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

Snorkeling is probably the number 3 activity for tourists on Maui, only beaten by Sitting on a beach and Drinking Mai Tai’s… so Technically Number 1. Maui’s coastline is alive with spectacular Sea life and clear warm waters and coral reefs, meaning Snorling here can be incredibly rewarding. Coastal access is a right in Hawaii so you can snorkel just about anywhere along its 130miles of coastline! Obviously, you are going to need to narrow that down somewhat.

This post takes a look at what we think are the Best Maui Snorkelling sites and locations. These Opinions gathered from hundreds of actual dips in the ocean and not just what an out of date guidebook or Snorkel shop leaflet says. Almost anywhere on Maui that is safe is a great place to Snorkel but some are better than others. Some of the Best Maui Snorkelling spots are ones overlooked in the guides and some of the highest rated are in our opinion pretty poor. The Best Maui Beaches for Snorkeling are located mainly on the Leeward side handily in the tourist areas. Conditions on the Windward side are just to rough for reliable snorkeling most of the time.

Best Maui Snorkeling Sites

For Simplicity Our Guide Goes from West Maui to South in Geographic order We will highlight experience level, Entry difficulty, Consistency and How much Life is visible. Some sites are mentioned due to hearing about them in other places but we pretty much disagree with their quality and Suitability. 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.

Show Off…

this is where I get to show off a little. I am a very experienced and competent open water swimmer. Which means I can explore a Snorkel site in great detail in very little time. For Example, Honolua Bay requires well over 1.5 km of swimming to explore the entire site. This is way beyond the capabilities of most people in a single swim. I am able to cover that in less than 25Mins! This gives me a unique ability to understand the underwater topography of a site, find where the creatures hide out and where is best to explore and where you can pretty much ignore. Because of this I a feel uniquely blessed to bring you the best Snorkeling guide available.

Kate, however, is a much weaker swimmer and this keeps me grounded. When a location is advanced she will let me know about it and explain that is not OK for the weaker Snorlelers. There is fantastic snorkeling for ALL abilities around Maui and being a weaker swimmer is no reason to not dive right in. But there are also some advanced sites where you can get into difficulty.

Snorkeling Safety !!!

The Ocean is a Cruel Mistress and Lives are lost every year to her. And many are from tourists on their dream vacation even honeymoon caught out while snorkeling. It really can kill. But we don’t want to frighten you just make you aware of what you can do to keep safe. The waters can look totally harmless but currents really can drag you a long way from where you thought in very little time.

We have a full article on Ocean Safety here we suggest you read before heading in.

Best West Maui Snorkelling Sites and Beaches.

This Article deals only with West Maui Snorlek Sites. For South Maui Sites head to Part 2 of this article that deals with all of South Maui’s Sites. Or check out Part 3 that discusses alternatives to the regular shore sites such as boat trips or hidden gems sites.

Beyond Honolua, the ocean becomes very rough. It is exposed to the full Pacific and Waves crash against the rock with fury. There is little here for anyone but the most advanced and experienced snorkelers with immense local knowledge. If you are reading this that is probably not you. Stick to the shore this far around the Island!

Honolua Bay

  • Experience Level: Beginner-Advanced
  • Entry Difficulty: Moderate
  • Consistency: 50/50
  • Wild Life: Excellent
Maui Honolua Bay

Honolua Bay is a protected Marine area and as such has abundant wildlife. The Reef is in excellent condition and there is an abundance of life. When the Bay is calm and clear it is one of Maui’s Best Sites. The calm waters offer close access to abundant coral outcrops in shallow warm water, with abundant fish.

Entry is slightly tricky, The beach is made of large pebbles and boulders that can be awkward to clamber over and a bit painful underfoot. Once in the water, you are in for a nasty surprise. as the water is usually murky and unpleasant, due to a stream running into the Bay.

Head Right and swim out along the right-hand side of the bay. Soon the water will clear and you will be in amongst the coral and sea life. Stronger swimmers can swim right out towards the deep water channel. This is used by tour boats to bring snorkellers right to the reef. If there is a boat in expect company in the water!

