and avoid traffic.
RELATED: Waimea Bay Travel Guide
Tips For Snorkeling
Vlad & Marina Butsky, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Snorkeling In Windward Oahu
The two most popular beaches in Windward Oahu are Lanikai Beach and Kailua Beach. While both of these beaches are gorgeous, they don’t make great spots for snorkeling on Oahu because there are very few fish swimming around! The beaches in this area are very sandy, which means there are no rocks, fish or coral to see.
Keep Your Distance From All Marine Life
While snorkeling, it’s important to keep your hands to yourself as you don’t know what the consequences are when you touch certain fish or even coral. Some sea creatures are extremely sensitive, so it’s best to keep your distance.
Everyone is always happy to see a turtle while they’re snorkeling, but keep in mind that these gentle creatures are federally protected, which means touching or harassing them is against the law. It is highly recommended that you stay at least 10 feet away from turtles in Hawaii.
Hawaiian monk seals are a little rarer and it’s recommended to give these guys a wide berth. Stay at least 50 feet away from them and at least 150 feet away from a mom with a nursing pup. Monk seals have been known to attack and these huge animals can easily send you to the emergency room.
You may even see dolphins while you’re snorkeling in Oahu, although it’s a lot more common to spot them above water on a cruise or kayaking in deeper waters. Commercial and fishing boats are required to stay at least 50 yards away from dolphins.
How To Stay Safe When You Snorkel
Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0 US, via Wikimedia Commons
Snorkeling In The North Shore
The North Shore is known for big waves and surfing during the winter. Unless the waters are unusually calm or you’re swimming in a well-protected area, be diligent about checking the weather and don’t go out if it looks rough.
Protect Yourself From The Sun
Hawaii is known for its sunny weather so it’s a good idea to make sure you’ve got everything you need to protect yourself from the sun while snorkeling. Always wear sunscreen (please use reef-safe sunscreen) and a rashguard is highly recommended to give you that added protection on your back, neck and shoulders. Snorkeling usually lasts for an hour or two and these sensitive areas will feel the brunt of the sun’s UV rays during that time.
If you do happen to get burnt, head on over to any supermarket on Oahu and pick up some aloe vera gel to soothe your skin.
Always Snorkel With A Partner
Use the buddy system when you snorkel so that you can keep an eye on each other. Some people get excited and start swimming off right away, making it difficult for the other person to supervise. To prevent this, make sure you explain the buddy system in advance and agree to not move on to the next spot until both of you are ready to go.
Renting Snorkel Gear
Some of the more popular and mainstream snorkel spots on Oahu have rental shops right on the beach. Hanauma Bay, Shark’s Cove and Sans Souci Beach have rental shops within a short walking distance. If you’d prefer not to rent, stop by a Target or local ABC store and you can buy some gear for your trip.
There are numerous snorkeling tours on Oahu to choose from. For the most part, if you’re a beginner, unsure about swimming in the ocean, traveling with kids or older family members, sticking with a snorkeling tour on Oahu is a safe bet. The crew have your safety in mind first and they already know where the best spots for snorkeling are. If anyone in your group gets tired, they can always return to the boat and enjoy the view from above. The best part is that you don’t have to keep an eye on everyone else, which is very difficult to do in the water.
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Want even more tours? Check out Shaka Guide’s tours all around Oahu!
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