Set three miles off the South Maui shoreline, Molokini Crater is a sunken caldera with some of Maui’s best snorkeling. Over 200 different species of fish inhabit the offshore crater, and because it’s protected from runoff and swells, visibility is almost always 100 feet or greater. It’s a place that’s steeped in mythical lore, a sanctuary for migrant sea birds, and an absolute must for any snorkeler who plans on visiting Maui.
Even though it’s one of Maui’s top visitor attractions, there are still some tips for visiting Molokini that can make the experience even better.
The first is choosing the right type of boat for the experience you’d like for your visit. Large boats and stable catamarans depart from Maalaea Harbor, and will offer restrooms, freshly cooked lunch, and a bar for the journey back home. Transit time from Maalaea Harbor is usually around an hour, although larger boats mean larger crowds in the water once you get there.
For visitors who want to minimize the time spent traveling to Molokini, a handful of smaller, inflatable rafts depart from Kihei Boat Ramp, which is closer to Molokini. The group sizes are smaller, you ride closer to the water, and transit time can be as low as 20 minutes to the crater. The tradeoff, however, for the quicker journey, is the lack of a bar and fresh food, and the restrooms are definitely much smaller than you’ll find on board larger vessels. There is also one sailing catamaran offering food and drinks on board which departs from Maluaka Beach in Makena which makes the travel time even shorter.
As far at what time of day you choose to visit Molokini, early morning has the calmest conditions and is the best time to be out there. Often by Noon—particularly in summer—tradewinds blow into Molokini Crater and make the water too choppy, although sometimes in winter there are days with light wind when the crater is gorgeous all day. To beat the rush of midmorning crowds, opt for one of the rafts from Kihei or the catamaran from Makena, which arrive at the crater at least 30 minutes before the larger boats from Maalaea.
To avoid feeling sea sick out on the water, consider natural remedies like ginger, and try to sit toward the back of the boat and keep your eyes on the horizon. With any medication, keep in mind it will most likely need to be taken at least an hour before boarding the boat. Another option to consider would be using sea sickness bands to wear on your wrist. Going down below to the “head” (bathroom) is a surefire way to feel sea sick, so stay up on deck with the wind on your face and lay your head back if you can.
When snorkeling at Molokai, always use a flotation device if you’re a novice or first-time snorkeler, and avoid touching any marine life in the sensitive marine conservation district. If you know how to free dive—even a few feet—dive down about five or six feet when visiting Molokini in winter, and you’ll likely hear the haunting sounds of Humpback whales in the distance. It’s also possible to go scuba diving at Molokini Crater, though only if you’re a certified diver with proof of your certification. If you are not certified but interested in breathing underwater at a depth of up to 20 feet, consider a boat that offers Snuba—a fusion of snorkeling and scuba diving.
The most important tip, however, when visiting Molokini Crater, is to savor every moment you have while snorkeling and splashing in the waters, as this truly is one of Maui’s most scenic and beautiful spots.