Best Maui Snorkeling Sites – The Best Spots on Maui, Hawaii for Snorkeling – South Maui

Maui is an island blessed with miles of calm and protected coastline, lined with coral reefs, beaches, and bays that make for some of the best and most accessible snorkeling in the world. This array of jewels makes Snorkelling one of Maui’s most popular activities. However, there are naturally better and worse locations to take a dip, and this Guide to the Best Maui Snorkelling Sites will show you all the best locations to get a glimpse of the best of Maui’s magical underwater world.

In this guide we focus on the best spots in South Maui for snorkeling, simply as when we lumped the whole island together it just became too enormous. We have put this guide together from real experience from snorkeling extensively around the Maui Coastline. South Maui has some incredible locations but there are also some less fantastic places to snorkel, while you can safely enjoy a snorkel in these spots the fact is just a few miles down the coast will likely be a world-beating spot and it really pays to swim in the right place.

Best Maui Snorkeling Sites - South Maui Snorkeling Spots
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For Simplicity Our Guide Goes from north to south, from Maalaea down the coast to La Perouse Bay. We will highlight experience level, Entry difficulty, Consistency, and How much Life is visible. We are not rating these sites but trying to explain which is more suitable to different levels of snorkeller. The “BEST” site might be completely unsuitable to certain SNorkellers, whereas “easy and accessible” might suit others but not be enough for experienced snorkelers. We focus on all types.

Some sites crop up time and again in guides and online but we have tried them and found them wanting so we try and mention these to warn you and offer alternatives. We will highlight the common animals seen at these sites but remember Wildlife is Fickle and changes by the hour. You could spot almost anything at any site also so just keep your eyes peeled as most of our best finds are unexpected.

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We feel we are uniquely placed to offer this advice. We have a very mixed ability level that allows us to access safety and suitability along with really heavy exploring on each site. I myself am a very accomplished swimmer. I swim at a high level in competitive endurance events. I mention this not to show off but to highlight my ability to enter the water and then cover pretty much the entire site.

However, this ability also means I can safely go where others really shouldn’t. The ability to swim 5 miles no stop at a good pace, means nowhere in Maui is really off-limits. But this leads me to think places may be safe when really they are a bit dicey. Kate is very much the opposite of me and keeps me grounded. It’s very clear when a site is a bit iffy as Kate will refuse to go near and gets quickly out of her comfort zone. This unique combo lets easily assess and rate sites and find the best kind of snorkeling location for all types of Snorkeller.

Snorkeling Safety !!!

The Brutal Reality is that snorkeling is not a safe activity. Millions of tourists take a dip every year and almost all of them make it out unscathed. However, the leading cause of accidental deaths of tourists in Hawaii is drowning, not all of these are snorkeling but the figure is around 50%! That is a lot of dream vacations turned into nightmares! The stunning placed water lures us into thinking nothing could possibly go wrong and the water is totally benign and safe, but the reality is quite different.

Strong Currents, sudden shore breaks, overexertions, hidden rocks and coral, and overestimation of ability can all lead you into difficulty. We mention this not to scare you out of the water, but to understand the reality and try to keep you safe and in the water.

We have a full article on Ocean Safety here we suggest you read before heading in. We also state clearly in our site recommendations below if a location is beginner-friendly. Moderate means experienced but not overly fit, whereas advanced means you are so competent you can do your own risk assessment and assume any risks yourself. I consider myself advanced but that doesn’t mean I am immune, just if I get in trouble, it’s definitely MY fault!

Marine Life in Maui

Napili Turtle

The Underwater World is TEAMING with Marine life, from a stunning array of reef fish to oceanic Pelagic Species, and of course the majestic Honu, Green Sea Turtles. For a more detailed look at Maui’s Marine life check out our Hawaiian Reef Fish Guide.

We often use the term “Usual Reef Fish” when new talk about what you can see. Whenever a good reef structure appears the same usual suspects appear too. These are yellow and convict Tangs, Hawaiian Sergents, Butterflyfish, humuhumu, Unicornfiash, surgeonfish, triggerfish, and various small cleaner wrasses. Basically everything in our “common” section of our reef fish guide. So when we say “usual reef fish” that is what we are talking about, it saves us reeling off this list every time. They are almost always available at most reef sites. We try and point out the differences between them rather than just repeating the same long list.

