Swimming with sea turtles is likely on your “to-do” list if you’re visiting Oahu. While joining a snorkeling tour in Hawaii is a great option to see turtles, it’s also possible to grab your own snorkeling gear and find these friendly creatures without a tour guide!
If you’re planning on snorkeling with the turtles, please read our “Snorkeling Safety Tips in Hawaii” article.
Before You Swim with Turtles in Hawaii, Please Consider the Following Tips
- Wear biodegradable, reef-safe sunscreen. The chemicals in most sunscreen bleach the reefs and therefore cause damage to marine life. Making sure you have reef-safe sunscreen will help our reefs and the underwater animals we love!
- When you see a sea turtle, keep a respectful distance. The State of Hawaii’s DLNR recommends a 6- to 10-foot buffer, but we recommend a larger buffer to help protect the turtles.
- Never touch or chase sea turtles, as it is extremely disrespectful and irresponsible.
- When snorkeling, always approach them from the side, this way you can avoid scaring them.
- While it may seem like a kind act, never feed sea turtles, as it can affect their natural instinct to provide for themselves.
- Touching and feeding sea turtles in Hawaii is illegal and punishable by a large fine.
- Please be aware of these signs that a turtle is becoming uneasy or stressed by your presence:
- The turtle uses his flippers to cover the front of their face.
- If they “yawn” with an open mouth.
- They increase their swimming speed.
- If they dive toward deeper water.
If you notice any of these actions, please slowly back off and let the turtle do his/her thing!
Where to Swim and Snorkel with Turtles on Oahu
Laniakea Beach (aka Turtle Beach)– To Swim with Turtles on Oahu’s North Shore
Laniakea Beach is located on the North Shore of the island and we recommend going from 11 am to 1 pm. While it’s a great place to relax, it can be rough to swim in during the wintertime, as the waves can become large and the current can be difficult to navigate so remember to check the surf report!
Laniakea is also very popular with tourists. While it makes the top of most “Where to swim with turtles on Oahu” lists, we encourage you to venture out to some less-crowded spots. But if you’re simply looking for the greatest odds of seeing a turtle outside of a tour, this is probably the best bet.
Electric Beach (aka Kahe Point) — For Swimming with Turtles on Oahu’s West Side
Electric Beach is located on the West Side of Oahu, about 30-40 minutes from Waikiki, so it’s only recommended for those who have a car. This beach has great clarity and slightly warmer water due to the electric plant nearby, so there is typically an abundance of marine life you can see. It’s possible to spot turtles in waist-high water, along with schools of fish, but if you’re an experienced swimmer, you could also see dolphins a little further out!
Electric Beach is somewhat off of the beaten path, so it’s great if you’re looking for a snorkeling experience with a little more space.
Cockroach Cove (aka Kaupo Bay) — An Oahu South Shore Beach for Swimming with Turtles
Located next to the popular Halona Blowhole, Cockroach Cove is a fun spot for swimming, snorkeling, or rock jumping. There are small tidepools to explore, but the water can often be a little wavy, so we recommend this location for those with a bit of experience, or check the weather report before heading out. Even if the water is too rough to snorkel, this is a cool spot to check out while on Oahu.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve — A Popular Tourist Location for Snorkeling with Turtles
Hanauma Bay is a popular nature preserve famous for turtles and sea life, and it’s not too far from the famous Sandy’s Beach and Cockroach Cove.
For protection, this location shuts down every Tuesday (so plan accordingly), and we recommend going as early as possible, as the parking lot often fills up by midday. This nature preserve is a great place to spot fish and sea turtles. There are also lockers and snorkels you can rent, so no need to buy anything beforehand!
Waikiki Beaches — Yes, It’s Possible to Swim with Turtles in Waikiki
Waikiki is a long stretch of beach with many areas for swimming and snorkeling. Although your odds of swimming with turtles is not as high as other beaches on this list, it’s incredibly easy to walk out of your hotel and hop in the water. If you’re up for a walk, try heading down to Kapiolani Park and snorkeling in front of San Souci Beach in the “Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District,” as labeled on Google Maps. We’ve had great luck there spotting sea life. Just remember that summer months bring larger swells, whereas the winter months have calmer waters, better for swimming and snorkeling.
A Guided Snorkel Adventure – Your Best Bet to Swim and Snorkel with Turtles on Oahu
There are many advantages to joining a tour for underwater exploring while in Hawaii: it’s safer, you’re odds of seeing turtles and exciting sea life increases greatly, there’s no need to buy/rent snorkeling gear, it includes a boat ride (and the views of the island from the water is an experience in itself!), you might make some friends, and someone will be there to snap some pictures of you.
You’ll want to make sure you choose a reputable company with solid online reviews from sites like Trip Advisor, but we recommend booking directly with the tour company for the best price (you’ll avoid the commissions).
For example, our Sub-Scooter & Snorkeling tour is our most popular, and we’re well-reviewed online. We also offer a snorkeling tour in the same amazing location for half the price, which is a bargain and allows your group to experience the same tour, regardless of whether you go for the sub-scooters and snorkeling, or if you just want to try the snorkeling.
There are many reputable snorkeling companies to choose from in Hawaii, and you really can’t go wrong. As mentioned above, just getting out in the water is a memory you’ll hold for a lifetime!
Now that you have all of your options, the only thing left to do is jump in the water and meet some of those beautiful sea turtles! Stay safe, have fun, and always remember to respect our underwater friends. 🙂