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The #1 Best Molokini Crater Guide: Updated 2022

 Don't end up like these guys.


Molokini crater, (often misspelt Molikini) is one of the most popular spots in the entire state of Hawaii. Bird sanctuary, rare geographical structure, world-class snorkelling spot and awesome overall destination for a day on the water, find out everything you could want to know in the Best Molokini Crater Guide!

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Overhead view of the half moon-shaped Molokini Crater

What is Molokini? History of Molokini

There's some Hawaiian lore of how Molokini was formed but science tells us that that Molokini crater came to be about 230,000 years ago. It is a cinder cone caldera and it is one of three sheltered caldera in the world that you can snorkel in.

Because of this protected structure, many Hawaiian tropical fish flock (or flood, would be more appropriate) to Molokini and her beautiful coral reefs and it makes for a great spot for visitors to get a front seat to Maui's marine life and Maui's many different species of fish.

Molokini was also used as a target by the United States military because it is roughly the same size and shape as a battleship. There are still unexploded ordinance on the islet, which would be a problem for people if they were allowed to explore the crater.

Even with it being the popular destination spot it is, if you're heading there, you won't have to worry about the military's old bombs. You're not allowed to set foot on the crater because it's considered a protected marine sanctuary. Unless you have permission from both the federal government (United States Coast Guard) and the state of Hawaii's Division of Forestry and Wildlife, don't expect to go exploring on the islet, like many say they want to do, without paying the $10,000 fine entrance fee for walking on the islet. Don't end up like these guys who had to pay $380,000 in fines.

Hawaiian Lore

One of the Hawaiian stories as to how Molokini was formed is a pretty common theme in mythology, jealousy. 

Molokini was a woman who was at odds with the fire goddess, Pele. They were going after the same man and so Pele cut her in half and threw half of her out into the ocean. Molokini's head stayed on Maui and became what is now known as Pu'u Olai, which is the cinder cone that is the nearest landmass and can be seen from the crater, right next to Big Beach and Makena.

How's that for a squabble?

Don't mess with a fire goddess.

Types of Fish

Molokini is home to over 200 species of marine life and tropical fish.

Wait, is Molokini a marine Sanctuary or a Bird sanctuary?


The crater is protected by the State of Hawaii and is monitored by their Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Molokini is also home to the migratory frigate bird and there are times that there are hundreds of frigates nesting and flying around the islet.

Areas of Crater

Over the years, people have coined names for the various places within the crater. Some say certain spots are better than others, but the fact of the matter is… fish swim. You're not going to go snorkelling and expect to find that certain fish in that same spot all the time.

They're foraging and living life.

That being said, here are the different coined spots at Molokini Crater.

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Different areas of Molokini

Reef's End, Mid Reef, Enenui, Tako Flats, Shark Condos, Flying Sea Cliffs, Back Side, Edge of the World

Also, if you look at the crater from above, you'll notice the distinct circular crater shape. Over the past 230,000+ years, it's eroded, so part of the crater has sunken into the ocean.

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Part of Molokini crater has eroded since it was created, but you can still see it underwater.

How Deep is the Crater? 

It ranges anywhere from 10 feet to 200 feet, depending on where you are.

How to get to Molokini Crater?

Thinking about buying a boat? They say the two best days of a man's life is the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it.

B.O.A.T. stands for Busting Out Another Thousand. Boats are expensive and it's not just the buying part. Upkeep, maintenance and fixing whatever breaks (which something always is) gets real costly, real fast.

So it's good to have friends with a boat, not so much to own them.

You can either get to Molokini by going out on a holo holo with a friend (non-paying charter) or you can go on a charter boat, which there are plenty of. There are a restricted amount of boats that have a commercial use permit but they're easy enough to find. Unless it's a really busy season, chances are you can find a tour boat that can take you out there. Many of the boats that visit the crater leave from the nearest harbor approximately 10 miles away, Ma'alaea Harbor.

It really comes down to, what kind of day do you want to have on the water. Read more for our thoughts.

Best Molokini Snorkel Tours

People have said, would you rather be on a Naval Battleship or a row boat? 

Given Molokini's history, you probably don't want to be on the next closest thing to a battleship in that area ;).

In our experience, the smaller your boat is, the better the trip. Some boats leaving the nearest harbor, Maalaea harbor, are certified by the US Coast Guard to carry 149 paying passengers and some of those boats will pack that many people on. The calm waters inside the crater usually make for perfect conditions for a great snorkel day.

Just because the Coast Guard deems it safe to carry that amount of people, doesn't mean that you should.

There are other boats that are certified for a certain number and then they cap their passenger count to less or half that amount to make it a more comfortable trip for their passengers. You may or may not pay a little more for that, but the little that you might pay more is totally worth it in for comfort.

Check out this spot for one of the best snorkeling spots on Maui!

As a quick overview and general rule of thumb, here's a list of boats going from least passenger count to most:


Generally carry less than or around 10 – 20 passengers.

Sail Boats

Anywhere between  4 – 40 passengers

Medium Sized Catamarans

Anwhere between 20 – 60

Large Catamarans

Between 40 – 100

Large boats

Hoo, mama! 50 – 150

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If you look at the lower part of this photo at the back side of the crater, you can see how windy it gets from the surface of the water. Good news is that inside the crater is like a protected bay most of the time, unless the wind is coming almost directly from the north.

Commercial Boats only?

When Molokini was becoming a popular destination over 30 to 40 years ago, the state of Hawaii wanted to keep it preserved for the future. Because of this, instated the commercial day use permits so that if someone or a company was profiting from the trip out to the crater islet, they would need to have a commercial permit.

