The best spot for snorkeling in Hawaii isn’t on one of its islands.
It’s in a caldera off the southwestern coast of Maui.
Molokini is a crescent or moon-shaped formation often referred to as a small island.
But, technically, it isn’t.
What you see jutting out of the ocean from Maui’s shores is the ridge of a volcanic crater that lies beneath the water.
That ridge, and its crescent shape, creates a barrier of sorts, which protects the water on its interior rim from the swells of the ocean.
This makes the Molokini caldera almost like a man-made snorkeling spot set in the wild and rugged waterscape of the open ocean.
So, if you’re in Maui and you’re looking for a unique and memorable snorkeling experience, Molokini Crater may be the snorkeling spot for you.
How do I get to Molokini Crater?
Snorkeling the Molokini Crater requires a bit of a commitment. At least enough to take a boat ride first.
Molokini Crater lies three miles off of Maui’s nearest shore and is accessed from Maui’s ports.
Most of the boat tours and charters depart from South Maui ports like Kihei and Makena.
There are a few boat tours to Molokini Crater that do depart from Lahaina and the Kaanapali resort area in West Maui.
Those boat rides are long, though, and extra time on the boat means less time in the water.
If you’re staying in West Maui and you want plenty of water time, it’s better to drive to South Maui to catch a boat to Molokini.
How deep is Molokini snorkeling?
The Molokini reef, which serves as home to many fish and aquatic plant species, lies from 12 to 25 feet below the ocean’s surface.
Visibility at Molokini is so good, though, snorkelers can often see to depths of 100 feet or more with the naked eye.
Is snorkeling at Molokini safe?
Snorkeling at Molokini is absolutely safe.
In fact, it’s safer than many snorkeling spots in Hawaii due to the crescent-shape of the crater and the calm water that lies within its boundary.
Since you have to take a tour boat to get there, you also have an extra layer of protection.
Tour boat operators stay above the water and act as lookouts (for potentially dangerous fish and changes in weather) while passengers snorkel, and are trained in CPR and first-aid.
This makes Molokini Crater a great snorkeling spot for younger children and people who may be less comfortable in the water.
Are there sharks at Molokini?
Yes. Some. There have been a few different shark species spotted at Molokini Crater.
But the sharks tend to keep their distance from humans and away from the crater itself.
Molokini’s shallow floor is unappealing, especially for larger sharks.
Tiger sharks, which are the most likely sharks to attack humans, have rarely been spotted at Molokini.
There has never been a shark attack at the Crater.
Molokini Crater Snorkeling Tours
Several Maui tour boat companies operate day trips to Molokini Crater.
These trips leave in the morning to provide the best snorkeling opportunity for passengers.
Like most snorkeling in the Hawaiian islands, snorkeling at Molokini is best done easly, before the wind starts whipping the waves into the caldera.
What can I expect on a Molokini Crater snorkeling tour?
Expect to get up early and to see some amazing scenery below the water.
Aside from that, Molokini Crater snorkeling tours run the gamut.
Some boats to Molokini Crater are smaller and fast and offer little more than a toilet for passengers.
Other boats out to Maui’s crater provide additional perks. A few even provide breakfast or lunch.
All Molokini Crater snorkeling boats provide all necessary equipment and training.
Is Molokini Crater over-snorkeled?
It’s getting that way.
In the past few years, Molokini Crater has become such a popular snorkeling spot with Hawaii’s tourists that it is frequently crowded.
A crowded reef isn’t great for snorkeling and it’s also hard on the reef.
Hawaiian lawmakers are aware of this fact, and Representative Angus L.K. McKelvey introduced a bill in 2019 to limit the number of tour boat permits for the Molokini Crater area.
The bill passed, but was vetoed by the governor.
So, for now, Molokini will remain crowded most days.
How do I avoid crowds at Molokini Crater?
To avoid the heaviest crowds at Molokini, take the earliest boat you can stand to take.
The Molokini Express, the earliest boat out to Molokini, sets out at 6 a.m.
Try to be on a boat by 7 a.m. at the latest.
Avoid 9 a.m. and later boats at all costs. Later morning boats attract more passengers and there are more of them.
Molokini Crater Tour Boats from Maui
When you’re ready to start planning your snorkeling excursion to Molokini Crater, we’ve found a few tour options for you to check out.
And if you’re looking for snorkeling closer to Maui’s shores, see our list of Maui’s best snorkeling spots.