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Big Island snorkeling: why it’s the best (with video)

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big island snorkeling, snorkeling with dolphins, snorkelling with dolphins

How awesome is snorkeling with ocean creatures in their natural habitat? It’s a highlight for me on any trip. We had two Big Island snorkeling experiences in Hawaii that were unreal. The highlights? Coming within inches of spinner dolphins and giant manta rays. Like move-out-of-the-way close!

Spinner dolphins and manta rays


I’m loyal Scorpio, true to my water sign – a lover of most things water-related, especially when they involve wildlife. Our two Big Island snorkeling trips with Kona Ocean Experience included a morning “spinner dolphin encounter” and Kealakekua Bay snorkel, and a “manta ray night snorkel”. I was stoked.


I didn’t expect to see so many dolphins and manta rays, and so close up. We saw a pod of about 80-100 dolphins and five rays, both in small areas. This is why I’d say Big Island snorkeling might be the best we’ve done, from the tropics of North America, the Caribbean, and South America, to the waters and reefs of SE Asia and Australia. I was like a kid in a candy store, whooping and hollering into my snorkel.


I’ll let the video I created (link below) tell the story of our up close and personal encounters with these majestic and graceful sea creatures.


How it’s almost guaranteed to see dolphins and rays in this part of Hawaii


The spinner dolphins come in to Keauhou Bay every morning to rest. The tour companies know this, so when you see an area with a bunch of boats at that time of the morning, it’s a safe bet there are dolphins there.


Manta rays: the Sheraton Keauhou Resort put lights in the ocean years ago along the shoreline to enhance the experience for guests strolling the property at night. People started noticing manta rays swimming in the clear water after dark. The lights attracted high volumes of phytoplankton – the manta ray’s main food source – and a lucky ray had entered into a plankton feast, starting a nightly tradition for rays in the area. While snorkelling,  you hold onto a surfboard with LED lights shining into the water. You will even see sparkles of green and purple in my video – that’s the plankton. The rays come up RIGHT under the surfboard (and VERY close to you), doing a graceful backflip each time to scoop the shimmery treats into their giant mouths.


Oh, and check out the excitement in my voice in the one part I talk…!



Kealakekua Bay and Pauoa Bay


The snorkelling a Kealakekua Bay was good, but nothing out of this world. It featured great visibility and an abundance of various types of fish swimming among the coral. We also snorkelled at Pauoa Bay several times, where we stayed at the FABULOUS Fairmont Orchid, north of Kona. We saw rainbows of colourful fish and a couple of cool, calm and collected sea turtles in the clear and calm waters. Pauoa Bay is also an excellent place to stand-up paddleboard, kayak, and swim.


And our kids? They were a bit young (three and five), but they tried. Cohen snorkeled in the calm Pauoa Bay waters and to his delight, spotted a turtle with me. He got in the water with the dolphins, but found the water too cold so got back out. Both kids excitedly watched the dolphins jumping in and out of the water from the boat. Vayla got in at Kealakekua Bay, saw a few fish, then got water up her nose and wanted to go back in the boat. Props for trying! Check out this article on the best snorkel gear for kids so you’re prepared for any snorkeling adventures, and if you have older children, you may want to try out an underwater scooter!


Pauoa Bay, Hawaii island
Beach access to snorkeling at Pauoa Bay


Big Island snorkeling – do not miss it!


These snorkeling experiences were the highlight of our trip to the Big Island. I’ve snorkelled a lot in the nearly 40 countries I’ve been to, and I’d have to say the dolphin and manta encounters were the most exciting I’ve ever done. So…if you’re a water baby and sea creature enthusiast like me, put Big Island snorkeling on your travel list!


We also did some great snorkeling in Maui a few years ago (LOTS of turtles), and here is an article about the best snorkeling in Oahu if you’re headed there. If you’re more into scuba diving, check out this article from on diving in Hawaii.


Mahalo, Hawaii and Kona Ocean Experience, for the unforgettable YOLO Big Island snorkeling experiences!


Looking for more on snorkeling? Check out my posts on Snorkeling with whale sharks in La Paz, Mexico, or Bocas del Toro, Panama, where we snorkeled with hundreds of jellyfish!


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