Complete Guide to Snorkeling Hanauma Bay 2023

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

Post updated: August 28, 2023

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 2 ways.

  1. Sign up for the Hanauma Bay Shuttle Package
  2. Drive yourself the 10 miles from Waikiki

According to Honolulu Parks and Recreation's website, everyday about 1400 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. Because of this, the state has implemented a reservation system to help alleviate the crowd, which has caused some confusion for visitors.

But we are here to help. In this blog you will find all the information and tips needed to get your reservation, enjoy Hanauma Bay, and avoid the crowds!

Tip #1 - Secure your reservation

If you don't want to deal with the hassle of securing your own reservation from the Honolulu County Parks Department, you can book our Hanauma Bay Shuttle Package and we'll guarantee you an entrance ticket is waiting for you when you arrive.

If you do want to secure your own ticket, here is helpful list:

  1. When to Buy Tickets: You can only buy tickets 2 days in advance starting at 7:00am HST
  2. Where to Get Tickets: Make your online reservation at Hanauma Bay reservation website.
  3. How Much Does it Cost?: It is a $25 entrance fee per person. However, it is free for those with local or military id, and children under 12).
  4. Want the Best Chance to Get a Ticket?: Log on to the website right when they open at 7am HST. They sell out fast!
  5. Choose Your Time: Pick the time you want to visit and make sure to show up the required 15 minutes early. If you're late, you won't get in.
  6. No Tickets on Monday or Tuesday: If you see no tickets for Monday or Tuesday, that's because Hanauma Bay is closed on those days.
  7. Want the Best Chance to Get a Ticket?: It's a good idea to be online right when they start selling at 7am HST.
  8. Walk in Tickets: If you can't get a ticket online, there is still a chance! Try heading to the park right when it opens at 6:45 a.m. for a walk-in ticket. Remember, if you buy a walk-in ticket, you have to visit Hanauma Bay that same day. Since walk-in tickets are limited and go super fast, make sure to arrive early. And if you're coming with friends or family, everyone needs to be there together to grab a ticket.

Tip #2 - If Self Driving, Get there early

Hanauma Bay is open Wednesday through Sundays at 6:45am-4pm. However, no entry is allowed after 1:30pm. The best time to snorkel in Hanauma Bay is in the mornings. We recommend you be the first person there by securing the earliest reservation possible. Here are a few reasons why.

  1. You will easily find parking. Even with a reservation the parking is still first come-first served. It costs $3 cash only payment. However, the lot will be completely full by 8:00am and you will be turned away.
  2. You will avoid long lines at the entrance booth and the snorkel rental 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 #3 - 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. After you have checked in your entrance reservation 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 $25 per person (free for local or military id carriers, 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 #4 - 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 where 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. Concession stand snorkel gear rental is $20 per kit
  2. Prescription snorkel masks available for rent
  3. Lockers available for $10
  4. Life jackets not available at concession stand
  5. Or book Hanauma Bay Snorkel Shuttle Package to get everything included

Tip #5 - Educate Yourself

Like any treasure, Hanauma Bay needs safeguarding. This guide provides crucial insights into the marine life you'll encounter and the conservation efforts that keep this paradise pristine.

  • Vivid Coral Gardens: Home to a radiant coral ecosystem that's like the Times Square of the underwater world—bustling and full of colors.
  • Tropical Fish Galore: More than 400 species of fish call this bay home. Such as the Hawaiian state fish, Humuhumunukunukuapua'a.
  • Turtles in Action: The bay is a hotspot for Green Sea Turtles. Don't be scared, they are algae eating vegetarians.
  • Invertebrate Inhabitants: Sea urchins, moray eels, crabs, and even octopuses are commonly seen among the coral crevices. If you spot an octopus, don't blink. They're masters of disguise!
  • Dolphins and Whales: While rarer, dolphins and Humpback whales can sometimes be sighted from the lookouts above the bay, particularly during the migration season.

