Hawaiian green sea turtles at Turtle Canyon in Oahu, Hawaii

5 Best Turtle Canyon Snorkeling Tours in Oahu!

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Turtle Canyon snorkeling tours are among the most popular excursions in Oahu!

Snorkeling with Hawaiian green sea turtles, or honu, is on the bucket-list of many a first-time visitor to Oahu. In fact, we try and do a Turtle Canyon tour every time we visit Waikiki, because it’s so much fun!

If you love observing marine life and want the opportunity to view the majestic Hawaiian green sea turtles at leisure, you will want to consider a Turtle Canyon snorkeling tour.

Snorkeling with Hawaiian green sea turtles in Oahu
Snorkeling with Hawaiian green sea turtles

In this article, we tell you about the top tours to consider if you are looking to snorkel Turtle Canyon, plus helpful tips for an enjoyable snorkeling experience.

Turtle cleaning station in Oahu, Hawaii: Turtle Canyon snorkeling tours are a great way to visit a turtle cleaning station on Oahu!
Yellow tangs clean a green sea turtle

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Why Snorkel Turtle Canyon?

You can see the endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles in many places in Oahu even without setting foot into the water, like at Laniakea Beach on Oahu’s North Shore.

But swimming or snorkeling with turtles is an entirely different experience.

And Turtle Canyon, true to its name, is one of the best places in Oahu to snorkel with turtles.

Located a short distance from shore in Waikiki, Turtle Canyon is a nature reserve that’s a known “cleaning station” for sea turtles.

So what’s a turtle cleaning station? It is a reef where turtles go routinely to have their shells cleaned of algae by fish.

Patient, silent swimmers are treated to an extraordinary show at Turtle Canyon. It’s an amazing sight to see a crowd of reef fish swarm around a turtle and dine off the algae on its shell!

You may see bright yellow tang, damselfish, angelfish, and many other varieties of other reef fish swim up to pick over the shell when a turtle arrives at the station, assumes position, and hovers.

The reef at Turtle Canyon features crystal-clear water, and though this reef isn’t known for its colorful coral, like nearby Hanauma Bay, you are pretty much guaranteed sea turtle sightings here.

One thing to note is that the water is pretty deep at Turtle Canyon — between 15 and 40 feet. While this is more than typical snorkeling sites and you are mostly way above the reef, you still want to be careful about not stepping on coral.

Turtle Canyon not only offers spectacular turtle-watching opportunities, it’s also convenient to access via boat tours from Waikiki. If you don’t have a car, the boat launch pier is a quick Uber ride.

Turtle cleaning station in Oahu
Reef fish clean sea turtles at a turtle cleaning station!

How do you get to Turtle Canyon?

Turtle Canyon lies offshore from Waikiki on the southern shore of Oahu.

The snorkeling site at Turtle Canyon is only accessible by boat. The good news is that there are a number of tour operators that offer guided Turtle Canyon snorkeling tours.

Turtle Canyon snorkel tours typically depart from Kewalo Harbor, just a short drive from Waikiki.

Best Turtle Canyon Snorkeling Tours in Oahu

If swimming with sea turtles is on your wish-list for Oahu, here are the very best Turtle Canyon snorkel tours from which to choose!

1. Turtle Canyon Snorkeling Excursion

On this super popular Turtle Canyon tour, you’ll depart from the Kewalo Basin Harbor in Honolulu and cruise along the south Oahu shoreline to the snorkeling site at Turtle Canyon.

The tour is led by an experienced guide (your tour leader), who will offer a brief lesson on snorkeling safety and tell you a bit about the local marine life, before you start your guided snorkel.

Snorkeling gear and light refreshments are included.

Keep your eyes peeled en route to the snorkel site and back as you may see spinner dolphins, flying fish, and even humpback whales (in the winter) from the boat.

This two-hour Turtle Canyon snorkeling excursion offers several departures each day, including an early morning (7 a.m.!) departure.

If you are okay with an early wake-up call on vacation, it is surreal to be at Turtle Canyon early in the day when the waters are calm and it is much less apt to be crowded. We’ve done this excursion both in the morning and in the afternoon and we much preferred the morning tour.

You need to know basic swimming but the crew is super helpful and friendly. I am not a great swimmer and they gave me a flotation device so I could experience the turtles close up.

Kids 3 and older can participate, and the group size is limited to 40 participants.

>>> Check price and availability for the Turtle Canyon Snorkel Excursion now!

2. Turtle Canyon Snorkeling Adventure in Waikiki

This highly-rated tour includes a boat excursion from Honolulu to the snorkeling site in Turtle Canyon, followed by the chance to sunbathe on a floating platform afterwards!

This excursion lasts for two hours.

Their morning departure is at 8 a.m., still early enough for relatively calm ocean conditions and lower crowds. There are two other departures each day, one in the late morning and one in the early afternoon.

Snorkeling equipment, flotation devices, and snacks are included.

If you will arrive in your rental car, parking is available at $1.00 per hour.

One of the pluses of this Turtle Canyon snorkeling tour is that the group size is limited to 20 participants, perfect for a more relaxed excursion.

The captain and crew are rated super helpful and patient with beginner snorkelers. They guide you to the best spots to view the large green sea turtles, in addition to the schools of fish.

>> Check price and availability for the Turtle Canyon Snorkel Adventure now!

3. Catamaran Turtle Canyon Snorkeling Tour

Looking for a catamaran cruise to Turtle Canyon?

