Fishes & Turtles Oh My! A Maui Snorkel Guide

Snorkeling is one of my favorite things to do in Hawaii and I recommend it to *anyone who loves the ocean.

This guide is meant to give you an insiders view on making the most of your snorkel adventures on Maui while staying safe and respecting nature. Snorkeling when done properly, is a super fun activity that will make memories that last a lifetime. I’m out in the water ogling the sea life every chance I get when the conditions are right for it. Also how cool is it to swim with sea turtles?!

The Hawaiian word for the green sea turtle is ‘honu’ (ho-new).

🚨Please never touch, approach stalk or otherwise harass a honu. They are a protected endangered species and even what you might think is innocent curiosity could endanger the animal. More info on sea turtles in this post.

If a guided tour is more your style or you are totally new to snorkeling, check out one of the many snorkel boat tours on Maui. You’ll have a crew keeping an eye on ya plus all of the necessary gear and instruction. I’m a fan of Trilogy Excursions myself. Great crew, excellent safety and yummy food.

I shot this video of a Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle (Honu) during a snorkel in February. The camera mic picked up whale song making it a double awesome experience. 🙂

Preparation & Equipment

First, watch this video on staying safe in the ocean and land.

Gear: You will need, at minimum, a mask and a snorkel. I recommend fins as well even if you are a good swimmer. Fins give you much more power and maneuverability in the water. Unless you plan to snorkel every day, renting your gear makes a lot of sense. Most of the rental shops provide you with info on snorkel spots as well as a bottle of de-fog for your mask (something you’ll be happy to have later). A quick note on the full face masks: I’m not a fan and the jury is out on whether they are actually all that safe.

If you aren’t a strong swimmer, get a float belt from one of the rental shops.

What to Wear: Your swim suit! But keep in mind that being in the water magnifies the sun’s effects so take as much precaution to protect your skin as if you would be laying out on the beach. I recommend a long sleeved rash guard.

Sunscreen: And please for the love of all that is good ONLY USE reef safe sunscreen ! Be sure to apply it to the back of your legs, shoulders, and anything that will be exposed to the sun while you are in the water. Hawaii has banned certain sunscreen chemicals because they cause serious harm to the reefs and reef environments. To be good to the reefs and your skin just go with all mineral sunscreen with (non-nano) Zinc and/or Titanium like the brands below. It will leave a light whitish-bluish cast on your skin but this goes away in a few mins. Please never use the spray sunscreens! More of the spray goes into the atmosphere than onto your skin. You wouldn’t walk around spraying toxins at the beach so please stick with the rub-on creams. Info on reef safe sunscreen here.

My favorite sunscreens: Australian Gold Mineral Lotion, Raw Love & Red Gecko

When & Where To Go Snorkeling

Where: Maui has 3 regions that are good for snorkeling. Definitely, check the daily Maui Snorkel Report before picking a place to adventure. You’ll get a much better idea of where will be the safest / clearest place to go. I personally don’t go out if they score is 6 or below. Way better to be safe than sorry as ocean conditions can change fast and the old rule of “when in doubt, don’t go out” is 100% true.

  1. North West – Honolua Bay, Napili Bay, Kapalua Bay
  2. Near Ka’anapali – Black Rock & Kahekili aka Airport Beach
  3. South – Kamaole II & III (has lifeguards), North Keawakapu near the Mana Kai resort, Ulua Beach, White Rock Beach (north & south ends), Maluaka Beach (north end), Makena Landing, Ahihi Kinau aka Dumps (not the best place for beginners)

When: When to go snorkeling is as important as where. You will want to go snorkeling in the morning. Sun and calm waters are a must. Shorebreak invariably picks up in the afternoon and the water can often be clearest on a sunny morning. I aim to be in the water by 8am most days.

Pro Tips for Everyone

Please take precautions when going out into the ocean. Check out this safety guide before you get to Maui. It breaks my heart to know visitors get hurt or worse because they assume ocean activities are safe. This is not Disneyland – the ocean is wild and not the natural habitat for most of us humans.

  • Never ever go snorkeling alone. Always go with a buddy and stay in sight distance.
  • A sizable shorebreak can be dangerous and also mucks up the visibility. If the waves make you nervous, don’t go out. Likewise if no one else is in the water, take that as a sign to stay on shore.
  • Do be aware of the way the tide is going or if there is a rip tide as you can be easily pulled out to sea or into the rocks. If you are being pulled out to sea, swim diagonally to the shore a little rather than just fighting the tide.
  • Don’t touch the coral, fishes or other sea life.
  • Eels are bitey when disturbed.
  • Be mindful of your fins when swimming over reefs as it’s easy to do damage to the coral ecosystem when your legs a lot longer in fins.
  • Don’t go snorkeling (or swimming) during or after a rainstorm because: 1) high levels of bacteria from run-off water and 2) mucky water means you won’t see much and sharks have been known to like mucky water because it’s easier to catch prey that can’t see them coming.
  • Do breathe normally making sure you are getting plenty of air in and out of your lungs.
  • Do take it easy and don’t swim farther out than your comfort zone. Save time and energy to get back to shore safely.
  • Do be mindful of jellyfish and spiky urchins. Although somewhat rare, they can be ouchy.

Be Safe & Have Fun

Hopefully, my caution hasn’t scared you off the activity. 🙂 Snorkeling can be so much fun and relaxing too. The reefs around Maui have so many different kinds of fish and sea life. Over the years I’ve been able to observe and swim with Hawaiian sea turtles (called Honu in Hawaiian), manta rays, dolphins, octopus, spotted eagle rays, eels and SO many different types of fish. During whale season you can sometimes actually hear whale song while snorkeling. I never get tired of going out to see what I can see in the sea.

Happy Adventuring!


Rev Jules

Questions or Ideas? Hit me up in the comments or send me an email.

*If you have health conditions do ask your doctor if snorkeling is advised for you.

Photos from some of my snorkel adventures around Maui & Lana’i

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2 thoughts on “Fishes & Turtles Oh My! A Maui Snorkel Guide

  1. +1 on the sunscreen. Rash guards work much better in blocking the sun anyway.

    Pro tip #2: If you’re concerned about getting tired or being a strong swimmer, consider renting a full length 3mm wetsuit. You will have tons of buoyancy and so won’t need a snorkeling vest, you’ll stay warmer, and you won’t get a sun burn.

    Your trip to Hawaii sounds awesome! I totally want to go one day… 🙂

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