Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles

Turtle Town Snorkeling in Maui (+ Best 2024 Tours)

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Turtle Town snorkeling in Maui is truly amazing, an incredible experience!

Beautiful Maui, a true tropical paradise, is renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty: crystal clear, turquoise waters, stunning beaches and lush vegetation.

When it comes to snorkeling, Maui stands out among the Hawaiian islands due to its strategic location in the very heart of the Hawaiian archipelago, resulting in ideal snorkeling conditions: sheltered bays protected from the ocean swells by the surrounding islands.

Turtle Town, a long stretch of coastline on Maui’s scenic southern coast, is known for its beautiful sandy beaches, pristine waters and vibrant marine life.

Turtle Town Snorkeling in Maui: Swimming with Hawaiian green sea turtles
Turtle Town Snorkeling in Maui: Swimming with Hawaiian green sea turtles

And, of course, turtles!

As the name suggests, Turtle Town is famous for its thriving population of Hawaiian green sea turtles, also known as honu. These gentle giants have made Turtle Town their sanctuary, attracting snorkelers from far and wide who seek the magical experience of swimming with turtles in the ocean.

Turtle Town is one of my favorite places to snorkel in Maui. I have been there many times and I always see something new and exciting. I love watching the turtles glide through the water and sometimes come up to say hello.

In this blog post, I will tell you everything you need to know about Turtle Town snorkeling, including how to get there, what to bring, what to expect, and some tips and tricks to make your trip even better.

Hey, by the way! Snorkeling is probably at the top of your Maui itinerary — check out our guides to the best tours to Molokini Crater and Turtle Town, two of the top snorkel spots on Maui!

Swimming with Hawaiian green sea turtles
Swimming with Hawaiian green sea turtles

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Turtle Town of Maui

One of the best places to see turtles in Maui is Turtle Town, a long stretch of coastline in the south of the island.

Little and Big beach of Makena state park
Little and Big beach of Makena state park

Turtle Town is not just one beach, but a series of beaches and reefs that stretch from Nahuna Point to One’uli Black Sand Beach. Nahuna Point is a rocky point that marks the end of Kihei, a town that has many shops, restaurants, and hotels.

Black Sand Beach is a beach that has black sand made from lava rocks. It is part of the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve, a protected area that has many plants and animals that are rare or endangered.

Black sand beach, Makena State Park, Maui, Hawaii, USA
Black sand beach, Makena State Park, Maui, Hawaii, USA

Why is Turtle Town an Exceptional Snorkeling Location?

Turtle Town is in the southern part of Maui, in a region called Makena. Makena means “abundance” in Hawaiian, and it is a fitting name for this place that has so much to offer.

Beautiful Makena Beach in Maui, Hawaii.
Beautiful Makena Beach in Maui, Hawaii.

Turtle Town is one of the best places to snorkel in Maui, and there are many reasons why. 

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

Turtle Town’s Large Coral Reef

The coral reefs in Turtle Town are known for their vibrant colors and intricate formations.

Turtle Town was formed by underwater volcanoes that erupted long ago. The lava from the volcanoes cooled and hardened into different shapes and sizes.

Some of the lava formations became arches, caves, and tunnels that you can swim through. The lava formations also became home to coral, which are living animals that grow on rocks.

Red sea urchin in coral reef.
Red sea urchin in coral reef.

Coral come in many colors and shapes, and they provide food and shelter for many other animals including fish, octopus, eel, ray, and of course, turtles.

Turtle Town’s coral reef is extensive, covering a wide area, and teeming with marine life!

Turtle Town: Leeward Side of Maui

Apart from the large coral reef, Turtle Town also has ideal snorkeling conditions.

Turtle Town is on the leeward side of Maui, which means it is sheltered from the strong trade winds that blow from the northeast across the Hawaiian islands.

The leeward side of Maui, which faces away from the wind, is calm and smooth, and makes the water clearer and safer for snorkeling.

