Kealakekua Bay, home to the Captain Cook Monument, is one of the best places to snorkel on the Big Island of Hawaii

5 BEST Captain Cook Snorkeling Tours on the Big Island of Hawaii (2024)

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If a snorkel tour to Kealakekua Bay is on your bucket list for the Big Island, you’re in the right place, because in this article, we’re going to tell you about the very best Captain Cook snorkeling tours.

Kealakekua Bay, on the South Kona Coast of the Big Island, is without a doubt one of the best places to snorkel on the Big Island, and, indeed, in all of Hawaii.

The bay is beautiful, framed by lush green cliffs.

And the close-to-pristine turquoise waters of Kealakekua Bay contain an astonishing amount of coral and an amazing variety of colorful tropical fish.

In fact, because the waters of Kealakekua Bay here are so rich in marine life, they have been designated a marine life conservation district.

If you love exploring the underwater world, and want to experience some of the most stunning snorkeling on the Big Island, read on!

An aerial view of Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument on the Big island of Hawaii


Our pick is this Kealakekua Bay/Captain Cook snorkel tour. You’ll travel by boat to a spot known for marine life. It’s the most popular 5-star tour on Viator! (affiliate link)

Captain Cook and Big Island Snorkeling

So what does Captain Cook have to do with snorkeling on the Big Island?

Kealakekua Bay has a rich history and two major events that occurred here involve Captain James Cook, the famous British explorer.

Cook and his crew landed at Kealakekua Bay in January 1779. He was the first European to land on Hawai’i Island and was treated well by the Hawaiians.

A few weeks later, Cook and his crew departed, only to return to repair a broken mast. This time, hostilities broke out between the Hawaiians and the Europeans, and Captain Cook was killed in the skirmish.

Later, a white obelisk monument was erected here as a memorial to Captain Cook.

The reefs in Kealakekua Bay at Ka’awaloa Flats, where the Captain Cook Monument is located, are the richest areas of the bay in terms of abundance and diversity of marine life.

And by far the easiest way to get to Ka’awaloa Flats and the Captain Cook Monument is on a boat snorkel tour. Tour operators are also knowledgeable about the best spots to snorkel.

No wonder, then, that “Captain Cook” snorkeling tours are some of the most popular tours on the Big Island!

Captain Cook Monument at Ka’awaloa Flats, Kealakekua Bay, Big Island, Hawaii
The Captain Cook Monument at Ka’awaloa Flats on Kealakekua Bay

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The Absolute Best Captain Cook Snorkeling Tours on the Big Island

For adventurous nature lovers that love to observe marine life, a Captain Cook snorkel tour on Hawaii Island is truly a memorable experience.

Not only is the snorkeling extraordinary on the vibrant reefs here, you also have a good chance of seeing spinner dolphins in the bay en route, and humpback whales in season.

In the water, you may see reef fish like parrotfish, butterflyfish, yellow tang, and triggerfish, and other creatures like eels, crabs, and the occasional Hawaiian green sea turtle.

The edge of the reef at Kealakekua Bay is shallow, but the drop-off is steep, so snorkelers can easily explore different reef depths in a short amount of time.

In this article, we’ll highlight the top Captain Cook snorkel tours, so if you are planning to go on a snorkeling tour to Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island, you can pick the one that’s right for you.

Ready? Let’s get to it, starting with the Captain Cook/Kealakekua Bay tour, one of the most highly-rated and the most popular Kealakekua Bay snorkeling tour.

1. Captain Cook/Kealakekua Bay Snorkel Tour

Snorkeling Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of hawaii, colorful fish
Look for colorful fish on a Captain Cook snorkeling tour!

>> BOOK the Captain Cook/Kealakekua Bay Snorkel Tour!

⭐️ RATING: 5 out of 5 stars, with more than 1,400 positive reviews!
⏳ TOUR TIME: 4 hours (check-in at Honokohau Marina North Boat Ramp in Kailua-Kona)

Why choose this tour? Expert and knowledgeable crew guide you to a snorkel spot where marine life has been historically spotted, flotation device and snorkel equipment provided

En route to the snorkel spot, you’ll learn about the history of the bay and Captain Cook, and you may spot spinner dolphins and whales (in season).

After the snorkel, you’ll enjoy lunch (usually sandwiches and fresh fruit), and then head back up the scenic coast to Kona.

