Manta Rays swimming in the ocean seen during a tour on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Snorkeling With Manta Rays in Kona: The Ultimate Guide

Have you ever dreamed of doing something unique and adventurous, such as snorkeling with giant manta rays? Well, you’re in luck! The world-renowned travel destination of Kona, Hawaii, makes it possible for you to check this one off your bucket list!

This incredible adventure is one of the top things to do on the Big Island, allowing you to interact with these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. It offers you unforgettable moments of connection with the marine world that will stay with you long after you’ve left the islands.

A lot of planning and preparation goes into a successful manta ray snorkeling trip. Luckily for you, we have done all the hard work and compiled a comprehensive guide on how to get the most out of your experience.

We’ll tell you everything you need to know, from the best tours to where to find manta rays, what to bring, and more. 

Don’t have time to read our detailed snorkeling with manta rays article? No worries—we have shortlisted the overall best manta snorkel tour below to make things easy for you.

This Travel Dream contains affiliate links. We may receive compensation at no extra cost to you if you purchase using one of these links. You can read my disclaimer for more information.

Our Top Pick

Manta Rays swimming in the blue water in Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Snorkel With Manta Rays Tour

Sea Paradise is a reputable and experienced tour company in Hawaii. They are listed as a preferred tour company on the Hawaii Ocean Watch Green List. They offer a comfortable 5-star experience on their spacious luxury catamaran, Hoku Nui.

How to See Manta Rays on the Big Island

The best way to see manta rays in Kona is to take a guided snorkeling or diving tour. On these tours, you’ll be taken out on a boat just before sunset and provided with all the necessary equipment for a successful night in the water.

We took a manta ray tour in Kona and highly recommend it! It was an incredible experience to get so close to these creatures and witness their grace and beauty firsthand.

Best Places to See Manta Rays in Kona

Below are Kona’s most popular sites for manta ray snorkeling or diving and where tour companies will take you:

Kaukalaelae Point, also known as Manta Ray Village: Located just south of Kona, in front of the Outrigger Resort and Spa, Manta Ray Village is a renowned gathering spot for these majestic creatures.

This site is popular amongst snorkelers and divers, providing an up-close and personal experience with the manta rays. Most tour companies report a successful sighting rate of 95%.

Garden Eel Cove, also known as Manta Heaven: Located north of Kona, near the Kona International Airport, this site is more popular with dive tours, but snorkeling tours are also available.

Manta Heaven is known for its large numbers of manta rays gathering in a single area compared to the number of manta rays available at Manta Village.

Most tour companies have reported a slightly lower chance of seeing manta rays at Manta Heaven than at Manta Village. If you want to see numerous manta rays but are okay with a slightly lower chance of success, this is the place for you. 

However, we talked to some tour companies and were told that they analyze beforehand where to go based on manta availability from previous days. Depending on the past few days’ availability, they will either go to Manta Haven or Manta Village.

Manta Point: Located on the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel property, Manta Point is another popular place to spot mantas. However, tour companies aren’t allowed to take you there since it’s on private property. For this reason, we always recommend taking a tour of one of the other sites we mentioned above.

Manta ray swimming in the blue waters of Hawaii. Seen during a tour in Kona.
Boats docked at the harbor with a gorgeous sunset in the background on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Gorgeous sunset we saw during our tour

How to Choose a Manta Ray Snorkeling or Diving Tour

When selecting a manta ray snorkeling or diving tour, prioritize companies on the Green List from the Hawaii Ocean Watch. These operators adhere to ecological standards and guidelines that protect marine life, the environment, and guests.

Since manta rays are a protected species, choosing a tour provider that goes the extra mile to ensure their safety and well-being is important. Look for companies that actively demonstrate their commitment to responsible and sustainable practices, ensuring a memorable and ethical manta ray encounter.

All the manta tours we recommend on our website are on the Green List by Hawaii Ocean Watch.

Best Manta Ray Snorkeling Tours

Below are the top three manta ray snorkeling tours in Kona that are on the Green List. You can also read our full article on the top manta ray or dive tours on The Big Island for a more detailed review.

Snorkel With Manta Rays Tour by Sea Paradise offers an exciting manta ray snorkeling experience aboard the Hoku Nui, a 50-foot catamaran. 

Departing from the Kona Coast, the tour takes you to the renowned Manta Ray Village for an up-close encounter with these gentle giants. With over 35 years of experience, Sea Paradise is considered an expert in manta ray tours, offering an unforgettable adventure. 

Kona Ocean Adventures offers an extraordinary Manta Snorkel/2-Tank Scuba Adventure, providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to snorkel or dive with manta rays. This tour caters to scuba divers and snorkelers, making it ideal for groups with varying interests.

Hawaii Oceanic also offers an unforgettable Manta Ray Snorkeling Experience at Manta Village. Hawaii Oceanic is dedicated to providing a thrilling adventure and ensuring guests have an unforgettable experience.

Manta ray swimming in the blue waters of Hawaii, seen during a tour in Kona.
Man and a couple on a boat tour to snorkel with manta rays on the Big Island of Hawaii with the sun setting in the background.

