Coral reefs at Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii

6 Best Snorkeling Spots In Kona and Hilo 2024

Wondering where the best places to snorkel on the Big Island are? You’ve come to the right article. 

I’ve been to the Big Island three times now, and snorkeling has always been my favorite activity.

One of the best places I’ve gone snorkeling on the Big Island while growing up were the Kapoho Tide Pools near Hilo. After the 2018 Kilauea eruption, the tide pools unfortunately no longer exist. 

But, I was able to discover many incredible snorkeling spots on my trip to the Big Island this year! 

This article will cover the top snorkeling spots on the Big Island. From Kona’s picturesque bays to Hilo’s natural lagoons, there’s something here for every type of diver. 

Here are the 7 best spots to snorkel in Kona and Hilo. 

1. Kealakekua Bay – Kona

Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii

Located in south Kona, Kealakekua Bay is a spectacular deep sheltered water bay. It’s home to an incredible diversity of wildlife, and is a resting site for spinner dolphins.

It’s also where the Captain Cook monument is located, which marks the site the first westerner landed on the island of Hawaii.

Captain James Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay
Captain James Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay

If you want to get to the bay, you’ll need to go on a snorkeling tour or hike the Captain Cook Monument Trail.

Most people go on a tour, since the hike is 3.9 miles out and back, down to the bay, and back up a steep hill. 

Captain Cook Monument Trail, Kona Hawaii
Captain Cook Monument Trail, Kona Hawaii

If you want to hike there, you’ll park on the side of Napoopoo Road, and walk across the street to find the trailhead for the Ka’Awaloa trail. 

For more details on the hike, see our article on hiking the Captain Cook Monument Trail. for 

Once you get to the bay, it has crystal clear waters filled with coral and schools of tropical fish. You may also get the chance to spot spinner dolphins if you arrive early in the morning. 

Coral reefs at Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay
Coral reefs at Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii

2. Kahaluʻu Beach Park – Kona

Tide pools at Kahaluʻu Beach Park
Kahaluʻu Beach Park (Photo by: Hoyoun Lee)

Kahaluʻu Beach Park is by far the most popular beach in Kona for snorkeling. It has a rocky shore, tide pools, and gentle crystal clear waters filled with turtles and many different tropical fish species.

The beach has lifeguards, restrooms, showers, and snorkeling equipment rental stands to rent out gear for the day. It costs $12 for 4-hour parking, and the parking lot fills quickly so it’s best to arrive early. .

If visiting, make sure to bring reef safe sunscreen, and wear water shoes to protect your feet from the lava rocks. 

3. Carlsmith Beach Park – Hilo

Carlsmith Beach Park, Hilo Hawaii
Carlsmith Beach Park, Hilo Hawaii

If you’re in Hilo, Carlsmith Beach Park is one of the best places to snorkel.

This is a family-friendly protected lagoon with crystal clear waters, gentle waves, and an abundance of sea turtles.

Carlsmith Beach Park, Hilo Hawaii
Carlsmith Beach Park

I’ve seen a handful of turtles every time I’ve visited this beach, and lots of tropical fish while snorkeling. The park has restrooms, picnic areas, and easy free parking.

If you’re visiting, make sure to wear water shoes since the shoreline is a mix of lava rocks and sandy areas. 

4. Honaunau Bay (Two Step Beach) – Kona

Honaunau Bay, Kona HI
Honaunau Bay, Kona HI

Located right by the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau Historical Park, Honaunau Bay is a hidden gem beach in south Kona. This beach has a lava rock shoreline, tide pools, and clear waters filled with tropical fish and sea urchins.

To go snorkeling here, you’ll want to climb down the “two steps”, a rock ledge that’ll give you easy access to the water. 

There’s a small free parking lot, as well as a $5 parking lot right by the beach. If parking’s limited, you can park on the street for free and walk down to the beach. 

If you’re visiting the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau Historical Park, you can do a short 5 minute walk from the national park’s parking lot to access this beach. 

