Complete Guide to Snorkeling Hanauma Bay

By: Adventure Tours Hawaii | 2 months ago | 7 min read

Hanauma Bay, an ancient volcanic crater that was filled in by the ocean.

While on vacation, snorkeling on Oahu is a great activity to enjoy. There is a variety of sealife to see such as tropical fish, green sea turtles, eels, reef sharks, and spotted eagle rays, However, Oahu is exposed to lots of open ocean swell and currents, making prime snorkeling locations limited. But there is one spot that has calm conditions perfect for enjoying the magic of the coral reef year round. The location is the famous marine sanctuary, Hanauma Bay.

Getting to Hanauma Bay is easy and can be done 3 ways.

  1. Book the Hanauma Bay Snorkel Shuttle Package (transportation, snorkel gear, flotation, fish cards, etc)
  2. Drive yourself the 10 miles from Waikiki
  3. Take the Bus #22 to Hanauma Bay

Everyday about 3000 people flock to the protected water and white sand beach of Hanauma bay. It is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the Hawaiian Islands. This can make it very crowded. But we are here to help. In this blog you will find all the information and tips needed to enjoy Hanauma Bay and avoid the crowds.


Tip #1 - Get there early

Hanauma Bay opens almost everyday at 6:00am (closed on Tuesdays) Whenever visiting, we recommend trying to be the first person there. Here are a few reasons why.

  1. You will easily find parking. The lot that will be completely full by 8:00am and you will be turned away.
  2. You will avoid long lines at the entrance booth and snorkel concession.
  3. You can snorkel the popular near shore lagoons without crowds of people.
  4. The sand bottom lagoons won’t yet be churned up by the crowds, keeping visibility clear.
  5. You can find a shaded spot on the beach. Shade is very limited at Hanauma Bay and can only be found under a few skinny palm trees.

Tip #2 - Prepare for a slow entrance

Even when getting to Hanauma Bay early, there is still a check in process before actually getting down to the beach. This includes paying your $7.50 entrance fee (entrance is free for children under the age of 12 or if you have a military or local ID.) After you have purchased your entrance fee you will then have to wait in line again for the The Hanauma Bay Education Program. This mandatory orientation video talks about not standing on the coral, not feeding or touching sea life, etc. Also, before heading to the beach, there is a snack stand to purchase food and drinks. You are also welcome to bring your own snacks and drinks in small cooler (large coolers and alcoholic beverages are not allowed.)

After that, you will either walk downhill to the beach on an easy paved trail or opt for the $1.25 tram shuttle. The tram is great for those who have walking impairments, small children, or are carrying a lot of beach gear. Also, this is a great time to mention that Hanauma Bay is handicap friendly as all of the access points are ramped.

  1. Entrance fee is $7.50 (free for local or military id, and children under 12)
  2. Watch a 10 minute mandatory educational video
  3. Walkable downhill path to beach or take a $1.25 tram shuttle
  4. Hanauma Bay is handicap accessible

Tip #3 - Reserve your lockers and snorkel gear immediately.

Once your down at the beach, to avoid waiting in yet another line, head straight to the snorkel concession. Here is wear you can rent your snorkel gear, purchase sunscreen, and reserve a locker for your valuable belongings. Life jackets are not available at these stands and you will have to bring your own. If you are planning on renting snorkel gear and/or need flotation, book the Hanauma Bay Snorkel Shuttle Package. The package includes transportation, quality snorkel gear, flotation, and more.

  1. Book Snorkel Shuttle Package to get everything included
  2. concession stand snorkel gear rental is $20 per kit
  3. Prescription snorkel masks available for rent
  4. Lockers available for $10
  5. Life jackets not available at concession stand

Tip #4 - Go snorkeling!

Ok, You have finally made it. You got to the beach early and you’ve gotten your snorkel gear. There is only one last thing to do. Go snorkeling! While most of the near shore lagoons are only about 3 feet deep and you can stand, it is still recommended you gently relax and float on your stomach. Calmly breathe through your snorkel and place your mask in the water while gently kicking your fins. This way your not stirring up the sand bottom and ruining visibility for yourself. Plus, the fish won’t get scared away from an awkward human stomping on the ground as they approach. The idea is to be cool, calm, and relaxed while gliding through the water.

Tip #5 - Advanced snorkelers go through channel

Again, only for those who are confident open ocean swimmers, there is a “backside” to the reef where the water gets deeper and there is bigger marine life to observe. Talk with the lifeguards on duty and ask them about ocean conditions because there will be more swell and currents further from shore. Once you have their permission, look for the 2 white buoys marking the channel. This will be your entrance over the reef. Once on the backside, swim to the right of the channel. I have found it to be more protected in this corner and have seen larger fish such as parrot fish, eels, and even turtles. When returning to the inside of the reef be cautious to find a location that is not too shallow. If you attempt to swim over the shallow reef and fail, you will be stuck on urchin covered sharp coral reef and will look like a fool in front of 3000 people. The lifeguards will most likely lambaste you over their megaphones before coming to rescue you, further embarrassing you in front of the entire beach.

Tip #6 - Leave the beach better than you found it

Please pick up all of your trash, belongings, and any litter you find when exciting Hanauma Bay. The entire island of Oahu, its residents, the lifeguards on duty, Kanaloa (the god of the ocean), Nemo, and pretty much everyone else, Thanks you!