As one of the oldest Hawaiian Islands, Kaua‘i is fringed with beautiful and pristine coral reefs that host countless numbers of beautiful tropical reef fish. While the strong winter waves can make swimming and snorkeling a challenge, there are plenty of incredible Kauai snorkeling beaches accessible at various times of the year, all of which can be enjoyed right from shore. Beginning on Kaua‘i’s magnificent North Shore and working our way south, these are some of our favorites. Here are some of the best snorkeling Kauai.
Kauai Snorkeling: Ke`e Beach
The last beach above Hanalei, the snorkeling at this popular spot can be overlooked due to unsafe conditions in winter time and most visitors coming to enjoy glimpses of the stunning Na Pali Coast (this is the starting point for the world famous Kalalau Trail). In summertime, however, the ocean currents abate and the offshore reef provides exceptional snorkeling along the undersea boulders and plateaus. Avoid the rocky channel to the left (strong currents remain here, year round) and instead enjoy the countless butterfly fish, unicorn fish, goat fish, and green sea turtles that frolic in the center of the swimming area.
Tunnels at Haena
About a mile down the sand from Haena Beach Park is the snorkeling paradise known as Tunnels. Frequented by green sea turtles, this is an ideal spot to see them in their natural habitat. Beginners can enjoy prime snorkeling just a few feet offshore with bountiful reef fish, while advanced snorkelers can head outside the reef through one of the sandy channels and be treated to sights of Bluefin trevally, larger reef fish, and beautiful coral heads. This is another summer-only Kauai snorkeling destination, as winter waves and currents make it very unsafe.
The most family-friendly beach, this spot is also home to Hawai‘i’s largest coral reef. Stretching over two miles, the reef forms a protected lagoon that is ideal for swimming and snorkeling year round. The best snorkeling is to the left, about 60 yards offshore (but still in shallow water thanks to the protected lagoon). Young reef fish also enjoy the calm water here, but you might get lucky and see seahorses and manta rays lounging in the deeper areas.
Lydgate Beach Park
Another protected snorkeling site, here a natural wall (as well as some artificial ones) creates an enclosed swimming area. The sandy bottom is dotted with boulders that are popular hangouts for chubb, butterflyfish, Hawaiian flagtail, and pufferfish.
One of the best beaches in the world, Poipu also boasts some of the best snorkeling Kauai. Sea turtles are common visitors here, coming inshore to rest during the day. Needlefish, unicornfish, butterflyfish, colorful wrasses, and even the Hawai‘i state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a (a lagoon triggerfish), are all found in these tropical waters. Coral gardens and boulders provide interesting underwater topography, and this is the premier snorkeling beach on the south shore, with ideal conditions nearly year-round.
Whenever and wherever you snorkel on Kaua‘i you can count on incredible marine life and beautiful scenery. However, always be aware of local conditions, obey posted warnings, and consult with lifeguards when present.