Amazing turtle snorkeling in Oahu!

The 5 Best Turtle Snorkeling In Oahu: Ultimate 2024 Guide

Turtle snorkeling in Oahu is an amazing experience!

Oahu, the third-largest Hawaiian island, is a tropical paradise known for its incredible white sandy beaches, diverse marine life, and vibrant coral reefs.

Among Oahu’s many attractions, snorkeling with Hawaiian green sea turtles stands out as a truly unforgettable activity – one of the best things to do in Oahu!

Winter months bring an added delight to turtle snorkeling in Oahu, as it coincides with the presence of the magnificent humpback whales in the surrounding waters.

Turtle snorkeling in Oahu to watch the beautiful Hawaiian green sea turtles
Turtle snorkeling in Oahu to watch the beautiful Hawaiian green sea turtles

In this blog post, we will introduce you to the top spots for the best turtle snorkeling in Oahu and provide you with essential tips to make the most of your underwater exploration.

Planning your trip to Oahu? Check out our 2024 guide to the most popular tours and excursions in Oahu!

The endangered Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle cruising in warm waters
The endangered Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle cruising in warm waters

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The Fascinating Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles

Oahu’s turquoise waters are home to a truly remarkable species—the Hawaiian green sea turtles, also known as honu.

Hawaiian green sea turtles are named after their stunning green-colored shells. Considered a symbol of good luck and longevity in Hawaiian culture, these turtles hold a special place in the hearts of both locals and visitors.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, an endangered species
Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, an endangered species

Hawaiian green sea turtles can reach impressive lengths of up to four feet and weigh over 300 pounds, making them one of the largest species of hard-shelled turtles in the world.


Looking for the best guided turtle snorkeling tour in Oahu? This super popular excursion to Turtle Canyon from Waikiki has over 2.7K 5-star reviews on Viator!

The two-hour tour includes all gear and the crew gets high marks from guests on their knowledge and helpfulness.

>> Check price and availability on this Turtle Canyons snorkel tour now!

And if your time in Oahu is limited, consider this very popular island circle adventure that includes snorkeling with sea turtles on the north shore. It has close to 3.5K 5-star reviews on Viator!

With a max of just 20 participants, this is a great guided excursion!

>> Check price and availability on this Oahu Island adventure now!

What is the Best Time of the Year for Oahu Turtle Snorkeling?

The best time of the year for turtle snorkeling in Oahu is the winter months, specifically from December to April.

During this time, Oahu becomes a gathering place not only for the turtles but also for humpback whales, which migrate to the warm Hawaiian waters to breed and give birth.

Humpback whale breaching the surface, Oahu
Humpback whale breaching the surface, Oahu

It’s truly a remarkable sight to witness both turtles and whales in their natural habitat, creating an unforgettable experience.

What is the Best Time of Day for Oahu Turtle Snorkeling?

The best time of day for turtle snorkeling in Oahu is typically in the morning. Snorkel operators often offer early morning tours when the waters are calmer and visibility is at its best.

Check pricing and availability on this popular morning Turtle Canyon snorkeling tour!

Also, morning is when spinner dolphins, another iconic Hawaiian marine animal, are active, and you may have a wonderful opportunity for swimming with dolphins in Oahu while turtle snorkeling!

A pod of Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins in winter in Oahu
A pod of Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins in winter in Oahu

Learn more about where to see and swim with dolphins in Oahu in our detailed blog post!

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Oahu tour now!

Oahu’s Volcanic Origins: A Home for Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles

Oahu’s geologically active past has formed a diverse underwater terrain consisting of large lava-formed reefs, volcanic rock formations, and intricate tide pools.

These unique geological features provide shelter, food sources, and resting areas for the Hawaiian sea turtles.

The volcanic activity has also contributed to the formation of coral reefs around the island, which serve as vital feeding grounds for the turtles, attracting a variety of marine life and vibrant reef fish.

Additionally, the volcanic activity has shaped Oahu’s coastline, creating sandy beaches where the turtles can lay their eggs during nesting season.

Coral reefs  in Oahu formed from volcanic activity form a natural habitat
Coral reefs in Oahu formed from volcanic activity form a natural habitat

The combination of the island’s volcanic history and the resulting marine ecosystems has established Oahu as a thriving natural habitat for the Hawaiian green sea turtles.

5 Top Spots for the Best Turtle Snorkeling in Oahu

Oahu, known for its stunning natural beauty and diverse marine ecosystems, also offers a range of exceptional locations for turtle snorkeling and spotting the gentle sea turtles.

What is THE Best Oahu Turtle Snorkeling Spot?

