The writers at Outside Pursuits can say with complete confidence that the snorkeling on Maui is world-class. Don’t miss it while you’re there. There is an abundance of coral reefs, marine life and the visibility is impeccable. Seeing the giant Green Sea Turtle is a life-changing event for those who love nature.
So, if you’re visiting Maui where are the best snorkel locations and the best tours that will get you there? Some great snorkel spots are easy to access from the beach. But for the most dramatic panorama of sea life, and access to all that Maui’s coral reefs have to offer, take a look at the boat tours that are available.
In the reviews that follow you’ll see the tours that we chose for our top 5 along with our Editor’s Choice. First, let’s take a look at the 3 snorkeling excursions with the highest customer reviews in the Hawaiian Islands along with details of each.
- Molokini Snorkeling Adventure
- West Maui Snorkeling Adventure
- Small-Group Molokini Snorkel and Green Sea Turtle Adventure
Then we’ll share some considerations for choosing the snorkeling trip that best suits your tastes. Here’s an overview of the 3 top picks:
Best Snorkeling Tours In Maui
Maui Snorkel Tour Reviews
Molokini is a fabulous little gem of a crater islet located just two miles offshore from Maui. It is accessible by a short boat trip. The unique snorkeling spot is the result of a sea life-rich channel combined with a lack of surrounding sand to impede visibility.
The Molokini crater is literally one of the clearest places to snorkel in the world. Looking all around in the sapphire blue water the guest will be amazed at the large variety of sea life. A crescent shape protects from wind and waves and the sea life flourishes in the environment.
There is also a magnificent bird preserve on the islet itself. A researcher’s permit is required to go ashore but a lot of majestic birdlife can be seen onshore from the snorkel boat. This makes for a great feature if some participants won’t be snorkeling.
You’ll be able to search for some of the 200 species of fish that live in the waters of Molokini Crater. Among these are manta rays, eels, sea urchins or possibly even a shark or two. You’ll also stop at Turtle Town off the the Maui coast. There, you’ll have the unique opportunity to swim alongside the giant Hawaiian Green sea turtles.
In the winter the tour cruises up the coast looking for dolphins or Humpback whales. You’ll enjoy a buffet lunch and relax onboard while cruising to the snorkel sites.
- Breakfast and lunch included
- Snorkel the world-renowned Molokini Crater
- Search for the majestic Hawaiian Green sea turtle
- Professional lifeguards
- Glass bottom viewing port and water slide
- All of the snorkeling gear needed is included
The tour departs from Maalaea Harbor enroute to Molokini Crater and Turtle Town. This is a short and easy ride that includes a complete breakfast and a lunch of Hawaiin barbeque. The crew is a comprised of a professional captain and mate. You’ll learn about the area from these knowledgeable locals.
What an ideal day on the pristine waters off of Maui’s shore. Molokini is located 2 miles off the south shore of Kihei and situated in 300 feet (91 meters) of water, Molokini is truly a unique wonder of nature. This tour provides a chance to see hundreds of species of Hawaiian marine life.
The tour also cruises the south shore of Maui. Here, the informative captain gives commentary about Maui history, volcanoes and even homes owned by celebrities onshore in Maui. There are restrooms on the boat for your convenience.
To book online go to: Molokini Snorkeling Adventure
Leaving from Whaler’s Village on Ka’anapali Beach this 4.5 hour tour is geared toward locating the best snorkeling for the day based on weather conditions, tides and fish movements. The trip may stop at a number of “hot spots” depending on the captain’s information for the day.
There are many snorkeling tours in Maui and this excursion will see the best of them. Mala Wharf, Oluwalu, Cliff House and Honolua Bay are among the amazing stops of the tour that you may experience. It’s a relaxed pace and the crew makes every effort to accommodate special requests from the guests.