The Captain Cook/Kealakekua Bay tour offers:

✔️ Superb snorkeling at one of the top snorkeling spots on the Big Island

✔️ Ride in a double-decker boat with a maximum of 48 travelers

✔️ Departure from the Honokohau Marina North Boat Ramp in Kailua-Kona

✔️ Morning departure

✔️ The use of quality snorkeling equipment and flotation devices

✔️ “Ride along” option for non-swimmers

✔️ Snacks and bottled water

What past guests have said:

“This was a great boat ride, great snorkel spot with lots of colorful fish to see! The double decker boat was great with good lunch, snacks & crew! They opened a dive platform and slide for added fun after the snorkel! Kids loved it!! Crew was very helpful and watched for whales along the way. .. highly recommend!”

— Juanita (see more reviews)

>> Check availability and prices now!

2. Kona Captain Cook Snorkel on Navy Boat

A peacock grouper in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii
A peacock grouper at Kealakekua Bay

>> BOOK the Kona Snorkel by Navy Boat Tour!

⭐️ RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars, with more than 770 positive reviews!
TOUR TIME: 2 hours and 30 minutes (check-in 10 minutes prior)

Why choose this tour? Maximum participant count of just 14 travelers means a more personalized experience, multiple departure times daily (two each morning and afternoon)

Zip along the scenic Kona Coast in a speedboat and keep your eyes peeled for caves, cliffs, whales (in the winter), dolphins, and other marine life along the way, followed by an underwater adventure at Kealakekua Bay.

The Kona Snorkel by Navy Boat Tour offers:

✔️ The use of snorkeling gear and flotation devices

✔️ Small-group speedboat experience

✔️ Departure from the boat ramp at Keauhou Bay

✔️ Snacks and drinks

✔️ Non-snorkeler ride-along option

✔️ Kids 5 and older can go when accompanied by an adult

What past guests have said:

“The trip was fantastic. Erik, our guide took us along the coast, we saw sea caves and beautiful scenery. He gave us some history of some of the sacred places we went by. He was so patient in getting us all equipped and ready to snorkel. Giving us all plenty of tips for the best viewing. It was my first time and it was so enjoyable. The fresh pineapple was delicious. We also saw whales and Hawaiian spinner dolphins along the way. What a fantastic morning for us all.

— Suzanne (see more reviews)

>> Check price and availability now!

3. Deluxe Morning Kealakekua Snorkel Tour

Reef fish in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii
Coral and reef fish at Kealakekua Bay

>> BOOK the Deluxe Morning Kealakekua Snorkel Tour!

⭐️ RATING: 5 out of 5 stars, with close to 650 positive reviews!
TOUR TIME: 4 hours and 30 minutes (boarding begins 15 minutes from start time)

Why choose this tour? This double-hulled catamaran offers comfortable seating as you cruise the Kona Coast en route to the snorkeling spot in Kealakekua Bay.

You’ll receive on-board instruction so you feel comfortable before you jump out to snorkel.

There’s a huge water slide and high dive, and both breakfast and lunch are offered!

The Deluxe Morning Kealakekua Snorkel Tour offers:

✔️ The chance to photograph the scenic volcanic coastline as you cruise

✔️ Eco-friendly operator

✔️ Large catamaran with room to move around

✔️ Departure from Keauhou Bay

✔️ Delicious tropical breakfast with Kona coffee

✔️ Lunch, including plant-based options

✔️ Snorkeling gear plus flotation devices

✔️ Use of environmentally-friendly sunscreen

What past guests have said:

“Great tour for all levels of snorkeling experience – the aquascope was a neat option for viewing without putting face in water. We were also lucky to see a lot of whale activity on the ride to and from Kealakekua Bay. Crew members were friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, and they really wanted everyone to have a great time. Food was good too. I would definitely come back with family members of all ages.

— Maylene (see more reviews)

>> Check price and availability now!

4. Afternoon Captain Cook Sail & Snorkel

Moray at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii
A moray eel at Kealkekua Bay

>> BOOK the Afternoon Captain Cook Sail & Snorkel Tour!

⭐️ RATING: 5 out of 5 stars, with more than 550 positive reviews!
TOUR TIME: 3 hours (departure in about 15 minutes from start time)

Why choose this tour? Afternoons tend to be less crowded at the captain Cook snorkel spot.

