Boat vs. Beach Snorkeling: What’s the Difference?

Best Place to Snorkel in Maui

Snorkeling in Maui is a must do activity. Knowing where to snorkel in Hawaii, how much it cost to snorkel in Maui, what’s the difference between boat and beach snorkeling and other snorkeling tips can help you decide what the best snorkel experience will be for you!

Where to Snorkel in Maui

The best place to snorkel in Maui, Hawaii is the first topic we’ll dive into. When snorkeling from shore you can reach many amazing snorkel spots. So, you may be wondering why someone would book a snorkel tour on a boat if they can snorkel from shore in Hawaii? Often the reefs you want to snorkel are much more accessible by boat than by shore. You can snorkel from shore but you may need to swim 15 minutes or longer to reach the best section of the reef with the most fish and turtles. By boat, your guides stop at the exact snorkel location, so you can spend more time snorkeling with marine life than swimming to the right spot! Also, having a marine naturalist guide in the water not only makes the snorkel tour safer for you, it also adds an educational element as they point out tropical fish, turtles, octopus and other marine life!

When deciding where to snorkel on Maui you’ll need to consider a few variables. First, consider is what locations are near your vacation accommodations. If you are staying in Kihei or Wailea, there are many south Maui locations you can snorkel. If you are staying in Lahaina or Kaanapali, Maui’s west side snorkel spots are nearby and top of the list! Although other sides of the island have ocean access, the south and west sides of Maui have easy shoreline access to sandy beaches and the most consistent weather for snorkeling. Lahaina is the best location for snorkeling due to its position at the leeward base of the West Maui Mountains. The leeward side of these mountains is protected from most of the wind and rain that affects the island, making Lahaina the calmest and most consistent place to snorkel in Maui.

If you want to snorkel by boat, boat snorkel tours departing out of Kihei Boat Ramp or Maalaea Harbor will be taking guests to snorkel locations along Maui’s south and lower west side reefs. Some of these locations are known as turtle town, which refers to many of the reef locations along the south shore that are home to green sea turtles. Coral Gardens along the cliffs of the Pali is also a snorkel spot frequently visited by boats leaving the south side of Maui. Offshore you can reach the unique crater structure called Molokini. You may see some tropical fish there, but this spot is known mostly for it’s interesting shape and location. If your tour takes you to snorkel the back side of the crater, you may see more unique marine life as well!

Boat snorkel tours departing from Lahaina Harbor snorkel 3 main spots. Olowalu Reef is not only a popular snorkel location (Sometimes boat tours from the south side will come all the way up here, too.) because it is Maui’s oldest and largest reef system, but because it has some of the calmest weather for snorkeling on island. Spanning almost 500 acres underwater along Maui’s coast, this reef system is home to tropical fish, lots of green sea turtles, manta rays, black tip reef sharks, octopus and even monk seals! You can snorkel Olowalu from shore as well; swimming through coral heads to reach the outer reef where the water is clearer and there is more marine life.

One of our favorite locations to snorkel in Maui is Mala Wharf also called Mala Ramp in Lahaina, Maui. There is more than one reason this is our top spot for snorkeling from shore and from boat when snorkeling in Maui! First, this spot is a snorkel surprise. From the shore you’ll see an old dilapidated pier that was once used to transport pineapple to steam ships for trade. But once you begin to snorkel, you see how amazing nature is and how it adapted by turning this structure into a healthy, functional artificial reef. Second reason this is one of our favorite snorkel spots on Maui are the sea turtles! We always see turtles when we snorkel this spot and because it’s a popular snorkel spot, many of the sea turtles are accustomed to visitors and calmly swim nearby. The third reason we love this snorkel spot is because of the variety of other marine life. You will see schools of tropical fish, an octopus or two, rare fish like the Big Eyed Emperor and even little reef sharks sleeping under the remnants of the pier. This snorkel spot can be reached from shore or by boat, making it a great go to snorkel spot in Lahaina!

Honolua Bay is also a popular snorkel spot on Maui! If you snorkel this marine preserve from shore you will trek through a jungle like entrance to reach a rocky shoreline. Snorkeling out from the bay you want to stay along the shallow reef where most of the marine life can be found. Thousands of tropical fish varieties, turtle cleaning stations and even barracudas can be spotted here! Some of the turtle cleaning stations can be found on the furthest reef location, making that an easier snorkel spot to reach by boat.

Snorkel tours to the island of Lanai, Maui are popular but can only be reached by boat! Lanai is an island about 8 miles across from Lahaina, Maui. This island is privately owned but has a town, residents and minimal coast development, making the reef ideal for snorkeling. Our Lanai snorkel tours take you along the south and east shores of the island where we see tropical fish, sea cliffs and almost always, dolphins! There are 3 main species of dolphins we see on our snorkel tours: Spinner, bottlenose and spotted! Lanai offers more than a dozen snorkel locations and many are remote. Club Lanai, Manele Bay, Sweetheart Rock, Armchair, Lighthouse, Shark Fin and Budha Bay are just a few. Only a few boat tours snorkel Lanai because of its distance from Maui, so often we are the only snorkel group there, making this an uncrowded snorkel adventure!

To find out ocean conditions and what spots have the calmest water for snorkeling, you can call the local snorkel stores or us for an update and location recommendations!

How much is snorkeling in Maui?

The cost to snorkel depends on the duration, type of snorkel tour and location! If you are snorkeling from shore, you can rent gear for as little as $5 a day! Snorkel tours by boat range from $65-$200 per person depending on the style of vessel and duration of the tour. Larger catamaran style vessels that host up to 150 guests will have lower prices. Sailboats and luxury tours will be higher end. Our rafting style snorkel tours will be in the mid range as we have small uncrowded adventure style snorkel tours. If you are doing just a 3 hour Maui snorkel tour your prices will be lower than a 6 hour snorkel tour that takes you to Lanai. Most snorkel tours have kids prices and local resident discounts (kamaʻāina) as well!

What to know about snorkeling!

There is so much to know about snorkeling, but you want to start with the basics!
Safety is the number one priority when snorkeling. Here are some tips for safe snorkeling!

  1. ALWAYS snorkel with a buddy! Never snorkel alone. Snorkeling with a friend means you have help if you start feeling unwell or snorkel gear malfunctions! Plus it’s way more fun!
  2. Don’t use a full-face mask. Most of the full-face snorkel masks on the market are not made to circulate Co2 well and can cause shallow water black out. Rent or buy a traditional mask and snorkel set up to help you receive the most oxygen while snorkeling and equalize if you decide to dive. We provide all snorkel gear on our tours!
  3. If in doubt, don’t go out! This is for any ocean activity! If the water is murky after a rainy day, or you don’t feel comfortable, don’t get in the water! Call the local snorkel store and get their assessment of snorkel locations!
  4. Consider a guided snorkel tour. Guided snorkel tours are going to take you to places where the water is calmest, clearest and you have someone to teach you how to snorkel and answer any snorkel related questions you may have!

Hope these snorkel tips have gotten you excited to get in the water and explore!

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