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Maui County is one of the ultimate scuba diving destinations in Hawaii and in the world for both groups and individuals. It consists of four islands, Maui, Lanai, Molokai, and Molokini. Together, they create an enchanting underwater landscape for scuba divers to explore. New and seasoned divers alike are sure to feel delighted by the diverse range of marine species, topographical features, shipwrecks, and more. The waters tend to be very warm, calm, and clear, making for some of the best scuba diving anywhere.
When basing scuba dives in Maui, the top sites can be easily separated into the Westside and the Southside, set about an hour apart. On each side of Maui, there are both shore dives, which you can visit directly from the beach, and boat dives. For the latter, you will need to head offshore to scuba dive. Warm ocean temperatures allow for diving all year round. However, July and August is the peak season, and October and November is the low season on the island.
The price of diving in Maui can vary greatly. Do you have the diving experience level to do a shore dive with a buddy? Then, you’ll only need to rent a tank for a small fee. Boat dives will often cost more the farther away from the shore they are. When picking a scuba center or dive shop, it’s important to pick one that’s locally operated and follows sustainable practices. This helps to preserve the stunning underwater ecosystems and to support the native communities of the island.
The first step for anyone interested in diving in Maui is to get an Open Water Diver certification. You can learn and obtain the certification in two to three days with an introductory dive. You can find many PADI Dive Centers for eco-based courses on the West coast in Lahaina or in Kihei. All certified divers then need to decide if they want to rent equipment, book a guided dive tour, or take a boat charter. Regardless, it’s important to acquire DAN insurance before heading out. It will protect you in case of any medical mishaps.
Always do safety checks before diving using the acronym Bubbles Will Rise And Float, or BWRAF. It stands for Buoyancy, Weights, Releases, Air, and the Final OK. When scuba diving in Maui, be sure never to go below 130 feet. It can be very dangerous and damaging even for certified divers. Review the scuba dive conditions each day before attempting to head out so that you can assess for safety and visibility. You can easily check this at the Maui Snorkel Report.
Like with any nature-based destination, it’s essential to remember the best practices for how to interact with the underwater environment. We appreciate it at all of these best dive sites. For Maui diving, this involves using reef-safe sunscreen, a strict look-but-don’t-touch policy for coral and endemic species, and the golden leave-no-trace rule. Many of the Maui beaches are sea turtle nesting sites. Local sea turtle hospitals like the Maui Ocean Center offer protocols for protecting them while visiting as well as rescue teams. You can call them if you see a sea turtle in danger.
If you’re going to scuba dive in West Maui, don’t miss the Lanai Cathedrals! This totally unique site comes with a surprising history. In the past, the Dole company owned it, and then, a series of billionaires, such as Larry Ellison, privately bought it. The heavenly underwater caverns were formed by lava tunnels. Now, they have collapsed ceilings that allow the light to pour in through the crystal-clear waters.
Lanai Cathedrals offer a diverse range of topography to navigate. You can swim through arches and tunnels at an average depth of 50 to 80 feet. Visitors can frequently spot dolphins and whales as well. And don’t forget about the famous torpedo tube that shoots you up with a surge of pressure. Both cathedrals are considered intermediate accessible only as boat dives, either on a sustainable tour or private charter with equipment included by dive operators.
Molokini Crater deserves a spot on everybody’s Maui scuba dive trip bucket list. Once used for bombing target practice, this crescent-shaped atoll is now a State Marine Sanctuary. It boasts clear waters to navigate around a partially sunken volcano with a sheer cliff and internal reef. For certified divers interested in a cliff or wall dive, Molokini is one of the best diving sites to check out offshore. You will likely be departing from the Southern Kihei ramp to reach it.
With high visibility, there are plenty of unforgettable encounters awaiting here. These include pelagic species such as whale sharks, manta rays, octopuses, monk seals, and humpback whales. In the high season, you can even hear the whale songs reverberating off of the iconic back wall. Right outside, it’s breathtakingly deep and covered in corals and urchins. Certified divers can descend to 130 feet. For an inclusive experience, choose a two-tank dive with a charter from an eco-friendly dive operator.
Set on the Southside, Makena Landing is also referred to as the Five Caves or Turtle Town. It offers some of the best diving for beginners on dive trips with a PADI instructor. Since it’s a shore dive, you will only need to consider a place to rent equipment or book a guide. The depth is around 45 feet. The bubble cave is a fan favorite at Makena Landing. It has an underwater lava tube that leads into a chamber where you can actually surface.
Underwater, you’ll find caves, grottoes, lava fingers, and corals to explore. Plus, keep your eyes out for spotting green sea turtles, octopuses, white-tip reef sharks, and nudibranchs in the area. And be sure to check out the cleaning station called The Car Wash, where wrasse fish and shrimp eat parasites off of the turtles. Because Makena Landing is protected from the winds, the visibility tends to be very good. It’s one wild ride with plenty to see and easily some of the best diving in Maui.
