If there’s one thing you absolutely cannot miss while visiting Kauai, it’s a visit to the Na Pali Coast, located in the Northwest corner of the island. If you didn’t know what all the hullabaloo was about in this region, you’ll quickly learn that it’s otherworldly and completely magical. This was even where the movie Jurassic Park was filmed.
The Na Pali Coast can best be seen in all its glory by air or by boat. Today, I’m going to be reviewing our most recent Na Pali Coast boat adventure with Holo Holo Charters. We did this tour as part of our 7-day trip to Kauai and it ended up being the number one highlight of our trip.
It was truly an unforgettable experience. Read on to learn more about what to expect on a Na Pali Coast boat tour!
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NA PALI COAST BOAT TOUR OPTIONS
There are several catamarans, sailing, rafting, and snorkeling companies that will take you on a tour up and down the coast, many of which usually includes a snorkeling stop too.
Among the different tour companies, there is Captain Andy’s, Kauai Sea Tours, and of course our personal favorite, Holo Holo Charters!
Tours can range anywhere from 3 to 7 hours. Check out a few of the different boat tours offered below:
- Na Pali Coast Kauai Snorkel and Sail: On this 5-hour sailing and snorkeling cruise from Port Allen, you’ll get to enjoy the Na Pali Coast from the deck of a catamaran and explore the island’s underwater world during a snorkeling stop. This tour includes a buffet lunch and entertaining stories told by the captain and crew. This is the one we did on our most recent trip to Kauai.
- Na Pali Sunset Buffet Dinner Cruise: Experience the Na Pali Coast during the most romantic time of day on this 3.5 hour sunset dinner cruise. Experience the epic landmarks aboard a deluxe sailing catamaran as you enjoy a buffet dinner complete with Mai Tais, beer, wine, and fresh juices, and a glass of champagne at the end.
- Niihau and Na Pali Coast Full-Day Boat Tour: Embark on an epic 7-hour adventure along the majestic Na Pali Coast before heading across the channel to snorkel off the Forbidden Isle of Niihau at Lehua Crater. Breakfast, lunch, and drinks are included.
HOLO HOLO CHARTERS REVIEW: NA PALI COAST SNORKEL AND SAIL
We did the Na Pali Coast Kauai Snorkel and Sail Tour with Holo Holo Charters based on all the positive reviews we saw online and let me tell you, it was worth every penny!
From the true blue waters to the commanding views of the Na Pali coast, this is an adventure that needs to be experienced by travelers from all walks of life.
On this 2-in-1 combo tour, not only will you get to experience the natural wonders of the Na Pali Coast as you sail along the base of towering cliffs, but you’ll also get to snorkel among a diverse array of marine life (including fish, turtles, seals, and even dolphins). In the winter, you may even see whales.
You will also be well-fed! After snorkeling, a continental breakfast is served, followed by a gourmet deli lunch during the sail back from the Na Pali Coast. You’ll also get unlimited beer and wine (served after snorkeling and for the duration of the rest of the ride)!
CHECK-IN AND BOARDING
Our snorkel and sail tour departed from Port Allen. Port Allen is a small harbor located on Kauai’s southern coast in Hanapepe Bay. It is the main launching point for the majority of the island’s Na Pali Coast boat tours, whale-watching trips, and deep-sea fishing charters.
For our 5-hour tour, we had to arrive at 7:30am to check-in and wait for the rest of the group before boarding. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a very helpful and informative front desk agent who gave us the complete lowdown on what we were to expect that day.
You might already be asking, will coffee be served? Are there bathrooms onboard? Yes, and yes! Coffee was served on the boat, available all day, and there were two bathrooms available for use on our catamaran.
From check-in to boarding, the entire process went very smoothly. Once everyone checked in, our captain, Captain Kelly, walked us down to the dock as a group. The boat was beautiful, clean, and well outfitted.
Here we met the rest of the Holo Holo crew, got the standard safety talk, and hopped on board!
The first stop on our tour was going to be snorkeling! Great!