Turtle Canyon is hands-down THE best spot to see a LOT of turtles in one place – this is a cleaning station for turtles, and you will see dozens of them floating above the reef.

What is a turtle cleaning station, you ask? It’s a place where turtles float in the water while reef fish clean their shells by eating the algae that’s accumulated on them.

Hawaiian Green Sea turtle at cleaning station.
Hawaiian Green Sea turtle at cleaning station.

What are the Best Oahu Turtle Snorkeling Spots for Beginners and Families with Kids?

The best spots for turtle snorkeling in Oahu for beginners and families with kids are Laniakea Beach (Turtle Beach) and Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. They have shallow water and calm conditions, and you can see turtles and other marine life easily.

Hanauma bay, a popular snorkeling site
Hanauma bay, a popular snorkeling site

They are also very beautiful and have facilities and guides to help you.

What are the Best Oahu Snorkeling Spots for Seeing Turtles Along with Other Tropical Fish?

The Hawaiian Electric Beach is the best place for seeing rich tropical marine life along with turtles, but you need to be a strong swimmer to access the best spots.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Oahu tour now!

Map of the 5 Best Oahu Turtle Snorkeling Places

The below map shows the locations of the 5 top spots for the best turtle snorkeling in Oahu:

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, on the southeastern coast of Oahu, is a must-visit destination for snorkelers. Its crescent-shaped bay boasts calm and clear waters, making it an ideal habitat for Hawaiian green sea turtles.

Hanauma Bay is one of the best spots for turtle snorkeling in Oahu
Hanauma Bay is one of the best spots for turtle snorkeling in Oahu

Hanauma Bay is on the east shore of Oahu, about 30 minutes drive from Waikiki. You can take a bus, a car, or a tour to get there. If you drive, you need to pay $3 for parking and $7.50 for admission.

Reservations are required and tickets ($25/adult) are in high demand and very limited! You also need to watch a short video about the bay before entering.

Want to avoid the stress and hassle? Consider taking a tour that organizes transportation and provides snorkeling gear.

The last time we visited Hanauma Bay, we took this tour and the experience was a lot better – the driver was funny and informative!

When you get to Hanauma Bay, you will see why it is so crowded and busy.

Hanauma Bay is a spectacular bay that was formed by a volcanic crater and it has a beautiful sandy beach, turquoise water, and green hills. It is a nature preserve and a marine sanctuary where you can find hundreds of fish and coral species.

You can snorkel with the turtles in different parts of the bay, but one of the best ones is near Witch’s Brew (detailed reef map), a deep hole where water gushes in and out. Turtles like to rest there on the rocks or swim in the current. 

You will have an awesome experience snorkeling with turtles in Hanauma Bay. I always do!

Turtle Canyon

Turtle Canyon is my favorite spot for snorkeling with turtles in Oahu.

Located off the coast of Waikiki Beach, Turtle Canyon is a world-famous snorkeling spot renowned for its large numbers of sea turtles.

Turtle Canyon is not a beach, but a reef that is about 20 to 45 feet deep in the ocean. You need to take a boat tour to get there, but it is worth it.

There are many tour operators that offer snorkeling trips to Turtle Canyon, and here are a few highly rated ones:

The guides will give you snorkeling gear, instructions, and safety tips before you jump in the water.

We loved this tour because they have smaller groups, friendly guides, and good equipment.

Once you are in the water, you will see why it is called Turtle Canyon. There are so many turtles everywhere!

They come to this spot because there are fish that clean their shells from algae and parasites. It is like a spa for turtles!

Turtle cleaning station in Turtle Canyon, Oahu
Turtle cleaning station in Turtle Canyon, Oahu

They float above the reef or come up to breathe every 15 minutes or so. They are not afraid of people and sometimes swim right next to you or look at you with their big eyes.

I have seen more than 10 turtles at once there – it was an unforgettable experience!

Good to know: Parking spots are quite limited at the Kewalo Basin Boat Harbor, from where boat tours leave. Take a cab or a rideshare instead.

>> Check pricing and availability on this popular Turtle Canyon tour now!

Laniakea Beach (Turtle Beach)

Hidden away on Oahu’s North Shore, Laniakea Beach, also known as Turtle Beach, offers a tranquil sanctuary for both humans and sea turtles alike.

This stretch of shoreline is called Turtle Beach for its frequent turtle sightings, as the turtles often come ashore to rest and bask in the sun.

