Snorkeling Charters from Ma‘alaea Bay

If you want to snorkel the amazing underwater world of Molokini Crater, you’ll need to charter a boat from Ma‘alaea Bay. You’ll have plenty of choice in your experience, from low to high-priced trips, snorkeling or snuba, and if you prefer sailing over power catamarans. Some of these charters also make other stops on their trips, which ups your chances of spotting green turtles as well as the colorful parrotfish, endemic reef species, octopuses, eels, and—if you’re lucky—the harmless whitetip reef sharks of Molokini.

Trilogy Excursions (Slip 62 and Slip 99, 808/874-5649) has been setting the gold standard for charter boats in Maui for 40 years. At $120/adult their Molokini trip is pricier than the budget options, but you always get what you pay for. Trilogy boats only have 40-50 passengers, snuba is available as an upgrade, and since Trilogy has two catamarans in Ma‘alaea Harbor, if you show up for your trip and the boat is empty, there’s a good chance you just need to get the other side of the harbor. Trips depart at 8am, make stops at two snorkeling spots, and return to the harbor six hours later.

Map of Ma‘alaea Harbor, Hawaii
Ma‘alaea Harbor

Paragon (Slip 72, 808/244-2087) offers a great trip for anyone whose priority is sailing, making only one snorkeling stop (almost always Molokini). The emphasis on the trip back toward Ma‘alaea is racing at top speeds on their high-performance 47-foot catamaran. The boat can reach upward of 20 knots. There are only 20 or 30 people on the boat. Trips depart at 7:30am, are five hours long, and cost $100/adult.

Along with Trilogy II and Kai Kanani down in Makena, Ali‘i Nui (Slip 56, 808/875-0333) is a sailing catamaran that edges closer to yacht than regular charter boat. With sleekly black and white trim, this 65-foot catamaran is also one of the island’s widest at 36 feet, thereby ensuring a stable platform. Ali‘i Nui is affiliated with Maui Dive Shop. While their snorkeling excursion is more expensive than the other excursions ($147/adult), they also include complimentary transportation to and from your hotel if you’re staying on the west or south side of Maui. Ali‘i Nui still offers scuba diving whereas other companies have switched to snuba. Ali‘i Nui visits Molokini three times per week (Tues., Thurs., and Sat.), opting on the other days to sail to Olowalu (or as they call it, “Turtle Point”).

The company with the largest presence in Ma‘alaea Harbor is Pacific Whale Foundation (300 Ma‘alaea Boat Harbor Rd., 808/249-8811), a nonprofit organization that has its headquarters in the Ma‘alaea Harbor Shops. Instead of checking in down at the harbor, check in at their shop. These cruises are more economical than some of the higher-priced excursions, although on busier days you could potentially be sharing the boat with more than 100 fellow passengers.

There are four different options for trips to Molokini. The “standard” itinerary departs at 7am, features two snorkeling spots, and is currently listed at $85/adult. If you would rather sleep in a little bit and only want to see Molokini, the 9am Molokini Eco Express only lasts 3.5 hours at $55/adult. An 8:30am trip makes stops at both Molokini and at a bay off Lana‘i ($95/adult), although this means spending a lot of time crossing the channel, which can often be rough on the way home. If you would prefer to be on a smaller vessel, the 7:30am Molokini Wild Side excursion costs $110/adult and spends a greater amount of time focusing on the marine and bird species found in the waters of South Maui.

The Pride of Maui (101 Ma‘alaea Boat Harbor Rd., 808/242-0955) offers a five-hour excursion aboard a large power catamaran for $96/adult. Trips depart at 8am from an area next to the U.S. Coast Guard station, although this is another popular boat that can frequently load over 100 passengers. During the summer and fall months (when it isn’t whale season), there’s also an afternoon snorkel trip to a location along the West Maui shoreline, which runs for 3.5 hours and is only $48/adult.

Aerial view of Molokini Crater off the coast of Maui.
Aerial view of Molokini Crater. Photo © Forest and Kim Starr, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

The Four Winds II (Slip 80, 808/879-8188) catamaran offers both morning and afternoon excursions. Despite the fact that Four Winds II has a mast, often it’s so windy in Ma‘alaea Bay that the boat isn’t able to sail. Small children will love the glass bottom part of the boat when stopped at Molokini, and unlike other boats which also make a stop along the shoreline, Four Winds makes Molokini its only stop so you have plenty of time to relax and explore the crater at your own pace. The downside of this, however, is that you won’t get the chance to snorkel with turtles. The trip departs at 7am and costs $98/adult. There’s also an afternoon charter at a much reduced price of $45, which goes to a spot named Coral Gardens tucked out of the wind.

One of the cheapest trips to Molokini is on Frogman II (Slip 87, 888/700-3764). Frogman offers excursions often tied in with a promotion at Boss Frog’s charters, and as long as your expectations aren’t too high, you can still have an enjoyable day on the water. The price for the morning trip is only $60/adult. Frogman also offers an afternoon trip at the cheap rate of only $30/adult, although it can only make it to Molokini on the rarest and calmest of afternoons. On most occasions Frogman ends up tying up next to Four Winds II at Coral Gardens, and while it might not be the same as Molokini, for that price you can’t complain. If you want to upgrade to the next level of quality (but also upgrade the number of people on the boat), the sister boat is Quicksilver (Slip 44, 888/700-3764), whose Molokini snorkeling trip visits two spots for $85/adult. While this trip is similar to those offered by the other large powerboats, what Quicksilver is known for is the semi-formal dinner cruise, which features live music. Rates for the dinner cruise are $70/adult, and the boat often tucks around the corner of West Maui to get a good angle on the sunset and hide from the wind.

If you want to visit Molokini from Ma‘alaea but don’t want to spend a lot of time getting there, Aqua Adventure (Slip 51, 808/573-2104) leaves at 7:30am and cruises at speeds much faster than the larger boats. The small passenger numbers are also a plus on this boat (they cap the number at 40), and snuba is the name of the game when it comes to getting people in the water. You can of course just choose to snorkel, but if your main priority is getting to Molokini quickly and snuba diving once you’re there, this trip costs $105/adult for two snorkeling spots and is an additional upgrade for snuba.

A similar operation that features snuba and small crowds is Lani Kai (Slip 76, 808/244-1879), a trip that departs at 7am and visits two snorkeling locations for $98. Lani Kai also has an afternoon charter, and for $44 you can cruise the cliffs over to Coral Gardens and tie up next to Four Winds and Frogman, with the difference being there are far fewer people on your boat than theirs.

The 58-foot Mahana Nai‘a (Slip 47, 808/871-8636) looks a little funny now that the mast from its sleek sailing days has been removed, but the family-run boat still chugs along, offering $90/adult snorkeling cruises to Molokini and the South Maui coastline.

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