Top 6 Maui Snorkeling Spots
Maui features some of the most vibrant and accessible coastlines of the Hawaiian Islands. You will find excellent Maui snorkeling at almost any beach you visit. We picked our top 6 Maui snorkeling spots to share with you, but only on the west side. Why only West Maui? While there are several beautiful South Maui sites, like the famous Molokini crater, Banyan Tree Divers Maui loves to explore Lahaina and Ka’anapali. Read on for the inside scoop!
The Best Snorkeling is 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 notice that lava rocks border the entry to the site. There is not much of a beach! Therefore it is beneficial to have water shoes or foot protection as you venture 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 long, so you must be a comfortable swimmer or use a flotation device.
What will I see at Honolua Bay Beach?
Honolua Bay boasts many 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!
Ocean Safety Precautions
Swimming at Honolua Bay during the summer months features calm and clear water. But wintertime at this famous Maui snorkeling site brings powerful and potentially dangerous waves. When waves are present, visibility will not be ideal, and it is not worth putting yourself in danger. 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. You will find a dramatic lava rock formation in front of the Sheraton Kaanapali. Here it is believed that the souls of ancient Hawaiians leaped into the afterlife. Underwater you will find a beautiful coral reef to explore. You will hear whale songs while you cruise along the rock formation looking at sea life during whale season.
Parking for Kaanapali Beach is in the paid lot at Whaler’s Village. There are complimentary beach parking spots at some of the hotels, but spaces are limited. Public restrooms are only at Whaler’s Village, about a 10-minute walk from the snorkel site, so plan accordingly.
What Will I See at Black Rock Beach?
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.
Ocean Safety Precautions
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 ocean currents are frequent once you leave the bay, and there are no lifeguards on duty. When trying to get back to shore, swimming against the ocean makes for a problematic snorkel experience. Please take care of yourself and snorkel safely!
#3 Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui
Nestled between the Montage Kapalua Bay Resort and Merriman’s Kapalua restaurant, Kapalua Bay remains one of West Maui’s most tranquil settings. That is when the horseshoe-shaped 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. The size of the bay helps to spread out all of the swimmers and snorkelers quite nicely.
There is a small public parking lot between Napili Kai Resort and Merriman’s. The public restrooms are available as well as two outdoor showers. Don’t even bother trying to park here if you arrive here past 9 am because the parking lot will already be filled-up. There is overflow parking along the main road, but it is a tight fit. Take care that your car is not blocking any part of the street and park legally. If you visit during the restaurant’s open hours, take advantage of their valet parking, stop in for a drink and appetizer at the bar, and enjoy a late afternoon Maui snorkeling adventure.
What will I see at Kapalua Bay Beach?
Turtles get frequently seen at this site. They like to rest in the safety of the bay. Sometimes a resident white-tip reef shark rests in about 3 feet of water. This is somewhat close to shore, but try not to be nervous or afraid! Reef sharks are more fearful of people, so we can relax around them. White-tip reef sharks mainly feed on small fish, meaning snorkelers are not included in their daily menu!
As you traverse the bay, you can also see juvenile spotted moray eels, and when lucky, a resident dragon moray eel sometimes pops his head out of the coral. A rare sight indeed!
Ocean Safety Precautions
This Maui snorkeling spot has an easy entry and exit, which helps anyone who is not already comfortable 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 breaking offshore in the middle of the bay, especially during the winter months. If you see large waves, then visibility underwater gets 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.
Do not get in the water if you are not a strong swimmer like any snorkel site. 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
Known locally as Kahekili Beach Park, Airport Beach is one of our dive shop’s favorite Maui scuba diving sites. But what makes Airport Beach extra perfect is that it’s also a great snorkeling spot. There is a well-developed reef that extends south and north along the coastline. As you enter, the corals start almost immediately and extend out from shore to a depth of 25 feet. You do not have to venture far from the beach to see all of the beautiful Maui sea life populating this protected area.
The public beach park has ample parking and public restrooms. making Kahekili Beach Park a friendly location for visitors not staying at one of the many Kaanapali resorts. 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 and you will find that the coral starts almost immediately. Make sure to keep your feet up so you do not invite cuts from a coral injury.
What Will I See at Airport Beach?
Airport Beach has a vast array of special 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.
Ocean Safety Precautions
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 good to look up every once and ensure 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 at Olowalu Beach?
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. It is all too easy to get trapped and raked across coral at low tide. If there is any water movement, you are not ready. If you see exposed coral, it is probably a good idea not to snorkel until it rises. It is best to follow the sandy channels that lead to deeper water and always be aware of your surroundings. 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 spillover 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 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. However, all good deeds cost money, so they are looking for tax-deductible donations. If you want to contribute to this community effort to keep Napili Bay beautiful for future generations, please consider donating to napilibayfoundation.org.
What Will I See at Napili Bay?
The sandy bottom at Napili Bay Beach features residents like the Peacock Flounder. These unusual fish blend in so well with their environment that spotting them takes a keen eye and a bit of luck. As you explore the bay, you might also see a Red Octopus or Hawaiian Green Turtle.
Ocean Safety Precautions
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!
As scuba divers, we confess that we might be partial to spending more time underwater than on its surface. However, scuba diving is not for everyone! Snorkeling provides a safe and fun way to experience sea life without heavy equipment and scuba diving lessons. Once you have experienced snorkeling near Lahaina, you will likely feel a closer connection to the underwater world that many land-dwellers never get to see. Your Maui snorkeling adventures might even get you interested in exploring scuba diving as a new hobby.
Banyan Tree Divers Maui offers private snorkeling experiences in addition to scuba diving lessons, tours, and PADI certification courses in Lahaina. Give us a call at (808) 446-6099 to make your reservation or contact us via email.