The reef drops off quite dramatically into the deep water Channel and here bait fish collect and the bigger stuff comes to feed! You can see this in our drone footage above, Both the drop-off and the bait fish. This is quite a swim and only for the advanced.

The Left-hand side of the bay can be ignored. It is decent snorkeling and there are some big fish and turtles but there is nearly no reef and instead, it’s deep blue right up to the rocks. It’s an exhilarating place but the reef side is much more alive.

There is one BIG issue with Honolua though…

Consistency?

During the periods of the winter or heavy rain, Honolua is basically Awful.

In the winter months, heavy swells can render the snorkeling useless and big waves make the water cloudy and the size of breakers make it quite unsafe! Also, Heavy rain in the hills can cause the stream to flood and murk the water up. This can spread right out across the reef making snorkeling awful. The path that leads to the bay through the Jungle crosses the stream. It should be nothing more than a trickle. Much more and the water may well be brown and un-swimmable!

This won’t stop the tour boats coming and unloading into murky waters.

What you can see:

Honolua Bay Fish

It’s a full house here. Almost anything you can see around the shores of Maui can be found in Honolua at times. The Deepwater Channel means just about anything can wander in. Very rare occasions bring dolphins and manta rays in, but you would have to be extremely lucky. Eagle rays are more common and Giant and Bluefin Trevally are here most days hunting the bait fish. These baitfish can gather in HUGE numbers in the channel.

The Reef is very healthy and there is a large amount of healthy coral. Housed amongst this is a very healthy amount of reef fish. These vary from minute to large. Tangs, Butterflyfish, Blennys and wrasse dart amongst the Coral heads while Large Parrotfish, Lowfin Chub, Unicornfish prowl the outcrops. Surgeons, Triggers, and morish Idols are frequently seen along with the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa.

The Rarer creatures can all be found here too, With Day Octopus, Slipper Lobster, and shrimps hiding in the cracks. The occasional Moray can also be spotted. There are large shoals of Goatfish, and Blue Striped Snapper and the odd Squirrelfish in the deeper cracks. There are plenty of Turtles too, although they tend to be smaller than some areas of the Island.

Slaughterhouse Beach

  • Experience Level: Moderate
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Good
  • Wild Life: Average
Honolua Bay and Slaughterhouse beach

Right Next door to Honolua is Slaughterhouse Beach. The Snorkelling here is not nearly as good as Honolua, but it’s a great backup site in case Honolua is browned out! However, it’s just as susceptible to large swells. The Bay is also a protected Marine Area so there is still a good amount to be seen. There is just less Reef area to explore. There is also less exposure to the deep water so seeing Bigger Pelagics is unlikely. You may see Eagle Rays aBluefinfin Trevally at the edge of the reef though.

The Best Snorkelling is out to the right up against the rocky outcrop that separates the bay from Honolua.

Info – If you are wondering there used to be a Slaughterhouse up on the hillside overlooking the bay, hence the name.

What you can see:

Most Common Reef Fish can be found here. There are large Parrot and Unicornfish along with Lowfin Chub. All the usual smaller reef fish and critters can be found in abundance.

Kapalua Bay

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Very Good
  • Wild Life: Average
Kapalua Bay July

Kapalua Bay is a very sheltered and fairly shallow bay that has decent snorkeling pretty much year round. Even when other areas are under heavy swell the horseshoe shape of the bay keeps it sheltered to some degree.

Snorkeling is good at both sides of the bay with some good coral growth and generally clear calm waters. The Beach entry is as easy as it gets budget swimming early as there are few rocks scattered on the sea bead that can cause stubbed toes! The sheltered nature means it’s great for beginners. There are very few currents and as such you can float away to your heart’s content. It’s quite a swim across the bay so may be best to explore one side, get out and walk to the other side and explore that side after. There is not much to see in the middle of the bay.