5. Richardson Ocean Park – Hilo

Richardson Ocean Park, Hilo Hawaii
Richardson Ocean Park, Hilo Hawaii

Located just a mile east of Carlsmith Beach Park in Hilo, Richardson Ocean Park is another incredible snorkeling spot.

This is a black sand beach with tide pools, and calm waters filled with coral, tropical fish, and lots of sea turtles.

The current is a bit stronger here than Carlsmith Beach Park, so it may not be suitable for young kids.

Richardson Ocean Park, Hilo Hawaii
Richardson Ocean Park

The park has benches, picnic areas, restrooms, lifeguards on duty during park hours, and plenty of free parking.. 

6. Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park – Kona

Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park
Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park

Just a few miles south of the Kona airport, the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park is an interesting historical park with an abundance of sea turtles.

It has a visitor center, and a 0.75 mile petroglyph trail that leads down to a beach with ancient fishponds. 

To the left of the beach near the “Aipio Fish Trap”, it’s a great family-friendly snorkeling area with calm waters and tropical fish.

You can park at the Honokohau Harbor, and walk 5 minutes to this beach if you want to skip the hike from the visitor center. 

Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, Big Island Hawaii
Ancient Hawaiian hale at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park

If you continue walking past the traditional Hawaiian hale structure, you’ll get to see tons of sea turtles in the water.

Just remember to stay within 20 feet of the green sea turtles to abide by the law.

Green sea turtles or “honu”, are protected under the Endangered Species Act in Hawaii, so disrupting them in any way can result in a hefty fine. 

Big Island Snorkeling FAQs

What are the best Big Island snorkeling tours?

The best snorkeling tours on the Big Island are night time manta ray tours and Kealakekua Bay tours.

Night time manta ray tours involve going on a short cruise out to a manta ray feeding site and swimming with huge manta rays. They use light boards to attract the plankton which the manta rays feed on, so you won’t be in complete darkness. 

Kealakekua Bay snorkeling tours are also especially popular due to the site’s historical significance, and diversity of marine life. It is without a doubt the best place to snorkel and spot dolphins on the Big Island.

The site of the Captain Cook Monument, and main snorkeling area of Kealakekua Bay is only accessible by going on a tour, or hiking the Ka’Awaloa trail.

You can hike there for free to snorkel, but permits are required to kayak, paddleboard, or use any other vessel to get there. 

Is Hilo or Kona better for snorkeling?

Kona has more snorkeling beaches than Hilo overall.

Kealakekua Bay and Kahaluʻu beach park are the places to go if you want to see an abundance of corals and diverse tropical fish species.  

However, Hilo has great family-friendly lagoons with tide pools and sea turtles that are suitable for beginners.

Carlsmith Beach Park is the best place for easy swimming and snorkeling in Hilo. 

What should you wear snorkeling in Hawaii?

While snorkeling in Hawaii, make sure to wear water shoes to protect your feet from lava rocks and sea urchins.

Also, remember to wear reef safe sunscreen to protect the marine life and coral reefs. 

Where’s the best place to see green sea turtles (honu) on the Big Island?

Green sea turtles are found all over the Big Island. Here are some of the best beaches to spot green sea turtles:

  • Punaluʻu Beach – between Pāhala and Nāʻālehu
  • Kahaluʻu beach park – Kona
  • Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park – Kona
  • Shipman’s Beach – Hilo
  • Carlsmith Beach Park – Hilo
  • Richardson Ocean Park – Hilo
Shipman's Beach, Hilo Hawaii
Shipman’s Beach, Hilo Hawaii

Summary

If you want to go snorkeling on the Big Island, Kealakekua Bay and Kahaluʻu beach park are amazing places.

I recommend going on a snorkeling tour to Kealakekua Bay, since the hike can be especially difficult if you have to haul snorkeling gear up the mountain.

If you’re in Hilo, Carlsmith Beach Park and Richardson Ocean Park are great beaches for snorkeling and spotting sea turtles.

Just remember to bring water shoes, reef safe sunscreen, and to stay within 20 feet of green sea turtles (honu)!

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