What to Expect on a Manta Ray Night Snorkel

Once you arrive at the snorkeling or diving site, you’ll be given instructions on how to make the most of your manta ray encounter. Your experienced guide will provide important guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. 

These instructions will help you understand the proper techniques and behavior necessary to interact with the manta rays respectfully and responsibly.

Bright lights are then projected into the water to create a captivating underwater spectacle. These lights, strategically placed, attract an abundance of plankton, which forms the primary food source for the manta rays. As the plankton gathers around the lights, it creates a full buffet for the mantas, drawing them closer to the snorkelers.

Snorkelers then position themselves in the water, floating on the surface with the assistance of floating rigs equipped with lights. The guides will make sure that everyone is positioned in a way that allows for optimal viewing of the mantas.

As the mantas gracefully glide through the illuminated water, they come within arm’s reach of the snorkelers. The mantas loop and somersault, their enormous wings spanning out as they move with tranquility and elegance.

Snorkelers are treated to an up-close encounter with these magnificent creatures, often just a few feet away, providing an experience like no other.

Throughout the encounter, guides closely monitor the activity to ensure the safety of both the participants and the mantas.

Witnessing the manta rays gracefully navigating the illuminated waters during a night snorkel is an experience we will never forget. The combination of the bright lights, concentrated plankton, and the proximity of the mantas creates an otherworldly atmosphere that’s hard to explain. You’ll truly have to experience it to understand.

Two manta rays swimming in the ocean in Kona seen during a snorkeling tour.
Spots on a manta ray while its swimming in Kona, Hawaii.
Apparently, each manta ray has a name and is identified by its spots

What to Expect on a Manta Ray Night Dive

Like the snorkeling experience, diving with manta rays during a night dive offers a thrilling and exciting encounter. As divers descend into the depths, bright lights are projected into the water, attracting an abundance of plankton that lures the mantas closer. 

Divers position themselves near the sandy seabed, hovering slightly above, and witness the graceful ballet of the mantas as they glide through the illuminated water. 

Note: You will need to be a certified diver to participate in this activity.

Manta ray swimming in the ocean on The Big Island of Hawaii seen during a snorkeling tour.

Difference Between a Manta Ray Snorkel Tour and a Dive Tour

A manta ray snorkel tour allows participants to observe the mantas from the surface using snorkeling equipment. 

Snorkelers float on the water and witness the manta’s movements from above. It offers a more accessible option that does not require certification. You just need to know how to swim and be comfortable in the ocean.

On the other hand, a dive tour provides a more immersive experience for certified divers. Divers can descend to depths of up to 30 feet and witness the mantas from a different perspective. It requires scuba diving certification and more specialized equipment.

A group of snorkelers taking videos of a manta ray snorkeling in the ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Side note: Going to The Big Island and need recommendations on what to do? Check out our review of the Top Places to Watch the Sunset and the Best Black Sand Beaches.

Why Is Snorkeling or Diving With Manta Rays in Kona a Big Deal?

The population of manta rays in Kona is significant, offering unparalleled opportunities to witness these magnificent creatures up close. Snorkeling provides a unique and exciting experience, allowing you to observe the mantas in their natural habitat as they gracefully navigate through the water.

Kona’s reputation as a manta ray hotspot attracts snorkelers worldwide. The chance to snorkel with these majestic creatures is a sought-after experience that offers a sense of wonder and connection to the marine world.

As mentioned previously, tour companies report high success rates due to the abundance of manta rays in Kona’s waters. Compared to other Hawaiian Islands, the Kona Coast offers the best opportunity for snorkelers and divers to witness manta rays. 

While other islands have manta ray encounters, Kona remains the top destination for dives and snorkels.

Guidelines for Snorkeling and Diving With Manta Rays

When snorkeling and diving with manta rays, following these guidelines is important to ensure a safe and responsible experience. Always listen to your tour operator as they will provide information on safety protocols and marine life behaviors. 

  1. Respectful Distance: Maintain a respectful distance from the manta rays to avoid interfering with their natural behavior. Please do not attempt to touch the mantas.
  2. Passive Observation: Observe the manta rays without actively pursuing or chasing them. Instead, allow the mantas to approach you if they choose to do so. 
  3. No Flash Photography: Refrain from using flash photography or artificial lights when snorkeling or diving with mantas. Flashlights or strobes can startle the mantas and disrupt their natural behavior. Instead, rely on ambient light or the underwater lights provided by the tour operator.
  4. Follow Tour Operator’s Instructions: Listen carefully to the instructions provided by your tour operator or guide. They are experienced professionals who understand the best practices for snorkeling and diving with mantas. Follow their guidance to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.
  5. Eco-Friendly Sunscreen: If wearing sunscreen on the way to the tour, use reef-safe sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun. Regular sunscreen can contain harmful chemicals that can damage the marine ecosystem, including coral reefs. Opt for a sunscreen that is labeled reef-safe to minimize your impact on the environment.
Gorgeous sunset seen on a boat tour to snorkel with manta rays in Kona.

