Best Molokini Snorkel Tours, Maui – Snorkelling a Sunken Volcanic Crater

One of the Best Snorkeling Location in Maui Is the Molokini Crater. In fact. it’s one of the best in Maui, probably even the world. It is an opportunity you really shouldn’t pass up when in Maui.

There are, however, a whole host of Tour operators vying to take you out to the crater and it’s nearly impossible to know which is the best Our guide to the Best Molokini Snorkel Tours, Maui will help you find the perfect cruise company for you to trust to take you Snorkelling in one of Hawaii’s real Gems.

What is the Molokini Crater?

Best Molokini Snorkel Tours, Maui

The Molokini Crater is a partially submerged Volcanic crater found in the Alalākeiki Channel between Maui and Kahoʻolawe. The Crater has an appearance of being fairly modern, at least in Geological Terms. It was actually formed at around the same time as the rest of Maui, about 230,000 years ago.

It has since slowly eroded and sunk back into the sea to create the partially submerged Calder we see today. For years there were pressures on the Islet from the US Navy who bombed it for target practice, to fish and coral removal for aquariums, Medicine and Jewellery. Now the Island is a Bird Sanctuary and Marine Nature Reserve. As such the large number of Snorkel tours have a lot of rules and regulations to stick to in order to visit the Crater without impacting the wildlife.

The Crater’s inner waters are partially protected from the sea’s and shallow so get a lot of light. This makes for fantastic Coral growth and the ecosystems that rely on this thrive. The Shallow Coral water are then filled with fish and creatures in incredible numbers and estimates 230 Species occupy the Reef. Couple this with the fact it’s flushed constantly with clean fresh pacific ocean water means the Visibility is pretty much perfect. Well over 100 meters most days.

This makes is one of the best Snorkeling spots in Hawaii. It even features on best snorkeling spots in the world lists. It really is a special location and we advise anyone visiting Maui to Check it out. There are a huge number of cruises and trip to the Islet catering for most tastes and budgets. We take a look at all of the best available to help you make your choice.

Reality VS Fiction?

This sounds incredible right? Like nothing on earth! Add to this the Stunning Publicity pictures it’s easy to let expectations get the better of you. Above water, things are pretty much as advertised, assuming you get the blue skies and gorgeous sunshine. But underwater things are not quite a vibrant and fish packed as you might expect. Most of the Promo Videos are shot by scuba or Snuba and floating around on the Surface things are alway a little murkier and monotone than the pictures show.

It’s still wonderful. Shoals of Black Triggers will surround your boat (Hoping you share your lunch). Colorful Reef Fish inhabit the reef area closest to the shoreline, and large Trevally, Unicornfish, and Parrotfish patrol the area. In the deeper parts of the crater floor you can see Moray Eel and Octopus foraging for food, and if you dive down during whale season you can actually hear the whales singing, which is about as magical as anything you can possibly imagine!

We have Snorkelled around the world and Molokini Stands out as one of the most fantastic sites we have ever snorkeled. But it’s just not quite what the glossy magazines would have you believe. Go With an open mind and see the site for what it is, not what the Promotions have tried to sell you. Our Video Below is a far better representation to what will face you than some of the other Promo Videos around…and yes you can hear the Whales Singing!

Cruise Tours

Cruise Tours are the most popular way to see the Islet. On these tours, you board a large catamaran or boat and gently cruise out to the Crater, which enjoying a light breakfast. once at the crater you are given Gear and allowed into the water. The Emphasis is on relaxed safe Snorkeling, so lots os buoyancy aids are encouraged. Here you can simply float around witnessing the myriad of sea life in fantastic clear water.

After you are done snorkeling you will be served Lunch, Typically a BBQ Lunch. Most Tours then head off to an inshore Turtle Town stop where you can snorkel with Sea Turtles. Before heading back enjoying a few drinks or open bar.

Expect Plenty of Up-sell of Extras such as wet suits, Cameras, Photo Services, Snuba and many more, all of which is not needed to have a great time but may enhance your trip or provide treasured memories.

Lets Take a look at our Favourite Operators.

1 – Four Winds II

  • Price – $105 Adult $75 Child
  • Location – Ma’alaea Habour
  • Duration = 5 Hours
  • Stops – Molokini
  • Meals – Breakfast And Lunch
  • Open Bar – Yes
  • Amenities – Glass Bottom, Slide, Showers.
  • Scuba – No
  • Snuba – Yes – $59
four winds ii snorkel

Four Winds II is our favorite Tour Operator to Molokini. This is for two main reasons.

