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Known for having great visibility and plentiful marine life, the Big Island is one of the best places in Hawaii to get out your snorkel gear. Underwater lava tubes, the Hawaiian state fish, and historic monuments are just some of what you can expect from snorkeling on the Big Island.
Add in vibrant reefs plus the chance to see dolphins and whales (in winter) and the Big Island soars straight near the top of our list for snorkeling in Hawaii.
Hawaii’s Big Island is actually our #2 in terms of the best islands for snorkeling, although just because it isn’t our favorite doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have some seriously incredible places to dive below the waves in search of sea turtles and colorful fish.
These are the nine best Big Island snorkeling tours and everything you need to know about jumping on a snorkeling excursion here.
Get everything you need to plan the rest of your Big Island trip here:
Take a deep dive and get all you need to know with our Big Island Travel Guide
Figure out the best part of the Big Island to stay on and explore where to stay
Explore the best beaches on the island and even more activities to keep you busy
The Best Snorkeling Tours on the Big Island
Best Kealakekua Bay Snorkeling Tours
Kealakekua Bay is a marine life sanctuary and one of the Big Island’s most popular places to snorkel. We highly recommend hopping on a snorkeling tour if you want to experience this area as getting there on foot is challenging with a steep hike.
1. Kayaking Snorkeling Tour
This snorkeling tour takes place at the Captain Cook Monument and combines the fun of a kayaking trip with your snorkeling experience. You’ll paddle out in stable, double kayaks from Kealakekua Bay to reach the coral gardens that surround the monument. Along the way, your guide will tell you about the history of the area.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to be aware of self-rescue kayaking techniques as this is not a beginner kayaking trip. Drinks, snacks, and your snorkel gear are provided. This tour is 2.5 hours in length and is recommended for those aged 7 to late 60s. There’s also a good chance of spotting spinner dolphins while you’re kayaking out to the monument, and even humpback whales in the winter months!
It’s also possible to DIY this tour, renting your own kayak from Ehu and Kai Adventure in Kealakekua Bay, but we highly recommend that you join the tour to get the most out of the experience.
2. Small Group Snorkeling Tours
Not into the idea of snorkeling with a big group? Then this is just the tour for you!
Head out with a group of no more than 12, exploring the beautiful Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument, one of the best places to snorkel on the Big Island. You’ll sail out to the snorkeling spot from Keauhou Harbor located just north. Spend your three hours of uninterrupted snorkel time looking for Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a, or the lauwiliwilinukunuku’oi’oi’ele’ele. Both of these are only found off the Kona Coast!
Your vessel for the tour is Hawaii Oceanic’s 27-foot Force Marine powerboat, built in Hawaii and made specifically for its unique ocean conditions. The boat is comfortable with plenty of shade to escape the Hawaiian sun. This tour allows children 5 and older. Snacks, drinks, and snorkeling gear are all provided.
3. Larger Group, Larger Boat
This environmentally-friendly tour onboard the spacious FairWind II boat is a wonderful way to experience snorkeling at the Captain Cook Monument – with the fun addition of waterslides!
While the crowd might be larger than others (this tour can accommodate up to 90 people), it’s perfect for families as all ages are welcome – including pregnant women. Push off from Keauhou Harbor and make your way south to the stunning Kealakekua Bay with breakfast, lunch, and drinks included.
All meals provided are vegan to maintain their environmentally friendly status but with Kona coffee, banana bread, BBQ pulled jackfruit, various salads, homemade pickles, chips, and cookies, you won’t miss the non-vegan options.
This tour is extra comfy as there are two bathrooms onboard, there’s plenty of shade, and ride-alongs (those who aren’t snorkeling) are also allowed. Snorkeling gear is provided.
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4. Catamaran Snorkeling Trip
Revered as one of the best snorkeling areas in Hawaii for its crystalline water and abundant tropical fish, this 50’ catamaran tour sets sail for Kealakekua Bay twice a day. You’ll spend about 45 minutes sailing on either end of your snorkeling session, enjoying the beautiful views of the Kona Coast as your guide details the area’s history and any interesting landmarks along the way.
Once you reach the marine sanctuary of Kealakekua Bay, you’ll have an entire hour to snorkel around searching for Hawaiian green sea turtles, colorful fish, and even spinner dolphins. You’ll also have the chance to spot humpback whales in winter!
If conditions are good, you may have the opportunity to tack on an additional snorkeling spot, the Red Hill. Underwater lava tubes and archways will reveal themselves just beneath the surface – along with vibrant tropical fish.
Luckily, all ages are welcome on this tour as the catamaran offers smooth sailing. Continental breakfast or deli-style lunch (depending on departure time), snacks, drinks, and snorkel gear are provided making this tour a no-brainer. You can also purchase alcoholic drinks. Two bathrooms are on board the Hoku Nui as well as some shade in the galley.
