Maui has more miles of swimmable beach than any other Hawaiian island; wade into the water surrounding this picturesque slice of paradise, and you’re bound to spot colorful fish, octopus and sea turtles through the crystal clear water. Add to that an average summertime water temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and you have perfect snorkeling conditions. But not all snorkeling spots on Maui are created equal. For the island’s calmest water, best reefs and most abundant sea life, we recommend these three snorkeling spots.
Situated on the northwestern edge of Maui, Honolua Bay is protected as a Marine Life Conservation District. Fishing is off limits here, making the sea life density particularly high — butterfly fish, parrot fish, trigger fish, peacock bass, eels and barracuda are common here. Cliffs encircle the bay and protect it from Maui’s afternoon wind, so the water is usually calm here, too (with the exception of the surf break on the bay’s north end). This spot has helped make Honolua Bay a favorite with surfers, who know the waves here as among the most perfect in Hawaii. The waves usually stay far enough from the beach that they don’t interfere with snorkeling. To access the best snorkeling, head to the rocky area on the beach’s north side. A high concentration of coral (and thus, fish) sits just beyond the shore. Be careful entering the water, as the rocks can be slippery.
To book a tour, consult companies such as Trilogy or Teralani. Since the Trilogy tour departs at 8 a.m., breakfast is included along with a teriyaki barbecue chicken lunch and nonalcoholic beverages. The Teralani tour leaves at 11 a.m. daily (except Saturdays) and includes a buffet-style deli lunch and open bar.
Molokini is perhaps Maui’s most dramatic snorkeling spot — the crescent-shaped island is actually a dormant volcano that has eroded over the centuries. Molokini sits about three miles off Maui’s southwest coast and, from the surface, doesn’t look like much: It’s a barren, brown half-moon of rock smeared by bird droppings (it’s also a state bird sanctuary). But below the water, the rock turns to colorful coral making up a Marine Life Conservation District. No fishing is allowed, and only registered tour boats can visit so be sure to book a trip with a tour company to get to the island. The water is often choppy until you enter the semi-circle, where the waves die down significantly. Visibility here is excellent, sometimes exceeding 200 feet, though the best snorkeling is closer to the cliffs; just be careful not to let the current pull you into their sharp edges.
The best way to experience this secluded beach’s snorkeling is to book a five-hour snorkeling tour through Viator. The tour includes transportation to and from the island from Maalaea Harbor, breakfast, a barbecue lunch and unlimited beer, wine and soft drinks.
On the island’s dry southern end, Maluaka Beach — commonly known by locals as Turtle Town — stretches from Nahuna Point to Black Sand Beach near Makena. Maluaka Beach is just south of the popular resort area Wailea, but you won’t find this beach clogged with visitors and you certainly won’t be starved for enough personal space to fully enjoy the view beneath the water’s surface; the beach’s entrance is off the beaten path a bit, at the end of Makena Road, so most visitors completely miss it. There is a small parking lot with bathrooms and outdoor showers on Makena Road, just before the road ends (if you get lost, look for the parking lot across from the Keawalai Congregational Church). The massive Haleakala volcano slumbers behind the beach, blocking it from Hawaii’s treacherous trade winds and the accompanying waves. Drag your snorkeling gear to the south end of the beach, where the sand ends and the rocks and coral begin. This area is where you’ll find big schools of fish and plenty of turtles, eels, octopi and sea urchins.
Pride of Maui offers a five-hour snorkeling tour that includes a stop at Turtle Town as well as Molokini. The tour includes a breakfast of homemade muffins, fruit, coffee and juice, an open bar and lunch of cheeseburgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken and fresh vegetables and pasta salad.
Photo Courtesy of Ron Dahlquist Photography