First, it is a really complete offering, with everything you could want and need on a decent sized Catamaran that isn’t too crowded with a great crew. more in this later, but Second, It is the Only Boat that sends ALL it’s time at the Crater.

This is not ideal for everyone. Some people really really like the Turtle Town Stops, and we would too. However, we don’t have any trouble seeing Turtles from the Shore ourselves. As such we find the Turtle Town Stops all a bit unnecessary and a waste of time. Also, Any responsible Tour Operator does not allow people in the water after drinking. Which means if you are headed to a Turtle Town Stop you have to wait till afterward to have a drink. With the Molokini only option, you have the whole cruise back to the harbor to relax and have a few drinks in one of the most stunning places on earth.

On top of this, the Tour is very well operated too. The Crew First welcome you aboard and offer you a great breakfast of fruit, muffins, and pastries with tea, coffee, or juice. The Upsell is limited. They basically tell you what is available and leave it there.

During Whale season the make a good effort to catch some Whale action on the way out. Once at the Crater you have a huge amount of time to enjoy the water and really experience the crater. You can have a good hour Snorkelling before Lunch, which is excellent, before heading back in afterwards… or just hit the bar. By now almost all the other boats have left leaving you alone in the crater.

The long cruise back is the perfect time to soak up the sun, enjoy the ocean and enjoy a couple of beers or wine from the open Bar. Ok, we have more than a couple…

Check out our Recent trip in the Four Winds II here.

2 – Trilogy Sail

  • Price – $140 Adult(19+) – $125 Youth(13-17) – $85 Child(3-12)
  • Location – Ma’alaea Habour
  • Duration = 5 Hours+
  • Stops – Molokini and Turtle Town
  • Meals – Break Fast And Lunch
  • Open Bar – No – Two Alcoholic drinks included
  • Amenities – Showers, Wetsuits(Free), Sunscreen.
  • Scuba – No
  • Snuba – Yes

Our Second favourite tour is the Trilogy Sail Tours. This is a very different boat being a genuine sailing catamaran. Although it’s often sailed under power rather than wind its still a very nice experince. Numbers are a lot lower and the cruises can be a bit more intimate.

Food is also excellent, starting with some epic Cinnamon buns for breakfast. and a BBQ Chicken lunch (Dietary Request accepted) which is actually served on plates not a buffet style like others. It’s all rather civilized.

After Visiting the Crater Trilogy takes you to a Turtle Town where you can almost certainly see turtles. Then it’s back to the harbor while drinks are served.

It really is a great tour and the extra time at Molokini is the only reason we prefer Four Winds II and if you prefer a Turtle Town Stop then this is the cruise for you.

3 – Sail Maui

  • Price – $125 Adult $62.50 Child
  • Location – Ma’alaea Habour
  • Duration = 5 Hours
  • Stops – Molokini
  • Meals – Breakfast And Lunch
  • Open Bar – Yes, Beer Wine and Mai Tai
  • Amenities – Showers, Sunscreen, Sails
  • Scuba – No
  • Snuba – No

Sail Maui is another Sailing Catamaran Like Trilogy but the Focus is more on actual sailing than a cruise. This makes for a very unique and excellent Experience. They only Visit Molokini but the lack of engine power means more time is spent sailing to and from.

As the focus is more on the sailing, the crew normally go the extra mile to find Whales (in Season) and Dolphins. The Lunch is only sandwiches as opposed to a BBQ Lunch but the breakfast is actually one of the best.

4 – Pride Of Maui

  • Price – $99 Adult – $69 Child
  • Location – Ma’alaea Habour
  • Duration = 5 Hours
  • Stops – Molokini and Turtle Town
  • Meals – Break Fast And Lunch
  • Open Bar – Yes
  • Amenities – Glass Bottom, Slide, Showers.
  • Scuba – No
  • Snuba – Yes – $58

When we think of the Pride of Maui we think Party Boat. Its a large Double Decker boat that pack in a lot of people. The Upper Sun Deck is pretty great but can and does get rammed on sunny days.

The Open bar serves a selection of locally brewed beers, Mai Tai’s, and wine. But remember you can only start drinking after you have finished snorkeling. The Breakfast is muffins cake and fruit and the BBQ lunch is served during the sail between Molokini and Turtle Town.

