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The Essential Guide To Scuba Diving In Hawaii

The Essential Guide To Scuba Diving In Hawaii

Scuba diving is one of the most exotic, thrilling, and memorable activities a person can do on our beautiful planet. It is a relatively accessible endeavor to pursue that provides a truly extraordinary experience for anyone fortunate enough to give it a try. Unless a person has a fear of water, or any serious disabilities, learning to scuba dive is not too difficult for the average person, and there are locations all over the world where beginner divers can get started (or seasoned pros can be challenged).

You, your family, and friends are probably like millions of people around the world who have dreamed about going scuba diving in amazing locales (or perhaps have already had the pleasure of doing so). But if you have not been scuba diving before, let’s go over some of the main reasons why you should consider this wonderful underwater diving activity:


The world beneath the surface of the ocean is as majestic as any place you will visit on Earth (especially near the bottom of shallow bays and reefs). Dynamic undersea realms and pristine ecosystems, like coral reef gardens, will transport you beyond your wildest imagination.

You will simply be blown away by the sheer diversity of color, underwater topography, and marine life.


Biodiversity, vibrant ecosystems, and exotic undersea landscapes are some of the hallmarks of scuba diving. You and your family will see things that you have never seen before (and may never see again outside of an aquarium). You will discover and explore places like coral gardens, shallow bays, sea caves, remote atolls, lava tubes and much more. These precious environments harbor amazing creatures, plants, and rocks such as tropical reef fish, sea turtles, manta rays, whales, invertebrates, rare organisms as well as remarkable underwater terrain features.

Life is extremely vibrant under the waves and scuba diving is one of the most intimate ways of immersing yourself in nature.


Very few recreational activities mimic the experience of floating weightless in space such as scuba diving. As any avid swimmer knows, floating effortlessly through the water is one of the most relaxing experiences for the body and soul. Of course, the difference between floating in a swimming pool and in the sea is that swimming pools do not typically contain shipwrecks inhabited by marine life (which is something you could witness while scuba diving).

There is something about underwater diving that truly creates a Zen-like state of calmness and fascination.


Scuba diving is a stunning activity to do with friends and family. The sense of amazement that each member of a diving crew will experience only heightens the overall experience. Coordination, patience, non-verbal communication, and an acute awareness of your surroundings are some of the skills needed when diving to create a bonding experience that will last a lifetime.


There are so many incredible diving sites all over the world, each providing its own unique spectacles for you to enjoy. When you choose to travel to an exotic locale, you not only get to learn about the interesting history and culture of its people and places, but you get to highlight the adventure with an amazing underwater diving experience.

Some diving spots are harder to reach than others and not every location is suitable for beginners. But there is one truly magical place that offers some of the best scuba diving experiences for novices and seasoned veterans alike, while also providing accessibility and a well-developed infrastructure to support travelers: Hawaii.

Comparison Table

Let’s check out some of the amazing scuba diving tours you can partake in around Hawaii:





girl snorkeling with sharks

Two Shallow Reef Dives

  • Location: Waikiki
  • Duration: 3-4 hours
  • Dive Sites: Sea Tiger, YO-257, Ewa Pinnacles, Keehi Pipe, Nautilus Reef, Horseshoe Reef, Angler Reef
  • Inclusions/Options: Certified Divers (premium gear rental, 2 dive sites); Introductory/Discovery Diver 10-11 Year Old (Waikiki hotel pickup/drop-off, premium gear rental, 2 dive sites)
  • Restrictions: Certified Divers must provide valid proof of certification; Discovery Divers 10 and 11 years old require a private instructor; Students are not allowed to bring cameras
  • Price: Starting at $219


girl snorkeling with sharks

Wreck & Reef Dive

  • Location: Kewalo Basin Harbor (Honolulu)
  • Duration: 3-4 hours
  • Dive Sites: 2 different locations (depending on dive master / boat captain’s discretion)
  • Inclusions/Options: Certified Divers (Waikiki hotel pickup / drop-off, in-water guide, premier gear rental, snacks & refreshments, two different dive sites)
  • Restrictions: Certified Divers should provide valid proof of certification; Diver should be at least 15 years old and above or will only dive the single shallow dive; Must complete all diving 24 hours prior to flying
  • Price: Starting at $199.00 (72-hour cancellation policy)


