Snorkeling Maui’s Molokini Crater

I love to snorkel. Living in New York, it’s not something I get to do very often (East River anyone?) so I jump at the chance to try it any time I’m traveling somewhere more tropical. Hawaii is an especially good spot for snorkeling fans, offering an embarassment of good spots where you can literally walk into the water off the beach and see all kinds of neon-hued fish, giant sea turtles and all sorts of weird-looking coral formations.

Recently I had a chance to check one of Maui’s most famous snorkel spots, Molokini Crater. This tiny crescent-shaped island, just off Maui’s southern coast, is actually the remains of a long extinct volcano. Today, it’s a recognized wildlife sanctuary, home to hundreds of species of marine life, including huge fish, sea urchins, coral, shrimp and all manner of nesting sea birds. Due to the island’s unique crescent shape, it’s largely sheltered from the dangerous ocean currents, making it the ideal place to check out some cool underwater life in a unique setting. Upon entering the water, I was surprised by my surroundings. The water depth is much deeper than I’ve typically found when snorkeling, reaching down almost 40-50 feet. The visibility at Molokini was also fantastic, allowing for great underwater views in all directions. Not to mention I was surrounded by hundreds of triggerfish like the one you see in my picture above. Divers and snorkelers come out to the area fairly regularly, so they’re not afraid to swim right up to you for a closer look. As I swam around, I encountered all manner of sea urchins, angelfish and even an octopus. Definitely on par with some of the best snorkeling I’ve done. I won’t try to claim I was by myself – a large number of boats and snorkelers visit the island each day. However, it was easy enough to swim away from the crowds and find myself all alone with nothing but the sound of me breathing through my snorkel tube.

Since Molokini lies well off Maui’s coast, you’ll need to take a charter cruise to reach it. Depending on what you want, trips can run anywhere from $70-$100, typically including an hour or two of snorkeling, lunch/breakfast and the opportunity to laze around on a sailboat, cocktail in hand. We ended up using Paragon, who charter a small catamaran and had a very friendly staff, though I will say they were a bit casual about confirming our reservation.

And what about all you land lovers? Fear not, you can still check out some cool Hawaiian marine life. Take a visit the Maui Ocean Center, which I hear is fantastic.