Hanauma Bay is a beautiful natural reef preserve on the island of Oahu, Hawaii and is considered one of the top destinations to visit while on the island. Before heading there it’s a great idea to do a little research so you know what to expect when you get there to make the most of your trip.
This blog will go over everything you need to know about Hanauma Bay from pricing, hours, transportation, amenities, facilities, and what there is to do there. You’ll know just how you want to plan your outing so that you can have the best trip possible.
Visiting Hanauma Bay is not as simple as just going to any beach near Waikiki, there are important things to know about this unique park. Once you are done reading the information below, you’ll be able to avoid any issues with your trip and enjoy the full experience.
Hours and Entry Price
The hours and days Hanauma Bay is open are one of the most important things to know before you go. The last thing you’d want is to head out with your friends or family, excited to visit the bay and you get there and it’s closed. For starters, you need to know that Hanauma Bay is closed every Tuesday so that the animal and plant life have a day of recuperation. This just means you’ll want to plan other Waikiki activities on Tuesday.
The only other days they are closed is on Christmas Day and New Years Day. However, all other days through the summer it is open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and in the winter from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Summer season is from approximately Memorial Day to Labor Day. The rest of the year is considered their winter season.
Admission pricing is not too expensive at $7.50 per person ages 12 and up, while under 12 years old are free. Entrance into the preserve is also free for active-duty military and local residents. There are other expenses that can come up at Hanauma Bay which will be detailed further in this blog so that you can plan accordingly. There are discount options if you research the internet, such as with the Oahu Go Card.
Parking at Hanauma Bay
If you plan to drive yourself to the park, the cost of parking at the bay is actually very affordable at only $1 and has onsite security. However, the parking lot isn’t very large, with only 300 parking lot spaces. The parking often can fill by mid-morning, which means if you get there after it’s full you will need to search around for nearby parking. Many people end up parking on the nearby streets, which increases the distance to walk to get to the park entrance. Do consider that you have that much further to walk back too when you have finished your park excursion.
Getting to Hanauma Bay
Obviously, if you have your own car you can drive yourself to Hanauma Bay. You only have to make sure you get there early to get a parking spot. If you don’t have your own vehicle during your trip to Waikiki there are a few different options. You can use a taxi or service like Uber or Lyft to get you to and from the bay. There is also the option of taking the public bus, which is very affordable.
However, this option does take a bit longer as you wait for the bus and the bus will make stops along the way. Just remember with any of these options, you might be in wet clothing after a day of swimming, so be conscious of getting that vehicle wet. There are also tour options which are mentioned in more detail later within this article. As for how long it takes to get there, Hanauma Bay is located approximately 11 miles from Waikiki, so it takes around 20 minutes to drive by car or up to 45 minutes by bus.
Hanauma Bay Transport and Tour Options Offered
A great option for enjoying Hanauma Bay is to use a shuttle and tour option which is offered from the bay park. The shuttle provides round-trip transportation from different Waikiki Hotels to the bay. The cost for the shuttle tour also includes your snorkeling gear (fins, mask, and snorkel) for all the fun on the beach. This will cost $25 per person, but keep in mind when booking that the cost for the shuttle tour does not include the $7.50 entry fee into the park. This tour option is a total of 4 1/2 hours from pick up to drop off. This might be enough time for some visitors at the park.
However, if you were looking for more time, there are also tour offers for a longer all-day option which includes snorkeling at Hanauma Bay plus time to explore the North Shore beaches and a few other fun activities. This is significantly more expensive at $115 for kids and $135 for adults. In total, this tour is around 8 – 9 hours. These are just a couple of examples of shuttle type tours, there are many offered and available with different options and prices from various companies.
Other Costs at Hanauma Bay
When you visit Hanauma Bay, it is set inside a small mountainside so the entrance to the park and the area for parking is considered the upper level of the park. It is not directly by the beach and water area, which is down at a lower elevation. There is a tram available to take visitors to and from the water and beach, as it can be a bit of a steep walk up or down to the other level.
The cost to ride the tram is $1 to go down and $1.25 to ride back up. More people take their tram back up rather than down because after swimming and playing at the beach they may have less energy than when arriving at the park. Plus, it is uphill back to the park exit and parking, and some just don’t want to make that hike.
Hanauma Bay conveniently offers lockers down by the beach so you can secure your car keys, phone, or valuables. They rent for a priced of $8 for small and $10 for large. There are three different snorkeling sets available to rent – a standard set for $20 or a premium set for $40 and they also offer nearsighted snorkeling sets for rent at $15 each.
Amenities at Hanauma Bay
There are lifeguards on site and there are public bathrooms and shower facilities available at the upper level, which is helpful if you want to wash off the salty sea water. There is also a gift shop on the upper level of the park to purchase a souvenir or keepsake from your visit. There is not a restaurant on site, however, there is a snack bar on the upper level of the park which serves simple foods like cheeseburgers, hot dogs, french fries, salads and a variety of snacks and drinks.
An alternative option to buying food onsite is that you can bring in a small cooler with your own food, snacks, and non-alcoholic beverages. You cannot bring in large coolers. There are grassy picnic areas on the upper level too so you can enjoy your lunch.
There is also an educational center that explains all the research done with the bay, the different marine life that is living in the bay and the history of the bay. There are touchable examples of bones and shells from the bay life that visitors can hold in their hand.
Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
The bay was formed within the cone of a volcano. The name Hanauma Bay came from two Hawaiian words – “Hana” is the word for Bay, and “” makes reference to the curves of the indigenous canoes. Hanauma Bay has a bowl-shaped curve to it. If you have never snorkeled before, you are in for a real treat at Hanauma Bay.
The beach area itself is soft white sand, which stretches ways out into the water. The reef area is a natural preserve with over 300 species of plant and animal life below the water’s surface. In order to preserve the coral reef, visitors are not allowed to walk on the coral or mistreat any of the marine animals. Some areas of the reef are not very deep. Since you can’t walk on the coral, swimmers are often snorkeling above the coral and just looking only two to three feet below the surface at marine life.
The further you go out the deeper it can get; some coral is viewable about 15 feet below the water. You can see fish even near the white sandy beach, you don’t have to be all the way out over the coral. This is great for someone who doesn’t wish to snorkel in deep waters, they can still see some neat marine life. The earlier in the day you begin your snorkeling, the better the view of the marine life will be. This is because the more visitors that disrupt the water, sand, and animal life, the less clear the water will be.
There are so many types of marine life to see in the bay, some varieties reported are boxfish, butterflyfish, filefish, goatfish, mullet, parrotfish, sergeant, snapper, surgeonfish, tang, and wrasse. You will likely see cauliflower and rice corals. Some other common marine animals you may see are turtles, sea urchins, and starfish. The marine animals are very used to visitors so they rarely swim away, which makes for great snorkeling. You can use a waterproof camera and get photos of the marine life you see.
If you are a beginner to snorkeling and have some concerns, there are many tours and snorkel guides that you can pay to have them take you to Hanauma Bay and teach you all about snorkeling. Here are some tips for first-time snorkelers:
1) Put your fins on in the shallow water and walk into the water backward.
2) Get your mask a little wet around the suction area so it sticks to your skin better and make sure it seals well when you put it on your face.
3) Practice breathing through your snorkel tube a few times before you get into the water. Breathing through a tube is more restricted then without a tube and it’s a little odd to get used to at first. The practice before will help you know what to expect when in the water.
4) Be aware of your surroundings at all times to ensure you don’t lose the group you are with or accidentally swim out further than you expected. This way you don’t have as far to swim back if you start to feel the current start to get stronger where you are at.
Other important info about Hanauma Bay
Visitors to Hanauma Bay must watch a 9-minute video before getting in the water which will go over the guidelines for swimming in Hanauma Bay, to include the special preservation of the Bay. This extra requirement does take some extra time because the theater where the video is played only seats 110 people but it does play the video 4 times per hour.
This means you could have a wait between 10 to 60 minutes to get your turn to see the video, depending on how busy the park is that day. The good news is, it’s only an annual requirement, so if you go to Hanauma Bay often you don’t have to do that every time if you put your name on their list after the first viewing for the year.
There are a few other rules at the park, such as feeding the fish is not allowed. You also cannot smoke inside the park once you have entered. But you can get a hand stamp and go out of the park and come back in.
Large groups wishing to visit Hanauma Bay must first get a permit before visiting. The permit allows up to 2 hours at the park, including about 30 minutes devoted to the educational orientation. The permit must be requested at least one week in advance. There is no cost for the permit.
Safety is critical. There is a reason why they have lifeguards on duty at Hanauma Bay. Only good swimmers should snorkel further out from the shore. There have been drownings and water rescues at Hanauma Bay because there are so many people that swim here. Many people have never been to the bay so they are unfamiliar with the area and the water current. Always be safe and have a buddy swim alongside you.
Reef Safe Sunscreen
If you want to be conscious of the ecosystems in Hanauma Bay, you’ll want to find some reef safe sunscreen. The park does request you use it, and in 2018 Hawaii banned the sale of sunscreens that are not safe for reefs, although it is not actually monitored to make sure it is enforced. There are chemicals in standard sunscreens, such as oxybenzone and , that have a very negative effect on corals and reef life. When corals come in contact with these chemicals, they show signs of coral bleaching and distress, which can leave the coral exposed to infections.
This can also cause the coral to not get the nutrients it needs for survival. Studies have also shown those chemicals to affect other marine plant and animal life. So you’ll want to ensure you get a that does not have such dangerous chemicals and contribute to the preservation of the coral reef.
What to bring to Hanauma Bay
Considering all we have gone over, there’s really only a few things you will want to make sure to bring. You’ll want to bring your swimwear, towels, reef safe sunscreen, and snorkel gear if you have it. Optional items to bring would be sunglasses to protect your eyes, waterproof camera to take photos of marine life and a cooler with some snacks. If you don’t bring water, prepare to purchase some at the snack bar so that you stay hydrated during the day.
Do I have to use actual snorkel gear in order to snorkel at Hanauma Bay?
No, you can bring a pair of your own goggles if you want, the breathing tube is optional and just helps for swimming comfort. Although swim shoes aren’t required because there is white sand, they can still help protect your feet if you do happen to step upon a rock or shell.
What other beaches are good for snorkeling that are near Waikiki?
Sharks Cove is another popular snorkel beach, but don’t let the name fool you, there are no sharks there. Lanikai Beach is well known as well for great snorkeling, although the parking there is all public, you are parking on residential streets which can upset some of the residents.