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With over six million visitors each year, tourists have always been amazed by the beauty and nature of Maui. Spectacular sunrise and sunset, world-renowned beaches, an array exotic landscapes and a well-developed infrastructure, Maui is one of the best islands in Hawaii.
And while the island itself is stunning on land, it’s even more spectacular in the sea. The south and west coast which are protected from strong winds and large swells, making it a great place to snorkel. Once you get in the water, you will see all sorts of marine life: from small tropical reef fish to whales that are gigantic but gentle.
Having 120 miles miles of coastline, the question here now is where to start. Sit back, relax, sip a Mai Tai and read along for our list of the best snorkel tours in Maui.
Despite suffering severe damage from the Second World War, Molokini Crater is still the best snorkeling site in Maui. Located 2 miles offshore from Maui’s southern coast, Molokini crater is a flooded volcanic caldera that has one of the clearest visibility in Maui and the rest of Hawaii.
From the mainland, you will take a 15-minute boat ride towards the protected cove of this dormant volcano. Once you get in the water, you cannot help but notice the crystal clear water where visibility usually goes over 30 meters. Having a perfect visibility, this means that you have a clear panoramic view underwater. Aside from corals dotting the sloping reef, you will have a great time interacting with tropical fishes like surgeonfish and moorish idols. If you swim out further, you will arrive at a vertical wall that drops all the way down to the seafloor. Don’t be scared if you see bubbles coming up from the bottom as this part of the crater is a popular scuba diving site.
The shores of Ukumehame to Maalaea in Maui’s west coast is laden with steep and unstable cliffs, except for Pali which is gifted with a narrow stretch of white sand. But Pali is not just known for its white beach, but also for snorkeling via a diversified reef aptly called the coral gardens.
While you can visit coral gardens via car as it is located near the road, we highly recommend you sign up for a boat tour. Snorkeling in coral gardens is offered either as a standalone destination or combined with the Molokini crater tour. Once you get in the water, you will be amazed by a garden of massive coral heads with a healthy fish population such as surgeonfish and butterflyfish. Sea turtles are also a part of the attraction in coral gardens. You can see this marine reptile swimming gracefully with the gentle strokes of their flippers.
Located 8 miles from Maui’s west coast, Lanai island has seen several transformation. From a favorite exile island for Maui’s lawbreakers, to an agricultural mecca for pineapple plantation and to what is now a snorkelers paradise.
Although there is a ferry boat going to Lanai, we highly suggest you do your Lanai island snorkeling with a boat tour. Aside from going near the site where a pod of dolphins thrive, you can maximize the number of snorkeling sites you can visit. Lanai island has over 13 snorkeling sites like the Monolith (a lava ridge with a 40-foot pinnacle) and a fish-laden mound aptly called Fish Rock.
Wailea Beach is a vast expanse of shallow sandy slope and the distance that you can cover during snorkeling will depend on your stamina and leg power. But how about placing your legs in a relax mode, yet swimming further out and deeper? That’s the case when you go sea scooter snorkeling in Wailea Beach.
At the beach, everything will be setup for you by your snorkel guide including a briefing and how to operate the scooter. After which, you will make a shore entry following a shallow sandy flat. As you press the button of the scooter, you will cruise on a effortless 3mph adventure. Without you knowing as you are enjoying, you will reach the outer reefs where most of those who did this tour have encountered manta rays or heard the sound of a passing humpback whale.
Ka’anapali Beach is a hub for high-end resorts and Tiki torches. If you happen to be within the perimeter, please do not leave town without exploring the black rock. As the name suggests, the icon for this snorkeling site is a clump of black volcanic rock that runs from the shore stretching out to the sea. Aside from the abundance of tropical reef fish, another marine attraction has also become an icon for black rock snorkeling – grazing sea turtles. As you go near the rock, you can see not just one, but usually a group of turtles searching for food in rocky crevices. Caution: don’t get too focused on the sea turtles. You need to surface out and watch for cliff divers as they often flock the towering structures always getting ready for a big stride.
While black rock has an easy access from the road and you can go snorkeling on your own, we highly suggest you sign up for a guided boat tour where you can explore other snorkeling sites in West Maui.
The term “Turtle Town” have been used and claimed in several of Maui’s top snorkeling destination. This is because sea turtles have become a regular attraction to these sites. However, while it is widely contested on who’s the true turtle town in Maui, nobody will argue us if we speak of the reef fronting the Makena Beach as the real turtle town. Just go snorkeling and you yourself will soon attest to our claim.
Once you get in the water, sea turtles are thriving healthy on the reef. You will see that the main difference between this area to other sites who are claiming such title is that the sea turtles are relatively in a relax mode. This is because the sea turtles are here for a pampering session as the reef is one of the few sea turtle cleaning stations in Maui.
Snorkeling around Turtle Town in Makena Beach is often done via boat tours. How about do it on a kayak tour? Not only that you will be one with nature, but everything will be up close and personal.
From the shore, your guide will take you on a paddle tour towards turtle town while having a breath-taking view of Molokini crater and the Haleakala Volcano. Once you reach turtle town, you will already see some sea turtles on the surface. However, as you plunge in the water and go snorkeling, you will come in close contact with sea turtles in their underwater environment. And what’s best with this kayak tour, you may encounter dolphins or humpback whales on your way back to the beach.
Don’t be surprised if there are lots of tourists signing up for a snorkeling tour in Maui. That’s how popular it is. If you want to stay away from the crowd yet still visit the best of Maui’s snorkeling sites, then consider booking for a sail and snorkel tour.
Departing from the harbor at 9am, you will go on a small group cruise around the coast of Lahaina. Depending on weather conditions, the Captain will always set sail to the site with the most favorable conditions. Nonetheless, the choices are still considered Maui’s best, like the one’s we have already mentioned.
After each snorkeling session, you will get onboard, rest and set sail to your next destination while enjoying complimentary snacks and drinks. If you happen to sail anywhere from December to April, then maybe you will not enjoy your snacks as you will be busy watching migrating humpback whales with some of them nursing their calves on the side.
The whaling season in Maui means a peak season for boat operators and your activity choices may be limited to a few. However, during the lean months when the whales are away for their annual migration, your tour operator may offer additional activities such as scuba diving.
In Lahaina, you set cruise on the same path, snorkel on the same sites, but this time you will have the opportunity to really get up close and personal with Hawaii’s underwater inhabitants. Offered as a fun dive tour for certified divers or as a Discover Scuba Program for newbies, you will go on a guided underwater tour, usually after you go snorkeling. This will set you apart from snorkelers as they only stay at the surface while you spend more time underwater and get close to reef.
Having some degree of swimming skills is advantageous when you go snorkeling. However, in Wailea Beach, it is not necessary as snorkeling tours for non-swimmers are available.
After a quick briefing and suiting up, you will enter the water confidently as you are required to wear a life vest all the time. Do not expect that you will visit the deeper part of the reef. Your tour will be limited to the shallows. But despite being shallow, the reef is filled with marine life where you will love the abundance of damselfish, tangs and sergeant majors. If you repeat this tour many times, you will be surprise that you will no longer need a life vest as your snorkeling skills will come out naturally over time.