Caveat? The ocean swells were slightly unfavorable for snorkeling and getting a bit crazy that morning.
I’ll start by saying that I’m not a strong swimmer. I mean, I can survive and get from point A to point B if I had to, but by no means can I do it with speed.
The captain and crew let us know that the swells on the morning of our tour were quite large. It didn’t mean we couldn’t snorkel, but we had to be comfortable swimmers. Being a mediocre swimmer, I was slightly concerned, but the crew and captain did such a good job checking the conditions of different areas before deciding to anchor the boat and let us off to snorkel.
On top of that, they made sure we felt as comfortable as possible by providing the people who wanted to snorkel with the option of bringing a pool noodle with us. This was such a saving grace!
Had the captain not offered up pool noodles to assist us, I don’t think I would have gotten in the water. But luckily she did because it really did give me the confidence to get into the choppy waters.
Once the catamaran stopped, we had the choice of either jumping in or use the waterslide off the back of the vessel to slip into the warm, turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean! Once we were in the water, it was time to explore Kauai’s tropical coastline!
Though the water conditions were not very favorable (lots of large rolling waves), we still had a blast. Visibility was still good enough for us to see 20-30 feet below, where all the fishy action was happening! We saw everything from rainbow parrotfish, huge stingrays, elusive sea turtles, angelfish, and much more.
I was shocked to see two large stingrays (that looked exactly as they did in Finding Nemo) and two sea turtles moseying around the ocean floor. It was certainly some of the best snorkeling I had ever experienced!
After 45 minutes of snorkeling in crazy ocean conditions (which was an experience in itself), we reboarded the boat to enjoy a continental breakfast and beverages onboard.
After hopping back on the boat the crew passed out drinks (which included various local beers, juices, water, tea, and coffee) and plates of breakfast. So hospitable!
For breakfast, we had hot scrambled eggs, chocolate chip muffins, and fresh fruit. If we wanted seconds, we simply asked for more and a crew member would bring us another plate!
MARINE LIFE SPOTTING
From there, we were off to the Na Pali Coast. On our way there, we slowed down for what it seemed like was 15 or so Hawaiian spinner dolphins flipping around in the water. We were all mistaken by this number! Our crew told us that if we see X number of dolphins, multiple that number by 5. That’s how many dolphins are actually in the pod surrounding us!
And he wasn’t wrong, more and more starting showing up and swimming alongside the catamaran. It was a truly magical experience being so close to them, hearing them breathe, and watching them spin around as they popped out of the ocean.
In total, we got to see three separate schools of Hawaiian spinner dolphins during our journey to and from the Na Pali Coast, each time slowing down so they could swim alongside our watercraft. This was seriously such a cool and memorable experience from our tour!
NA PALI COAST CRUISE
As we continued up the coast, we stopped to see some amazing sea caves. The beauty of the Na Pali Coast is magnified tenfold by these glorious sea caves.
Open Ceiling Cave, aka Pukalani, is a sight you need to see with your own eyes. Pukalani loosely translates to “hole into the heavens”. This sea cave eroded so much inward that the ceiling could no longer support itself and collapsed.
The sea birds flying within the caves made it that much cooler. After this stop, we continued north to the long-awaited grand finale, the Na Pali Coast! It was absolutely gorgeous and awe-inspiring every inch of the way.
One of my favorite photos from the tour was this shot of Kalalau Beach.
When I had visited Kauai in 2017, I hiked the epic Kalalau Trail 11 miles in to get to Kalalau Beach, where I camped for 2 nights and did nothing but beach, live like a castaway, and enjoy life. So it was super cool getting to see the Kalalau Trail and Kalalau Beach again, only this time from a different angle!
Seeing as there was no wind (which is a good thing in this case), Captain Kelly told us that we’d be able to get a lot closer to the coastline where we’d be able to better see the many cascading waterfalls. So we continued up the coast where she wanted to show us one of her favorite waterfalls.
At last! The weather conditions were in our favor! And not only did she show us her favorite waterfall, but she also put the entire boat under the waterfall a few times! Not an easy thing to do with a boat of that size.