Seen Something you do not recognize?

Head over to our Reef Fish Identification Guide and drop us a comment. We have helped dozens of people ID their finds while out snorkeling in Hawaii.

Best South Maui Snorkelling Sites and Beaches.

Looking for West Maui?

This Article deals only with South Maui Snorkel Sites. For West Maui Sites, head to Part 1 of this article that deals with all of West Maui’s Best Sites. Or check out Part 3 that discusses alternatives to the regular shore sites such as boat trips or hidden gems sites.

Maalaea Beach, Sugar Beach, and Khei Beach

The South Maui Coastline starts at Maalaea Harbour and runs all the way through to La Perouse Bay. The first 7 or 8 miles of this coast are beautiful sandy beaches with stunning mountain backdrops and can appear to be the perfect snorkeling locations.

However, none are very good. The water here is a bit of a dead zone and accumulates a lot of the sediment and runoff from the island and the channel. The water is a bit murky and the sea life is not so good.

That is not to say there is no snorkeling here. If your resort is along this coastline then you might see something on good days. There are a few nice reefs off Kaipukaihina Beach, although they are way offshore, and there are tons of turtles along Maalaea Beach, but there is no obvious congregation so it’s hit and miss.

More often than not the water clarity is not up to it though and the snorkeling here is disappointing, certainly in comparison to the rest of the coast. So while if the water looks good you can venture in if you are staying here, we do not recommend heading here with the intention to snorkel!

Do not worry too much, it gets a lot better further south!

Kamaole I, II, & III

Kamaole I Beach
  • Experience Level: Beginner-Advanced
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Excellent
  • Wild Life: Excellent
  • More Details…

The Kamaole Beaches are a series of 3 Beaches separated by small rock outcrops situated along the Kihei Coastline. The thee beaches are called Kamaole I, Kamaole II, and Kamaole III. Individually all three beaches are great snorkeling spots but really we treat them as one, mainly as the rocky outcrops that make up the snorkeling spots straddle the partitions between the beaches, and these outcrops are all that really turn the beach into three separate beaches.

At the Northern end of Kamaole is a section called Charley Young Beach but there is no clear defining line, between Charley Young and Kamaole I. Snorkelling on this top end is not the best and can be discounted. The area is more sheltered and really quite shallow, so great for young kids, but the water is a little murky, and while there is some structure the marine life is not great. The best Snorkelling occurs as you move south along the beaches.

Kamaole I is our favorite beach, it’s wide, long, and sandy, all things that make it poor for snorkeling, but there is plenty of parking and at the southern end the rocks that separate it from Kamaole II off fantastic snorkeling opportunities.

Kamaole II is nicely sheltered and feels a little less built-up it’s still a nice sandy beach and has great snorkeling on the two rocky ends. There is less parking at Kameole II and as a whole is a little quieter.

Kameole III is where the Snorkelling really takes off. The Beach is the worst for bathing as there are copious rocks to bang your feet on as you wade in, but these are what attract the fish in. Still, the best Snorkelling is on the southern end. Here the sand dries up and a rocky bottom takes over with an extensive reef. This attracts fish into the ecosystem and the ack of sand helps keep the water clearer.

Depending on your swimming ability you can swim right around the headland enjoying the rocky bottom, reef, and extensive sea life!

However, we think the best beach for snorkeling is all three! Start at Kamaole I, swim around the rocky outcrops exploring the nooks and crannies, then pop up at the beach, walk down (you could swim but it’s a LONG way) then jump back in at the outcrops between Kamaole II and III. Again after exploring this area stroll down Kamaole III and jump back in at the end and explore the headland.

This works out at between 1000-1500 meters of swimming depending on how far you explore at the end of Kamaole III. This is quite a lot, but as you get tired you are never swimming away from shore so can always call time early and explore another part another day. But overall you are covering a huge amount of reef area, directly from shore with a minimal amount of swimming.

What you can see:

The full gamut of Hawaiian Reef Marine Life can be seen from these three beaches. Turtles are pretty much a given, Eagle Rays regularly patrol the sandy bottoms and glide close by to the reef. Large Chubb and Bluefin Trevally patrol the deeper channels and the rocks and crevices will be filled with colorful reef fish.

