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You’re heading to Maui and at the top of your list is seeing one of Maui’s beautiful sea turtles. But you won’t see sea turtles lining every beach and at every snorkeling spot. They tend to frequent their favorite areas, so heading to one of these spots will help you enjoy some sea turtle sightings.
Maui is home to seven different species of sea turtles, but the two most common that you’ll see are the Green Sea Turtles (called honu) and the Hawksbill Sea Turtles (called honu’ea). Most likely, you’ll see the honu when you’re here.
Here are the 10 best places to see sea turtles on Maui.
1. Honokeana Bay (West Maui)
Located just south of Napili Bay, this spot is known for one thing: the overwhelming number of turtles you can find in the water. This isn’t a great spot for beach-going or swimming. The entire shore is rocky, making playing in the sand or relaxing in the sun pretty much impossible. And the floor of the bay is also full of rocks and slightly cloudy, making it not an ideal spot to snorkel.
But this is where turtles come to feast and relax. Each time we’ve snorkeled here, we’ve seen no fewer than 15 turtles.
Take a look at one of our trips to Honokeana Bay in this video (minute mark 5:45):
Tips for Honokeana Bay:
There is no parking lot so you’ll need to find a place to part on the street. Public access for the cove is just past the Honokeana Cove condos. You’ll walk down the beach access path to the end of the cove and enter the water there.
2. Ho’okipa Beach (North Maui)
This beach on Maui’s North Shore is most famous as an excellent spot to watch advanced windsurfers. Swimming here isn’t generally great, but there’s another reason people love to stop here: to view turtles sunning themselves and resting on the beach.
There are two places you can usually spot turtles at Ho’okipa. If you watch closely you can generally see their heads bobbing above the water just on the other side of the shorebreak. You can also usually see them resting on the beach, though at first glance you might mistake them for rocks on the beach.
Tips for Ho’okipa Beach:
The reef, wind, and shore break make this not an ideal place for most visitors to swim. But enjoy the view of the surfers and windsurfers while you are there turtle spotting.
3. Ku’au Bay (North Maui)
This spot is never listed on any of the top lists for viewing turtles, but if you want to see turtles from the beach, this is your best bet. Anytime we’re here, we see no fewer than four turtles laying on the sand, but we often see many more.
You won’t find many amenities here and it’s not a great place to swim as the current can be strong. But the small beach has great sand, a small parking lot, and plenty of turtles to gaze at.
Tips for Ku’au Bay:
The turtles usually stay towards the end of each beach — either the right side or the left side. So if you don’t spot any immediately after stepping onto the beach, head to either side. And they may look like rocks from a distance, so take a little walk to investigate.
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4. Kapalua Bay (West Maui)
Kapalua Bay is a beautiful beach, but you won’t generally find turtles resting on the shore here. Instead, you’ll need to head into the water snorkeling to catch a glimpse of the honu. But you won’t need to go far. There’s coral just off the shore and you can often find turtles hanging out and eating here.
Tip for Kapalua Bay:
Get here early! It’s one of the most popular beaches on the island and parking fills up early. Read more about visiting Kapalua Bay Beach.
5. Makena Landing (South Maui)
Want to get to Turtle Town without taking a boat ride? Snorkelers who are comfortable in the water and know how to handle varying ocean conditions can find easy access to Turtle Town from Makena Landing Park. This small beach is an entrance to some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving on Maui. And after you make it out past the shorebreak, you’ll be greeted by a beautiful reef and likely, some Hawaiian green sea turtles.
But just like with nearly every spot on Maui, this area can be susceptible to strong swells and currents, so assess conditions wisely. Remember when in doubt, don’t go out.
6. Turtle Town (South Maui)
A very popular snorkeling spot, Turtle Town gets its name because of the abundance of, you guessed it, turtles! Here you’ll find a number of turtles in deeper water than you’ll find closer to the shore. You’ll often also find much larger and older turtles, which can be really impressive to see.
You can get to Turtle Town one of two ways: by boat or by snorkeling offshore from Makena Landing. Many Molokini boat tours will make a stop at Turtle Town. Our favorite South Maui Molokini Tour on Kai Kanani makes it’s second stop of the day at Turtle Town.
If you’re snorkeling out to Turtle Town from shore, you can start your swim at Makena Landing.
7. Honolua Bay (West Maui)
This Marine Conservation District is home to many different fish and plenty of turtles. As a marine conservation district, fishing is prohibited or restricted, allowing sea life to flourish. Honolua Bay is one of the best places to snorkel on Maui and aside from fish, eels, and other sea life, you should have no problem spotting turtles here.
Even though this is a somewhat protected bay, this area can get large waves and currents, so it’s always a good idea to check weather and ocean conditions before heading out. That goes for any place that you want to head into the water.
Tip for Honolua Bay:
Be ready to walk. After parking on the street, you’ll have a bit of a journey to the entrance to Honolua Bay. It’s a beautiful walk (approximately 5 minutes long) so enjoy your time before you hit the water.
