You are coming to Maui to experience the best snorkeling possible. You have come to the right Hawaiian island, Molokini and Lanai are some of the best in the world. But what one to choose?

Lanai offers the best snorkeling compared to Molokini. Lanai offers excellent snorkeling from the shore in Hulopoe Bay. Snorkeling tours will take you to see spinner dolphins and sea turtles in Lanai’s reefs. Molokini crater gets crowded and you will see comparable Hawaiian fish from Maui’s shores.

After Erica and I went on snorkeling trips to both Molokini crater and the island of Lanai, we were able to settle this debate.

But the right trip for you may depend on how long you want to be on a boat, if you are bringing kids, or if you want to be out 8-hours verse 5-hours. 

Figure out if Molokini or Lanai snorkeling is best for you, your partner, friends, or family here. 

 

Lanai or Molokini: Best Snorkeling?

Maui has the best snorkeling in the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaiian green sea turtles, year-round snorkeling, shoreline snorkeling, kid-friendly snorkeling spots, and the islands offshore Maui make it ideal for snorkeling. 

Molokai, Lanai, and Molokini crater are part of Maui County and all readily accessible from shore with a tour operator. They are worth the trip but to be fair, you don’t need a tour operator to get the best snorkeling in Maui.

Maui beaches, coves, and bays offer phenomenal snorkeling from shore. You don’t need to pay the extra money for a boat trip to get world-class snorkeling. Marine preserves like Kahekili, Ahihi-Kinau (near Makena or Big Beach), and Honolua Bay are just some of the snorkel spots you can frequent year-round for free. 

Read my article below for the best tips and locations on snorkeling in Maui.

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So the question is: Lanai or Molokini, is a snorkel trip worth it?

 

Lanai or Molokini: Is a Snorkel Trip Worth It?

Snorkel trips to Lanai cost $105 to $150 while a trip to Molokini crater cost $99 to $125. Those costs are for a boat trip. 

A sailboat tour on Trilogy or Sail Maui, for example, will cost $200 to $220 for Lanai. To go sailing to Molokini will cost $140. Plus fuel surcharges (about $5) and tax for both sailing and boating. 

Compared to renting snorkel equipment at Boss Frog’s or Snorkel Bob’s, a day trip out on a boat, raft, or sailboat is a tad bit more expensive. 

But, if you want a Maui ocean adventure during your Hawaii vacation, going to Molokini or Lanai is a great way to spend time on the water, see marine life, be spoiled at sea, and get back in time for sunset dinner. 

Going to Molokini or Lanai from Maui on a day trip is worth it if you want an outdoor, ocean experience at a fair price. If you don’t like large, crowded boats, one can find small tour operators available. Plus, going to either island is unforgettable.

When was the last time you saw spinner dolphins in the wild, from a raft, within a hundred feet? Or swam in a partially submerged volcanic crater?

If you want to go snorkeling at Lanai or Molokini, this is what you need to know. 

 

Lanai Snorkeling

Lanai offers the best snorkeling compared to Molokini, any day of the week or year. The main reason is Lanai is less crowded. 

Only a few tour operators or people are making the 9-mile trip across the Au’au Channel from Lahaina in West Maui. Lanai is big also. With 3 popular snorkeling spots only accessible by boat, there is plenty of marine life and reef to go around. 

The island of Lanai was once home to the largest pineapple plantation in the world, by Dole. Today, it is home to 3,102 permanent residents and two Four Seasons Hotels. There isn’t even a traffic light on the island. 

The lack of people and pollution have kept Lanai’s reefs pristine.

One can get to Lanai for snorkeling without a tour operator. One can hop on the Lanai Ferry from Lahaina Harbor. 

Arriving at the Lanai Harbor, a short 5-minute walk will get you to one of the best beaches in the world (it’s ranked by Dr. Beach). Hulopoe Bay and beach provide tide pools and an abundant reef for snorkeling from shore. This is the cheapest way to snorkel Lanai without missing much, besides the dolphins.

A guided tour by sailboat, power raft, or snorkeling boat will take you to more secluded Lanai snorkeling locations. Plus, other sites like a WWII shipwreck (decent snorkeling), sea caves, blowholes, and secluded beaches for more snorkeling.

 

Lanai-shipwreck-beach-snorkeling

A few Lanai tours will take you to the WWII shipwreck offshore Lanai, it is a site to see.

 

 

Snorkeling around Lanai by boat is the way to fully experience this island. The snorkeling tours will take you around the west side of Lanai. The west side is well protected from north swells making Lanai a great place to go during the winter. 

Tours frequent Hulopoe Bay but out in the bay for a more intimate experience. They also visit Manele Bay Marine Preserve where the resident spinner dolphins live and spin. 

Power rafts with more speed can take you to more snorkeling locations and secluded beaches.

All locations offer crystal-clear water and the chance to see Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. 

Lanai is the ideal place for snorkeling on Maui. You will pay more money for your tour compared to Molokini but expect more. You will get two or more snorkeling spots, less crowded locations, breakfast and lunch on the boat and/or beach, and the chance to see spinner dolphins and sea turtles. 

 

Molokini Crater Snorkeling

Molokini crater is a sight to behold. The crescent-shaped volcanic crater was one of seven volcanoes that made Maui and the surrounding islands. It has been a popular place for snorkeling for decades.

Molokini Crater Maui for Snorkeling vs Lanai

 

It is ideal for snorkeling because the crescent-shaped island protects boats, scuba divers, and snorkelers from the current and wind. The water is crystal-clear due to the protection from the reef but the big negative on snorkeling Molokini is the lack of diverse marine life compared to Maui’s reefs. Visibility can reach up to 150 feet deep. 

