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Molokini vs Lanai: Which is the Better Snorkeling Trip?

Maui is known for having the best snorkeling out of all of the Hawaiian Islands, and in large part that’s because there are so many places that you can snorkel right from the beach making it super accessible. 

But Maui also has two superstar off shore snorkeling sites that get a lot of buzz. Well, one is technically another island but it’s only accessed via Maui. 

If you’ve done any research at all about the must do things on Maui, you’ve heard about snorkeling in Molokini Crater. It’s iconic. 

But in recent years, it’s been making the rounds on the interwebs that the snorkeling at Molokini isn’t as good as it used to be. And people are recommending Lanai as the best snorkeling trip from Maui. 

I’ve actually gotten this question quite a bit lately from people in my Hawaii trip planning Facebook group, and since I’ve done BOTH, I’m going to tackle the comparison. 

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Molokini vs Lanai: Which is the Better Snorkeling Trip?

First of all, this isn’t a cut and dry answer. Molokini and Lanai are very different experiences. 

But let’s hash it out. 

Snorkeling Molokini and Lanai both involve booking a snorkel trip on a boat.

Since Molokini is closer to Maui (and such a big draw with the tourists), there are a lot of companies that do trips there and you’ll find a wide range of types of tours at different prices…from bargain to luxury. 

Since Lanai is quite a bit further from Maui, there are fewer companies that do trips to Lanai for snorkeling and therefore they’re a bit more expensive. 

We’re talking about a LOT of different options between the two that make it hard to do a direct comparison, so I’m just going to tell you what I know. 

In my opinion: 

The best Molokini excursion is Kai Kanani’s Sunrise Snorkel Trip

The best Lanai excursion is Trilogy’s Discover Lanai Tour

I’ve written detailed posts about each of them and I feel pretty strongly about each of them being the best option for Molokini and Lanai. 

So, which one is best? 


Molokini is the most iconic Hawaii snorkeling experience. The crescent shaped volcanic crater has incredible visibility (there’s no sand so the water is crystal clear) and it’s honestly unlike anything you’ll experience anywhere else. 

The actual fish I’ve seen at Molokini vary, but I’m always impressed with the crater itself. 

Also, the added stop at Turtle Town on the way back is a big bonus for me. Yes, you could swim offshore from Maluaka Beach or Makena Landing on your own and have a good chance of seeing turtles, but I’m much more comfortable being in a group with the crew watching out. 

And yes, Molokini can get really crowded, but doing Kai Kanani’s Sunrise Snorkel means you’ll be the first boat at the crater so that’s irrelevant. Plus the early start time means you’ll have a full day’s adventure and be back at the resort by 10! 

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There are several different spots around Lanai that are popular with snorkel tours, but the best overall experience is right off Hulopoe Beach.

The excursion with Trilogy is so great because they actually dock on the island and you spend most of your day on the beach and you can snorkel as much (or as little) as you want. 

The snorkeling here is great to be sure, but it’s more similar to what you’ll find at Maui’s top snorkeling spots that you can access by beach. 

So while it’s probably better than Olowalu, Black Rock, Ulua Beach, etc. it’s the same type of snorkeling. Whereas the Molokini experience is totally different. 

It’s also worth noting that the Lanai excursion with Trilogy (and most other companies) is a full 8 hours. AND you’ll get to check visiting another Hawaiian Island off your bucket list. 

Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.

Molokini vs Lanai

Honestly, I think they’re both worth doing. 

If you’re a serious snorkeler (like, you always snorkel when you’re on vacation and you like to go to top spots in different places), I think you have to experience Molokini. The visibility is unreal. Plus you can so easily snorkel so many spots on Maui from the beach that you’ll get your fill of the island’s tropical species. 

Both Kai Kanani’s Sunrise Snorkel to Molokini and Trilogy’s Discover Lanai Tour are fantastic excursions that’ll be the highlight of your vacation, but for the money, Trilogy is a better value plus you get to experience another island, and a beach day instead of just snorkeling off the boat. 

Kai Kanani’s Sunrise Snorkel to Molokini is $279/person for a 3.5 hour tour. Trilogy’s Discover Lanai Tour is $289/person for an 8 hour tour. 

And the Lanai trip is the better way to go if you have a mix of people in your party (some who enjoy snorkeling more than others). 