If you choose to stand in the wet zone (which we did), boy are you going to be soaked! Being under that flowing waterfall was so refreshing and was entirely too much fun.
From here, we began the journey back to Port Allen. The water was quite choppy during most of the journey back, but this added to the adventure and the fun of the tour (it almost felt like a light roller coaster at times). I don’t have motion sickness, but I will be honest, even I felt a little queasy during the last 45 minutes of the ride back.
On the way back, we encountered another school of spinner dolphins.
Pro Tip: Get the best views of the dolphins by laying down at the trampoline parts of the catamaran!
While heading back to the port, the crew served us all lunch. For lunch, we had turkey wraps, ginger sesame soba noodles, and fresh vegetables. Lastly, some really delicious cookies were passed out for dessert!
Overall, lunch was just as great as breakfast!
SERVICE FROM THE CREW
On our 5-hour adventure, there was no shortage of hospitality from the captain and crew. They were attentive to the needs of all guests to ensure everyone had a great time.
At one point, I was feeling a twang of nausea while sitting in the shaded area, so I ended up closing my eyes for a few seconds. Immediately, a crew member came up to me to check if I was okay.
They were also extremely friendly and knowledgeable from the start, captivating us with super interesting facts about Hawaiian marine life and fascinating stories of ancient Hawaiian history and folklore. We learned so much about marine life, the Kalalau Trail, and Hawaiian culture from them.
They also made sure reef-safe sunscreen was always available and that the bathrooms were clean. Extra brownie points there!
HOLO HOLO CHARTERS SNORKEL AND SAIL TOUR: WORTH THE MONEY?
The answer is 100% yes! We spent approximately $430 for 2 people, which is a lot of money, even for us. Despite the hefty chunk of change, we had an adventure of a lifetime!
Without this boat tour, we would not have experienced snorkeling in the wide ocean waters, seen stingrays and dolphins in the wild, nor would we have learned so much about ancient Hawaiian times.
The entire Holo Holo Charters crew was super knowledgeable and helpful, the food was very tasty and everything about the tour was above what we had expected. This tour is really a great way to spend half a day discovering the magic of the Na Pali Coast.
If your trip isn’t for another few months, I’d suggest you start saving ~$20 dollars per week just for this tour. You won’t regret it.
NA PALI COAST BOAT TOUR: THE BOTTOM LINE
A boat cruise of the Na Pali Coast really is the best way to see this remote portion of Hawaii, which is not accessible by road. Plus, by booking a trip that includes snorkeling equipment, you can also see the beauty of Hawaii below the surface.
Yes, this is a pricier tour, but you’ll be witnessing some of the best flora and fauna Kauai has to offer–many of which can only be experienced by boat. This was by far our favorite excursion on Kauai (and secretly I might be obsessed with spinner dolphins now).
We definitely plan on doing another one of these tours with Holo Holo Charters on our next vacation to Kauai!
If you’re interested in booking the same tour we did, book it right here through GetYourGuide! They have a pretty awesome app that will send you reminders of what you’ll need to prepare and what you’ll need to bring on the day of your tour.
Bottom line; we highly recommend this epic Na Pali Snorkel and Sail Tour to families, couples, and groups of friends visiting Kauai!
ALTERNATIVE BOAT TOURS OF THE NA PALI COAST
Are the tours mentioned above not fitting the bill? Well then, check out these alternative boat tours, operated by Kauai Sea Tours:
- Na Pali Half-Day Snorkel Raft Tour – Cruise along the coastline aboard a motorized raft, stopping to swim and snorkel among native marine life at one of Kauai’s best coral reefs. Traveling by raft allows the flexibility to get close to the shore and dart in and out of sea caves and under waterfalls (weather permitting). A deli lunch and beverages are included. This tour lasts approximately 5.5 hours.