sunset cruise

Turtle Canyon Adventure

  • Location: Hawaii
  • Duration: 3.5 hours
  • Dive Sites: Turtle Canyons
  • Inclusions/Options: Professional guide; premium dive gear; hotel pickup/drop-off; snacks & refreshments; GoPro camera or Photographer rental
  • Restrictions: N/A
  • Price: Starting at $219.00 (72-hour cancellation policy)




fun parasailing on Oahu and Waikiki

Two Shallow Reef Dives

  • Location: Waikiki
  • Duration: 3-4 hours
  • Dive Sites: Sea Tiger, YO-257, Ewa Pinnacles, Keehi Pipe, Nautilus Reef, Horseshoe Reef, Angler Reef
  • Inclusions/Options: Certified Divers (premium gear rental, 2 dive sites); Introductory/Discovery Diver 10-11 Year Old (Waikiki hotel pickup/drop-off, premium gear rental, 2 dive sites)
  • Restrictions: Certified Divers must provide valid proof of certification; Discovery Divers 10 and 11 years old require a private instructor; Students are not allowed to bring cameras
  • Price: Starting at $219


fun parasailing on Oahu and Waikiki

Wreck & Reef Dive

  • Location: Kewalo Basin Harbor (Honolulu)
  • Duration: 3-4 hours
  • Dive Sites: 2 different locations (depending on dive master / boat captain’s discretion)
  • Inclusions/Options: Certified Divers (Waikiki hotel pickup / drop-off, in-water guide, premier gear rental, snacks & refreshments, two different dive sites)
  • Restrictions: Certified Divers should provide valid proof of certification; Diver should be at least 15 years old and above or will only dive the single shallow dive; Must complete all diving 24 hours prior to flying
  • Price: Starting at $199.00 (72-hour cancellation policy)


a couple parasailing in hawaii

Turtle Canyon Adventure

  • Location: Hawaii
  • Duration: 3.5 hours
  • Dive Sites: Turtle Canyons
  • Inclusions/Options: Professional guide; premium dive gear; hotel pickup/drop-off; snacks & refreshments; GoPro camera or Photographer rental
  • Restrictions: N/A
  • Price: Starting at $219.00 (72-hour cancellation policy)

Join us as we explore why ‘The Aloha State’ is one of the best places in the world to scuba dive year-round.

Why Go Scuba Diving in Hawaii

Located approximately 7 hours from Tokyo and 6 hours from Los Angeles (by non-stop flight) the Hawaiian Islands is one of the most accessible exotic locations for travelers from around the world. As a result of Hawaii’s popularity as a prime tourist destination, the islands of Hawaii have the most flourishing scuba industry in the Pacific (and world-class service).


Along with being one of the top destinations in the Pacific Ocean for recreational underwater diving, The Aloha State is also considered one of the best diving spots for beginners in the United States and North America. Scuba diving in Hawaii offers a huge advantage compared to other places for those who are just starting out. Even though places like Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island are often cited as excellent options for novice divers, there is no specific location in Hawaii that absolutely stands out above the rest.

Each of Hawaii’s multitude of diving sites provides distinct experiences for everyone to enjoy. What they all have in common, however, is not requiring a complicated and lengthy excursion across the open seas to find them. It is easy to travel to Hawaii, and the local infrastructure and travel services provide simple access to great scuba diving spots (and lessons) for people at any experience level.


The waters off Hawaii are literally teeming with unique marine life and diving sites across the island chain are cherished for their abundance of underwater attractions. Some places do seem truly one of a kind though, such as the Molokini Island Preserve off the southwest coast of Maui, where you can explore reef corals while swimming in a partially submerged volcanic crater!

