I’m not much of a swimmer, in full disclosure. I nearly drowned as a kid and it left some scars. But I do snorkel, I will get in the water, and I love it. Safety is important for anyone, and especially important for you, being the visitor who isn’t used to this stuff.
(I know you don’t want to read the paragraphs before the listings. But please do, for your safety’s sake.)
Ocean Safety and Not Getting Bit by a Shark or Drowning
Sharks are a real concern, but not if you follow ocean safety rules. When you see whales, remember their babies are with them… and sharks would like to eat those babies. Sharks also have their babies with them and are particularly aggressive in parts of the year in defense of their babies. December through March is the most whale-dense part of the year, as they swim down from Alaska to have their babies in the warm water. Sharks are always present, but less of a notable threat outside of these times.
Here are some good rules of thumb for you to memorize. Yes, memorize.
- If the water is murky/sandy/churned up, DO NOT go in. Sharks love that kind of water. Yes, sharks. People get bit and it doesn’t always make the news because it’s bad for tourism.
- The north and west side of the island is swimmable in the warmest months of the year. If you want to go snorkeling up there during the colder months of the year, you’re asking to get bit by a shark, pummeled by waves and get injured. Just don’t.
- Never go in the ocean alone.
- Don’t go in the ocean until about an hour after the sun has come up. Again, sharks.
- NEVER turn your back on the waves for a second.
- The water is calmest between dawn and noon. Plan accordingly based on what you like.
- Swim and engage in ocean sports according to your ability. Same as skiing, actually.
- Pay attention to the flags when you go to beaches that have flags. Swimmers, paddlers, snorkelers and all kinds of unsuspecting folks are OFTEN swept out to sea and need to be rescued when they go out too far and are over-confident. There’s a hell of a current out there that you can even see if you know what you’re looking for. You’re thinking, “that won’t happen to me” – but it can, and being cavalier helps it happen. It drains local emergency resources and takes away from other local needs. Remember, you’re a guest in someone else’s home. It only makes the local news, which means you won’t hear about it on the mainland or wherever you’re from, which makes it appear less common.
- Check out the UV index from your phone any day you want to be in the sun for a while. Wear a good rash guard shirt and reef-safe sunscreen.
- Don’t touch the sea life. Appreciate with your eyes. Otherwise it’s just rude, possibly harmful to the sea life, and to you.
- Don’t take sea shells home if they still have a resident. ?
- Don’t stand on what you think are rocks. It’s likely coral, which is a living thing. Standing on coral kills it, and it takes literally thousands of years to grow. Need a break? Get the hell out of the water and don’t be a selfish ass.
- Don’t stand on algae-covered rocks, thinking you’re doing better because it’s not coral. That’s a food supply for fish, turtles and other ocean life. You stand on it, you kill it, and you destroy a food supply.
- Choose a reef-safe sunscreen. Why? Maui alone gets over a million visitors a year in typical times. If each tourist uses 2 containers of non-reef-safe sunscreen during their stay…. That’s TWO MILLION BOTTLES OF TOXINS being poured into the ocean and coating the wildlife, which can disrupt their nervous systems, natural reproduction, and ability to thrive/eat/live and ward off disease. Yes, your choice matters. Signs are on many of the beaches. Signs are at the tourist spots. Maui is literally begging you to make a good choice, in defense of the sea life that surrounds the island. If you’re going to sit by the pool all day and fry yourself that way, it still matters what you wear because when you wash it off, guess where that water ends up. Yep, the ocean, eventually. Be smart. Reef-safe, 100% of the time. Or, rash guards and hats so you don’t even need sunscreen. Please honor and love the environment through more than just visiting and taking… give love and respect by making good choices.
I love snorkeling, and I want you to love it too.
Sign up for The Snorkel Report to have ocean conditions delivered to your inbox every morning by 7am local time. Look for the number 8 and above for the best experiences. You don’t need to do a snorkel tour to have a great experience. Not by a long shot. But when you want the clearest water with zero sand, that is often your only chance. Furthermore, if the mere idea of sharks stresses you out, go with a tour company. Sharks tend to cruise the shoreline from a distance. Will you see one, ever? Highly unlikely in any circumstance, but depending on your nerves and tolerance for such things, choose wisely. I never did a snorkel tour when I lived there – I just walked out from the water and jumped in.
I once did a snorkel tour to Molokini, but I fully do not recommend it. Too many people. Maybe it’s different now. Up to you to decide to try or not.
There are some great spots that I highly recommend, when the snorkel report says those zones are A-OK. See the section on ocean safety about sharks and times of year. More than anything, trust your own eyes. When the water is that beautiful deep blue with glints of deep, clear turquoise and the waves are tiny… you’re snorkel-ready! The water looking a bit light at the edge? Stay on the sand that day.
Great walk-out snorkeling at Kamaole Beach Park III and where I’ve seen the most turtles.
Open this link on your phone to get directions to this spot in Kihei: https://goo.gl/maps/GRoRHCS6VJzLXGYa7
Honolua Bay… warm months only. Incredible then with tons of interesting fish of varied sizes, dangerous as all hell otherwise.
Open this link on your phone to get directions to this spot in Lahaina: https://goo.gl/maps/ASFtkHx9gjP9ched7
Black Rock Beach in Kapalua is often rated highly on the snorkel report and has lots of pretty fish to see. Never saw a turtle once… but it doesn’t mean they’re not there.
Open this link on your phone to get directions to this spot in Kapalua: https://goo.gl/maps/YqnFdTe3C8RA3rAs6
Ahihi Bay in Makena is stunning in the mornings when the report says south shore and Makena is looking great.
Open these links on your phone to get directions to this spot in Makena: Snorkel here: https://goo.gl/maps/BCPVUDvGo3zeYoWf8 Park here: https://goo.gl/maps/q2UdBnFGkkyw7LLp8
Maui has the best beaches on the planet, in my humble opinion. You really can’t go wrong. If you see a beach and want to check it out, this is going to help you decide which area is right for you to look in, based on what you want.
The South Side (Kihei, etc.) has a very calm shore in the mornings and is typically not amazing for surfing, better for snorkeling. The surf kicks up around noon to 1pm daily and gets progressively more intense throughout the day. Pay attention to the color of the water (deeper blue = calmer, lighter = more intense) to choose the best conditions for your preference. Included in South Shore is Ma’alaea and North Kihei, which are often windy and the beaches are not as populated. Go in the mornings for calm. Sugar Beach in particular has 5 miles of sand to run/walk/play on. Surfers hang out at The Cove (and you can take lessons if you want).
The North West Side (Lahaina, etc.) has great sandy beaches and lots of rocky beaches. You’ll find great swimmable bays (like Honolua in the summer), and famous beaches like Black Rock. Many options to choose from, and be prepared to walk to some beaches.
The North Shore (Paia, etc.) has the best surfing, and is home to world-famous the “Jaws” surf spot. Calm water can be found here, but you’re more likely to find surfing conditions. Great for relaxing in the afternoon and enjoying some shade under a palm tree.
The East Side (Hana, etc.) has pretty beaches and lots of black sand beaches. It’s also the “youngest” part of the island in terms of the island’s age, which is why you’ll see more black sand, which is broken down lava. While not that quick and easy to get to, the beaches (like Hamoa) are truly stunning.