There are two ways to approach snorkeling—by land or by sea. At around 7 am daily, a parade of boats heads out to Lanai or to Molokini Crater, that ancient cone of volcanic cinder off the coast of Wailea. Boat trips offer some advantages—deeper water, seasonal whale-watching, crew assistance, lunch, and gear. But much of Maui's best snorkeling is found just steps from the road. Nearly the entire leeward coastline from Kapalua south to Ahihi-Kinau offers opportunities to ogle fish and turtles. If you're patient and sharp-eyed, you may glimpse eels, octopuses, lobsters, eagle rays, and even a rare shark or monk seal. Visibility is best in the morning, before the trade winds pick up.


Most hotels and vacation rentals offer free use of snorkel gear. Beachside stands fronting the major resort areas rent equipment by the hour or day. If you're squeamish about using someone else's gear (or need a prescription lens), pick up your own at any discount shop. Costco and Longs Drugs have better prices than ABC stores; dive shops have superior equipment.

Don't shy away from asking for instructions; a snug fit makes all the difference in the world. A mask fits if it sticks to your face when you inhale deeply through your nose. Fins should cover your entire foot (unlike diving fins, which strap around your heel).

Maui Dive Shop. You can rent pro gear (including optical masks, body boards, and wet suits) from three locations islandwide. Pump these guys for weather info before heading out; they'll know better than last night's news forecaster, and they'll give you the real deal on conditions. 1455 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, Hawaii, 96753. 808/879–3388;

Snorkel Bob's. Here you can rent fins, masks, and snorkels, and Snorkel Bob's will throw in a carrying bag, map, and snorkel tips for as little as $9 per week. Avoid the circle masks and go for the split-level ($30 per week) or premium snorkel package ($38 per week); it's worth the extra money. There are six Snorkel Bob's locations on Maui, including Kihei, Napili, Wailea, and Lahaina. 5425 C Lower Honoapiilani Hwy., Napili, Hawaii, 96761. 808/669–9603;


The same boats that offer whale-watching, sailing, and diving also offer snorkeling excursions. Trips usually include visits to two locales, lunch, gear, instruction, and possible whale or dolphin sightings. Some captains troll for fish along the way.

Molokini Crater, a crescent about 3 miles offshore from Wailea, is the most popular snorkel cruise destination. You can spend half a day floating above the fish-filled crater for about $80. Some say it's not as good as it's made out to be, and that it's too crowded, but others consider it to be one of the best spots in Hawaii. Visibility is generally outstanding and fish are incredibly tame. Your second stop will be somewhere along the leeward coast, either Turtle Town near Makena or Coral Gardens toward Lahaina. On blustery mornings, there's a good chance the waters will be too rough to moor in Molokini Crater, and you'll end up snorkeling somewhere off the shore, where you could have driven for free.

If you've tried snorkeling and are tentatively thinking about scuba, you may want to try "snuba," a cross between the two. With snuba, you dive 20 feet below the surface, only you're attached to an air hose from the boat. Many boats now offer snuba (for an extra fee of $45–$65) as well as snorkeling.

Snorkel cruises vary—some serve mai tais and steaks whereas others offer beer and cold cuts. You might prefer a large ferryboat to a smaller sailboat, or vice versa. Be sure you know where to go to board your vessel; getting lost in the harbor at 6 am is a lousy start. Bring sunscreen, an underwater camera (they're double the price on board), a towel, and a cover-up for the windy return trip. Even tropical waters get chilly after hours of swimming, so consider wearing a rash guard. Wet suits can usually be rented for a fee.

