Maui is the second biggest island in Hawaii and one of the most visited. Along with Big Island, it is one of the best snorkeling destinations in the archipelago. Its 120 miles of coastline are home to dozens of snorkeling sites for all levels, most of them with free shore access. Maui is certainly the best Hawaiian island in which to get up close to green sea turtles (locally known as "honu"), but you can easily snorkel as well with hosts of colorful tropical fish throughout the island.
There are between 20 and 30 good snorkeling spots in Maui, all located along the west coast of the island which is more sheltered from the wind and swells. Most of them are freely accessible from shore.
There are two areas in particular that have the concentration of almost all of the local snorkel sites. The first is the coast of the western part of the island, between Lahaina and Kapalua, and the second is the coastline which stretches from Kihei to Wailea, south of Kahului.
In the northwest area of Maui, the Kapalua region is home to some of Hawaii’s most beautiful spots. Here, several coves with crystal clear waters follow one another along the coast. Most of them are edged by coral reefs.
Honolua Bay, Kapalua Bay and Napili Bay are among the most famous in the area. It is also possible to snorkel Mokuleia Bay and Honokahua Bay from DT Fleming Park, along with Honokeana Bay.
A few miles further south, you’ll reach Kahekili Beach (aka “Airport Beach”), followed by Black Rock, which is just north of Kaanapali Beach. The latter is known for its seabed and its multitude of fish.
If you are staying in Lahaina, you’ll find decent snorkeling at Baby Beach, just north of the town. The coast here is bordered by a small, shallow lagoon, the perfect place if you are snorkeling for the first time.
Canoe Beach and Wahikuli State Park, about 2 miles north of the port, are also good spots to snorkel in. Puamana Beach Park and Lainiupoko Beach Park south of town, are some of the other options around Lahaina. Their underwater life does not, however, equal that of the spots around Kapalua.
In the south part of the island, the coast of Kihei and Makena is also home to awesome snorkeling spots. The most famous of these is undoubtedly Turtle Town, where you can swim with green sea turtles. The turtles can be encountered from the beach or during boat trips, which is the only safe way to reach the areas located far from shore.
While turtles are easy to see in Turtle Town, they are also very common in most other spots on this part of the coast. Poolenalena Beach, Wailea Beach and Big Beach are particularly famous for spotting “honu”, the Hawaiian name for the green sea turtle.
A few miles further south, near the southern tip of Maui, the coast is shaped by lava flows from the Haleakala volcano. On this jagged and mineral coastline, you can get in the water at two great spots located in an entirely natural setting: The Ahihi Kinau marine reserve and, 1.4 miles further south, La Perouse Bay.
While most of Maui’s spots are accessible from the shore, you’ll need to book a boat trip to explore Molokini, off Wailea. This ancient volcanic crater, partly submerged and very photogenic, is one of the emblematic sites of the island.
You will be able to find many boat tours to take you to Molokini. This tour is more for the beauty of the site, because the coral reefs sheltered by the crater are not as spectacular as some other spots of the coast.
Maui is particularly famous for turtle watching, as many of these creatures find refuge near the coast of the island. You can see green sea turtles in many spots, especially in the Wailea region.
Maui’s reefs, rich in fish, are among the most spectacular and best-preserved in the archipelago. The waters are inhabited by a great diversity of colorful fish, such as the yellow tang, the yellow longnose butterflyfish, the Moorish Idol, the reef triggerfish (the state fish of Hawaii), and the ornate butterflyfish. Many colorful red pencil urchins also live on the reefs.
Snorkeling in Hawaii soon? Take with you a Fish ID Book, an essential tool to help you identify the fish you see underwater. Hawaii’s Fishes : A Guide for Snorkelers and Divers (including fish species found only in Hawaii) and Reef Fish Identification Tropical Pacific (including marine fishes ranging from Thailand to Tahiti, and includes Hawaii) are the two essential reference guides every snorkeler should have.
There are two main seasons in Hawaii. The summer, from May to October, is the warmest, driest and sunniest season (with an average of 80°F/26.5°C, and maximum temperatures of 85°F/29.5°C). This is also the hurricane season, but fortunately they are rare in the North Pacific.
In winter, from November to April, the weather is wetter and more changeable with intermittent tropical rains and sunny spells. The air is cooler (an average of 75°F/24°C, with maximum temperatures of 78°F/25.5°C).
As often happens in tropical islands, the windward coast of Maui (the west) is dryer and more sheltered. Most of the snorkeling spots are concentrated there. On the North Shore, especially in Honolua Bay, the wind and the swell makes snorkeling unsafe some days.
The water temperature can fall to 73°F/23°C in winter, and reach a peak of 84°F/29°C at the heart of the summer (June to September).
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Frequently sighted all around the island; don’t miss Turtle Town, common in Molokini Crater
Common on all spots, occasionally in large schools
On all spots
On all spots; present in large numbers at Ahihi Kinau and Napili Bay
On all spots, generally seen by pairs
Marine reserve with a fringing reef and many fish
Free shore access
Reef drop off and sandy beds with sea turtles
Immersed volcanic crater with coral, reef fish and turtles
Shallow reef with a good variety of fish
Free shore access
Sheltered bay with coral reefs, colorful fish and sea turtles
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