North Shore, Laniakea Beach, is a popular spot for turtle snorkeling  in Oahu
North Shore, Laniakea Beach, is a popular spot for turtle snorkeling in Oahu

Laniakea Beach is on the north shore of Oahu, about an hour drive from Waikiki. You can take a bus, a car, or a tour to get there. 

If you drive, note that the parking is limited and the traffic is heavy. You can park on the side of the road or in a dirt lot across the street.

When you get to Laniakea Beach, you will see why it is popular with tourists and locals. It is a beautiful beach with white sand, blue water, and green mountains. 

Volunteers are often present and they watch over the turtles. They will tell you the names, ages, and stories of each turtle. 

They will also remind you to keep a safe distance from them and not to touch them or bother them.

You can snorkel with the turtles in the water or watch them on the beach. The water is shallow and calm, so it is good for beginners and families with kids.

Hawaiian sea turtles basking in the sun on Turtle Beach, Oahu
Hawaiian sea turtles basking in the sun on Turtle Beach, Oahu

The turtles are very friendly and curious, so they may come close to you. You can snorkel with the turtles, but note that they are endangered and protected by laws, so maintain a respectful distance.

If you have limited time on your trip, consider taking an island tour like the ones below that includes a stop at the Laniakea Beach to see these amazing turtles:

Maunalua Bay

Maunalua Bay is another awesome spot for snorkeling with turtles in Oahu

Maunalua Bay is a big bay with clear water and calm waves. With its coral reefs, tide pools, and vibrant marine life, this bay is an excellent spot to snorkel with Hawaiian green sea turtles in their natural habitat.

Maunalua Bay is one of the best spots for turtle snorkeling in Oahu, Hawaii
Maunalua Bay is one of the best spots for turtle snorkeling in Oahu, Hawaii

Maunalua Bay is on the southeast shore of Oahu, about 20 minutes drive from Waikiki. You can take a bus, a car, or a tour to get there. If you drive, you can park at Kuliouou Beach Park or Hawaii Kai Park and Ride.

You can snorkel with the turtles in different spots in the bay, but one of the best ones is near Koko Crater which has many coral overhangs where turtles like to hide and rest. I had to dive down to see them better. 

Hawaiian Electric Beach (Kahe Point Beach Park)

The Hawaiian Electric Beach is my most favorite place for snorkeling in Oahu.

The Electric Beach is a rocky beach near the Kahe Point power plant. It has two large cooling pipes that release warm water into the ocean (the discharge is not toxic), attracting a lot of marine life, including fish, turtles, rays and dolphins.

Electric Beach is on the west shore of Oahu, about 45 minutes drive from Waikiki. You can take a car or a tour to get there. If you drive, you can park on the side of the road or in a parking lot near the power plant.

You can snorkel with the turtles in different parts of the beach, but the best spot is near the pipes, where you can see them up close. You need to swim about 200 feet from the shore to get there, but it is worth it.

Due to potentially strong currents, snorkeling at Electric Beach is suitable for intermediate to advanced snorkelers who are good swimmers.

Swim fins are recommended.

Coral reefs near Electric Beach offer excellent turtle snorkeling in Oahu
Coral reefs near Electric Beach offer excellent turtle snorkeling in Oahu

You can also see other marine life like dolphins, rays, and whales.

You will have an awesome experience snorkeling with turtles in Electric Beach. I always do!

All-Island Tours

When planning your turtle snorkeling in Oahu, if you have limited time in Oahu, consider joining an all island tour that offers snorkeling along with other sight seeing.

These are some of the top-rated tours operated by reputable companies:

These tours provide knowledgeable guides, well-maintained equipment, and insights into the local marine ecosystem.

This very popular Oahu guided adventure is capped at 20 participants and includes snorkeling with green turtles on the island’s scenic north shore.

>> Check pricing and availability on this popular island tour now!

Planning Your Turtle Snorkeling in Oahu

Here are some practical tips to help you make the most of your snorkeling experience:

  1. Choose a Reputable Snorkel Operator: Selecting a reliable snorkel operator is crucial for a safe and enjoyable turtle snorkeling experience. Look for operators who prioritize marine conservation, adhere to responsible snorkeling practices, and provide knowledgeable guides.
  2. Research and Reserve in Advance: Oahu is a popular destination, especially during the winter months when turtle sightings are at their peak. To secure your spot on a turtle snorkeling tour, it’s recommended to research and book well in advance.
An endangered Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle in Oahu
An endangered Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle in Oahu
  1. Pack the Essentials: Before setting off on your adventure, make sure you have the necessary essentials packed. These may include a swimsuit, towel, reef-safe sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, a reusable water bottle, and a waterproof camera or underwater housing for capturing those magical moments with the turtles. A GoPro is great for capturing video!
  2. Check Local Regulations and Guidelines: Oahu values the conservation of its marine life, including the Hawaiian green sea turtles. Familiarize yourself with local regulations and guidelines regarding snorkeling, wildlife interactions, and environmental protection.
Hawaiian green sea turtles are a protected species
Hawaiian green sea turtles are a protected species
  1. Consider a Combination Tour: If you’re looking to explore more of Oahu’s attractions, consider booking a combination tour that includes both turtle snorkeling and visits to other notable sites. This deluxe North Shore Tour, for example, allows you to experience the island’s natural wonders, cultural landmarks, and historical sites, providing a well-rounded exploration of Oahu.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Oahu tour now!

