If you’re visiting the Valley Isle, be it for the first time or as a longtime guest, you simply must embark on an underwater adventure.
Maui Nō Ka ʻOi, (Maui is the best!) or so its people proudly proclaim. Many snorkelers would have to agree. Myriad sea life sighting options just a quick swim from shore, a half-sunken volcanic crater, and winter snorkel background music by humpback whale are just a few reasons this island is a serious standout.
Toting snorkel gear to any beach you visit is a good idea—as is not leaving valuables in your rental since ne’er do wells know how captivating the snorkeling can be and might take advantage of your extended absence. No matter where you choose to dip your fins, the sight of Maui’s majestic mountains and golden beaches as you return to shore makes an idyllic end to any snorkel.
One of the most popular tours on the Valley Isle is a trip out to Molokini Crater. The half-submerged crescent offers a scenic ride to the site, where boaters have a shot at seeing dolphins, whale sharks, false killer whales, pilot whales, manta rays, and humpback whales (in the winter months) en route.
While many of these amazing creatures can be occasionally spotted during dives on the crater’s back wall, snorkelers inside Molokini are more likely to see parrotfish, passing jacks, angelfish, damsels, turtles, octopus (if you’re sharp-eyed), and an endless array of wrasse. Dipping an ear under the surface during December through April can often be rewarded by the haunting song of humpback as the crescent shape acts as an amplifier.
Five Caves/Five Graves
This public access beach along the island’s southern coast is the kicking-off spot to a series of underwater caves and caverns. This excellent shore dive also makes for a quality snorkel, as the many resident turtles (some massive) pop out of their cavern napping spots to breathe. Some lucky snorkelers can even spot lazy white tip reef sharks as they head in for a snooze.
Entry can be challenging, best for those wearing booties or neoprene socks with their fins, but large schools of fish can be enjoyed along with a wide variety of unique lava tube formations.
Black Rock is a very popular spot among divers and snorkelers due to the abundance of colorful marine life. Shutterstock
Another of the island’s iconic sights is Black Rock, the large lava rock outcropping where divers plunge into the sea after lighting torches to mark the end of the day. (Stop by for a post-snorkel sunset drink at Sheraton Maui’s Cliff Dive Grill for the full cultural narration, live music, and hula.) At first glance, you might think the crowd of snorkelers on the South Side of the rock outnumber the fish.
This may be true, but the excited hoots and hollers echoing out of the dozens of snorkel tubes prove how many turtles have adjusted to the crowd and still call the rock home. A more enjoyable way to experience Black Rock is to enter on the near-empty north side of the rock and make your way around the point, exiting along the popular south side shore.
Once just a little used cement boat ramp alongside an abandoned half-collapsed structure, Mala Pier not only offers entry to many of the West side’s dive and snorkel boats but the large wooden pylons are crusted with hard and soft corals. This habitat has become loaded with triggerfish, goatfish, snapper, peacock bass, hawkfish, jacks, mullet, turtles, octopus, and even seahorses.
For an easy one-stop experience, stop by adjacent Dive Maui for gear and fish cards. Enter to the right of the ramp, taking care to watch for boat traffic and cross to the wooden pier.
The key to enjoying an excursion to Honolua Bay is scheduling it when the area isn’t packed with boats. Shutterstock
Honolua Bay is a Marine Life Conservation District on the northwestern coast. No fishing of any kind is allowed, and the diversity and density of life show it. The picturesque bay is surrounded by high rocky cliffs on both sides, offering a serene and flat-water environment for great visibility and snorkel conditions. Enter (with care— rocks are slippery!) to the right of the old cement boat ramp and hug the coastline. Eventually, the smooth boulders give way to a coral reef teeming with life. Butterflyfish, parrotfish, surgeonfish, tang, squirrelfish, Moorish idol, and boxfish are a few to spot.
Time your snorkel to avoid mid-morning and mid-afternoon, as the snorkeling is so good the boat tours frequent the spot. If you are visiting during a north swell, expect a crowd on the beach as they watch daredevils take on the “perfect” surf break on the far-right point.