One last option – If you’d really like to do both but it’s not in the budget, you could do the Molokini trip with Kai Kanani and do Lanai on your own by riding the ferry over and taking your own snorkeling gear. Read this post for details on how to visit Lanai as a day trip.

Want to read more posts about Maui? I’ve got plenty!

Things You Can ONLY Do on Maui // 9 Things to SKIP on Maui // 4 Day Maui Itinerary // My Favorite Road to Hana Itinerary // Things to Do Upcountry // Tips for Sunrise at Haleakala National Park // Snorkeling Molokini Crater // Whale Watching

My Favorite Hotels on Maui // Where to Find Condos on Maui // Wailea vs Kaanapali // Every Resort in Wailea Ranked // Four Seasons Maui Review // Andaz Maui Review // Fairmont Kea Lani Review // Wailea Beach Resort Review // Four Seasons vs Andaz Maui // Andaz Maui vs Wailea Beach Resort

Best Restaurants in Wailea // Best Breakfast in Wailea & Kihei // Mama’s Fish House // Best Luaus in Wailea

My Favorite Things to Do in South Maui // Best Beaches in Wailea & Kihei // Road to Hana Tips // Driving the Backside of the Road to Hana // Where to See Turtles on Maui

Maui vs Kauai // Everything You Need to Know BEFORE you go to Maui

Here’s one more really important thing you need to know before your Hawaii trip…

Reservations You Need to Make BEFORE Your Hawaii Trip

You’ve got your airfare, hotel, rental car and your big activities booked, so you should be good to go, right? Wrong!

Travel is BOOMING in Hawaii so a lot of state and national parks used the closure and reopening to institute reservation systems at some of the island’s most popular spots to make things a little more sustainable.

That means that there are now over half a dozen sites (beaches, trailheads, etc.) that require advance reservations. And some sell out well before you arrive on the island so you really need to have some sort of a plan.

I recently saw somebody in a Hawaii travel group post in a panic that they didn’t know they had to make reservations for things in advance…they thought they could just show up and “go with the flow.” I was tempted to say, well, “as long as the flow doesn’t take you somewhere that requires reservations, you can!” ; )

But I don’t want YOU to be that person, so I’ve pulled together a list of all the places you need to reserve entry in advance (plus all the details on booking windows, price, links, etc.) and a handful of popular tourist hotspots that book out really far in advance too.

Haleakala National Park (Maui)

To visit Haleakala National Park for sunrise at the summit, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to enter the park gates between 3AM and 7AM (sunrise hours).

Online reservations are $1 per reservation/vehicle PLUS you’ll pay the park entrance fee of $30/vehicle when you arrive (National Park annual passes are also accepted at the gate).

The reservation booking window opens 60 days in advance at 7AM HST. There are also a limited number of tickets released two days before.

You can make one reservation every three days with the same account. So if you want to make reservations for back to back days (in case of weather/conditions), you’ll need to do so with separate accounts (email addresses).

If you can’t get reservations for sunrise, you can enter the park anytime after 7AM without reservations. The summit is spectacular during the day and you don’t need reservations for sunset.

I strongly recommend creating an account before and making sure you’re logged in at 7AM HST because it’s not uncommon for reservations to sell out quickly.

Waianapanapa State Park (Maui)

To visit Maui’s famous black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to visit the beach and are distributed in windows from 7AM-10AM, 10AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-3PM, and 3PM-6PM. And they are pretty strict about exiting by the end of your window time (you can arrive anytime within your window).

It’s $5/person to enter plus $10/vehicle to park and those fees are paid when you book your time slot.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Iao Valley State Park (Maui)

To visit the lush, green mountains and hike at Iao Valley State Park, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered for 90 minute time slots beginning at 7AM and ending at 6PM. They ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your time slot.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Diamond Head (Oahu)

To hike to the top of Waikiki’s famous Diamond Head, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered in two hour increments beginning at 6AM (6AM-8AM, 8AM-10AM, etc.) and ending at 6PM. If you’re parking onsite, they ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation window.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Tip: I recommend booking one of the first two time slots because there isn’t much shade on this hike and it gets pretty hot.

Hanauma Bay (Oahu)

To snorkel at Oahu’s pristine Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations in advance here.

