Manta Ray Night Snorkel on the Big Island of Hawaii
Watch giant mantas up close on a manta ray night snorkel in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii.
The Mobula alfredi species of manta rays that live in the Hawaiian waters are the second largest species of manta rays. They can grow up to a wingspan of 5.5m (18 ft), with the rays around Kona around 12ft.
The Manta rays live in the waters off the Hawaiian islands their entire lives, filtering plankton out of the water with their giant mouths. With life spans of up to 50 years, each manta ray is well known and all of the Kona manta rays have been named.
There are several tour operators and locations where you can enjoy manta ray snorkelling. If you get seasick like I do, I suggest choosing a company that has a short distance to travel from where their boats launch and the manta ray site they visit.
There are three main locations on the Big island that are recommended for swimming with manta rays. The two most popular and consistent for the manta ray sightings are nicknamed “Manta Village” and “Manta Heaven”. A third, less reliable but also less crowded location, is off the Waikoloa coast near the Kohala Coast Resorts. You can get further info on the pros and cons of visiting each site on this excellent website: lovebigisland.com/big-island-manta-ray-night-dive.
We had booked our tour many months out (and highly suggest doing the same as the tours book up). While we were on our trip however we were struck down with a virus and unable to do our booked tour. As we were desperate to still do the tour and at short notice our options were limited, we called around every tour operator until we found one with vacancies. While initially I had done my research and chose the tour with the shortest distance travelled due to my propensity for seasickness, at the end of the day we just had to take whatever we could and it was absolutely fine. The moral of this story for me is don’t stress the decision because any tour will be a good tour at the end of the day if you swim with manta rays!
The tour we ended up taking was booked through Hawaiian Island Ocean Tours – the actual tour was run through their sister company Snorkel Big Island. I cannot recommend either company highly enough for their help in booking us in at extremely short notice and for the amazing tour.
We did the Honokohau Manta tour. Participants must be aged 8+. The tour goes for two hours, with only six passengers on board. This makes for a much more personal experience with the manta rays. Snorkeling with the mantas on this tour is either at the Northern site near the Kona Airport (Manta Heaven) or down South at Keauhou Bay (Manta Village) depending on which area is having the better sightings. We were provided with mask, snorkel and wetsuit.
The Honokohau Manta ray night snorkel tour departs from Honokohau Harbor in the evening, with a 20-30 minute boat ride to the manta ray site. It’s pretty stunning watching the sun set over the ocean as we make our way out to the manta ray site.
At the site, after donning our wetsuits, we slid into the water and hung on to their custom-made light board to watch the huge, acrobatic, gentle giants feed on tiny pieces of plankton.
The time in the water is about 30 minutes. Keep in mind the tour is at night and even with a wetsuit on it can get cold in the water.
In the water, the manta rays swoop through the water in circles, coming right up to the swimmers and often brushing up against them with their massive wings as they open their mouths and catch plankton.
The bright lights brought by the tour operators attract the plankton, and the plankton attracts the manta rays. To me it looks like an underwater ballet as they gracefully swim and somersault through the light beams.
Back on the boat, we were given hot cocoa and light snacks while we head back to the harbour. Make sure to take a towel to dry yourself off and a jacket to keep warm, plus underwear and a wetbag for swimsuits.
Manta rays in Hawaiian waters are protected by law. If you do a tour, please observe the rules that make this incredible experience possible by ensuring the safety of the manta rays:
Observe only: No touching. Resist the urge to “pet” the mantas. This will rub off their protective mucus coating. Do not chase, grab, or try to take a ride on the mantas.
A huge thank you to Hawaii Island Ocean Tours and Snorkel Big Island for the amazing experience and the photographs!