Mornings are the best time of day for snorkeling in Kihei, and summer can have consistent winds and periods of surf, which affect visibility. Although the snorkeling in summer can still be enjoyable, winter mornings are the best bet for light winds and clear visibility, and as an added bonus, if you dive down a few feet while snorkeling, you’re guaranteed to hear whale song reverberating in the distance.
North Kihei doesn’t offer anything in the way of snorkeling because the water is too shallow and murky. The northernmost beach in Kihei where you would want to snorkel is Charley Young beach, which is also known as the north end of Kamaole I. There’s a rocky point here on the right side of the beach that offers good snorkeling, although during periods of high surf it can become popular with boogie boarders. Down at the other end of the beach, the rocky point between Kamaole I and Kamaole II is another area where you can find reef fish, a few eels, and maybe even a Hawaiian green sea turtle. Similarly, the rocky point that separates Kamaole II from Kamaole III is another nice place for a morning snorkel.
A half-mile to the south of Kamaole III is Keawakapu beach, where there is good snorkeling on both the north and south side of the bay. The north end can get crowded due to the large public parking lot and bustling activity stand, and during busier periods of the year you have a better chance of being kicked in the face than finding a turtle. Not many people follow the outer edge of this reef in front of the hotel, however, so if you want to escape the crowd, either get here early before everyone arrives or just snorkel to the far side where the crowds thin out. To combine a morning snorkel with a leisurely morning stroll, park at the northern end of Keawakapu Beach and walk to the southern point. There are fewer crowds, it’s a larger area for snorkeling, and the walk back to your car is one of the best beach walks on the island.
The streets of Kihei are covered in snorkel shops. Since choosing a shop can be overwhelming, it’s important to understand the nature of the snorkel rental business on Maui. Most snorkel shops and activity stands in Kihei are fronts for activity sales and timeshare presentations, so you may hear a sales pitch for a helicopter ride or vacation rental when your intention is just to go snorkeling.
Top picks for rental shops in the South Maui area are the Maui Dive Shop locations sprinkled from Ma‘alaea to Wailea. There are two different venues in Kihei (2463 S. Kihei Rd., 808/879-1533, 7am-9pm daily; 1455 S. Kihei Rd., 808/879-3388, 6am-9pm daily), and the corporate store in central Kihei opens at 6am. Maui Dive Shop also operates the Ali‘i Nui catamaran, so there will be a sell on that particular activity, but Ali‘i Nui is a beautiful boat that puts on a good trip, and you can frequently get discounts with a snorkel gear and snorkeling trip combo.
The other snorkel shop you’ll see with just as much frequency is Boss Frog’s (main office 1770 S. Kihei Rd., 808/874-5225, 8am-5pm daily), which has three locations scattered across Kihei. Boss Frog’s offers the cheapest deals on snorkel rentals on the island, but the company is heavily embedded in the activities sales market, often timeshare-related. If you rent snorkeling gear for a week (which can be as low as $9), you will also get a discounted snorkeling trip on their boat out of Ma‘alaea, the Frogman II.
Snorkel Bob’s has multiple stores across Kihei, with one in the Kamaole Beach Center (2411 S. Kihei Rd., 808/878-7449, 8am-5pm daily), and another in the Azeka II shopping area in Central Kihei (1279 S. Kihei Rd., 808/875-6188, 8am-5pm daily). Snorkel Bob’s is a statewide chain that also incorporates activity sales, and you’re sure to see their quirky ads if you flip through any island visitor magazines. Snorkel Bob’s is known for selling gear that they design themselves, and a nice feature of the operation is that you can rent gear on one island and return it on another island completely free of charge. Packages range from $2/day for a basic mask and snorkel rental to $44/week for a package that includes prescription lenses and fins.
While most of the boats leaving from Kihei Boat Ramp are scuba diving charters, there are still a few rafting boats that focus on sightseeing and snorkeling. They only carry about 24 people, so if you don’t like crowds and just want a mellow, informative day on the water, these are going to be the trips for you.
Of all the rafting options, the top pick is Blue Water Rafting (808/879-7238), which meets at the boat ramp at 6:30am. If you’ve already been to Molokini once before and are looking for an adventure snorkel, Blue Water Rafting has a trip to the Kanaio Coast where you can snorkel along a rugged volcanic coastline most visitors will never get to see. This forgotten southwestern coastline is pockmarked with thundering sea caves and jagged lava formations, and there are multiple places where you can see the remnants of ancient fishing villages. The captains are geologists, historians, and marine naturalists all rolled into one. They’re skilled enough to hug the coast so closely you could almost reach out and touch it. The waters in this area can often be rough, however, so this isn’t the best trip if you’re prone to motion sickness. You can either book the four-hour Kanaio Coastline tour from $100/adult and $79/child, or you can combine it with an 11am excursion to Molokini for $125/adult and $100/child. If you only want to book a two-hour tour to Molokini, the cost is $50/adult and $39/child and it departs at 11:30am. This is one of the most affordable options for visiting the crater if all you’re looking for is a ride there and back. There is no breakfast, coffee, or bathroom on board.
The other primary snorkeling option from Kihei Boat Ramp is Redline Rafting (808/757-9211), which also offers tours to Molokini and the Kanaio Coast. Tours meet at 6:30am, and at $140/adult and $100/child the cost is a little higher than Blue Water Rafting, but they also include breakfast and coffee and have a (small) bathroom on board. Although they are still one of the only boats that traverses the Kanaio Coast, they don’t go as far down the coast as Blue Water, spending more time in Makena and Molokini.
If you’ve always wanted to look like you’re in the U.S. Coast Guard, Seafire (808/879-2201) offers a trip at 7:30am on its orange and silver jet-drive raft that not only looks like a Coast Guard boat, but is driven by a member of the Coast Guard Reserve. Trips last for three hours. At $55 it’s one of the best budget options for reaching Molokini Crater.