Top 6 Maui Snorkeling Spots
Maui features some of the most vibrant and accessible coastlines of the Hawaiian Islands. You will find amazing Maui snorkeling at almost any beach you visit. We picked our top 6 Maui snorkeling spots to share with you, but only on the westside. Why only West Maui? While there are several beautiful sites in South Maui, as well as the famous Molokini crater, Banyan Tree Divers are experts in exploring the Lahaina area. Read on for the inside scoop!
Best Beaches to Snorkel near Lahaina
#1 Honolua Bay Beach, Maui
Honolua Bay is, without a doubt, one of the best Maui snorkeling spots. Just before mile marker 33 in northwest Maui, you will see a small parking area to your left. There are fruit stands and a few public port-o-toilets before you enter the enchanted forest! The path to the snorkel spot is breathtaking and worth taking some time to explore. The light coming through the trees makes for some excellent photo opportunities.
Once you reach the water’s edge, you will notice that mostly rocks border the site. There isn’t much of a beach. Therefore it is beneficial to have water shoes or some sort of foot protection as you venture out into the water. The entrance is an old boat ramp and can be very slippery, so go slowly. If you are looking at the water, the best bit of snorkeling is on the right side of the bay. The swim to the reef and crystal clear water is a bit long, so it is crucial that you are a comfortable swimmer for this site, or at least take a flotation device.
What will I see?
Honolua Bay boasts a variety of well recognized Maui fish, including Yellow Tang, Moorish Idol, butterflyfish, and trumpetfish. Turtle sightings are always possible here, but not guaranteed. Look for spiny lobster nestled beneath the coral ledges!
Honolua Bay is flat calm with clear water during the summer months. But during wintertime, Maui snorkeling at this particular site is likely to be wavy and dangerous. If there are any waves at the site, then the visibility will not be ideal, and it is not worth putting yourself in danger. Honolua Bay is a popular snorkel spot. If no one else is in the water, the chances are likely that it’s best to remain on the shore and take in the magnificent views.
#2 Black Rock Beach, Maui
Black Rock is quite possibly one of the most popular places for snorkeling on Maui. Located directly in front of the Sheraton Ka’anapali, you will find a dramatic lava rock formation. Here it is believed that the souls of ancient Hawaiians leaped into the afterlife. Underwater you will find a beautiful coral reef to explore. During whale season, you will hear whale songs while you cruise along the rock formation looking at sea life.
Parking for Kaanapali Beach is in the paid lot at Whaler’s Village. There are free beach parking spots at some of the hotels, but spaces are limited. Public restrooms are only at Whaler’s Village, which is about a 10-minute walk from the snorkel site, so plan accordingly.
What Will I See?
We tend to see an array of different kinds of triggerfish at Black Rock, as well as squirrelfish and big schools of goatfish. Turtles are frequent visitors, and if you are fortunate, there is a chance to see a Hawaiian monk seal that often visits the north side of Black Rock. Spotted eagle rays are sometimes a lucky sight as well.
We can’t stress this enough about this particular Maui snorkeling location: snorkel with a buddy! If you plan to venture around the corner toward north Black Rock, you MUST be a strong swimmer. Strong currents are frequent once you leave the bay, and there are no lifeguards on duty. Swimming against the strong current to get back to shore is not a leisurely snorkel experience by most standards. Be smart!
#3 Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui
Nestled between the Montage and Merriman’s restaurant, Kapalua Bay is one of West Maui’s most tranquil settings. That is when the beach isn’t jam-packed on a sunny, calm day. The beach itself is small, but there is excellent snorkeling on either side of the cove, which spreads out the swimmers quite nicely.
There is a small public parking lot between Napili Kai Resort and Merriman’s restaurant. The public restrooms are available as well as two outdoor showers. If you arrive at this beach past 9 am, don’t even bother turning into the parking lot. It will be full. There is parking along the road, but make sure that you are not blocking any part of the street and park legally. If you visit during Merriman’s restaurant hours, take advantage of the valet parking, perhaps stop for a drink or appetizer at the bar, and enjoy a late afternoon snorkel.
What will I see?
Turtles are seen frequently as this site. They like to rest in the safety of the bay. There is a resident white tip reef shark that rests in about 3ft of water close to shore. Don’t be afraid! Reef sharks are much more fearful of us than we are of them. They feed on small fish, and we are not on their menu. We often see juvenile spotted moray eels, and if you are lucky, there is a resident dragon moray eel that sometimes pops his head out of the coral. A rare sight indeed!
This Maui snorkeling spot has an easy entry and exit, which is helpful for those who aren’t used to swimming in the ocean. BUT, the coral starts reasonably quickly as you begin to swim away from shore. The coral is shallow. DO NOT STAND ON THE CORAL!! Not only is it razor sharp and potentially harmful to you, but coral is also alive, and you will kill it by standing on it. This behavior is one of the things we see from ill-informed tourists that makes our blood boil. Don’t be one of them!
There are sometimes waves that break offshore in the middle of the bay, especially during the winter. If you see large waves, then the visibility will most likely be reduced. Those waves run over a shallow underwater plateau. That is not where you want to be snorkeling unless you want to go for a machine wash ride.
As with any snorkel site, do not get in the water if you are not a strong swimmer. We have personally rescued a panicked snorkeler at this beach who barely knew how to swim. If you are not a strong swimmer, then use a flotation device!
