With its calm and protected turquoise waters, only a few minutes from the road for Honolulu, Hanauma Bay is the main snorkeling destination on the island of Oahu. Despite some drawbacks –among which are entrance fees and large visitor numbers– the lagoon, nestling in an ancient volcano crater, is ideal for beginners, who can observe diverse underwater life in conditions of optimal safety.

Threadfin butterflyfish at Hanauma Bay, Oahu

How to get there?

Hanauma Bay is about 12 miles (20km) east of Waikiki. Take the Freeway H1 east, which later becomes the Kalanianaole Highway. The site is very well signposted from the main road. Try to arrive early, as parking places are limited ($1 per vehicle) and are very soon taken. It is also easy to get there by public transport. Rather than taking the shuttle service run by the Park, which is quite expensive (from $22 per person for a round-trip ticket), you can take the TheBus line 22 bus from Waikiki, which costs $2.75 for a one-way ticket and will drop you off in front of the Park in around 40 minutes.

Hanauma Bay Oahu snorkeling map

Water entrance

You can enter the water anywhere along the beach, but you should avoid the area across from the channel if you are a beginner, as the current can be quite strong. The information center abounds in tips for exploring the site (circuits, the different areas, descriptions of the species of fish and shellfish, etc.), so make the most if it.

Exploration

The spot offers a number of areas to explore. While beginners will want to stay in the natural pools between the beach and the reef (↕3-7ft/1-2m), experienced snorkelers will prefer (if the sea conditions permit) to swim to the channel and explore the areas beyond the reef, where the waters are deeper (↕+20ft/+6m) and the seabed is of a better quality. This is where you have the best chance of seeing green sea turtles, but they are less easy to observe here than in a number of other spots in the archipelago.

Convict tang at Hanauma Bay, Oahu

In winter and when the sea is rough, the currents and waves can be strong in the channel (well indicated by buoys). Visibility, in fact, is not always ideal. Lifeguards supervise the spot during the site’s opening hours, and they will quickly issue a reminder over their megaphones if you fail to respect the safety rules.

Under the water, you are sure to spot parrotfish, surgeonfish and triggerfish, and a very large number of equally colorful fish, some of which can only be found in Hawaii. The seabeds are rocky and have little coral, especially on the part inside the lagoon.

Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, Oahu

Restaurants & accommodation

The Park has a wide range of restaurants, but prices are high. You can take your own picnic.

Species you may spot while snorkeling Hanauma Bay
COMMON NAME SCIENTIFIC NAME ABUNDANCE FISHBASE WIKIPEDIA
Green sea turtle Chelonia mydas  
Yellow tang Zebrasoma flavescens  
Convict surgeonfish Acanthurus triostegus  
Achilles tang Acanthurus achilles  
Orange band surgeonfish Acanthurus olivaceus  
Sailfin tang Zebrasoma veliferum  
Whitespotted surgeonfish Acanthurus guttatus  
Pearl wrasse Anampses cuvier  
Threadfin butterflyfish Chaetodon auriga  
Fourspot butterflyfish Chaetodon quadrimaculatus  
Bluestripe butterflyfish Chaetodon fremblii  
Moorish idol Zanclus cornutus  
Manybar goatfish Parupeneus multifasciatus  
Bluefin trevally Caranx melampygus  
Reef triggerfish Rhinecanthus rectangulus  
Bluespotted grouper Cephalopholis argus  
Green birdmouth wrasse Gomphosus caeruleus  
  • Level required Beginner
  • Protected areaHanauma Bay Nature Preserve
  • Maximum depth8ft/2.5m in the inner bay, 30ft/9m behind the barrier reef
  • Water entranceEasy, from a sandy beach
  • Potential DangersUsual precautions
  • LifeguardYes
  • Visitor numbersVery high
  • Access costs$7.50 pp. entrance fee, or $25pp. entrance fee + shuttle from Waikiki
  • Restaurants nearbyYes
  • Public toilets & showersYes

MAP Spot

Sea turtle watching in Hanauma Bay

snorkeling-turtle

Sea turtles are a very familiar sight on many snorkeling spots in Hawaii, including Hanauma Bay. In order to be a responsible snorkeler, be sure to respect the following rules when observing them:

  1. Do not attempt to touch or ride sea turtles
  2. Stay at a distance (6 to 10ft) from sea turtles
  3. Do not chase a turtle swimming away
  4. Avoid sudden movement and allow sea turtles plenty of space when they come up to the surface to breathe

These snorkeling spots are accessible to beginners and kids. You will enter the water gradually from a beach, or in a less than 3ft. deep area. The sea is generally calm, shallow, with almost no waves or currents. These spots are usually located in marked and/or monitored swimming areas. It is not necessary to swim long distances to discover the sea life.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.