Exploring Molokini Crater in Maui

Planning on snorkeling in Maui? Molokini Crater is just off the coast of Maui and is one of the top Maui snorkeling spots. Scroll down to find out why!
This Molokini Crater in Maui post was originally written January 8, 2020 and was updated November 6, 2021 and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

Have you ever wanted to snorkel in one of the three craters of the world?

If so, then I have some great news for you! You can go snorkeling at Molokini Crater off the coast of Maui. It’s a beautiful place where you will see Hawaiian sea turtles, tropical fish, and other sea creatures.

And it’s not too far from your resort in Wailea or Ka’anapali. Keep reading to find out more about this amazing spot!

There are tons of gorgeous places to go snorkeling in Hawaii but none as unique as Molokini Crater. This is one thing that makes it stand out among all other things to do in Maui with kids or without them.

So if you want an unforgettable experience while visiting Hawaii, make sure you check out these tours of this popular Maui snorkeling spot!

Keep scrolling to learn about these Molokini Crater snorkeling tour options to find the right fit for your trip! Read my top 15 Hawaii snorkeling tips!

Click HERE for the best Molokini Crater tour

Don’t have time to read a bunch of Hawaii blog posts and reviews? Here are some of our top picks for visiting Maui.

Popular Maui Tours/Activities

Favorite Maui Resorts/Hotels

  • Hyatt Regency Maui (this has a swim-up bar and tons of amazing amenities)
  • Andaz Maui (this is a luxury resort with the best luau on Maui)
  • Honua Kai Resort & Spa (this is one of our personal favorites because there are tons of pools and there are condo options)

Want to skip all the planning and just access my detailed Maui Itinerary complete with daily schedules, kid-friendly activities, and travel hacks? Click the button below.

Get this ultimate Maui travel guide for families by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids!
Exploring Molokini Crater in Maui, a guide featured by top Hawaii blog, Hawaii Travel with Kids.

Molokini Crater: a Wonder of Nature

In the Hawaiian language, Molokini means “many ties.” It is a crescent-shaped volcanic crater lying between Maui and Kahoolawe. It is a tiny uninhabited islet with an area of 23 acres.

Molokini rises from 300 feet below the ocean’s surface and is a half-mile wide. Its diameter is 0.6 km. The highest point is 161 feet above sea level.

Exploring Molokini Crater in Maui, a guide featured by top Hawaii blog, Hawaii Travel with Kids.
Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Partially submerged in water and protected by the crescent shape, Molokini is a wonder of nature. It is one of the three such calderas in this world, which is why it’s a popular tourist spot. If you love exotic places and want to explore marine life, Molokini is your perfect vacation destination.

The history of Molokini is very interesting. It was formed by a volcanic eruption in the Cenozoic era. According to Hawaiian myths, Molokini was an attractive young woman who was cut into two pieces and transformed into a rock by Pele, the fire goddess.

According to historians and archaeologists, Hawaiians used to visit Molokini in the early days for fishing. They also hunted seabirds and collected their eggs.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the Molokini crater was famous for the commercial harvesting of black coral.

During World War II, the crater hit the news for a different cause. It was used by the American troops for target practicing.

Today, Molokini is one of the best locations for snorkeling. It features in the bucket list of tourists who love scuba diving and snorkeling. It is a bird sanctuary and Marine Life Conservation District.

The reef and the island were damaged due to the bombing, but today you can only see a few signs of the military activities when you do a Maui crater snorkel.

Why You Should Visit Molokini Crater

Hawaii is one of the most loved tourist spots in this world. For years it has ruled global tourism with its beaches, turquoise blue water, food, and tropical climate.

Maui also is known for its volcanoes and national parks.

However, it is Molokini that is stealing the limelight nowadays. People who visit Hawaii or its islands participate in snorkeling, scuba diving, and other activities. We all have seen the pictures of the amazing undersea and its treasure but Molokini offers an exclusive experience.

Exploring Molokini Crater in Maui, a guide featured by top Hawaii blog, Hawaii Travel with Kids: Snorkelers at Molokini Crater near Maui
Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Blake Bronstad

As you can see from the images, Molokini is half-submerged in water and this makes it so unique. The islet shelters secrets of nature that you will love to unearth.

