Best Snorkeling Spots in Maui (Turtle Town, South Maui, West Maui)


Best Snorkel beaches in Maui

Maui has some of the best snorkeling beaches for beginners, families with kids, and underwater explorers of all experience levels. When you’ve tired of suntanning on Maui’s beautiful beaches and want to see another side of paradise just steps away, check out the rockier areas and go snorkeling!

Let’s explore the best (and less busy) snorkeling spots in Maui:

Definitely go snorkeling in South Maui. Surprisingly, there are many great snorkeling beaches not the least bit crowded. Some favorite spots are at Po’olenalena Beach, Chang’s Beach, Maluaka Beach, and Ahihi Cove, all in the vicinity of ‘Turtle Town,’ an area known for its healthy Honu (Hawaiian green sea turtle) population.

green sea turtle

Read on for info on the best places to snorkel all over Maui, where to park, directions for the best points of entry, when to go snorkeling, and which side of the beach has the best scenery, variety, and reef providing cover for sea turtles and sea life.

Best Snorkeling Beaches in West Maui

If you’re staying on the West side — or even if you aren’t, but you want some awesome snorkeling beaches — drive up to Honolua Bay. It’s a Must Snorkel.

Honolua Bay in West Maui

Honolua Bay is great for snorkeling in the summer. A gem among the beautiful sights in Maui, Honolua Bay and its Marine Nature Preserve is a consistently excellent snorkel spot. Honolua Bay is a great location to see coral reefs. Some say this is the best place to snorkel in Maui, except for maybe Molokini (except Molokini is generally more crowded).

Directions to Honolua Bay Snorkeling Spot

It requires a little bit of a walk from where you park along the main road up through West Maui. Look for a few parking spaces at the beginning of the trail, on the side of the road. Walk down the path. The short hike through the lush forest floor takes you briefly away from the resort experience, with a glimpse of the island’s natural beauty. The shore is covered with slippery round rocks, so please watch your step.

You may have to wade through a little trickle of a stream or deeper stream — if the stream is too deep, for example after a rain, that’s a solid indicator of poor water visibility anyway. If on the drive here you notice some huge waves, don’t worry about that because this calm cove is protected from the surf… but, if you see surfers in the bay, you don’t want to be snorkeling there. When you reach the rocky beach, wade into the water from the middle where there’s a little bit of sand, then head over to the right side to snorkel.

Great Nature Sight-Seeing: See Eels, Sea Turtles, Squids, Tangs, and More

Once you pass the shoreline and rocky entrance, the bay comes to life with sea urchins, eels, turtles, squids, tangs, and other species of fish. The coral is vast and the best-preserved in the island.

You can spend the whole day exploring here. Bring binoculars for bird watching, if you’re into that.

Even on perfect snorkeling days when everyone wants to explore this bay, it’s a huge bay and easy to find your own spot away from the other people there.

Honolua Bay directions, location and access trail (thanks, google maps)

You’ll have the opportunity to see lots of beautiful fish, including Uhu Parrot fish, the Kihi Kihi Moorish Idol, Tangs, and the Honu Green Sea Turtles. If you’re lucky, you may find the sunken truck axle!

while snorkeling at Honolua Bay, West Maui

If you’d like to create a day of exploring West Maui, stop here on a West Mountain Driving Loop that includes: The Olivine Pools, Nakalele Blowhole, snorkeling at Honolua Bay and dinner in Lahaina.

Honolua Bay Summary

  • Park on the cliff and walk down.
  • Definitely a favorite snorkeling spot, but not crowded at all.
  • Mild waves and this Bay is very sheltered compared to other spots.
  • Easy for beginners snorkeling in Maui with kids.

Kapalua Beach Snorkeling

Kapalua Beach is very nice, too: it is a short, steeper beach, but has a very easy sandy entry. Kapalua Beach is darn near perfect, if you get there early. It’s a bay with a reef so the water is very calm. The beach is a gentle curve of golden sand with a grassy slope beyond it. Because it’s so nice, the crowds can be pretty big.

Nice rocks provide necessary structure along the left side for exploring. As you are looking out, the best snorkeling is on the right side of the bay.

Directions to Best Snorkeling in Kapalua Bay

Because of this beach’s popularity, parking can be a challenge. I suggest driving past Merriman’s and parking in the Kapalua Tennis Club: $10 for All Day parking, and there are plenty of spots.