Many have called Molokai, or the Friendly Isle, one of the best-kept secrets for scuba diving in Maui. Many don’t know that this lush, razor-backed landscape was once home to a Leper colony. It is also known as the birthplace of Hula and several famous sorcerers, according to local lore. Eight miles off the Western shore, keep in mind the trade winds can be heavy here.
Molokai is a popular place for spotting local marine life. You can expect frequent endemic species sightings of large schools of hammerhead, gray, and Galapagos sharks, along with dolphins and whales. There are often plenty of colorful fish to see and rays and octopuses along the untouched reef. There are several local eco-minded operators and dive courses to use for safe, informational, and affordable boat dives. They do regular excursions out to this spot, whether you’re a certified diver or not.
Black Rock has become one of the top-rated beach dives in the country. It’s a great setup for any first-time divers and intermediate divers, with a depth of around 35 feet. Many shore divers receive an introductory scuba lesson here, arriving from Lahaina, Maui. Often island visitors choose to go at night as well, for an entirely different adventure. Don’t forget to catch the famous sunsets here once you come up!
The strong incoming current at Ka’anapali Beach circles around the rocks and the wall underwater. As a result, it forms a deep natural aquarium that’s home to sea turtles and hundreds of tropical fish. You’ll also likely be able to spot marine life like moray eels, reef sharks, rays, and more here. It’s located at the Sheraton Maui, which provides several useful amenities when diving in Maui for the day at this spot. However, it’s best to prepare for crowds during the limited time of the high season.
Mala Wharf is a unique scuba diving site in Maui and a favorite of the local community of experienced divers on the Westside. The large concrete Mala Pier jets out from the sandy shores and attracts sea life of all kinds! It was originally constructed for the pineapple trade until the structure itself partially collapsed in the 1990s due to hurricane Iniki.
When traveling to dive Maui, this is an ideal location for beginner and intermediate divers. There’s no license or professional certification needed to enjoy the activity. Today, the rubble is still scattered in the water forming an artificial reef and giving it a similar vibe to a shipwreck site. It’s home to the rare white tip shark along with an abundance of sea turtles and frogfish.
Kapalua Bay is a very well-protected marine area for some of the best diving in West Maui. One main reason is the sheer range of species that live underwater here. At this site, the depth is around 45 feet, making it a suitable site for beginners on a first dive without a diving license. Reefs extend out at each end of the bay, creating a crescent shape that offers such calm waters.
Because of the bay shape, many consider Kapalua to be one of the more consistently safe dive sites in Maui. This also makes it a prime candidate for night diving as well! Along this stretch of shore, you’ll also find several lava beds which are famous for creating the perfect home for rare fishes and corals. Remember not to feed or touch any wildlife here, no matter how habituated they may seem at such a popular resort spot. It helps protect them and their beautiful ecosystem!
You can find Airport Beach along Kaanapali Beach on the Westside of Maui at Kahekili Beach Park. It’s considered a perfect site for both beginners with a dive instructor and advanced divers. There is an abundance of operators offering courses and tours here. There are also easily accessible facilities in the area. They include free parking, public restrooms, a covered gazebo, and a large lawn for scenic gatherings on land.
There is a seabed depth of over 40 feet. Visitors are sure to see some unique corals and diverse fish species here. Keep an eye out for lemon butterflies, yellowtail coris, needlefish, lionfish, Moorish idols, sergeant majors, and many more. Visibility can vary because of the winds, though. So, be sure to check before picking up any rental gear and heading out to dive.
Maui is famous for having several shipwreck dive sites off its scenic shores. One that you definitely should not miss is the Carthaginian Shipwreck. It’s perfect for anyone interested in the fascinating nautical history of Hawaii, as well as for Maui dive enthusiasts. You can only access Carthaginian if you have previous dive experience and the necessary certifications, as the depth is around 100 feet.
Though it’s not too far from the coast, this enchanting dive site requires a 10-minute ride to reach. So, it is still considered a boat dive. The wreckage itself makes for a unique diving in Maui experience, along with other aquatic wonders. You can spot sea turtles, frogfish, corals, white-tip reef sharks, eels, and many other exciting endemic species.
St. Anthony Shipwreck is one of Maui’s most popular wreck dives. The 65-foot shrimp boat from Louisiana was intentionally sunk not long ago, in October 1997, though the process was riddled with difficulties. The dive site is actually quite accessible from the Wailea coast for shore diving. Many people use kayaks to get there or enjoy a fairly long surface swim if they feel up for a challenge.
Today the shipwreck is home to many green sea turtles that live within the dilapidated cabins or on the decks. The sandy bottom boasts an artificial reef from the debris as well, so there’s plenty of coral, sharks, moray eels, and fish to find. If you spot two frogfish hanging out, they’ve been affectionately named “The Captain” and “Little Buddy”! Now that’s the stuff Maui dreams are made of.