Snorkeling on Oahu: Hanauma Bay

Snorkeling is one of the most popular water activities in Hawaii. Oahu in particular has a couple phenomenal locations, but which one is right for you? We’re going to kick off a series of posts about the various snorkel spots. Pick one or try them all!

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay is a nature preserve located about 10 miles east of Waikiki. It offers some of the best snorkeling on the island, but you have to be smart about planning your visit.

Hanauma Bay

Incredible view of Hanauma Bay from a helicopter

When should I go?

The best time of day to go to Hanauma Bay is first thing in the morning. The Bay opens at 6:00 AM (closed on Tuesdays). Why first thing? Because by 9 AM this place will be packed. If you’re driving out, be aware of the fact that there is limited parking available in the lot next to the entrance. The parking cost is only $1 per car, and if the lot fills up they will not let you hang out to wait for a spot. It’s also best to go early because you want to be able to see as many fish as possible. Visibility is best right when the park opens, before too many people arrive and churn up the sand.

How can I get there?

Easiest way is just to rent a car and drive, but if you’re looking for alternatives you could also take a shuttle or the public bus. Shuttles are nice because they’ll pick you up right from your hotel and provide the snorkel gear (we like Hanauma Bay Snorkel Adventures and Tommy’s Tours). They tend to have specific pick-up and return times, but you will have ample time at the Bay. If you take the public bus, you will want to hop on the #22 out of Waikiki. It’s $2.50 per person (exact change required) and expect the trip to take about 45 minutes on the way out, and an hour on the way back. The major downside to taking the public bus is that it only runs every hour on weekdays and about every 30 minutes or so on weekends, so if you miss it you could be waiting around for a while.

What can I expect?

Upon arriving at Hanauma Bay, you will need to pay the $7.50 entrance fee (waived for children under 13 and Hawaii residents with proof of residency) and watch a brief welcome video about the efforts to protect this beautiful reef. You then either walk down a long, steep hill or pay for the tram that can shuttle you down to the beach. There are restroom facilities, lockers and a snorkel gear rental shop. For those not-so-strong swimmers out there, you can also rent flotation devices.

You probably won’t end up staying much longer than a couple hours. Once you’ve snorkeled around for a while and seen a lot of cool fish (and maybe some eels and turtles), it’s usually on to the next adventure. Hanauma Bay is not a “lay out and relax” type of beach since it gets so crowded and the sandy area itself is not that big. That being said, it’s still one of the highlights of the island – take a morning to check it out!

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