Welcome to our Hanauma Bay snorkel guide! Jam packing with everything you need to know when it comes to snorkeling Hanauma Bay.
If calm tranquil waters, an abundance of sea life and a pristine ecosystem are your thing (and why wouldn’t they be!) then Hanauma Bay should be at the top of your snorkel list when visiting Oahu.
Hanauma Bay is one of Oahu’s top 3 places to visit and with around 3000 visitors per day (that’s 1 million per year) it is one of the world’s most popular snorkel destinations!
About Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is actually formed from a volcanic cone, and after many years of wave erosion cutting through the Southeast wall of the cone – Has given shape to the bay as we see it today.
In the Hawaiian language “Hanu” means bay, and “uma” means curved – So you can clearly see how Hanauma Bay got its name.
Since being declared a Marine Life Conservation District in 1967, it has been illegal to fish, touch or mistreat the marine life, and it is also illegal to touch the coral.
The decision to protect the bay really enabled the plant and marine life here to flourish, and this beautiful bay became more and more popular (receiving as many as 13,000 visitors per day!).
Unfortunately with that many visitors came a price. The toll of Hanauma Bay’s popularity and the lack of education about the preservation and care of this sensitive ecosystem meant that the fragile reef was badly damaged.
In 1990 measures were put in place to try and limit the amount of damage being sustained and the amount of visitors allowed access to the bay was limited by the parking lot – Once the parking lot became full additional visitors were turned away.
In August 2002 a marine education centre was opened at the site. Part of a visitors entry requires that they watch a short video to teach visitors about the marine life, and how to preserve it.
A volunteer booth is also located on the beach where you can learn all about the different kinds of marine life that can be seen whilst snorkeling Hanauma Bay, and how best to conserve the reef.
Why We Love Snorkeling Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay was voted the best beach in the United States in 2016, and there’s a reason this is the most popular snorkel spot on Oahu.
Not only are you guaranteed to see an amazing abundance of sea life here, but the fish that reside here are the friendliest and tamest that you will see anywhere – The marine life are very used to human presence and won’t rush away when you get close to them. In fact, you will have no problems at all taking some amazing underwater selfies here!
Hanauma Bay is perfect for snorkelers of all ages and abilities.
The Bay is well protected from the waves due to its surrounding walls, which means that the water inside the bay stays relatively calm. It’s also pretty shallow so the conditions here are perfect for beginners and children.
Places To Explore
The education centre provides really useful information on which areas of the bay to explore, as well as what you might see while snorkeling Hanauma Bay – We absolutely recommend checking out this helpful info when you arrive.
There are many places to explore when you’re snorkeling Hanauma Bay – For beginners we suggest sticking between the shore and the reef as the water is the calmest and shallowest in this area (about 1-2 meters).
It’s also recommended that beginners and people who aren’t the strongest swimmers avoid the two channels, as well as the central channel (as indicated below), as the currents are strongest here.
More experienced swimmers can swim further out and explore the deeper waters (around 6 meters deep), which is where you are more likely to see Green Turtles.
Where To Enter
You can enter the water from any part of the beach, however the area that is directly across from the opening of the bay can contain quite strong currents, as can the two channels that lead to the ocean. Try to avoid these areas if you are a beginner or not a strong swimmer.
- Toilet Bowl – The water in the ‘Toilet Bowl’ rises and falls with the ocean’s tide, and resembles a toilet flushing (thus giving it it’s name). The water rises as it enters the bowl through an underground tunnel as the waves come crashing in, and then ‘flushes’ as the water is drained back out through the same tunnel. The Toilet Bowl was closed to the public in the early 2000’s due to safety concerns and visitors sustaining injuries on the sharp rocks.
- Witches Brew – Another area to avoid is this small peninsula and cove to the right side of the bay where the waves can be very rough, and the currents strong.
Restaurants & Facilities
There’s a snack bar at the upper level of the park serving food such as cheeseburgers, hot dogs, fries, sandwiches, as well as a variety of snacks and drinks.
You’re welcome to bring your own food if you would prefer to have a picnic – Small coolers are allowed for those who wish to bring their own snacks and non alcoholic drinks.
We always prefer to use our own gear – There’s nothing quite like the quality, comfort and fit of your own snorkel gear. Having said that however, snorkel gear can be rented at the park, which also includes rental of prescription snorkel masks as well. (Please note that life vests and floaties are not available for rent).
Lockers can also be rented if you wish to store any valuables (keys, cellphones, handbags etc) which are priced at $10 for a small locker and $12 for a large locker.
Showers, restrooms and changing facilities are all located at the park.
The hill down towards the beach is pretty steep. It’s a nice walk down to the beach but after an action packed day of snorkeling the steep walk back up can be pretty tiring! Conveniently, there’s a tram that runs up and down this hill all day – The fee for the tram is $1 each way, or $2 for an all day pass.
Lifeguards are present at Hanauma Bay.
Marine Life Spotted Here
Over 400 different types of fish can be seen in this area! That includes the State fish of Hawaii – humuhumunukunukuapua‘a and sea turtles
Common sightings include:
- Yellow Tang
- Butterfly Fish
- Parrot Fish
- Green Sea Turtles
Location & How To Get To Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is located on the South East side of the Island, and is about 12 miles East of Waikiki.
The route from Waikiki to Hanauma Bay is a simple drive of around 20-25 minutes down the H1 Highway. The entrance to Hanauma Bay costs $7.50, and parking is $1.00 per car.
The #22 bus runs from Waikiki to Hanauma Bay and costs just $2.75 for kids and $5.50 for adults.
There are snorkel tours to Hanauma bay if you prefer the convenience of being picked up and dropped off directly from your Waikiki hotel. This convenience does come at a greater expense than the other options though.
Shuttle Buses run from Waikiki to Hanauma bay several times per day. They are cheaper than getting a taxi but then you’re limited to a time window of just 3.5 hours at the bay.
Hanauma Bay Opening Times
Hanauma Bay is open 6am – 6pm daily
In order to give Hanauma Bays reef and marine life time to rest and recover, it is closed all day on Tuesdays.
There’s a reason Hanauma bay has previously been voted the best beach in the USA and we consider it a must visit location for snorkeling in Oahu, especially as it’s a great location for all ages and abilities.
It is really important that if you do plan on visiting that you arrive early! The car park fills up extremely quickly and will stay full for most of the day.
In order to avoid disappointment we recommend arriving before 7am. This way you’ll avoid most of the crowds and ensure your parking spot – early mornings also tend to provide the best conditions, and you’ll see more fish at this time.