What you can see:

There is nothing unique about the underwater life here. It’s just the basic Reef fish, with the odd small ray or Bluefin Trevally wandering in. Octopus can be seen near the ends of the rocky outcrops if you venture that far but you are beginning to expose yourself to the elements. There are often turtles in the bat as well.

Really Kapalua Bay has one BIG disadvantage, which means we rarely snorkel there despite normally staying nearby. The Big Disadvantage is it’s close proximity to Napili Bay, Which is just that bit better in every way!

Kapalua Napili Honokeana

Napili Bay and HonoKeana Cove

  • Experience Level: Beginner – Expert
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Good
  • Wild Life: Excellent

We have lumped these two bays together as they share a common characteristic. Turtles. There is a large population of Green Sea Turtles that live in HonoKeana and these regularly visit Napili Bay and you never really know where they will be.

These two coves sit side by side on west Maui’s rugged coast and normally have calm, clear warm water that is perfect for Snorkelling. There are also plenty of amenities including the world famous Gazebo Restaurant and the SeaHouse restaurant that does a fantastic Happy Hour for post Swimming refreshment!

The entry to Napili could not be easier, it’s a soft sand beach entry. However, watch the waves as they surge up the beach. The water quickly deepens to a good depth. Near to shore, it’s pretty murky as the waves stir up the sand. But clears quickly as you head out.

HonoKeana Cove is only accessible through Private Property. And a scramble down some rocks and into tiny bay filled with rocks and Sea Urchins. It’s hard to recommend this really and the scowling faces of the residents are sure to put most off. The other option is a rather long and exposed sea swim around the headland. Particularly hairy when the surf is up even a little.

If you make it round to the cove then there can be an abundance of turtles. The sea life, in general, is only average and the water deep. But when the Turtles are home it’s incredible. However More often than not the Turtles are not Home. They have swum around the headland and are feeding in Napili Bay. This, of course, saves you the daunting Sea Swim or trespassing on Private property!

Unlike Most bays the Snorkelling in Napili is not limited to the edges, the reef extends across the middle of the bay from left to about 70% to the right. As you can see on the Map above. You are most likely to find Turtles on the left-hand side of the bay but they pop up anywhere. The right-hand side is more rugged but has great snorkeling in clear water the further you go out, it’s possible to hug the wall and head pretty far out to sea using the wall as a guide and safety net. It can get pretty exhilarating out there. You can even swim around and finish you snorkel in Kapalua Bay which is just a short walk back.

What you can see:

Along with the regular array of healthy and large reef fish, the big draw here is the Obviously the Green Sea Turtles. There are lots, and some are of an incredible size. Really big Grandaddy Turtles make HonoKeana Cove their home and Napili Bay is their feeding ground.

On Top of the turtles, the general sea life is pretty good here too. There isn’t much we haven’t seen. But this may be due to the amount of time we have spent in the water. Every imaginable reef fish, Trevelley, Eagle Rays, Moray Eel, Octopus, the bay really does have a lot of Life! If you do swim around the headland to HonoKeana there are many Large Triggerfish, Chub, Unicornfish, Parrotfish in the deeper cracks of the rocky outcrops.

The Turtles are So Abundant here you don’t even need to get wet. The often haul themselves into the rock pools where crowds will gather. And they will regularly come up for air and can be spotted from the headland in front of the Gazeebo.

Honokowai Beach

  • Experience Level: Moderate-Advanced
  • Entry Difficulty: Hard
  • Consistency: Good
  • Wild Life: Interesting.
Honokowai map

You can see the Ribbons of reef running up the coast!

This is a much-overlooked spot. The Water entry is fairly difficult. Large bands of rock and coral start right at the shore break. The water isn’t deep enough to swim you so you have to take a lot of care to get past it to get to the deeper channels.

Once in this downside is the location makes. There are long sandy channels running parallel to the rock formations and these bands of rock have been undercut making a million hiding holes for life. It is the type of site that at first glance seems rubbish, which is why it’s seldom mentioned. But look harder and it’s excellent.

