Are you visiting the Big Island of Hawaii? You absolutely must experience the Manta Ray Snorkel. It’s one of the most memorable adventures of our lives.
No matter the time of year, the mysterious manta rays flock to certain locations along the Kona coast, as they have learned this is the place to get dinner. Nightly tour boat operators bring in both scuba divers and snorkelers, who beam light through the water to attract plankton- a manta’s main food. Over time, mantas have learned that the humans in the water are not a threat and that when we shine lights into the water, their food shows up.
Manta rays range from 10-20 feet across. Read that again and think about the sheer size of these graceful creatures. Imagine a sting ray you might have seen in a tide pool at an aquarium- and then imagine that sting ray has become 3-4 times taller than yourself! But mantas pack no sting on their tail and are gentle creatures. They are filter feeders, meaning that instead of having big scary teeth, they simply suck up the tiny plankton in the water.
We planned this trip last-minute, and luckily a few companies still had space available. However, if you’re going during a busy season (such as winter months when snowbirds are looking for the tropics) it might be smart to call at least a few days in advance.
The trip began with boarding a boat (we went with Torpedo Tours) and getting a general safety message. The boat had all the supplies we needed to snorkel, except a bathing suit. They also offered wetsuits for people who might get cold, and we suggest wearing one if you’re prone to getting chilly. As you’re sitting on the boat, heading to the location, you’ll get a lovely view of the sun setting.
Certified scuba divers go to the bottom of the bay, while snorkelers stay on top. The scuba divers form the “campfire” which consists of large flashlights shining upward in a circle on the bottom of the ocean. The snorkelers hold onto surf boards that have been outfitted with lights that shine downwards. And then we waited…
Slowly, millions of tiny plankton started to draw toward the lights, much like moths do to a flame. And then the mantas showed up. Their sheer size and grace is shocking. While we floated on the surface, we watched these giant creatures feast on their dinner. Eventually, when they realized we weren’t a threat, they got closer to us. There aren’t any words to describe what it was like to end up belly-to-belly to a giant, harmless fish that was circling just a few inches underneath us.
After the trip, the boat operators got us home safely, and we kept remarking on what an amazing experience this was. It quickly flew to the top of our most unique excursions we’d ever been on. If you’re visiting the Big Island, and specifically are staying on the Kona side, you absolutely must give it a try. You won’t regret it, we promise!