Snorkeling with Manta Rays in Hawaii

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If having a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with nature is on your bucket list, then look no further than the island of Hawaii (also known as Big Island). Snorkeling at night with manta rays is something you can only do on Big Island off the Kona Coast.

After researching which company we should trust this once-in-a-lifetime experience (and a fair chunk of our Big Island budget!) to, I decided on Manta Adventures and they were brilliant. That said, at the end of the day, you’re getting in the water to see the same manta rays and have this incredible encounter with nature. The boat and crew you’re with aren’t going to change that. My advice would be to go with the company based closest to where you are staying.

For our manta ray snorkel, we arrived at the harbor around an hour before sunset and were pleased to find only six other travelers would be joining us on the boat. Three crew members were on hand to help guide us to the float we would hold on to during the experience, spot the rays, and make sure we were all safe and comfortable while in the water.

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Boarding our vessel for the Manta Ray night snorkel

After a short safety briefing, we set off from the marina in Honokohau Harbor heading north to the snorkel site. It’s also possible to see the rays from outside of the Sheraton (south of Kileua-Kona), the decision on which site to go to seemed to be based on nothing more than the captain’s instinct, which was spot on!

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Setting sail to snorkel with Manta Rays at night

En route to the site, a book about the rays was available to browse while we put on our wetsuits and enjoyed the ride.

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Sunset as we headed out to snorkel with Manta Rays at night

After a beautiful sunset, we arrived at the snorkel site (known as Manta Village) just before it began to get fully dark. Approximately 10-15 other boats were also at the site, but as every vessel is relatively small and there were plenty of manta rays on the evening we went, the experience never felt tacky, or like the masses had descended.

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Spotlights on the surfboard attract plankton, which in turn the Manta Rays come to feast on

Our vessel (the Maheli-Heli) had powerful, LED lights on the bottom, as did the surfboard flotation device we would hold onto during the experience (see above). These lights attracted plankton and in turn the manta rays, but also an enormous number of fish! At one point, I couldn’t even see 1ft in front of my face, never mind the rays!  I didn’t enjoy the sensation of the fish nibbling my fingers but it was worth it and all part of the experience.

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Ready to enter the water to meet the Manta Rays!

Is being in the water at night with Manta Rays scary? Yes, it is a little! Despite being a water baby at heart, I’m terrified of sharks and deep water. For the most part of this incredible experience I was so engrossed in it that I wasn’t scared, but for a few moments when I looked behind or above me and realized I was in the dark floating in deep water, I did feel frightened. Then a beautiful manta ray making somersaults in the water would distract me and I would get lost again in the experience, forgetting my fears.

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Big Berta the Manta Ray

On this trip, we saw at least five manta rays. Big Bertha was the biggest with a wingspan of approximately 16 feet! At one point three manta rays were swimming beneath us simultaneously which was a truly beautiful sight.

Snorkeling at night with Manta Rays is one of my absolute favorite Hawaii memories and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Big Island.

If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, why not check out my guide to picking the right island for you, or which foods you should try on your trip!


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