Despite being a big cattle style party boat it is a very good operation. That does not really want for anything other than a bit more privacy.

5 – Calypso – Molokini

  • Price – $109.95 Adult – Kids 7-12 $89.95 – Kids 6 and under FREE!*
  • Location – Ma’alaea Habour
  • Duration = 5 Hours
  • Stops – Molokini and Turtle Town
  • Meals – Break Fast And Lunch
  • Open Bar – NO!
  • Scuba – No
  • Snuba – Yes

*1 free child per paying adult

If the Pride of Maui is a bit “too big” and a bit too Party Boat. Then the Calypso is not going to win you over. It is quite simply colossal. Well for a Snorkel cruise boat anyway. This Triple Decker monster really is the King of the fleet. and dwarf the other boats by a considerable margin.

The Calypso is a brand new boat and is very well equipped and has every amenity imaginable. They have a great crew and the food is excellent. The lack of alcohol puts us off somewhat but that’s not an issue for everyone.

For us, it is too big. Molokini is a tiny little island and the use of boats this big is pretty detrimental. It isn’t really the type of trip we would advocate, but this is just our personal tastes and for some this is a good option. They certainly don’t struggle to fill the decks every day.

One serious advantage to the Size of this Cruiser is the Stability it provides. Being nearly a ferry the vessel eats waves for breakfast and plows through most ocean conditions unimpeded. If sea Sickness or fear of boats is an issue the Calypso really might be the only choice as the size really does help on all fronts as far as stability goes. Of course, if you hit it on a quiet day, there will actually be lots of space and privacy on the cavernous triple decks of this behemoth.

6 – Maui Magic

  • Price – $110 Adult $80 Child
  • Location – Ma’alaea Habour
  • Duration = 5 Hours
  • Stops – Molokini and Turtle Town
  • Meals – Breakfast And Lunch
  • Open Bar – Yes, Beer Wine and Mai Tai
  • Amenities – Showers.
  • Scuba – No
  • Snuba – Yes – $59

This is the Sister Vessel to the Four Winds II. It’s Smaller and Faster so gets to the Islet Much Quicker and before most other trip. It then takes in a Turtle Town stop. But other than this expect a similar experience to the Four Winds II.

7 – Pacific Whale Foundation

  • Price – $125 Adult $75 Child
  • Location – Ma’alaea Habour
  • Duration = 5 Hours
  • Stops – Molokini and Turtle Town
  • Meals – Breakfast And Lunch
  • Open Bar – NO – One Alcoholic Beverage included
  • Amenities – Showers, Sunscreen, Certified Marine Naturalists onboard
  • Scuba – No
  • Snuba – No

The Pacific Whale Foundation Cruise is a bit of a worry for us. The Foundation provides some really good Whale Watching Tours but we are still unsure about their expansion to all other kinds of cruise tours. Some locals question the “Non-Profit” Status and see the Foundation as operating as a charitable front for a large profit machine. We are not sure of the truth but the animosity unnerves us a little.

That said the Tours offer good modern boats and a really good experience on all their trips including the Molokini Trip. In whales season they will definitely go the extra mile to get some whale sightings. It’s a strange one as we are only criticising the PWF for doing exactly what every other operator does and make a profit, it’s just they are a little more upfront about it.

Really is the Cruise suits you We would not advise against it but there are just a few nagging doubts about the operation, And unfortunately this may just be fuelled by local jealously or genuine concerns, we are not sure but for Molokini we just head to the other operators that we are more sure of.

Adventure Tours

Molokini crater maui
Molokini Crater By Bossfrog on CC4.0

The above Cruise tours are all about a relaxing enjoyable cruise to the Islet while sipping cocktails and enjoying a good BBQ Lunch. There is another way of experiencing the island and that’s by Powered RIB.

A Rib is a Semi Inflatable boat with a Big Motor on the back. These are fast, Manoeuvrability and most of all FUN. Aboard one of these, you can cover SO much more ground and get to places just inaccessible any other way. They are not built for comfort and especially not when bouncing off the Trade Swells, but there are few thing more fun.

There are a couple of different operators of these tours, mostly differentiated by the color of their boats.

