This post contains affiliate links. The Salt Sirens earns from qualifying purchases.
Oahu is the gateway to Hawaii’s top tourist destination. With over half a million visitors disembarking each month on the capital’s Inouye International Airport, tourism plays an important part of Oahu’s economy. Some of the popular tourist spots in Oahu include Waikiki Beach, Ko Olina Lagoon and the Pearl Harbor Monument.
While Hawaii has eight major islands, Oahu alone can quench your thirst for adventure especially when it comes to snorkeling. No matter if you’re a beginner or a veteran snorkeler, there’s a reef to explore in Oahu. From shallow reefs to the vastness of the open sea, these are the best snorkel tours in Oahu, also known as “The Gathering Place”.
Waikiki is not just a popular hangout for Hawaiian vacationers, but also for sea turtles. Located just half a mile from Waikiki Beach, sea turtles also hangout in a reef that is aptly called Turtle Canyon.
Once you arrive at the site, you might see turtles at the surface. When you join them in the water, you will see how healthy their population is. Spotting over twenty sea turtles in a single trip is considered a regular day. The reason for their presence is that the reef is considered their cleaning station. Each sea turtle is surrounded with small tropical reef fish cleaning their carapace in exchange for a quick meal.
Let’s say you have conquered your galeophobia and want to swim with sharks without the protection of metal cages. Then sign up for a Haleiwa cage-free shark snorkel.
From the marina in the North Shore of Oahu, you will go on a 3-mile cruise offshore and arrive in an open ocean environment. Your open ocean tour will be led by a safety diver. You will follow him swimming to an area where sharks are thriving in abundance. Sandbar sharks, Galapagos sharks, tiger sharks, grey reef sharks, whitetip sharks and hammerhead sharks are some of the shark species you can see and interact. While you are swimming in an open water environment, expect other large pelagic species like dolphins and whales.
If shark is not your thing and rather choose for a bus tour around Oahu, then consider having a reservation for a bus and snorkel tour in the North Shore.
From Honolulu, you will board a minibus of up to 20 guests and travel towards the north coast. Your snorkeling site will be the turtle town in the North Shore where you will swim with green sea turtles. After snorkeling, you will drop by at several iconic Hawaiian tourist spots like Diamond Head, Makapu’u Beach and Laie Point. You will also visit 2 gigantic farms: the macadamia nut farm and Dole’s pineapple plantation. Just make sure you have nothing else to do for the day as the tour will last for 8 hours.
In case you don’t have the whole day to spend outdoors or maybe the North Shore is too far for you, you can still experience a combo bus and snorkel tour at a nearby site – Hanauma Bay. Only 30 minutes from Honolulu, you will board a bus and travel towards the southern coast of Oahu.
Declared as a marine life conservation area and underwater park, Hanauma Bay is an old volcanic crater filled with marine life like tangs and triggerfish. On top of this, you will enjoy the snorkeling conditions in Hanauma Bay as it is generally calm and free from strong winds and waves.
Fast boats and roaring engines are the fad with most tour operators in Oahu. But how about having a slow and quiet cruise on the leeward coast of Oahu and go snorkeling in spectacular underwater reefs.
From Honolulu, you will set sail to the west coast with the gentle Pacific breeze powering up your trip. As you sail, you will enjoy the vast Hawaiian ocean scenery with dolphins breaching nearby. Once you reach the designated snorkeling site, you will drop anchor. After a short briefing, you will go in the water following a professional snorkel guide. While the reef is laden with tropical fish, your sights will definitely be focused on sea turtles as they gently flip their wings and gracefully swim above corals. On your sail back, there’s nothing better than having a sip of your favorite drink as this tour comes with a complimentary alcoholic drink (for adults only; juice and soda for the kids).
Unlike volcanoes, sandbars are not really synonymous when we speak of Hawaii. However, you can still visit one, particular off the coast of Kaneohe.
Leaving port in Kaneohe, you will go on a 1-mile cruise and arrive at a 3-mile long sandbar. When you arrive, you will be greeted by a vast expanse of white powdery sand and walking barefoot on it is very hard to resist. After a short walking tour, your guide will prepare your group for a snorkeling adventure and led you to a shallow reef where sea turtles awaits your presence.
Snorkeling can be more fun if other watersports are combined. In the case of this tour, ocean kayaking and SUP are added as a regular feature. Cruising from Honolulu, you will anchor at a reef and once the Captain announces “let the fun begin”, choose whether you go snorkeling, kayaking or SUP.
Once you get back on the boat, other activities will keep you going like the iconic onboard ocean slide, dolphin watching or learn how to “hula” – a popular Polynesian dance that uses the rhythmic coordination of the hips and hands. Don’t worry, you can easily learn the dance after a few drinks that is available at the bar upon purchase.
If you are hesitant to go in the water and see what’s hidden beneath as you don’t know how to swim and snorkel, don’t worry as you can learn both while having a great Hawaiian vacation.
At the beach, you will start by having a short lecture about the basics of snorkeling. After, you will go to a shallow sandy flat at waist deep for you to be adjusted and be comfortable on water. After getting used to, your guide will lead you to the reef where your snorkeling lessons will also be filled with fish encounters as damselfish will present themselves to you for a quick play. You will even have your own underwater video that you can later share to your family and friends.
Snorkeling in Oahu is already a great experience. But how about we add it with a dash of underwater exploration and adventure by using a submarine scooter.
After passing Diamond Head Crater via Maunalua Bay, your catamaran boat will anchor and your snorkeling adventures will start as the crew sets up the submarine scooter. After a quick rest back onboard, you will be guided to your own submarine scooter. Once seated and ready, you will go on an epic 20 minute dive underwater while getting close to the reef and surrounded with lots of tropical fish.