Snorkeling with manta rays has been on our bucket list for some time now. We were hesitant to go on any more tours than the ones we already had planned since Hawaii is an expensive place to visit, and tours can be one of the biggest expenses. However, we found a good deal on this night tour and decided it seemed unique enough to try it.
Hawaiian Adventures Kona offers several day and night manta ray snorkel tours, on and off-shore reef snorkeling, and whale/dolphin watching tours. From our Airbnb in Hilo to Kona, it took about an hour and a half to get to the marina in Kona, and this tour on the other side of the Big Island was certainly worth the long drive for us.
It’s one of the best activities you can do on the Big Island, and seeing these giant manta rays is such an unreal experience. This area in Kailua Kona has about 320 different manta rays, and the guides even know some of them by name. This is our in-depth and upfront review of our experience with this Big Island Manta Ray Snorkel tour.
Manta Ray Snorkel Tour FAQ
- Is it safe to swim with Manta Rays?
Getting into the ocean with wild manta rays can be a little scary at first, but you are accompanied by well-trained tour guides that know what they’re doing and it’s generally pretty safe overall. The staff can help you feel comfortable throughout the tour.
Manta rays can be intimidating at first but they are harmless. Mantas don’t have sharp teeth since they have a crown on top of their mouth. It’s safe to swim with mantas and they are generally calm and friendly creatures that don’t pose a threat to humans. While they can get quite close to you in the water, our guides informed us that they typically avoid coming into contact with humans since they’re smart enough to know not to.
- How big are the manta rays?
One of the tour guides mentioned that one of the manta rays’ names was Big Bertha. She measured 15 feet and weighed up to 3000 pounds. This was one of the biggest Manta Rays in the Kailua Kona area. That’s not even the biggest they can get. These sea creatures have been know to grow up to double in size of that.
The guides are knowledgeable and tell you all types of interesting facts about manta rays. The mating ritual is almost like an Olympic racing event. The female will swim as fast as possible, with multiple males chasing her. The male that can either catch up to her or be the longest to swim without getting tired will be the eventual winner. Females are also bigger in size than males.
- Should you take a camera?
Yes, you should definitely bring a GoPro or waterproof camera you can put into a waterproof pouch. We got fantastic videos and pictures we won’t ever forget. You’re not supposed to put your hands below your body while in the water since it can scare the manta rays away, but it’s easy to take videos from above. The water in Kona is clean and clear, so the visibility is fantastic. The views you get along the boat tour are also amazing, especially the sunset.
- What is the difference between manta rays and stingrays?
One thing many people get confused about both of them is the stingers, which leads some people to believe manta rays are dangerous. Both manta rays and stingrays are similar to one another, but they also have some strong differences.
For starters, manta rays do not have stingers, unlike stingrays. They are both very intelligent, have a flat body shape, and have wide pectoral fins that are fused to the head. Here is a table summarizing their differences:
|-Larger in size
-Do not have a tail stinger
-The mouth is located in front of the body
-They feed in the open ocean near the surface (filter feeders)
-Have a longer lifespan than stingrays
|-Tend to be smaller in size
-Have a venomous tail stinger
-The mouth is located under the body
-Feed at the bottom of the water (bottom feeders)
-Life span is half of the manta ray’s lifespan
What To Bring For The Excursion
You won’t need to bring any snorkeling equipment since that’s covered by the company, but there are a few items that can make your evening more comfortable.
Arrive ready with your swimsuit, towel, flip flops/slippers, and any outer layers. We also brought a change of clothes so we would be more comfortable on the boat ride back and driving back home.
I also advise you to bring a sweater or windbreaker jacket since it can get chilly at night, especially after you get out of the water. A camera is encouraged for videos and pictures, and quite a few people on our tour had their GoPros.
You will spend most of the tour barefoot. There is a storage bin they have in place before you board the boat, where they ask everyone to put their shoes and sandals.
You can bring your own drinks and snacks on the boat too. However, they do provide drinks like water and juice, so you may only need to bring snacks. We didn’t bring any snacks since due to the speed of the boat, it can make it hard to eat and we did not want a full stomach.
Our tour was in the evening at 7 pm, so we didn’t need any sunscreen since the sunset time in Big Island is also at seven. If you’re prone to motion sickness, we encourage you to bring a patch. On our way back from the snorkeling tour, the water was very choppy, and the ride was bumpy.
When you book the tour, they have you choose your wetsuit shirt size. If you try on your wetsuit and it doesn’t fit, don’t worry since you can easily switch to a smaller or bigger size. Martin had to switch to a bigger size while I had to switch to a smaller size.
Snorkeling masks, goggles, and noodles are provided by them and beverages are complimentary.
Manta Ray Snorkel Tour Cost
The price seems to highly vary by the season and tour. We found it to be anywhere from $90 to $150 at different times. Fortunately for us, we came across an ad on Facebook that showed 50% off manta ray snorkeling tours.
The dates were between July 13th-31st with a promo code attached to the ad. The regular price for this night snorkel manta ray tour was $149 per person, and with the discount, it was $74 a person.
Beginning Of The Tour
You need to arrive 30 minutes prior to your reservation. No need to print out reservation tickets since you are checked in electronically with one of the staff by the dock.
The marina has a parking lot and bathrooms. We encourage you to go to the bathroom before you come since the restrooms in the parking lot we’re locked. However, there is a restroom on the boat, and you can see it right when you get on the boat. But you will need to wait to board before you use it.