- Deluxe Na Pali Morning Snorkel Tour – Half-day catamaran cruise featuring views of lush green valleys, towering spires, jagged sea cliffs, and marine life. On this tour, you’ll get time for snorkeling and swimming. Includes continental breakfast, buffet lunch, and drinks. This tour lasts approximately 5.5 hours. This is most similar to the tour described in this post.
NA PALI COAST TOUR: RAFT OR CATAMARAN?
The Raft Experience
Pros – A tour of the Na Pali coast by raft will be smaller (each raft holds a maximum of 14 passengers) and will allow your group to zip in and out of sea caves and under waterfalls. It’s exciting and fast!
Cons – No shade, no bathrooms, can be too bumpy for older travelers/children. No rails, you will need to hold a rope on the side of the raft. They will give you gloves to hold on if needed. Not for people with bad backs or shoulders.
The Catamaran Experience
Pros – less bumpy (better for seasickness), has a dry area and a shaded area, multiple bathrooms, has a nice trampoline area to lay down on and sunbathe / watch the dolphins swim on by.
Cons – Slower than the raft, won’t be able to zip between sea caves, but not many other negatives.
ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR YOUR NA PALI COAST BOAT TOUR
- This is a ‘barefoot’ tour, meaning you’ll take your shoes off before boarding the watercraft. Your shoes will be safely stored in their shoe cart until you return.
- There will be shaded places to sit on the catamaran. This is good for travelers who want a break from the constant sun.
- If you’re prone to motion sickness, take preventatives before your tour. The waters can get rough in certain parts of the tour, depending on the weather conditions of that day.
- If you feel nauseous, get out of the shaded area, walk to the edge of the boat, and stare at the horizon. Or eat some saltines and ginger chews (these are often provided to you).
- A dry bag is not needed. There is a dry zone on the catamaran where you can stow your stuff. Put your belongings anywhere else on the boat and it may get wet!
- If you plan to have your phone with you for photos, bring a waterproof phone bag that hangs from your neck. I didn’t have one with me and since I didn’t have pockets on my swimming suit, I didn’t take any photos on my phone (my boyfriend and I ended up sharing his phone since he had pockets on his swim trunks).
- Rain in the forecast? Bring a packable waterproof rain jacket just in case.
- On the way to the Na Pali Coast, the boat will be closer to shore. This is a good time to soak it all in. Take photos on the way back from the Na Pali Coast (heading south), when you have a wider view of the coastline. The lighting is also better for photos as you head southward.
- Be sure to tip the awesome crew as you offboard. Their hospitality is unbeatable!
- Reapply sunscreen at least 3-4 times while you’re on your tour. And slather that sunscreen on every inch of your body if you’re going to be standing anywhere not in the shade. This is 5 hours of constant sun exposure, so sunburn chances are high if you aren’t mindful. Holo Holo Charters provides reef-safe sunscreen as well, so don’t get burnt as we did! If you want to bring your own, read below!
A quick note on sunscreens in tropical destinations:
Whenever we head to tropical destinations with ample marine life, we always go with a coral reef-safe brand, as traditional sunscreens contain chemicals that harm our environment as well as the natural balance of marine ecosystems.
In fact, you may even encounter tour operators asking you to only use sunscreen and sunblock that are biodegradable, containing titanium oxide and zinc oxide only.
And honestly, it’s not enough to just buy any old bottle that has a “reef-friendly” label on it. It turns out many sunscreens claiming to be “reef-friendly” or “reef-safe” actually aren’t!
Products containing the following ingredients are technically NOT reef safe: oxybenzone, avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene or nanoparticles. Always review the active ingredients on the bottle to be sure you’re really getting something reef-safe.
Here are a few travel-sized biodegradable sunscreens you can easily buy on Amazon:
- Badger Reef Safe Sunscreen – SPF 40 Kids Clear Sport
- Thinksport SPF 50+ Mineral Sunscreen
- Babo Botanicals Zinc Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
- All Good Sport Face & Body Sunscreen Lotion
And on days where we are just out and about (not getting into the water)–for the face, we are absolutely obsessed with the magical Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen. No white-cast, no greasy film!