This would restrict the number of boats heading that way and, in turn, help preserve the marine life at Molokini.

Contrary to popular belief though, this restriction is only for commercial vessels. If you have your own boat or know someone who you don't have to pay to take you there, you can use the moorings at Molokini.

You still aren't allowed on the islet (without proper permission from the US Coast Guard and the State of Hawaii) but you can head out there and snorkel without having to be on a boat full of strangers.

However, a boat full of strangers can become friends pretty quickly. It's not much different than being on an island in the middle of the ocean.

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Molokini is a pretty popular spot. You can see more than 10 boats in there in this photo and when it's busy, there can be 25+ boats in there.

Molokini is also a great place to go Scuba Diving, with some charters taking divers to both inside the crater with an approximate max depth of 100ft, and also outside the edge of the crater, which can get up to 300 feet deep. 

Don't expect to see or dive to the bottom in the deeper parts around the crater though.

There are Scuba Diving charter trips that will take divers who are not certified, however it's usually best to do this after going through the certification course.

A good compromise to try is also Snuba diving, which is a combination between snorkeling and scuba diving.

Changes to Moorings in 2019

As of 2019, the state is in the process of removing half of the moorings in hopes to preserve the marine life at Molokini Crater

There are around 20 active commercial Molokini day use permits and with many of those boats certified by the US Coast Guard to carry up to almost 150 paying passengers, there could be as many as 20 * 150 = 3000 people at Molokini Crater at any given point (sorry for the math lesson, especially if you're already on vacation at this point)!

That's likely a rarer occasion to have all of those people there, but the point is still clear: Molokini, being the popular spot that it is, gets a lot of traffic.

More people means more chances the marine life at the crater could be disturbed. Whether it's people touching the marine life like coral (don't) or fish (also don't, but good luck with that anyway. They're fast), improper human intervention with wildlife can be a destructive and bad thing.

What's the Weather at Molokini like?

Usually pretty great. That part of the island doesn't typically encounter too many storms and it's usually blue skies. As the day goes on, the trade winds pick up and it does get windier which is one reason why most of the snorkel charters happen in the morning hours.

One thing that's 99% consistent is the clarity of the water at Molokini. Most days, you could be in 100 feet of water and still be able to see the bottom. It's better to stay in 30 feet of water depth and shallower, though.

Does Molokini have Turtles?

Short answer, no. 

They don't like all of the Molokini crater sharks.

Just kidding.

Put yourself in the turtles' fins. You just are looking for somewhere to sleep, get food, and lay your eggs. Why swim two miles in an open ocean, just to get something in the nearest 100 feet?

What will I see in there then?

Molokini is home to lots of tropical Hawaiian fish, including black triggerfish, moorish idol, needlefish, parrotfish and many more, as well as recovering coral, and just about all marine life you'll find down in Hawaii (except turtles, most likely). It's not common to see manta rays, however it's not unheard of to see them at Maui's submerged volcanic crater (actually, it's a caldera).

I know what you're thinking.

You: You avoided the question earlier. Are there sharks or not?

You got me. You might see a shark in there. Good news is it's likely to be a reef shark if you do see one. And that means most likely non-aggressive. White-tipped reef sharks like to sleep during the day and even when they're hunting for food, they're not looking for humans. It's actually pretty cool and rarer to see a shark there. Consider yourself lucky if you do.

You're more likely to get hurt by another snorkeler or diver kicking you in the head when they're not paying attention than you are to get hurt by a white-tipped reef shark there.

Tiger sharks are more aggressive, but it's very unlikely to see one in the crater. It's so busy with people and boats that they like to stay away. It's not like a cafeteria to them, it's more like a crowded subway car. Too crowded, too busy, too much going on, and not enough control. 

We haven't heard of a tiger shark bothering anyone at Molokini crater in forever.

And here's a super rare one:


That being said, there are some general rules of thumb to follow to lower your risk of dancing with a tiger shark.

On another note, you might see an octopus at Molokini and they are super cool to see. They'll change color right in front of you and they're masters of disguise. 

You usually don't see them unless they're moving in some way.

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Check out this octopus at Maui's Molokini crater

If you get super lucky, you might see a whale shark.

And if you go during the right time of year, you might see whales on the way to the crater. Don't expect to see them inside the crater though. That's very rare.

Want to know our favorite snorkel charter trip to take to Molokini? Check out these guys if you want to have the absolute BEST day on the water (don't book these guys if you don't want an awesome, exciting day).


So, does Molokini have sharks?

To wrap it up, White Tip Reef sharks on a good day.

Whale Sharks on the best day!

The ones you would be worried about don't typically come out to Molokini. Maui's Tiger Sharks are the ones you hear about when there's an attack but attacks don't happen often

And given that one, maybe two, shark attacks happen every year and that there are roughly 2.6 million visitors yearly, not counting Maui's resident population, there's a 1 in 2.5 million chance that you will be bothered by a tiger shark.

You should be more worried about snorkeling using a full-face snorkel mask.

How is the beach at Molokini?

Sorry to break it to you, but there isn't a beach at Molokini Crater. Like we said before, if you interact with the crater, you'll be fined $10,000 or more. 

So even if there were a beach at Molokini, it wouldn't be recommended to lounge on it, as it would be expensive.

On the trip out to the crater, you'll see plenty of Maui's beaches from the water. Makena Beach and Big Beach can clearly be seen from right outside the crater, being roughly two miles away from Molokini itself.

If you're looking for other awesome snorkeling spots, check out the best 10 snorkeling spots on Maui.

sunsets maui 86 - The #1 Best Molokini Crater Guide: Updated 2022

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