The seas get choppier as the day wears on (though Kealakekua Bay itself is relatively sheltered) so you’ll appreciate being in a large sailing catamaran that affords comfort and stability.

The Afternoon Captain Cook Sail & Snorkel Tour offers:

✔️ Superb views of the coast and the chance to see spinner dolphins, and whales (in season)

✔️ Ride in a stable 50-foot sailing catamaran with room to move around

✔️ Eco-friendly operator

✔️ Departure from Keauhou Bay

✔️ Light snacks and beverages

✔️ Snorkeling gear and flotation noodles

✔️ Reef-safe sunscreen

What past guests have said:

“We loved our afternoon sail on the Hoku Nui! The crew was very attentive, courteous, and fun even to the point of teaching my non-swimmer girlfriend how to use the snorkeling equipment. Highly recommend!

— Andrew (see more reviews)

>> Check price and availability now!

5. Snorkel Tour to Captain Cook Monument

Bluefin at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii
Bluefin trevally fish at Kealakekua Bay

>> BOOK the Snorkel Tour to Captain Cook Monument!

⭐️ RATING: 5 out of 5 stars, with more than 250 positive reviews!
TOUR TIME: 4 hours (snorkel time of about one hour)

Why choose this tour? Early morning departure allows to you to beat the crowds at the Captain Cook Monument. Enjoy relatively calm waters, too!

The Snorkel Tour to the Captain Cook Monument offers:

✔️ Small-group experience with an hour or more of snorkel time

✔️ Ride in a zodiac-style inflatable boat for an adventurous trip to the monument

✔️ Departure from Keauhou Bay

✔️ Snacks, fruit, water, and beverages

✔️ Snorkeling equipment and flotation devices

✔️ Historical commentary on Captain Cook’s fate

What past guests have said:

“Amazing! Boat ride was fun, captain j was very patient, helpful, nice and informative. Spent some extra time looking for whales, we saw a few! And saw caves. Water was warm. So many diff types of fish within a foot of you. Huge area to explore. Not that many people either.”

— Kaylee (see more reviews)

>> Check price and availability now!

Captain Cook Snorkeling Tour: Things to Know

What is the best time of day for a Captain Cook snorkel tour?

Weather is unpredictable, so all you can do is go based on past experience!

Usually, mornings offer the calmest seas in Hawaii. Although Kealakekua Bay is relatively protected from swells, expect choppier conditions en route as the day wears on.

Early mornings are also less crowded at this very popular snorkeling spot.

That being said, you should see lots of fish and coral no matter what time of day you choose to go.

Colorful fish at the Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay
Expect to see lots of colorful fish at the Captain Cook snorkeling spot!

What is the best time of year for a Captain Cook snorkel tour?

Captain Cook snorkeling tours operate year round, based on weather conditions on the day.

Typically, ocean swells on the Kona Coast tend to be rougher in the winter months, but Kealakekua Bay is usually sheltered.

So you could go any time of the year and have a great snorkeling experience at the Captain Cook Monument.

On winter trips, you may see humpback whales as you travel from Kailua-Kona to the Captain Cook Monument or on your way back.

Should I choose a catamaran tour or a small boat tour?

That depends somewhat on your personal preference and your appetite for adventure.

Larger catamarans offer greater stability, so if you are prone to motion sickness, you may want to consider a larger boat.

Smaller speedboats or zodiac boats zip through the water, and the ride may be choppier. On the other hand, smaller boats mean a smaller group and a more personalized experience.

Smaller boats also have better ability to maneuver and close in on the action.

Hawaiian green sea turtle at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island in Hawaii
Green sea turtle swimming in Kealakekua Bay

What should I wear / bring for my Captain Cook snorkeling tour?

Wear your swimsuit under your clothes, of course, bring a light absorbent towel, and lots of reef-safe sunscreen.

If you like to use your own snorkel gear, bring it along. Note that most tours will not permit full face masks.

Wear sunglasses and sun-protective clothing (several hours in the Hawaii sun is no joke).

And of course, you will want an underwater camera, like a GoPro HERO12 – Waterproof Action Camera, if you want to capture some of the incredible marine life you are likely to see.

If you use motion sickness medicine, remember to take it before you board.

How much does a Captain Cook snorkel tour cost?

