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Costa Rica’s Best Surf Spots

For many, the search for the perfect wave has ended in Costa Rica, the “Hawaii of Latin American surf.” You’re spoiled for choice, with dozens of world-class venues and no shortage of surf camps, surf schools, and rental outlets.

A surfer on a longboard turns into a crumbling wave.
Surfing in Costa Rica. Photo © José Pablo Orozco Marín, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

The Caribbean Coast

The Caribbean has fewer breaks than the Pacific but still offers great surfing. Waves are short yet powerful rides, sometimes with Hawaiian-style radical waves. The best times are summer (late May-early Sept.) and winter (Dec.-Mar.), when Atlantic storms push through the Caribbean, creating three-meter (10-foot) swells.

A 20-minute boat ride from Puerto Limón is Isla Uvita, with a strong and dangerous left. Farther south, there are innumerable short breaks at Cahuita. Still farther south, Puerto Viejo has the biggest rideable waves in Costa Rica. Immediately south, Playa Cocles is good for beginners.

Guanacaste and the Northwest

Surfing is centered on Parque Nacional Santa Rosa, and Witch’s Rock at Playa Naranjo, one of the best beach breaks in the country. While many of the hot spots require a 4WD vehicle for access, surf excursions from nearby Nicoya beach resorts make them more accessible. The best time is during the rainy season (May-Nov.).

The Nicoya Peninsula

Nicoya offers more than 50 prime surf spots, more than anywhere else in the nation. Just north of Tamarindo is Playa Grande, with a five-kilometer-long (3-mile-long) beach break acclaimed as Costa Rica’s most accessible and consistent. Tamarindo is an excellent jumping-off point for a surf safari south to more isolated beaches, including at Playa Avellanas and Playa Negra (definitely for experts only), Nosara and Playas Sámara, Coyote, Manzanillo, and Malpaís. All have good surf, lively action, and several surf camps.

Central Pacific

Central Pacific surfing centers on Jacó, where the waves appeal to beginners and intermediates. Farther south are Playa Hermosa, which has expert beach breaks and an international contest every August, and Playas Esterillos Este and Oeste. Farther south, what Manuel Antonio lacks in consistency it more than makes up for in natural beauty. Dominical has “militant” sandbars and long point waves in an equally beautiful tropical setting. The best conditions are July to December.

Golfo Dulce and the Osa Peninsula

The cognoscenti head to Pavones, on the southern shore of the Golfo Dulce. On a decent day, the fast, nearly one-kilometer (0.6-mile) left break is one of the longest in the world. The waves are at their grandest in rainy season, when the long left point can offer a three-minute ride. Cabo Matapalo, on the Osa Peninsula, is another top spot.


Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.

Hudson Valley Outdoor Adventures

Fresh air and challenging terrain for a wide range of sports are two primary factors that draw visitors to the more remote parts of the Hudson River Valley. Whether you choose to hike, bike, or ski, you’ll have plenty of choices for a memorable outdoor adventure.

Hiking

[pullquote align=right]Minnewaska State Park Preserve has rare dwarf pines and peregrine falcons to see.[/pullquote]Some 200 miles of trails traverse the Catskill Forest Preserve. High above the Hudson River Valley are Kaaterskill Falls and the Escarpment Trail, a magical wilderness setting where the Hudson River School of painters found inspiration and the Catskill Mountain House entertained prominent guests. The rugged 23-mile trail connects the towns of Haines Falls and Windham, changing 10,000 feet in elevation along the way. The highest peak along the trail is 3,940-foot Blackhead Mountain. Allow two days for a challenging overnight hike, or three days for side trips at either end of the hike.

Near New Paltz in Ulster County, Minnewaska State Park Preserve has rare dwarf pines and peregrine falcons to see, plus gorgeous vistas at every bend in the trail.

Swimming and Boating

The Hudson and its tributaries lure water sports enthusiasts for fishing, sailing, tubing, kayaking, and more. Tubing on the Esopus in Ulster County is especially popular in summer. Sailing school is an option out of Kingston. Greenwood Lake in Orange County, Lake Taghkanic in Columbia County, and several lakes near Saratoga Springs have beaches for swimming and facilities for boats.

Kayakers can paddle lakes, ponds, creeks, and of course the Hudson River in Dutchess County. Several shops in the region rent gear and offer guided trips.

Tubing on the Esopus river.
Tubing on the Esopus river. Photo © ScubaBear68, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Cycling

Cyclists enjoy endless miles of rolling hills on quiet country roads, and several counties have converted long stretches of abandoned train tracks into paths for walking, jogging, or biking. Piermont and New Paltz are popular cycling towns, and many local clubs plan group rides on summer weekends. You might tour one county at a time, or attempt the 180-mile multiday ride from New York City to Albany. Include as many bridge crossings as possible, and allow time to take in some of the sights along the way. Several companies offer guided bike tours of the area; an amateur bike race is another way to discover many of the back roads.

Skiing

Falling temperatures mean one thing to winter sports enthusiasts: the possibility of powder. Ski resorts in the Catskills and Adirondacks start making snow as soon as it will freeze, and then hope for a little help from Mother Nature as the season progresses. Whether you prefer the thrill of downhill or the serenity of the open trail, the greater Hudson River Valley has much to offer December-March.

