While Oahu may be better known for its beach bums and the state’s eclectic capital of Honolulu, it is still a Hawaiian island, and it is a great one. Oahu has the benefit of being one of those vacation destinations where you can be on a remote beach one minute and the middle of a bustling city the next.
However, what you see on land is only a fraction of what there is to see on Oahu, and that is a lofty statement considering how much there is to see in Honolulu alone. Oahu is popular for a reason, and it is not just for the cities. It became famous for its beautiful white sand and lovely calm waters. This is not only a beach bum’s dream, but a snorkeler’s as well.
Admittedly, Maui probably has Oahu beat in the sheer amount of snorkeling sports, but Oahu still has its charms. One of those charms is that you can find easily accessible snorkeling from almost any coastal hotel or resort on the island. However, that is made less charming by the crowds. However, if you are willing to put in the legwork, or better, use a tour to put in the legwork, you can find a number of secret little snorkel spots.
As it is not protected by as many surrounding islands, you can find parts of Oahu that aren’t great for snorkeling (though much better for surfing), but its warm, shallow waters still attract a number of year-round and seasonal marine life. By choosing to take a snorkel tour, you often have much better access to these areas.
Ken’s Note: You’re going to have a blast on Oahu and snorkeling. There are some really great spots that you can find on your own that aren’t too crowded. If you’re on one of the following snorkel tours, you’re bound to have the time of your life. I’ve live on Oahu for 4 years. I know most of the snorkel spots around. You can bet that if Lizzy and I are recommending these tours then they’re definitely worth it!
Top Oahu Snorkeling Tour Picks
Oahu has a variety of snorkel tours that actually start on land and then gradually descend to the sea and snorkeling. It is a great way to cool off after an adventure and provides even more amazing scenery than what you can find on land. It is these sort of tours that perfectly represent what Oahu is all about – flexibility and a variety of adventure.
- The Ultimate Adventure Combo of Hiking, Kayaking, and Snorkeling
- Visits to a Number of Iconic Sites
- Lunch Included
- Hotel Pick-Up
- Equipment Provided
- 7 Hours Long
From Waikiki, guests on this challenging full-day tour travel up to the Hakipuu Valley. After a brief hike to the lookout over the valley that features sweeping views all the way to the sea, visitors head into their playground for the day. Through the valley they head all the way down to the glassy waters of the Kaneohe Bay. Here visitors will get a quick rundown on kayak safety before launching into the water and enjoying a scenic paddle along Kualoa, past Mokoli’i Island, and to a “secret island” with a secluded beach where lunch will be served.
On this island, guest will be given some freedom to do what interests them most. You can explore the island, paddle the waters, or put on that snorkel gear and see what is lurking around the reefs that surround it before it is time to head back.
Personal Note: This is an AWESOME tour for the active and adventurous. It’s not leisurely, though. This is a 7 hour tour that will totally blow you away.
The Leeward Coast spans the foot of the Waianae mountain range just a short drive outside of Waikiki. It is here that visitors will find a number of Oahu’s more rural towns as well as secluded, off-the-beaten-path beaches. As it is one of the less visited areas of Oahu, naturally the waters are filled with more vibrant reefs and sea life.
- Catamaran Sail and Snorkel Along the Leeward Coast
- Breakfast and Lunch Included
- Equipment Included
- Guaranteed Dolphin Sightings
- 3 Hours Long
From Waianae Harbor, guests board a luxury catamaran and set sail for a morning cruise and continental breakfast. Although the tour boasts guaranteed dolphin sightings, they are only guaranteed in December through April when they are in the area. During this time, you may also spot humpback whales on your cruise. During this time, if you don’t spot dolphins, you will receive a voucher for a free snorkeling adventure or sunset cruise, which is a nice perk.
Once you reach the secluded snorkeling cove, after running through a few basics you are free to get into the water and get close with all the marine life you might of saw while traveling there. The snorkel area is full of colorful tropical fish and the occasional sea turtle that likes to pop into the coral reef. After you have been fully satisfied by the sights, guests are treated to a gourmet lunch before the tour ends.
Although Oahu is Hawaii’s most populated island, it is still one of those places where you need a knowledgeable local guide in order to ever uncover its secrets. That is what makes “hidden” spot tours such a thrill. You know that other people who have taken the tour have been there, but it is not something every single vacationer visits like Waikiki Beach, for example.
- Explore Lesser-Known Sights of West Oahu on Land and Sea
- Transportation and Equipment Provided
- Small Group Capped at 9 People
- 7 Hours Long
West Oahu is considered to be the islands most significant coast. After meeting up with your small group at Kahe Point, you depart for a day of adventure. This tour not only gives you spectacular views of the Waianae coast and mountains, it also takes you to a number of historical Hawaiian sites including a scared cave and valley that both feature their own secluded beaches.
However, hiking around to these sites is hard work, so what better reward could there be than a brilliant snorkeling tour to cool things off? Unlike other tours that take you to these destinations by boat. These hidden snorkel beaches are accessible by land, and home to a number of fish that come to play along the reef. First time snorkelers can get lessons while veteran snorkelers dive on in. Of course, if you don’t feel like snorkeling, the white sand beach is nice too.
If you are the hunt for sea turtles, you can’t possibly resist the allure of a place called “Turtle Canyon”. While turtles are more common around Maui, Oahu has its fair share of sea turtle spots, and Turtle Canyon is one of the better places to visit not just for the presence of sea turtles, but for the scenic snorkeling as well.
