The Best Snorkel Tour on Big Island Hawaii

Hawaii is an odd choice for a girl who doesn’t like the beach, but I love to be on the water and the Big Island is the perfect destination for that.  There are all sorts of ocean-based tours in Hawaii, but only one that seemed to combine everything into one amazing day.  Even though my sister and I were traveling on a budget, we splurged on a day trip snorkeling in two great locations — adding great value to our vacation.

snorkel tour big island hawaii
Our annual girls’ getaway took us out to the Big Island of Hawaii!

Officially, our tour was a zodiac ride to two snorkel spots: Honaunau Bay and the infamous Kealekekua Bay.  Because both of these spots are accessible from shore (though Kealekekua requires a bit of hiking and/or kayaking), we almost didn’t head out via tour.  In the end, I was won over by the speed and excitement that zodiacs are known for.  I could just picture the ride paralleling the coastline with the breeze in my hair.

Snorkeling was the main event, but our trip started off zipping along the coast, all of us told to be on the lookout for whales.  I had already been spoiled with a few sightings the night before on my manta ray trip, so I knew exactly what to spot.  Sure enough, more humpbacks were migrating through the region and giving us the opportunity to watch an especially playful young whale.


At that point, we already were having a great trip — and we hadn’t even gotten in the water yet!  It’s usually a good sign when your expectations are exceeded early on in the tour, but I’m not much of a snorkeler, so I hoped that the rest of the day would be just as good.

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Honaunau Bay is considered one of the island’s top snorkeling spots because the inner shoreline is protected from most of the coastal swells, keeping the water calm.  Excellent visibility, fairly shallow waters, and healthy coral gardens really just add to the experience.

Our second stop at Kealekekua Bay was even better.  The area is a Marine Life Conservation District and visitor access is capped daily to continue to protect the reefs.  The water here is a brilliant turquoise color and again, visibility remains excellent.





Best of all, spinner dolphins often rest in the protected waters of Kealekekua Bay.  We were luck in sightings again on our tour and enjoyed watching these dolphins swim, play, and jump.

 Lucky for us, even after our two snorkeling trips, our tour still wasn’t quite over.  The main advantage to traveling via zodiac instead of a catamaran is that these rafts can maneuver into small, tight places, which is perfect for exploring the lava formations along the coastline.  We stopped for sea caves, lava tubes, and blowholes, just to add to the excitement.




seaquest snorkel tour big island hawaii

All in all, this day was more than I could have asked for because it offered far more than just snorkeling and swimming, which we could have done on our own.  Instead, we got a thrilling ride, rugged landscapes, and incredible whale and dolphin sightings.  Out of the three separate snorkel tours we took, this was definitely the best snorkel tour on Big Island.

If you go…

Our experience really was heightened by taking a zodiac tour instead of snorkeling on our own.  We went with SeaQuest and highly recommend their services.  Our two-stop snorkel tour had plenty of time in the water plus time for other touring and marine life spotting, was environmentally responsible, and included snacks like bottled water and juices, fresh fruit, cookies, and super Maui onion chips.  Yes, it’s expensive for a 4-hour tour, but we liked them so much we tried to go back out with them again later in the week (unfortunately they were sold out).

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I was not paid nor compensated for this review, but as always, I try to help you find the best travel experiences out there!

If you’re thinking about heading to Hawaii, check out all of my posts on the state for more inspiration.

6 thoughts on “The Best Snorkel Tour on Big Island Hawaii”

  1. One of the great things about taking a zodiac tour is the small group of people going out together. You get a much more personalized service and you never feel like you are on top of people in the water.

    1. @Scott, I agree – we had a group of about 10 people which was enough of a group to have fun and meet new people without being overwhelmed by crowds!

  2. Nice, we love Hawaii too. We never paid for snorkel excursions (except the manta rays at night) on the big island. We found some great places right off shore at place of refuge (known as “two step”) south of Kona. A few places more near our last stay north near Waikaloa included “A-Bay” near the Marriott we stayed at and a black sand beach with crystal clear water and public access in a gated community (49 black sand) ,the gate guy gives you a pass, while we were there a snorkel boat pulled in for a while…I was glad I didn’t pay the boat to go around the corner and drop me here. We learned of this spot and a few others from a local named Aukai who worked at the snorkel Bob store….he had a whole book full of spots and was happy to give us directions, and tips, all for free. There are some places like Kealekekua that are hard to get to without a boat and might be worth the price, but only after checking out the free from shore spots. If you ever make it Maui Molokini Crater is one snorkel trip worth paying for.

    1. @wise2u, We also did some free snorkeling, at Place of Refuge as you mentioned and on the east side. The snorkeling was roughly the same at every stop we went to, whether by shore or by boat, but our tour was much more fun for the add-ons that really had nothing to do with snorkeling. Variety is the spice of life! 🙂

      Thanks for the tip on Molokini Crater; when I make it back to Hawaii, Maui is top of my list.

    1. @Anita, I had a good time but surprisingly, I wouldn’t put it in my top 10 best vacations list. Great state but I think you need more time to take advantage of it.

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