Hawaii – Manta Dive and Snorkel

Hawaii is one of the best locations in the world to snorkel and dive with manta rays in the wild. However, when it comes to spotting these beautiful creatures in Hawaii, there are some important factors to consider.

With our tips about where and when to see the manta rays in Kona, Hawaii, you will have an incredible experience.

Be prepared for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure: Swimming with manta rays in Kona (Big Island of Hawaii) is truly one of the top ten marine adventures on our planet.

How to See the Manta Rays in Hawaii
Manta Ray Hawaii, IMG_1550  by breicCC (BY) license

You have three options to see manta rays while visiting Kona, Hawaii:

  • From the shore
  • On a diving tour
  • On a snorkeling tour

Tour operators sometimes combine diving and snorkeling trips. The tours are usually being offered after sunset or at night. For the differences between snorkeling and diving, and sunset or moonlight tours, read our tips below.

Manta Ray Snorkeling Tours We Recommend

Both tours are excellent. We will definitely choose them again over any other tour! A visitor quote:

‘ The crew cares for their guests and the environment. This tour is worth every penny! We saw so many rays. There were at least seven manta rays at a time. Magnificient!’

Where Can You See Manta Rays | Snorkel, Dive, Shore-Viewing

The best snorkeling and diving locations in Kona along the west coast of the Big Island to see manta rays include:

  • Manta Village: In the south of Kona at Keauhou Bay
  • Manta Heaven: In the north of Kona (8 miles from the airport)
  • Manta Point: In Kauna’oa Bay, on the north side of the Kona coast
  • Kohala Coast: Close to Waikoloa Village, near Kawaihae Harbor

Most manta sites are located within 100 yards of the shoreline. However, they are only accessible by boat. This is due to the rocky volcanic coastline, which makes it very dangerous to swim out this far.

Sighting chance: The chance to spot manta rays in these locations is usually over 90%. However, they are also popular and typically become very busy. The exception is the Kohala Coast, with one disadvantage: Fewer manta rays and lower sighting chance.

Manta Village
Keauhou Bay by Nogwater, CC (BY-SA) license

Manta Village is located in front of the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay. It was the first viewing site on the island and is officially called Kaukalaelae Point. This location generally has the highest rates (over 95%) for manta ray sightings and is located just 8 miles south of Kailua-Kona. The water here is between 20 and 30 feet deep, so it’s an excellent spot for manta ray night snorkeling and diving tours.

One of the best manta snorkeling tours: At Keauhou Bay, we always suggest booking the Eco-Friendly Twilight Manta Ray Adventure (via GetYourGuide with a mobile or printed voucher – very comfortable). You’ll get up close and personal with majestic manta rays on a 75-minute adventure.

The Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa opened in 2004, on the site of what was previously known as the Kona Surf Hotel. Since its opening, the manta rays have returned to this area regularly. Many new mantas have been identified in the area.

Viewing mantas from the shore: To view the manta rays here without diving or snorkeling, we encourage you to stay at the Sheraton Kona Resort, where you can request a table at the restaurant to view the manta rays in the evening. The hotel has a viewing area where they shine a light straight onto the water, so you can watch the feeding. This is a great option for anyone not looking to enter the water on their trip.

Manta Heaven
Manta heaven point Big island, Hawaii  by dronepicrCC (BY) license

Located to the north of Kona and about eight miles from the airport, you’ll find Garden Eel Cove (Google Maps Location). Nicknamed Manta Heaven, this is a popular area for daytime diving but is a good stop on night-time snorkel tours.

This area became popular with the manta rays after the Kona Surf Hotel closed down and is now visited on many tours at night. The water in the cove is between 36 and 40 feet deep.

Manta Point
Manta Ray at the Mona Kea Hotel by TyB, CC(BY)

At Manta Point, you’ll find the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and a beautiful white sandy beach. The hotel has a bright light that illuminates the waters of the bay. However, motorized vessels can’t enter the bay. Manta ray sightings are generally quite consistent here, offering visitors the chance to view these magnificent creatures up close.

