Hawaii Ocean Rafting - maui snorkeling

When I arrived in Lahaina (west Maui), I found myself with a daunting task – how to choose the best Maui snorkelling tour for me. There are a few companies lined up at the Lahaina harbour, brochures mention other companies and tour desks on Front Street give you even more options.

These tours are not cheap, so it’s understandable you want to make sure you will be getting a good deal for what you want to do. I shall break down the decision making into 2 easy steps, which requires you to make a personal choice:


The first decision you are faced with is which destination.

Molokini snorkel tours – takes you to a crescent shaped island which is actually one half of an old volcanic crater rim. Makes for spectacular views.

aerial view of crescent shaped island with boats in the bay, best maui snorkeling tours
  • The snorkelling is average until they throw some fish food into the water to attract them for your viewing pleasure. Personally, that’s against my values of interfering with the natural ecosystem but it is up to you if you’re ok with it. Please note that not all companies do this
  • You are competing for snorkelling space with many other boats in the area. If crowds annoy you, choose a tour that leaves earlier than the others.
A snorkeler floating behind a turtle in the ocean

Molokini and Turtle Town Snorkeling Adventure Aboard the Malolo.

boat anchored with a slide from the top deck dipping into the water

Molokini Snorkel and Slide, 7am - 12am, from Wailuku

blue and white motor boat cruising past an island

Maui Snorkeling Molokini Crater Uncrowded, Unhurried;  from Wailuki

Lanai snorkel tours – takes you the closest neighbouring island of Lanai.

best maui snorkling tour includes a boat navigating between rocky island and a rocky cliff
  • Less tour boats go over there, therefore less crowded. In fact you’ll be the only boat in the captains’ choice of bay (maybe one other boat might be nearby!).
  • I found there was a greater abundance of fish here than along Maui coasts or Molokini. One area I went to, called Dinosaur had many types of fish in the one bag with several schools of fish floating by. The second stop we made had beautiful coral and fish but didn’t see any schools of fish - it was similar in abundance as Molokini.


There is everything to suit all types of adventures.


These crafts went to Lanai only (from Lahaina) and are a great choice for the adventurous types. [2022 update:  Reef Explorer, Maui's newest super raft now operates to Molokini]

a girl leaning over the boats edge looking at the cliffs
  • Get close to the Lanai cliffs and blowhole.
  • Get closer to shore to snorkel the reefs.
  • Smaller number of people, therefore less competition for snorkelling space.
  • Can manoeuvre quickly into position when dolphins or whales are spotted on the journey back to Maui.
  • Are faster so more time snorkelling and less time travelling.
  • Usually don’t have toilets on board.
  • Rougher ride therefore not suitable for people with back issues.
  • Hawaii Ocean Rafting / Ultimate Whale Watch / Blue Water Rafting
yellow coloured zokiak view from eye level while in the water

Molokini Crater Zodiak Adventure Snorkel & Turtle Cove; from Wailuku.

swimmers sitting around on a red coloured zokiak

Molokini Crater and South Maui Coast Adventure tour;  from Kihei

view of yellow coloured zodiak and water life underneath

Ultimate 3.5 hour Snorkel, with Ultimate Whale Watch. From Lahaina

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Boat Cruises

  • More people on board therefore more crowded when snorkelling - depending upon size of boat.
  • Smoother ride over the waves compared to zodiaks.
  • More comfortable with better seating areas and more facilities including toilets, showers and steps into the water.
  • The older boats don’t have much outdoor viewing space but do have table and chairs indoors.
  • You could be competing for photographic space from the boat.
  • Larger selection of food on offer. 
  • Some have an extra feature like a waterslide (great for the kids).


  • More people on board than boat cruisers and zodiaks - depending upon catamaran size.
  • Easier to walk around the boat than a zodiak.
  • Plenty of space to take photos as you wish.
  •  Quicksilver & Calypso have a BBQ on board.
  • Have fun riding in the nets at the front of the vessel.
  •  Some have extra features, like the Calypso triple decker boat has two waterslides.
  • Trilogy / Paragon / Gemini / Teralani  are just a small selection of other catamarans offering snorkelling tours.
large boat anchored by shore

Molokini Snorkelling Adventure Aboard Calypso; from Ma'alaea Harbour.

a catamaran with sails open

Molokini Snorkeling Tour with Four Winds II Catamaran; from Ma'alaea Harbour.

aerial view of a catamaran on the sea

Lanai Snorkeling & Dolphin Watch from Maalaea. On eco friendly catamaran.

Now there are two other factors that can also influence your decision; food and departure location.


There are several companies to choose from for each boating type listed above, so then it might come down to which lunch suits you best.

You could be offered:

  • Light meal – sandwiches/wraps with salads, cake and fruit.
  • A buffet style lunch.
  • BBQ grill cooked on board.

Some tours offer breakfast and lunch (longer duration tours) and some offer brunch only as you’ll be back in town at noon anyway.

Also, not all companies offer gluten free options, to be prepared to bring some extra snacks with you.


This will depend upon whether you have rented a vehicle and how far you wish to travel. Bear in mind that these tours leave early, between 0700-0800am with a 30 minute check in.

Therefore, remember to ask ‘where is the departure point?’

  • Lahaina harbor- Hawaiian Ocean Project was the only Molokini tour departing from here.
  • Ma’alaea harbor – located between Lahaina and Wailea. Therefore need own transport to get there or check if the boat tour company offer a pickup service from your hotel.
  • Kihei boat ramp – a small boat ramp so tours tend to be on zodiacs.
  • Perhaps the boat tour is leaving from a resorts’ own beach!

Also, when making your initial enquiries, ask them how many snorkelling stops do they make and where. E.g. Hawaiian Ocean Project and Eco Adventures (PWF) makes one stop in Lanai and one along the Maui coast. I ended up choosing a zodiak tour because they made 2-3 stops (time permitting) in Lanai only which is what I preferred.

TG Tip:  once you have narrowed it down to one or two tours, before you book with a tour desk at your hotel or on the street check the price on the tour company’s website first for online specials. I was able to save 15% by booking online.

Choose your best Maui snorkelling tour now

As you can see, I can’t really tell you which tour will be best for you because it all depends upon your personal tastes. The purpose of this blog is to give you a guideline on what’s on offer and how to make your choice that best fits your travelling groove.

Happy snorkelling and be sure to share your best Maui snorkelling tour experiences below or share the Blog with family and friends that will be travelling to Maui soon!

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About the author

Lisa is a travel gypsy by heart, having already been to over 70 countries and still counting. Founder of Travel Groove, to share travel tips, tricks and knowledge with other travellers.

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