Have you ever imagined yourself on vacation in Maui, enjoying a day at the beach next to a five-star, world-class hotel? Allow snorkeling at Wailea Beach to make that fantasy come true! With umbrellas, lounge chairs, and five-star cafes and restaurants, the amenities alone make this the ideal location for a beach day.
Aside from just feeling fancy, this pristine beach also has some of the best snorkeling on Maui. After my day snorkeling under the pristine clear waters, I believe the snorkeling also merits a 5 star rating! The waters are bustling with Hawaiian marine life, stunning lava rock formations and endless satellite reefs.
Another big draw to this beach is the stunning view! Maui’s neighboring islands, Molokini and Kaho’olawe are all clearly visible from Wailea Beach. From November to May, you are very likely to hear whales singing underwater and see them breaching above.
Stay until sunset and you may hear the drums of the Grand Wailea’s Honua’ula Luau. While the show is only for guests, dancing on the torchlit path is highly suggested. Everyone is welcome to enjoy the affluent beach, as it is constitutionally mandated for all Hawaiian beaches to be accessible to the public. With that in mind, let’s jump right in for some snorkeling at Wailea Beach!
The History of Wailea Beach
Wailea Beach's history is woven by ranching activities, ancient Hawaiian communities, and transformation through commercial ownership and war. The hills above Wailea Beach were once part of a large Hawaiian village settled the south coast of Maui. In the mid 1800s, the area became known as Ulupalakua Ranch, a remarkable cattle ranch that operates along the green volcanic slopes to this day.
Wailea Beach was an essential training ground for American soldiers stationed in the Pacific during World War II. In 1957, Matson Navigation Company purchased 1,500 acres in the area, which was later purchased by Alexander & Baldwin in 1969. In an attempt to grow, the latter started building a residential resort community in 1971. This changed the surrounding area into the renowned Wailea Resort that we enjoy today.
Getting to Wailea Beach
The journey from downtown Kihei to Wailea Beach is a breeze. Start by heading south on South Kihei Road, soaking in the coastal views along the way. After about 5 miles, make a right at a four way intersection onto Wailea Ike Drive, and continue for a short distance until you reach the entrance to Wailea Beach.
Parking at Wailea Beach
You’ll come across a public parking lot soon after driving past the Grand Wailea, just look for the 'Wailea Beach Parking' sign on your right. On my snorkel day in early November 2023, this parking lot was closed for construction until February 2024. The beach is still open, but due to the parking lot closure I parked at the next lot by Polo Beach. To get there, keep driving past the Wailea Beach parking lot and continue on past the Four Seasons and Fairmont. Turn right where you see a sign for Polo Beach and the parking lot is at the bottom of the hill on your right.
Walking the Wailea Boardwalk
From the parking lot at Polo Beach, I walked north on the Wailea Beach Path that starts at the end of the parking lot. This process added a 10-15 minute walk, but I really enjoyed stretching my legs! The coastal views were incredible, and I even came across a Native Hawaiian Coastal Garden that contains over 60 species of native Hawaiian plants. I didn’t mind the extra steps, but keep this in mind if you plan on going to Wailea Beach before February 2024.
Snorkeling at Wailea Beach
The beach here is truly breathtaking! The water is crystal clear and the crescent tips on both sides are covered in vivid green vegetation. I had checked the Maui snorkel report for southside beaches earlier that morning, which forecasted snorkeling conditions as a 9 out of 10. Weather on Maui can be unpredictable, which makes this tool very helpful! Each morning this page offers a free birds eye view of current weather conditions for top snorkel spots on Maui. I found the southside rating for this day to be accurate. I arrived to sunny skies, low wind and little to no waves!
Arriving to the beach at 8:00AM, I abide by the general rule of 'the earlier you get in the water, the better the snorkeling'! The water looked calm and inviting. The beach did seem a bit crowded for this early hour. Due to the multitude of resorts in Wailea, these beaches can fill up quickly so try to get there as early as possible.
Entering the Ocean
From shore, I could see that the two best places for snorkeling at Wailea Beach are the reef systems at the north and south ends of the beach. Since there were more snorkelers on the north (right) side of the beach, I figured there may be fish or turtles to see in that area. Swimming out for maybe thirty yards, I turned to face the lava structures.
Marine Life at Wailea Beach
Underwater, I encountered a thriving marine ecosystem! The sun was beaming through the waters, which gave me a clear visual of the shoals of butterflyfish and moorish idols swirling around porites coral. I also saw blackfin chromis, elegant coris, and (at least) 3 large cornetfish!
While I enjoyed all of these sites, there were two in particular that really struck me. Seeing not one, not two, but THREE honus (turtles) while snorkeling at Wailea Beach was one of these experiences! The other was seeing a baby octopus, or he'e. I was surprised that I was able to identify the he'e before it camouflaged in the brown rock. Octopi are renowned for their intelligence—they can even figure out how to pick locks and navigate mazes! They often see you (and hide) before you see them, so I was lucky to spot one out in the open.
A Successful Snorkel
Snorkeling at Wailea Beach was a true paradise. I enjoyed some of the best snorkeling Maui has to offer while I lounged amidst the luxury of Wailea Resort and reveled in the sights of Molokini and Kaho'olawe. This beach should be next up on your snorkel day bucket list!