Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay

Hawaii is commonly known as the universal mecca of monster waves and ideal surf conditions for those dawn patrol warriors arriving to the islands in droves come wintertime. However, you may be surprised at just how equally primo its pristine waters are for frolicking among the reef and ocean wildlife. And the best avenue to explore these warm crystalline waters while meeting these marine inhabitants?

Just ask the experts. World-renowned French explorer Jacques Cousteau had this to say of optimal underwater discovery, “The best way to observe a fish, is to become a fish.” And snorkeling is just about the closest thing we humans will ever get to channeling our inner amphibians.

For those up for the challenge (and apparent metamorphosis?!), the Hawaiian Islands boast a bounty of coastal nooks and crannies in which to introduce oneself to your marine neighbors (or relatives, if you are going to take Cousteau at near literal face-value)!

And while you San Franciscans—blessed with your beautiful bay views and seaside scenery—are certainly no strangers to your fair share of ocean access and abundantly fresh seafood (can someone holler “Fishermen’s Wharf” with hands in the air?!), when it comes to snorkeling, we guarantee that traveling to the sunny, tropical shores of Oahu especially, won’t disappoint. And on another bright note, the tropical critters you meet beneath the Hawaiian blue will actually be glad to see you, grateful they can play with you on their home turf, rather than becoming your surf n’ turf dinner at home!

As we’ve already singled out Oahu as our island of choice, Hanauma Bay is hands-down the best bet for snorkeling. Located on the south shore, just past the lovely marina area of Hawaii Kai, Hanauma Bay is truly a snorkeler’s paradise.

Crystal blue waters accentuate a crescent-shaped ocean crater filled to the brim with a wide and diverse array of vibrantly colored fish, rays, reef, and more. There are even a myriad of the famous Hawaii honu that await to wish you Aloha while moseying by. Since the location of the bay creates a naturally protected and relatively calm area, even beginner (and keiki, or kiddo) can enjoy a safe and scintillating snorkel adventure at Hanauma.

So what should you look forward to find frolicking alongside you here? The most common sightings of friendly sea creatures—who, unlike other top destinations, are quite tamed and unafraid of strangers—include, turtles, tropical fish, crabs, octopus (yes, octopus!), and even eels, just to name a few. With so much marine splendor, be sure to bring your underwater camera to snap some shots of these sea creatures as they scoot on by.

As well as the ideal safety factor of the waters, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is also a win due to its ease and simplicity, for all. Bottomline: If you can swim, then you can sure enough snorkel! There are no tedious classes to take, licensing exams, or certifications you need to obtain before literally diving in to enjoy the dreamy underwater world of Hanauma. Just be sure to snorkel alongside a friend, for safety’s sake. And this way every single shot won’t be a snorkel selfie!

Convenience is also key, as here at Hanauma, rental equipment (two basics you’ll see: snorkeling mask and fins) is available right at your fingertips, beachside. Although recommended, fins aren’t necessarily a must-have for snorkeling here, as the bay is shallow and calm enough to easily maneuver without the aid of webbed, faux amphibian feet! It’s your preference, whether speed (with fins, you’ll go much faster) or the possibility of scaring away otherwise friendly fish (known to avoid the splash and movement of fins) is most important to you.

If you are braving the waters for your first-ever snorkel adventure, you’ll be “briefed” with only a few very short instructions, and before entering the park, all are required to watch a short safety video, which details Hawaii’s strict guidelines when it comes to expected etiquette while at the bay, specifically in regards to treating all wildlife with respect (no touching, grabbing, or fin-pulling). This includes avoiding touching the coral, which is very sharp—causing scrapes and painful cuts—and also fragile (even touching it can contaminate or even kill it via harmful human bacteria).

Now that you’ve been properly teased, tempted, and briefed, all that remains is for you to hop on that plane, slip into your favorite suit, slather on that sunscreen, and shimmy on in! E Komo Mai, new friends, and welcome to our waters.

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