There is little deep water nearby so you will be limited to inshore fish with little chance of larger pelagics.

Overall it’s a fantastic spot for snorkeling, the Park is super accessible, the entry is as easy as they get and the varied seafloor and multiple snorkeling spots in one location mean there is always something to see.

The only downside is the large amount of sand on the three beaches means the water can color -up if there are larger swells. If there is any shore-break, then snorkeling is not the best idea but it’s also fairly pointless and the disturbed sandy bottom will drastically reduce visibility. This can then last several days after the swells have died back.

The good news is this is fairly uncommon. In Summer it’s almost always calm and only when the wind blows just right in winter does it really suffer any swell. It’s awful for surfing, great for snorkeling.

Full Guide to Kamaole I, II, III Beach Parks


Keawakapu Beach

Keawakapu beach
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Good
  • Wild Life: OK
  • More Details

As you move south from Kamaole the beach dries up a little and becomes a rocky headland, here the famous Kehei Boat ramp is located. The South Kehei road starts to move away from the coast before turning uphill into the high-end upmarket Wailea Area. It is this inland direction that causes many to miss out on Keawakapu Beach.

The name means Forbidden Cove (or Forbidden Harbour to be more accurate) and today is no longer forbidden in any way, but it is often overlooked.

This near-mile-long stretch of Golden Sandy Beach is a real paradise and feels like a lost oasis. While it is much Quieter than Kamaole, you can still expect plenty of visitors here as although many people drive right by there are plenty of resorts and hotels lining the beach whose guests are well aware of its presence.

Snorkeling is good here, especially when calm in the summer. There can be a fairly hefty shore break that complicates matters but you can get out beyond this there are several reefs and spots of interest. These are easy to find as the soft sandy beach gives way to rocky patches where you can enter the water to explore. Both ends of the beach offer rocky seafloors to explore.

Keawakapu Sat View
You can see the reefs clearly in this Keawakapu Sat image

You can also keep heading along the shoreline to Mokapu Beach which offers more snorkeling opportunities including a stunning headland that we discussed next as it forms the border to Ulua Beach

What you can see:

There will be lots of brightly colored Reef Fish typical of Maui’s inshore reefs. Turtles are also abundant here with many resident individuals enjoying the calm and serene bay.

Read our Full Guide to Keawakapu Beach here with info on how to get there and parking etc.


Ulua Beach

Ulua Beach Rocks
  • Experience Level: Beginner-Advanced
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Good
  • Wild Life: Excellent
  • More Details…

Ulua Beach has excellent parking and is quite secluded and quiet for a South Maui Beach. The Area is lined by high-end hotels but these seem to focus their guests on either Mokapu or Wailea Beach, leaving Ulua fairly untouched.

It is a wonderful beach but a little rocky, especially at the water entry. This pus people off but actually attracts wildlife. The northern end of the beach is a great place to see turtles, and they do haul out here on occasion.

There are two main spots for snorkeling. The large submerged reef at the northern end, separating Mokapu from Ulua, and the low cliffs at the southern end. The Central beach area is poor, as there is lots of sand a little structure. But it’s actually better than most due to the rocks and that is present, but it’s still nothing more than a training ground.

The Top Reef is a really excellent spot. This is a lava flow that has been almost completely eroded and now sits large underwater with only the very tips still poking out. This structure provides a large refuge for fish, turtles, and coral. It is 400x400ft wide and offers hours of exploration. You can explore this from either Mokapu or Ulua.

The bottom area is more advanced. It requires you to leave the bay and swim around the headland. This limits opportunities for retreat and the current can be against your return. This is no issue for stringer swimmers but it’s possible to find yourself cut off from returning to the beach.

The Good news is if that happens you can simply go with the current, Wailea Beach is only 2000ft away along the coast. That’s a fair swim but you will only be forced to make this if the current is flowing in that direction so it’s a pretty easy glide. We do not advise this, and you should check the current flow before venturing too far. Just hold in the water and see which way you float, and how fast. There is also a couple of black sand beached you can try hauling out on partway too but DO NOT haul out on the rocks.

