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Maui has been voted as “The best island in the world” by the Condé Nast Travel Magazine for 10 years thanks to the scenarios landscape, untouched nature, and pure beauty under the sea. With this Maui snorkeling guide, we give tips for ocean lovers on when is the best time to visit this paradise and what the best beaches are if you wish to discover the island’s underwater wonder.
Maui snorkeling conditions
Maui, part of the State of Hawaii, is the second-largest Hawaiian island. Only the Big Island is bigger than Maui. Maui’s greatest north-south dimension is 42 km (26 miles) and it is 77 km (48 miles) wide from east to west. Maui is situated in the North Pacific Ocean, 3780 km (2340 miles) west of San Francisco. Its long coastline (200 km/120 miles) features over 50 km/30 miles of beaches where those who love water sports will certainly find their favorite spots to go. among the best snorkeling Maui beaches.
This tropical island enjoys a mild year-round climate, but there are many areas on the island with their own microclimates. The coldest months are December and January with the average temperature 18-24 °C (65-75°F). The hottest summer months are August and September when the average temperature is 25-32 °C (77-88 °F). Most rainfall hits the north, and northeast shores due to the wind, therefore showers are very common here. The south and southwest areas are relatively dry. Thanks to this unique climate, the flora is various with cactus bunch grass and tropical creepers, bamboo forests, eucalyptus parks, and even pines.
The best Maui snorkeling season is definitely the summer, from May through September. This period provides ideal conditions with calm waters, good visibility, and an average sea temperature of 82 F / 27.7C. The warm water allows you to feel comfortable staying in the water and exploring marine life.
Tip: Due to the various weather conditions, bring different clothes with you if you visit Maui. Pack not only swimsuits but also waterproof and windproof jackets. Don’t leave your UV protection rash guard at home and since Hawaii banned toxic chemical sunblock products in order to preserve the reefs, make sure to take coral safe sunscreen with you!
Best beaches to go snorkeling in Maui
The best snorkeling Maui beaches are located in the south and on the western parts of the island. The reason is simple, this part of Maui is protected from the wind. The Hawaiian “trade winds” are blowing from the northeast, so the water on the south and west stays calm and clear.
The shallow and clear water makes Kapalua Beach one of the most celebrated spots for snorkeling in Maui. This beach is the safest year-round, therefore a perfect place for novice snorkelers and kids. The bay is “C shaped”, protected by two reefs with easy water access thanks to the sandy sea bottom.
Because of the sandy shore, the visibility could be bad if it is windy or there are waves, but if you snorkel along the rocky edge, the water is more clear. In the shallow water and around the reef you will see different Hawaii fish species here like butterflyfish, parrotfish, surgeonfish, damsel- and triggerfish, boxfish, scorpionfish, Hawaiian State fish, as well as other interesting crustaceans and invertebrates.
Our hotel recommendation at Kapalua: Montage Resort
The Napili beach is located on the northwestern coast, between two rocky points. This is a popular beach and can be busy during the day, so the best time to visit Napili is either in the mornings or late afternoon to avoid the busiest midday hours.
Napili is perfect for active holidaymakers; it is not only an excellent spot to snorkel in Maui but also great for paddle boarding and surfing too in winter. Since the water gets deep quickly, snorkeling here is recommended for good swimmers only and not for kids. The reason why Napili Beach is one of our favorite places to go snorkeling in Maui is that Hawaiian Monk Seals are often seen here. Should you wish to stay at this wonderful beach, we recommend the Napili Kai Resort.
Black Rock (Kaanapali Beach)
Black Rock is a snorkeling spot situated at the north end of Kaanapali Beach. The soft powdery sand, clear water, and romantic sunsets give the place a very special atmosphere. According to travel magazines, Kaanapali Beach has been voted as one of the best beaches in the world so it certainly deserves to be on the Maui snorkeling beaches top list.
In spite of the many Maui hotels around you don’t need to worry about the crowd. The beach is approx 5 km/3 miles long so never gets too busy. At Black Rock, the water is shallow with an average depth of 2-8 m (8-26 feet). The visibility is usually good, while the sandy shore makes entering the water easy. You can often see turtles here as well as eagle rays and of course different tropical fish species.
Best hotel to stay at Kaanapali: Aston at the Whaler
Tons of turtles, colorful fish, and sharks, shall I tell you more about why Five Caves is a must-visit Maui snorkeling spot? This place is also known as Five Graves because there was a burial site on the shore and five gravestones were placed near the parking area.
The entry is easy, there are a lot of things to see underwater! In the caves, you can spot sleeping reef sharks, and often manta rays, moray eels, eagle rays, and frogfish are around. However, in my opinion, Five Caves is recommended for advanced snorkelers only! The best is to sign up for a guided snorkel tour to find the caves.