Makena State Park, Big Beach — Maui, Hawaii
Calm waters at Big Beach, Makena State Park: Leeward side of Maui

Visibility under water is excellent, resulting in an awesome snorkeling site!

Maui’s Turtle Town: A Sanctuary for Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles

Turtle Town has a large population of Hawaiian green sea turtles, which are also called honu in Hawaiian. Honu are a protected species under the endangered species act.

Honu like to live in Turtle Town because there is plenty of food and shelter there. Honu eat seaweed, algae, jellyfish, and sometimes fish.

Hawaiian green sea turtles have been living in the ocean for millions of years.

Hawaiian Green Sea turtle on a coral reef in Maui
Hawaiian Green Sea turtle on a coral reef in Maui

They are important for the health of the coral reefs since they eat algae and seagrass that can overgrow and harm the corals.

Honu are very important to the Hawaiian culture, and they are considered a symbol of wisdom, good luck, and long life.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

Turtle Town Snorkeling in Maui (From the Shore)

Turtle Town is in South Maui, Hawaii, and stretches between the towns of Makena and Wailea,

Where to snorkel in Turtle Town?

If you want to snorkel in Turtle Town from the shore, the best place to go to is Maluaka Beach, which is the most popular and accessible beach in the area. Maluaka Beach is a beautiful white sand beach with blue water and green trees.

Calm waters at Maluaka Beach, Maui, Hawaii
Calm waters at Maluaka Beach, Maui, Hawaii

How to get there?

To get to Maluaka Beach, you need to drive south from Kihei or Wailea on Makena Road. The entrance to the beach is across from the Maui Makena Beach and Golf Resort, which is well signposted.

You can park your car in the free parking lot near the resort, or on the street near the beach. The beach is about 100 yards from the parking lot, and you can follow the signs to get there.

Where to rent snorkeling equipment?

To rent snorkeling equipment, you can go to one of the many shops in Kihei or Wailea, or you can rent them on site at Maluaka Beach. You will need a mask, a snorkel and fins.

Basic snorkeling equipment: mask, snorkel, fins
Basic snorkeling equipment: mask, snorkel, fins

There is a small hut near the beach that offers snorkel gear rentals, as well as umbrellas, chairs, and boogie boards. The prices are reasonable and the staff are friendly and helpful.

What facilities are available?

To use the facilities, you can go to the grassy park area near the beach, where you will find restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and a lifeguard station.

The park area is also a nice place to relax, play, or have a picnic. There are also some shaded areas under the trees if you want to cool off from the sun.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

Best Turtle Town Snorkeling Spots

The shallow waters of the beach are popular snorkeling spots for beginners and families with small kids.

To find the best spots to snorkel, you need to walk to the south end of the beach, where you will see some rocks near the water. This is where the coral reef begins, and this is where you will find most of the turtles and fish.

Schools of fish and coral
Schools of fish and coral

You can enter the water from the sandy beach, near the rocks, and snorkel along the reef. The reef extends for about 300 yards along the coast, and has a gentle slope that goes from 3 feet to 16 feet deep.

You can choose any depth that is comfortable for you.

Other popular snorkeling spots in Turtle Town include the beach near Makena Landing, a popular departure spot for tours, and the Five Caves / Five Graves area.

What can you see snorkeling in Turtle Town?

To see the turtles, you need to be calm, swim slowly, and respect their space. Do not touch them, feed them, or bother them in any way.

They are protected by law and they are very important to the Hawaiian culture.

They are also very curious and friendly, and they may swim close to you or even look at you with their big eyes. Green sea turtles can grow up to four feet long and weigh over 400 pounds.

Green sea turtle being cleaned by yellow tangs in the coral reefs, Maui, Hawaii
Green sea turtle being cleaned by yellow tangs in the coral reefs, Maui, Hawaii

They are also very graceful and gentle.

To see other marine life, you need to look around the coral reef, which is home to many kinds of fish, octopus, eel, ray, and sea urchin.