Most of the time the current is pretty benign, and when the surf is low this location offers excellent remote snorkeling with a lot of fish and some deeper water that may hold big stuff.

Ulua Beach Sat snorkeling

What you can see:

This is one of the best spots in the south for Honu sightings. There is a large population on the reef that separates Ulua and Mokapu and turtle sightings are all but guaranteed here. Turtles are incredibly common all along the coast but for an all but guaranteed sighting very close to shore this is the go-to spot.

The large reef also hosts a good amount of regular reef fish, and the south end offers some deeper clear water for advanced snorkelers and can provide pelagic sightings such as Rays.


Wailea Beach

Wailea Beach
  • Experience Level: Moderate
  • Entry Difficulty: Super Easy
  • Consistency: Excellent
  • Wild Life: Good – Excellent
  • More Details…

Wailea Beach is the Goto hotspot for the rich and famous and those looking to catch a glimpse of them. The Large expanse of san is one of the poorer sites in the South to Snorkel and most people come away disappointed despite it being regularly recommended.

The problem is most of the beach is pretty poor. But there are some hotspots that mean it definitely gets on the list.

At the top end of the beach, there are some rocky formations that provide good structure for fish and creatures to congregate around. And if you swim north towards Ulua Bech there are some great low cliffs that have excellent snorkeling around. However, we find this site best approached from Ulua.

Wailea’s best Snorkelling is found at the southern end of the beach, to the left as you face the sea. This spot does not look much from the shore but once you head out past the surf and around the headland there is a large maze-like rocky area that is teeming with life.

This is approx 300ft swim from the shore and then you have a large area of fairly calm shallow water with a tricky bottom. The Visibility is excellent, due to the rocky bottom, and the channel and rocky pinnacles provide a lot of structure.

Remember you are around a headland here so pay attention to how far from the beach you are.

What you can see:

You will normally see turtles on the way out. But the main attraction here is the large fish that make their homes in the Maze of rocks. Here we find some of the Largest Pacific Chub and Unicorn Fish on the island. It must be very right in Algea, the Fishes primary food source as the size of the fish here is pretty impressive.

You can find all the usual suspects too but it’s worth heading out here mainly for the big ones. Along with the really interesting underwater topography and clear water.


Polo, Palauea, Po‘Olenalena Beach, And Changs Beach

From here on there is a selection of 4 beaches, all of them offering decent snorkeling but nothing special. There are good amounts of fish around the rock structures at the end of the beach, like most beaches but nothing to top what has gone before. If you are staying near these beaches then feel free to give them a try, but we do not recommend traveling to them unless you have just done everywhere else and want somewhere new.

The one exception is Changs Beach. This offers access to one of the top sites in the area, but we find access is better from Makena so we will focus on the site from there.


Makena Landing Park – aka, Turtle Town

Makena Bay
  • Experience Level: Moderate – Advanced
  • Entry Difficulty: Tricky
  • Consistency: Good
  • Wild Life: Incredible
  • More Details…

Makena Landing is not that much to look at from the shore. It’s has a rugged charm about it but you would be tempted to drive by looking for better places to swim. However, this could be a mistake as the Bay offers up one of the best snorkel spots on Maui.

Just of the rocky headland is what is affectionately known as Turtle Town. This is one of the locations often visited by the Snorkel Cruise Boats, offering stunning coral gardens as “guaranteed” Turtle Sightings.

If the organized tours are heading here you know it must be pretty good. The truth is it’s not “that” good, but it is very consistent. We have only rated the consistency good, but that is more to do with the condition surrounding the bay that can make it tricky to get out to from shore. Once there it’s consistently very good.

It is a bit of a swim out. You can do it from Changs beach but that’s a long open-water swim, from Makena it’s shorter and you can hug the coastline. There is a large parking spot off the main road. The beach is small and pitted with rocks it’s not the nicest beach, but has some nice views over the rugged southern coastline.

Once in, follow the headland round, it’s a 1200ft (350m) swim out the end of the headland, which is residential so there is no land access. Here you will find two large stone “fingers” jutting out into the ocean. The underwater bay these fingers create is “Turtle Town”.

