When it comes to marine life, nothing beats the Hawaiian green sea turtle (or honu) as the year-round beach dweller to watch for while on Maui.
While you can spot sea turtles just about everywhere around the island’s shore — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood along a random shoreline and spotted a turtle bobbing up out of the water — we created this list of Maui stops where you’re virtually guaranteed to see the graceful sea creatures. Keep your eyes peeled!
Public Service Announcement: Sea turtles are protected under both federal and state laws. Both NOAA and DLNR recommend staying at least 10 feet, or 3 meters, away from the sea turtles at all times. It’s against the law to touch or harass sea turtles, so remember to keep your distance and admire these lovely Hawaiian treasures from a distance.
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Where to find sea turtles on Maui
1. Hookipa Beach a.k.a. Turtle Beach (North Maui)
What you can expect: If a Maui local mentions turtle beach, they’re probably talking about Hookipa. I’ve regularly seen 15-20 turtles napping on the sandy shore at any one time. Afternoons seem to be the best time of day for turtle watching, but you’ll probably see at least a few on the beach in the morning, too.
Where to look for turtles: The parking lot can get busy, but we’ve never had a problem scoring a spot since there’s usually someone driving off after having a peek at the turtles. Park at the lower parking lot, then walk down the steps to the beach. Turn right to find the spot where turtles sunbathe on the beach. There will probably be a crowd of tourists joining you to view the sea turtles. Just be sure to stay behind the signs and admire the turtles from afar.
Hookipa Beach is one of the first stops along the Road to Hana. Find more stops along Hana Highway at 18 BEST ROAD TO HANA STOPS FOR AN UNFORGETTABLE VACATION | INSIDER TIPS, MAP & PHOTOS
2. Kuau Bay Beach Park (North Maui)
What you can expect: Most tourists overlook Kuau Bay Beach Park in favor of the more famous Hookipa Beach just down the road. For a more exclusive sea turtle sighting, try this unsung gem of a beach. And while it may be tempting to approach the green creatures, remember to stay at least 10 feet away from the turtles.
Where to look for turtles: You’ll find sea turtles napping just about anywhere on this sandy beach.
3. Mala Wharf (West Maui)
What you can expect: I spoke to a few local diving instructors recently, and they revealed that the water at the ill-constructed Mala Wharf is a prime spot for seeing sea turtles. In fact, the area is known as one of Hawaii’s turtle cleaning stations. At a cleaning station, sea turtles hover in the water and await algae-eating fish that clean their shells of algae and other debris.
My sources also tell me that Mala Wharf is one of the most popular diving and snorkeling spots on Maui for a reason — you’re bound to be wowed by the marine life that calls the Mala Wharf waters home.
The water around Mala Wharf teems with more than turtles — divers and snorkelers delight in all sorts of other marine life, such as white tip reef sharks, octopus, and parrot fish. That’s because the dilapidated wharf acts as a sanctuary of sorts for underwater creatures.
Where to look for turtles: You’ll need to get into the water for prime turtle viewing here. While you could make your way to this snorkeling spot on your own, we recommend joining a boat tour for easiest access.
And since tour boats regularly shuttle turtle seekers in the water at Mala Wharf, keep an eye out for boat traffic if you decide to explore the area without a guide.
4. Black Rock Beach (West Maui)
What you can expect: It gets crowded at Black Rock with both snorkelers and cliff jumpers, thanks to the clear water and typically calm conditions. But humans aren’t the only ones who congregate near this beach. Sea turtles glide through the waters nearby, unfazed by the throng of humans wading into the water.
And if you’re lucky, you might come across Volkswagen — the 300-pound sea turtle named for his resemblance in size to the motor vehicle.
Where to look for turtles: On the north end of Maui’s famous Kaanapali Beach, look for the outcropping of black lava rock. You’ll probably witness thrill seekers hurling themselves off of the popular cliff and into the clear water below.
Snorkel off of the beach near Black Rock to see turtles and other marine life. You may find turtles in both the shallow and depths. We don’t recommend that you venture beyond Black Rock’s point. The current can be rough.
