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Where To See Turtles In Hilo, Big Island – Complete Guide

Are you ready for an unforgettable adventure? Imagine swimming alongside Hawaiian green sea turtles in the crystal clear waters of Hilo, Hawaii. 

In this post, I’ll tell you all of the best spots to see turtles in Hilo and I’ll give you all the details that you’ll need to plan your own turtle-watching excursion, including the best time of year to visit. 

So grab your snorkel gear and let’s dive in!

Best Places To See Turtles In Hilo

I’ve read tons of those ‘where to see turtles on Big Island’ guides and they almost always only suggest beaches on the west side of the Big Island near Kona.

Whilst Kona is a great place to see turtles, what about Hilo?

You’ll be happy to know that there are also tons of amazing turtle beaches in Hilo and I’m about to reveal them all.

My personal favorite place to see turtles in Hilo is on Coconut Island which is a tiny island in Hilo accessible by a bridge.

I’d recommend joining this stand-up paddleboarding tour at Coconut Island. It’s super fun and gives you the chance to get up close & personal with turtles!

Ok so without further ado, where exactly are the sea turtles in Hilo? 

1. Coconut Island

My personal favorite place in Hilo where you can see turtles is on Coconut Island, also known as Moku Ola.

Coconut Island is a small island that’s located just inside Hilo Bay. It’s actually connected to the land via a bridge making it super easy to access.

Here’s exactly where Coconut Island is located:

Map showing the location of Coconut Island.
Map showing the location of Coconut Island.

The island itself features several little beaches and parks which attracts families and tourists who come to have a picnic or a swim in the water.

This place is ideal for families as it has tons of amenities including restrooms, showers, changing rooms and even barbeques. It’s also stroller friendly.

You’ll find several small coves and shallow pools on Coconut Island which are the perfect place to take a dip. And if you’re lucky, you might spot a turtle or two (or three or four).

Turtles can particularly be spotted from the bridge when you’re walking over to the island and around the little coves. You might also spot some colorful little fishies amongst the bright coral.

If you’re feeling really adventurous then there’s even a tower on Coconut Island from which you can jump straight into the ocean (a lil bit too scary for me).

The best way to explore Coconut Island is by joining a stand up paddleboarding tour. Kids are guaranteed to love it and if your kids are too small then you have the option to use a double kayak instead.

You’ll glide up and down Hilo’s coastline, looking out for turtles and enjoying the majestic scenery. It’s quite the adventure.

This place is perfect for everyone as the pools and coves are protected from strong waves meaning even the littlest tots can join in the fun.

The ancient Hawaiians actually believed that the water around this island had healing properties so they nicknamed it ‘healing island’. 

I don’t know about you but if there’s any chance that water is magic, I’m getting in just in case.

You can learn a bit more about Coconut Island in the video below:

2. Richardson Ocean Park

Another one of the best places to see sea turtles in Hilo is at Richardson Ocean Park. It’s also one of the best places to snorkel on the whole of the eastern side of the island.

This black sand beach is absolutely stunning but it is quite rocky and the sand is rough so bring along your water shoes.

The best part is that turtles seem to really love this place as they show up constantly. Whether you’re just relaxing on the beach or going for a swim in the ocean, it’s not a matter of if you’ll see a turtle but when.

If you’re swimming around in one of the many tide pools close to the shore then you’ll probably see more than just turtles. See how many different types of fish you can see (hint: it’s a lot).

Some people claim they’ve seen 12 or more turtles all at once whilst snorkeling here!!!

Here’s exactly what you can expect from snorkeling at Richardson Ocean Park:

You should also look out for the turtles lounging around on the rocks (they love sunbathing just like us!).

If you want to see the turtles of Richardson Ocean Park for yourself then I’d recommend joining this Hilo day tour.

As well as a stop at Richardson Ocean Park, you’ll also get the chance to visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you’ll see waterfalls and ancient volcanoes, and you’ll visit the incredibly beautiful Rainbow Falls.

