If you are choosing a Hawaiian island for your first trip to Hawaii based on priority #1 being snorkeling, you may consider looking harder at Maui or the Big Island where among the best snorkeling in Hawaii can be found.
Snorkeling tours may increase your chances of spotting certain types of marine life like turtles or dolphins.
But there are also plenty of spots that you can also bring your snorkel gear and snorkel for FREE.
And, Hawaii is a PERFECT place to go snorkeling for the first time.
And if you’re not set on Hawaii, the Maldives is another good snorkeling destination!
Whichever island you go snorkeling in Hawaii, there are some important things you should know before you go, including tips on what to wear snorkeling in Hawaii.
This also includes some things that you should AVOID doing when snorkeling in Hawaii! (This refers to turtles, coral reef, and sunscreen!)
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Also see some of the most popular items bought specifically for a trip to Hawaii – these types of shoes perfect for snorkeling with rocky beach entrances, the best sunscreen for Hawaii, these types of sandals perfect for hiking in hot weather, and the BEST travel guide book series for Hawaii available for every island.
And also see these packing helpers to help you pack better and maybe even go carry-on only.
What to know when snorkeling in Hawaii?!
1. The season can determine when the best time to snorkel is
As you’re researching the best spots to snorkel on the particular island you’re going to, you’ll also want to further research if you’re going to Hawaii at the right time for snorkeling at that location.
Sometimes, snorkeling conditions are only good during a certain part of a year.
Strong waves and surf can make it for undesirable snorkeling.
2. A jellyfish invasion means no snorkeling
On a similar note, as there is a certain time of the year that can be best for snorkeling in some spots, along some beaches in Hawaii there is also a certain time of month that makes for a very BAD time to go snorkeling.
On Oahu, Waikiki Beach and Hanauma Bay have been known to have jellyfish invasions that keep everyone out of the water.
In August 2018, there were over 60 jellyfish stings reported at a popular snorkeling spot in Oahu.
Of course you don’t want to get stung by jellyfish so that doesn’t make it a very good time to go snorkeling!
But luckily, these jellyfish invasions are predictable based on the moon and the tides.
If you’re headed to Oahu, see the jellyfish calendar.
3. The best sunscreen for Hawaii is one that’s less harmful to marine life
So be sure to check the sunscreen ingredients list to make sure you’re doing the best you can to be environmentally-friendly to the ocean life!
Hawaii will actually soon be making it illegal for the sales of sunscreen products with certain ingredients to help avoid these chemicals from further harming coral reef.
4. There are places to rent snorkeling gear in Hawaii
If you’re wanting to pack light for your trip to Hawaii and you don’t anticipate going on another snorkeling vacation in the near future, you may not feel like buying a whole bunch of snorkeling gear.
In that case, it’s possible to find places that will rent snorkel gear on a daily or weekly basis.
5. There are also convenient places to buy cheap snorkeling gear in Hawaii
Due to the convenience of locations, the easiest spot to buy snorkeling gear on Oahu can be the ABC stores that are located on pretty much every corner in Waikiki.
You can’t guarantee the quality of this gear, but you’ll likely find it to work out for snorkeling for a few days.
Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island also have ABC stores.
It’s mostly a matter of whether or not you want to bother with having to go shopping for gear when you’re on vacation. It could be easier to bring it from home so you don’t have to bother and so that you can head straight to the beach.
6. There are many snorkeling spots that you DON’T need a snorkeling tour for
A snorkeling tour in Hawaii isn’t considered absolutely necessary like it may be in some other tropical destinations.
Many of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii you will be able to organize your own snorkeling trip.
One notable exception is the Molokini Crater. This is one of the best snorkeling spots in Maui. You need to take a boat to reach this island crater.
That said, there are snorkeling tours (and scuba diving tours for beginners) that you may find to be worth it that give you a better chance at turtle sightings and colorful tropical fish sightings.