If the public parking is full at the south end of Kapalua Beach, there are nine public parking spots (plus one ADA spot) on Bay Dr. in the Kapalua Bay Villas complex. From there, take the public walk past the side of the Montage to a fork… turn left to get to Kapalua Beach and turn right to get to the walk and steps / cliff jump into Namalu Bay.

If you turn left, before you get to Kapalua Beach, you pass a beautiful grassy spot with a bench to sit or let the kids run around away from the sand.

The best snorkeling close to the Kapalua Beach shore is on the north side swimming northwest all the way to (and past if you want) the point separating Kapalua and Namalu. This area is all coral right below the surface of the water. If you’re not a beginner, you can swim around the point (watch the current) into Namalu Bay. Or, if you’re brave and the waters are calm, you can swim south all the way down to the other point (where Merriman’s is located) on the south end of the beach.

The waters in the winter may be choppy with the northern swell, but in the summer, the swell is usually coming from the south, so this area should be protected.

There is a public bathroom and outdoor shower on the south end of the beach, and another shower at the north end in front of the Montage.

Namalu is where the snorkel tours take folks, so you can save yourself some money by taking your gear (or renting from the stand at the north end of Kapalua Beach) to the cove yourself.

Kapalua beach Snorkel Tip

Kapalua Beach Summary

  • Best close-to-shore snorkeling in Maui, hands down!
  • Lots of people see turtles here, half a dozen turtles in the reefs is the norm (don’t touch, though)
  • Go early, this is a busy beach; 8:30am should be fine.
  • If staying in Kapalua, take the shuttle from your hotel.
  • Politely remind people how they should treat the ocean. The marine life has clearly suffered so if you see someone doing something they shouldn’t (e.g., wearing sunscreen that isn’t reef-safe), just inform them.

Kahekili Beach Snorkeling

Kahekili Beach is a nice snorkeling spot, also easily accessible with plenty of parking. It has a nice beach and grassy area for picnics. The reef starts fairly close to shore so you don’t have far to swim at all. It’s pretty shallow in places and you can see some interesting fish, and perhaps a turtle or two.

We went snorkeling right off the shore and the reef there is vibrant and had plenty to see, probably more impressed with it than Black Rock, and with a lot fewer people.

tripadvisor on KaheKIli Beach

Kahekili provides a great parking lot, which is relatively rare in Maui, and a wonderful beach with easy ocean access. The sandy entry to the ocean is easy to find.

Also easy to find are the beautiful coral and fish all along this stretch. From here you can walk all the way down to Black Rock if you choose, but the snorkeling at Kahekili is better.

Kahekili Beach Summary

  • Lots of sand and space, plus a big grassy area for picnics.
  • Good for beginners and kids; sandy entry.
  • The beach doesn’t feel crowded.
  • Restrooms and outdoor showers.
  • Has a covered gazebo with charcoal grills. Perfect to pack a picnic and enjoy the day.

Swim with Hawaiian Sea Turtles in South Maui’s Famous Turtle Town

‘Turtle Town’ Maui is the long stretch of coastline stretching between Nahuna Point and Black Sand Beach in the southern district of Makena.

As mentioned, Po’olenalena Beach, Chang’s Beach, Maluaka Beach — many of the beaches south of Wailea — are very good for spotting turtles.

Maluaka Tops Them All

Although Turtle Town includes a large swath of prime snorkeling areas, most people who say Turtle Town are specifically referring to Maluaka Beach.

Arguably, Maluaka is the best snorkeling beach in the Turtle Town Maui area, and a favorite place to snorkel on the south shore of Maui. 

Directions to Maluaka Beach

Maluaka Beach is just south of Wailea at the end of Makena Road.  The entrance is off of the main street so most visitors drive past without even knowing it’s there. While this beach is not top secret, it is definitely one of Maui’s lesser known beaches, despite its high population of Hawaiian green sea turtles.

And yes, you’re highly likely to see many turtles while snorkeling at Maluaka! And please, don’t touch them.