What to Bring on a Manta Ray Night Snorkel or Dive Tour

Below are some of the important items to bring on a manta ray night snorkel or dive tour:

Motion Sickness Medication: If you are prone to motion sickness, bring the necessary medication. I have made this mistake multiple times in Hawaii and regretted it. 

The last time I made this mistake was during whale watching in Kauai, and I promised myself never to do that again. The water tends to be much rougher at night, so it is a good idea to be prepared just in case.

Swimwear: Be sure to bring your swimwear. Tour companies will provide wet suits, but you can bring your own if you’d like. Another girl on our tour brought her own wetsuit and decided to wear the one from the tour company on top of hers for additional warmth.

Camera: If you want to capture memories of your experience, bring a waterproof camera like a GoPro. Be sure to adjust the settings for low light and no flash photography.

Snorkel Gear & Dive Gear (if applicable): Tour operators will provide snorkel gear, but feel free to bring your own if you prefer.

Towel: Bring a towel to dry off after the tour. It gets cold at night, so this helps a lot.

Cover-up or a Change of Clothes: Have a cover-up or dry clothes for afterward. It can get chilly at night, especially on the boat ride back.

Light jacket or Sweater: Bring a light jacket or sweater if you get cold easily. This will come in handy after the tour, especially during the windy ride back to shore.

Dry Bag: Bring a dry bag for your belongings, as things can get wet if not properly secured.

Related: Hilo vs. Kona: Which Side is the Best?

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Snorkeling With Manta Rays Worth It?

Snorkeling with manta rays is undoubtedly the best thing to do on The Big Island, and it’s worth it for several compelling reasons. 

Observing these magnificent creatures up close in their natural habitat is an unforgettable experience. The proximity to the mantas while snorkeling provides a unique perspective, allowing you to witness their size, elegance, and graceful movements firsthand. 

The sense of wonder and connection with the underwater world that snorkeling with manta rays brings is unparalleled. We highly recommend doing this, and the memories we got will stay with us forever. 

Is It Safe to Snorkel With Manta Rays in Kona?

Snorkeling with manta rays in Kona is generally safe when you adhere to proper guidelines. Choose a reputable tour operator with experienced guides who prioritize safety.

Listen to the safety briefing and follow instructions regarding snorkeling techniques and interactions with the mantas. Maintain a respectful distance from the mantas, wear appropriate snorkeling gear, and be aware of your own swimming abilities.

Plus, manta rays are harmless to humans, further ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience in their presence.

When Can You Snorkel With Manta Rays in Hawaii?

The prime time for observing manta rays on the Big Island of Hawaii is in the evening, particularly after sunset. This is when the mantas are more likely to approach the surface as they feed on plankton drawn to the lights.

Unlike whale watching season in Hawaii, there is no defined manta ray season. Most people recommend snorkeling and diving with mantas in Kona during the summer when the waters are generally calmer. However, you can spot manta rays throughout the year.

We took our tour in the winter months, and we were able to see plenty of mantas during our snorkeling tour.

Is Touching Manta Rays Legal?

No, it is not legal to touch manta rays in Hawaii. It’s also important to remember that mantas are wild creatures and should be respected as such.

You can potentially get them sick or scare them away by touching them. Mantas have a thin coating of protective mucus that helps protect them from parasites and other environmental threats. Touching them can remove this protective coat, leaving them vulnerable to disease or injury.

Don’t be that person on the tour that ruins it for everyone else!

Can I Go on a Manta Ray Tour if I Can’t Swim?

You cannot snorkel with manta rays if you are not an experienced swimmer. It’s always best practice to learn how to swim before getting in any body of water where you can’t stand up.

Since these tours happen at night, the ocean is rougher and more unpredictable.

However, some tour operators offer ride-along tours, so you can experience the mantas from the boat without getting in the ocean.

I personally wouldn’t get on a boat at night if I didn’t know how to swim, but to each their own.

What Happens if I Don’t See Manta Rays on My Tour?

While most tour operators report a 95% success rate, occasionally, there are nights when the mantas don’t show up, even though this is rare.

If you don’t see any mantas on the night of your tour, most tour operators will offer to rebook you for another night.

For this reason, we always recommend booking your tours at the start of your trip so you have backup dates in case the mantas don’t show up.

For example, we booked a luau on the island, and it was canceled due to inclement weather. We were able to rebook another night during our stay because we booked it at the start of our trip, not at the end.

It’s always important to have an open mind and remember that manta rays are wild animals, and their whereabouts are unpredictable. While the success rate is high, there is no guarantee that you will see them.

How Much Is Manta Ray Snorkeling?

The price of manta ray snorkeling tours varies depending on the tour operator and boat size. Most night snorkel tours cost between $99 to $140 per person.

Final Thoughts

Snorkeling with manta rays in Kona is one of the top things to do in Hawaii. Not only do you get to observe these majestic creatures up close, but it’s also a great way to connect with nature and appreciate the beauty of Hawaii’s underwater world.

If you’re planning on snorkeling with manta rays in Kona, be sure to book your tour with a reputable operator and follow the safety guidelines. You’re sure to have an unforgettable experience!

We hope this article gives you a better understanding of what to expect when snorkeling with manta rays in Kona and prepares you for an unforgettable experience ahead!