Breathtaking. Gorgeous. Picturesque.
Hanauma Bay (Oahu, Hawaii) is a snorkeling paradise just thirty minutes away from Waikiki.
Formed from a volcanic cone, Hanauma Bay has a pristine ecosystem after the government turned it into a nature preserve 1990. Hanauma is located on the east side of Oahu, and is protected from the ocean swells – which is why it’s such an amazing snorkeling site.
Hanauma Bay, Hawaii (Oahu)
Hanauma Bay is a “must see” if you’re visiting Oahu! With incredibly calm waters, you will encounter lots of amazing marine life. There are a ton of colorful tropical fish, as well as octopus, eels, and crabs.
This natural bay has a living coral forest that grows and feeds the fish. Coral reefs are actually collections of living entities so be careful not to step on them (they look very much like rocks)! While snorkeling, you’ll get to glide above the corals and see tons of amazing fish.
The most common fishes you will see are the Trigger Fish, Tang, Butterfly Fish, and Surgeon Fish. We’ve also seen seals swimming in the bay (one came within four feet of us!) and napping on the beach. If you’re lucky, you will also see sea turtles in the summer months. Check out the pictures from our trip below.
Planning Your Trip to Hanauma Bay
It’ll take about half an hour to drive from Waikiki to Hanauma Bay. Alternatively, you can also take a shuttle or bus. The parking area can hold about 300 cars, but you might have trouble finding a spot if you’re not out there early. Hanauma opens at 6 AM, and we were able to find parking without any issues when we arrived at 7 AM – but the lot was probably 90% full.
We would recommend arriving before 8 AM or after 2 PM.
Once you park, you’ll to head over to the front entrance to pay the entry fee. You’re allowed unlimited re-entries if you have to run back to you car throughout the day.
After you pay for entry, there is a short video on the history of Hanauma Bay as well as the rules of the nature preserve. We highly recommend signing the attendance list after the video so that you don’t have to watch it again if you happen to go back to the park in the next 12 months.
After the video it’s game time! You walk down to the beach along a pathway with a steep incline. There is a shuttle that will take you up and down the hill if you don’t feel like walking. We recommend walking down the hill, and taking the shuttle back up if needed.
Once you’re at the beach, you can rent snorkeling gear for the day as well as a locker. You’ll have unlimited access to your locker throughout the day.
Overall, we would recommend spending about three hours at Hanauma Bay. If you’re staying longer, then make sure you find some shade on the beach as the Hawaiian sun is unrelenting.
Pro Tips for Visiting Hanauma Bay
1. Go at high tide. Some of the reefs don’t have much clearance above them so you won’t be able to swim above them during low tide.
2. Buy snorkeling gear at Costco. For the price of a single day snorkel rental you can buy your own snorkeling gear at Costco. Surprisingly, Costco Hawaii prices don’t seem to be inflated by much when compared to the mainland.
3. Bring your own food to the beach. There is a snack bar at the entrance of the park, but it’s quite far from the beach.
4. Check out the far side of the beach. If you’re facing the water, the left side of the beach has a lot more fish and coral however they are typically smaller fish. The right side (or far side) of the beach has larger rocks and also larger fish. This is where we swam with the seals.
5. Use reef friendly sunscreen. No sunscreen is really “good” for reefs, but the aerosol ones are really bad. Avoid using any sunscreen where you spray it on.