Moreover, close to 25 percent of Hawaii’s fish species are native to the ancient island chain and are not found anywhere else on Earth. In fact, there are species unique to some islands which are not even seen around other parts of Hawaii. When you go scuba diving in Hawaii, you can expect to see a marvelous variety of indigenous reef fish, hard and soft coral, invertebrates, and larger animals such as humpback whales, sharks, dolphins, and sea rays. The famous green sea turtles around Kauai are a must-see.


The Hawaiian archipelago is renowned for being a collection of hundreds of volcanic islands, rocks, and islets spanning 1,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean in the Polynesian sub region of Oceania. Its land masses were formed by volcanic activity from an undersea magma source called the ‘Hawaii hotspot’. This natural geological process of island building is still continuing today.

Most of the archipelago’s best dive sites are situated around underwater topography that is either volcanic, erosional, or marine sedimentary in origin. A lot of the underwater terrain are ancient formations of cooled lava flows. Cavernous networks of black rock craters, caves, tunnels and lava tubes, archways and colonies of hard and soft corals provide a virtual playground for divers.


Hawaii has a well-developed economy made up of a proud and happy citizenry. Tourism is a big component of Hawaii’s economy (and its largest source of private capital). Highly competent, safety-conscious professionals provide visitors with best-in-class recreational services from transportation to boat and diving tours. Indeed, high standards are part of the norm when visiting Hawaii.

What You Might See

It goes without saying that Hawaii offers a plethora of diving attractions. When you are ready to go scuba diving in Hawaii, you should expect to witness things you have never seen in your life. Let us go over some of the common biodiversity and underwater curiosities you are likely to encounter during your adventure:


The Hawaiian archipelago (and its 137 islands and atolls) is by far one of the coolest locations on Earth to discover exotic tropical fish. Its unique isolation supports a large population of endemic (or native) fish accounting for about 20 to 25 percent of Hawaii’s total fish species. As a scuba diver, you can expect to be greatly rewarded by the variety of fish in the warm waters off many of Hawaii’s major islands. Dive spots like Oahu’s North Shore, the Big Island’s Kona Coast, and Lanai’s Hulopoe Bay to name just a few.

There are also numerous coral reefs to explore such as Hanauma Bay, Maro Reef, Kaneohe Bay, and Kingman Reef. Common fish species include tangs, saddle wrasse, angelfish, triggerfish, butterflyfish, blenny, bannerfish, cardinalfish, eel, conger, damselfish, and many more.


If you ever get a chance to visit one of Hawaii’s “turtle islands” you may witness the feeding and hatching grounds of one of the world’s most beloved turtles: the Pacific green sea turtle. These brilliant creatures, known for having green fat beneath their carapace, travel vast distances across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, making the Hawaiian Islands one of their favorite breeding spots. Hawaiian green sea turtles are truly one of the planet’s quintessential ocean voyagers, and a scuba trip to Hawaii would be incomplete without getting the chance to swim with these old and majestic sea creatures.


I can tell you from personal experience that swimming with these dolphins in Hawaii as a child is one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I can still feel the smoothness of the animal’s skin as I kissed its forehead while it smiled back at me. It is no surprise that one of the more exciting reasons that parents take their children to Hawaii is to let them play with spinner dolphins in a supervised environment (usually at hotels). Spinner dolphins are a small species of dolphin found in offshore tropical waters. You can see captive ones harbored at hotel resorts like Waikiki or wild ones in the ocean. They have a slim build, dark gray dorsal area, and light gray sides.

Offshore scuba diving with wild spinner dolphins in the sea, as compared to the controlled environment around a hotel resort, is definitely an activity that is worth the trip to Hawaii. Spinner dolphins around Hawaii live in open and loose social groups. They spend the daytime resting in shallow offshore bays (near deep water). This gives divers the perfect chance to have intimate encounters with these magnificent and intelligent creatures in their natural habitat.