5. Rafting Snorkeling Trip
One of the more adventurous trips to Kealakekua Bay, this snorkeling trip takes place aboard Captain Zodiac’s Power Raft. Unlike some of the other tours, this unique vessel allows you access to sights along the Kona Coast you can’t see otherwise like blowholes and sea grottos.
They offer two types of tours, the 5-Hour Beat the Crowds and the 4-Hour Kealakekua Bay Tour. Both go to the same incredible snorkeling spots. The 5-hour tour perfectly times your snorkel adventure to beat both the early morning and afternoon crowds, giving you a more intimate experience (as the name suggests).
Tours are only suitable for children ages 4 and up and leave from the Kona Marina. The 5-hour tour is punctuated with lunch served between your snorkeling sessions. On your way back to the marina, you’ll have the chance to investigate the sea grottos, caves, and blowholes that can only be seen from the agile zodiac.
Keep in mind that because this is a zodiac tour there is no shade. If you’re prone to seasickness, this trip could trigger it more easily due to the nature of the vessel.
Best Kona Coast Snorkeling Tours
6. Pawai Bay Snorkeling Tour
Explore the exclusive Pawai Bay onboard a retired Navy SEAL vessel on this snorkeling tour. You’ll head out from the convenient location of the Honokohau Harbor in Kona to reach the stunning Pawai Bay. This is frequently touted as one of the best snorkel spots on the Big Island but is impossible to reach unless you arrive by boat.
Take in the lava rock coastline during your trip. It’s not possible for non-natives to step foot on this sacred land which also makes it impossible to snorkel from dry land here. The craggy coast creates the perfect underwater hiding place for eels, turtles, and octopus and you’re sure to see Hawaii’s endemic reef fish as well. Keep your eyes peeled for spinner dolphins on your way out to the snorkel spot and humpbacks from December to March.
You’ll get briefings on the wildlife and surrounding area’s history before jumping in the water. Snacks, juice, and sparkling water are provided, along with snorkeling gear. The ride out is just 15 minutes which means you get to spend more time snorkeling in this stunning marine reserve.
Children must be 3 years of age to enjoy this tour. Due to the nature of the vessel, this tour is not recommended for those who are pregnant or who have had a recent surgery.
This 3-hour tour with Ocean Eco Tours heads out to either the famous Kealakekua Bay or Honokohau-Kaloko (one of America’s newest national parks), depending on what area has the best ocean conditions.
You can expect to see tons of beautiful marine life, including the Hawaii state fish, and spinner dolphins, along the Kona Coast’s teeming reefs. If you’re new to snorkeling or haven’t gone in a while, this is a great refresher as the crew gives you a Snorkeling 101 course before you head out.
The whole family is welcome on this tour, no matter their age, and including ride-alongs at a discounted price. Snorkel equipment, snacks, and drinks are included.
Find a great place to stay in Kona:
Where to Stay in Kona: the 7 Best Hotels and Vacation Rentals
Kona vs Waikoloa: What’s the Best Place to Stay on the Big Island
Marriott Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel
Kona Reef Resort: walkable in Kailua-Kona
Outrigger Kona Resort & Spa
Best Hilo Snorkeling Tours
It’s a good idea to go snorkeling with a tour near Hilo because of the strong currents that can kick up on the Big Island’s windward side. Jumping on a tour provides added safety in terms of both equipment and eyes on the water and ocean conditions.
8. Beach Snorkeling Tour
Located on the Big Islands’ eastern coast, highlights of this snorkeling tour with Hilo Ocean Adventures include swimming along a striking black sand beach and floating alongside sea turtles! You’ll visit two different snorkeling spots on this half-day adventure.
This particular tour is great for those who have never snorkeled before and is suitable for children too. Your snorkel guide will be there to teach you the basics and to help along the way. Aside from learning the ins and outs of snorkeling, your guide is also a wealth of knowledge on the area’s unique geography including the black sand beaches and volcanoes. One of your stops for the day is especially well known for its abundant sea turtles.
Snacks and juice are included. Because this tour leaves from the beach, all ages are welcome to join.
Hop aboard a 35’ Wellcraft Small Yacht for a little touch of luxury on this two-hour snorkeling adventure in Hilo! This quick tour takes off from Hilo Bay with an expert, local guide to help you spot the spinner dolphins and other wildlife along the way. They’ll also give you a briefing about the animals you might encounter while snorkeling and the landmarks you can spot while sailing to your destination.
After reaching your snorkeling spot your guide will help you look for incredible marine life like sea turtles, eagle rays, eels, and vibrant reef fish.
This experience is only suited for those who are age 8 and up. Snorkeling gear is not provided! If you need to rent gear you’ll need to arrive ahead of time to be properly fitted. While this tour is a quick out and back, it’s worth it for the added possibility of seeing unique wildlife.
Find more great things to do in Hilo:
Private Waterfall Swim in Hilo (plus kayaking, SUP, and rappelling options)
ATV Off-Road Adventure North of Hilo
1 Perfect Day in Hilo: Things to Do in Hilo for the Day
Big Island Snorkeling Tour FAQs
Which side of the Big Island is the Best for Snorkeling?