Map showing the location of Richardson Ocean Park.
Map showing the location of Richardson Ocean Park.

3. Carlsmith Beach Park

One of the best turtle beaches in Hilo is at Carlsmith Beach Park aka Hilo’s natural waterpark.

I know it has ‘beach’ in the name but it’s not really a beach, it’s more of a lagoon. Instead of sand, you’ll find grassy areas that lead you down into the water instead. 

It can be a bit tricky entering the water but there are several ladders dotted around which make it a whole lot easier (trust me!).

There’s actually a resident population of sea turtles that live here so you can usually swim with them in the water.

You’ll usually find them on the right side of the park near the small cove with a sandy seafloor. It’s also pretty common to see them from the shore itself.

Carlsmith Beach Park is a protected lagoon meaning it’s really family friendly as the water is always super calm here. It’s also pretty shallow which is perfect for small children.

The huge abundance of marine life at Carlsmith Beach Park makes it one of the best snorkeling spots in Hilo so bring along your snorkel gear.

Here’s exactly what you could see if you go snorkeling at Carlsmith Beach Park:

As well as turtles you have the chance to see crabs, tons of tropical fish, eels and more. The water is also super blue here. In fact, it has some of the bluest waters I’ve ever seen in Hawaii.

Keep your eyes peeled for a reef triggerfish, also known as a humuhumunukunukuapua’a by the locals (you can thank the ancient Hawaiians for that one).

Map showing the location of Carlsmith Beach Park.
Map showing the location of Carlsmith Beach Park.

4. Onekahakaha Beach Park

Another turtle beach in Hilo where you have a good chance of spotting turtles is at Onekahakaha Beach Park.

This picturesque beach is another family favorite as it has a large but shallow tide pool with a white sandy bottom which is perfect for kids as well as tons of picnic tables.

The tide pool is ideal for all levels of swimmers as it’s protected from large waves. This means it’s perfect for pretty much everyone including really small children. 

Once again, there’s not actually a beach here (they’re just playing with us now). It’s more of a park area than anything else.

Oh and did I mention you can see sea turtles?

You’ll often see the turtles soaking up the sun on the rocks or swimming around looking for food in the shallow pool.

Map showing the location of Onekahakaha Beach Park.
Map showing the location of Onekahakaha Beach Park.

5. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Ok so this one technically isn’t in Hilo but it’s not too far and is actually one of the most reliable places to see green sea turtles on the whole of Big Island so I thought it deserved a mention.

Unless you couldn’t tell from the name, the sand at Punalu’u is black (it’s due to ancient volcanic activity). Yep, it may not be your typical tropical beach but with jet-black sand, it’s pretty interesting to look at.

Especially as it’s also usually covered with turtles. The turtles here love to come onto the sand to bask in the sun and they can also usually be spotted swimming by close to the shore.

The sea turtles absolutely love this beach as the black sand gets really hot under the sun and the turtles just can’t get enough.

And when I say the sand gets hot, it gets HOT! Much too hot for human toes so make sure you bring along your water shoes to protect your feet.

Take a look at those happy lil turtles at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach in the video below:

You can easily go for a swim with the turtles (there’s a lifeguard on duty too making this beach super family-friendly!). 

The best spot for snorkeling is around the little cove that sits just in front of the lifeguard.

It takes just over an hour to get here by car from Hilo and luckily you can park right next to the beach which makes things pretty simple.

The easiest way to visit is by joining a Big Island tour which includes a stop at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.

You’ll also get a chance to visit the world famous Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on this tour too!

Apparently this beach may be the actual spot where ancient Polynesian settlers first arrived on the island (cool, right!?).

Map showing the location of Punalu'u Black Sand Beach.
Map showing the location of Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.

6. Keaukaha Beach Park

Another one of the best places to see sea turtles in Hilo is at Keaukaha Beach Park.