The coolest filter feeders in the oceans (and relatives of sharks), these large sea rays can sometimes be spotted closer to shore where they are popular with tourists. Manta rays are known for their distinctive shape: broad heads, triangular pectoral fins, horn-shaped cephalic fins, and short tails (without stingers). They also surprise first-time divers with their enormous size. One species can reach up to 23 feet in width, and the largest mantas can weigh nearly 3,000 pounds (the mass of a compact car)! These amazing sea creatures are truly unique and very few people on Earth can say they swam up close to one. Kona Coast and Keauhou Bay are a couple of great spots to possibly see manta and eagle rays.


If you prefer sharks to be the very last thing on your list of curiosities, rest assured, most of the species you may encounter when scuba diving in Hawaii around inshore reefs are non-aggressive and tend to mind their own business (offshore sharks are harder to find). There are around 40 species of sharks found in the Hawaiian Islands. Some of the most commonly spotted species include the whitetip reef shark, scalloped hammerhead sharks, sandbar, and tiger sharks (one you may want to keep a safe distance from).


The famous Humpback whale migrates from Alaska to the warm waters of Hawaii during the winter months to breed. They can be spotted all around the Hawaiian archipelago from January to March. The waters between Maui, Kahoolawe, and Lanai tend to have the greatest concentrations of humpbacks. Although you may hear the complex songs of Humpback whales while underwater, it is quite unusual to clearly see one while scuba diving in Hawaii. But you could encounter one while on a boat heading to a diving location.


The Hawaiian monk seal is a rare breed. In fact, it is one of the most endangered marine mammals on Earth (with just over 1,000 still alive). These cute streamlined creatures are best enjoying their marine life when swimming in the ocean, where they will spend nearly two-thirds of their lives foraging for food. The Hawaiian monk seal can hold their breath anywhere from 6 to 20 minutes and dive up to an incredible 1,500 feet below the surface (which is deeper than some of the best diving watches on the market can handle). They can mostly be found around the small Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, while some of them frequent the inshore waters and beaches of Kauai, Molokai, and Oahu.


Invertebrates are animals without a spinal column (i.e. backbone). They include some of those delicious obsessions of seafood lovers everywhere: arthropods (crab, lobster, shrimp, prawn) and mollusks (clam, oyster, snail, octopus, squid). Approximately 20 percent of marine invertebrates found in Hawaii are indigenous. You can expect to find these curious creatures living in coral reefs, sea caves, and shallow inshore bays. Or you can just walk into any restaurant near the beach.


The magical undersea wonderlands of at least (an astonishing) 25 percent of all marine species in the world, the coral reefs are the most spectacular underwater ecosystems for scuba divers and snorkelers to experience. And here is some great news: a remarkable 60 to 85 percent of coral reefs in U.S. waters (depending on your source of information) are found in the Hawaiian Archipelago!

You can expect to see all kinds of tropical fish, mollusks, crustaceans, worms, sponges, sea urchins, and small white tip reef sharks living in the underwater world of coral reefs (not to mention the extremely colorful soft and hard corals themselves). Incidentally, coral reefs are also home to SpongeBob SquarePants. The Kona Coast has one of the greatest concentrations of nearshore coral marine life in Hawaii.


The enchanting sea caves of Hawaii are popular with divers and adventurous explorers. There are at least 9 sea caves you can visit along the more than 700 miles of beautiful Hawaiian coastline. Some of these spots include the Bubble Cave, Sharks Cove, Makaha Caverns, and the gigantic Waiahuakua Sea Cave at Na Pali. Also known as littoral caves, these natural formations are found all over the world and were created by the wave action of the sea (over a very long time).


Occasionally lost, but never forgotten, are the dozens of identified and unidentified vessels resting on the ocean floors around Hawaii. In fact, a lot of them are U.S. Navy shipwrecks. The Northshore of Lanai is where you will find ‘Shipwreck Beach’, a 6-mile long underwater world of sunken vessels and aircraft. One of the most fantastic shipwrecks is known as ‘The Sea Tiger’, located off Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Oahu. For the truly adventurous scuba diver at heart, wreck diving is all about leaving your world and entering the intriguing past.

Witness the bizarre and extraordinary juxtaposition of man, machine, and nature as you join hammerhead sharks, crustaceans, and other sea creatures in and around the sunken industrial relics of the past.