The best area to go snorkeling on Hawaii’s Big Island is the leeward side of the island, especially in the summer months. Some of the best snorkeling spots are at the Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay, Two Step at Honaunau Bay, and Kahalu’u Beach Park. Some of these locations will require that you be a more advanced snorkeler and swimmer. Always check ocean conditions before hopping in the water!
Are snorkeling tours on the Big Island worth it?
We used to find ourselves squarely on one side of this debate: snorkeling tours were not worth the money. However, as we’ve done more of them (and gone on great tours), we’ve come to really appreciate that a good snorkeling tour is definitely worth the time and money for a number of reasons:
You can snorkel in hard-to-access areas: Most of the Big Island snorkeling tours take you to spots that aren’t easily accessible from the shore. These places are often challenging (or impossible) to reach without a boat, like Kealakekua Bay or the exclusive Pawai Bay. Because these spots are harder to reach your chances of seeing abundant marine life are higher!
Access to a naturalist: You’re there to snorkel and have fun, but there’s also something to be said about actually learning more about Hawaii, the ocean, and sea life while you’re on your tour. The best boats come with fantastic naturalists who can educate you on what you’re seeing and answer any questions that you have.
A crew dedicated to keeping you safe: Snorkeling is a fun activity but there are times when it isn’t so safe. When you head out on a quality boat tour, you have a crew that is dedicated to making sure their passengers stay safe. That means providing you with good gear, having people in the water to help anyone in distress, and making sure to take you to places that are safe.
Excellent gear: We own our own snorkeling gear but we almost always leave that at home and use what our tour provides. Why? The quality of the equipment is great, they take away any hassle of cleaning it, and we get to try out new brands. While rare, some tours don’t provide your snorkeling gear for free. Look for this info in the fine print.
Easy and all-inclusive: Beach days require some planning — bringing the gear, finding a spot, and packing enough food and water. A snorkeling tour requires a lot less planning. They take care of the food and drink for you. Just bring your towel and your favorite reef-friendly sunscreen!
Better reef and environmental protection: Protecting the reef and the sea life in Hawaii is very important. When you travel on a guided snorkeling tour, there is little chance that you’ll find yourself stepping on and damaging coral or violating any of the animal protection laws that are in place.
While you can of course snorkel from the shore on the Big Island, one good, quality snorkeling tour is a worthwhile experience. There’s a snorkeling experience for everyone, whether you’re a novice or an expert. Seeking out destinations you couldn’t otherwise reach and spotting wildlife that might not be as common at snorkeling spots near shore are two huge reasons why a tour is worth the extra money!
What can you expect on a Big Island snorkeling tour?
Although all snorkeling tours are different, these are some of the things you can generally expect from a Big Island snorkeling tour.
A naturalist or experienced guide: These guides can educate you on what you’re seeing as well as how best to keep you and the marine life safe. They are extremely knowledgeable and love bestowing their information to guests. Be sure to listen up when they’re talking about the wildlife and both the geographic and historic sites along the way.
Snorkeling gear: Most tours provide you with safe snorkeling gear. This is great because it means that you won’t have to lug your snorkeling gear back and forth. Obviously, if you want to bring your own, that’s okay too! Just know that most snorkeling tours don’t allow guests to bring full face masks as they have been deemed unsafe (they have a tendency to leak and make it difficult to communicate with the crew).
Food and drinks: Most tours provide snacks and drinks at the bare minimum while others pull out all the stops with a continental breakfast and deli-style lunch. No matter which option you choose, this is a welcome addition as it means you won’t have to bring along a heavy cooler. You’ll also likely be treated to Hawaiian specialties like local pineapple.
Even more to do on the Big Island:
21 Incredible Things to Do on the Big Island (2023)
The 21 Best Things to do in Kona (+ tips to know before you go)
The 10 Best Big Island Farm Tours You Won’t Want to Miss
The Best Big Island Itinerary
Finish your vacation planning with ease. We’ve done all the work for you so all you have to do is download the itinerary and go have the vacation of a lifetime! The Big Island Itinerary narrows your choices down from hundreds to a handful. From where to stay, what to do, where to eat, even the best tour operators, we’ve hand picked the best so you can rest easy knowing you’re going to have a great time.
The itinerary days themselves organize your stops in a way that makes the most sense (no backtracking!), lay out everything you need to pack, when to make reservations, and even hook you up with where to find parking. When we say we’ve done all the work of planning, we mean all the work!
Just wanted to tell you that we followed your vacation guide almost to the T and had a wonderful time when we went a few months ago in November! Your recommendations were awesome!
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The step-by-step itinerary takes you to all the best beaches, snorkeling spots, restaurants, and sights. You’ll get six carefully planned excursion days to help you see the can’t miss stops no matter how limited your time is.
Get all the details on our itinerary and download it for a memorable and easily planned trip to Hawai’i (Big Island).