Some people call this spot Five Graves, but they are mistaken, Five Graves is here alright but it’s no snorkel Spot, Five Graves is the Surf Break. and if that’s firing stay out the water (unless you are a high-level surfer). In General, whenever there is a surging shore break this is a site best avoided. When the bay is calm it’s game on. There is little sand or run-off in the area do clarity is good.

Makena Landing / Turtle Town

What you can see:

As the Name Suggest, if you don’t see Turtles you are not looking hard enough. On top of this, there are plenty of well-grown corals and heaps of reef fish. There is good access to the deeper water so larger pelagics and Rays can be seen.


Maluaka Beach

Maluaka
  • Experience Level: Beginner-Moderate
  • Entry Difficulty: Moderate
  • Consistency: Good
  • Wild Life: Good
  • More Details…

Of all our spots this is not actually the best, but we have put it on as it’s such a gorgeous secluded beach that it’s well worth a visit and the snorkeling is pretty good still. Like most of the big sandy beaches, the best spots lie at the ends of the beach. Where the rocky outcrops provide structure for the sea life.

To the south of the beach around the headland is a large reef that provides good snorkeling and some nice coral growth. Further along, there are some really nice shallow walls that hold some good fish.

The Whole beach is really a picture-postcard paradise and while the crowds head to Big Beach just down the road it leaves Maluaka nearly deserted!

Maluaka Beach

What you can see:

There is rarely anything out of the ordinary here but a good selection of Usual Reef Fish.


Next up along the Coast are Big Beach And Little Beach, at Makena State Park. These are both stunning beaches but are poor snorkeling sites. When the Surf is up, which it often is it’s terrible, but even in calm conditions, it is pretty poor, too much sand, not enough structure.


Ahihi-Kinau Marine Preserve

Ahihi_bay
  • Experience Level: Moderate-Advanced
  • Entry Difficulty: Pebbly
  • Consistency: Good
  • Wild Life: Incredible
  • More Details…

Whenever you see the words Marine Reserve you know the sealife is about to get turned up a notch. This is a protected No-Take area and as such the life on show is really excellent. The Marine Preserve stretches all along the headland. This is a large lava flow from the most recent Halealala Eruption approx 2-500 years ago.

This whole area is highly protected and there are some really precious and endangered species that call this area home. This is a refuge for the Hawaiian Monk Seal and the Anchialine ponds are a real wonder of science. This has meant that the entire coastline and land leading to it are closed. This is unfortunate as two of the best snorkeling spots in the State are found along this closed coastline, Named The Fish Bowl and The Aquarium, you can only imagine the wonders that are to be found under the surface.

Ahihi-Kinau_Sign

But they are closed, get over it. The Closures are there to protect some of the rarest and most endangered animals on the islands and we can only applaud the efforts. They have left some small parts open to humans and they are still pretty epic spots well worth checking out.

The First spot we are looking at is the reef near the Ahihi-Kinau Marine Preserve Parking Lot. Bad News First, there is a $5 parking fee, but this goes to supporting the reserve. The Lot is pretty large and usually easily big enough to cope with visitor numbers. There is a short trail to the ocean that is part of the longer Kanahena trail. Water entry is limited to a small rocky beach and it’s a little pebbly and a bit painful underfoot.

This grants you access to some incredible reefs. There is almost no sand in this area and no mountain run-off so the water is crystal clear most of the time. Once in the water, the whole coastline is explorable and we advise taking your time and exploring both and up down the coast. Strong Swimmer can explore quite a way around the coast in good weather, but remember once you pass the end of the Kanahena trail you are NOT allowed to make landfall. So you are on your own here and the only way out is back the way you came.

Ahihi-Kinau Marine Preserve
Entry Marked by a Butterfly Fish Sign

RULES

There are some strict rules in place in the Marine Park. These mainly revolve around not standing on the Coral! Basically, unless there is sand underfoot, do not stand up. Even rocks that look free from Coral can have micro coral and burgeoning colonies growing that can be wiped out by clumsy feet.

We did mention above how little sand there is in the area, so Snorkeller should be ready to not stand up the entire time. There is no reason to stand while snorkeling, mask clearing, etc can all be done afloat if you are not sure about this practice on a nice safe beach with a sandy bottom. Most of our snorkeling is done out of our depth so we have no choice but to adhere to a no-standing policy, but the golden rule is just NEVER EVER stand on Coral.

