Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase through my links we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. Read about our affiliate policies here.
One of the most thrilling experiences in Hawaii is the opportunity to snorkel at night with manta rays. These gentle giants do barrel rolls and swim around you, often coming within inches of your face.
Want to know more about experiencing this thrill? We have everything you need to know, including what tour operators you should use to have the best experience.
Where can you see manta rays in Hawaii?
The best place to see manta rays in Hawaii is on the Big Island, specifically on the Kona coast. While there are manta rays on the other islands, sightings aren’t as good or reliable, so if you’re hoping to see manta rays while in Hawaii, head to the Big Island. Many Big Island tour operators offer a manta guarantee, something you won’t find on the other islands.
These are our favorite manta ray night snorkeling (and diving) tours on the Big Island. These tour operators operate to the highest environmental standards while still providing you with an amazing experience.
Best places to snorkel and dive with manta rays in Hawaii
If you’re looking to dive or snorkel with manta rays, the best place to do so is on the Big Island. There are numerous tour operators that will take you into the water at night and spend some time with these gentle giants. The Big Island tour operators publish a success rate for sightings of over 80%, so if you want the best odds of finding a manta ray, head to the Big Island.
Can you snorkel with manta rays on Oahu or Maui?
Technically, you can see manta rays on any Hawaiian island, though if you are diving on Oahu or Maui, seeing a manta ray comes down to luck. On Maui, you might have the chance to see a manta ray while snorkeling Molokini or Olowalu, though this is very rare. On Oahu and Kauai, you’ll find even fewer chance encounters.
Unlike the Big Island, there are no specified feeding areas where you can reliably find manta rays night after night (more on the Big Island feeding areas below). So if you do try to go manta ray snorkeling on Oahu or Maui, prepare to be disappointed.
Best spots to snorkel or dive with manta rays on the Big Island?
There are three spots where you’ll be able to snorkel or dive with manta rays on the Big Island: Manta Point, Manta Heaven, and Manta Village (Keauhou).
These spots have such a high chance of seeing manta rays because they consistently show up to feed here night after night. Lights placed underwater attract plankton, the main food source of manta rays. After years of conditioning, mantas know that these viewing areas are great places to be fed.
Most tour operators will take you to dive or snorkel with manta rays at one of these three locations.
From north to south the three manta viewing areas are:
Manta Point (Kohala)
Located on the Kohala Coast near the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Manta Point offers both a viewing area from land as well as an option for swimming with manta rays at night. Manta Point is located at the end of Kauna’oa Bay (or Mauna Kea Beach) and there is a large light shining into the water attracting the plankton. There are also plenty of tour operators that offer night snorkeling in this area.
Manta Heaven (North Kona)
Offshore from the Kona International Airport, you’ll find Makako Bay and Manta Heaven. Known also as popular daytime dive stop Garden Eel Cove, this location has had reliable manta sightings for the last 20 years.
Manta Village (South Kona)
The first manta ray viewing spot on the Big Island is here in Manta Village. This location was first identified when the Kona Surf Hotel shone a spotlight onto the water to showcase the night waves. While the Kona Surf Hotel no longer exists and has been replaced by the Sheraton Kona, this popular manta ray viewing spot has endured.
Manta Village is often cited as the best spot to snorkel with manta rays, as tour operators boast a 96% successful sightings rate.
Best time of day to see Manta Rays in Kona?
If you’re looking to swim or dive with manta rays, you’ll need to wait until the sun goes down — tour operators offer night diving and night snorkeling for manta ray viewing. That’s because lights shining in the water are used to attract the manta rays. The lights attract the plankton and the manta rays then follow to eat the plankton.
You can see manta rays during the daylight hours, but if you do see them during the day, it usually comes down to luck.
Best Big Island Manta Ray Night Snorkeling and Diving Tours
When you’re looking for a tour operator, we recommend selecting one that is on the Manta Green List, which is created and maintained by Hawaii Ocean Watch. This is a list of activity providers who operate to the highest ecological standards. They promise to keep you, the manta rays, and the environment safe.
Tour operators on this list that we recommend using are:
- Sea Paradise (Manta Village): Enjoy a manta ray night snorkel to Manta Village, near the Kona Sheraton Hotel. Learn more about the manta ray night snorkel with Sea Paradise.
