A Visit to Hanauma Bay 21 Years Apart

A very young me before the conservation effort that prohibits standing on the reef and feeding the fish.  It was a LONG time ago!

A very young me (taken from a family scrapbook) before the conservation effort that prohibits standing on the reef and feeding the fish began. It was a LONG time ago and this is a BIG No-No now!!

“Come on…will you just get in the water, Jennifer?”

That was what I heard as I stood on the coral reef in the middle of Hanauma Bay in Honolulu, Hawaii.    My mom was trying to coax me off of the reef and into the water.  My sister was swimming around like one of the brightly colored fish darting in and out of the anemones while she tossed frozen peas from the bag that she carried close to her.  It was 1990. 

I don’t remember much from that trip to Hawaii.  I remember eating copious amounts of pineapple.  I remember attending a luau and my amazement (and a little bit of disgust) as they removed the pig and prepared it for the attendees and I will not forget standing there in the middle of Hanauma Bay thinking that surely something was going to find me a tasty morsel for his next lunch.

Fast forward to my ten year anniversary where we celebrated in Hawaii with our first major trip without the kids.  Hanauma Bay was on our list of things to do.  The weather wasn’t conducive to snorkeling the first morning of our trip so we spent the day driving around and exploring the island.  The next day the rain had stopped and, thanks to our jetlag, we were up with the sun.  We threw on our swimsuits, packed our sunscreen and made the short drive to Hanauma Bay.  Because of the overcast weather, we found a parking space quickly and close to the entrance.

A lot has changed since my visit 21 (yeesh…21 years?!?!) years ago.  Shortly after our visit in 1990, a great effort was made to help rebuild the reef.  You can no longer feed the fish and walking on the reef is a no-no and for good reason.  These rules are in place to help preserve the beautiful reef and in turn make it available to visitors for many years to come.


To swim in Hanauma Bay, you have to watch a conservation video about the bay, the reef and the sealife.  If you plan on returning to Hanauma within a certain amount of time, you can sign a sheet that states you watched the video and you will be able to enter the bay without watching the video again.  As I watched the video I could feel my pulse quickening and when it showed an eel popping out of a hole in the coral reef I about fell over!  However, I was determined to do this after everyone back home made fun of me!  Once the video is finished, you are free to start swimming.

Take the walk down to the water…the view is beautiful and there are several opportunities to snap a few pictures. 

My delicious husband rocking the scruffy face posing for yet another picture taken by his obnoxious wife!

My delicious husband rocking the scruffy face posing for yet another picture taken by his obnoxious wife!

Once you have reached the bottom, head directly to the huts and get in line to rent your snorkel equipment for reasonable prices.  If you brought your own gear, you can skip this step unless you need a locker.  You can stay as long as you wish snorkeling around the waters. 

Arrive early and be prepared for crowds.  The parking lot fills up quickly and you will be turned away.  Also, the area to rent gear and lockers is very small and the line gets very long very quickly.  Even though it does get crowded, the area is large enough that you are not constantly bumping into other people (though it does happen occasionally!).

If you don’t have a car, you can still go!  Follow the directions on the website to catch the correct bus to Hanauma Bay.  You can also set up a tour that will pick you up and drop you off.


Don’t bother with disposable underwater cameras or be prepared for not so great pictures.  I didn’t want to invest in a waterproof box for my DSLR camera and we don’t own a waterproof camera so we just bought a disposable camera that we could turn in to have developed and tossed.  After being amazed by all of the underwater sights and seeing the poor quality of my pictures, I wish we had spent the extra money to rent a camera.  I think it would have been worth it.  On a sunny day, your photos taken with a disposable camera might turn out better than ours did on an overcast day.


If you have your own snorkel equipment, bring it. If not, consider purchasing inexpensive equipment at one of the hundreds of ABC stores (or any other store carrying snorkeling gear) you will find around Honolulu.  We brought one snorkel and mask leftover from a cruise.  While in an ABC store near our hotel, we decided to spend a few dollars on a second set so we could avoid waiting in line for rentals.  I also like the idea of not using a snorkel that had been previously used!


Pack a lunch or bring snacks.  We had planned on just spending an hour or so at Hanauma Bay and then we were going to head to one of the local shrimp trucks.  It turned out that we took to snorkeling like the little fishies we were visiting and we stayed a lot longer than we had planned.  There is a concession stand where we grabbed a drink to tide us over until we were able to get our late lunch. 


Bring cash. You will have to pay for parking and you may want a few dollars to ride the shuttle bus back up the hill.  We had planned to walk back up the hill but after several hours of nonstop snorkeling we decided to take the shuttle.  I was glad we had a few bucks ($1 a person) in our pocket!  Admission into the park is $7.50 per person but children 12 and under are free. 

Consider wearing a rashguard.  I can’t stress this enough.  We both got sunburns.  Be sure to give extra attention to your back, neck and the back of your legs because that is in fact what will get the most sun as you swim around the water!

Kids will love it too!  Though it was just me and my husband, we wish that we our children had been able to experience this with us.  There were children of all ages. Everyone had the same look of wonder in their eyes when they emerged from the water.  If your children are not proficient swimmers, life jackets will help them stay afloat when you are exploring the reef.  Another option that I read about on Go Explore Nature when we returned was purchasing a boogie board with a see through window.  You can swim beside your child as they float and look through their window to a whole new world!

 Our children are still very put out (even 8 months after our trip) by the fact that we did not take them to Hawaii with us.  We will have to make it up to them someday.  I dream about the day that I can take them to Hanauma Bay and add another memory to the banks of that beautiful horseshoe, its coral reefs, and colorful inhabitants.

What are you dreaming about this week?  Visit Mother of All Trips to read about all sorts of different dreams.

Honolulu Family Vacation on raveable


  1. 1

    I also visited this spot as a kid & returned last year to find it much changed (for the better, I might add). Great tips – especially the one about wearing rashguards. There’s really no shade to be found anywhere on this beach, so skin protection is key. We also paid to ride the “shuttle” up the hill at the end of a tiring day.

  2. 2

    Debi-I am so glad that you commented because for the past three days I have been trying to remember where I read the boogie board tip. When I saw your comment all of the sudden I remembered it was yours…headed to your site, found the link and linked up! Great tip!

  3. 3

    Can I admit that I got caught up in the fact that 1990 was 21 years ago?

    This post has the best of both worlds – a lovely memory and lots of great info. Nicely done.

  4. 4

    I have very fond memories of visiting Hanauma Bay as a child in (yikes) the 80’s, and then again with college friends in the 90’s. I’m glad to hear it is still as awe-inspiring as it was all those years ago and I can’t wait to go back and bring my kids…fingers crossed for next year!