Kauai, also known as “Garden Isle” (Garden Island), is located in the North of the Hawaiian Islands. It’s close to the island Oahu, which offers fantastic snorkeling as well (in Hanauma Bay for example). Kauai’s reefs are older, but both locations offer hundreds of fish species. The coral is hard, which gives it it’s “rocky” looks. In other words, don’t expect the vibrant colors we often associate with coral.
For most people, the main reason to snorkel in Kauai is it’s incredible marine life. There are a good amount of places to snorkel off the beach directly, as well as a few excursions to consider. If you ever make it to these islands, feel free to read our guides about Maui and Waikiki as well.
If you plan to snorkel with kids, it’s best to do so directly off the beach. Make sure the ocean is calm and avoid cold water temperatures. Everything you need to know when bringing a child can be found in our giant guide for snorkeling with kids.
How To Get To Kauai
Your first option would be to fly to Lihue, Kauai’s second largest town. It’s located in the south-east of the island where people speak both English and Hawaiian. From the airport you can either rent a car, take a shuttle bus, a taxi or simply use the public transportation.
Tip: If you plan to only bring carry-on luggage, make sure to check if you’re allowed to take all your gear with you. More information can be found in our article about bringing snorkel gear on a plane.
A second way to reach the island is by taking a flight to Honolulu, a city located in the south of Oahu. From there you take a plane to Kauai. Even though there are cruise ships between the two islands, if you want to travel fast, it’s best to go by air.
Best Beaches For Snorkeling in Kauai
Na Pali Coast
With it’s high cliffs and extremely impressive coastline, Na Pali is definitely worth a visit. It’s almost impossible to find access all by yourself because of it’s remote location. Luckily, there are boat tours to facilitate your snorkel adventure. If you wish, you can even combine the trip with a picknick, a barbecue, a dinner, or a full day expedition. More information can be found on their website.
Nualolo Kai is a village on the Na Pali Coast. It’s famous for fishing, beautiful beaches and impressive cliffs. Snorkelers will come across some of the healthiest coral amongst the Hawaiian islands, together with multi-colored fish. Chances are you’ll come across butterflyfish, yellow tang, goatfish, parrotfish, trumpetfish and even sea turtles.
Poipu Beach Park
Poipu Beach is located in the south of Kauai. Compared to Na Pali, this location is more “family friendly” when it comes to enjoying the water. There’s a beach for kids with lifeguard safety, but it also offers fantastic snorkeling for adults. Even though it’s a park with many facilities and activities, don’t underestimate it’s sea life.
Snorkelers can expect sea cucumbers, goatfish, blue parrot fish, surgeonfish, turtles, eels and many more. There’s also a variety of corals. Often you’ll find Hawaiian Monk Seals swimming or lying on the beach. When snorkeling, you can sometimes hear their barking noises under water. The water is warm and it’s advised to wear water shoes, just to be safe. There are many websites that provide more information about Poipu Beach, one of them is Kauai.com.
Located in the very north of the island you’ll find Ke’e Beach. It’s part of the Na Pali coast we talked about before. Compared to some other beaches in this area, Ke’e is accessible by car. Keep in mind that parking spaces could run out fast. A good amount of people park their cars here because it provides access to the “Kalalau Trail”, which is famous amongst hikers.
The beach is protected by reefs which results in perfect snorkel conditions, especially in summer. In wintertime however there could be some currents. Make sure to do some research before actually going there, especially for your safety. We listed a few safety tips further down below. However, each location is different, and you should always educate yourself prior to any snorkel excursion.
Clear water, shallow snorkel areas and beach showers will make this a great experience. Snorkelers can enjoy the company of sea turtles, parrotfish, surgeonfish, butterflyfish, triggerfish and many more. The coral is less impressive though.
Makua Beach, also known as “Tunnels”, offers an excellent experience for both beginners and more advanced snorkelers. There’s an inner and an outer reef. Beginners can enjoy both corals and marine life in the sheltered inner reef, including some caved tunnels. The outer reef should only be visited by experienced snorkelers because of the stronger currents.
Just like you should with all Hawaiian beaches, make sure to read more about currents and possible dangers in Makua Beach. In summertime it’s often a brilliant place to visit since the ocean is calm and crystal-clear. In wintertime however it can be extremely rough and nobody should enter the tunnels.
The outer reef, though difficult to snorkel, offers more amazing corals than the inner reef. Marine life is pretty much the same as the ones we mentioned above. However, from time to time, you could even spot a dolphin.
Think of Lawai Beach as a fun day for the whole family. Experienced snorkelers can get their share of excitement by exploring the reef, whilst beginners will love the marine life closer to the shore as well. A reef protects the swimming area from currents which results in a good amount of people putting on their snorkel gear. You can find easy access to the beach from Lawai Road.
Like most of the “family friendly beaches”, it may be a little crowded from time to time. Besides that, depending on the tide, the beach may vanish when tides are high. Low tides on the other hand will allow non-snorkelers to grab a book, sunbathe, enjoy the lovely views or order a snack at the “Beach House” restaurant.
Marine life is very decent and pretty much the same as in “Makua Beach”. Expect to see butterflyfish, parrotfish, surgeonfish, tang, triggerfish, tang and many more. The corals increase in quality and size the further out you snorkel.
Sea Turtle Lovers: If you’re desperate to see some cute and chilling sea turtles this could be your place to go. Usually, around 5 or 6 pm, they gather and relax close to the “Beach House” restaurant. Especially the rocky area is one of their favorites.