Viewing mantas from the shore: Like at the Sheraton Kona Resort, you can see manta rays here without diving or snorkeling. The shoreline viewing area is overlooking the bay and offers the perfect location for spotting them. However, this area is only open to hotel guests as it’s located on private property. You can make a reservation at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel here (with price-match via booking.com). It’s such a unique experience and highly recommended. Actually, we prefer this one over the Sheraton Kona Resort.

Snorkeling vs. Diving with Manta Rays
Hawaii Manta, IMG_1596 by breic, CC (BY) license

Snorkeling and diving to see the manta rays are both equally stunning experiences. Even divers say that you get as close to the manta rays on a snorkel tour as on a diving expedition! It’s important to know that you actually don’t really ‘swim’ with the mantas, regardless if you’re snorkeling or diving. The differences include:

  • Diving tour: More adventurous. You sit on the bottom with rock on your lap.
  • Snorkeling tour: More relaxed. You are holding on to a raft or floating bars
When Can You See Manta Rays in Hawaii?
Hawaii Manta, IMG_0118 by bjbrake, CC (BY-SA)

Manta rays can be seen in Hawaii year-round as they don’t migrate. Manta rays show up every night at the viewing locations for their daily feeding. Thanks to these set locations, manta rays return to the same spot over and again throughout the year.

Good to know: The Big Island of Hawaii doesn’t encounter the same waves as elsewhere in the state, so ocean adventures are safe throughout the year.

When Is the Best Time to Spot Manta Rays?
Hawaii Manta Ray IMG_1600-2 by breic, CC(BY)

May is the best time of year to view manta rays in Hawaii. During this month, crowds are low, but the ocean conditions are excellent. Later in the fall, September, October, and November are also good times to view manta rays.

However, any month in Hawaii is a great time to spot manta rays. However, visitors will

Ocean conditions: Many visitors want favorable ocean conditions to avoid tours being canceled. For the best ocean conditions, book a trip between late spring and early fall. Boat trips are more likely to be canceled between January and mid-March due to the swells and strong winds that are sometimes experienced during this time. Some individuals may also find the water to be very cold in the winter months, so a wetsuit is essential at this time of year.

Time to avoid: We recommend avoiding the first two weeks in October, as the popular Ironman challenge takes place during this time. The competitors often take the manta ray tour after the challenge, and thousands of additional visitors descend on the island.

When Is the Least Crowded Time to Spot Manta Rays?
Mauna Kea, Hawaii

The least crowded time to spot manta rays in Kona, Hawaii, is on a weekday outside of the holiday season or summer. The busiest times are Christmas, summer break, weekends, Labor Day, and Memorial Day. However, the boats are generally full throughout the year, so crowds are similar all year round. Book your tour well in advance of your trip to Hawaii to ensure you don’t miss out on this incredible experience.

Which Is the Best Manta Ray Snorkeling Tour?

While many tours are excellent, the best manta ray tour we always choose in Hawaii is this Night Manta Ray Experience. You will enjoy the stunning Hawaiian sunset on their way out to sea before heading into the water to view manta rays. Everyone praises the expertise of the guides on the boat and their willingness to help anyone who is nervous. The guides and captain know the best spots to stop at, increasing your chance of viewing these majestic creatures.

How Many Manta Rays Can Be Spotted?
Hawaii Mantas IMG_1595 by breic, CC (BY)

On a manta ray tour in Kona, Hawaii, expect to spot between one and six manta rays. The average number of rays witnessed on a tour at night is four per boat. No company can guarantee a viewing, and it’s standard practice for companies to offer a free re-booking if this does occur. However, manta rays can be witnessed throughout the year in Hawaii, so most tours are very successful.

How Do the Manta Rays Get Attracted During the Night?
Hawaii Manta – Feeding Station IMG_1560 by breic, CC (BY)

Manta rays are attracted at night by the light from hotels and boats. This tradition started in the 1970s when a hotel along the shore used to illuminate the water in front of their restaurant. This then attracts plankton, which in turn, attracts the manta rays.