Blue Water Rafting

  • Price – $140 Adult – Kids (4-12) $115
  • Location – Kihei Boat Ramp
  • Duration = 5 1/2 Hours
  • Stops -Kanaio Sea Caves, La Perouse Bay Molokini, Molokini Back Side, Makena (Turtles) 
  • Meals – Breakfast and Lunch
  • Open Bar – NO!
  • Scuba – No
  • Snuba – No
Blue water rafting

The Blue Water Rafting trip Starts off by Cruising down the Remote and untouched Kanaio Coast. There is no road and only a seldom-used hiking trail along this coastline It is Rugged, Wild and awesome and you will have it to your selves (apart from a certain red boat)

You then head to La Perouse Bay where you will probably encounter dolphins and snorkel in waters that are pretty much an aquarium. Then it’s off to the Islet, here you will get the regular tourist experience as well as the outer Reef that not many people get to see and is even more dazzling than the inner reef.

Weather and Tide permitting you will get to snorkel the Back wall Too. This is where the sheer walls of the Volcano Plunge into the Abyss below. It is truly stunning and breathtakingly exhilarating. There is a slim chance of whale encounter here one of the very rare times you may see Whales in the water…but only if they Approach (see or Video in the Diving section to see how agonizingly close you can get, without them playing ball).

Next, you head back to the Mainland, where you take a relaxed lunch at your last Snorkel spot which will be a Turtle Hotspot.

It’s a really exciting and fun trip, that does get you to someplace you just wouldn’t with any other tour. But it is a bump rough ride not for the faint-hearted. There are warnings and suggestions on the Blue-water Rafting Website and we advise you heed them

Blue Water Rafting do also offer an Express tour of Molokini for two hours at $57 which will just get you to the island and back in much less time but without any of the other stops.

Redline Rafting

  • Price – $135 8 years and Up (7 and under are not allowed
  • Location – Kihei Boat Ramp
  • Duration = 5 Hours
  • Stops – Molokini, Molokini Back Side, Lava Coast, La Perouse Bay, Turtle Town
  • Meals – Break Fast And Lunch
  • Open Bar – NO!
  • Scuba – No
  • Snuba – No
Redline Rafting

Redline Rafting is pretty much the same. The route and actual stops may differ slightly but you are getting pretty much the same experience. There is almost nothing to choose between the two outfits. So just pick by color if you want. We feature Blue First but we are actually Red people, but that’s down to Sporting Preferences not our opinion of these two tours.

Pacific Whale Foundation – Molokini Wild Side

  • Price – $140 Adult – $80 Kids (7-12)
  • Location – Ma’alaea Habour
  • Duration = 6 Hours
  • Stops – Molokini, Molokini Back Side, + Other Flexible Sites
  • Meals – Break Fast And Lunch
  • Open Bar – NO One Alcoholic Drink Included.
  • Scuba – No
  • Snuba – No

Note on Weather!

Hawaii has a very stable climate, at least considering it’s slap bang in the middle of the pacific ocean. But there can be conditions that can have a big impact on activities such as Snorkelling trips. Especially to Molokini.

Wind is the biggest issue, the Islands lie right in the middle of the trade winds and these are strong powerful air currents. However, they do not usually affect the Molokini Snorkel trips as the Mountains of the island provide Shelter. Unfortunately, sometimes they change direction and the shelter is no longer provided. BIG surf and large swells form and this would make the sail to Molokini, at best uncomfortable and worse downright dangerous. Most claim a 90% success rate.

Snorkeling in Molokini

If they can’t, and this is usually decided by the Coast Guard. The first option is to try another site. Large swells often first form in the middle of the channel so staying closer to the shore can avoid the worst of it. It can be frustrating that you don’t make it to the crater. But rest assured you would not enjoy yourself one bit if they did try and make it. We have been out in the channel in these conditions and it’s…erm…exciting?

If the conditions are worse, such as a storm rolling in or heavy rain, then the Cruise will likely be canceled. Again it can be disappointing but it costs the Company’s a lot of money and rest assured they don’t WANT to do this. Quite the opposite.

Afternoon Trips

Most of these tours are Morning Trips and pretty early starts at that. This can mean a 5.00 am alarm call. On HOLIDAY! Urghh. Breakfast is provided which helps as does the Jet Lag. If you do this early in your trip 5/6 AM Does not feel so early…we Promise.