For downhill thrills, head to Windham, Hunter, or Belleayre in the northern Catskill Mountains, where snow guns cover nearly 100 percent of the terrain. For more solitude on Nordic trails, choose the Capital-Saratoga region: John Boyd Thacher State Park near Albany and Lapland Lake near Saratoga Springs are good bets.

The Hudson Valley & The Catskills
The Hudson Valley & The Catskills

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Hudson Valley & the Catskills.

Windward O‘ahu Water Sports

The windward side is typically just that, windy, a weather condition that can adversely affect surfing conditions unless the winds are blowing offshore. Unfortunately, the windward side usually sees onshore winds, leaving little in the way of consistent, good quality waves for surfing. On the other hand, sports like sailboarding and kitesurfing that flourish in the windy conditions are popular in this region, centered around Kailua where most of the outfitters are located.


Hawai‘i Kai

The outer reefs of Maunalua Bay hold a wealth of surf spots for expert surfers who are comfortable with very long paddles to the breaking waves and surfing over shallow and sharp coral reefs. Because the waves break so far offshore mixed with a lack of shoreline access, it’s nearly impossible for the visiting surfer to distinguish between the different breaks and know which break is surfable and which waves are breaking over dry reef.

There are some options, however, for those who would like to learn to surf, or charter a boat to surf in Maunalua Bay. Hawaiian Surf Adventure (7192 Kalanianaole Hwy., 808/396-2324, 9am-5pm Mon.-Sat.) accesses a secluded wave in Maunalua Bay by boat, which is a gentle surf break perfect for beginner surfers. There are no crowds to contend with, just you and the instructor. Group lessons are $89; private lessons are $149. Hawaiian Surf Adventure also offers stand-up paddle lessons and tours of Maunalua Bay starting at $99 as well as outrigger canoe tours. Island Watersports Hawaii (377 Keahole St., 808/224-0076, 7am-7pm daily) also taps into the uncrowded waves of Maunalua Bay with two-hour group surf lessons for $99 and 1.5-hour private lessons starting at $125. If you’d rather stand-up paddle the bay, two-hour group lessons are $99 and 1.5-hour private lessons start at $125.

Bodyboarding and bodysurfing at Sandy Beach on O’ahu.
Bodyboarding and bodysurfing at Sandy Beach on O’ahu. Photo © Daniel Ramirez, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Sandy Beach

To the east of Koko Head is the infamous Sandy Beach, known for its powerful shorebreak. As a favorite of local bodyboarders and bodysurfers, the water’s edge fills with heads bobbing up and down, waiting to drop into a heaving barrel, right onto the sand. If this sounds dangerous, that’s because it is. Every year people are seriously injured at Sandy Beach, with everything from broken limbs to broken necks, even death. The waves can get big, especially in the summer months. If you’re not a strong swimmer or comfortable in the surf zone, take solace in the fact that it’s quite amusing to watch people get slammed from the safety of the beach. Check with lifeguards for current conditions. There are also two surfing breaks over a sharp and shallow coral reef, Full Point and Half Point, at the north end of the beach.


Kailua

All along Kailua beaches, from Lanikai to Kalama Beach Park, the ocean conditions are usually just right for stand-up paddling. With a soft, sandy bottom, little to no shorebreak, and generally calm water, the area around Kalama Beach Park is perfect for distance paddling up and down the coast. If you paddle out from Kailua Beach, there is Flat Island to explore. And if you’re paddling from Lanikai Beach, there is a bit more rock and reef off the beach, so you can explore the near-shore waters or paddle out to the Mokulua Islands. During the winter months, there are two surf breaks that reveal themselves on either side of Moku Nui, the larger of the two islands. Keep in mind that if the surf is big enough for waves to be breaking on the outer reefs, the ocean currents will be much stronger. Stand-up paddle surfing should only be attempted by expert stand-up paddlers.

Stand-up paddling can become more of a chore than a pleasurable experience in extremely windy conditions. When the wind does pick up and the ocean surface becomes choppy and bumpy, sailboarders and kitesurfers take to the water in Kailua instead.

When the wind picks up, sailboarders and kitesurfers take to the water in Kailua.
When the wind picks up, sailboarders and kitesurfers take to the water in Kailua. Photo © Patrick Rudolph, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

You can rent stand-up paddle boards at Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks (130 Kailua Rd., Ste. 101B, 808/262-2555 or 888/457-5737, 8:30am-5pm daily) for $49 half day and $59 full day, with multiday prices and free carts to walk the board to the beach. They rent beginner and advanced sailboard setups starting at $59 half day and $69 full day, and offer a Windsurf Tour for $99. They have kiteboards and gear for sale, but pre-ordering your gear is recommended. The retail outlet is within walking distance of Kailua Beach Park.

Windward Watersports (33 Hoolai St., 808/261-7873, 9am-5pm daily) is a complete water sports shop selling new and used boards and gear for many activities. They rent stand-up paddle boards starting at $49 half day and $59 full day, with two-hour lessons for $99. They rent kiteboards starting at $30. Actual rental of the kite is contingent upon your skill level, or beginners can take a one-hour course with a certified instructor. Located in Kailua town, they’ll help you put racks and watercraft on your vehicle for the short drive to the beach.

