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Last updated on December 2, 2022
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 good safety conditions.
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. You’ll have the choice between the shuttle service run by the Park (from $22 per person for a round-trip ticket) or the TheBus line 22 from Waikiki, which will drop you off in front of the Park in around 40 minutes.
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 of it.
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 allow) to swim to the channel and explore the areas beyond the reef, where the waters are deeper (↕+20ft/+6m) and the seabed is healthier.
This is where you have the best chance of seeing green sea turtles, but they are less easy to observe here than in many other locations in the archipelago.
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.
Underwater, 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.
The Park has several beach restaurants. You can take your own picnic.
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:
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.
at this spot my love for snorkeling really took off (in 2014).
Great place to start and explore. Calm water, great visibility and lots of different fish.
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Snorkeling spots are part of a wild environment and their aspect can be significantly altered by weather, seasons, sea conditions, human impact and climate events (storms, hurricanes, seawater-warming episodes…). The consequences can be an alteration of the seabed (coral bleaching, coral destruction, and invasive seagrass), a poor underwater visibility, or a decrease of the sea life present in the area. Snorkeling Report makes every effort to ensure that all the information displayed on this website is accurate and up-to-date, but no guarantee is given that the underwater visibility and seabed aspect will be exactly as described on this page the day you will snorkel the spot. If you recently snorkeled this area and noticed some changes compared to the information contained on this page, please contact us.
The data contained in this website is for general information purposes only, and is not legal advice. It is intended to provide snorkelers with the information that will enable them to engage in safe and enjoyable snorkeling, and it is not meant as a substitute for swim level, physical condition, experience, or local knowledge. Remember that all marine activities, including snorkeling, are potentially dangerous, and that you enter the water at your own risk. You must take an individual weather, sea conditions and hazards assessment before entering the water. If snorkeling conditions are degraded, postpone your snorkeling or select an alternate site. Know and obey local laws and regulations, including regulated areas, protected species, wildlife interaction and dive flag laws.
Pipeline and fringing reef with fish and sea turtles
Free shore access
Sheltered rocky bay with many fish
Shallow sandy lagoon with reef fish and sea turtles
Free shore access
Deep offshore area visited by several shark species
Sheltered bay with coral reefs, colorful fish and sea turtles
Shallow reef with a good variety of fish