Located at the southwest tip of Rarotonga Island, Aroa Beach is widely considered as one of the best snorkeling spots in the Cook Islands. Located in a shallow lagoon and protected from the surf, Aroa Marine Reserve is home to an incredible variety of reef fish. Access to the spot is free, all the more reason to go there if you visit “Raro”.

Threadfin butterflyfish at Aroa Beach
The threadfin butterflyfish is one of the many butterflyfish species you may spot at Aroa Beach.

How to get to Aroa Marine Reserve snorkeling spot?

The Aroa Marine Reserve is located in the lagoon that faces Aroa Beach, at the southwestern tip of Rarotonga. Aroa Beach is free to access, like all the Cook Islands beaches. If you are staying at The Rarotongan Beach Resort and Lagoonarium, the spot is just a few steps from your room.

Aroa Marine Reserve snorkeling map

Water entrance for snorkeling Aroa Marine Reserve

You can enter from anywhere on Aroa Beach.

Aroa Marine Reserve snorkeling exploration

It is a safe spot to snorkel as the marine reserve is within a fringing coral reef border that protects you from any large marine life (so there are no sharks), and also there is no surf – it is a lagoon. The snorkeling spot covers a large area, so some people may like to wear a life jacket while snorkeling. There is a current that runs close to the shore (to the left when you are facing the ocean). Depth does not exceed 6ft/2m in the lagoon, making it a perfect spot to enjoy the sea life from the surface.

Burrowing sea urchin at Aroa Beach
Burrowing sea urchin are very common in Aroa Beach lagoon.

Near the beach, the seabed is mostly sandy, but you can see many fish (especially bluefin trevally and blue sea chub), which seem to be sometimes fed by swimmers. To reach the coral areas, move away from the beach. The first coral gardens start about 100m from the shore. To explore them, you can follow the directions of the resort, which suggests several itineraries in the lagoon (see map).

Yellow-brown wrasse at Aroa Beach
Yellow-brown wrasse can be very inquisitive with snorkelers.

The corals are unfortunately in quite bad condition in the lagoon, but here and there some hard coral colonies are still preserved. Giant clams, sea urchins and blue starfish live on the rocks. By swimming over the reef, you will see dozens of species of colored fish, in particular wrasse, butterflyfish, Moorish idols and parrotfish. On the sand, you will have a good chance to encounter a peacock flounder, rather common on this spot (often well camouflaged on the sand).

Restaurants and accommodation near Aroa Beach

The Rarotongan Beach Resort and Lagoonarium is located on the beach, opposite the spot. The Kaena Restaurant, which offers burgers and drinks, is across the road (near the public beach access).

Learn more 👇 about the creatures living in Aroa Beach with Ambrose

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  • Level required Beginner
  • Protected areaAroa Marine Reserve
  • Maximum depth6ft/2m
  • Water entranceFrom a sandy beach
  • Visitor numbersMedium to high
  • Access costsFree
  • Restaurants nearbyYes

MAP Spot

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.