The coral reef is made of different types of coral that come in many colors and shapes.

Some of them are hard and some of them are soft. Some of them look like brains and some of them look like fingers.

Yellow tang tropical fish with large school of damselfish surround antler coral in underwater image.
Yellow tang tropical fish with large school of damselfish surround antler coral in underwater image.

They are all living animals that grow on rocks and provide food and shelter for other animals.

Some tips for snorkeling in Turtle Town from the shore

  • Go early in the morning when the water is clearer and calmer.
  • Wear reef-safe sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
  • Wear a rash guard or a wetsuit to keep yourself warm in the water.
  • Wear water shoes or fins to protect your feet from rocks and sea urchins.
  • Bring a waterproof camera or a GoPro to capture your memories.

Turtle Town Snorkeling Maui (From Boat Tours)

While you can snorkel Turtle Town from the shore, the best spots for Turtle Town snorkeling tend to be well offshore, beyond the reach of most swimmers.

That’s why I think it is better to snorkel at Turtle Town from a boat tour. You can get there faster and safer, and enjoy more time in the water with the turtles.

Turtle Town is easily accessible by boat or kayak, with various snorkeling tours available for visitors. Here are some of the top-rated tours:

We took the Turtle Town Snorkel with Photo and Video and had a fantastic time! It was a small group tour with a highly knowledgeable guide who took us to some great snorkeling spots.

School of yellow tangs in the coral reef
School of yellow tangs in the coral reef

This tour is a bit more expensive, but the photos and videos that came with the tour were well worth the splurge!

Check out availability for this fabulous tour now!

Turtle Town and Molokini Crater Snorkeling Tours

Some tours also go to Molokini Crater, another amazing snorkeling spot.

Molokini is an old volcano that is now a half-circle island in the middle of the ocean. It has clear water and lots of colorful fish.

One of the best snorkeling places in Hawaii, Molokini Crater, reachable by boat tours from Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
One of the best snorkeling places in Hawaii, Molokini Crater, reachable by boat tours from Maui

The tour that we especially loved was the Molokini Crater and South Maui Coast Adventure from Kihei: a small group tour that takes you to the back wall of Molokini and finishes with Turtle Town.

School of Fish - Molokini Back Wall
School of Fish – Molokini Back Wall

Both snorkeling sites were amazing!

Here are some other highly popular tours that combine Turtle Town with Molokini Crater:

Why are Boat Tours Better?

You may wonder why you should pay for a boat tour when you can snorkel from the shore for free.

Well, there are many reasons why boat tours are better for snorkeling in Maui.

Better Snorkeling Spots

Boat tours take you to more secluded snorkeling spots that often have larger fish populations and higher-quality coral. You can see more variety and beauty of marine life than from the shore.

Colorful tropical fish living in coral reefs of Maui, Hawaii, USA
Colorful tropical fish living in coral reefs of Maui, Hawaii, USA

Snorkeling gear

Boat tours provide you with all the gear and instruction you need. The crew will help you fit your mask, fins, and snorkel, and show you how to breathe underwater.

They will also give you flotation devices such as noodles, boards, or vests if you need them.

Food and drinks

Boat tours offer free drinks and meals on board. You don’t have to pack your own food or water, or go back to the shore when you are hungry or thirsty.

You can enjoy a delicious breakfast and lunch, and an open bar with soft drinks, juice, water, beer, wine, and cocktails.

Facilities and additional equipment

Boat tours have equipment and amenities that make your snorkeling more comfortable and fun. You can use underwater cameras, wetsuits, snuba, or scuba gear for an extra fee.

You can also enjoy the shade, restrooms, showers, and music on the boat. Some boats even have slides, trampolines, or glass-bottom windows for more entertainment.

View from glass bottom of green sea turtles and tropical fish
View from glass bottom of green sea turtles and tropical fish

Expert guides and naturalists

You can also learn more about Maui’s history, culture, and marine life from the captain and crew. They will tell you stories and facts about the places you visit, and answer any questions you have.