#4 Airport Beach (Kahekili Beach Park), Maui
Kahekili Beach Park, or Airport Beach as it is known locally, is not only one of Banyan Tree Divers’ favorite Maui dive sites. It is also a great Maui snorkeling spot. There is a well-developed reef that extends along the coastline. It starts almost immediately and ends in about 25ft of water. Therefore, you do not have to venture far from shore to see all of the beautiful sea life populating this protected area.
The public beach park has ample parking and public restrooms. Therefore, Kahekili Beach Park is one of the most friendly locations to visitors not staying at one of the many Ka’anapali resorts that flank the coast. The beach is large and extends almost as far as the eye can see in either direction. Enter the water in a sandy nook to don your snorkel gear as the coral starts almost immediately, and you do not want to endure coral cut injuries.
What Will I See?
What won’t you see! Airport Beach has a vast array of Maui fish, including Picasso triggerfish, ornate butterflyfish, goatfish, and slender trumpetfish. Turtles pass through looking for an algae snack. Scorpionfish can be found here and are a perfect reason not to touch anything! They look exactly like rocks, and touching one will swell your hand up like a baseball mitt.
Kaanapali Beach is a long stretch of beach, and surface currents are often present. Always swim with a buddy at Airport Beach. It is easy to get carried away and swept far away from your exit point. Pick a reference onshore so that you always know where you are.
This beach is famous for snorkeling, diving, and swimming. As a result, the water can get crowded from time to time. It is a good idea to look up every once in a while and make sure that you don’t collide with other ocean goers.
Just like any other ocean swimming location, assess the conditions before you enter the water. If in doubt, don’t go out!
#5 Olowalu Beach Mile Marker 14, Maui
Olowalu Beach features one of the oldest and best-developed Maui reef systems. The shallow bay has had protection from storms and waves over the years, providing corals the safety to flourish into a massive reef.
It’s easy to reach this vast snorkeling spot. If you are driving south out of Lahaina on Honoapiilani Highway, then you will see the sign for Mile Marker 14 about two minutes past the fruit stand and Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop (great pies and food!).
The narrow beach here is best accessed by safely pulling off the road and parking amongst the trees. There are no restroom facilities, but this idyllic beach is well worth a visit. The water is calm, and you can meander in the ocean for ages through reef channels leading out to deeper water. The dramatic backdrop of the West Maui mountains creates stunning views from the sea.
What Will I See?
Yellow tang and parrotfish are stars of the show at this site. Large schools of juvenile parrotfish can graze on the coral and remove the overgrowth of algae. This necessary symbiotic relationship keeps the coral healthy and the parrotfish fed. Turtles curl up for naps in the coral ridges as well as the occasional white tip reef shark.
This site is VERY shallow in the beginning. At low tide, it is all too easy to get trapped and raked across coral if there is any water movement for which you are not ready. If you see exposed coral, then it is probably a good idea not to snorkel until the tide rises. It is best to follow the sandy channels that lead to deeper water and always be aware of what is around you. As mentioned before, please DO NOT STAND UP ON CORAL. Just don’t do it.
#6: Napili Bay Beach, Maui
Napili Bay might be one of the best sunbathing beaches on the west side. The shade is limited, so unless you are looking to maximize that tan (hopefully applying your reef-safe sunscreen and skipping the sunburn), then bring your own. As of 2019, marked parking spots got added to the street leading up to the beach. These new stalls have cut down the parking chaos, though spill over into the street still happens. Just like Kapalua Bay, make sure you aren’t blocking the road and park legally. Napili Bay can also be crowded during the day but has a more extensive beach than Kapalua Bay.
The entry is sandy and most ideal for beginners. But unlike some other Maui snorkeling locations, the coral is only located on the sides of the bay. The middle section is only flat sand. This layout means there is less chance of you stepping on coral and harming it.
Unfortunately, we have seen a decline in the abundance of coral at this particular bay. The Napili Bay and Beach Foundation operate as a nonprofit, taking significant steps toward beach restoration and implementing artificial reef structures to encourage more coral growth.
All good deeds cost money, however, and they are looking for tax-deductible donations to see this project to the end. If you want to contribute to a community effort to keep Napili Bay beautiful for future generations, then please consider donating napilibayfoundation.org.
What Will I See?
With an abundant sandy bottom, flounder are frequent residents. They blend in really well with the sand, and spotting them will take a keen eye. Octopus is one possible sight to see here, as well as turtles.
Flat calm here means a good snorkeling experience, while any waves often lead to a bad one. We have already talked about this, and the notion still applies!
We must confess, as scuba divers, we might be partial to spending time underwater as opposed to its surface. However, scuba diving is not for everyone! Snorkeling provides a safe and fun way to experience sea life without all of the heavy equipment and dive lessons. Once you have experienced Maui snorkeling, you will likely feel a closer connection to the underwater world that so many of us land-dwellers never even get to see. Careful, snorkeling on Maui might just get you interested in a new scuba diving hobby.
In 2020 Banyan Tree Divers will be offering guided snorkel tours in addition to scuba diving lessons, trips, and PADI certification courses. Give us a call at (808) 446-6099 to make a reservation, or contact us via email.
Thank you for reading!