Hawaiian WaterSports (167 Hamakua Dr., 808/262-5483, 9am-5pm daily) also located in Kailua, rents stand-up paddle boards starting at $69 for a full day with multiday rentals. They have a wide range of boards 7-14 feet and boards for all skill levels, and you can exchange your board at any time during your rental period. Sailboard rentals start at $59 half day, $69 full day, and they also offer two-hour lessons—group lessons start at $99, private for $179. Kiteboards are also available for rent starting at $29 per day. Different lessons are offered depending on your skill level. Private lessons start at $179 for 1.5 hours of instruction.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

Diving in Southeastern O‘ahu

Diving in southeastern O‘ahu is stellar, with a handful of complete dive shops offering sales, rentals, and dive excursions at a range of prices. The wealth of dive sites includes the area known as China Walls, a deep vertical wall drop with countless nooks and crannies, and several wreck sites now home to dozens of species.

Island Divers (377 Keahole St., 808/423-8222 or 888/844-3483, 6am-8pm daily) is a PADI 5-Star Dive Center that operates out of the Hawaii Ka‘i Shopping Center. They cater to all levels of divers and offer PADI certification courses. They have pickup and drop-off services available from Waikiki hotels, or you can meet at their own private dock. Their two-tank boat charter dives start at $85. Island Divers is a complete dive center as well, with snorkel and scuba equipment available for rent and sale.

Reef Pirates Diving (7192 Kalanianaole Hwy., 808/348-2700, 7am-6pm daily) also operates in Hawai‘i Kai, but is based in the Koko Marina Shopping Center. They are a complete dive center with sales and rentals and offer PADI certification as well as dive charters. Their two-tank charters start at $120.

A complete dive shop based in Kailua, with scuba and diving sales and rentals, Aaron’s Dive Shop (307 Hahani St., 808/262-2333 or 888/847-2822, 7am-7pm Mon.-Fri., 7am-6pm Sat., 7am-5pm Sun.) offers certification and dive charters out of Hawai‘i Kai Marina. They have pickup and drop-off service for Waikiki hotels, or you can meet at the shop or the dock. Two-tank charters start at $130.

The dive site known as China Walls is a vertical wall that drops off the south side of Koko Head and reaches down to depths of 75 feet.
The dive site known as China Walls is a vertical wall that drops off the south side of Koko Head and reaches down to depths of 75 feet. Photo © squirrel83, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

China Walls

Maunalua Bay, which stretches from Kahala to Koko Head along the southeastern shore, has a wealth of dive sites and several operators that specifically service this region, with charters leaving from the Hawai‘i Kai Marina.

[pullquote align=right]Whale songs can be heard in the area during the winter months.[/pullquote]Special to the area is a dive site known as China Walls. This vertical wall drops off the south side of Koko Head and reaches down to depths of 75 feet. Its caves and ledges attract sharks, turtles, jacks, rays, eels, and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Whale songs can be heard in the area during the winter months. China Walls is located at the southernmost tip of Koko Head, the headland that frames the eastern side of Maunalua Bay.

Maunalua Bay is home to airplane- and shipwrecks, like the WWII-era Corsair plane, a barge, and a marine landing craft known as an LST. There are also caves, reefs, and overhangs where you’ll find turtles, Galapagos sharks, whitetip reef sharks, eels, countless tropical fish, and rare black coral.

Diving in the Maunalua Bay is dependent on ocean and weather conditions, and high winds or high surf can cause diving conditions to deteriorate.

Map of Southeast O‘ahu, Hawaii
Southeast O‘ahu

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

Snorkeling in Wailea, Maui

As at neighboring Kihei, winter is guaranteed to offer the best visibility since summer can have consistent winds and periods of surf. Morning hours are calm and the best time for finding turtles.

Ulua Beach and Mokapu Beach

[pullquote align=right]This is the perfect spot for beginning snorkelers.[/pullquote]The best two locations for snorkeling in Wailea are Ulua Beach and Mokapu Beach, which are listed together because the rocky point that separates them is where you’ll find the most marine life and coral. Ulua (the southernmost of the two) is more protected and offers a gentle, sandy entry. This is the perfect spot for beginning snorkelers. If you’re staying at one of the Wailea resorts, you can reach the beaches by strolling along the Wailea Coastal Walk. If you are driving, there are two small public parking lots which can fill up early; arrive before 9am. To reach the parking area, turn on Ulua Beach Road off Wailea Alanui Drive just north of the Shops at Wailea, and follow the road down until the parking lots at the end.

One of the best locations for snorkeling in Wailea is Mokapu Beach.
One of the best locations for snorkeling in Wailea is Mokapu Beach. Photo © Starr Environmental, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Wailea Point

The second most popular spot for snorkeling in Wailea is Wailea Point, a rocky promontory rife with green sea turtles that separates the Four Seasons and Fairmont Kea Lani. The easiest point of entry is from the south side of Wailea Beach in front of the Four Seasons. You’ll notice some people trying to enter and exit the water by launching off the point itself, and while this can be efficient, it’s also a great way to slip on the rocks or have a wave wash you into some sea urchins. Entering from the beach is the safest bet, although be prepared for a five-minute swim over sand.