Some of the Operators offer Afternoon trips. But we don’t advise these. You have a much less than 50/50 chance of getting to the Island. If you do it will be bumpy and uncomfortable and it will be a short and less rewarding trip.

We say Go all in a set that alarm as things are just better at Molokini in the AM before the Winds build the swells. And if you just can’t stomach that do a Snorkel trip that doesn’t Go to Molokini and enjoy the amazing Maui Coast that way.

Snuba

Snuba is offered n a number of Tours to Molokini and is a great way to experience the world of Scuba Diving without doing any complex training. The main Difference is you are attached to your air-supply via a hose as opposed to a tank on your back. The limited depth and the fact you are attached to the surface make it really safe, easy and fun. As experienced Scuba Divers, we do not have much experience of Snuba but most people who do tell us just how much fun it was.

Diving Tours

This Post is mainly about Snorkel Trips but the best way to experience the Crater is by Scuba Diving so we had to mention it. If you want to dive the Crater properly you should seek a dedicated Dive Shop.

  • Lahaina Divers – Lahaina – Back Wall
  • Maui Dive Shop – Kihei – BackWall
  • Others ,,,

All offer trips to the Crater but only some offer the Back Wall Dive, which is one of the best dives in Maui.

Inside the Crater

The Basic dives are inside the crater. Life in the crater is abundant. The Dive steer away from the very inside edge where the dominant species is snorkeller and instead focus on the sunken regions of the reef. Visibility is phenominal and you are right on the edge of reef diving and the big blue.

Back Wall

Molokini Backwall

The Back Wall is one of Maui’s best Dive sites. Here you tackle the Back Side of the Crater where the Sheer cliffs plunge over 100 meters+ into the Abyss. It is a stunning Dive with abundant life and plenty of big pelagics such as Manta Rays, Sharks, Whale Sharks, Whales, Jacks, Trevally, and Tuna. Along with more resident but exotic Animals such as octopus, Giant Moray Eels and Reef Sharks. This is one of the only Dive Sites where you can realistically dive with HumpBacks. It’s rare and in no way guaranteed but possible.

Reefs End

Normally done as a second Dive with the Back Wall. This Dive Starts on the outside edge of the inner reef and heads out around the back wall. This is a great drift dive that starts with incredible dense Coral Reefs teeming with fish and ends up back at the Back Wall. Expect Reef Sharks, Galapagos Sharks and potentially any number of Big Pelagic Species.

Whale Watching

Whale Season is from November through to the end of March when a large population of humpback whales descend on Maui to winter in the warm clear water of the Maui Channel.

Witnessing these Whales is awesome. If you keep your eyes peeled you should be able to see them from the shore. But these will be nothing but dark shapes, blows or the odd splash. Getting out onto the water is the only way to see them up close. There are a number of specific Whale Watching tours offering to take you out to see the Whales.

However, most of the Molokini Tours above also Combine Whale Watching with your Molokini Adventure. But should you take two trips or try and kill two birds with one stone?

This depends on which is most important to you. From our experience, the Molokini Cruises do not make much of an effort to find you Whales. There is NO Guarantee and this is made clear. You are going to Molokini to Snorkel, not to Whale Watch, So if Seeing the Humpback is a life long dream and higher on your list than a fantastic Snorkel Cruise We suggest Booking a Whale watching tour either as well or instead.

That Said there is a reason they don’t make much effort. They really don’t need to. The trip out to the Islet from Ma’alaea Habour nearly always encounters Whales. The Route is prime Whale territory and they sail a zig-zagging route and liaise with other boats to try and snag a good whale sighting. It’s just not a Priority.

It’s a tough call as you probably will see whales but we would hate for you to miss out if Whales are your number one priority. The Whale Watching tours will also give you a lot longer observing Whales whereas the Snorkel Cruises will just slow down as they pass.

Remember Whether you are on a Snorkel Cruise or dedicated Whale Watching Cruise the vessels are not allowed to get too close or approach the whales so close sightings are rare as they require the Whale to approach the boat.

The Adventure Cruises will make a far greater effort to show you Whales and can get a little closer than the bigger boats are allowed. But still a respectable distance out of respect for these incredible Giants.

Have Your Say

Have you been to Molokini? What did you think? Is it as wonderful as made out or were you more underwhelmed? What boat did you take? What life did you manage to spot? Let us know below as we love hearing about your trips. Or if you have any questions about any of the operators or the Islet in general just fire us a comment below.

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