Best Diving in Hawaii

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scuba diving hawaii

Hawaii’s volcanic origins and isolated geographical location make for a varied and exciting scuba dive destination within easy reach of the US. Fascinating underwater topography provides a backdrop to a myriad of marine life, including migrating humpback whales and a variety of unique endemic species not encountered anywhere else.

An island chain of 137 islands spread over 1,500 miles of the central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is the only US state located outside North America. Most of the area’s dive tourism is centered around the main islands of Kona (also known as “The Big Island”), Oahu, Maui and Molokini, Molokai, and Kauai, with many of the most popular dive sites within easy reach of Honolulu on Oahu. However, great diving can be found throughout the archipelago, and the whole area is ripe with a choice of very varied dive sites offering a range of experiences for all tastes and abilities.

Hawaii offers some of the best scuba diving in the USA. Check out the full list here.



Click on the destination of your choice or scroll down to read the entire list:

  1. 1. Oahu - The Wreck Capital of Hawaii
  2. 2. Kona - Manta Ray Heaven
  3. 3. Maui & Molokini - A Unique Conservation District
  4. 4. Lanai - Fascinating Topography and Unusual Species
  5. 5. Molokai - Spectacular Drift Dives
  6. 6. Kauai - Sea Turtles Galore

See also: Diving Conditions - How to Get to Hawaii - Practical Information



The Wreck Capital of Hawaii

There are some great wrecks in the waters around Oahu, at least 10 of which are easily accessible to recreational divers. Perhaps the best known is the airplane wreck of the Corsair which crashed and sank in 1946. The YO-257 and San Pedro that sit next to each other in less than 100 feet of water off the coast at Waikiki are also a popular dive. They were sunk intentionally by the Atlantis Submarine Company to add interest to their tourist submarine trips, however, both wrecks are now fantastic artificial reefs, home to eagle rays, pufferfish, frogfish, and many turtles. Also at Waikiki, the wreck of the Sea Tiger sits at 120 feet and offers some reasonable penetration dives.

Interested in diving other wrecks? Check out diving in Truk Lagoon or check out our list of the Best Shipwrecks to Scuba Dive.

hawaii diving

For those seeking a unique adventure, several operators run shark cage diving trips off Oahu’s North Shore. Hawaii is home to 40 of the world’s 140 or so shark species, and cage diving participants can expect to spot Galapagos, sandbar, and tiger sharks, as well as the occasional blue, silky, or hammerhead shark. 

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Manta Ray Heaven

Arguably the most famous dive area in the state, Kona boasts over 50 dive sites along its fascinating western shoreline. One of the most popular Kona dives is the night-time encounter with manta rays, where dozens of pelagic giants sweep silently through torch beams, feeding on plankton attracted to the shore lights of Kona’s beach resorts.

Kona also offers a plethora of other great experiences including underwater lava formations, the opportunity to try blackwater diving, and some great spots for hanging out with turtles. Popular dive sites include the Eel Cove, Turtle Pinnacle, and Long Lava Tube.

For another unique blackwater diving experience, check out scuba diving in Anilao.

Check out some of our Photo Tips for Blackwater Diving.

kona manta ray diving

Check out our Maldives dive guide and Maldives liveaboards for another awesome manta ray destination.

3.Maui & Molokini

A Unique Conservation District

Another fascinating location, Maui boasts several fun wreck dives including the St Anthony and the Carthaginian. Both wrecks are within recreational dive limits and were sunk as artificial reefs, providing a home to large schools of damselfish, surgeonfish, goatfish, and butterflyfish. 

Just 30 minutes boat ride from Maui, Molokini Crater is a semi-submerged volcano and Marine Life Conservation District that is home to many colorful reef species such as Hawaii’s state fish, humuhumunukunuku apua'a! The Back Side of the atoll is a magnet for larger pelagic species, including humpback whales throughout the winter.

Interested in wreck diving? Check out our list of the top 10 shipwrecks to scuba dive.

For another great humpback whale destination, check out diving in the Dominican Republic.


Fascinating Topopgraphy and Unusual Species

Most commonly accessed via a 45-minute crossing from Maui, Lanai’s caves and caverns boast exceptional visibility as well as a host of unusual fish and invertebrate species. The two most popular sites are Cathedral I & Cathedral II, huge chambers accessed through a vaulted arch, allowing just enough light for tube corals and sponges to grow on large boulders strewn across the floor. 

For more cave diving destinations, check out our article on the Best Cave Diving Destinations.

hawaii diving



Spectacular Drift Dives 

Molokai’s pristine reef offers a plethora of fantastic dive sites ranging in depth as the shallow corals give way to deeper walls. Most dives are drift-dives, with the opportunity to spot elusive pelagics such as the Hawaiian monk seal or hammerhead sharks. Popular sites such as Fish BowlFish Rain, and Deep Corner are teeming with smaller fish life and rare animals.

Like drift diving? You may want to check out another great drift diving destination - Cozumel.

scuba diving hawaii




Sea Turtles Galore

A great location for encounters with Hawaiian green sea turtles, sites such as Sheraton Caverns and Prince Kuhio's have an abundance of these creatures who seem unperturbed by divers and their cameras. Turtle Bluffs is home to several turtle and whitetip reef shark cleaning stations, as is Tunnels Beach. Known for its impressive geological formations, this site is also a great place to spot octopus amongst the collapsed lava tubes of the inner and outer reefs.