My Recommendation

I have tried both snorkeling from the shore and from a boat tour, and I can tell you that the boat tour was much more enjoyable and memorable. One of the best days of my life was snorkeling at Molokini Crater and Turtle Town on this boat tour.

Check pricing and availability for this tour!

Additional Tips for Turtle Town Snorkeling Boat Tours:

Tips for snorkeling at Turtle Town from a boat tour include:

  • Book your tour online or by phone in advance, especially during peak season or holidays.
  • Check the weather forecast and sea conditions before you go. Sometimes the tours may be canceled or changed due to bad weather.
  • Arrive at least 30 minutes before your departure time to check in and get your gear.
  • Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, swimsuit, and comfortable clothes. You may also want to bring a towel, camera, water bottle, and snacks.
  • Listen to the safety instructions from the captain and crew. They will tell you how to use your snorkel gear, where to go, and what to do if you need help.

Best Time to Snorkel at Turtle Town

While you can snorkel at Turtle Town all through the year, careful planning will make your trip a lot more enjoyable.

Best Time of the Year for Turtle Town Snorkeling

Generally speaking, the best time of the year to snorkel at Turtle Town is from April to October. The water is warmer, clearer, calmer, and more full of life. 

You can see more fish, coral, turtles, dolphins, manta rays, and even sharks.

You can still have a great snorkeling experience in winter, especially if you go on a boat tour that can take you to the best spots depending on the conditions. 

You may also have a chance to see humpback whales that visit Maui from December to March.

Watching whales in Maui: Humpback whale mother with her calf
Watching whales in Maui: Humpback whale mother with her calf

Best Time of the Day for Turtle Town Snorkeling

The best time of the day to snorkel at Turtle Town is in the morning or early afternoon when the sun is high enough to illuminate the water and the reef. 

The water is at its calmest, making it safer and improving the visibility. Most marine life are active and visible, especially turtles that come to the surface to breathe.

You can still have a good snorkeling experience in the late afternoon or evening, especially if you have a flashlight or a camera with a flash. You may also see different kinds of marine life that are more active or nocturnal, such as eels, octopus, lobster, and squid.

Octopus in Maui, Hawaii
Octopus in Maui, Hawaii

I have snorkeled at Turtle Town different times of the year and day, and I can tell you that it is always amazing and fun.

Snorkeling and Water Activities Gear List

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?).

Turtle Town Snorkeling Maui: FAQ

Can I 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 can I see while snorkeling in Turtle Town?

You can see lots of turtles! But apart from turtles, the coral reef is teeming with all kinds of beautiful tropical fish.

Check out our Hawaii fish snorkeling guide for the common reef fish so that you can recognize them under water.

How much does a Turtle Town snorkeling tour cost?

The cost varies from roughly $100 for the shorter duration boat tours to $150-$200 for tours that are longer and include Molokini Crater and other destinations.

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.

The Best Maui Tours

Have you booked these top-rated Maui guided adventures yet?

Small-group Road to Hana tour so everyone in your group can sit back and enjoy the views without worrying about negotiating hairpin bends or finding parking at popular stops!

A Haleakala sunrise tour so you can experience the bucket-list sunrise atop the volcano without the need to reserve a parking spot or drive up in the dark!

A Maui whale watching raft tour, which will let you see the massive humpback whales at eye level! (You can also opt for a more sedate boat whale watching tour.) A MUST winter Maui activity!

A Maui snorkeling excursion that combines the Molokini Crater with Turtle Town, the two most epic snorkeling destinations on the island!

A 7-line Maui zipline experience where you can glide over the forests on the north shore of Maui. Enjoy ocean views and navigate obstacle course challenges!

An oceanfront luau in Wailea where you can enjoy a sunset buffet and traditional Polynesian entertainment. You can also opt for a Kaanapali oceanfront luau.

Renting a Car in Maui

The best things to do in Maui are located all over the island.

