A favorite pastime on the Big Island, snorkeling is perhaps one of the easiest and most enjoyable water activities for visitors. By floating on the surface, peering through your mask, and breathing through your snorkel, you can see lava rock formations, sea arches, sea caves, and coral reefs teeming with colorful tropical fish. While the Kona and Kohala coasts boast more beaches, bays, and quiet coves to snorkel, the east side around Hilo and at Kapoho are also great places to get in the water.
If you don't bring your own equipment, you can easily rent all the gear needed from a beach activities vendor, who will happily provide directions to the best sites for snorkeling in the area. For access to deeper water and assistance from an experienced crew (to say nothing of typically great food and drink), you can opt for a snorkel cruise. Excursions generally range from two to five hours; be sure to ask what equipment and food is included.
Equipment, Lessons, and Tours
Body Glove Cruises. This operator is a good choice for families; kids love the waterslide and the high-dive platform. On the Snorkel & Dolphin Watch Adventure, the 65-foot catamaran sets off for uncrowded Red Hill in stunning South Kona from Kailua-Kona pier daily for a morning snorkel cruise that includes breakfast and a BBQ burger lunch, with vegetarian options. A three-hour historical dinner cruise to Kealakekua Bay is a great way to relax, watch the sunset, and learn about Kona's history. It includes a Hawaiian-style buffet, complimentary cocktail, and live music. (A lunch version is also available.) Seasonal whale-watch cruises and all dolphin snorkel cruises guarantee you will see the featured mammals or you can go again for free; the company implements a NOAA-approved Dolphin SMART policy on all of their cruises. Children under five are always free. 75-5629 Kuakini Hwy., Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, 96740. 808/326–7122; 800/551–8911; www.bodyglovehawaii.com. From $132.
Fair Wind Cruises. In business since 1971, Fair Wind offers morning and afternoon snorkel trips into breathtaking Kealakekua Bay. Great for families with small kids, the custom-built, 60-foot catamaran has two 15-foot waterslides, freshwater showers, and a staircase descending directly into the water for easy access. Snorkel gear is included, along with flotation equipment and prescription masks. The 4½-hour cruise is known for its delicious meals; 3½-hour snack cruises are offered, too. For ages seven and older, the company also operates the Hula Kai snorkel cruise, a 55-foot luxury hydrofoil catamaran that takes guests to several remote South Kona locations. Their five-hour morning snorkel cruise includes a gourmet breakfast buffet and barbecue lunch. Keauhou Bay, 78-7130 Kaleiopapa St., Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, 96740. 808/322–2788; 800/677–9461; www.fair-wind.com. Cruises from $145.
Snorkel Bob's. You're likely to see Snorkel Bob's wacky ads in your airline in-flight magazine. The company offers a wide selection of rental gear packages and options; they often run specials so be sure to ask. There are two Big Island locations, one in Kona and one at Mauna Lani. 75-5831 Kahakai St., Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, 96740. 808/329–0770; 800/262–7725; www.snorkelbob.com. From $38/week.
Sea Quest. Careful stewardship of the Kona Coast and its sea life is a major priority for this company, which provides catamaran charters and other snorkeling excursions. Trips leave from Keauhou Bay and head to Captain Cook Monument and other points south. 808/329–7238; www.seaquesthawaii.com. From $78.