This is another ‘beach’ that’s not really a beach (seriously who is in charge of naming these?!)

Instead it features lava rocks and grassy areas. Despite there being no sand, turtles still show up here pretty much every day.

Keaukaha Beach Park is kinda a locals secret so don’t tell anyone I told you about it!!! 

This means it tends to be pretty quiet and there’s not a ton of amenities. It feels a lot more undeveloped compared to other beaches in Hilo.

The rocky shoreline at Keaukaha is filled with peaceful, protected tide pools that are an ideal place to go snorkeling (and by the way, they’re super kid friendly).

The tide pools are shallow making it an ideal place for first-time snorkelers and the turtles aren’t shy so you’ll likely see at least a handful of them.

Take a look at the cute turtle in the video below munching on some lunch (p.s. I wouldn’t get as close to the turtle as the person in the video, give them some space):

Hawaiian green sea turtles (or ‘honu’ as the ancient Hawaiians called them) can often be spotted swimming around munching on seagrass and you’ll get that unique opportunity to swim right alongside them.

Map showing the location of Keaukaha Beach Park.
Map showing the location of Keaukaha Beach Park.

Best Time Of Year To See Turtles In Hilo

The best time of year to see sea turtles in Hilo, Big Island is during the summer between May and October.

During these months it is a bit hotter than in the winter meaning the water surrounding Hawaii becomes a bit warmer and calmer. 

This is an ideal environment for the turtles which means their numbers rise and more come onto the shores of Hilo’s many beaches.

That being said, there are still lots of turtles that stick around in Hawaii all year round so no matter what time of year you visit, you still have a good chance of seeing these beautiful Hawaiian green sea turtles.

Best Time of Day to See Turtles in Hilo

Although you can see the sea turtles at any time of day in Hilo, the best time is in the morning and early afternoon.

Sea turtles are most active between 7AM and 2PM. In particular, they often come and lay on the beaches in Hilo around midday as this is when the sand is hottest (and they love hot sand, let me tell you!).

Of course, turtles are spotted all the time in Hilo, day and night so there’s really no bad time to visit but if you want the highest chance of seeing them then morning and midday time is your best bet.

Tips For Swimming With Turtles In Hilo

If you’re going to be snorkeling with turtles in Hilo then there’s a few things that you should bear in mind.

Remember that all of the different turtle species that live in the waters around Big Island are endangered so it’s really important that we do everything we can to keep them safe.

Here’s some tips:

  • Don’t be too loud. Try to be as quiet as you can when swimming close to a turtle as loud noises can startle them.
  • Do not touch the turtle, ever. Turtles are wild animals so they should be respected.
  • Wear reef-safe sunscreen. Regular sunscreen actually damages coral reefs which negatively impacts turtles. Wear a reef-safe sunscreen to keep them healthy.
  • Don’t get too close. Being too close can frighten the turtle and they may even bite you if they get really scared (don’t worry, this is super rare!).
  • Do not feed the turtles. They don’t need or want any help finding food.
  • Always approach a turtle from the side. This gives them a clear view of you and a clear path ahead of them so they can swim onwards if they want to.
  • Don’t disrupt the turtle’s natural behavior. You’re welcome to enjoy the turtles by watching them do their thing but try not to disturb them.

These key tips aim to protect both you and the turtles so keep them in mind.

So there you have it, that’s all of the best places to see turtles in Hilo, Big Island! 

Whether you’re wanting to swim and snorkel with these lil cutie pies or just catch a glimpse of one in their natural habitat, you’re sure to have a flippin’ fantastic time (see what I did there?).

And did you know that you can also go whale watching on Big Island at certain times of year?

Mahalo for reading and happy turtle-spotting!

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Megan Jones is a travel expert and founder of Traveller's Elixir, who has been travelling the world full time since 2021. Megan's travel tips been featured in numerous media outlets including Metro, Timeout, Thrillist and more.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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