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Beautiful Kauai is often called the “Garden Island” thanks to its thick, tropical rainforests, green valleys, and stunning waterfalls. In fact, many parts of Hawaii’s oldest island are only accessible via sea or air, with huge chunks of Kauai virtually unexplored. But this popular family vacation spot in Hawaii isn’t just beautiful from the air: it has plenty to offer both above and below sea level.
Kauai is home to some of Hawaii’s most impressive snorkeling and scuba diving spots, with just as many sites for beginners as there are for advanced snorkelers who know their way around the ocean. From rainbow corals to shoals of fish, groups of turtles, and even dolphins, read on for all of Kauai’s best snorkeling spots to check out on your next trip to this magical island.
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Visit Ke’e Beach when the ocean is calm, and you’ll have one of the best snorkeling experiences of your life, as it is one of the best places to snorkel in Hawaii. This stunning spot comes with soft, golden sand, palm trees waving in the background, and warm ocean water just waiting to be explored. Ke’e is protected by a reef that makes it a safe place for snorkeling and swimming, so even if you’re visiting without your snorkel set, you’ll have lots of fun here. Ke’e Beach is the last place you can reach by car along Kauai island’s north shore and is home to a variety of colorful fish. If you’re lucky, you might even see turtles while swimming here.
There is lots to do at Lydgate Park, both above and below the water and the snorkeling opportunities here are top-notch, while the beach is one of the best in Kauai. Located in Wailua, on the island’s east side, Lydgate Park is a smaller cove tucked away and shielded from the rest of the ocean. The result? A reef that’s safe for snorkeling even if you wouldn’t consider yourself a strong swimmer. Expect a soft, sandy bottom when you swim out a little deeper and plenty of colorful reefs with hundreds of fish swimming along. On a good day, you’ll see everything from fish smaller than a fingernail to much bigger creatures. If you’re into underwater photography, you’ll almost definitely be able to snap a few vibrant photos here.
Anini Beach is considered one of the safest snorkeling spots on the island year-round and is a popular haven for families staying in vacation rentals nearby. This peaceful beach still doesn’t get quite as many visitors as nearby Poipu Beach, so if you’re looking for a little more relaxation, this is the place to head. You’ve got to be a little more patient when snorkeling here and preferably head out at the right time of day – first thing in the morning when the tide is high. Then, swim out to a solitary coral head and wait until creatures pass you by. Hawaiian Dascyllus, Leaf Scorpionfish, Lionfish, and Whitemouth Moray Eels all call this particular spot of beach home, so there’s definitely the potential to see a lot.
Hideaway Beach on the north shore is proof that good things definitely do come in small packages. This cute and cozy cove, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Kauai, can be accessed by a steep path near the Pali Ke Kua Condos and requires a little more trekking than your usual snorkeling spot. But it’s worth the adventure for the beautiful sights you’ll see once you’re down and in the water. As there’s limited parking here, Hideaway Beach doesn’t get quite so many visitors. So all kinds of sea creatures frequent this spot without fear of swimmers. Check out all kinds of colorful fish as well as the occasional octopus. Its shallow waters allow you to swim out pretty far, too, without any issues getting back to shore.
Tunnels Beach (otherwise known as Makua Beach) is undoubtedly one of the best snorkeling spots on the island but is a little more limited when it comes to the seasons. Visit during winter, and the water can be too choppy for snorkeling. This is a place you’ll want to reserve for the summer months. On the bright side, its horseshoe-shaped reef is much larger than it first looks, so there’s plenty of space even when everyone arrives at the same time. Dip underwater, and you’ll see not only impressively big coral formations but also stunning coral, turtles, groupers, eels, boxfish, and plenty more. Some of Tunnels Beach’s snorkeling spots should be reserved for stronger swimmers, but if you’re a confident snorkeler, you’ll love it here.
