Kauai is a snorkeler’s happy place, with the majority of its beaches covered in soft white sand and plenty of sea life to experience when you dip below the water’s surface. When you set out for a snorkeling experience on the island, here’s what you need to know – and where you need to go.
Remember to show respect for the ocean, reefs and sea creatures as you head out, both for their safety and yours. Currents can be strong, quickly grabbing hold of even the most experienced swimmers in some areas. Undertow isn’t something to mess around with, either.
A good rule of thumb is to snorkel with a buddy and have someone on shore who knows where you are and when you’ll be back. Check the tides, weather forecast, and any reports for the area you’ll be visiting before you head out, and then spend at least 20 minutes or so after you arrive at a new place observing the waves and water movement before you dive in.
Then of course there’s the flip side: the safety of the ocean and the plants and animals that live inside it. Sunscreen is high on the list of considerations. Hawaii has banned sunscreens with harmful chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, but there are others commonly found in sunscreens that could be just as bad – research pending. That means that you can’t necessarily trust labels that say “reef safe” since that isn’t a term regulated by the FDA. Your best bet is to wear a rash guard or other clothing layers to protect you from the sun, while requiring less sunscreen that may cause coral bleaching. Otherwise, natural mineral sunscreens are your best bet.
That ethic extends to your physical interactions with reefs too, since contact with humans can spell death for critters. Be sure to avoid touching or stepping on the reef, and steer clear of wildlife when you’re in the water and on shore.
Ready to dive in? Here are some of the best places to snorkel in Kauai for every experience level.
On the East Side near the Wailua river, this kid-friendly pond makes for a great first snorkeling dip. Rock enclosed ponds shelter swimmers from ocean waves, while still providing great views of reef fish swimming through. There’s also a posted lifeguard and plenty of hangout spots on land.
The clear waters in this crescent-shaped beach give you views into the reef, perfect for snorkelers. You’ll sometimes catch monk seals hanging out too – though if you do, be sure to keep your distance and refrain from flash photos. And it isn’t uncommon to spot humpback whales in the distance between December and April. You’ll also find picnic facilities and posted lifeguards here.
Located along the North Shore, Anini Beach is one of the safest beaches in that area during summer – though there’s no posted lifeguard. The reef shelters the water near shore, but keep in mind that currents are stronger outside its protective boundary. You could see hawksbill and green sea turtles swimming laps, and you might spot reef fish like moorish idols and the state fish: the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa. Keep an eye out for small sharks too!
Billed as the best snorkeling beach in North Kauai, Makua Beach has a reef so big it can be seen from space. Also known as Tunnels Beach, this spot is known for underwater exploring. It’s a good idea to arrive early to be sure you can get a parking spot, and be alert for the slight rip current here. But otherwise, enjoy seeing the world from a different perspective as you dip below the surface.
Ke’e Beach sits at the farthest north point you can reach on the North Shore. Be mindful that advance reservations are now required to enter Hāʻena State Park where you access the beach, so be sure to plan ahead. Conditions vary seasonally, which can make this spot an advanced swim in winter months, though it tends to be more mild in summer. In the lagoon and around its edges, check for green sea turtles and scrawled filefish.
Share our love of the ocean! For a home base for your snorkeling adventures that keeps island sustainability top of mind, book a Kauai vacation rental with Highline Adventures.