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snorkeling in hawaii

Hawaii’s beaches are the state’s most popular attraction. Every year, millions of people from all over the world flock to Hawaii’s shores to bask in the tropical sun. That number was well over eight million in 2013. Many of those visitors venture farther than the edge of the sand, strapping on a mask and snorkel and slipping their feet into a pair of swim fins.

Snorkeling is an easy way to experience the other side of the beach – the underwater world. This magnificent kingdom teems with a bewildering array of brilliantly colored, exotic marine life. With just a mask, snorkel, and a suitable pair of fins, you can explore another side of Hawaii’s spectacular beauty.

What You Might Find: Underwater Encounters

There are many dozens of species of colorful tropical fish to be encountered while snorkeling in Hawaii. One of the most easily recognized among them is the official State fish of Hawaii, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a (whew!). A species of triggerfish, it can be found in a variety of bright colors, with a V-shaped stripe on its back half.

Of course, there are many other wonderful species of stingrays, eels, and hermit crabs to be found just beneath the surface. Many visitors are lucky enough to come across a green sea turtle, or honu, which some believe to be good luck. The turtle symbolizes a navigator that can find his way home time after time. This symbol mirrors the real life of the green Hawaiian turtle, as it will swim hundreds of miles to lay its eggs at its own place of birth. Though there are other myths as well, some Hawaiian legends even say the honu were the first to guide the Polynesians to the Hawaiian Islands.

underwater sea turtle

Photo Credit: Neal Kido

Snorkeling Statewide

Each of Hawaii’s major islands offers safe, vibrantly colored snorkeling areas. The most popular on Oahu are Hanauma Bay at the island’s southeast tip and Sharks Cove on the North Shore (don’t let the name scare you). But there are dozens of other locations that are easily accessible, including Yokohama Bay on the west side and Kailua Beach on the east side.

On Maui, Kaanapali Beach is the most popular among visitors for its calm waters and easy accessibility. Kauai’s Poipu Beach is also renowned for its snorkeling. The Big Island, not surprisingly, offers a vast array of snorkeling beaches, from Hilo Bay in the east to Kailua-Kona and Keahou in the west.

Rent or Buy Snorkeling Gear?

One of the things that make snorkeling so popular here in Hawaii is how easy it is to do. Buying the simple equipment, a mask, a snorkel, and swim fins, is relatively inexpensive. However, most visitors choose to rent the equipment because it’s bulky and difficult to pack for the trip home.


Safety First, Always

Visitors should always remember that while snorkeling may be easy for even novice swimmers, safety should always be their primary concern. Currents can be quite swift, and if not careful, visitors can find themselves hundreds of yards from where they started. Shoreline rocks are slippery and coral reefs are razor-sharp. Slipping on rocks and reef cuts are a concern, and prickly, venomous sea urchins can cause nasty allergic reactions. So always watch where you step!

Respecting Hawaii Waters

Above all, snorkelers should respect Hawaii’s waters and the species that call them home. Hawaii’s near-shore waters are an extremely fragile ecosystem, and it is the responsibility of everyone who enjoys them to protect them.