Best Places to Go Snorkeling on the Big Island

Best Places to Go Snorkeling on the Big Island

Picture of Gil Zeimer

Gil Zeimer

Gil took a resort course on Grand Cayman in 1981 and has been hooked on diving ever since. He received his PADI certification in 1985 in a reservoir south of Dallas. He’s explored three oceans — from Australia to Micronesia, four Hawaiian Islands, Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, California’s Monterey and Channel Islands, Florida’s Keys, Walt Disney World’s Living Seas Exhibit, three Bahamas Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Little Cayman Island, and Aruba.

The Big Island of Hawaii offers snorkelers a bit of a dilemma. Should you snorkel on one of the 100 beaches by your hotel or condo featuring black, green, or white sand, drive somewhere for an enhanced wade-in experience, or hop on a boat for a quick trip you’ll never forget? With so many choices, you just can’t go wrong. 

What You Can See

You may be able to see tropical fish everywhere around this island and Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles in many places. But you can see even more colorful sea creatures like manta rays and moray eels, octopi and sharks, even the incredibly beautiful triggerfish (the “Humuhumu” state fish) at beaches or bays filled with coral reefs. After all, reefs are composed of thousands of tiny animals called polyps that attract fish that feed on them.

Water Temperatures

The average water temperature around the Big Island is typically between 76 to 82 degrees, but warmest between May to December. Wear a dive skin or a shorty wetsuit to provide a bit of warmth, or a T-shirt to prevent sunburn.

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Here are for the best places for snorkeling in the Big Island.

For more suggestions on best restaurants on the Big Island, the best things to do on the Big Island, and the best places to stay on the Big Island, click here.

Photo: Abbs Johnson

Black Sand Beach, Sea Turtle Lagoon, Hilo Coastline

Off the islands east coast, you may encounter more wind and stronger currents than the west side of the island. But for a colorful experience along a volcanic black sand beach, you can swim in a lagoon with lots of Hawaii Green Sea Turtles, as well as all kinds of other tropical fish and other amazing wonders.

Photo: Andy Collins/NOAA

Hawaii Spinner Dolphins, Kona Coast

Several dive shops and boat operators provide trips to motor along the Kona Coast in search of Hawaii Spinner Dolphins, as well as occasional groups of Bottlenose Dolphins, small pilot whales, manta rays, and the rare signing of a whale shark. Youre not allowed to touch them, but Spinner Dolphins put on quite a show, corkscrewing out of the water, then spinning like tops before sinking back to the surface.

Photo: Travis Thurston

Kealakekua and Honaunau Bays, South Kona Coast

Yet another popular snorkeling site is this one out of Keauhou Bay to sea caves and lava tubs in one or two nearby bays by operators offering 3-, 4- or 5-hour tours. You can see a diverse array of marine life, have access to snorkeling equipment, and enjoy drinks and a snack on the boat.

Photo: Richard Zerpe

Sunset at “Manta Ray Village,” Kona Coast

Just about everyone youve met who has been to the Kona Coast raves about this snorkeling adventure. Located seven miles south of Kona, Manta Village” is a short catamaran ride at sunset from Keauhou Bay Pier to a protected cove. Here, youll see and swim with beautiful manta rays, also known as Devil fish,” flapping their majestic wings to scoop up marine plankton that are attracted by the shore lights. Some of these large fish have wing spans of about 12 feet or more. Most boat tour providers outfit you with snorkeling equipment. As with diving here, the tour operators will give you a rain check for a second trip at no additional charge, pending space availability.

Photo: Yvan Le Borgne

Two Steps, South of Kealakekua Bay

Dont be put off by the lack of a beach entrance to this bay about 30 minutes by car south of Kona and near Captain Cooks Monument. Youll have to walk down two steps of lava rocks to the water on the farthest point of rock near a Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins sign — just watch other snorkelers and follow their lead, then time your entry between the surge of the waves. As part of the sacred Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, this protected bay with a is near an ancient village, also known as Place of Refuge. Here, on both the right and left, in water between 6- to 25 feet deep, you can see teeming coral reefs with all kinds of fish, turtles, octopi, seahorses, and much more, as well as some Spinner Dolphins resting in the bay and perhaps some sleeping reef sharks. Get here in the morning for the best parking spaces; $5 in front of the bay; free in the small lot or along the road and included in your park pass.

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