With fish, colorful coral, and the mysterious underwater, Molokini Crater snorkeling will help you to discover an amazing sea world. It’s absolutely stunning!

The protected waters of this island are a treasure trove of underwater creatures.  The partially submerged crater and its crystal-clear water look heavenly. Deep down, an inspiring sea world is waiting for you. You can see over 250 varieties of marine animals here.

The crater acts as a shield for the aquatic animals, which find it a haven to flourish. Away from rough waves and strong currents, the calm waters of Molokini allow marine animals of different shapes and sizes to breed.

The visibility is very high here – you can see more than 150 feet, which makes Molokini perfect for watching marine life. Moorish idols, parrotfish, black triggerfish, yellow tang, and moray eels are common here. Occasionally, you can see manta rays too.

Have you ever seen whale sharks? Come to Molokini and you can see them feeding on plankton. They are vegetarians, you see, and so don’t pose any threat to you.

Do you know why snorkelers love Molokini? The fishes are less skittish. They are quite acquainted with humans and hence you can watch them closely. This is really a paradise for snorkeling!

Molokini Scuba Diving

Experienced scuba divers flock to Molokini to enjoy a lot of action under the water. You can take a scuba diving boat from Ma’alaea Harbor.

As you dive into the sea, you will be greeted by the sights of different schools of fish. Pyramid Butterflyfish and Scissortail Sergeant fish are very common. Check the coral reef while scuba diving and you will be amazed to see Hawaiian Damselfish passing by.

Look carefully for Racoon Butterflyfish. Lucky divers even find Flame Angelfish.

There are several spots at Molokini for scuba diving. Your guide will take you to these places which are known for sighting certain fishes. For example, White Rock is a dive site near Maui which is deeper but with more varied aquatic animals.

Along with coral pinnacles, you can watch species like Green Scorpionfish, White-banded Cleaner Shrimp, and black and yellow Scorpionfish. Keep your eyes open, as this site is famous for incredible species that are not usually found everywhere.

The height of the Molokini scuba diving trip is finding Day octopus and Zebra Moray Eel. They are shy and try to hide in the coral, but experienced divers can locate them.

Molokini scuba diving will help you to create unforgettable memories. You can take back all the photos and see them later on to relive the adventure you had at this incredible place.

Read my full guide to scuba diving in Hawaii!

Why Divers Love Molokini

Pro divers find Molokini irresistible. While the beginners or amateurs prefer to remain within the crater while diving or snorkeling, the experienced tourists go beyond in search of exclusive marine creatures.

Exploring Molokini Crater in Maui, a guide featured by top Hawaii blog, Hawaii Travel with Kids: The water at Molokini Crater off the coast of Maui
Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Blake Bronstad

The reefs drop off gently and with the help of the currents, you can traverse further out to get a taste of the sea around. Divers can witness the vibrant coral reefs and the diverse marine life by swimming out of the sheltered arms of the crater.

Turtle Town Maui

When you are looking for your Molokini snorkeling tour, you might pick one that also includes a stop at Turtle Town.

You can find the best places to snorkel in Maui and see Hawaiian sea turtles is Turtle Town. It’s a long stretch of coastline extending from Nahuna Point to Black Sand Beach in the district of Makena.

Exploring Molokini Crater in Maui, a guide featured by top Hawaii blog, Hawaii Travel with Kids: Turtles under water on a blue background.
Sea turtles in Maui.

The entire coastline is known as Turtle Town but for tourists, only Maluaka Beach is popular as it is one of the best places to snorkel in Maui. Just picture a white sand beach, calm and clear water, and rich marine life. All these add up to make a snorkeler’s paradise.

The place got its names from the green sea turtles which are found abundantly here.

Maluaka is a beautiful beach. It is less frequented. The Haleakala Mountain shields the beach from the trade winds, making it safe and also conducive to plenty of water activities. The undisturbed sea is ideal for boating, fishing, swimming, and snorkeling.

Exploring Molokini Crater in Maui, a guide featured by top Hawaii blog, Hawaii Travel with Kids: Tranquil turquoise-colored water on the quiet Maluaka Beach, Maui, Hawaii
Maluaka Beach on Maui.

The reef gently slopes down which makes it easy for you to find the right spot for yourself. The southern tip of the beach is the best place to locate green turtles.