Coral Conservation: Respect the Reefs

  • Fragile Systems: Corals are living organisms that can take decades to grow just a few inches. Stepping on them is a big no-no!
  • No-Touch Policy: Look, but don't touch. The oils and bacteria on human skin can be harmful to the marine life.
  • Sustainable Snorkeling: Use reef-safe sunscreens and avoid feeding the fish. We all love free meals, but fish food can disrupt their diet and ecosystem.
  • Educational Programs: There's a required educational video for first-time visitors. They’re not trying to bore you; it’s legit useful info to preserve this natural gem.
  • Fishing Restrictions: Being a dedicated Marine Sanctuary, fishing activities are restricted in the bay to help preserve the marine life.

Why You Should Care:

  • Ecological Impact: Healthy coral reefs support a bustling marine ecosystem, which directly impacts local fishing and tourism.
  • Cultural Significance: For native Hawaiians, these waters are sacred. Treating them with respect is a nod to the rich cultural heritage of the islands.
  • Economic Value: Tourism brings in approximately $17 billion to Hawaii annually, and attractions like Hanauma Bay are a big part of that draw1. Source: Hawaii Tourism Authority, Economic Impact Report

How to Snorkel Safely:

  • Snorkel Buddy System: Never snorkel alone. It's important to have a buddy and to not separate from them.
  • Know Your Limits: Not a strong swimmer? No worries—stick to shallow areas and take frequent breaks.
  • Gear Inspection: Check your snorkel and mask to make sure they're in top condition. A foggy mask is like trying to enjoy a movie with someone’s head in the way.
  • Current Affairs: Always be aware of ocean currents. Consult lifeguards and obey warning flags—those colors aren't just for decoration.
  • Skin in the Game: Protect your skin from the sun with reef-safe sunscreen. Think of it as your VIP pass to the coral community. Hawaii thanks you.
  • Stay Hydrated: Saltwater and sun are a cocktail for dehydration. Keep a bottle of H2O nearby. Rum punch can wait until after.
  • Fish Are Friends: Enjoy the marine life but remember the no-touch policy. They're not fans of paparazzi.
  • Exit Strategy: Know your entry and exit points. The last thing you want is to be dry docked on razor sharp reef.

So next time you're snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, remember—you're not just a visitor, you're a guest in Mother Nature's living room. Treat it with the same respect you'd want in yours.

Tip #6 - 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 #7 - 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 1400 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 #8 - 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!

Frequently Asked Questions about Hanauma Bay

General

Q: Where is Hanauma Bay located?
A: Hanauma Bay is on the southeastern coast of Oahu, approximately 10 miles east of Waikiki.

Q: Is it suitable for all ages?
A: Absolutely, the bay offers shallow areas that are perfect for families with children. However, always keep an eye on the little ones.

Admission and Hours

Q: What are the operating hours?
A: Hanauma Bay is generally open from 6:45 AM to 4:00 PM. Note: It's closed on Mondays and Tuesdays for maintenance.

Q: Is there an admission fee?
A: Yes, the general admission fee is $25 per person. Children under 12 and Hawaii residents with ID enter for free.

Snorkeling

Q: Do I need my own snorkeling gear?
A: You can bring your own, or rent on-site for an additional fee.

Q: Are there lifeguards and safety measures?
A: Yes, lifeguards are on duty and safety flags indicate the condition of the sea.

Conservation

Q: What's the deal with the educational video?
A: First-time visitors must watch a 9-minute video about marine life and reef conservation. This is not optional but trust me, it's worth the watch.

Q: Can I touch or feed the marine life?
A: No, interacting with the marine life is not permitted to protect the delicate ecosystem.

Miscellaneous

Q: Can I fish in Hanauma Bay?
A: Fishing is generally prohibited to protect the marine life.

Q: Are there food and drink facilities?
A: Yes, there are snack shops, but it's advisable to bring your own water to stay hydrated.

Making Memories

Q: Can I take photos or videos underwater?
A: Absolutely! Capture your memories but remember to respect the environment and marine life.