Also make sure your sunscreen is Reef Safe, or better still use a Rashy. These rules should really be obeyed in ALL of Maui’s reefs and snorkel spots, it’s common sense and protects Maui’s incredible underwater world. But it’s especially important here and IS enforced. There is a tool on the DNLR.Gov website to report infringements!

What you can see:

The Marine Preserve is host to the full gamut of Hawaii Reef Fish. Its protection as a No-Take area means the fish are large and fully grown, and large shoals of butterflyfish, goatfish, and Unicrnfish make the reef their home. We have seen bigger Parrotfish here than just about anywhere else in Maui, being pretty tasty big ones tend to go missing in other locations!

The shallow water of Ahihi bay is not really conducive to larger species but if you do get further around the headland the opportunity for larger pelagics does pick up.


La Perouse Bay

La Perouse Bay
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Entry Difficulty: Spikey
  • Consistency: Very Poor
  • Wild Life: Poor – Out of this World
  • More Details…

La Perouse Bay is considered by some to be the pinnacle of Snorkeling in Maui, but we find this to be wholly unjustified. The Bay is most of the time pretty wild. The Small beach puts you into a small cove that has nothing to see and poor vis and large breakers. After a hard swim out f the bay things pick up, vis should improve and you will find the Corals gardens and Lava Mazes.

The Life hear can be really impressive, and on good days it’s a tp site, but more often than not it’s a disappointment. Ahihi Cove is protected from the ocean by the Lava Flow, La Perouse is on the other side and naturally bears the brunt!

Insanely powerful Swimmers can make it round to the Aquarium, which is still allowed as long as you do not touch the shore. It’s a LONG swim and is not as incredible as the name sounds, and you need to make it back to shore in probably worsening conditions.

The other thing La Perouse is noted for is Dolphins. If you are heading here to swim will dolphins… don’t! The waters of the bay are where the dolphins come to rest. Disturning them is highly damaging, and highly illegal. Unfortunately, this does not stop people but please do not be part of the problem no matter how tempting.

Overall La Perouse is pretty overrated, we much prefer Ahihi Cove.

What you can see:

Sharks! – Well actually you are unlikely to see sharks but they may see you. You might get a quick glimpse as the last thing you see! On the whole, this is incredibly unlikely but it is one of the places attacks do happen, but you can reduce the chances of this happening by ONLY snorkeling when the water is clear. Sharks hunt by smell and vibration and tend to do this in murky water, there is little fun to be had in snorkeling in murky water and as such the risk of sharks is just not worth it.

On the whole, do not worry about sharks but if the water clarity does not pick up pretty quickly call it a day and head back to shore.

Other than that, when you find clear water there is a really good array of Reef Fish here. BIG Pacific Chub and Unicornfish. Healthy Corals with Native Hawaiian Damsels, Lots of colorful Butterfly Fish. The Truth is the bay can be REALLY good, but it’s just so rare that it’s not worth getting your hopes up.

IF you get there and it’s like a millpond with glistening Azure waters feel free to give it a try but if it’s rugged, wild, and rough-looking with steely waters, try elsewhere!


West Maui Snorkelling Sites

West Maui has some incredible sites to explore as well as the South. Even if you are staying in the south it’s well worth your time heading to West Maui for a day or two to explore and check out the amazing sights of this beautiful part of the island. And definitely take your snorkel gears as the reefs here are incredibly accessible.

Check out our FULL guide to West Maui’s Snorkelling Sites here in Part 1 of our Maui Snorkelling Sites Guide.

<<< Best West Maui Snorkelling Sites and Beaches >>>

The Best Sites are found either o the West Or South Cast but there are a few alternative sites and some of these are really incredible.

<<< Others >>>

Have Your Say?

What are your favorite spots to Snorkel on the South Maui Coast? Have you had a good experience on one of our sites? Maybe it was a letdown? Maybe somewhere else really came up trumps? We would love to hear your experiences and give personal recommendations based on your experience! Just drop us a comment and see if we can help.

Seen Something you do not recognize?

Head over to our Reef Fish Identification Guide and drop us a comment. We have helped dozens of people ID their finds while out snorkeling in Hawaii.

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