The sea life that is abundant around Maui includes: Giant Green Sea Turtles (Honu), Tropical Eels, Spinner Dolphins, Bottle Nose Dolphins and even Humpback Whales when they’re in sesaon. And don’t forget the schools of colorful tropical fish that congregate near the coral reef heads.
- 4.5-hour snorkeling tour departs from West Maui
- Abundant marine life including Hawaiian green sea turtles, spinner dolphins, bottle nose dolphins and various tropical fish
- Use of your snorkeling equipment is included
- Breakfast and lunch included – prepared onboard by a chef
- Experienced captain chooses best spots depending on conditions
A unique feature of the West Maui Snorkeling Adventure is an onboard staff videographer and onboard HD video review of the day’s sights and sounds while snorkeling and cruising. Still images, as well as videos of the day’s activities , are available for purchase onboard.
There are non-alcoholic beverages included onboard and also beers or cocktails for purchase.
To book online go to: West Maui Snorkeling Adventure
For a guaranteed to be uncrowded snorkel tour take a look at the Small-Group Molokini Snorkel and Green Sea Turtle Adventure from Maui. Leaving from the small boat ramp at Kihei very early morning in a speed military-type raft you are whisked to one of the most incredible snorkeling spots in the world – Molokini Crater.
Molokini Crater has unique characteristics making it the jewel of a marine life sanctuary that it is. Its crescent shape blocks sea current and prevents practically all sand and silt from impeding visibility. Molokini rises out of the 300 feet of water depth and visibility is often sufficient to see for 200 feet or more.
The tour ensures maximum snorkeling time in the water with a small group and a speedy water craft. Other snorkeling destinations will be included with the tour offering other looks at this diverse and beautiful undersea world.
- 5-hour snorkeling tour
- 180-200 ft. visibility
- Maximum time in the water
- Multiple snorkeling stops
- Includes breakfast and lunch
This snorkeling adventure will take you to some of Maui’s top sites. You’ll stop at Molokini Crater and Turtle Town Maui where you’ll have your chance to spot the giant Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle. Then you’ll look for dolphins at La Perouse Bay and enjoy complimentary breakfast and lunch
To book online go to: Small-Group Molokini Snorkel and Green Sea Turtle Adventure from Maui
Other Maui Snorkeling Tours We Liked:
If you happen to be staying on the South Shore of Maui then this tour is another great option for a snorkeling excursion. Using sea kayaks you’ll explore the beautiful and peaceful Makena coastline. This section of shoreline is protected from wind and waves making for great kayaking, swimming and snorkeling visibility.
On this “walk-in” 2-hour snorkeling excursion you’ll be guided to safely visit the Mala Wharf. It’s an old pier that is now used as an underwater reef and marine refuge. Mala Reef is home to tropical fish, eels, starfish and turtles. You’ll spend all of your time in the water and enjoy an intimate encounter with the giant green Hawaiian sea turtle or “Honu.”
Since childhood we’ve been fascinated by the prospect of staying underwater and still being able to breath. It was fascinating. For as long as we dared we could stay facedown in a swimming pool and experience a whole other world – an underwater world – without concern for holding our breath or “running out of air”.
As we ventured into the natural world of lake or ocean snorkeling it became a challenge to experience adequate water clarity and also reasonably calm surface conditions. And if conditions were just right then an incredible array of wildlife could be experienced including fish, shellfishes, crabs, coral and marine plantlife.
Weather conditions have a lot to do with underwater visibility and the overall quality of any snorkeling excursion. Fortunately, the snorkeling adventures listed above are all found off the island of Maui in the Pacific paradise of Hawaii, USA where visibility is excellent – nearly swimming pool clarity. And an abundant diversity of sea life flourishes.
Snorkeling Class for Beginners
An Ideal Snorkeling Trip
For those who have experienced great snorkeling it’s a fact that visibility is the number one factor to the quality of the experience and what’s in the water to be experienced is a close second. And for these reasons coral reefs are the most popular attraction for snorkelers. This is because reefs offer color, diversity and of course – marine life – including fish, plants, eels and shellfish. Even eels like the menacing looking moray eel, along with its relatives, inhabit and hunt in and around the reef.