The coral reefs also start at this point and as you slowly go into the water, you will find turtles. They swim in the shallow water and you can enjoy the rare experience of swimming with them.

One more thing, the green sea turtles are not green but brown. When they lie still, you may mistake them as rocks, so keep a careful watch for them.

Snorkelers can see parrotfish, butterflyfish, squirrelfish, cardinalfish, tang, and trumpet fish here.

If you don’t want to get into the water, it’s okay. Relax on the soft sand and get a nice tan. The kids can play volleyball on the beach. Enjoy a perfect family vacation, away from the hustle and bustle of city life in Turtle Town.

Click here for step-by-step Maui travel planning help

Top Questions about Molokini Crater

How far is Molokini Crater from Maui?

Molokini is just 3 miles southwest of Maui. You can only reach it by boat or raft from Maalaea Harbor and Lahaina. Take a smaller boat or a catamaran to reach Molokini and witness nature at its best here.

Early mornings are the best time to enjoy the island as the water is calmer.

During summer, the Tradewinds is stronger which makes the ride back thrilling. Molokini crater snorkeling is a unique experience that every adventure lover will remember.

If you are traveling during winter, you will get a bonus – the sight of humpback whales. Every moment at Molokini is filled with thrill and the joy of finding something new.

Imagine, getting inside a sunken volcano and watching the colorful reefs and fishes. Some of the fish found here are endemic to Hawaii which makes Molokini such a treasured place for nature lovers.Maui is known for their amazing whale watching boat tours that leave from Lahaina

Is snorkeling at Molokini Crater safe?

Yes, Molokini is safe. The crater not only protects the marine life but also the waters from outside currents and waves. That’s why you will find the water calm and safe for all types of water activities.

Are you new to snorkeling? Molokini is the perfect place to try snorkeling. You will never forget the experience.

If you have snorkeled before and wish to do more, this is also the ideal place for you, as Molokini diving will allow you to explore the Hawaiian sea and witness exotic animals. The underwater views will blow your mind.

The place is affordable and ideal for both children and adults. All the tours have guides and so you will be safe and have someone to show you around.Woman jumping off boat near Molokini Crater in Maui

How deep is the water at the Molokini Crater?

The depth of the water varies. Depth near the inner shore is around 1 foot and it increases to 50 feet. So, you can find a comfortable spot according to your skill and safely explore the seabed.

Most beginners stick to the shallow water and the experienced or pro swimmers go deep down to explore the sea on their own.

All boats and raft tours start early in the morning, as the water is calm and most tourists prefer this time. So, be ready for an early morning adventure. It takes around 45 minutes to reach Molokini from the Kihei Boat Ramp.

The coral reef is beautiful at Molokini with different shades. The back wall is covered with Finger Coral. You can also see Red Slate Pencil Urchin.

Are there sharks in the Molokini Crater?

Yes, there are sharks in the Molokini crater which makes the trips more exciting. Whitetip reef sharks are more common here. They are thin and small and the juvenile sharks find the reef safe while the adults are usually seen near the bottom.

A few gray reef sharks are also found in Molokini Crater however, whale sharks frequent this crater quite often.

Best Molokini Crater Snorkeling Tours

Molokini Family-Friendly Snorkel Tour

Join the Pacific Whale Foundation for one of the most family-friendly snorkeling tours on Maui. There are tons of onboard activities (like a water slide and glass-bottom viewing windows) and entertainment. Check out the latest prices and more details.

This catamaran leaves from Ma’alaea Harbor and goes to Molokini Crater and Turtle Town. You’ll get food, drinks a lot of great snorkeling. Book your Molokini Family-Friendly Snorkel Tour

Small Group Molokini & Turtle Snorkel

If you are up for a little adventure, this Redline Rafting snorkeling trip is a total blast. They limit it to 24 guests and you’ll head to 3 or 4 of South Maui’s best snorkeling spots. Check out the latest prices and more details.

You’ll also hear about Hawaii’s history, geology, and marine life while you enjoy breakfast and lunch on board this customized raft. Book your Small Group Molokini & Turtle Snorkel Tour

Advanced Molokini Snorkel Tour

Another great small group snorkeling excursion is this Molokini Wild Side tour put on by the Pacific Whale Foundation. Check out the latest prices and more details.