- Kona Ocean Adventures (Manta Heaven): Choose between a night dive and a night snorkel to Manta Heaven, or Garden Eel Cove. Learn more about the manta ray night snorkel and dive with Kona Ocean Adventures.
- Kona Honu Divers (Manta Heaven): Head out on a two tank dive. to Garden Eel Cove. This is a longer trip for certified divers only. Learn more about the 2 tank manta ray night dive with Kona Honu Divers.
- Manta Advocates (Manta Point): Ditch the boat and swim out from shore with this tour operator on the Kohala Coast.
And you can find all of our recommended tours and tour operators on this list of the Best Big Island Tours and Activities.
What’s it like to go on a Manta Ray night snorkel tour?
It’s been said that swimming with manta rays is an experience not to be missed and possibly one of the top bucket list items to experience in your life. Jordan and I have done multiple manta ray snorkeling trips and we agree: it is a heart pounding and memorable experience. You’re in the ocean at night when it is pitch black. If you’re lucky, you have multiple giant manta rays doing barrel rolls and coming within inches of your face.
The experience is thrilling. Here is a video that captures some of our footage so you can see just how close these mantas come to you.
FAQs about Manta Ray Snorkeling:
Still have questions about snorkeling or diving with manta rays? We have you covered.
What happens if you don’t see a manta ray on your snorkel tour?
While tour operators have very high success rates for seeing manta rays, these are still wild animals who don’t always appear when you’re looking. To help make you feel comfortable that your money won’t be wasted, many tour operators offer a manta guarantee.
For example, Sea Paradise has a manta guarantee that if you don’t see a manta ray on the night of your snorkel, you can return for free anytime in the next 7 days for another trip. Tour availability is required.
Is it safe to snorkel with Manta Rays?
Manta rays are not dangerous. Even though they are large and intimidating, they won’t hurt people. People often confuse manta rays with stingrays, but manta rays do not have a stinger or barb.
Manta Ray Advocates has a great video describing the differences between sting rays and manta rays. And they refer to Manta Rays as “gentle giants.”
That said, the danger with snorkeling with manta rays comes from general dangers related to snorkeling. There are strong ocean currents, waves, and weather to consider. Plus, snorkeling happens at night when it is easy to become disoriented in the water. That’s why it’s important to not try to snorkel by yourself and to instead, join a tour offered by a trusted activity provider.
How big are Manta Rays in Hawaii?
On your night snorkeling trip, you’ll be able to see reef manta rays. Reef manta rays grow to have a wingspan of up to 16 feet, though you’ll likely see a manta that is smaller than that.
Can you touch Manta Rays?
No, you may not touch manta rays. One of the criteria to be on the Manta Green list is the promise to never touch manta rays. That’s because you can damage the protective coating on them, opening them up to risk of infection. You can also disorient them. Plus, it’s just not OK to ever touch sea life that you’re observing. Observe without being intrusive.
What is the best time of year to see manta rays in Hawaii?
While whale watching in Hawaii has a specific season (mid-December through mid-April), you can see manta rays at any time of the year in Hawaii. They don’t migrate like whales, so they stay put at their home in Hawaii year-round.
That said, going manta ray snorkeling can be more challenging January – March, when the ocean conditions are less favorable due to winter weather and swells. You might find that your tour is cancelled more often during the winter months, thanks to the rough ocean conditions.
Is there a Manta Ray night snorkel near the Kona Sheraton?
One of our favorite tour operators runs a manta ray night snorkel near the Kona Sheraton Hotel. In fact, guests can walk from the hotel to the tour departure location. Learn more about the manta ray night snorkel with Sea Paradise.
Planning a trip to the Big Island?
Let us take the guesswork out of it for you. Our done for you itineraries help you see the best sights of the island, without extensive online research or spending your time on the island googling and backtracking. Our routes have been planned out to maximize your time, taking you to the best spots and helping you find the best restaurants.
“I want to thank you for putting together your videos and the Big Island Vacation guide…I had started watching your videos earlier in the year and was hoping you’d created one for the Big Island and it came out just in time. We just came back and your guide was the backbone to our trip. I loved having it on my phone to tap and guide our travel.” – Philip Z.
Get The Big Island Itinerary
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).