Rental Shops

Inside the Shops at Wailea there’s a Maui Dive Shop (3750 Wailea Alanui Rd., 808/875-9904, 8am-9pm daily) which is similar to the other stores throughout South Maui. The staff can offer good advice on snorkeling locations, it’s within walking distance of many of the hotels, and the rental prices will be cheaper than what the activity booth stands will charge inside the resorts.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

Best Extreme Sports in Bermuda

Wakeboarding is one of scores of popular water sports in Bermuda.
Wakeboarding is one of scores of popular water sports in Bermuda. Photo © Rosemary Jones.

While many Bermuda residents spend weekends and downtime testing their limits against the island’s physical challenges, visitor activities were often somewhat, well, sedate. That’s all changed in the last few years with the arrival of numerous vendors offering outsiders a feel of the “real”—read extreme—Bermuda.

Sign on for epic adventures that demonstrate Bermuda truly does have it all, from cliff jumping to kayak trips and offshore snorkeling. Book and pay in advance via vendors directly, or through the Island Tour Centre.

  • Get airborne with Coconut Rockets/Bermuda Flyboard (441/504-7197). Attached via boots and bindings to a pressurized flyboard, the “pilot” is propelled by the water jet pack up to 35 feet above the ocean surface. Experience stuntman-style antics in and over the water.
  • If you balk at riding the killer wakes of his awesome speedboat, John Martin will simply tell you he’s already taught his five-year-old twins to do it. His company, AXIS Adrenaline Projects (441/537-1114), picks up islandwide and will zoom you past eye-popping scenery to Castle Harbour or other turquoise expanses where you can get your balance and learn mastery of such extreme arts from a true maestro.
  • Hawaii Ironman and multisport athlete Kent Richardson is the real deal when it comes to conquering the outdoors. At Bermuda Waterski & Wakeboard Centre (441/234-3354 or 441/335-1012), he’ll test your mettle with thrills like jumping off Diving Board Island or full-throttle waterskiing along the North Shore. If you’re up for tamer stuff, just say so—he’s happy to show off Bermuda with slower-paced snorkeling or sightseeing too.
  • The wow factor of North Rock’s barrier reef has even bona fide Bermudians catching their breath. If you have a spare afternoon, book a truly unforgettable trip to the landmark beacon nine miles off the North Shore. Outfitters like ÜberVida (441/236-2222) or the Bermuda Zoological Society (441/293-2727) run four-hour snorkel trips to the spectacular underwater world that’s like diving into a scene from Finding Nemo.

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Bermuda.

Visiting the Toronto Islands

A view of Toronto from the Ward's Island Ferry.
A view of Toronto from the Ward’s Island Ferry. Photo © Dan Dickinson, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

A short ferry ride across the harbor from downtown, the Toronto Islands (415/397-2628) are the city’s backyard, where both residents and visitors go lounge at the beach, cruise around by bike or kayak, or have a picnic. The awesome views of the city skyline, from the ferries and from the islands themselves, are a bonus; take those picture-postcard city snapshots here.

[pullquote align=”right”]Cars are not allowed on the islands, so you’ll need to get around on foot or by bicycle. Bicycling is a good way to tour these flat islands, which are crisscrossed with pathways.[/pullquote]

The “Toronto Islands” actually consist of several small islands connected by bridges. Ferries dock at Centre Island, Ward’s Island to the east, and Hanlan’s Point to the west.

Restrooms and drinking water are available on the islands, and there are several places to eat, including the year-round Rectory Cafe (102 Lakeshore Ave., Ward’s Island, 416/203-2152, 11am-5pm Mon.-Thurs., 11am-8pm Fri.-Sun. late May-mid-Oct., 11am-5pm Wed.-Sun. mid-Oct.-late May, $12-18)) or the more touristy Shopsy’s Island Deli Bar and Grill (416/203-0405, www.centreisland.ca, 11am-8pm daily mid-June-early Sept., $9-16), next to the Centre Island docks.

Centre Island

Centre Island is the entertainment hub, with an amusement park, gardens, bicycle and boat rentals, and beaches. If you have young kids, head for the Franklin Children’s Garden, with play structures, a tree house, and a theater with summer storytelling events. There’s a beach by the pier on Centre Island, but if you walk or cycle either direction from there, you’ll find prettier, less populated sand.

You can rent bikes at Toronto Islands Bike Rentals (416/203-0009, May-Sept., $8 per hour, tandems $15 per hour, cash only) near the Centre Island pier, across the island from the ferry dock. You can also rent fun “quadricycles,” four-wheeled pedal bikes seating two ($17 per hour) or four ($30 per hour) people. It takes about an hour to cycle a loop of the islands. You can take bicycles over from the mainland, except on the Centre Island ferry on busy summer weekends.

In summer, the Boat House (416/397-5166) rents canoes, kayaks, and pedal boats. From the Centre Island docks, follow the main path past the amusement park, cross the bridge near the fountains, then bear left (east) toward the Boat House.

