Seeing a turtle in the wild (an aquarium doesn’t count!) is at the top of many people’s Hawaii bucket lists and the good news is that if you’re going to Maui, there are plenty of places where your chances for seeing a turtle are pretty high. Keep reading for tips on where to see turtles on Maui…
Rules about the Turtles
First things first…yes, it is VERY exciting to see a turtle. I’ve seen hundreds of them and it is no less special every time. But besides being incredibly important animals to Hawaii locals, they are a protected species meaning IT’S A FEDERAL OFFENSE TO TOUCH THEM. You’re legally required to keep a MINIMUM 10 foot perimeter from them whether they’re in the water or on the land (it’s not uncommon to see them sunning themselves on beaches).
And if you’re in the water you should stay even further away because they move fast and you have less control.
Some beaches (where visitors have become plentiful) set up fairly large perimeters around turtles so be sure to respect the perimeter and don’t be one of those people that ducks under a rope because you’re “technically allowed to be 10 feet away.”
Especially since the state’s reopening from the COVID closures (there’s been an uptick in “idiot tourists”…you know the type and I’m sure it’s not you), locals have grown increasingly sensitive to visitors not respecting these animals. It’s not Mickey Mouse at Disneyland. It’s super cool to see a turtle in the wild, but you don’t line up to get your picture with one on the beach. They’re resting…let them be. So always be aware of how close you are and make sure never to disturb them. This includes blocking their path if they’re trying to come up to the beach or get back to the water and also being careful not to snorkel over the top of them (they do have to come up for air) if you see one in the water.
The good news is that the numbers for the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles are GROWING because of their protected status and the respect that they get from 99.9% of locals and visitors.
Where to See Turtles in Maui
Snorkeling at Turtle Town on Maui
Most people want to see a turtle swimming in the water and the absolute best place is around Turtle Town in Makena (South Maui). There are two ways to get to Turtle Town:
By Boat: Turtle Town is close to shore, but still a little farther out than I’m personally comfortable swimming (especially alone) so my favorite way to go is by boat. My absolute favorite Molokini Snorkel Tour (Kai Kanani-read all about it here) also includes a stop at Turtle Town so that’s my go to, but if you’re a little more adventurous, you could also do this eco kayak tour.
From the Beach: Maluaka Beach and Makena Landing are the two closest spots on land to Turtle Town. It’s not necessarily unsafe and a lot of people snorkel in this area on their own, but I would recommend staying a little closer to shore than you see the people snorkeling on the boats maybe unless you have a paddleboard. I’m also generally a fan of wearing a flotation belt when you’re snorkeling (especially if you’re not on a tour), and of course making sure there’s somebody on the shore who is tracking where you are. If you want the best chance of seeing turtles, I would enter at Makena Landing. It’s a boat ramp, but it’s an a fairly protected area and there’s often other snorkelers there.
Here are directions: drive south from Wailea (past the Fairmont Kea Lani) and Wailea Alanui Drive will turn into Makena Alanui Road. Take a right onto Makena Road just past the Makena Surf Resort and follow that road until you come to Makena Landing Beach Park. You’ll know it when you see the boat ramp.
If you want to snorkel off of a nice sandy beach (maybe you’re looking for a spot to set up for the day with the family), try Maluaka Beach.
If you’re driving south through Wailea and Makena, turn right onto Makena road (you’ll see signs for the landing) and continue on until you see a parking lot. The beach access is actually a few hundred feet past the parking lot. You’ll want to snorkel along the rocks to the north of the sandy beach.
Other Beaches Where You Might Swim with Turtles
Turtles are pretty common everywhere in Hawaii, so you never know where you might see one, but they tend to pop up with some frequency around Black Rock at Ka’anapali, Napili Bay, and Kapalua Bay. These aren’t necessarily beaches I would seek out JUST to find turtles, but they’re also the three most popular beaches on the west side, so if you happen to be staying around there, keep your eyes peeled.
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Where to Find Turtles Resting on the Beach
If you’re not a snorkeler, you have small children or elderly people in your group, or you’re just hoping for a better look than a quick glimpse in the water, there are a couple of spots on the north shore where it’s really common to see turtles resting on the beach.
Ho’okipa Beach: Ho’okipa Beach offers a unique way to see turtles…on land! Ho’okipa, on the north shore, is one of their rare “resting grounds” and turtles show up here like clock work every afternoon. Ho’okipa Beach is located on the north shore a couple of miles past Paia town. When you leave town, you’ll pass Mama’s Fishhouse (on your left) and the Ho’okipa overlook is about a mile past that (there’s a small sign). The overlook offers great views of surfers but to see the turtles you’ll need to drive down to the beach below. A conservation group sets up camp here every day to patrol how close people get to the turtles. They usually barricade off the end of the beach the turtles frequent (the end closest to the overlook) but there’s a little ledge above that offers better views.
This is an extremely local beach (one of Maui’s best surf spots) so just be really sensitive to your surroundings. It’s a neighborhood spot, but it’s become sooooo popular because of the turtles in recent years so it’s an interesting vibe. Be on your best behavior (be friendly, polite, respectful, and aware that you’re in someone’s “backyard”) and you won’t have any problems.
And of course, keep your distance from the turtles.
Kuau (Tavares) Bay: While Ho’okipa is the most popular spot to see turtles on Maui, my favorite is actually at Tavares Bay. Just east of Paia town, there’s a small parking lot with a sign marked “Kuau Bay.” You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see the house with the blue tile roof. It’s not as well known as Ho’okipa, but the water is usually calmer and there are a ton of turtles. It’s a mix of local families (watching small children being nonplussed about a turtle because they’ve grown up with them is pretty cool) and visitors staying in Airbnbs nearby.
The turtles aren’t monitored here like they are at Ho’okipa and there aren’t nearly as many people so it feels like a more natural environment. Just remember to stay at least 10 feet away from them and don’t be tempted to sneak in close because there’s nobody enforcing the rules.
Want to read more? Don’t miss some of my most popular (and favorite) posts about Maui: my Maui favorites, the best Maui itinerary, how many days to spend on Maui, Maui vs Kauai, where to see turtles on Maui, my favorite road to Hana itinerary, guide for sunrise at Haleakala National Park, how to bike down Maui’s volcano, my review of the Maui Pineapple Tour, 20 of the best adventure activities on Maui, 5 Maui day trips, and the best things to do on a Maui honeymoon.
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