The Top 3 Beaches to Snorkel in Captain Cook (So You Can Skip the Tours)

Snorkeling in Captain Cook offers a more relaxed and personal experience when you bring your own gear, allowing you to explore the vibrant underwater world at your own pace and without the constraints of a scheduled tour.

captain cook snorkeling

On our last vacation to the Big Island, we decided to make it a snorkeling trip. Having snorkeled on all four main islands, we heard that Captain Cook has some of the best snorkeling in Hawaiʻi.

But while many vacationers opt to go on paid snorkel tours, we took a different approach.

Instead of waking up early in the morning and paying money to go on a boat to get shuttled to a snorkel spot, we decided that going snorkeling on our own time was the least stressful way to explore the underwater world!

By bringing our own snorkels and doing thorough research on Captain Cook snorkeling, we were able to have a more relaxed and enjoyable experience.

We took breaks when we wanted, explored the reef at our own pace, and even went to places where tour companies aren’t allowed.

The best part is that we didn’t waste any time riding a boat and getting seasick.

So pack up your bags with your snorkel, mask, and fins – we’re going to check out the best beaches to snorkel in Captain Cook!

1. Two Step Beach

two step beach reef

Two Step Beach in Honaunau Bay is known for its crystal-clear water and a huge variety of sea creatures.

Snorkeling Two Step Beach is a world-class underwater experience – so it’s easy to see why it’s one of the most popular spots for snorkeling in Captain Cook.

The water is crystal clear – so you’ll have an unobstructed view of the coral reef and all it has to offer.

There are all sorts of underwater lifeforms, from a huge variety of reef fish to marine mammals such as monk seals and spinner dolphins.

Our favorite place to snorkel at Two Step is on the left side, where green sea turtles like to hang out.

aerial drone view of two step beach honaunau bay

The main drawback of Two Step Beach is that it can get quite crowded during the day, so we recommend going there early in the morning before the crowds arrive.

Also, the “two steps” used to get in and out of the water can be difficult to use for first-timers, so it’s not the best place for small children or inexperienced snorkelers.

2. Manini Beach

scrawled filefish in manini beach

Manini Beach is an off-the-beaten-path beach park that offers some of the best snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay.

While there is no shortage of paid boat tours to snorkel in Kealakekua Bay, Manini Beach is free, right next to the road, and easily accessible.

Our favorite part about Manini Beach is how easy it is to get in and out of the water. There is a cove right on the beach that serves as the perfect point of access for swimmers and snorkelers.

manini beach snorkel entrance to water

If you have people in your group that don’t snorkel, Manini Beach also has a grassy park area with benches for picnicking and hanging out.

There is very limited parking at Manini Beach, so we recommend going early in the morning on a weekday for your best chance of getting a parking spot.

3. Ho‘okena Beach

hookena snorkeling reef underwater

Ho‘okena Beach Park is known best for its camping – but did you know that it has awesome snorkeling opportunities as well?

When we went to Ho‘okena Beach we were surprised at how large the reef was. There also weren’t too many people in the water, so you won’t need to worry about bumping into people like some of the more popular spots.

hookena beach park aerial view

Our favorite part about Ho‘okena Beach is that besides being a good snorkeling spot, it’s also a good spot for picnicking and exploring!

The large sandy beach at Ho‘okena is perfect for lounging around all day. And the northwest side of of the park has a rocky shoreline with all sorts of tidepools and photogenic coastal rock formations.

However, we wouldn’t recommend Ho‘okena Beach for first-time snorkelers. There is an ocean current in the water, which made it somewhat difficult to swim around. And there are sand particles floating in the water, so the visibility isn’t the best.

But if you swim further out, the water clears up and you’ll find some of the most majestic underwater coral reef formations in Captain Cook.

Ho‘okena Beach is also the only beach on our list that has public restroom facilities and freshwater showers.

So if you prefer to rinse off after snorkeling, then Ho‘okena Beach is the only place that you can do that.

The Top Beaches to Snorkel in Captain Cook – Our Verdict

While you won’t have to pay to go snorkeling at any of the beaches we covered, that does come with some drawbacks.

The first thing to remember is that parking can be pretty limited at these spots – so we recommend getting there as early as possible in the morning to get a parking spot.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you’ll need to bring your own snorkel gear to these beaches. With the exception of Ho‘okena Beach Park, none of the other beaches have any type of snorkel rentals whatsoever.

Here’s our verdict for the best places to snorkel in Captain Cook:

  • If you’re looking for the clearest water and a wide variety of lifeforms (including sea turtles, monk seals, and dolphins), we recommend Two Step Beach. But make sure you get there as early as possible to skip the crowds since it is the most popular beach on our list.
  • If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path snorkeling experience with easy access in and out of the water, then we recommend Manini Beach.
  • If you’re looking for a beach that not only has snorkeling, but a sandy beach for lounging, picnicking, and exploring, then Ho‘okena Beach fits the description!

Ho‘okena Beach is also the only beach on our list that has freshwater showers, so keep that in mind if you need to rinse the saltwater off after snorkeling in the ocean.

Trey Lewis is an outdoor enthusiast. Whether its hiking knife-edge ridges or just fishing by the river, Trey isn't afraid to get dirty in search of the next adventure.

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