A big draw for the kids is the Centreville Amusement Park (604/203-0405, 10:30am-8pm daily July-early Sept., call or check the website for hours May-June and mid-late Sept.), with a 1907 carousel, a Ferris wheel, bumper boats, a roller coaster, and other old-time carnival attractions. If you arrive on the Centre Island ferry, it’s hard to sneak past the amusements without the kids noticing; the park is a short walk from the ferry dock.

Admission to the amusement park is free, but you’ll pay to ride the rides. A sheet of 25 ride tickets costs $25, or you can buy an all-day pass. Individual passes are based on height; one-day passes for adults and kids over four feet tall are $37, under four feet tall $26. Family all-day passes are $112. Passes are discounted if you buy them online.

Ward’s Island

Ward’s Island looks like an urban cottage colony, with the islands’ only community of permanent residents, a beach, and a playground. The mostly sandy Ward’s Island Beach can be a little less crowded than some of the others.

Toronto Island SUP (416/877-4668, May-Sept., 1st hour $30, $10 per additional hour) rents stand-up paddleboards from Ward’s Island Beach. They’re on the beach every weekend, but call first if you’re coming on a weekday.

Hanlan’s Point

If you see airplanes coming in over the harbor, so low that you think they’re going to land on your ferry, it’s because they’re headed to the Toronto Island Airport, near Hanlan’s Point, which also has parks and beaches, including Gibraltar Beach, west of the pier. Nearby, the stone Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, built in 1808-1809, is the oldest surviving lighthouse on the Great Lakes and the second oldest in Canada. There’s a clothing-optional beach at Hanlan’s Point.


Getting There and Around

Catch the ferry (9 Queens Quay West, at Bay St., 416/397-2628, round-trip adults $7, seniors and students $4.50, kids 3–14 $3.50) to the islands from the docks just west of the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel.

From downtown, ferries run to Centre Island, Hanlan’s Point, and Ward’s Island. You can disembark at one and return from another. The schedules for the three ferries are different, however, so be sure to check. While schedules vary seasonally and by time of day, the Centre Island boats (mid-Apr.–mid-Oct.) run most frequently, with summer departures every 15-30 minutes. Boats to Hanlan’s Point (mid-Apr.–mid-Oct.) and Ward’s Island (year-round) typically operate every 30-60 minutes in summer. Only the Ward’s Island ferry runs year-round.

Cars are not allowed on the islands, so you’ll need to get around on foot or by bicycle. Cycling is a good way to tour these flat islands, which are crisscrossed with pathways. In summer, 35-minute tram tours leave from Centre Island, a short walk south of the ferry docks.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Ontario.

Lana‘i Snorkeling

When it comes to Lana‘i snorkeling, Hulopo‘e Beach Park easily trumps any other place on the island for the health of the reef, clarity of water, and variety of fish. Thanks to its protected status as a marine preserve, the reef here is in better shape than other places on the island, and snorkelers will revel in the large schools of manini (convict tang) and vibrant uhu (parrotfish) which flit around the shallow reef. The best snorkeling within the bay is on the left side of the beach. Since Hulopo‘e faces south it can be prone to large surf and shorebreak April-October. The shorebreak can make entry and exit into the water a little challenging, and the visibility won’t be as good as it is on days which are as calm as a swimming pool.

[pullquote align=right]Don’t confuse Manele Bay with snorkeling in Manele Harbor, because that would be disgusting.[/pullquote]Nevertheless, even a mediocre day at Hulopo‘e is better than a good day at many other places. The reef here never gets deeper than 25 feet. Occasionally the Hawaiian spinner dolphins will venture into this bay, although they usually hang out over the sand on the right closer to the hotel.

Not far from Hulopo‘e but equally as gorgeous is the vibrant reef at Manele Bay. Don’t confuse this with snorkeling in Manele Harbor, because that would be disgusting. Instead, the reef at Manele Bay is on the opposite side of the breakwall set between the harbor and the cliffs. Entry from shore can be tricky since you have to come off the rocks, but if you follow the driveway of the harbor all the way to the far end, there is a little opening in the rocks where it’s possible to make a graceful entry. Schools of tropical reef fish gather in abundance here, and the same school of spinner dolphins can sometimes hang out in this area as well. Although Manele Bay is a good quarter mile from Hulopo‘e Beach, it’s still part of the marine preserve, so the same rules apply: Don’t stand on the coral, don’t feed the fish, and you’re best off just not touching anything at all.

Thanks to its protected status as a marine preserve, the reef at Hulopo‘e Beach Park is in better shape than other places in Lana‘i.
Thanks to its protected status as a marine preserve, the reef at Hulopo‘e Beach Park is in better shape than other places in Lana‘i. Photo © Leslie Osbourne, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

There isn’t anywhere on Lana‘i to rent snorkeling equipment for the day, so your best bet is to have your own before you get on the ferry or plane. The snorkeling equipment at Hulopo‘e Beach is privately reserved for Trilogy’s day guests who come over from Maui, and the gear at the Four Seasons beach kiosk is exclusively for hotel guests.