Alii Nui Maui. On this 65-foot luxury catamaran, you can come as you are (with a bathing suit, of course); towels, sunblock, and all your gear are provided. Because the owners also operate Maui Dive Shop, snorkel and dive equipment are top-of-the-line. Wet-suit tops are available to use for sun protection or to keep extra warm in the water. The boat, which holds a maximum of 60 people, is nicely appointed. A morning snorkel sail (there's a diving option, too) heads to Turtle Town or Molokini Crater and includes a continental breakfast, lunch, and post-snorkel alcoholic drinks. The three-, five-, or six-hour snorkel trip offers transportation from your hotel. Videography and huka (similar to snuba) are available for a fee. Maalaea Harbor, Slip 56, Maalaea, Hawaii, 96753. 800/542–3483; 808/875–0333; From $99.

Gemini Sailing Charters. One of the main draws of this snorkel excursion is its affordable rates. The vacation-friendly 11 am departure is another plus. Honolua Bay is the primary destination, but Mala wharf in Lahaina and Olowalu are possible options in case of choppy waters. The hot buffet lunch includes a selection of chicken, fish, and veggie options, plus fresh-baked cookies. You can find the company on Kaanapali Beach near the Westin's activity desk. Westin Maui Resort & Spa, 2365 Kaanapali Pkwy., Kaanapali, Hawaii, 96761. 800/820--7245; 808/669–1700; From $128.

Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventure. Few things could qualify as a more authentic Hawaiian experience than paddling in a sail canoe with this family-run outfit. Get a deep sense of history and mythology as you listen to your guide pray, chant, and bestow a wealth of knowledge about ancient Hawaii during this intimate excursion. The canoe makes a snorkel stop at a nearby reef. Refreshments and snorkel equipment are included. You meet at Polo Beach in front of the Fairmont Kea Lani. Fairmont Kea Lani, 4100 Wailea Alanui Dr., Wailea, Hawaii, 96753. 808/281–9301; From $179.

Maui Classic Charters. Hop aboard the Four Winds II, a 55-foot, glass-bottom catamaran (great fun for kids), for one of the most dependable snorkel trips around. You'll spend more time than other charter boats at Molokini Crater and enjoy turtle-watching on the way home. The trip includes optional snuba ($59 extra), continental breakfast, barbecue lunch, beer, wine, and soda. With its reasonable price, the trip can be popular and crowded. The crew works hard to keep everyone happy, but if the trip is fully booked, you will be cruising with more than 100 new friends. For a more intimate experience, opt for the Maui Magic, Maalaea's fastest PowerCat, which holds fewer people than some of the larger vessels. Maalaea Harbor, Slips 55 and 80, Maalaea, Hawaii, 96753. 808/879–8188; 800/736–5740; From $44.

Teralani Sailing Charters. Choose between a standard snorkel trip with a deli lunch or a top-of-the-line excursion that's an hour longer and includes two snorkel sites and a barbecue-style lunch. The company's cats could hold well over 100 people, but 49 is the maximum per trip. The boats are kept in pristine condition. Freshwater showers are available, as is an open bar after the second snorkel stop. A friendly crew provides all your gear, a flotation device, and a quick course in snorkeling. During whale season, only the premier trip is available. Boarding is right off Kaanapali Beach fronting Whalers Village. Kaanapali Beach, Kaanapali, Hawaii, 96761. 808/661–7245; From $115.

Trilogy Excursions. Many people consider a trip with Trilogy Excursions to be a highlight of their vacation. Maui's longest-running operation has comprehensive offerings, with seven beautiful 50- to 64-foot sailing vessels at three departure sites. All excursions are staffed by energetic crews who will keep you well fed and entertained with local stories and corny jokes. A full-day catamaran cruise to Lanai includes a continental breakfast and barbecue lunch, a guided tour of the island, a "Snorkeling 101" class, and time to snorkel in the waters of Lanai's Hulopoe Marine Preserve (Trilogy Excursions has exclusive commercial access). The company also offers Molokini Crater and Olowalu snorkel cruises that are top-notch. Tours depart from Lahaina Harbor; Maalaea Harbor; and, in West Maui, in front of the Kaanapali Beach Hotel. Kaanapali, Hawaii, 96761. 808/874–5649; 888/225–6284; From $125.