Entry times are staggered in 10 minute increments from 7AM to 1:20PM with roughly 1000 slots being assigned in advance every day.

Reservations can be made two days in advance and they open at 7AM HST. They’re usually gone in minutes (if not seconds).

If you’re unable to get an advanced reservation, you can try for a day of, walk in ticket. They open at 6:45AM and they only have a limited number available. Everyone in your group needs to be present when you purchase your tickets in person.

There are no reservations for parking and it’s first come, first serve. $3/vehicle.

It’s $25/person to snorkel at Hanauma Bay (12 and under, active military, and locals with HI ID are free).

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday (CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY) from 6:45AM-4PM. Last entry is at 1:30PM, the beach is cleared at 3:15PM and you have to leave the facility by 4PM.

Jellyfish patterns can also affect whether or not the bay is open so double check the day before/day of.

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

If you want to take the boat tour at Pearl Harbor out to the USS Arizona, it’s recommended to make advance reservations here.

Online reservations are guaranteed a specific boarding time to go out to the USS Arizona. If you’re unable to get an advance reservation, you can wait standby when you arrive. The line could be short (15 minutes or so) or long (hours) and it just depends on the day (if they’re having problems with the loading dock sometimes they don’t take many from the standby line) and the time of day.

Reservations are supposed to open up 60 days in advance, but keep an eye on your exact dates, because lately they’ve actually been opening up about 57ish days in advance???

They also release a small batch of tickets the day before.

The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is free, but it’s $1 to make the reservations online.

They recently started charging $7/vehicle for parking at Pearl Harbor.

Haena State Park / Kalalau Trail (Kauai)

If you want to hike Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, you must make advance reservations here.
You’ve got three options here:

1) Parking & Entry: This is the most flexible option and also the most limited. THESE RESERVATIONS SELL OUT IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. There are three time slots available: 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. You can purchase multiple time slots if you want to stay longer. It’s $10/timeslot (parking) plus $5/person and you have to reserve every person when you initially book. Everybody has to arrive in the same car and your ID needs to match the reservation.

2) Shuttle & Entry: If you can’t get parking at the trailhead, there’s also a shuttle option. Shuttle reservations are $35/person (16+), $25/person (ages 4-15), 3 and under can ride free. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes 6:20AM to 6:40PM.

3) Entry Only: If you’re a Hawaiian resident (with HI ID) or someone WITH a Hawaiian resident, you can purchase entry only for $5/person with no advance reservations. Also, if you’re walking or biking to the trailhead you can do this option. But there is NOWHERE to park in the area to walk in. So this really only works for those with bikes or who are staying close enough to walk. They will tow your car if you park outside the designated areas.

The reservation window opens 30 days in advance at 12AM HST. The parking & entry option usually sells out in a minute, but the shuttle availability will last longer.

There are a TON of FAQs here including the possibility of snagging a canceled reservation.

Other Things to Book in Advance

Hawaii is a busy place these days! Besides the state and national parks above, here’s a handful of miscellaneous things you should make reservations for in advance (if they’re on your radar):

Mama’s Fish House (Maui): The iconic spot is the most popular restaurant in Hawaii and dinner reservations usually start filling up about 6 months in advance (they open up bookings 18 months in advance). Make reservations through their website and if the dates you want are already booked, you can join a waitlist. Most people have pretty good success getting in on the waitlist (even if it’s for lunch).

Old Lahaina Luau (Maui): Honestly, any luau you’re planning to attend you should book early, but most people are usually shocked how far out the Old Lahaina Luau books out. Book it as soon as you know your dates (I think they open at the six month window). They also have a waitlist.

Kualoa Ranch UTV Tour (Oahu): Everybody loves Jurassic Park so getting to ride UTVs where they filmed the movies is very popular. The ranch offers a lot of different tours but the UTV tours usually book out a couple of months in advance.

Spa Reservations: If you’re staying at a resort with a spa (or planning on visiting one), don’t wait until you arrive to make your reservations. I’d make them at least a month in advance.

Tee Times: Same for golf, reserve your tee times well in advance.

Dining Reservations: Any “fancy” or resort restaurant is likely to be booked up these days so if you like having a nice dinner every night, make your plans in advance.