If you want to explore the island’s remoter reefs, which are only accessible by boat, Trilogy Excursions (1 Manele Harbor Dr., 808/874-5649) provides the best (and only) snorkel charter service operating out of Lana‘i. Aboard their 51-foot sloop rigged sailing catamaran Trilogy III, Trilogy offers a 3.5-hour snorkeling and sailing excursion which usually heads around the southwestern coastline of the island to the towering sea cliffs of Kaunolu. There can occasionally be other boats from Maui back here, but more often than not this trip provides the opportunity to snorkel the waters of the historic fishing village with only a handful of other passengers. Given that Kaunolu (also known as Shark Fin Cove due to the dorsal fin-shaped rock in the middle of the bay) is exposed to the deeper waters offshore, sightings of pelagic species such as spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, eagle rays, manta rays, and whale sharks have been known to occur on an intermittent basis. The captain and crew aboard Trilogy’s catamaran were born and raised on Lana‘i, and if you snorkel close to one of the crew members, there’s a good chance they can find you an elusive tako (octopus). If there’s wind to sail on the way back to Manele, the crew will hoist the sails. The views afforded of the coastal cliffs make this the best way for exploring the southwestern coastline.

During whale season, Trilogy also offers two-hour long mammal searches, which depart from Manele Harbor on a jet-propelled inflatable raft for a high-paced marine safari focused on finding humpback whales, green sea turtles, the occasional Hawaiian monk seal, and various species of resident dolphins. The high-speed cruise of the coastline alone is worth the trip, and the crew on this trip are some of the friendliest and most knowledgeable in the industry.

Map of Lana‘i, Hawaii
Lana‘i

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

Lahaina Snorkeling Charters

Before sunrise, Lahaina Harbor teems with activity as fishers fuel their boats and charter captains prepare for the day ahead. The harbor basin is a whirlwind of activity with lines forming and reforming, food coolers being slung across the docks, and fresh fish being laid on ice. Most snorkeling charters depart from behind the banyan tree on Front Street; a few set out from Mala Ramp on the northern edge of town. Lahaina snorkeling charters run the gamut from small inflatable rafts to massive two-tiered catamarans. It’s important to match the tour company to the type of experience you want.

Sailboats

The company with the largest number of snorkeling charters out of Lahaina Harbor is Trilogy (808/874-5649), which offers all-day cruises to Lana‘i as well as a four-hour snorkel along the West Maui coastline. While a couple of other boat companies also travel to Lana‘i to snorkel for the day, Trilogy is the only one with a commercial permit to have crew and facilities based on the island. The all-day experience is truly in a class of its own.

Departing from Lahaina Harbor at 10am (during busier times of the year there can also be a 6:30am departure), the 60-foot sailing catamarans travel to Manele Harbor on Lana‘i where passengers will disembark to snorkel at Hulopo‘e Bay. Since Hulopo‘e faces south, during summer there is the potential for large surf, so the snorkeling can be subpar. While this is only during a handful of days in summer, winter is nearly guaranteed to have pristine conditions. On the beach itself, Trilogy has exclusive access to the left side of Hulopo‘e Bay and it is the only company with lifeguards, beach mats, beach chairs, refreshments, beach volleyball, and all of the snorkeling gear right on the beach. Also included with the price is an optional guided van tour of Lana‘i City.

The other sailing catamaran departing out of Lahaina Harbor and heading to the island of Lana‘i is Paragon (808/244-2087), a 47-foot boat that only takes 24 passengers and is the island’s fastest catamaran under sail. The seven-hour, $159-trip departs at 8:30am and docks at Manele Harbor on Lana‘i. You’re unsupervised while you snorkel (since the crew doesn’t have permission to operate on shore), and you’re given a picnic lunch to the enjoy while at the beach. The trip returns to Lahaina around 3:30pm, and on lucky days the crew might even hook up with an ono or mahimahi while trolling the fishing lures under sail.

While it mostly focuses on sunset sails and sailing charters, Scotch Mist II (808/661-0386) is a 50-foot Santa Cruz monohull that also operates four-hour sailing and snorkeling charters along the western shoreline of the island for $109.

Map of Downtown Lahaina, Hawaii
Downtown Lahaina

Powerboats

Of the larger diesel boats that operate out of Lahaina Harbor, Pacific Whale Foundation (612 Front St., 808/942-5311) offers the most options. Its large boats can fit upward of 149 people, and while that’s a crowd, there’s simply no arguing with the price. Its five-hour tour to Lana‘i departs at 9am. It’s only $80 for adults; each paying adult is allotted one child free of charge. Unlike other boats that dock at Manele Harbor, the Pacific Whale Foundation cruises snorkel off the boat, with the two preferred destinations being either Kaunolu (Shark Fin Cove) or the Manele reef outside of the small boat harbor. The level of customer service on a boat this size isn’t quite the same as on the more intimate vessels, but for families who are on a budget and want to go snorkeling for the day, it’s tough to argue with the affordability.

During summer, a smaller adventure rafting tour departs Lahaina for Lana‘i at 7:30am. The price is significantly higher ($119 adult, $75 child), but you get a much more personalized experience than on the larger boat and you’re able to hug the shore for a better view of the undeveloped coastline. Another summer rafting excursion ($55) departs at 10:30am to snorkel along the West Maui coastline instead of going all the way to Lana‘i. All trips for Pacific Whale Foundation check in at the storefront across the street from the famous banyan tree, and loading is by the main loading dock of the harbor where you will wait for one of the crew to escort you down to the boat.