You can see the same fish and quantities from shoreline snorkel spots on Maui. There are also few to no sea turtles in Molokini also. The crowds can scare away the bashful turtles.

The crowds are the second issue with going to Molokini for snorkeling. The small islet gets crowded with tour boats. As Hawaii hardly has an off-season, Molokini always has a crowd.

While the snorkeling isn’t jaw-dropping, the crater is. The view from the crater is the most memorable experience of the trip. 160-feet high and 150,000 years-old, it is a site to see from your snorkel boat or sailboat.

The best time to visit is the early morning when the waters are calmer, before the afternoon tradewinds pickup. Snorkeling spots in the crater are 20 to 50 feet deep. 

You can also take a snorkeling tour on the back wall of the crater where many sea turtles frequent. Molokini’s back wall drops to a staggering 300 feet into the ocean.

For sea turtles, most snorkel tours include a trip to Turtle Town. Turtle Town is located off Maluaka Beach. This “bonus” trip isn’t much of an incentive. Turtle Town gets busy with snorkelers and you can see the turtles from with shoreline snorkeling off Maluaka Beach. 

Molokini crater snorkeling isn’t as good as Lanai but there are still reasons to visit the crater. The crystal-clear, warm water is ideal for snorkeling from a boat, the view of the crater isn’t one you will forget, and the trip to the crater and back is a little shorter than Lanai. 

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Lanai or Molokini: Best Maui Boat Trip Experience?

A trip to Lanai or Molokini can be luxurious or a cattle-car snorkel boat. Pick your favorite based on price and the perks. Our favorite tour operators by price are below. 

The luxury sailing catamarans like Trilogy or Sail Maui will feature drinks on board, appetizers, a beachside BBQ, and guided walking tours of Lanai. Plus your snorkeling gear of course. 

A sail to Molokini includes continental breakfast (cinnamon buns) and a plate lunch since dining on Molokini is off-limits.

Sailing cruises offer spacious boats that can hold 49 passengers. Smaller sailboats are available but they will be more than $220.

A sailing cruise to Molokini is 5 hours round trip. Lanai is an all-day trip at 8-hours. 

Boat trips to Lanai or Molokini also include breakfast and lunch offerings, refreshments for sale, snorkel gear, and an onboard marine naturalist. 

A boat trip to Lanai is typically 5-hours roundtrip and Molokini and Turtle Town is also a 5-hour trip. 

 

Snorkeling Departure Locations for Lanai and Molokini

The trip from Maui’s Maalaea Harbor to Molokini is 45-minutes to 60-minutes by powerboat.

The trip from Lahaina, Maui to Lanai is 45-minutes to 60-minutes by powerboat. 

If you are staying in South Maui in Kihei or Wailea, going to Molokini is easier as you are closer to the crater. Most tour operators leave from Maalaea Harbor which is a 14-minute (7-mile) drive. Some sailboat operators depart directly from the resorts in Wailea to Molokini. 

Heading to Lanai means departing from West Maui in Lahaina Harbor. Staying in Ka’anapali, Kahana, Lahaina, or Napili makes a trip to Lanai more convenient than driving to Maalaea Harbor. 

 

Lanai or Molokini: What is Best for Kids?

Sailing trips and boat trips to Lanai and Molokini welcome children. Both Lanai and Molokini offer snorkeling in calm waters. All the snorkeling locations are well-protected bays and good for beginner snorkelers. 

Lanai snorkeling will provide the best opportunity for your children to swim with sea turtles and see spinner dolphins. Since the boat rides are the same travel duration and the overall tour length is the same, I’d recommend Lanai due to the more enriching experience. 

I’d recommend a boat trip to Lanai over a sailboat trip as an 8-hour day out at sea is a long time for most children. 

Infants to 2-years-old are free while 3-years-old and above are discounted. 

On Lanai, Trilogy Sailing offers a Keiki Adventure Camp (upgrade) for kids 6 to 12 during the peak summer months of June through August. The camp features a hands-on education program during the Lanai hike and tour.  Plus, Trilogy serves ice cream sundaes on the trip back to Maui. That is one way to keep your kids entertained on an 8-hour tour. 

 

Lanai or Molokini: Best Tour Operators?

Whatever island you choose for snorkeling, here are the most popular and well-respected tour operators for Molokai and Lanai are listed below. They have the best reviews, the best value for the price, and we enjoyed our experience.

🍍 Trilogy sailing cruises to Molokini ($140 adult) and Lanai ($220 adult)

🍍 Circumnavigate Lanai on Maui Ocean Riders $149 adult

🍍 Lanai Explorer with Landing (6.5-hours) $159 adult

🍍 Pacific Whale Foundation boat cruises to Molokini ($125 adult) and Lanai ($105 adult)

Check out Hawaii Activities for discount operators and price comparison shopping. 

 

Closing Thoughts on Lanai or Molokini for Snorkeling

A day trip to Lanai from Maui is an excellent way to see another Hawaiian island (if only from the sea for most tours) and get some world-class snorkeling. Erica and I prefer snorkeling at Lanai over Molokini crater but I hope I laid out the unbiased facts for both locations.

Maui offers amazing snorkeling, even from shore. I recommend trips to Lanai or Molokini for our friends and family who are looking for a day-long adventure. 

Remember your Hawaii reef-safe sunscreen before you head out.

Before you fill up your itinerary, check out our Hawaii Recommendations for our vetted and favorite Maui activities. 

 

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Jordan Fromholz

Jordan Fromholz

Author

I'm the co-founder, with my wife Erica, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We live on Maui with our toddler Henry and our sweet but quirky dog Hattie. I have a thing for photographing pineapples and learning to surf.

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