The manta rays now know that light means food. The hotel lights attract fish to the three main viewing areas. On top of that, many snorkel tours use floating light boards to attract plankton to the swimmers in the water, which then brings the manta rays closer.

Manta Ray Sunset Tours vs. Moonlight Tours: Which One Is Better?

Sunset tours to see the manta rays offer a pretty view during the trip, whereas moonlight tours usually experience fewer crowds. During moonlight tours, visitors find more mantas out in the water, with fewer boats around to compete for their attention. The tours are very similar, with about 45 minutes to one hour in the water on both. The sunset tour will sail out before sunset, whereas the moonlight tour departs once it’s dark.

Can I Snorkel at Night on My Own to Spot Manta Rays in Hawaii?

It’s not advised to snorkel at night alone to spot manta rays. The viewing sites in Kona, Hawaii must be reached by boat due to the rough waters near the shore.

On top of that, the boat tours attract the manta rays with their lights, so you are unlikely to see anything nearer the shoreline. Even the strongest swimmers are not recommended to go alone, and it’s much safer to book a boat trip.

Can I Spot Mantas in Kona During the Day When Snorkeling?

Spotting mantas in Kona during the day when snorkeling may be possible at cleaning stations. However, this is something that’s not recommended during the winter months. The cleaning station is located between Maka’iwa and Honoka’ope bays, but sightings aren’t as common as during night tours. Thanks to the tactics used at night to attract the manta rays, it’s much more likely you’ll witness them during a tour.

Which Species of Manta Rays Can be Spotted in Hawaii?

In Hawaii, visitors can see manta rays, stingrays, and spotted eagle rays. Two species of manta ray are seen here: the reef manta and the giant manta ray. The giant manta ray is less commonly seen in Hawaii.

Manta Rays

Manta rays are the largest of the family of rays. They don’t have poisonous tail spikes, and they swim in the open ocean. The top of their skin is gray and black, and then underneath, it is white with black patches. Manta rays have cephalic lobes coming out of their ears, and their wingspan is between 5 and 8 feet.

Stingrays

In Hawaii, you’ll find the Hawaiian stingray, which is white on the bottom and olive to brown on top. Sightings of stingrays are much rarer than that of manta rays. Stingrays sit on the mud bottoms of coastal bays at a depth of more than 50 feet. They can often be seen in Ma’alaea Bay outside Maui and Kaneohe Bay in Oahu.

Spotted Eagle Ray

The spotted eagle ray has pretty colors with dots that vary from white to yellow and green on their black back. The underbelly is white, and they have a wingspan of up to 6 feet. Spotted eagle rays can grow up to 7 feet in length, and they mainly live in rocky coral reefs at a depth of up to 80 feet.

7 Manta Facts about Hawaiian Manta Rays
  1. Manta rays in Hawaii are usually between 5 to 8 feet in size, although ones up to 14 feet have been seen in the water.
  2. Rays have been around in their current form for between 20 and 25 million years. Manta rays are believed to have existed for 4.8 million years.
  3. Manta rays can be identified by researchers thanks to their belly spots.
  4. Out of the world’s 32,000 species of fish, manta rays have the biggest brains.
  5. The manta ray’s stinger doesn’t actually do anything, unlike the venomous tail of the stingray.
  6. Manta rays can be told apart from stingrays thanks to their black color, as opposed to the stingray’s brown color.
  7. In Hawaii, you’ll receive a fine of up to $10,000 plus a criminal penalty for killing or capturing manta rays.
Is a Manta Ray Snorkel or Dive Tour in Hawaii Worth It?

A manta ray snorkel or dive tour in Hawaii is well worth it for anyone who wants to get a close-up view of manta rays. This tour is something that can only be experienced in a few locations in the world. Almost all tours end up seeing at least one manta ray, so most visitors find this to be a highlight of their time in Hawaii.

Visitors praise how close you can get to the manta rays and the expertise that’s shared by the captains and guides on the tours. The team will take care of everything for you, so you can just relax and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience. There’s no other way to safely see the manta rays on the island, so a booking a tour is required for this experience.