Hanauma Bay Snorkeling: Is It the Best Spot in Hawaii? (updated 2020)

August 28, 2015

Hawaii is well-known for its many azure and aqua beaches that offer prime snorkeling opportunities.  If you are looking for a location teeming with marine life, head to Hanauma Bay on the southeast side of Oahu.

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An easy 10-mile drive from Waikiki, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is actually the floor of a volcanic crater, believed to be 35,000 years old.

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Hanauma means “curved bay” fitly describing the stunning view obtained when looking down on it from the ledge above.  Due to its shape and surrounding craggy landscape sheltering it, the beach is mostly protected from strong waves, making it ideal for snorkeling.  The reef is just a few feet from shore, so even small children are able to enjoy it, even without a mask.

snorkeling Hanauma Bay

What can you expect to see in the waters of Hanauma Bay?  On any given day, you can expect to come face-to-face with one or more of these reef inhabitants: sea turtles, rainbow-colored tropical fish, parrotfish, butterflyfish, snapper, trumpet fish, eels and more.  And the nature observations don’t stop there.  Birds and other wildlife make their way onto the beach.

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Not to be overlooked is the white-sand, palm-fringed beach with lots of shady areas for beachcombing, picnicking, or chilling out.  On sunny days you might even see a breaching humpback whale across the bay.

Hanauma Bay oahu

Hanauma Bay is not without its challenges. On certain days, a strong current can form near the mouth of the bay which can make present a challenge unless you are a good swimmer, as well as churn up the sandy bottom creating less visibility for snorkeling.  It is advisable to check the park staff about the conditions on the day you want to visit. The beach is also rocky where the waves break, making it necessary to walk beyond before slipping on fins.  Water shoes provide extra protection for swimmers.

snorkeling Hanauma Bay

Click here to read the story about snorkeling in Hanauma Bay in Wave Journey.

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About the Author

Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.”  Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal.  She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.

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