Poipu Beach is one of the busiest beaches in Kauai and, as a result, is often one of the busiest snorkeling spots. But it’s worth swimming out anyway for the wide variety of underwater marine life living here. The coolest part about Poipu Beach? The endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals often head out of the water for a snooze on the sand. The fun continues out in the ocean too, where you’re very likely to see turtles here along with rainbow corals and plenty of fish. This is also one of the best shallow snorkeling spots on the island, with depths only reaching around 10 meters. Keep an eye out for eels, sea cucumbers, goatfish, and surgeonfish. If this is the snorkel spot you end up choosing, here’s everything you need to know about visiting Poipu Beach.
Lawai Beach is one of the easiest snorkeling spots on the island to access, and you’ll often find tour groups hitting the waters here. This is also one of the best spots for beginners, thanks to the protected nature of the reef, which means no choppy waters or strong currents. The trick with this snorkel spot is to head towards the right-hand side, where the coral becomes more prominent and colorful. Here, you’ll see the largest variety of fish with beautiful visibility the further out you swim. If you’re more into unusual topography underwater, you’ll probably appreciate the left side of this snorkel spot more. On either side (on a good day), you may even see turtles here.
Prince Kuhio is a smaller and narrower beach and should be reserved for more experienced swimmers. Still, it’s worth venturing out to this point for the magical views underwater. It’s easy to get this spot mixed up as it’s often incorrectly referred to as Lawai Beach due to its location across the road from Lawai Beach Resort. Prince Kuhio is its own separate snorkeling spot and is popular with humans and turtles. The turtles are the main attraction here, and you’re far more likely to see them at Prince Kuhio than at many other spots across Kauai. Its visibility is brilliant, and above the water, it’s also a popular surfing spot with three great breaks just nearby.
Salt Pond Park is a frontrunner when it comes to snorkeling spots on a year-round basis. Even if the north waters are too choppy, Salt Pond Park remains a safe spot for snorkeling with plenty to admire. The focus is on the smaller creatures here, with schools of hundreds of tiny fish swimming around you, like something from Finding Nemo. With corals and rocks on both sides, it’s a fascinating spot to explore when others are out of bounds. It’s also one of the quieter snorkeling spots as it’s not widely known and isn’t listed in many Kauai snorkeling guides. If you’re looking to take underwater photos with no one around, this is one of the easiest places to do so.
Larsen’s Beach is one of Hawaii’s most scenic beaches, but its underwater world isn’t for beginners. If you’re not confident under the water, stick to admiring this stunning spot from its super soft coastline. But the beautiful inner reef here often tempts experienced snorkelers during the summer months, when the reef comes alive with marine life of all shapes and sizes and the water is at its most calm. Many beachgoers often overlook this lovely, secluded spot, which means plenty of space for those who venture here. The trick with snorkeling at Larsen’s Beach is to stick to the calm, reef-sheltered areas and avoid the risky cuts like the Pakala Channel. One thing to keep in mind: some people consider Larsen’s Beach a nude beach!
The clear, calm, shallow waters of Nualolo Kai make it enjoyable for children and adults alike, especially those snorkeling in Hawaii for the first time. One of the best places to start your snorkeling adventure, Nualolo Kai is home to something super special: dolphins. This is one of the best spots to see these animals truly in their natural habitat, and if you stay completely still when under the water, there’s a high chance the fish will swim right up to you without any inhibitions. On other occasions, you’ll also see turtles swimming freely here. With its sandy bottom and plentiful coral, it’s a picture-perfect example of everything snorkeling on Kauai should be.
Koloa Landing is home to some of the healthiest coral on the island, thanks to its prime position and coveted surroundings. The main reason? This spot isn’t off the beach’s shore but on an old boat ramp previously used for motor boat launching. This unusual spot is very popular with scuba divers and has, over the years, played host to fish, turtles, and large coral heads. Contrary to many spots in Hawaii, the snorkeling here is better during the winter months as, based on the south side of the island, the swell can become a little dangerous during summer. Expect to see turtles, rays, fish, eels, and sea urchins. Warning: the water here gets deep quickly, so don’t snorkel here if you’re not a confident swimmer.