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The Best Snorkeling in Ko Olina (Tours + On Your Own!)

Hoping to snorkel in Ko Olina? You’re in luck! As on Oahu local, I’ve got all of the best insights for snorkeling at Ko Olina.

Hawaiian green sea turtle diving under the water in Ko Olina, Hawaii. Ko Olina is one of the best snorkeling spots on Oahu.

Growing up on Oahu, Ko Olina has always been my go-to beach. It’s close, it’s beautiful, and it has calm, incredible snorkeling. On any given day, you can see small, gray fish darting about – even from the shore! And if you choose to venture a tiny bit farther, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and turtles might be waiting. It’s safe to say that Ko Olina snorkeling is very rewarding considering how calm the conditions are, and I’d definitely recommend it.

What is Ko Olina?

Ko Olina is a beautiful little community on the West Side of Oahu that is most well-known for its four lagoons, along with Disney’s Aulani hotel. While Ko Olina is technically privately owned, beaches in Hawaii are all publicly owned, which means anyone can lounge on the sand and snorkel in its waters.

Ko Olina Lagoon 1 is home to the Four Seasons Oahu, Disney's Aulani, and some epic snorkeling opportunities.

Where to Snorkel in Ko Olina

Given that Ko Olina is composed of sea life-filled lagoons, you’ll have lots of snorkeling options.

The Main Lagoons

There are four main lagoons at Ko Olina (simply referred to as Lagoons 1-4). These are the lagoons with the interconnected walkway and the hotel.

To understand the snorkeling opportunities at these four lagoons, you’ll first have to envision their structure. Each one is your typical crescent moon lagoon shape. But unlike most lagoons or bays, the Ko Olina lagoons have a mostly blocked entrance to the ocean made of rocks. While I don’t recommend snorkeling by the big boulder-esque parts of the blocked entrance, I do recommend swimming where the sand meets the rock at the very tip of the crescent shape. That’s where the most fish and the occasional turtle like to hang out.

Despite the fact that these four main lagoons can be quite busy, the snorkeling has remained quite good. Keep in mind, though, that the busier the lagoon, the murkier the water becomes. For that reason, Lagoon 2 – the only lagoon without a major hotel or a massive parking lot – tends to be the best Ko Olina lagoon for snorkeling.

The Ko Olina secret lagoon, also known as the Paradise Cove luau lagoon, is a relatively small natural lagoon with lots of sea life. I've seen Hawaiian green sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, eels, and sea cucumbers at just this one lagoon.

The Secret Lagoons

While the main lagoons remain low on reef structures, there are two small secret lagoons that have lots of rocky reef to explore.

First, there’s one at the northern end of the main Ko Olina walkway (just after the Four Seasons Oahu). Please be cautious at this particular lagoon, because the waves can get quite large and the tide can cover all of the sand/walkable area. Most people opt not to snorkel at this secret lagoon, because of the ocean conditions. But when the tide is low, you can do a little “tidepooling” and see tiny fish and crabs darting about.

Then, there’s the second secret lagoon. While once upon a time, the secret lagoon was actually a secret, it’s now pretty well-known. It even has a name on Google Maps: the Paradise Cove luau lagoon.

This Paradise Cove lagoon is where all sorts of Ko Olina marine life like to hang out. Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu) in particular like to make their home here. It’s rare that I visit this lagoon and don’t see a turtle swimming about. No wonder snorkeling at this hidden gem is one of my favorite things to do in Ko Olina!

Brown and white striped zebra moray eel slithering between the rocks at Ko Olina's secret lagoon. While it's rare to see eels while snorkeling in Ko Olina, they are likely hiding between the rock crevices, so keep your eyes peeled!

What to See While Snorkeling in the Ko Olina Lagoons

Since the lagoons are so close together, it’s common enough for the marine creatures to wander from one lagoon to the next. You can’t say “the butterflyfish live at Lagoon 3,” because that simply doesn’t seem to be true. So instead, I’m lumping all of the animals swimming about into one “Ko Olina marine life” group.

I’m no biologist, so my animal identification skills aren’t the greatest, but here’s what I’ve personally seen while snorkeling at Ko Olina. Fish-wise, I’ve seen butterflyfish, moorish idols, goatfish, cornetfish, Hawaiian sergeant, Hawaiian dascyllus, silversides, yellow tangs, and triggerfish (a.k.a. the famed humhumunukunukuapua‘a). There have also been a few fish in Ko Olina that I haven’t been able to identify.

Other than the fish, I’ve seen green sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, zebra moray eels, sea urchins, coral, crabs, and multiple species of sea cucumbers. There’s a lot going on!