Although no matter what – paid tour or DIY tour – remember that this is nature, so there’s no 100% guarantee either way!
7. There are many snorkeling spots that are FREE!
Along the same lines, many of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii are around strips of coral reef that can be found right near the beach.
And, since most beaches in Hawaii are free… this means that snorkeling is free too!
One notable exception to this is Hanauma Bay. This is one of the best snorkeling spots in Oahu, and there’s an entry fee to snorkel here.
8. Not all top snorkeling spots have lifeguards
Whether you go to a beach with or without lifeguards, there are inherent risks for snorkeling in the ocean. People die every year in Hawaii from drowning.
But you can decrease your risk a little bit by sticking to beaches with lifeguards.
So if lifeguards are an important safety consideration to you, be sure to look into whether the beach has lifeguards. Just because it’s a popular snorkeling spot doesn’t mean that there are lifeguards.
9. You shouldn’t touch coral reef
This is one of the common mistakes made on a first trip to Hawaii.
As you’re wading in the water and see coral reef alongside the sand’s surface, it could be tempting to treat it as rock and walk over it if you’re wearing footwear like snorkeling fins or water shoes.
But coral reef is fragile, so if people keep stepping all over the reef, it can damage it and may eventually die.
So try to avoid touching coral reef.
If you’re barefoot, you definitely do NOT want to step on the coral reef for your own safety!
Coral reef can be SHARP and it can cut you.
This is also why water shoes are a good idea if you won’t be wearing fins, in case you accidentally hit the coral reef as you are kicking and swimming along.
10. Turtles are a protected species in Hawaii
If you’re snorkeling in a spot that is popular for turtle sightings, you may get super excited when you see a turtle.
You may even be tempted to try to touch it.
You want to avoid getting too close to the turtles so they can have their space, and it’s best to stay at least 6-10 feet away from them.
11. Shark attacks are rare in Hawaii
Shark attacks are relatively rare in the Hawaiian islands.
But once again, this is nature, and the ocean is vast, and shark attacks do happen.
Recently in September 2018, there was a shark attack in Oahu.
But if it makes you feel any better, this didn’t happen in any of the tourist hotspots!
You can wear your regular swimsuit to go snorkeling no problem.
But if you want to give your skin the extra protection from the sun when you’re out in the water for an hour or 2, it’s popular to opt for rashguards as part of your snorkeling outfit.
These are basically shirts that protect against UV rays, and makes it so you don’t have to put on as much sunscreen.
If you won’t be wearing fins when you go snorkeling, it can also be a good idea to wear water shoes. (But remember, don’t walk on coral reef!)
The quick list of packing for Hawaii!
Quick list for snorkeling in Hawaii:
- Sun shirts with UV protection (for women and for men) so you have to wear less sunscreen
- Popular water shoes (for women and for men) for the hidden rocks on the beach
- This standard snorkeling set
- This CHEAP way to make your phone waterproof so you can take amazing underwater photos!
- This type of waterproof pouch so you don’t need to leave valuables on the beach
- Sunscreen that’s NOT a part of the Hawaii sunscreen ban
And for hiking in Hawaii…
- Hiking sandals (for women and for men) will do for most trails in Hawaii!
- But trail running shoes (for women and for men) or hiking shoes (for women and for men) work too!
And don’t forget the absolute BEST guide to making the most out of your Hawaii vacation – available for every Hawaiian island
What to do in Hawaii?!
There are lots of FREE and cheap things to do in Hawaii.
But there are also lots of worthy paid tours too!
Have a look to:
HAPPY SNORKELING IN HAWAII!
If you're headed to Hawaii soon, see some ideas for top essentials to pack for Hawaii. And for Oahu travel tips, see this 3 day itinerary, this 2 week itinerary, and then some more things to do on Oahu. And if you're headed to the Big Island, be sure to see things to do on the Big Island along with this 7 day itinerary that includes black sand beaches, waterfalls, a lava cave hike, turtles, and tons of scenic drives!