Destination Travel Guides

On Swimming with the Giant Manta Rays in Kona, Hawaii

In an earlier post, I wrote about swimming with sharks off the North Shore of O’ahu. While that was an absolutely incredible experience that I will never forget, I must say snorkeling with the giant manta rays off the coast of Kona also ranks highly in my top life experiences to date.


Forgive the fuzziness of my photos. The camera I had wasn’t very good.

The tour company we decided to go with was Sunlight on Water, which operates out of Kona. We scheduled our manta ray snorkel evening several days ahead of time and then excitedly looked forward to it.


When the evening came, we met the tour company at their boat in the harbor where they provided us with wet suits and snorkel gear to wear in the water. Then, we all boarded the boat and headed out to see the mantas.


The thing about seeing manta rays is that they come out at night to feed on krill. As a result, a great time to go out and see manta rays is at night. What they do is pull up the boat in an area where manta rays are known to feed, and then they wait until nightfall. When night falls, they set up a little floating area of PVC pipes for us to hold onto, and then shone a bright light directly into the water. This had two purposes: not only would the light make it easier to actually see the mantas, but it also attracts the krill, which the mantas like to eat. The manta rays know that near the boats is a good place to feed because of all the krill, so it’s a win-win situation for both the people and the manta rays.


When several mantas had been spotted nearby, they instructed us to put on our snorkel gear and enter the water. We lined up side by side and held onto the PVC pipe as we floated on our stomachs, so there was very little work on our part. Then the show began.


The giant manta rays are such an awesome, awe-inspiring animal. They can grow in size generally from 3 to 12 feet (wing tip to wing tip). The mantas we visited were around 8 feet wide. These were really BIG creatures. Something to know about manta rays is that they aren’t dangerous at all. Sure, they are large animals that are related to sharks, but they don’t actually have teeth and they don’t have stingers like their cousin the stingray. So there was no cause to be concerned when the mantas started feeding by doing somersaults right in front of our faces, sometimes coming only inches away from us.


When you swim with the manta rays, the first rule is to not touch them. If you do, you could scratch them and possibly hurt them. That being said, if the mantas decide to brush up against you, that’s up to them. What I found fascinating was that even though they were as close as two inches away from my face at times, they never touched me. They were extremely graceful and agile creatures that had the ability to just cut through the water with the greatest of ease. It was such a surreal experience to look down into their mouths, which they keep wide open as they somersault feeding on krill. I’ve never been so close to such a strange, alien-like creature, and yet I was completely at ease and in awe of them the whole time.


We were out there for quite a while, but honestly I could have stayed forever. When they announced that it was time to get back into the boat, I felt sad. I wanted to stay with my beautiful, strange new manta ray friends.


If you visit the Big Island of Hawaii, this is something you should absolutely do. I can’t recommend this experience enough. It is one of the highlights of my entire life. I’ll definitely be visiting the Big Island again someday, and when I do, I’ll definitely be visiting the mantas again.


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