- Guaranteed Sea Turtle Sightings
- Snorkel Tour on a Luxury Catamaran
- Spot Diamond Head from the Water
- Snacks, Lunch, and Beverages Included
- Equipment Included
- Options Include a 2-Hour Morning Tour or 3-Hour Afternoon Tour
Departing from Kewalo Basin Harbor, guests can enjoy a morning or afternoon tour aboard the beautiful 53-foot power catamaran dubbed the Honi Olani. Although it is just a 15-minute ride to the snorkeling spot in Turtle Canyon, you will wish it is much longer as you get beautiful views of Diamond Head and the Waikiki skyline.
Once moored in Turtle Canyon and listening to the safety rundown, you are geared up and in the water for 90 minutes of free snorkeling or guided turtle tours with your snorkel guide. The area is called Turtle Canyon for a reason and you won’t have to work to see sea turtles as well as a number of tropical fish that live in the area.
At the end of the tour, you can enjoy a quick freshwater shower and, if you are taking the afternoon tour, enjoy a light lunch.
To those looking to leave the crowds of Waikiki behind, Coconut Island is a popular option. Dubbed Gilligan’s Island, probably because some of the filming for the show was done here, Coconut Island is technically an offshore islet off Kaneohe Bay. However, this tiny slice of land does host the perfect conditions for snorkeling. Surrounded by a barrier reef, not only do you get perfect warm, calm waters, but the reef is a thriving underwater ecosystem just waiting for the willing snorkeler to come explore.
- Kayaking Tour Around Kaneohe Bay to Coconut Island for Snorkeling
- Hotspot for Sea Turtles and Manta Rays
- Small Groups Capped at 16, 8 Per Guide
- Hotel Pick-Up
- Equipment Included
- 6 Hours Long
With pickup at your hotel, you are transported out the He’eia State Park that protects a portion of Oahu’s Windward Coast. Visitors will note how less developed and more rugged the beaches are out here, which makes a perfect start to this adventure.
In Kaneohe Bay, guests will be armed with lifejackets, dry bags, and snorkeling gear before heading out into the water in the kayaks. For those new to kayaking, instruction is provided and a escort boat is available for those that just want to get to the snorkeling.
During the paddling, tours will be treated to the cultural history of the bay as well as details about Oahu’s only barrier reef. However, once you reach Coconut Island, it is time to get a closer look. Within the waters, you will find a number of sea creatures living in the reef, including rays and sea turtles.
As the trade winds start to wind up, you can go back to Coconut Island’s beaches for a snack or to explore the old movie set that is now used for classes by the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.
How and What to Pack for your Snorkel Trip
We’ve written extensively about what items you need for snorkeling, especially a trip or tour. We usually break down those items into 3 categories:
- Nice to Have
Necessary items are those items and pieces of gear that make snorkeling possible and as safe as can be. Items include snorkel set, snorkel bag, water, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc.
Important items are those items that are not necessarily vital to snorkeling but pieces of gear that we don’t leave the house without when going out. You may feel different. Such items as water shoes, mask defogger, food.
Nice to have things are just that; a luxury that makes your snorkeling better. These items include underwater cameras, reef fish chart, etc.
Snorkel Gear for your Tour
In many cases, these tours are going to provide the basic necessities for your enjoyment: snorkel gear, water, maybe some snacks, and mask defogger. However, if you want your own set up in order to snorkel on your own at a different time or if you just have an aversion to used snorkel gear, then below are our recommendations:
Snorkel Mask-Ocean Reef Aria
We’re really into the Ocean Reef Aria mask right now, besides being a top full face mask, Ocean Reef has done a lot for the mask that others haven’t done. First, the carry bag is pretty cool and, second, they now have a pair of optical inserts that you can get fitted with your lens prescription. The Aria is a solid mask and you can read our full review here.
How to fit the Mask:
In MOST cases, taking a measurement from the bridge of your nose to the bottom of your chin, you can get a solid idea of the mask size that is best for you.
- 11.5 cm or 4.5 inches (or larger) from bridge of nose to bottom of chin, you should order a L/XL full face mask
- 1o cm (3.9 inches) to 11.5 (4.5 inches) then you need a S/M
- LESS than 10 cm or 3.9 inches, mostly in the case of children but some adults, then you’ll need a XS
Trek Fins-Aqua Lung Travel
You’re going to want a pair of fins that are easy to pack and travel with and won’t give you a hassle getting them on and off…particularly if your snorkel tour is taking place off the side of a zodiac, catamaran, or kayak. These Aqua Lung Trek Fins are the way to go!
Safety & Etiquette
We’ve also written a lot of content about proper snorkeling etiquette and snorkeling safety. Here are the key points:
- Never Snorkel Alone…no matter what!
- Never Snorkel if you’re a “challenged swimmer”.
- Stay close to land and note shallow areas of retreat if you get in trouble. (Know how to fix leg cramps!) Don’t get to far from the boat if you’re on a tour.
- Know your surroundings. I.E. Where’s the boat? Where’s your buddy? How deep?
- Conserve energy.
- Look but don’t touch so that you don’t get hurt.
- Know how to clear your mask and snorkel.
- Wear sunscreen.
- Don’t touch the coral. You could get cut but more improtantly, it kills the coral.
- Don’t touch anything. Leave the turtles alone. Don’t stick your hands into hole.
- Don’t bother the marine life.
- Don’t feed the fish.
- Use biodegradable, reef-safe, sunscreen.
- Don’t forget to tip!