Kona Manta Ray Snorkel: A Nighttime Must-Do

With a population of over 100 manta rays frequenting Kona reefs, joining a night snorkeling tour with them is easier then ever before

Post updated: August 28, 2023

Swimming with Manta Rays at night is by far one of the most popular tours and activities in Kona, Hawaii. It is even regarded as one of the best night dives in the world! Read below to learn more about it and how you can sign up and join a manta ray night snorkel during your next Hawaii vacation.

What is a manta ray?

Manta Rays are highly intelligent, giant disc shaped creatures. Their bodies are soft and made up of mostly cartilage. In fact, “Manta“ is a Spanish word for blanket or cloak and describes their fluid body.

Their shape allows them to majestically flap their winged pectoral fins to create an appearance of flying underwater. With a wing span of 3.5m (11.5ft) wide and 5.5m (18ft) long they are some of the largest sea creatures found in Hawaii. And living up to 50 years old, they are also some of the oldest.

The dorsal (top) side of the manta ray skin is a blueish gray. The ventral (bottom) side is mostly white with black pigmentation spots. These spots are unique to each manta ray and is what allows researchers to identify each manta ray individually. They even have unique recorded names which can be found here

During the day manta rays are solitary creatures. However, during their night time feeding they can be seen coming together as they feast on their main food source, plankton.

When can I see manta rays in Kona?

Night time of course! But other than that, Hawaiian manta ray swimming is not a seasonal activity. Our resident rays do not migrate and instead make their home just off our coastlines allowing opportunity to view them all year. However, sometimes large winter storms in December, January, and February, can occasionally (but not always) make the ocean rough. Therefore fall, spring, and summer are the optimal seasons.

Best time for manta ray snorkeling in Kona:

  1. Moon Phase: Less moonlight = better plankton visibility = happier manta rays. Aim for a new moon or a crescent.
  2. Seasonality: Truth bomb—it's awesome year-round! High season (Dec-Apr) can get crowded. Book in advance and early in your trip incase you need to reschedule due to high surf advisories.
  3. Day of the Week: Mid-week tours usually have fewer snorkelers. No one likes an underwater traffic jam.

How it works:

Every evening as the sky turns dark, the manta rays swim over their feeding stations. Feeding stations are specific areas of coral reefs off the coast of Kailua-Kona, where the manta rays gather to eat the plankton that is attracted to coastal light put off by the hotels, restaurants, and the town.

Nightly tours are offered for snorkeling and scuba divers to view this incredible wild life experience. After booking your boat tour, you will meet the captain and crew at the harbor. From there you will be motored out (about 30 minute ride) to the manta ray feeding stations where you will be given a safety and instructional briefing. From there, the crew will deploy a floating light raft, which is a buoyant foam raft equipped with underwater lights that attract plankton. You will then be given a snorkel and mask, helped into the water, and given a handle on the raft to hold onto. The crew will swim by and place additional flotation under your ankles.

Now simply just float along, holding the raft, with your mask in the water while breathing through your snorkel. You will view the giant majestic manta rays gracefully swoop past you with their large open mouths grazing on plankton as they pass by just a few feet out of reach.

Because manta rays eat approximately 12% of their body weight each week, you will be sure to see them make multiple passes through your light beams.

manta night snorkel kona raft
It's family friendly! I took my wife and 5 year old daughter. We all loved it ;-)
night snorkeling manta kona view
Guests who decide not to get into the water can still see the shadows of giant manta from the deck of the boat
manta night snorkeling catamaran
After we finished our snorkel and got out of the water, the crew fed us cookies and hot cocoa to warm up

Snorkeling vs. Scuba: What's the difference?


  1. Accessibility: Open to anyone who can swim, no scuba certificate needed.
  2. Family-Friendly: Easier for families or those less experienced in water activities.
  3. Safety & Simplicity: Less gear and surface-level activity make it a safer, hassle-free option.

Scuba Diving

  1. Closer Encounters: You're right at the ocean floor, allowing for up-close interactions with manta rays.
  2. Longer Time: More bottom time means a more immersive experience.
  3. 360-Degree View: Unobstructed visibility gives you a panoramic underwater spectacle.

Who should swim with manta rays?

Manta ray night snorkeling in Kona is hands down one of the best activities and tours in the Hawaiian Islands. Anyone who has an interest in snorkeling, underwater ecosystems, marine life, etc should absolutely swim with manta rays in Hawaii.

Swimming with manta rays in Kona, Big Island is easy. You do not have to be an expert swimmer making it accessible to almost everyone. The main thing you will need to know how to do is STAY CALM, hold onto the light raft, float on your stomach, and gently breathe through the snorkel. Unless you have a strong phobia against deep water, you will love this activity!

Other than that, just enjoy the show. The manta rays will soar through the beams of light that is attracting plankton for them to eat.

Is it safe to swim with manta rays at night?

The short answer is yes, it is very safe. Manta rays do not have a stinger or barb like stingrays do. And because they feed on plankton they have no interest in biting. However, anytime you enter the ocean you are always taking on some level of risk. Here are a few recommendations and disclaimers for safe manta ray snorkeling in Hawaii to ensure you're prepped and primed for a night you'll cherish—not regret.