What you can see:

This is one for the Macro-Life. While there is plenty of smaller reef fish it’s not worth the effort to swim here for them. Instead, the pay off comes from getting down and investigating the little cracks and crevices that are filled with little critters that are just as interesting as the big pelagics.

Ok, Maybe we are a little Geeky…Actually, maybe I am a little Geeky, Kate has no interest in Snorkelling here and is much happier on the beach/park soaking up the sun. But I love the little critters you can find in the cracks, holes, and crevices.

Coral Banded Shrimp, Slipper Lobster, Octopus, Spiney Lobster,  Harlequin Crabs and a ton of other cool little creature can be spotted in their reef homes safe from the predators that hunt them. I can literally spend hours upsidedown checking out the rocks here! It does pay to be able to dive down as if you are only snorkeling from the surface this is a poor site!

Kahekili Beach Park / Airport Beach

Airport Beach Maui
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Good
  • Wild Life: Average

This is one of West Maui’s top snorkeling sites and where most snorkel shops will send you. The main reason. It is so accessible. Not only is the beach gentle with a soft sand entry with minimal surf (most of the time) The reef begins only a few meters out. And is large and runs a large way up the beach.

The reef starts at the main beach access from the car park and runs west away from Black Rock. There can be a current running but it is usually parallel to the beach and can be used to see more of the reef. Should you get carried too far don’t panic but just swim back to shore and walk back to where you started.

The Problem with the area is it’s just not that great. The water is not the clearest and there is only moderate sea life. You may see turtles, along with the usual suspects of reef fish, but we rarely see anything stand out.

It is a super place for beginners and a great location to get a taste for Maui Snorkelling. But you will soon want to hunt for better.

What you can see:

We rarely see anything but the usual reef suspects here. Which is fine for a first taste but there is so much more to see on the Island. One Creature often spotted here but rare elsewhere is the lesser spotted Scuba Diver. The Shallow gentle shore is a perfect place to learn the sport and many beginners are brought here for there first dives.

Black Rock

  • Experience Level: Moderate
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Great
  • Wild Life: Good

The Black rock separates Airport Beach and Kaanapali Beach. This rocky Lava outcrop houses the Sheraton Hotel which occupies an enviable position. The rocky outcrop is another famous snorkeling spot and one most snorkeling shops will direct you too. Fortunately, this one really lives up to the hype!

Entry couldn’t be easier as you enter via a gentle soft sandy beach (we recommend Kaanapali Side). Initially, the water can be a little cloudy but clears up fast as you get clear of the beach. As you follow the rocky headland out to sea, the marine life will pick up. Near the end of the rock, you will find people leaping from the top of the rocks into the water. We advise giving this area a wide berth as someone landing on your head will be little fun!

As you approach the very end you will find the water is deep and clear but you are still feet from the safety of the rock. You can head around the headland into a sheltered bay where there is likely to be fewer people and more sea life. However, with even moderate swell from the wrong direction, this can be hairy.

This is the extent of the Black Rock Snorkeling. The VERY adventurous can continue around to the Back Wall but it’s not advisable for most (read the next section for clarity!). Most should simply head back around and retrace your steps to see what else is around. The oceans visitors can change by the day, hour or even minute!

What you can see:

Falling People!

On top of that this site is well known for being a great place to spot see turtles. we tend to only see the smaller turtles here but they are usually here in one place or another. We have never snorkeled here without spotting turtles.

With the easy entry and deep water close to shore, it’s a very wild spot considering how populated the area is. Near the end of the wall, there is access to big blue water so there is always the chance of bigger pelagics cruising by, Rays, trevally etc.. The nooks and crannies of the rocky wall can be home to Eels and Octopus for the eagle-eyed. And as ever there is the usual collection of tangs, angels, butterflies and triggerfish mulling around.

It is really a top allrounder snorkel site…just remember to look up every now and then to make sure you are not straying into the drop zone!