Hideaways Beach, also known as Pali Ke Kua beach, stands up to it’s name since it’s pretty much hidden from public access. You’ll need to follow a trail, which isn’t the most convenient, and won’t be your best option if you’re not a hiker in the first place. Some even consider it to be fairly dangerous. However, if that’s not a problem for you, you’ll find one fantastic snorkeling location.
The best thing about this beach is it’s shallow water and the fact that it doesn’t require you to swim a whole lot. As soon as you access the water you’re pretty much where you want to be. The coral could be prettier but the fish make up for that big time.
“Hideaways Pizza Pub” is not that far away and could be a fun restaurant to finish your snorkeling adventure. There are a few hotels and resorts in the area. We always recommend using Google Maps in order to get a better impression of the possibilities. You’ll figure out public parking is nearby but keep in mind that parking lots are limited.
If you used Google maps you may have noticed Queen’s Bath located north-east of Hideaways Beach. Even though some aren’t too excited about it, we thought we should at least tell you about this snorkeling location. Especially since it can be a fun experience to say the least.
Think of Queen Bath as a pool, separated from the ocean by mostly rocks of lava. However, whenever the tides are high, it may be a little scary for the inexperienced snorkelers out there. The pool may even become connected to the ocean. This is because the rocky wall may let in some new water from the ocean. Yes, it’s a small barrier. So make sure you go there on a calm and sunny summer day.
A big disadvantage is it’s location. Just like Hideaways Beach, you need to follow a trail that is everything but convenient. So again, if you want to combine hiking and snorkeling, this may be a fun trip. If not, it might be better to skip this “private pool”. We though a video would be best to give you a good impression:
Lydgate Beach Park
In a way, you could compare Lydgate Beach Park with Poipu Beach Park (which we talked about previously). It’s located on the east side of Kauai, whilst Poipu is located in the south. If you’re traveling with kids and you want to visit both of the parks, they’re about half an hour car drive apart.
Lydgate Beach Park is brilliant for beginners or people that are a little scared to snorkel. The snorkel area is protected by two ponds but allow fish to swim in and out. This makes it a great snorkeling area for kids with lots of marine life to explore. Make a fun day out of your trip with picknick areas and a lifeguard on duty.
Make sure to read all of the necessary information before going there. This includes understanding the rules, the signs and to never swim alone. You can read more information on this website.
Salt Pond Beach Park
This is another great opportunity to learn snorkeling whilst being surrounded by colorful fish. The water is quite calm since the area is protected by an offshore reef. You find Salt Pond Beach Park on the western side of Kauai, close to Hanapipi. There’s a big parking lot, lifeguards, and a beautiful sunset in the evening.
Salt Pond gets it’s name from the salt formation and generation at the nearby ponds. Snorkelers will experience clear water with little currents, which makes it a great place for beginners. Just like Poipu Beach, you could meet a Hawaiian seal which is a spectacular experience and definitely exciting.
The marine life is diverse with a good amount of tropical fish we talked about previously. In this location however you’ll see a lot of cute baby fish. If you’re traveling with kids this may be a good introduction to the marine life without scaring them too much. Once they adapt and get used to the fish you can always try and find some bigger ones, usually they hang out by the rocks.
When snorkeling in Kauai make sure to be prepared for any dangers or weather conditions. Educate yourself in order to stay safe by doing some online research and by asking the lifeguards whatever it is you’re concerned about. Snorkeling is big fun, but it could be risky from time to time.
Even though some beaches are hidden from the ocean currents, they can still enter any location, especially when tides are high. Check the weather reports, ask for any warning signs and look after one another.
Never snorkel alone, make sure to face the ocean, bring a first aid kit or make sure there’s one nearby, don’t snorkel against strong currents, avoid alcohol, watch out for one another, check for nearby escape possibilities, stay hydrated, just to name a few. You can read more safety tips here.
Besides safety, make sure to understand the rules. Often they are presented to you at the location itself, if not, ask for them. Most of the information can be found online, so make sure to remember what’s important.
Never touch the coral and leave the fish alone. Enjoy their presence, but don’t interfere with their life. In Kauai there’s a good possibility to come across the endangered Hawaiian monk seals. There are about 1400 of them left, so make sure to not scare or annoy them. Don’t take pictures with a flash and don’t chase or touch them.
Sea turtles are lovely to spot and to observe, but make sure to leave them alone as well. Don’t leave any trash behind as they might interpret it as food. In case you come across any trash, like plastic for example, make sure to take it with you and throw it in the bin. Let’s keep the ecosystem as clean as possible.
Try to enter the water from a sandy entrance. Once you’re further out make sure to not stand on the corals. If you wear flippers, keep an eye on them. Don’t feed the marine life, don’t take anything with you and try to keep your distance from the world these animals call their home.
Kauai And Rain
The main reason Kauai is also called the Garden island, is because it’s so extremely beautiful. Green rainforests, fascinating waterfalls and beautiful mountains grab the attention of every visitor. However, keep in mind that for this garden to fully flourish there needs to be a water source. Besides the surrounding ocean, the rain plays an important factor as well.
The rainy season lasts from around november till march. Even though there are rainy days throughout the whole year, the climate is a continuous combination of clouds sunshine. Read more about the weather on Kauai here.
Should you go snorkeling when it rains? As long as it’s light and the rain is not too bad, you could give it a go. Rain on it’s own can still allow for some underwater exploration, but once it gets cloudy your visibility could decrease. More important, if rain is combined with winds and currents, the water will mix with sand and fish may try to find shelter. Needless to say, strong currents and poor visibility on it’s own are dangerous circumstances and a contra indication to enter any water. In other words, a little rain on a calm sunny day won’t be a problem. Once weather conditions get worse, skip snorkeling and find something else to do.