8. Ulua Beach and Mokapu Beach (South Maui)
Ulua Beach and Mokapu Beach are two beautiful beaches in Wailea, connected by a rocky outcrop. Here you’ll find good snorkeling, boogie boarding, family-friendly swimming, and often, turtles!
For your best chance at spotting turtles here, you’ll need to be in the water near the rocks connecting the two beaches. If you’re on the shore, you can often see the turtles bobbing their heads above the water, but if you’re snorkeling you’ll get an even better view.
Ulua Beach makes our list of best family-friendly beaches on Maui. Check out the entire list.
Tip: This is a popular spot with locals and visitors, so parking fills up early. Your best bet for parking is the Ulua Beach parking lot, though you can venture further south to Keawakapu Beach for parking and walk up.
9. Black Rock, Ka’anapali (West Maui)
If you’ve been to Maui before, you might be surprised to see Black Rock make the list for the best places to see turtles. Yes, Ka’anapali gets very crowded and Black Rock is an extremely popular snorkeling and cliff jumping location. But if you get there early enough before the crowd arrive, it can be an excellent place to see turtles. We’ve seen them cruise past us often early in the morning while standing in waist-deep water. Just like the other spots, your best chance of seeing them is near the coral on the side of Black Rock, but you can also sometimes see them swimming along the Ka’anapali shoreline.
You can check out some of our best tips for snorkeling at Black Rock and see our day snorkeling with turtles in this video:
Tip for Black Rock:
Get there early. Really. I can’t emphasize that enough. This spot is popular and during the busiest parts of the day you’ll likely see more people than fish. This is a spot worth waking up early for.
10. Mala Ramp (West Maui)
This is a spot that is better suited to intermediate and advanced snorkelers, as getting in the water can be tricky and you do need to swim a good distance from shore to see the turtles. Some of our favorite boat tours, like the Ultimate Whale Watch and Snorkel Lanai trip will sometimes make a stop here before heading out to other snorkeling destinations because the odds of seeing turtles is so high. Honestly, even though we’re experienced snorkelers, I prefer to snorkel at Mala from a boat, rather than from the shore because between the rocks and the boats, this can be a tricky place to get out.
Tip for Mala Ramp:
Frequent boat traffic to this area makes it important to stay alert while you’re in the water. The water is also quite shallow, especially around the wharf, so make sure you assess the ocean conditions before heading out. And you might see some fisherman from the wharf, so you’ll need to assess whether it’s a good situation for you to be in the water.
11. Bonus spot: Maui Ocean Center
If you want a guaranteed place to see sea turtles without having to wade into the water, consider a trip to the Turtle Lagoon at the Maui Ocean Center. This aquarium, centrally located in Maalaea, is home to juvenile turtles that were hatched on Oahu. Here you’ll not just see the turtles, but you can also learn more about Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles and other sea life you’ll find here in Hawaii.
Is it illegal to touch sea turtles in Hawaii?
It is illegal to touch sea turtles, disturb them, or disturb their natural patterns. Sea turtles are protected by state and federal laws, as well as under the Endangered Species Act. It is recommended to stay at least 10 feet away from sea turtles on land or in the water, but you may want to give them even more space if you’re at risk of disturbing them or altering their natural patterns (for example, crowding them when they are trying to come up for air in the water).
If you see a sea turtle being disturbed or you’re worried they are in distress, this website has resources to help you contact the right professionals to help with the situation.
Can you swim with sea turtles on Maui?
Technically, yes. If you’re in the water and sea turtles are in the water, you will be swimming in the same area as them. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these sea turtles are protected animals and disturbing them or their natural patterns can result in hefty fines. So keep your space and admire these beautiful creatures from a distance.
And to keep sea turtles and all sea life safe in Maui, reef-safe sunscreen is required. Learn more about reef-safe sunscreen, where to buy it, and our favorite brands.
Ready to hit the water? We have the 11 best snorkeling spots on Maui, plus tips you don’t want to miss.
When do sea turtles hatch in Maui?
Catching a sea turtle hatching is rare on Maui. In fact, ninety percent of female turtles will make the 600 mile journey to lay their eggs on the French Frigate Shoals.
The nesting period for sea turtles is from May through September, so during the summer months, there may be reports of sea turtles hatching.
Best snorkel tours for seeing turtles
Seeing turtles with a snorkel tour is a great way to get into the water, learn more about these beautiful creatures, and do so safely. Not all snorkel trips are created equal, so here are some of our favorites:
Ultimate Whale Watch & Snorkel: This trip will often make its first stop at Mala Ramp, before heading to Lanai for snorkeling.
Sail Maui: Depending on conditions, you might find yourself snorkeling at Olowalu (a great place to see turtles) or Honolua Bay.
The Best Maui itinerary
If you’re looking to see sea turtles and a whole lot more when you get to Maui, check out our done-for-you itinerary. This instant download gives you 7+ excursion days that take you around the island to give you a tour of what makes this place so special.
“The itineraries were great and gave us many great ideas to plan our adventures each day! They were helpful in planning our 2 week trip to Maui and Oahu. Thanks a million, we were very happy.” – David B.