Best Time to Go Snorkeling at Maluaka

Plan to go snorkeling early in the day, to beat the noontime-1pm winds that blow into South Maui. Everybody knows the beaches in and around Wailea and Makena area the best, so get there before everybody else. 🙂

The tour boats choose different locations all around this area, for good reason. The best of the best snorkeling is at Maluaka: this beach boasts sublime views, a nice sandy entry, decent reef along the left side (where Maui Prince is. Excellent parking, too).

Snorkeling the Island of Lanai

The Island of Lanai is a little island about an 8 mile boat ride away from Lahaina (West Maui), and is a part of Maui County. Some of the best places to snorkel in Maui are along the quiet coastal shores of nearby islands. If you have to choose just one boat tour, opt for the snorkeling tour in Lanai instead of Molokini.

If you are not yet familiar with the underwater world off Lanai you have been missing out on some of the best snorkeling in Maui — I mean, it’s all amazing, but each underwater area offers something different and unlike anything you’ve seen before.

How to Get to Lanai

Lanai trips are definitely more convenient for people staying in the West Maui area (Kapalua, Kahana, Honokowai, Kaanapali, and Lahaina).

Lanai trips leave from Lahaina, so much less driving is involved than for most of the Molokini boats. Spend the day watching dolphins and whales along the south coast of Lanai (December – May), or go swimming with schools of fish and Hawaiian green sea turtles that call the reefs home.

Lanai has the longest stretch of coral reef in Hawaii and is a prime snorkeling destination. Because it takes a little effort to reach Lanai, the beaches on this island are practically deserted. The area around the Manele Bay hotel is particularly beautiful, with uncrowded beaches, fascinating tide pools, great snorkeling, red sea cliffs, and lots of sun.

Best Snorkeling Spots on Maui (Map)

As we’ve discussed, South Maui offers the most accessible and protected waters for snorkelers of all experience levels. If you’d like to hit all the hot spots, here’s a handy map that plots other crowd-voted ‘best snorkeling spots on Maui.’

Best Time of Day to Snorkel in Maui

Early to Snorkel

In general, you’ll want to get out to the beach nice and early. This strategy takes care of two things: you beat the crowds, and beat the wind.

Even if you choose a busy beach, you’ll notice that most people aren’t there to snorkel. Ignore the potential masses of beach bums, and focus on applying your reef-safe sunscreen.

Once you’re out at a recommended beach or bay, get in the water. Simple!

Beginner tips: Avoid the nothing-but-sand areas. Instead, find a nice rocky mass or some underwater structure that offers sea life some protection and maybe some food. This is why the reefs are fantastic snorkeling spots: structure equals protection for fish equals snorkeling paradise.

Here’s another equation: sandy sea bottom + wind = poor visibility. As wind blows across the ocean’s surface it creates a current; sand and other particles on the bottom are caught in the movement of the water, tossed about, and make the water cloudy.  When it comes to underwater visibility, the less wind the better. Snorkeling in the mornings and over the reef will help make this equation work in your favor.

Swimming with Sea Turtles in Hawaii: Etiquette

Maui’s protected bays offer you the incredible opportunity to swim with all varieties of fish, sea creatures, and green sea turtles — don’t get too close, though: sea turtles on Maui, and all of Hawaii, are protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act as well as Hawaii State law. Touching a sea turtle or acting in a manner that alters their behavior is considered harassment.

Remain at least 15 feet away from the sea turtles and keep your arms by your side when sea turtles are in the vicinity. Not only is it polite to keep your hands to yourself, but violators can be fined up to $100,000.

Where are the Sea Turtles?

At south Makena beaches, to find the green sea turtles (they are actually brown and are often mistaken for rocks on the sea floor), walk down the beach until you get to the rocks at the end of the sand. You won’t find many sea creatures in the desert that is a sandy beach. The turtles and fish like to be where the food is — around the algae-covered rocky areas, and protective coral reefs.

Summary: Get Out There and Go Snorkeling Already

It amazes me that so many people at hotels fight over pool cabanas or spots on the beach, when you have the clearest waters of the world teaming with beautiful fish and other creatures of the sea at your doorstep, which you can explore for free.

Snorkeling is a very inexpensive sport, especially when all the beaches and waterfront in Hawaiian islands are open to public. Some of the best snorkel spots are in front of the high class hotels, yet any member of the public can access these beaches and enjoy the natural beauty.

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I like to share my travel experiences and save others some time, money, and effort in planning their own adventures.

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