Also during summer (many of these boats defer to whale watches in the winter), Lahaina Cruise Company (877/500-6284) has a fleet of aging but functional diesel boats that offer snorkeling charters to Lana‘i and along the coastline of West Maui. While much of the focus for these boats is on whale-watching during the winter and cocktail cruises in the evening, there are still snorkeling charters available for those who are on a budget. The cost of the snorkeling tour is an affordable $79 for adults, and trips are offered Monday-Saturday on vessels that can accommodate up to 149 people.

Captain Woody’s (808/667-2290) operates charters of only six people for private excursions. Fishing, snorkeling, and seasonal whale-watching can all be included in these small group tours, and six-hour tours usually depart from Mala Ramp at 7:30am.

Maui Ocean Riders offers the opportunity to witness little-seen areas of Lana‘i, such as Polihua Beach.
Maui Ocean Riders offers the opportunity to witness little-seen areas of Lana‘i, such as Polihua Beach. Photo © Rickh710, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Rafts

For those who don’t like crowds, there are a number of rafts that have small group sizes and place you closer to the water than any other type of vessel. Due to their bouncy nature, however, rafts aren’t recommended for women who are pregnant or anyone with back problems, and if you’re prone to seasickness, they won’t be the best option since the waters can often become rough during the afternoon. Some companies will swap their snorkeling charters for whale watches during winter, however, so check ahead of time that snorkeling tours are available for the date of your excursion.

Of all the rafts, Ultimate Snorkel Adventure (808/667-5678) is the best option. It operates out of slip 17 of Lahaina Harbor. Group sizes are kept to a minimum at only 16 passengers, and this rigid inflatable is the fastest boat in Lahaina Harbor at speeds in excess of 35 mph. Snorkeling locations are chosen off the island of Lana‘i based on the best conditions, and unlike some of the other options which head ashore on Lana‘i, this excursion takes place from off the raft. Due to its small size, the raft can navigate close to the shoreline of Lana‘i to find blowholes or follow pods of spinner dolphins hanging out by the rocks. Five-hour snorkeling trips are offered at $139, and there is also a two-hour option available along the West Maui shoreline for only $49. Snorkel gear, drinks, and snacks are included in the price of the excursion. This is a great option for those wanting a semiprivate tour with relaxed but professional captain and crew.

Hawaii Ocean Rafting (808/661-7238) operates out of slip 8 in Lahaina Harbor. Group sizes are kept low on these charters, which are offered as either full-day tours to Lana‘i for $115 or half-day tours for $73. Full-day tours depart at 6:30am and return at 2:30pm, whereas the half-day option departs at 7:30am and is back in Lahaina by 12:30pm. Snorkeling gear, snacks, and beverages are included.

For a raft that docks at Manele Harbor and spends time on the island of Lana‘i, Maui Adventure Cruises (808/661-5550) operates two trips from Lahaina Harbor, one of which allows passengers to spend three hours of beach time at Lana‘i’s Hulopo‘e Bay. This $115 excursion operates on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, docks in Manele Harbor, and allows its guests to walk Hulopo‘e Bay unsupervised. Breakfast, snacks, and a deli lunch are included in the cost of the trip. Excursions depart at both 7am and 9pm from slip #11 in Lahaina Harbor. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, an abridged 4.5-hour trip is offered for $87 where you will still have the opportunity to snorkel off Lana‘i from the boat, rather than docking at Manele Harbor.

Departing from Mala Ramp at 6:30am, Maui Ocean Riders (808/661-3586) is the only boat to circumnavigate the island of Lana‘i. Covering an astounding 70 miles over the course of the trip, this excursion features multiple snorkeling spots and the opportunity to witness little-seen areas of Lana‘i, such as the waters off Shipwreck Beach, Polihua Beach, and the snorkeling area known as Three Stone. On calm days this excursion is the best of all the rafting options. On days when the trade winds are blowing early in the morning, the ride can get rough.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

Snorkeling in Kihei, Maui

Mornings are the best time of day for snorkeling in Kihei, and summer can have consistent winds and periods of surf, which affect visibility. Although the snorkeling in summer can still be enjoyable, winter mornings are the best bet for light winds and clear visibility, and as an added bonus, if you dive down a few feet while snorkeling, you’re guaranteed to hear whale song reverberating in the distance.

Snorkeling Spots

[pullquote align=right]Most snorkel shops and activity stands in Kihei are fronts for activity sales and timeshare presentations.[/pullquote]North Kihei doesn’t offer anything in the way of snorkeling because the water is too shallow and murky. The northernmost beach in Kihei where you would want to snorkel is Charley Young beach, which is also known as the north end of Kamaole I. There’s a rocky point here on the right side of the beach that offers good snorkeling, although during periods of high surf it can become popular with boogie boarders. Down at the other end of the beach, the rocky point between Kamaole I and Kamaole II is another area where you can find reef fish, a few eels, and maybe even a Hawaiian green sea turtle. Similarly, the rocky point that separates Kamaole II from Kamaole III is another nice place for a morning snorkel.

