Located along the southeast coast of Oahu, just 30 minutes east of Honolulu, Hanauma Bay is a dream destination for snorkeling. Voted Best Beach in the United States in 2016, Hanauma Bay is one of the most beautiful and trafficked tourist spots on the island. The area has suffered from over-tourism in the last few decades, with more than three million visitors each year.
Fun Fact: The reef sharks in Hanauma Bay are only about four feet long. There has never been a shark attack, as these particular sharks don’t feed on humans.
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A violent series of explosions over 32,000 years ago created this stunning natural pool. The volcanic vent opened underwater, creating hot gases, rock, coral and magma bursts. Marine life conservationists declared Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve a protected marine life area and underwater park in 1967. In 1990 the City of Honolulu made provisions to restore the Bay after years of overuse.
In addition, the park council set up a marine education center for guests to watch a nine-minute video to learn more about conservation efforts, preservation, and safety rules of the park. Visitors must make reservations to watch the orientation video to enter the park. The state only lets in 1,000 visitors per day.
Pro Tip: Though the sharks may be harmless, the strong currents are not. Even though the waves appear calm and serene, the experts consider this bay to be one of the most dangerous beaches in the state. Lifeguards stress caution!
Go to the Honolulu Department of Parks & Recreation website to book a time slot. Check the website for ticket availability as tickets become available at 7 a.m. two days before a visit. The Parks & Recs division allows limited walk-ins without reservations.
Hanauma Bay is synonymous with snorkeling alongside gorgeous sea turtles, who are often seen in the shallow waters of the Bay’s coral reef.
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Pro Tip: It’s illegal to touch these amazing creatures; best to gaze from afar. It is also prohibited to walk on the coral.
Hanauma Bay Hours
The park opens at 6:45 a.m. and closes at 4:00 p.m. Hanauma Bay is CLOSED on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The parking lot ($3.00 parking fee per vehicle) at Hanauma Bay is small and fills up quickly. The Hanauma Bay Entrance Fee is $25.00 per person. Local residents, active military and kids under 12 are free.
Visitors should bring their beach chairs, umbrellas, towels, life vests, or wetsuits for snorkeling. The Bay provides lockers to store belongings, and there is a snack bar on the upper level of the park for hungry snorkelers. Park officials allow guests bring their own coolers with drinks and snacks. The Bay is wheelchair accessible, and beach wheelchairs are available for free.
Interesting Fact: Hawaii was the first state to pass legislation banning sunscreens containing harmful chemicals, oxybenzone and octinoxate, which destroy coral reefs. Hanauma Bay urges visitors to use water-resistant sunscreen that won’t wash off and damage the reefs.