Oahu Turtle Snorkeling: FAQ

Can you snorkel with sea turtles in Oahu?

Yes, you can snorkel with sea turtles in Oahu. But remember, the Hawaiian green sea turtle is an endangered species and protected by law.

Check here to learn about the general viewing guidelines.

Is Turtle Canyon snorkeling worth it?

Absolutely! Turtle Canyon is an amazing location where you can see many Hawaiian green sea turtles in their natural habitat.

While 20-45 feet deep, the water is very clear, and given its importance as a cleaning station for turtles, the likelihood of seeing these beautiful creatures is very high!

Where can I see turtles in Oahu?

To see turtles on a beach, the Turtle Beach (Laniakea Beach) is your best bet! With snorkeling, you have many options including Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, Turtle Canyon, Maunalua Bay and the Electric Beach.

Can you touch turtles while snorkeling?

Touching or feeding sea turtles is illegal. The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries recommends “hands to yourself” to keep wildlife safe and healthy.

In Hawaii, the recommended viewing distance for sea turtles is at least 10 feet (on land and in water).

What fish do you see while snorkeling in Hawaii?

With snorkeling, you have an amazing front-seat view to Hawaii’s spectacular tropical underwater world.

To identify many of the beautiful species you will encounter in the coral reefs, check out our Hawaii fish snorkeling guide!

Turtle Snorkeling in Oahu: A Transformational Experience

Turtle snorkeling in Oahu offers a transformative experience, allowing you to connect with nature and witness the wonder of Hawaii’s green sea turtles in their natural habitat.

From the famous Turtle Canyon to the breathtaking Hanauma Bay, Oahu provides an abundance of snorkeling spots that attract large numbers of sea turtles.

Amazing turtle snorkeling in Oahu!
Amazing turtle snorkeling in Oahu!

The winter months, particularly from December to April, are the best time to witness the turtles in their splendor.

During this period, they congregate in greater numbers, delighting snorkelers with their graceful movements and the mesmerizing sight of turtle cleaning stations.

Whether you’re a seasoned snorkeler or a first-time explorer, Oahu’s turtle snorkeling experience promises to be a journey of discovery, connection, and profound appreciation for the wonders of the underwater natural world.

Ocean Safety Tips

Hawaii’s beaches are beautiful, but ocean activities can be dangerous. Ocean conditions are dynamic and can change without warning.

Here are some tips to enjoy the ocean and beaches safely:

  • ALWAYS heed posted warning signs.
  • Check conditions just before you arrive at your chosen beach, and watch conditions at the beach for a bit before you decide to enter the water.
  • Swim at a lifeguarded beach and ask the lifeguard for advice before you enter the water.
  • Never turn your back on the ocean, whether you are standing at the shore or on a cliff above. If you see wet rocks or sand, it means the water has been here recently.
  • Know your limitations, especially if you are not an experienced swimmer. If in doubt, do not go out.
  • If you choose to enter the water, go with a partner or in a group.
  • Know that alcohol can impair judgment and motor skills in the water.
  • Keep children close and always keep your eyes on what they are doing in the water.
  • Watch for sharp coral or rocks or sea urchins.
  • Check advisories regarding water quality at various beaches here.

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?).

Best Oahu Tours

Have you booked these popular Oahu tours and excursions yet?

Love snorkeling? This Turtle Canyon snorkeling excursion from Waikiki lets you frolic with colorful fish and Hawaiian green sea turtles. Hands down the MOST BOOKED Oahu snorkeling tour: turtle sightings are guaranteed!

The most popular luau in Oahu, Paradise Cove Luau has a 4.5 rating on Viator with over 3.5K reviews. The tour includes pick-up from your Waikiki hotel, pre-dinner games, arts, and crafts, a delicious meal, and an award-winning show.

