There are tons of things to see on the island of Maui, but few are more sought after than the iconic creature that is the sea turtle.
Sea turtles are incredibly distinctive and can be almost hypnotic to watch in person. Compared to their various living-room-tank-dwelling relatives, their immense size seems almost prehistoric; indeed, having been around since the reign of the dinosaur, they technically are. The average sea turtle today weighs significantly more than the average human at 250 pounds, with some weighing as much as 500 pounds.
Sea turtles are also quite interesting in that, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, except for green sea turtles, we don’t know how long their lifespan is. Sea turtles are so famous for long lifespans that in Finding Nemo, Crush the sea turtle claims he is “150, dude, and still young!” You can imagine why tracking the lifespan of a creature who tends to live longer than we do might be logistically challenging.
Beyond the sheer visual spectacle, meeting a sea turtle means meeting a species that is older than dinosaurs and perhaps an individual turtle that is older than anyone you know. Furthermore, a very solid argument could be made that Hawaii as a whole is the best place in the universe when encountering and witnessing sea turtles in their natural habitat.
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There are a few reasons for this.
One is that there are, quite simply, a lot of them - at least relatively so in terms of the global sea turtle population, which is sadly featured on the endangered species list. On a Hawaiian Island that you’ve probably never heard of (because it is uninhabited) called French Frigate Shoals, no less than 96% of all green sea turtle nesting occurs. Therefore, green turtles are the most common in Hawaii - however, there are also hawksbill turtles, leatherbacks, loggerheads, and olive ridleys.
Another reason Hawaii is a spectacular place to find sea turtles is that when you do, you will be in water that is not only comfortably cool but astonishingly clear. Sea turtles can be found in other snorkeling spots, from the Yucatán Peninsula to Australia. Still, there is probably no place anywhere that can claim to display these fascinating creatures in higher definition. Ask anybody who has snorkeled in Hawaii!
Last but surely not least is that in Hawaii - and Maui in particular - the accessibility of turtle sightings is unmatched. You can certainly book a snorkeling tour, and we’d encourage you to do so, but here you can snorkel among sea turtles for free - so long as you know where to go.
What follows is a guide to the best places on the island of Maui to spot sea turtles. Before we get into it, let’s be sure to clarify that this is indeed a guide to seeing sea turtles - not touching them, not interacting with them, and not interfering with their habitat. Doing so is not only abhorrent given their endangered status, but potentially one of the most expensive misdeeds you would ever commit. There are brand-new cars you could simply buy for your Hawaii visit that would cost less than getting fined for messing with sea turtles.
With that said, here are the best places to spot sea turtles on Maui.
Maluaka Beach (AKA Turtle Town)
Fronting the Maui Prince Hotel in the South Maui town of Kihei, Maluaka Beach is the ultimate destination for impromptu turtle encounters - so much so that the whole surrounding area is nicknamed “Turtle Town.”
The beach is one of the nicest anywhere on Maui, even if you’re not there to see turtles. It epitomizes much of what visitors imagine when they crave an afternoon on a Hawaiian beach: a wide and smooth curve of soft, warm, white sand and crystal-clear waves gently inviting swimmers out into them.
A guided snorkel tour in the area will surely take you to the Turtle Town Dive Location off the coast nearby; but even if you simply wade into the water with a snorkel mask and fins, your chances of seeing a green sea turtle are relatively high.
In Northwest Maui, right on the crown of the island’s anthropomorphic “head,” a more secluded spot for snorkeling and turtle encounters is Honolua Bay.
This is actually a marine preserve, meaning you’ll see lots of fish and other marine life as well, such as spinner dolphins and manta rays. Being a preserve, no fishing is allowed here. We also recommend visiting Honolua Bay in the summer, when the tide is relatively calm. You can still visit in winter, but not for snorkeling; rather, due to the intense winds and high waves, winter is a great time to stand on the shore and watch pro surfers!
Black Rock Beach
In addition to being an excellent spot for cliff jumping, Black Rock Beach is also great for snorkeling and spotting sea turtles. Black Rock Beach even has a kind of resident sea turtle of some celebrity. His name is Volkswagen, and he’s enormous - nearly 300 pounds.
Often a favorite destination for those looking to relax on the beach, swim in the waves, and spot sea turtles, Ho’okipa Beach in the North Maui town of Paia is somewhere to consider spending the day. Fantastic snorkeling, excellent waves for windsurfing, and beautiful trees to relax under make this one of the nicest places to stop along the famous Road to Hana. “Ho’okipa” in Hawaiian means “welcoming comfort,” In addition to all that is wonderful about this scenic location, it is easily one of the best places to spot sea turtles on Maui.
Turtle Lagoon at Maui Ocean Center
Lastly, if you want a guaranteed sighting with more education about these fantastic creatures, check out Turtle Lagoon at the Maui Ocean Center. Here, under guided supervision, you can interact with the turtles and support an organization dedicated to conservation.
Sea turtles can be found all around the coastline of Maui. With some easily rented gear and a quick plunge, you’d be surprised how easy it is to see some of these iconic Hawaii residents yourself. It’s an experience few ever regret.
As always, mahalo, and best wishes for your Maui visit!