Top Places to Scuba Dive in Hawaii

Now that you are aware of the truly fascinating array of underwater attractions that can be discovered while scuba diving in Hawaii, let us break down some of the best dive sites in The Aloha State to begin your undersea journey.


Oahu, or ‘The Gathering Place’, is the third-largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. Once the sacred domain of the ancient Kingdom of Oahu, it is now home to about one million people. Honolulu, located on Oahu’s southeast coast, is Hawaii’s state capital and its largest commercial center. Some of the most popular coastal attractions of Oahu include jet skiiing around Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, the Hanauama marine embayment, Kailua Bay, and the famous North Shore (plus dozens more).

Oahu is one of the best places for beginner divers and offers several great diving spots to start your scuba adventure (including several shipwrecks). The shallow waters of Shark’s Cove (on Oahu’s North Shore) features a rocky bay with crystal clear waters that are perfect for shore dives and snorkeling. Ironically, sharks are uncommon here.

Student divers may enjoy ‘Super Mario World’ a relatively shallow dive site featuring an extensive pipe system that references the classic video game. This interesting area provides a comfortable environment for beginners to spot impressive puffer fish, sea snails, and other gastropods. For more advanced divers, there is the purposely sunk U.S. Navy tugboat, Nashua, off the coast of Oahu. Situated beneath 65-feet of water, the ‘Navy Tugboat Dive’ is one of the U.S. Navy’s active training dive sites and home to a colorful variety of sea life and coral blooms.

The wondrous ‘Sea Tiger’ shipwreck is located right off Waikiki Beach in Honolulu and offers the chance to spot manta and eagle rays, eels, Hawaiian green sea turtles, and schooling fish.


Kailua-Kona, also known as Kona (to differentiate it from Kailua on Oahu island), is a coastal town on the west coast of the Big Island of Hawaii near Kailua Bay. The Kona coast is by far one of the greatest diving destinations on the Big Island (and the world). You would not be disappointed at all if this was the only place you visited in Hawaii to go diving. This stretch of coastline has dozens of spots that feature vibrant coral reefs, underwater lava labyrinths, tropical fish, big marine animals, sea caves (e.g. Casa Cave, Henry’s Cave, Eel Cove), and craters (e.g. AuAu Crater, Black Hole).

Some of the best shore diving on the Big Island can be found at Crescent Beach at the mouth of Honokohau Marina in north Kona. It is a perfect starting point to view the true abundance of Hawaii’s Big Island marine sea life. Explore ancient lava architecture alongside dolphins, octopuses, turtles, reef fish, and the occasional black or whitetip reef shark.

Want a chance to see the extraordinary manta ray? Cue ‘Manta Point’ in Kauna’oa Bay on the northside of Kona. This is where you will find world-class manta ray diving trips like the Manta Ray Night Dive (only accessible by dive boat ride). Watch these amazing creatures feed on plankton as they glide beneath the waves like angels.


Molokai is one of the middle children of Hawaii’s eight major islands. It is situated southeast of Oahu and north of Lanai. Legend has it that Molokai may be the birthplace of the world-famous traditional Polynesian dance known as hula. This is the island to begin your scuba diving journey if you are interested in coral reef diving. Hawaii’s longest fringing reef (at approx. 28 miles) is located off Molokai’s south shore. You can expect to find the beloved Hawaiian Pacific green sea turtle, eagle rays, tropical reef fish, and humpback whales swimming around here.

Not much needs to be said about Molokai other than its pristine waters is where you will experience some of the most exceptional reef diving in Hawaii. The coral reef sanctuaries around the south side of the island are vast and unspoiled, providing a superb habitat for all kinds of exotic fish and marine animals.


The second-oldest Hawaiian island, Kauai (also known as the ‘Garden Isle’) is located northwest of the island of Oahu across Kauai Channel. This truly lush and remote island is like the virtual equivalent of ‘Jurassic Park‘. It features the mesmerizing Waimea Canyon State Park and Na Pali Coast State Park. The island has some pretty unique diving spots (including more rugged locations for advanced divers). If you are relatively new to diving and looking for a relaxing experience, then the south shore of Kauai is probably where you should visit first.

