Hawaii Big Island snorkeling places – Best 10 spots to visit

The Big Island of Hawaii has something for everyone, such as local art, scenic hiking and biking trails, hot lava, and over 250 miles of coastline where you will find white, black, and even green sand. Beyond the stunning beaches, there are spectacular coral reefs where the inhabitants come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Visitors can be as adventurous as they want: swim with turtles, manta rays or simply enjoy the natural beauty and the extraordinary sunsets. If you love exploring the ocean’s beauty, view amazing marine life by visiting some (or all) of the best Big Island snorkeling spots!

Hapuna Beach

This place has a reputation for being one of the best beaches in the world – especially for family fun. The sand is white, parking is easy, and the lots are paved. There are restrooms, showers, year-round professional lifeguards, and picnic areas.

Hapuna Beach Hawaii
Hapuna Beach

Since this is a great and popular beach, it is advised that you arrive early if you want a parking spot close to the entrance and a shading spot as Hapuna Beach gets crowded quickly.

When the water is tranquil, snorkeling is good and the best spot to view underwater wildlife is around the cliff on the north side or just beyond the rocky point on the south side. However, do not go to this area alone as it is out of sight of the lifeguards.

Our hotel recommendation here: The Westin Hapuna Resort

Punalu’u Beach

Did you ever see black sand? Well, Punalu’u has it. The sand is created from tiny black particles of volcanic lava. This spot is not only a favorite because of its unique sand, but also considered as one of the best beaches to go snorkeling on Big Island Hawaii for the fact that you can see the enormous green turtle or the endangered Hawksbill turtle.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

On a clear day, experienced snorkelers can take a short walk southwest of the main beach to Ninole Cove for more beautiful underwater wildlife. Also, in this area, kids can do some of their own exploring in some sheltered tide pools.

Should you wish to stay close to this beach, check out the Sea Mountain apartments!

Kealakekua Bay

Kealakekua quickly became the Big Island snorkeling hot spot because you can experience an underwater world full of color, mystery, and wonder. Fishing is restricted in this area which means that the marine life is vast and abundant including the Hawaiian spinner dolphins. History buffs will love the fact that Captain Cook made the first recorded contact with one of the loved Big Island snorkeling beaches.

Corals in Kealakekua Bay Hawaii Big Island
Coral reef at Kealakekua Bay Big Island

Snorkelers should wear traditional hiking boots to get to the best spot (Captain Cook Monument) and water shoes are encouraged to avoid sea urchins and other sharp animals. Most of the hike is exposed to the sun, so bring lots of water to stay hydrated, or choose the more convenient way by signing up a boat trip.

Tip: read our Kealakekua snorkeling article and get more info on this location!

Manini’owali Beach

If you are looking for a small, secluded place just north of Kona, then Manini’owali Beach in Kua Bay is your destination of choice. To get to the soft sand, you have to carefully venture down 10 feet of lava rock. The corals and sea animals are amazing and worth the trip (you can see turtles and sometimes spinner dolphins too), but note that this is not a beginner Big Island snorkeling spot.

Manini'owali Beach aerial view
Manini’owali Beach – Kua Bay

It is important to know that there are no shady spots on this beach so bring eco-friendly sunscreen, umbrella and sun tent. There might be a food truck nearby, but it is better to bring food and drinks too.

Related Hawaii guides:
Snorkeling in Oahu
Best snorkel spots in Maui
Where to snorkel in Kauai

Mauna Kea Beach

This pretty beach (also known as Kaunaʻoa) with its soft white sand and numerous palm trees offering lots of shade is a perfect Big Island snorkeling spot to enjoy with the family. The waves are big during the winter months but when the waters are calm, there are lots of fish to see near the rocky sides.

Manta ray at Mauna Kea Beach
Manta ray night snorkeling tour

The on-site Mauna Kea Beach Hotel turns on the light at night to attract plankton and majestic manta rays. Schedule a night dive to experience Big Island snorkeling with manta rays and get a close up look at these elegant creatures of the sea!

Two Step – Honaunau Bay

This not your traditional beach as there is no soft sandy surface, but visitors can set their chairs and blankets on the smooth lave rock ledge. However, this is known as one of the best Big Island snorkeling spots with good reason: beginners and experts alike will enjoy the sea turtles, tropical fish, and fascinating coral formations.

Note that the amenities here are very limited. There are a few picnic tables and some portable restrooms, but there are no food stations or showers available. It is highly recommended to bring plenty of water to stay hydrated during your visit and also snacks.

Waikoloa Beach

Waikoloa offers the best snorkeling on Big Island Hawaii on the South Kohala coast. It is a great place for beach lovers of all ages to enjoy offering SUP and swimming too. Make sure to bring your underwater camera to capture the beauty and wonder for a lifetime! The best area is around the edges of the bay where sea turtles, urchins, and lots of colorful fish can be observed.

Sea turtle in Hawaii Big Island
Sea turtle at Waikoloa Beach

Besides the water activities, it is also worth visiting the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and stroll through the Botanical Gardens. A trip to the Mauna Loa factory should be added to your list as well as viewing the spectacular waterfalls. Ziplining is a fun activity for more adventurous visitors.

Tip: the best hotel to stay here is the Marriott’s Waikoloa Ocean Club

Kahalu’u Beach Park

Sunbathing is the most common activity that people do here, but this location is also ranked within the top 3 snorkeling spots on Big Island. The reef is full of aquatic wildlife such as sea urchins, octopus, eels, sea turtles, and a variety of species of fish such as Racoon Butterflyfish, Hawaiian Spotted Boxfish, and Bullethead Parrotfish. The fish are used to snorkelers and may swim right up to you to say “Hello”.

Since the waters are calm and shallow, it is an ideal location for first-time visitors who wish to do snorkeling on Big Island. Sea turtles are commonly seen on Kahalu’u Beach in the ocean and also on shore too. Amenities include showers, restrooms, picnic tables and a couple of pavilions to provide shade. Kahalu’u also has a lifeguard on duty.

Richardson Ocean Park

This area is the best snorkeling spot in Hilo, on the east side of the Big Island. The sand is black and green – the black is due to lava and the green is due to olivine crystals. This beach is not the easiest to get to, but if the green sand piques your interest – it would be worth your time to check out.

Hawaiian Monk Seal
Hawaiian Monk Seal is resting on the beach

Due to natural seawalls that create caves and tide pools, the waters are usually calm which makes this one the best snorkeling on Big Island. Monk seals are often seen here.

King Kam Beach (Kamakahonu)

This bay on the north side of the Kailua Bay is fondly known as “Kids’ Beach” as it is a perfect stop for families with young children. The sand is white, the water is usually calm, and there is also a grassy area for children to play.

King Kam is not a beach you would probably spend your entire day; however, many people will enjoy some amazing underwater views if they are early risers and interested in snorkeling on Big Island at sunrise. Moreover, visitors can go swimming, canoeing and diving too.

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Big Island snorkeling spots Hawaii

Anett Szaszi

Anett is a certified scuba diver, freediver and an expert in snorkeling with more than 10 years experience. She fell in love with the ocean when she put her head underwater in the Red Sea in 2008. Since then , she is traveling all over the world to discover our waters. Wherever she goes, she takes her mask, fins and underwater camera with her. Visiting mega-cities is not her style but getting lost in tiny coastal villages, capturing the beauty of the sea while snorkeling. She is interested in sustainable traveling and marine conservation. She is hoping to inspire people to protect our oceans by sharing her underwater stories. Find her photos on @anett.szaszi Instagram too!

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