Hawaiian monk seal lounging on the sand. While Hawaiian monk seals are endangered and extremely rare, they do make the occasional appearance at the Ko Olina lagoons. If you see them, be sure to give them space!

A Note on Hawaiian Monk Seals

While Hawaiian monk seals are cool, they’re also endangered. It’s actually against Hawaii law to get too close to monk seals.

If you do happen to see monk seals while snorkeling at Ko Olina, you’ll want to get out of the water. These monk seals like their space and, if provoked, can attack.

Along the same lines, if you see a monk seal swimming to shore, don’t block its access to the sand! I often see huge groups of tourists lining the sand, because they’re so excited to see a monk seal. But then, the monk seal doesn’t have anywhere to come up on the sand! Take several steps back, and it’ll be all good.

A Note on Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles

Similarly, it is against Hawaii law to get within 10 feet or so of a Hawaiian green sea turtle. This particular type of turtle is endangered, so we want to make sure they stay as happy and healthy as possible. This means giving them their space to do what they need to do, whether that be eating algae off the rocks or lounging about on the sand.

Yellow fish swimming amongst thriving coral. You can see loads of tropical fish while snorkeling in Ko Olina, including butterflyfish, moorish idols, goatfish, cornetfish, Hawaiian sergeant, yellow tangs, and triggerfish, amongst others.

Where to Rent Snorkel Gear in Ko Olina

There aren’t snorkel rental shops in Ko Olina, unlike other parts of the island like Kailua and Waikiki. Some vacation rentals – like the ones at the Ko Olina Beach Villas – may provide you with free snorkel gear to use throughout your trip. Besides that option, getting snorkel gear may take a bit of effort.

Both the Marriott Ko Olina Beach Club and Disney’s Aulani have snorkel gear available for rent. However, they may only rent to hotel guests (depending on demand). Plus, if you plan to snorkel for more than one day, it may actually be cheaper to buy snorkel gear. Purchase some in advance and pack it in your bags, or head to the nearby Costco in Kapolei just ten minutes away for the best on-island deals.

palm trees and ocean at Ko Olina's secret lagoon, one of the best snorkeling spots in Ko Olina

The Best Snorkeling Tours in Ko Olina

While you can certainly snorkel your way through Ko Olina’s lagoons – both the main ones and the secret ones – on your own, we wouldn’t recommend snorkeling outside of the lagoons and in the open ocean on your own. That’s where the Ko Olina snorkeling tours come in.

Departing from the Ko Olina marina, these tours give you up-close access to some of Oahu’s deep-sea creatures – most commonly, spinner dolphins! You’ll also likely see some rays, and, in the winter, a couple of whale friends.

Snorkeling Tours with Ko Olina Ocean Adventures

Ko Olina Ocean Adventures is one of two snorkeling tour companies based at the Ko Olina Marina. They have both morning and afternoon snorkel tours, which are essentially the same in terms of how the tour is run. That said, if you can tolerate an early morning wake up call, I’d go with the morning tour option. The dolphins are more likely to be out and about!

Pros and Cons of Ko Olina Ocean Adventures

Pros
• Provided snorkel gear and life jackets
• Consistent marine life sightings
• Beautiful catamaran ship
• Provided lunch
• Up to 3 complimentary bar cocktails (more available for purchase)
• Hotel pick-up option available

Cons
• On the pricier side

Aerial view of mom and baby whale with their tails out of the deep blue ocean water. On winter Ko Olina snorkeling tour, there's a pretty good chance that you'll get to see a few whales.

Snorkeling Tours with Ocean Joy Cruises

Like Ko Olina Ocean Adventures, Ocean Joy Cruises offers epic Ko Olina snorkeling tours in both the morning and afternoon. The two companies run very similar excursions, with their catamarans, marine life sighting, and tasty mid-excursion meals. They also both have whale watching aspects to their tours between December and March.

The main differences between the two are the cost and the length of the tour. Ocean Joy Cruises’ tours are typically cheaper and longer, which makes the decision easy for most Ko Olina snorkelers. But the question is really if you’re up for an all-day snorkeling excursion – and that’s usually how visitors make the call between the two companies (assuming both have availability).

Pros and Cons of Ocean Joy Cruises

Pros
• More cost effective
• Provided snorkel gear and life jackets
• Consistent marine life sightings
• Beautiful catamaran ship
• Provided lunch (with alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks)
• Hotel pick-up option available
• Dolphin or whale sighting guarantee

Cons
• The 6-7 total excursion experience could be a bit long

And there you have it! Everything to know about snorkeling in Ko Olina. We hope this article inspired you to take a peek under the surface of the lagoons!

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