Maluaka “Big” Beach
Maluaka is considered the Nr.1 spot for snorkeling in Maui with good reason. This beach on the south side of the island is home to a big population of Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. This golden sandy, wind-protected bay offers easy and relaxing snorkeling.
To get to the coral reef you need to swim a bit south. Here you will find various tropical fish and of course the famous Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. An interesting fact is that the Hawaiian Sea Turtles are brown despite their names. The turtles are usually in shallow water feeding on seagrass.
Honolua is a marine life conservation area on the northwestern end of Maui. The sea is usually very calm here because of the surrounding high cliffs. There is a concrete boat ramp in the middle of the bay. On the left side of the ramp, the shore is dark sandy and the visibility could be bad, but if you swim out from this area the sand will be white and the water will be clear.
The right side of the ramp is rocky, be careful because the rocks are slippery! In the middle of the bay, there is a white sandy shore, the water is 4-6 m deep (13-20 feet). You can see the most corals on the right side of the bay moreover different tropical fish like butterfly fish, parrotfish, surgeonfish, wrasse, damselfish, Hawaii State fish “Humuhumunukunukuapuaa”, hawkfish, jacks, mullets, turtles, eels, cardinal fish, boxfish etc.
The wonderful sea life makes Honolua Bay one of the best Maui snorkeling beaches. But it is also a popular spot for surfers. People say that the waves are the most perfect here in all of Hawaii. The surfing area is located out on the right side of the bay, so the waves won’t affect you while snorkeling. When you are leaving the beach, make sure to drive up to the Kahekili Highway overlook to enjoy fantastic views and take some great pictures.
Ulua and Mokapu beaches
Small but sweet little beaches not far from Wailea. The Ulua beach is right next to the Mokapu beach, they are connected by a path so you can visit two of the best snorkeling beaches in Maui at the same time.
You can start at Ulua and snorkel right towards the reef of Mokapu. On the shore, you can walk back to Ulua Beach. You find healthy corals, plenty of fish and turtles here!
If you prefer quiet beaches, the Polo Beach Maui between Makena and Wailea is your place to go! It can be busy in front of the Polo Club Hotel, but if you walk a little further you will find more privacy. This small and clean beach is like a little private paradise.
Snorkeling is the best when the sea is calm allowing you to discover underwater caves and arches here. Polo Beach is not safe from windy weather because of low visibility and the possibility of dangerous rip currents.
Ahihi Kinau Natural Area Reserve
The unique landscape and rich marine life make Ahihi the most picturesque Maui snorkeling spot. This marine conservation area is located in the south of Makena. The Ahihi Kinau is part of Hawaii’s Natural Area Reserve System. The beach is black sandy, and there are lava rocks everywhere, in and out of water.
The best time for snorkeling in Ahihi Kinai is the morning before the wind starts to pick up. Hundreds of fish, eels, sea creatures, and different corals can be observed in the shallow water, between the rocks. Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles are also frequent visitors here. This place is perfect for snorkelers at all levels including kids.
The Molokini Crater is probably the most popular place to snorkel in Maui. This volcanic atoll 5 km (3 miles) off the southwest coast of Maui is a marine life and bird conservation district. The northern part of the rim is underwater, the southern is above giving the Molokini Crater a unique crescent shape. The partially submerged crater is approx 800 m (half a mile) in diameter.
This wind-protected spot offers safe snorkeling for the whole family. The visibility is great at Molokini at all times ( up to 45 m/150 feet). The fish and other sea creatures are very friendly because they are comfortable with the presence of snorkelers. You can enjoy snorkeling among tropical fish and turtles. Often manta rays and white-tip sharks can be seen here. On top of this, sometimes even humpback whales, whale sharks, and monk seals visit Molokini Crater. Accessible only by boat, many tour operators offer daily charters.
The Olowalu Reef, an oceanfront area on the west side of the island, is home to one of Hawaii’s most beautiful reef systems. To give you some reasons why we must mention Olowalu as one of the best Maui snorkeling beaches is that this area has the oldest reef systems in the Hawaiian Islands giving a home to various marine species including more than 350 manta rays. Even a blacktip shark nursery operates here! Female sharks come here every year to give birth in this protected calm-water area.
Olowalu is a “turtle cleaning station”, many turtles come here to take a rest on the coral reefs in the shallow water while getting a spa treatment from small fish. This beach is well protected from trade winds, and the water is shallow, especially close to the shoreline, so it is perfect for children and for novice snorkelers as well.
In the crystal clear water, you can see different types of soft and hard corals, more than 20 species of them are very rare! Snorkeling at Olowalu will go beyond your expectations for sure giving you unforgettable memories! The best is to snorkel Olowalu from a boat because the reef is extremely shallow near the shore.
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