To find where you need to go, just look for a sign with the company name on the boat dock. Once we checked in on the dock, we only had to wait a few minutes before boarding the Artemis vessel.
They had assigned seats on the boat, and everyone had a wetsuit shirt on their seats already. They let you try it on and see if it fits or not. Right before leaving, the guides go over what to expect during the tour and some rules to follow. The most important rule is that you should not touch the manta rays when out in the water, as tempting as that may be.
The boat left the marina right at 7:00 pm from Honokohau Harbor since everyone had arrived ahead of time. You could see a bright orange sunset in the distance while enjoying the boat ride on the way to the manta ray site.
Looking back, you could also see the magnificent mountains in the distance and the city of Kona from afar. After 15 minutes, the boat slowed down so everyone could see a group of dolphins swimming near the boat.
There were about 5 dolphins swimming. It was one of the best surprises of the tour, as we had only expected to see manta rays. The scene was memorable, especially with the sunset and beautiful sky in the background.
The boat ride to the Manta site took about 30 minutes.
Snorkeling With Manta Rays
When we got there, there were several different tour boats around the same area. So it seems to be the spot where everyone comes to snorkel with manta rays.
They split us up into assigned numbered groups with designated tour guides. Typically there is 1 tour guide per group but we had two wonderful guides, Christian and Ryan, in ours. We put on our wetsuits, snorkeling masks, and noodles and got the GoPro ready. We were the second group that had to gather at the back of the boat to get off.
Before you get out into the water, you wait for the tour guides to get in first and prepare for the launch. Each group has one rectangular board that floats in the water with LED neon lights under the board to attract plankton to the surface of the aluminum board. The plankton then attracts the manta rays to the surface as they feed on the plankton.
We had to get into the water one by one and swim towards the floating board with handles on it. You’re given a noodle that is used to keep you floating. There wasn’t enough for everyone, so me and Martin had to share one. Since we were sharing, it can actually be difficult to balance it below your stomach, and there were plenty of times when we lost it.
We weren’t the only ones losing the noodles, and the guides are more than happy to retrieve them when that happens. Eventually, we realized that putting them in front of your ankles instead of below your stomach was a much better way of keeping them in place.
I was expecting the water to be cold but it was actually warm. Everyone in the tour group had spread out on the board with their hands on the bars. We were all lying on our bellies floating in the water with the noodles.
The guides then take you and the board toward the middle where all the manta rays hang around. While you wait for plankton to build up under the board, you can look down and see small fish swimming around.
We also saw numerous scuba divers at the bottom of the ocean with flashlights. The perspective from the surface looking down compared to the scuba diver’s view looking up offers different experiences to see manta rays. A scuba diving certification is required for that night scuba diving experience according to the staff. We’d certainly do it to get a much different perspective.
After all the boards were brought together and kept together by the guides, we started to see several manta rays gliding through the water and barrel-rolling under us. When they got close to the board, some would slowly come toward us and do a barrel roll to catch plankton. Then they would glide back down to the bottom.
The manta rays in Hawaii have a dark blue color on the top of their bodies. Below the body, you can see the gills on each side and a white body with dark spots. They have a wide body with pectoral fins on each side, a hollow U-shaped mouth that’s always open, and a tail in their back.
Manta rays seem like big and scary but they are calm animals that don’t express any aggression. We weren’t frightened at all throughout the session and were more than excited to see them do tricks. Two of them got very close to Martin as they were trying to feed on plankton, and it was such a beautiful sight to see them up close and personal.
There was probably a total of around 15-20 manta rays gliding around during the entire tour. It was an incredible experience to see them for the first time in this way.
End Of The Tour
After some time snorkeling in the water and seeing the manta rays, it was time to go back to our boat. We spent about 45 minutes in the water, which seems like it went by pretty fast. I certainly wish we got to spend more time out there.
Every group slowly made their way back to the boat and had to wait one by one to get on the boat. When it was our turn, we walked up the ladder and gave our noodles to the staff on the boat.
We put our snorkel gear into the bucket and took the wetsuits off, and put them in a pile to the side. You can rinse off with warm water from a hose located in front of the boat. The warm water feels very good at this time since it’s probably late at night and it’s quite chilly.
It was the first time that we actually felt cold on our Hawaii vacation. Before the other groups came back on the boat, we dried off and changed out of our wet swimsuits in the bathroom.
The boat ride back is very bumpy going through the water at night. We did start to feel a bit seasick on the way back. I had to stand up and go to the edge of the boat railing to feel slightly better.
Make sure to go to the restroom before the boat approaches the dock, especially if you have a long drive ahead of you like we did. The boat arrived at the dock around 9:20 pm, and we started to gather our belongings.
The guides lay out your shoes in a line on the dock so it’s easier for everyone to find them. There is a QR code you can scan on the wall on each side of the boat if you want to give the staff a tip. We gave a tip to both of the tour guides and thanked them for a wonderful experience.
Overall, this was one of the best tours on the Big Island. The staff was friendly and made the experience delightful. One of the highlights of the trip was definitely being able to see dolphins swimming on the surface of the ocean while the sunset was in the background.
We were fortunate to experience this tour and learn a lot about mantas rays. I recommend these night manta ray snorkel tours to anyone who wants to have a fun time in Kona, Big Island.