The Mana Kai double-hulled catamaran takes you on a relaxing cruise of the coast of south Oahu on your way to Turtle Canyon.

Departure is right from Waikiki Beach! You just arrive at the Duke Kahanamoku Statue and then directly walk down to the water, where the boat will be waiting.

Limited to 25 participants, this smaller-sized Turtle Canyon snorkeling tour allows for a personalized experience. Snorkel gear is provided.

The cruise is family-friendly, even allowing infants. Kids 4 and under that want to snorkel get a break on the price but need to bring their own snorkel gear.

Crew members are helpful in locating marine life. Apart from the green sea turtles, they may also show you octopus, starfish, and the like.

>> Check price and availability for the catamaran Turtle Canyon snorkel tour now!

A Hawaiian green sea turtle in the ocean
A Hawaiian green sea turtle in the ocean

4. Hawaiian Sea Turtle Snorkel Sail Turtle Canyon Tour

On this popular snorkel sail tour from Waikiki to Turtle Canyon, you will climb aboard a power catamaran and sail along the coast to the snorkel site.

Look for dolphins, and humpback whales in the winter as you cruise to Turtle Canyon and on the way back.

You’ll also be able to snap photos of the iconic Waikiki skyline from the water.

One reason to pick this cruise is that turtle sightings are guaranteed: if you don’t see a turtle, you’ll have the opportunity to go on a second cruise.

But honestly, it’s very rare that you visit Turtle Canyon and don’t see any turtles at all.

This is a large catamaran, capable of holding up to 80 people.

A mid-day option includes lunch, but there’s also a morning departure if you prefer to visit when it’s quieter at the cleaning station. You also have a transport-included option you can pick.

The morning tour includes snacks and beverages and last 2 hours, the midday lunch tour lasts 3 hours and includes two alcoholic drinks per person.

The tour departs from Kewalo Harbor.

>> Check pricing and availability for this catamaran Turtle Canyon snorkeling tour now!

5. Semi-Private Turtle Canyon Snorkel Boat Tour

If you are limited on time but still looking for a quality Turtle Canyon snorkeling experience, consider this small-group semi-private Turtle Canyon snorkeling tour.

The total excursion time is just 90 minutes, and the tour is limited to a maximum of just 6 people.

They have several departures from Kewalo Basin Harbor, including a 7 a.m. morning tour.

You’ll zip to Turtle Canyon in a fast 32-foot inflatable Zodiac boat in just 10 minutes. The boat ride itself is a thrilling adventure!

Once at Turtle Canyon, you’ll have 45 minutes to one hour to snorkel and swim with turtles and fish before the exhilarating boat ride back.

The guides are very helpful and will point out turtles and other marine life. Snorkeling equipment is included.

This Turtle Canyon snorkeling tour requires a moderate level of physical fitness, and children below 5 years are not allowed. The tour is however suitable for beginner snorkelers.

>> Check pricing and availability for the semi-private Turtle Canyon boat tour now!

Snorkeling and 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?).

Tips for Turtle Canyon Snorkeling

Pick an early morning tour for fewer crowds

Turtle Canyon is a very popular snorkeling site, since turtle sightings are virtually guaranteed.

Many tours head to this popular turtle cleaning station everyday, so expect the snorkel site to be crowded during the day.

Your best chance of a relatively relaxed experience is to pick an early morning tour.

Pick early morning also for calmer waters

Another reason to choose an early morning departure is that ocean conditions here generally tend to be calmer in the mornings.

While the ocean in south Oahu is usually not super choppy, you’ll get relatively better conditions, waves wise, in the mornings.

Underwater visibility also tends to be better in the mornings.

Snorkeling with a Hawaiian green sea turtle
Snorkeling with Hawaiian green sea turtles

Allow time to find parking

If you have a rental car and will drive to the boat departure area, give yourself a little extra time to find parking, especially during the day.

Paid parking is available by the tour departure points, but spots can still be challenge to find.

Finding a parking spot is easier early or late in the day.

Use a rideshare

If you’d rather not deal with parking hassles, get an Uber or Lyft to the tour departure point.

Since it’s relatively close to Waikiki, you will able to get a ride back without issues. In the worst case, you can take a taxi back.

Don’t forget reef-safe sunscreen

Don’t forget to wear sun protection. Even under water, it’s easy to get sunburned.

Hawaii does not allow sunscreens with certain ingredients, so make sure you bring reef-safe sunscreen with you!

Take seasickness medication beforehand if necessary

While the waters around Waikiki and Turtle Canyon are not known for being too turbulent, people still get seasick.

If you are prone to seasickness and usually take medication for it, then remember to pack the medication and use it before the trip.

Hawaiian green sea turtles and reef fish in Hawaii
Reef fish swarm around green sea turtles in Hawaii

Follow guidelines for observing turtles

Hawaiian green sea turtles, the species most commonly seen at Turtle Canyon, are listed as endangered creatures, though their population has recovered a good bit in recent years.

Hawksbill turtles are seen much less often and are also listed as endangered.

When observing turtles on a guided tour, follow your tour guide’s instructions. Tour guides are usually pretty good about guiding snorkelers good views of the marine life while still keeping the turtles protected.

Maintain a minimum viewing distance of 10 feet. Do not touch turtles or attempt to feed them.

In general, floating quietly is the best way to see turtles and other marine life. Abrupt movements are likely to scare the marine life, so be as still as possible.

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Discover the top Turtle Canyon snorkeling tours in Oahu, Hawaii! Snorkel with Hawaiian green sea turtles and lots of colorful tropical fish!


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