Diving in Hawaii can be done year-round, with the tropical climate providing consistently pleasant water temperatures which reach their peak in September. Hawaii is a very popular tourist destination, but September and January tend to be the least crowded months.  


Water temperature: 75-80oF (24-27oC).

Visibility: 75-100 ft (25-30m), but can vary depending on rainfall and run-off.

Depth Range: 10-130ft (3-40m).

Diving Difficulty: Suitable for all levels, including snorkelers. 



Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) on Oahu is the main gateway to the region, however, Kahului Airport (OGG) on Maui, Allison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA) on Kona, and Lihue Airport (LIH) on Kauai also receive international flights. The best deals on flights to Honolulu tend to be from Los Angeles, although there are also direct flights from many other North American cities. Flights from Europe tend to connect in the US, and flights from Asia connect in Japan.

Once in the area, domestic flights and inter-island ferries are available between the islands, although flights can be expensive in peak season.



A popular tourist destination, the majority of diving here is resort-based. Guests can enjoy the comfortable water temperatures and fantastic underwater topography via shore dives or from boat rides.

For another great shore diving destination, check out our guide to Bali diving.

There is currently only one liveaboard currently operating in the area, the Kona Aggressor II. This liveaboard offers a 7-day itinerary along Kona's south and west coast sites, accessing some remote areas not easily reached by day-trippers. 

Learn about other exciting Agressor Fleet destinations.

Watch this video to learn more about the Kona Aggressor II.

Want to learn more about liveaboard diving? Read about it in our guide here.... 



Hawaii is the home of surfing, and there are numerous other watersports such as SUPing and kayaking on offer. More adventurous visitors can take a trip up to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and see the steam rise as lava rushes into the ocean. Nature lovers can hike through lush rainforests, or simply enjoy a dip and snorkel the amazing inshore reefs.

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Currency: US Dollar (USD).

Language: Hawaiian and English.

Time Zone: Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time (GMT-10).

Electricity: 120V.

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Call us today at +1-310-915-6677 or email us

And let us book your dream vacation!

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kona manta ray diving Kona Aggressor II
Kona Aggressor II Kona Aggressor II


Reviews (1)

  • Top Reviewer
Fountain Valley, CA
United States

We traveled to Maui in September as two couples; two divers and two non-divers. We rented a 2 bedroom condo outside of Lahaina and drove there in a rental car we picked up at the airport. After chilling by the pool for a day, we decided to do some scuba diving. We reserved 3 days at a dive shop in downtown Lahaina, walking distance from the boat. We customized our dive package and chose the Molokini Backwall dive the first day. The diver operator provided a light breakfast before we headed down to the dock. It's a drift dive on a near-vertical wall on the back side of the submerged Molokini volcano crater. We drifted between 70 and 90 feet deep while watching the beautiful fish on the wall side. Many of these fish are endemic to Hawaii and found nowhere else in the world. About 20 minutes into the dive, we were surprised to see a pod of dolphins swim past in the blue water. Toward the end of the dive, we spotted a whitetip reef shark. During the surface interval, we ate the included lunch and the boat was moved to the corner of the crater. We started this drift dive just outside and made our way to the inside of the crater. This area has fantastic hard corals and we saw lots of fish, a moray, and a large ray. The water here was very warm and clear. There were a lot of snorkelers above us and we were able to wave to each other. Cookies were served on the ride back. These were two enjoyable dives.

Day two was the Hammerhead trip to Molokai. After a boat trip of about 1 hour, we did our first drift dive looking for scalloped hammerheads. About 25 minutes into the dive, we spotted several. It was exciting to see them, but we were hoping to see a larger congregation. Beggars can't be choosers and seeing even one Hammerhead is a thrill. After lunch, we made a second dive which was very much like the first one. We did see a small group of hammers and enjoyed the show. Once the diving was done, the weather was so perfect, the boat crew went out of their way to cruise around the island so we could see parts that divers and tourists rarely see. Even the crew was excited to be cruising these parts of the island under such pristine weather and ocean conditions. Breakfast, lunch, and cookies were included again.

Day three was a 3 tank safari to the far side of Lanai. This trip included three drift dives on sites less frequently visited than regular trips. The underwater topography is beautiful with really diverse reefs, sheer walls, and some swim-throughs. These were excellent dives where we spotted dolphins, whitetips, turtles, and tons of colorful reef fish. The captain decided to continue around the island instead of returning the way we came. As we started to turn the corner for the crossing back to Lanai, it was obvious the wind had come up and it was too rough to continue. We eventually turned around and went back the way we came. It was a rough ride and my buddy was seasick the whole ride back. Bummer for him! The same meals included, but I'm sure he wished he hadn't eaten at all.

The rest of the trip was spent on the topside with our wives. We drove the road to Hana, stopping along the way to visit some waterfalls, hike in a bamboo forest, and once we got to Hana, we spent time at the seven sacred pools. On other days we found some excellent snorkeling beaches and did some sunbathing. We found some really good restaurants and had fun shopping for souvenirs.

Bottom line: Maui is a place for sun, fun, and great diving. No passport required for US citizens. Be sure to have shave ice in Lanai with all the extras. You won't be disappointed.

Visited on 09/2015 - Submitted on 05/08/2020


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