You’ll enjoy a continental breakfast as well as a fresh lunch grilled on the boat. See unparalleled views of Maui’s coast from this single deck catamaran. Book your Advanced Molokini Snorkel Tour

More Things to do in Maui

Maui is a perfect vacation location. It offers magnificent natural views, has plenty of scope for outdoor activities, and you can enjoy good food and a tropical climate. With the right mix of everything that makes a superb vacation, there is no doubt you will enjoy it a lot at Maui.

Other than snorkeling and scuba diving, there are a host of activities that you can participate in in Maui.

I have already told you about the departure points for boat tours. Only 10 to 30 minutes from these locations, there is a place to try a zip line tour. Find the best prices here.

The 5-line zip tour will take you over plantation gardens. You will enjoy the views of the lush green gardens, the West Maui Mountains, and the Haleakala Volcano. Try this with your entire family and it will be so much fun.

Things to do in Lahaina Maui featured by top Hawaii blog, Hawaii Travel with Kids: One of the many things to do in Lahaina, Maui is explore historic Front Street
Shoreline along Front Street in Lahaina, Maui.

Lahaina Town is situated in West Maui. It is full of historic landmarks, art galleries, and shops. You can try local food at restaurants, roam around in the town and imbibe its culture.

Want to see more beaches? Maui will never let you down. Travel to the southern part of the island to visit beaches like Kihei, Wailea, and Charley Young Beach. Paako Beach here is known as the secret beach.

The north is famous for Paia and Haiku beaches. The Ho’okipa beach gets a good number of travelers to watch the surfers.

The west of the island has gorgeous beaches like Napili and Kapalua. Kaanapali Beach is famous for cliff diving.

Don’t forget to pack reef-safe sunscreen, scarves, and hats as the sun can be harsh on your skin.

The Iao Valley State Park is another major attraction of Maui. The park has great historical significance because it was the battleground where Maui’s army fought against King Kamehameha. The natural beauty of the place will leave you spellbound.

Find out whether it's worth visiting I'ao Needle on Maui with kids by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of a pointy mountain in Maui
Iao Valley State Park. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Do you get a chance to see a lava field often? Not really so, don’t miss the chance when you are in Maui. The southernmost tip of Maui has a lava field. It is also the end of the driving area, named after a French naval officer and explorer who landed here. It was once a local fishing area but is now covered with jagged lava from the Haleakala volcano.

Are you feeling tired? Do you want to rejuvenate your body and mind? Go for a massage. There are many places to get a relaxing massage in and around the island, including traditional Hawaiian lomi lomi massage. Your hotel may also have a service or you can get the service from any agency.

There is a skating ring in Maui! Yes, if all the beach hopping and swimming has given you sore legs, give them a good shake at the Kalama Park in central Kihei. Open three times a week, you can hire skates and helmets to try skating against the sweeping views of the ocean and swaying palm trees.

Sunsets bring a sense of completion and peace and when you see them at the gorgeous beaches of Maui they will fill your heart with gratitude and serenity. Sugar Beach and Kaanapali Beach will allow you to see striking sunsets at Maui. Watch the sun dive into the sea against a richly colored sky.

Hiking woman on Hawaii, Waihee ridge trail, Maui, USA. Young female hiker walking in beautiful lush Hawaiian forest nature landscape in mountains. Asian woman hiker wearing backpack looking at view.
There are so many great hikes on Maui.

Maui has its share of forests also which are excellent for hiking. There is an opportunity for biking down the Haleakala volcanic mountain. This is an exciting activity that most people don’t want to miss.

You can go fishing or jet skiing in Maui, take surfing lessons or go whale watching. Want to try something romantic? Try a dinner cruise. Most couples on honeymoon go for dinner cruises.

Whale watching tours are conducted regularly which will allow you to watch whales and also snorkel in the beautiful coral reefs.

Molokini Snorkeling Wrap Up

All these surprises and many more await you at Molokini crater. With a vast array of activities and natural attractions, the Molokini crater vacation will be the best one you had in years.

Looking for more Maui Travel Resources? Read my Road to Hana Tips, find out the Best Maui Luaus, and the top Maui Snorkeling Spots!