Kapalua Bay Snorkeling Guide

Updated Dec 10, 2022 ,

Kapalua Bay Beach
West Maui
Beginner Friendly
Beach Entrance

Kapalua Bay is a picturesque snorkel spot on Maui’s west side with a crescent-shaped beach and abundant marine life. It’s a sheltered cove with typically calm water making it perfect for beginners and families with children.

Kapalua Bay beach is one of our favorite beaches to visit on the west side. It’s a really beautiful location and the snorkeling is fantastic. The only drawback of this beach is that it’s smaller so getting a parking space and spot on the beach can be harder than bigger resorts but worth the work in our opinion.

Once you’re there, snorkeling is easy. The coral starts close to the shore so you don’t have to go far to see fish, though it does get better the further you go. Kapalua Bay is a great place to snorkel and definitely one to consider if you’re staying in West Maui.

Should You Book a Snorkel Tour?

Snorkel tours are a great way to try snorkeling with the help of experienced guides. They also allow you to visit locations only accessible by boat and usually make for a fun day because of the added boating experience. If you’re looking for something more than your typical day-at-the-beach snorkeling, a snorkel tour might be for you!

Entering the Water at Kapalua Bay

Kapalua Bay Beach

Entering the water at Kapalua Bay doesn’t take much work since you’re entering from the beach. Just be sure to watch out for rocks as there are some parts of the beach that have them along the shoreline. Find a spot that’s sandy enough for you to get your flippers on and start swimming without running into any rocks.

The waves should be calm enough for you to enter the water without any issues. However, the swells during the winter months can make snorkeling here more challenging at times. Always assess the snorkeling conditions on the day of and if it doesn’t feel safe, save it for next time.

Where to Snorkel at Kapalua Bay

The best place to snorkel at Kapalua Bay is on the right side of the bay. If you follow the rocks along the right side, the visibility and coral get better the further you go. Just don’t go past the point unless you’re experienced as you’ll be exposed to the open ocean and strong currents that can sweep you away!

The waves on the left side neighboring Napili Bay are heavier due to how they break which kicks up more sediment and lessens the visibility. This makes the left side of the bay less ideal for snorkeling but there are still corals and marine life on this side of the bay.

You can also snorkel the entire length of the bay and see fish. There’s just not as much to see as the bottom is sandy in the center and void of coral. What I like to do is snorkel the entire right side and then make my way across the bay to the left side before heading in. If you do that, set your stuff on the left side of the bay and enter the water on the right so you make it back to where you originally started (and your stuff) when you’re done.

Marine Life at Kapalua Bay

You will see a lot of the reef fish that are common to Maui and the Hawaiian islands at Kapalua Bay. There is a good variety of fish to see throughout the bay including Moorish idols, triggerfish, butterflyfish, tangs, parrotfish, and unicornfish.

Above is a selection of the marine life we saw while out there. We didn’t capture any green sea turtles on camera, but they are there. Kapalua Bay is typically considered a good place to see them but keep in mind, it’s never guaranteed. The longer you spend in the water the better chance you’ll have of spotting something exciting. I’ve also heard of others spotting octopuses and rays in Kapalua Bay but haven’t seen any personally yet.

The coral isn’t great when first entering the water but becomes more alive and abundant the further you go. Overall, Kapalua Bay is a great place to snorkel and have a good chance at seeing a variety of marine life, reef fish, and corals.

Kapalua Bay Snorkel Tours

Maui Snorkel Tours

The Kapalua Bay Beach Crew offers a guided kayak snorkel tour that you can book while you’re at the beach. Aside from that, the majority of commercial tour companies (if not all) don’t offer snorkel tours in Kapalua Bay. However, many do offer tours to other fantastic West Maui snorkel spots including our favorite marine life conservation district pictured above, Honolua Bay.

While you don’t have to book a tour to enjoy snorkeling, it does add to the experience, especially if it’s your first time. Taking a trip on a large catamaran on the ocean is a fun way to spend a day. Most tours also include food and drinks for the trip back when you’ve finished snorkeling. Have a look at the tours below if this is something you’re considering for your trip.

More About Kapalua Bay

Getting to Kapalua Bay

If you’re staying in West Maui (Lahaina) then Kapalua Bay is only a 10-20 minute drive from most places. If you’re staying in South Maui (Kihei or Wailea), it’ll be around 45-60 minutes. It’s more out of the way than the beaches in Ka’anapali, Kihei, or Wailea but worth the trek if you have the time.

The main road you’ll take to get there once in West Maui is Honoapi’ilani Road. You’ll take that all the way up the west side to Napilihau Street and then hang a right onto Lower Honoapi’ilani Road. The entrance to the parking lot is just past the Sea House restaurant on the left.

Parking at Kapalua Bay

Parking at Kapalua Bay isn’t great, it’s free but the parking lot is small and can fill up quickly. This is one of the main drawbacks of this beach. We typically recommend getting there early if you want a chance at a spot. If you don’t end up getting a spot, you can park on the street. I’ve also heard Merriman’s restaurant next door has paid parking but have never tried that myself. If you don’t get a spot, you can unload your crew and gear close to the beach entrance and then hang out for 10-15 minutes to see if something opens up.

Facilities at Kapalua Bay

Kapalua Bay is a smaller beach with limited amenities. Restrooms and showers are available near the parking lot. There is also the Kapalua Bay Beach Crew kiosk where you can purchase gear rentals or light snacks. The snack offering is limited (mainly chips, bars, and drinks), so don’t count on it for lunch but it is handy if you need a little something.

Things to do at Kapalua Bay

In addition to snorkeling, Kapalua Bay offers a number of different things to do while you are there. Whether you want to swim, hike, paddleboard, or just lounge in the sun, there’s something for everyone. Check out our post on things to do in Kapalua Bay to find out more.

Are There Places to Eat at Kapalua Bay?

The only place to eat at Kapalua Bay is Merriman’s restaurant. However, it’s only open for dinner (4:00 PM – 8:30 PM) and reservations are required. I wouldn’t count on it for food unless you plan on dining there. If you do, it’s a great restaurant with really good food.

Can You Rent Snorkel Gear at Kapalua Bay?

Yes, you can rent snorkel gear from the Kapalua Bay Beach Crew’s kiosk. That’s located on the right side of the bay and costs $10 – $20 depending on how long you want to snorkel. If you only plan on snorkeling here then renting at the beach is fine. Otherwise, we’d recommend picking up gear from another provider that rents gear for longer than a day. It’s typically a better value and you’re guaranteed to find the perfect fit.

Is Snorkeling at Kapalua Bay Good for Families?

Yes! As we’ve mentioned, the water is typically calmer at Kapalua Bay making it an ideal snorkeling location for families. Additionally, the beach is a great place for kids to play and the wave action on the shoreline is minimal. However, the winter swells can cause the waves to be bigger. Be sure to check the conditions before venturing out if you’ll be visiting then.

Snorkeling Etiquette, Conservation, and Saftey

It’s important when snorkeling to remember that you’re in the water with other people as well as marine life. Keep an eye on your surroundings to make sure you don’t bump into other people or disturb the environment. The coral is fragile and shouldn’t be touched as well as any of the marine life as it can be harmful to you and them. Green sea turtles are protected and violators can face steep fines if caught. Finally, always wear biodegradable reef-safe sunscreen as it’s now illegal in Maui to wear anything else that might damage the coral reef.

As for safety, never snorkel alone! Even in a protected cove like Kapalua Bay, you’re still in the ocean and anything can happen. It’s always best to play it safe and snorkel with a buddy.

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