  1. Expert Guides Only: Don't go rogue, folks. Always choose a tour led by certified and experienced guides. These are the pros who know the waters, the wildlife, and the safety procedures.
  2. Activity is Not Guaranteed. There is no guarantee that you will see manta rays, as they are wild animals and their behavior is unpredictable.
  3. Swimming Proficiency: If you can't swim, this isn't the tour for you. Period. Basic swimming skills are a must.
  4. Chilly Temps - The guides will give you a neoprene wetsuit, however you will be swimming in open water at night, which can be cold and challenging.
  5. Age Limits: Sorry, kiddos! Most tours have a minimum age requirement—usually around 7 or 8 years old.
  6. Flash Photography: Nope, it's not a manta ray disco. Flash can disorient these majestic creatures. Keep the light show limited to the moon and the tour's professional lighting.
  7. Hands Off: It's a look-but-don't-touch policy with manta rays. Touching them can remove their protective slime layer, making them vulnerable to diseases.
  8. Health Advisory: If you've got health conditions, consult your physician before signing up. The tour is generally safe, but it's always good to get a thumbs-up from your doc.
  9. Weather Conditions: Mother Nature can be unpredictable. Always heed tour operator advice on weather-related cancellations.
  10. Listen to Briefings: Pay attention to safety briefings and follow all guidelines. Your guides are trained for a reason—let's keep it that way.

What type of weather conditions can I expect?

Tucked behind the giant volcanos of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, Kona dodges the trade winds and rain showers that sprinkle the rest of Hawaii. This equals clear skies and warm temps between 70-80°F year-round. The area is also famous for its "Kona winds" which are lighter winds that visit the western coast, making the weather feel like a divine caress rather than a slap in the face.

  1. Water Temp: It's like bathwater year-round, folks! Expect temps from 74-80°F (23-27°C).
  2. Rain: Kona is on the dry side of the Big Island. Still, brief showers can occur, especially in winter.
  3. Wind: Usually calm, but wind can pick up in the afternoon. Nighttime? A gentle breeze, my friend.

Where can you swim with manta rays in Hawaii?

All of the manta night snorkeling boat charters in Hawaii are located in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.

There are two main locations just outside of Kona town that are consistent manta ray viewing reefs. These sites are called Manta Village and Manta Heaven.

Manta Village
- Located just off the coast of Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort and Spa. Manta Village is the most convenient and popular spot for manta ray viewing. Annually, Manta Village has the highest manta sightings and is the standard location for night snorkeling and scuba diving tours.

Manta Heaven - Also known as Garden Eel Cove is the second popular spot. It is located north of Keahole Point, the western most point of Big Island. It is just offshore to the Kona International Airport. Because it is further from Kona town it is less crowded then Manta Village. But can also be less consistent in sightings.

In conclusion, both sights have pros and cons. When choosing a manta ray location it is best to let your trusted captain and crew be your guide as they are the experts.

What Should I Bring?

  1. Swimsuit: Duh! But make it snug. You don't want to moon the manta rays.
  2. Towel: Because drying off with your hands is so last year.
  3. Biodegradable Sunscreen: Protect yourself, not at the expense of marine life.
  4. GoPro or Waterproof Camera: To capture the moments you'll brag about forever.
  5. Cash for Tips: Wind and waves might tip the boat, but only you can tip the crew.
  6. Dramamine: If you're prone to seasickness, pop one of these babies beforehand.
  7. Warm Clothing: It can get a bit nippy after the sun bows out. A light jacket should do.

Finally, why should I do this?

Being able to swim with manta rays at night is an incredibly rare opportunity that should be taken advantage of. In fact, Kona is the only place in Hawaii and the United States you can do so.

Even more so, it is one of the only places in the world you can see manta rays feeding. Other places include, Maldives, Galapagos, and the Great Barrier Reef.

Swimming and floating alongside these gentle giants will stay with you for a lifetime. And I whole heartedly believe that after the experience you will be left with an awe of inspiration and respect for Hawaii’s underwater ecosystem and the marine life that calls it home.

Frequently Asked Questions: Manta Ray Night Snorkeling in Kona

1. Is it safe to snorkel with manta rays?

  • Totally! Manta rays are gentle giants, not stingers or biters. Guides keep you safe, and operators follow eco-tourism safety guidelines.

2. When is the best time to go?

  • Year-round! But for fewer crowds, consider booking mid-week or during the off-season. Moon phase matters too—go during a new moon for best visibility.

3. What should I bring with me?

  • Pack light! A swimsuit, towel, biodegradable sunscreen, snacks, and water are essentials. Oh, and don't forget a camera for those brag-worthy shots.

4. Do I need prior snorkeling experience?

  • Not necessarily. But comfort in the water is crucial. Most tours offer a quick tutorial for beginners.

5. What’s the water temperature?

  • Expect a balmy 74-80°F (23-27°C). The guides will provide wetsuits if you chill easily.

6. Can kids join in?

  • Yup! It’s a family affair. However, check with the operator for age restrictions, usually kids above 8 are welcome.

7. How long is a typical tour?

  • Around 2 to 3 hours. Enough time to mingle with the mantas and still catch that late-night luau.

8. How many people are usually on a tour?

  • It varies, but ethical operators limit numbers to ensure a great experience for you and the mantas. Think intimate, not overcrowded.

9. What if I’m prone to seasickness?

  • Pop some Dramamine about 30 minutes before boarding. Also, the catamarans used are generally more stable than smaller boats.

10. Can I touch the manta rays?

  • Hands off, pal! Touching disrupts their protective mucous layer and stresses them out. Look, don't touch!