The northernmost beach in Kihei where you would want to snorkel is Charley Young beach, which is also known as the north end of Kamaole I.
The northernmost beach in Kihei where you would want to snorkel is Charley Young beach, which is also known as the north end of Kamaole I. Photo © Starr Environmental, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

A half-mile to the south of Kamaole III is Keawakapu beach, where there is good snorkeling on both the north and south side of the bay. The north end can get crowded due to the large public parking lot and bustling activity stand, and during busier periods of the year you have a better chance of being kicked in the face than finding a turtle. Not many people follow the outer edge of this reef in front of the hotel, however, so if you want to escape the crowd, either get here early before everyone arrives or just snorkel to the far side where the crowds thin out. To combine a morning snorkel with a leisurely morning stroll, park at the northern end of Keawakapu Beach and walk to the southern point. There are fewer crowds, it’s a larger area for snorkeling, and the walk back to your car is one of the best beach walks on the island.

Rental Shops

The streets of Kihei are covered in snorkel shops. Since choosing a shop can be overwhelming, it’s important to understand the nature of the snorkel rental business on Maui. Most snorkel shops and activity stands in Kihei are fronts for activity sales and timeshare presentations, so you may hear a sales pitch for a helicopter ride or vacation rental when your intention is just to go snorkeling.

Top picks for rental shops in the South Maui area are the Maui Dive Shop locations sprinkled from Ma‘alaea to Wailea. There are two different venues in Kihei (2463 S. Kihei Rd., 808/879-1533, 7am-9pm daily; 1455 S. Kihei Rd., 808/879-3388, 6am-9pm daily), and the corporate store in central Kihei opens at 6am. Maui Dive Shop also operates the Ali‘i Nui catamaran, so there will be a sell on that particular activity, but Ali‘i Nui is a beautiful boat that puts on a good trip, and you can frequently get discounts with a snorkel gear and snorkeling trip combo.

The other snorkel shop you’ll see with just as much frequency is Boss Frog’s (main office 1770 S. Kihei Rd., 808/874-5225, 8am-5pm daily), which has three locations scattered across Kihei. Boss Frog’s offers the cheapest deals on snorkel rentals on the island, but the company is heavily embedded in the activities sales market, often timeshare-related. If you rent snorkeling gear for a week (which can be as low as $9), you will also get a discounted snorkeling trip on their boat out of Ma‘alaea, the Frogman II.

Snorkel Bob’s has multiple stores across Kihei, with one in the Kamaole Beach Center (2411 S. Kihei Rd., 808/878-7449, 8am-5pm daily), and another in the Azeka II shopping area in Central Kihei (1279 S. Kihei Rd., 808/875-6188, 8am-5pm daily). Snorkel Bob’s is a statewide chain that also incorporates activity sales, and you’re sure to see their quirky ads if you flip through any island visitor magazines. Snorkel Bob’s is known for selling gear that they design themselves, and a nice feature of the operation is that you can rent gear on one island and return it on another island completely free of charge. Packages range from $2/day for a basic mask and snorkel rental to $44/week for a package that includes prescription lenses and fins.

Snorkeling Boats

While most of the boats leaving from Kihei Boat Ramp are scuba diving charters, there are still a few rafting boats that focus on sightseeing and snorkeling. They only carry about 24 people, so if you don’t like crowds and just want a mellow, informative day on the water, these are going to be the trips for you.

Of all the rafting options, the top pick is Blue Water Rafting (808/879-7238), which meets at the boat ramp at 6:30am. If you’ve already been to Molokini once before and are looking for an adventure snorkel, Blue Water Rafting has a trip to the Kanaio Coast where you can snorkel along a rugged volcanic coastline most visitors will never get to see. This forgotten southwestern coastline is pockmarked with thundering sea caves and jagged lava formations, and there are multiple places where you can see the remnants of ancient fishing villages. The captains are geologists, historians, and marine naturalists all rolled into one. They’re skilled enough to hug the coast so closely you could almost reach out and touch it. The waters in this area can often be rough, however, so this isn’t the best trip if you’re prone to motion sickness. You can either book the four-hour Kanaio Coastline tour from $100/adult and $79/child, or you can combine it with an 11am excursion to Molokini for $125/adult and $100/child. If you only want to book a two-hour tour to Molokini, the cost is $50/adult and $39/child and it departs at 11:30am. This is one of the most affordable options for visiting the crater if all you’re looking for is a ride there and back. There is no breakfast, coffee, or bathroom on board.

The other primary snorkeling option from Kihei Boat Ramp is Redline Rafting (808/757-9211), which also offers tours to Molokini and the Kanaio Coast. Tours meet at 6:30am, and at $140/adult and $100/child the cost is a little higher than Blue Water Rafting, but they also include breakfast and coffee and have a (small) bathroom on board. Although they are still one of the only boats that traverses the Kanaio Coast, they don’t go as far down the coast as Blue Water, spending more time in Makena and Molokini.

If you’ve always wanted to look like you’re in the U.S. Coast Guard, Seafire (808/879-2201) offers a trip at 7:30am on its orange and silver jet-drive raft that not only looks like a Coast Guard boat, but is driven by a member of the Coast Guard Reserve. Trips last for three hours. At $55 it’s one of the best budget options for reaching Molokini Crater.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

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