Black Rock Back Wall

Black Rock Back Wall

  • Experience Level: Advanced, Strong swimmers!
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Good
  • Wild Life: Incredible

This site is rarely cited and not featured in many guide books and Snorkel shop guides. Maybe that is because of the remote and extreme nature. It is, however, one of my favorite sites on the Island. It is not for Beginners though and only for strong swimmers as the current can prevent you from swimming back to the beginning.

There are two Entrances and Exits so even if the current is too strong you could always leave the other way to which you came and walk back but this is not ideal and not a situation you should risk unless pre-planned (Drift Diving).

From the Black Rock Snorkel, you can swim around the headland and into an isolated Bay. This is Nice and Quiet and few people venture here. It’s teeming with life and water quality is superb. From here you can continue on out along the back wall of the headland.

The other way in is from the far end of Airport Beach. Swim out and past the headland and you will come to a river outflow. You need to cross this which can be murky. You will then be at the Back Wall.

Once committed, in either direction, there is no way out apart from whence you came or a long swim in the other direction. The Wall is 100ft High and vertical so no way out there and the other direction is open ocean. So Make sure you know what you are doing before venturing out here! The current will run one way along the wall and can be strong enough to prevent you going back easily. In this case your only option is to follow the wall to the other end, However, it is easy to panic and get in trouble if this occurs!

What you can see:

If you do make it out here the pay off is extraordinary! It is one of the wildest snorkel sites on the island. You are in deep water next to a cliff that plunges down some 50ft into the blue. The wall and boulders on the seabed are teeming with life and out the other side is the big blue!

Being Exposed to open ocean means anything can show up. It’s probably too shallow for Whales but just about anything else could make an appearance. Trevally, Eagle Rays, Manta Rays, Dolphins! The Beauty of this site is you never really know and the anticipation can be huge. The reality is most of the time you are just gazing into the empty blue, but you never know!

On top of that, the site is teaming with reef life. The wall is home to a huge number of reef fish. Turtles are abundant here and the sightings at the black rock proper are simply the overspill. They are also less accustomed to people being here and definitely give you the look of “what are you doing here?” as opposed to their usual nonchalance.

There are large schools of regular reef fish and we see a large number of Hawaiian sergeants than most locations, along with some big mature Unicornfish, Triggers, angel, and Tangs.

 

Mala Pier

whitetip reef Shark at Molokini
  • Experience Level: Expert
  • Entry Difficulty: moderate
  • Consistency: low
  • Wild Life: SHARKS!

Mala Pier is one of the best dive sites on the Maui Coastline. The pier is famous for 2 things, one, not being there! and two, Sharks! We might not be selling this too well?

The Pier was destroyed in hurricane Iniki in 1992. The stone structure is now a natural reef on the seabed that has become a home to quite a lot of marine life including some resident Reef Sharks. These harmless animals spend the day resting in the holes and crevices that the rubble of the pier provides. Dive operators take clients out to the pier for dive trips to see the sharks. It is one of the most reliable places in the area to see sharks and the shallow placid nature of location make it suitable for less qualified divers.

While this is primarily a dive site it can still be snorkeled. It is a bit if an extreme location however and you need to be able to skin/free dive pretty well to make it worthwhile. As such this is an expert site. The water is pretty deep and the snorkeling pretty dull for those stuck on the surface, but if you can get down a few meters the site begins to reveal it’s secrets. peer under the concrete blocks on the seabed and you should see Grey Reef Sharks taking their daily snooze.

Mala Pier

What you can see:

As we saw the main draw here is the Grey Reef Sharks. Remember these are mostly harmless but try not to disturb them as they have been known to bite as they make an exit in rare occasions, and it’s not a great idea to upset a sleeping shark.

There is plenty of other good reef fish and other inhabitants here too but the water is deep and unless you are here to see the sharks the rest can be found elsewhere. Boat traffic is also an issue and really unless you know what you are doing it’s not the best site around. But there is nowhere else in the island that you can regularly find shark while snorkeling!

