Hanauma Bay was once a volcanic crater. The ocean side was eroded away and the crater filled with water creating a circular bay. This bay is the most popular destination for snorkeling on the island, especially for tourists. The clear blue water is home to a colorful variety of fish and sea creatures that live in the coral reef.
Hanauma Bay is open every day, except for Tuesdays, from 6am to 6pm. The parking is limited so if you want a parking spot, you should get there by 9am. Parking is $1 per car. Or if you don’t feel like driving, you can even take “The Bus”, Honolulu County’s public bus system. The #22 will take you from Waikiki to Hanauma Bay and drop you off right near the visitor center. It runs once an hour on weekdays and twice an hour on weekends, but there is no bus on Tuesdays since the beach is closed [Route Map & Timetable]. Admission to the beach is free for Hawaii residents, active duty U.S. military with ID, and children 12 years and younger. For everyone else (sorry tourists!) the price is $7.50 per person.
The beach is large and you are welcome to set up your spot just about anywhere you want. You can bring blankets, towels, umbrellas, bags, coolers, food, drinks, etc. There is no place to purchase food and drinks down on the beach but there is a concession stand and a small souvenir shop near the entrance where you buy tickets.
There are a few bathhouses on the beach with water fountains, bathrooms, and showers.
There is a place to rent snorkels, masks, fins, and lockers between 7am and 4:30pm.
There is also an information booth where you can look at posters and books to learn about the reef and marine life that you see in the water. This is where you can talk to employees about any questions or needs that you have. This is a handicap-accessible beach and there are beach wheelchairs for use.
The snorkeling here is pretty good. The water is clear and there are a ton of colorful fish and sea creatures. The fish are very used to people so you can get up close and personal with them. The coral reef itself is living coral but very brown, bland, and not very pretty. The water is fairly calm until the tide comes in and the waves get more powerful.
I’m not a water person. I’m not a strong swimmer, I sink rather than float, and I can’t stand being in water where I can’t see my feet. Of course, I grew up in Pennsylvania where there are murky lakes and rivers hiding who knows what beneath the surface and the only ocean we went to was the Atlantic which is certainly not clear water. Being here in Hawaii is completely different. The water is warm-ish and clear which makes a big difference for me. I just might become a water person after all!
I’ve been snorkeling before in the Bahamas and the Philippines so I wasn’t afraid to try it out here. The only difference was that I’ve always used a floatation device before and here I didn’t. I quickly found out that as long as I kept moving, I stayed afloat without any problems. A waterproof digital camera would’ve been amazing to have but I haven’t got around to buying one yet.
I came to the beach with a group of friends that had all of the necessary equipment for snorkeling. They had fins, masks, and snorkels but they also had gloves (cheap rubber-coated garden gloves worked great!) and water shoes to protect against the sharp coral. They also had some wetsuits and water shirts. The water was a little chilly and the water shirts added just enough warmth for comfort. Water shirts are also recommended for preventing sunburn while snorkeling.
There are a few lifeguard stations along the beach to keep all of the visitors safe. If you are in the water and need help, simply wave your arm in the air.
There is a steep road for getting in and out of the bay. It takes about 3 minutes to walk down. If you can’t or don’t feel like walking, there is a shuttle that will give you a ride. It costs 75¢ to ride down the hill and $1 to ride up. Unfortunately they also charge you 25¢ a piece for your large bags.