Based in Waikiki but want to see more of the island? This full-day Oahu Circle Island Tour includes Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Haleiwa, the Dole Plantation, and more!

Pay your respects at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor! This popular Pearl Harbor tour includes boat tickets and round-trip transport from Waikiki.

A super popular Oahu North Shore excursion, this Oahu shark cage dive allows you to observe wild sharks in the open ocean from the safety of a cage! It’s a THRILLING Oahu adventure for your bucket list.

We have a detailed guide to the top Oahu tours and excursions if you are in the midst of planning your itinerary for the island.

Renting a Car in Oahu

If you want to explore more of the island of Oahu on your vacation, you should get a rental car.

Oahu’s popular attractions are spread over the island: the windward coast, the North Shore, and Ko Olina are great places to explore beyond Waikiki (or the greater Honolulu area).

While Oahu does have public transport options that are better than the other islands, a car offers a lot more flexibility and time savings.

We always use Discover Cars to book Oahu 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 Oahu car rentals now!

Honolulu Airport-Hotel Shuttle

If you are not planning to get a rental car at Honolulu Airport, consider booking shuttle transport in advance!

This shared shuttle can be canceled up to 24 hours from the date of service. It serves hotels in Waikiki and Honolulu and then back again to the airport the day you leave. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!

>> Check prices and availability for shared round-trip airport transfer in Oahu now!

Staying in Ko Olina? Consider this round-trip airport transfer instead!

Where to Stay in Oahu

Honolulu (Waikiki in particular) offers a large number of hotels and resorts, along with shopping and dining options. Most visitors to Oahu choose to base in Honolulu at least for a part of their stay.

While many of the large chains have a presence if you are looking to use your memberships, Honolulu also has several unique boutiques to consider.

Our faves include Halekulani for a splurge stay, the Lotus Honolulu for views of Diamond Head, and The Laylow for its awesome location.

Want more room to spread out or looking to stay elsewhere on Oahu? You will find VRBO listings all over the island!

On previous trips to Oahu, we have stayed in VRBO rentals in Waikiki as well as on the North Shore and the east coast and we’ve found the choice and quality great.

>> Look for an Oahu vacation rental on VRBO now!

More Oahu Travel Inspiration

Planning a trip to Oahu? Check out our other in-depth Oahu travel guides for help finalizing your Oahu itinerary!

Start by discovering the best things to do in Oahu. We also have a detailed guide to Oahu’s North Shore, a round-up of things to do on the east side of Oahu, and the best things to do in Ko Olina, on the west coast of the island.

If you ar planning a short first visit to the island, we have the perfect day-by-day 3 days in Oahu itinerary for you!

Of course you’ll want to learn about all the exciting things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital, and Waikiki, the touristic core of Oahu. We also have an article on the best places to eat in Waikiki!

Check out our guide to the best beaches in Oahu, and a round-up of the best beaches on the north shore of Oahu. Also read about must-visit Oahu waterfalls and botanical gardens in Oahu you have to visit.

Oahu is home to so many must-visit landmarks! Check out our in-depth article on how to visit Pearl Harbor, and our guides on the beautiful Waimea Valley in Oahu and the spectacular Byodo-In Temple.

Want to enjoy the thrill of observing sharks in the wild? Check out our article on shark cage diving on Oahu’s North Shore!

Discover the top places to go snorkeling in west Oahu, where you will find a long coastline with lovely beaches, and tips for snorkeling Kaneohe Sandbar on the island’s east coast as well as the super popular Hanauma Bay.

And if you love marine life, also check out our complete guide to (respectfully!) see and swim with dolphins in Oahu, and the best spots to snorkel with turtles in Oahu.

For hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, we have a round-up of the best Oahu hikes, and if you are looking to exclude the harder Oahu trails, a guide to the best easy Oahu hikes.

Find out how to do the iconic (and VERY popular) Diamond Head Hike near Waikiki for exceptional views. We also have a guide to the very popular Manoa Falls Trail in Honolulu.

More advanced hikers will want to read up on the Koko Head Hike, a long set of stairs leading to expansive views.

Learn where to go for the best sunsets in Oahu, whether you want to hike or enjoy watching a colorful Hawaiian sunset without working up a sweat.

We also have a guide to the best sunrise hikes in Oahu, one of which is the spectacular Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail in the southeastern part of the island. The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is another wonderful sunrise hike on Oahu!

If you are a garden enthusiast, check out our detailed guide to the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, our article on the unique Koko Crater Botanical Garden, and our guide to Foster Botanical Garden!

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Discover the best spots for snorkeling with turtles in Oahu, plus tips for a great experience!

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