Oahu is known for its pristine beaches, lush mountains, and stunning coral reefs, teeming with fish and wildlife. While this island certainly has plenty of awesome places to snorkel directly from shore, you can only access some of the best spots to see Hawaii’s incredible sea life, like the aptly-named Turtle Canyon in Oahu, via boat. So if snorkeling with turtles is at the top of your Hawaii bucket list, here are 5 of the best tours to Turtle Canyon in Oahu.
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What is Turtle Canyon?
Turtle Canyon is a nature reserve that’s located about a mile and a half offshore from Waikiki Beach in Oahu. The only way that you can get there is via a short boat road from shore, making it one of the most popular destination for Oahu snorkeling tours.
True to its name, this spot is known for being a hotspot for sea turtles, which use this area as a “cleaning station.” This basically means that the turtles have identified a specific reef as being a good location for algae-loving fish, like damselfish, angelfish, tangs, and wrasse. The turtles hover directly above the reef to allow these fish to clean off the algae that grows on its shells. Accordingly, Turtle Canyon seriously offers some of the best snorkeling on Oahu, with both adorable honu and tons of vibrantly colored fish.
Best Tours to Turtle Canyon in Oahu
So, which tours should you be considering to explore Turtle Canyon? Let’s dive in, shall we?
There’s a couple things that make this two hour tour stand out from the rest to me.
For one, the crew is incredibly funny and attentive and they do an excellent job of making sure your group has a great time, while still keeping everyone a safe distance from the turtles. Plus, they definitely go out of their way to help you see other types of wildlife during your excursion, like spinner dolphins or, if you’re visiting Hawaii in winter, even humpback whales.
Additionally, this company uses better snorkeling gear than I’ve seen on other tours around Hawaii—there’s seriously nothing more annoying than a snorkel that keeps force-feeding you seawater as you’re trying to have fun (gross!).
And finally, one of the best things about this option is that they have a tour that leaves at 7 AM, so you’ll beat almost all of the other tour boats to Turtle Canyon and have the area mostly to yourself. If I had to pick one tour to recommend it would be the 7 AM option with this company!
On this two hour small group tour (limited to just 20 people!), the helpful guides are great at showing you where to look for turtles and help make the most of your time in the water.
This also is one of the best Waikiki snorkeling tours for beginners—the guides are patient and provide snorkeling tips and tricks (and flotation devices). And if you’re not up to fully jumping in the water, there’s a little swim step on the boat where you can still put your feet in the water and be part of the action.
Once the snorkeling portion concludes, the crew will welcome you back onboard and have snacks waiting for you to enjoy (Fresh pineapple? Yes, please!) as you soak up the sun and cruise back to shore.
If you’re looking for something more private than a big group tour, consider this tour that has, at most, six guests.
While the tour time is shorter than some of the other options (an hour and a half), you’ll likely actually have more time in the water, given that your guides will be able to pay each of you much more attention. In fact, both the tour guides and the boat driver make the whole experience feel like you’re hanging out with a group of friends (and some sea turtles, of course), instead of on some big commercialized tour.
Beyond the more intimate experience, this tour company does an excellent job of educating guests about the sea life that you encounter while snorkeling. While they make sure you’ll have a great time in the water, they also focus on protecting wildlife and ensuring that guests don’t interfere with any of the animals—which I personally really appreciate!
This tour is unique in a couple of different ways. For one, it’s kind of a Goldie Locks tour—not too small and not too big, with a maximum of 23 guests on any given tour.
It’s also a bit longer than some of the others, at two and a half hours long. The extra time aboard is used to sail around, take in the stunning views of the Diamond Head Crater, and soak up the sun. It also tends to feel a bit more like a party than some of the other options (even though the tour starts at 9 AM, ha!)—in fact, there’s alcoholic beverages for purchase once the snorkeling excursion is done.
In addition, the staff is funny, knowledgeable and attentive and are great at making newbies feel at ease in the water.
If you’re going with a bigger group, consider this tour, which usually cruises around on a two story catamaran (if you can snag a seat on the top-deck, do it—it’s the best for spotting dolphins and whales off in the distance!).
The crew is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable about the sea life you’ll be snorkeling with. And if you’re trying to up your social media game, they also happen to be awesome at getting top-notch GoPro footage of both the turtles and their guests having fun in the water.
Things to Know Before Going on a Turtle Canyon Tour
Hopefully, you found the perfect tour to Turtle Canyon to add to your Oahu itinerary—woohoo! But before you gear up for getting out on the water, there’s a few things you should keep in mind.
You cannot get too close to the turtles.
Hawaiian sea turtles are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, and accordingly, are protected under state and federal law.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration guidelines’ recommend that you stay 10 feet away from a sea turtle at all times while in the water with them—so please respect that!
Cuz while you’ll see turtles serenely gliding underwater during your tour, they definitely have to come up for air every once in a while. If you’re chasing a turtle around or otherwise get too close to it, it may interfere with the turtle’s ability to breathe.
Not only do you not want to be that guy, but you can be fined up to $10,500 for touching or otherwise harassing a sea turtle. Not exactly the kind of memory you want to leave Hawaii with!
Protect Hawaii’s coral reef.
The reef around Turtle Canyon is pretty deep, running anywhere from 15 to 40 feet, so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to touch the bottom of the ocean in many places.
But, in the event your guides take you to a more shallow area, please respect the coral reef, which (even though it just looks like rocks!) is, in fact, living and actually considered an animal! Stepping or kicking on coral can permanently damage its fragile structure- so let’s be nice to our coral friends.
And on that note, please use reef-friendly sunscreen. I swear by this brand– I SWEAR it smells like Hawaii in a bottle!
Go on a morning tour.
Turtle Canyon is one of the most popular snorkeling spots in Oahu and can get pretty busy as the day wears on. If you don’t want to worry about kicking someone in the face with your flippers—or getting kicked in the face, I’d suggest booking as early a tour as possible, so you can enjoy the incredible turtles in relative peace!
The water can be choppy.
If you’re prone to sea sickness, the ride getting out to Turtle Canyon can be a bit bumpy, so I’d suggest prepping for your tour with some Dramamine. Turns out that seeing these magnificent creatures soar through the water is much more enjoyable when you don’t feel like you’re going to vomit everywhere!
I hope you find a tour to Turtle Canyon that you can enjoy during your time in Oahu. Do you have any questions regarding Turtle Canyon or any of these tours? Let me know in the comments below!