Captain Cook snorkeling tours are generally priced at around $100 per person.

The price usually includes some eats, gear, and commentary en route.

Snorkeling / Water Activities Gear Checklist

Though you can rent snorkeling gear or use the ones that come with tours, we invested in our own gear, mainly due to Covid-19 (why take the risk?).

The Best Big Island Tours

Have you booked these top-rated Big Island tours yet?

Guided snorkeling with manta rays at night, a bucket-list underwater Big Island adventure to watch the amazing manta rays up close. Sightings guaranteed or go again.

Big Island in a Day excursion from Kona or Waikaloa, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, ‘Akaka Falls, and the Waipi’o Valley Lookout!

Snorkeling historic Kealakekua Bay, one of the top snorkel spots on the Big Island. Look for dolphins en route (plus whales in season)! Don’t want to snorkel? Take a dinner cruise instead.

Sunset and stargazing at the summit of Mauna Kea, the highest point in all of Hawaii! Travel up and down in a luxury 4X4 van. Hooded parkas and gloves provided!

Thrilling zipline adventure over KoleKole Falls, a 7-line Hilo ziplining experience that allows you to soar over lush forest vegetation and the 250-foot waterfall!

Renting a Car on the Big Island

Most visitors that travel to the Big Island choose to rent a car because the island is, well, BIG, and the Big Island must-see attractions are scattered around the island.

Depending on where you choose to base — Kona or Hilo are the main places visitors choose — you can pick up a rental car in either location.

We always use Discover Cars to book Kona car rentals or Hilo car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.

>> Check availability and prices on Kona car rentals now!

>> Check availability and prices on Hilo car rentals now!

Where to Stay on the Big Island

Kailua-Kona, on the sunnier leeward side of the Big Island, ands Hilo, on the lush windward side, are the main bases on Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island. Most visitors to the Big Island split their stay between these two places.

You will find the biggest choice of hotels and resorts in Kailua-Kona and Waikaloa, with both chains and boutiques, while Hilo has fewer hotels and inns.

The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort is an excellent choice if you are looking for a pristine beach out the front door. The Hilton Waikaloa Village is a great choice if you are traveling as a family.

The Mauna Lani on the Kohala Coast, just 40 minutes from Kailua-Kona, is a fabulous resort for a splurge. The SCP Hilo Hotel is the perfect base from which to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

You will find VRBO listings all over the island, especially in Kailua-Kona, Hilo, and Volcano (the base for travelers spending a night or more visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park).

We have stayed in VRBO rentals in Volcano as well as in Kailua-Kona and Hilo and we’ve found the choice and quality great.

>> Look for a Big Island vacation rental on VRBO now!

Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay

More Big Island Travel Inspiration

Planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii? Also known as Hawaii Island, the Big Island is home to some spectacular scenery and lots of activities: check out the top things to do on the Big Island!

Learn about the 4 national parks on the Big Island, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you may be lucky enough to catch flowing lava!

Head to the southeast part of the island to admire Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, possibly the most striking of the Big Island’s black sand beaches, and read our guide to the rare green sand beach on the Big Island!

The state parks of the Big Island protect some of the island’s best treasures. A few miles north of Hilo, you will find Akaka Falls State Park, home to the 442-foot Akaka Falls.

Also on the scenic Hamakua Coast, stop to visit the lush and beautiful Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden, with its numerous varieties of tropical plants.

On the leeward side of the island, you’ll find many beautiful beaches. Must-visit Hapuna Beach is a picture-postcard tropical beach with its long stretch of white sand.

Kauna’oa Beach, also known as Mauna Kea Beach, is another white sand beach north of Kona you have to visit. It routinely makes the top 10 beaches in the USA list!

Part of the Kekahai Kai State Park, Manini’owali Beach is yet another stunning white sand beach on the Kohala Coast just north of Kailua-Kona.

South of Kailua Kona, you’ll find arguably the best snorkeling spot in all of Hawaii at the Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay. Our guide to the best Captain Cook snorkeling tours will help you find the perfect tour for you!

Also on the South Kona Coast is Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, one of the Big Island’s national park sites that is historically and culturally significant. And, it’s very scenic!

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Complete guide to the best Captain Cook snorkeling tours on the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Kealakekua Bay is one of the must-snorkel spots on Hawaii Island!


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