Public transport options on Maui are minimal to non-existent, so if you want to explore the island beyond your base, you’ll want to book a rental car for your Maui trip.

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

Where to Stay in Maui

Depending on whether you want a vacation rental with more room and the option to cook some of your meals, or you want a resort or hotel experience, and depending on which part of Maui you want to choose as your base, you have a variety of options.

By far the majority of visitors to Maui choose to base on the west side, where there is a large selection of accommodations available, from resorts and hotels to vacation rentals.

We suggest starting your search for Maui accommodations by browsing vacation rentals on VRBO. You can filter to choose a specific area, such as Kihei, Kapalua, or Wailea.

We have stayed in VRBO rentals in Kihei and Kapalua and find that the choice and quality are generally great.

>> Look for a Maui vacation rental on VRBO now!

More Maui Travel Inspiration

If you are considering a trip to Maui, read some of our other comprehensive guides to craft the ultimate Maui itinerary!

If you are a first-time visitor to Maui, start by reading our article on the best things to do in Maui. From beautiful beaches and lush rainforest to Maui’s volcanic crater, our round-up captures the most iconic Maui experiences and activities.

If you are dreaming of a winter getaway to a tropical paradise, read our guide on why you should visit Maui in winter!

If you are planning a brief first visit to Maui, here’s our 3-day Maui itinerary to help you flesh out your own trip! And if you are considering a couples getaway to Maui, read about the top romantic things to do in Maui!

Driving the Road to Hana is one of Maui’s bucket-list experiences. We have a comprehensive guide to the best stops on the Road to Hana, including waterfalls and short hikes on the way.

One of the top stops on the route is Wai’anapanapa State Park, which requires reservations. Read our full guide to Maui’s black sand beach in this popular state park!

Maui boasts one of only two national parks in Hawaii. Read our round-up of the best things to do in Haleakala National Park. We also have the ultimate guide to sunrise at Haleakala.

We also have a guide to the best hikes in Haleakala National Park, and in-depth hiking guides to the two most epic hikes in the park: the Sliding Sands Trail and the Pipiwai Trail.

Speaking of hiking, also be sure to check out our round-up of the best Maui hikes, from easy to challenging. Plus, peruse our complete guides to hiking the popular Kapalua Coastal Trail in northwest Maui, and the Waihee Ridge Trail for astounding views!

We also have a round-up of the best waterfalls in Maui, from the 400-foot Waimoku Falls to Upper Waikani Falls near Hana. Some Maui waterfalls can be seen from viewpoints whereas others require hiking.

Water activities are plentiful in Maui! Check out our epic guide to whale watching in Maui, and our guide to the best Molokini snorkeling tours and the best Turtle Town snorkeling.

If you’d rather snorkel from shore, read our round-up of the best snorkel spots in West Maui.

Every Maui itinerary should have plenty of beach time: there are so many beautiful beaches in Maui that you are spoiled for choice. We have a round-up of the best beaches in South Maui, plus a detailed guide to Wailea Beach in southwest Maui, and one for Maluaka Beach along the Turtle Town stretch of coast.

We also have articles on the much-visited Kaanapali Beach, the popular Napili Beach and local favorite Keawakapu Beach. Along the northwest side, Honolua Bay is a famous surfing spot, and Ho’okipa Beach, near Paia, is a windsurfing mecca.

If you are looking to experience a different side of Maui, plan a visit to the Iao Valley State Monument. The lush landscapes and serene ambience will wow you! Also read our guide to Maui’s state parks, which include popular Makena State Park, home to Big Beach and Little Beach.

Spend a day exploring Upcountry Maui. Some of the best things to do in Upcountry Maui include touring farms and gardens. Help milk goats, tour a tea farm, go wine tasting and much more.

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Discover the complete guide to snorkeling Turtle Town in Maui, Hawaii. Swim with Hawaiian green sea turtles and see lots of colorful tropical fish! #mauitravel #turtletown

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