Snorkeling at Honolua Bay, Maui

If you’re planning on hitting the most remarkable snorkeling locations on the island of Maui, make sure that Honolua Bay snorkel is on your list! Always popping up on the island’s top snorkel spots, you won’t need to swim far to find out why.

Honolua Bay is on the north side of the island and was the northernmost location that I visited during the trip. If you’re navigating there using a GPS or map, there’s a chance it’ll take you to the scenic overlook off of the highway but you’ll actually want to drive just past there to a small make-shift parking lot off to the side of the road. Once parked, you’ll follow a small, unpaved path down to the bay.

Honolua Bay trees

The walk down itself is sort of breathtaking with moss and green foliage covered trees providing shade overhead. The first day we visited Honolua in hopes of snorkeling, it was raining pretty significantly. After walking down during the inclement weather, it became apparent that it would be better to wait for better conditions when snorkeling at Honolua Bay. There’s a stream you have to cross when walking down this particular trail and that stream starts to move rather swiftly after it has been raining. The water here was about mid-thigh at its deepest point but only to my knees when visiting the second time.

The other problem about snorkeling here when the weather is bad is that the stream dumps water into the bay. When the water is moving quickly through the dirt, it picks up silt and other debris and deposits it in the usually clear water. This really affects visibility which means you won’t be seeing much during your snorkel.

When I visited the second time, I made sure of two things: that the weather was good and that I went first thing in the morning.

Honolua Bay above

As with all of Maui’s snorkeling locations, Honolua Bay is best bright and early. The winds on the island really kick up in the afternoon which affects visibility. Not to mention Honolua starts to get crowded by 8:30 AM (no, seriously). We were the first ones there to snorkel at about 7:00 in the morning and a steady stream of people were arriving by the time we left. Two boat charters were dropping off large groups of snorkelers at that point.

Getting there early meant we also got to chat a little bit with the owner of the land, a native Hawaiian who said his family has lived on the land for four generations. He reminded us to not put on sunscreen before getting in the water (there were several signs posted on the property making that same request) so as not to kill off any coral. He also gave us a reminder to respect the land, even noting that he had closed down the property once before because it wasn’t being treated properly. We promised we would and headed off onto the beach.

The shore at Honolua is made up of rocks and pebbles and isn’t the kind of typical Maui beach you’d expect. The rocky shoreline along with the hike in makes it wise to wear in the kind of footwear that can handle unsure footing (i.e.—not flip flops, which is exactly what I was wearing). Be careful entering and exiting the water as the rocks in the shallows get pretty slick.

It doesn’t really matter where you enter the water here at Honolua Bay; there is snorkeling along the north and south reefs, just like any other crescent shaped inlet as well as a significantly sized reef in the middle of the bay. Much like other snorkeling destinations around Maui, some of the reef in the shallows is dead or dying and there isn’t much sea life teeming there. All it takes is a little more swimming out to the deep ends to be able to get to the good stuff.

You can see a saddle wrasse here in the foreground of this shot. This is the portion of the bay where the reef wasn’t as healthy looking. This was still relatively close to shore—it got more impressive looking the farther we swam.

One of the first things I ended up seeing was a sleeping turtle down under an edge of coral reef. If you’re not paying close attention, this was something you could miss because they hide themselves pretty well. It almost just looks like another rock under there.

Sleeping turtle

Some of my favorite critters are more of the stationary variety. This is a banded sea urchin nestled into the coral.

One of the things people love about snorkeling at Honolua Bay is that there are often large schools of fish in the water. Here is a group of less colorful but still impressive silver fish moving about as a group.

I saw another huge group of Hawaiian sargeants feeding as I headed back. What an impressive gathering.

Hawaiian Sergeant

I know it’s probably clichéd to talk about turtles in Hawaii but guys, turtles are awesome! We ended up following around one particular sea turtle who didn’t have a front left fin. We affectionately dubbed him “Stumpy.”

Stumpy the Sea Turtle

Turtles are so graceful when they swim, moving through the water almost like a bird in slow motion.

There was a juvenile turtle that we spotted in the deep end of the bay. So cute, little, and fast moving compared to the older ones!

Juvenile sea turtle

A few needlefish graced the surface of the water.


It really was like swimming through an aquarium. I don’t remember seeing this many large schools of fish anywhere else.

Honolua Bay

Snorkeling at Honolua Bay is spectacular. I can’t imagine going back to Maui and not wanting to visit again. It is a little additional work to find and get to, but it’s all worth it. If I go again, I’ll be spending a lot of time in the water. Have you visited Honolua? Did you see any turtles?
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