The living ecosystem of a coral reef has long fascinated scientists and naturalists – ever since the first underwater excursions discovered reefs using diving helmets in the 1800s. Pristine blue waters that reveal a living, growing coral reef below the water’s surface is a priceless thing of natural beauty.
Like visibility, water depth, plays a major role in the snorkeling experience. If marine life is deep below the surface of the water then it’s unlikely it will be fully-visible using just snorkeling apparatus. And similarly, if a man-made structure like a shipwreck or sunken pier is too deep to be accessed by snorkeling, then it’s necessary to look for snorkeling sites which are more shallow. We’ll talk more about depth in the following section called “Be Safe – Know Your Limits” below.
The very best conditions for an excellent snorkeling experience are when visibility (water clarity) and manageable water depth are present, (anywhere between about 4 feet and 25 feet) and there is interesting marine life or man-made structures to view. The exception is when a reef (or wall) extends many, many feet below the surface and visibility id excellent as it is in the Hawaiian Islands. Visibility around Maui and the other islands of Hawaii can be over 200 feet.
Some examples of underwater terrain which makes for good snorkeling:
- Coral reef structures
- Rocky outcroppings along shorelines
- Offshore rocks and formations reaching the water’s surface
- Man-made structures (piers, sunken concrete and debris)
- Man-made shipwrecks (ships, boats, barges)
Snorkeling in the Hawaiian Islands
Snorkeling around the islands of Hawaii mainly consists of coral reefs that encircle each of the islands. This fringe of coral contains a variety of hard corals, marine plant life and fish of many species. As well, the reefs attract dolphins, turtles and sharks. There are many reef structures at around 15 feet or less below surface – ideal for snorkeling.
There are said to be some 800-900 species of sea creatures living on the reefs surrounding the Hawaiian Islands. Depending on your mode of accessing the reefs, as well as the seasonal weather conditions, your snorkeling experience can vary greatly. But with some insider information you can be well-equipped with knowledge on how to get the most for your time and money.
Although the high season for tourism is Winter and Spring, the more favorable time to experience the reefs is in Summer. It will be hotter and humid in Summer, but the seas are also warmer, clearer and more calm. Winter months can bring 20 foot sea swells and the shoreline becomes disrupted and less visible. The Summer “mini high season” is middle of June through August so check rates for June and September if you’re on a budget.
The Hawaiian Islands are a one-of-a-kind natural wonder. The ecosystem of living coral is a fragile organism. It is strictly prohibited to stand on reefs or to touch live coral. Touching coral will break it, which separates it from the coral farm and kills the organism. Always be respectful of the reef system and obey these guidelines to ensure the future of the ecosystem for generations to come.
Know Your Limits – Snorkel Safely
Being described as a “good swimmer” is a relative term. When you’re snorkeling in open waters such as the Hawaiian Islands always be respectful of the physical stamina required, as well as the possible dangers of the water. When snorkeling in windy conditions and choppy seas snorkeling can be physically demanding.
As mentioned above, some underwater sites are too deep in the water to see using just a mask, snorkel and fins. Such features are better suited to scuba diving. It is important to establish how deeply you can free dive, and how long you can hold your breath safely. It’s a good rule of thumb to snorkel within your limits. And until you’re comfortable with more depth and duration just hang on the surface taking short dives until you’re completely comfortable.
Not too many snorkeling incidents are reported. But, it’s good practice to stay safe and be respectful of your own limits. A great day on the sea (and under the sea) shouldn’t be a laborious outing. In fact a lot of the marine life in the Hawaiian Islands that lives on the reefs can be spotted just floating above the reef at the surface.
Please be safe and have a wonderful time snorkeling in the Hawaiian Islands.