Olowalu Beach Park

  • Experience Level: Moderate to Advanced
  • Entry Difficulty: Moderate
  • Consistency: Good
  • Wild Life: Good

Often confused/lumped together with Mile Marker 14 this beach park technically services the same reef system but it’s a separate snorkel site with easier entry and better access to the reefs. Along with better amenities as MM 14 is basically a pull out by the side of the road.

Here you have parking, toilets, showers, and picnic benches. The geographic position of the beach makes accessing the reefs much easier as you are already part way out. It can still be a tricky site to navigate as the water level can be low meaning you have to swim through channels to get out to deeper water and remember how to get back to shore once you are done.

The plus side is the reef system is HUGE, there is a lot to see but it can be quite sparse. We rarely see it teeming with life like other locations. While it is a good site we struggle to see the advantage of here over other locations. It doesn’t really have any killer advantages and quite a few negatives. We don’t make the special journey often.

What you can see:

Really it’s just you standard Maui Reef fare. However fairly spread out. The Massive reef is home to most things but due to the scale, it’s harder to find. You will see the usual fish and plentiful turtles. Some Snorkel boats stop here as one of the “turtle towns!” but these reefs are pretty far offshore.

You may also here tails of Manta Rays here, but like the next stop, Mile Marker 14, this is pretty unlikely, to say the least!

Olowalu MM 14

Mile Marker 14

  • Experience Level: Moderate-Ultra!
  • Entry Difficulty: Easy
  • Consistency: Rare
  • Wild Life: Poor to Exquisite

First, a Caveat, As you can see we have claimed the Wildlife here can be exquisite. That is because on occasion it has been recorded that Manta Rays swim off the coast here a cleaning station is supposed to be located just off the reef a good swim out from the shoreline. This, however, is hear-say and we have never witnessed them here. That’s not to say it’s not true, or people are fibbing, but it’s not a reality most of the time and the swim needed to get out to the acclaimed area is pretty Epic. So for most 99% of people, we would not expect to see Manta at this location.

But Mile Marker 14 Still has legendary Status as a top Maui Snorkel Spot. And we have NO idea why. Maybe people confuse it with Olowalu Beach Park (mile marker 14+0.5) which is fine as Olowalu is a fine snorkel site. Or maybe the huge extensive reef can come alive at times or maybe was different in the past. But this site requires a special trip out to it and from our experience, it’s just not worth it. The chances of spotting manta’s even if you find the cleaning station (unlikely) is pretty slim. There are Manta’s in the water around Maui and they rarely come close enough to shore to see them, but the chances of them doing this while you are at the cleaning station are pretty unlikely.

If they were regular or reliable there would be a tour offered to go see them! What you will see here are Surfers and that is rarely a good sign for snorkeling! The Snorkeling does get really good if the conditions are right and you head out to the very distant reefs, but these are so far out and require some serious channel navigating it’s hard to recommend it!

What you can see:

Manta Rays…Apparently.

There is a huge extensive reef system offshore here and no some days this can look like a very excellent snorkel spot but our experience is anything but, less than average at best. Stick to Olowalu. And leave this area to the surfers

Best South Maui Snorkelling Sites and Beaches…Coming Soon >>>

If you are looking for South Maui Snorkel sites then head on over to Part two of this Article as we delve into the other side of Maui’s Snorkeling sites on Maui’s South shoreline. Here you find fantastic and varied Snorkeling right on your hotel’s doorstep!

Others…>>>

While Most of Maui’s best sites are found along these two coastlines there are a few alternatives and plenty of snorkeling trips that take you to other snorkeling paradises found in Maui’s Magical waters.

Have Your Say?

Let us know all about your Maui Snorkeling Experiences? Where are your favorite spots? What creatures have you seen while snorkeling? Which of out Snorleign spots have you tried? where they the same as we described or was your experience different? Conditions and experiences can change day to day so we love to stay updated? Basically, drop us a comment if you have anything at all to say or ask about snorkeling on this Magical Island.

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