And when you feel up to something a bit more exciting, you can head over to the offshore Sheraton Caverns in front of the Sheraton Kauai Resort to partake in one of the best scuba diving experiences that Kauai has to offer . This dive spot is known for its labyrinth of collapsed lava tubes that will surely enliven your adventurous spirit.

Also located on the south shore of the island is the ‘Koloa Landing‘ dive site. This is a safe and popular shore dive protected by Hanakaape Bay. It is probably the best shore dive in Kauai and features a horseshoe shaped coral reef. Finally, ‘Turtle Bluffs’ is an intermediate to advanced offshore boat dive where you can swim with Hawaiian green sea turtles, schooling snappers, and white tip reef sharks.

Maui & Molokini Crater

The island of Maui, also known as the ‘Valley Isle’, is the second-largest Hawaiian island and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Pacific. It was the mythical Hawaiian navigator, Hawaiiloa, that named the island after the demigod of the same name. Maui is renowned for its remarkably diverse landscape that was formed from the overlapping lava flow from two shield volcanoes.

Maui is considered one of the best places in Hawaii (and probably the world) to learn scuba diving, because it offers accessible shore dive sites, diverse marine life, clear and warm year-round water temperature (not to mention top-notch dive sites). Overall, Maui offers some of the best ‘shore diving’ experiences in Hawaii.

Some of Maui’s popular dive sites include the ‘Five Caves‘ at Makena Landing Park, Honolua Bay (northwest shore), Black Rock (night diving), and Mala Wharf. Great beginner shore dives include Olowalu and Ulua Beach. Located just off the southwestern shore of Maui, the Molokini Crater is one of Maui’s remarkable offshore landmarks. Molokini is a partially submerged, crescent-shaped volcanic crater which forms a tiny islet in the Alalakeiki Channel. Scuba diving and snorkeling are its most popular water activities.

The inside of the crater is protected from winds and waves, featuring clear water with visibility that exceeds 150 feet. The ‘Back Wall‘ of the crater is considered by some as one of the top diving spots in the world.


Lanai, known as the ‘Pineapple Island’, is the smallest public island in Hawaii (Lanai City being its only settlement). The island has several scuba dive locations that are filled with endemic fish species. There are also unexplored areas around the island for adventurous scuba divers. Some of these diving spots include Barge Harbor, Shark Fin Cove, White Rock, and the Monolith. The most famous dive spot in Lanai is known as the ‘Lanai Cathedrals‘ (I and II). This remarkable site (located off the island’s southern coast) features an amazing labyrinth of grand underwater lava structures (which are traced by light beams from the surface) such as lava tubes, archways, tunnels, coral and rock holes.

Ready for the Diving Experience of a Lifetime?

There is a reason why scuba diving is increasing in popularity around the world (dozens of reasons actually), and that is because amazing locales like Hawaii continue to provide visitors with some of the safest, most majestic, and world-class underwater diving experiences in the world. There is practically nowhere in Hawaii where you cannot enjoy an amazing scuba diving trip for you, your friends, and family.

Each of the literally hundreds of different dive sites in Hawaii are unique and offer a variety of distinctive attractions that will appeal to swimmers and divers of all experience levels. Whether you are interested in inshore coral reef diving, turtle watching, shore diving, or an offshore night dive, the Hawaiian Archipelago (and its unique underwater topography) will live up to your Hawaii scuba diving expectations and much more. Funlocity_Logo_small_pg


  • Elizabeth L

    Aloha! I’m Elizabeth L. At LiveYourAloha, I am responsible for writing about sightseeing tours and Hawaiian culture. For the last 12 years, I’ve been working as a tour guide in Hawaii. It’s been a great way to see the world and learn about new cultures. I love nature and the outdoors, and have even climbed two of the world’s highest peaks! Making connections and showing my visitors the incredible beauty of these beautiful islands is a passion of mine. When I’m not out giving tours, you’ll likely find me on an invigorating hike or enjoying local cuisine on the beach.