5. Slaughterhouse Beach a.k.a. Mokule’ia Beach (West Maui)
What you can expect:
Adjacent to the more famous Maui snorkeling spot Honolua Bay, Slaughterhouse Beach lies along the protected waters of the Honolua-Mokuleia Bay Marine Life Conservation District. That makes Slaughterhouse Beach one of the prime spots on Maui for seeking out turtles.
Parking can be troublesome if you don’t get there early. But the limited parking also has a benefit — it keeps this beach relatively uncrowded and secluded.
Where to look for turtles:
If you’re lucky enough to find parking, walk down around 80 steps to access Slaughterhouse Beach. There’s a good chance you’ll find turtles on the beach, and an even better chance you’ll see some in the water.
Snorkel at the east side of the cove, near the rocky section, to look for sea turtles. Use caution: the ocean waves can get pushy, and we recommend that you use flippers in the water. Also, watch out for high surf conditions, particularly during winter months.
6. Five Graves (South Maui)
What you can expect: We haven’t had luck seeing turtles on land at 5 Graves, but we never fail to see a few turtles in the water while standing on shore. Snorkeling will give you a better view of the turtles, but the tide gets rough close to this section of land. Unless you’re an advanced swimmer, you’re better off accessing the water here by boat, through a local tour company.
Where to look for turtles: Stay on the dirt path between the houses. When you come to the fork, turn right and walk down to a small rocky cove. Keep your eyes peeled for turtles that loiter in the shallow water.
Or, stay to the left at the fork and walk to the rocky outcropping. In the mornings, you may see a few snorkeling tour boats floating nearby. We spotted several tour boat snorkelers in the water. Again, keep your eyes peeled for turtles that surface for air.
7. Maluaka Beach (Turtle Town, South Maui)
What you can expect: Depending on who you ask, Turtle Town can refer to one of several spots along the coastal waters of South Maui. But for many locals, Maluaka Beach holds the accepted “official” Turtle Town designation.
Turtles don’t congregate on the beach at Maluaka with the same fervor as at Hookipa Beach, so you won’t have to battle the same crowds at Maluaka Beach. This gem of a spot, with its clear waters and sandy entrance to the water, is one of the best spots for snorkeling within sight of sea turtles on Maui.
Where to look for turtles: Snorkel at the south end of the beach for the best chance at turtle watching. Early mornings are best for marine life viewing at this South Maui beach, when the tide is typically calmer.
8. Makena Landing Park (South Maui)
What you can expect:
Crowds at Makena Landing Park tend to congregate early, and for good reason. The small cove and typically calm waters make this small Maui beach an attractive playground for beginner snorkelers, kayakers, divers, and — yes — sea turtles.
The beach park has a convenient launching spot near the street (drop off your gear at the loading zone before you park the car). Or sign up for a tour with one of the many vendors that line the street just south of the park.
During our last visit, we brought our own stand up paddle boards. Sea turtles accompanied us while we were on the water, not 50 yards from shore.
Where to look for turtles:
The beach is small and narrow at Makena Landing Park. You have a good chance at seeing turtles anywhere around this cove. For the best chance, slip into the water on either side of the beach.
Bonus: Maui Ocean Center
What you can expect:
Even if you’re successful in spotting turtles in the wild, I still suggest a stop at the Maui Ocean Center. I grew up visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium (ranked the best in the world) on school trips, so it says something when an aquarium impresses me.
The Maui Ocean Center represents the oceanic ecosystem of the Hawaiian islands through education and advocacy for the local oceanic life. Along with its exhibits and special experiences — shark dive, anyone? — the park boasts a dedicated area for viewing sea turtles both on the surface and underwater.
Where to look for turtles:
Head to the turtle lagoon for some leisurely turtle viewing.
Sea turtle tours on Maui
Would you rather relax, save time, and let a local expert direct you to the best sea turtle hotspots on Maui in person? We curated this list of guided experiences for seeing sea turtles during your Maui vacation.