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Swim with sharks in Maui

Ready for one of the most exciting experiences of your life? Here I tell you in detail everything you need to know to live a shark swimming experience in Maui and have the most exciting vacation.

Katherine Betances

Katherine Betances

7 min read

Swim with sharks in Maui

Shark in Maui | ©Justin Lint

As one of the most visited islands in Hawaii, you will find many activities to see, do and enjoy in Maui, but none as extreme as observing a group of sharks up close.

Although for many sharks are perceived as intimidating creatures, it is perfectly safe to swim with them if you have the necessary preparation and precaution. For that reason, if your dream has always been to swim among these fabulous millenary creatures, Maui is the perfect place to do it because of its abundance of Whitetip sharks.

But... What options do you have at your disposal on the island? How to book this kind of experience? What exactly does shark diving consist of? These and other questions are explained in detail below.

1. Diving with sharks at Mala Pier in Lahaina.

Sharks at Mala Wharf| ©Dean Satkowski
Sharks at Mala Wharf| ©Dean Satkowski

Considered by hundreds of travelers as one of the best activities in Maui, you will find several local companies offering the experience of swimming with sharks at Mala Wharf in Lahaina.

Over the years this location has become synonymous with safe shark encounters on the island.

The Mala Wharf jetty in the town of Lahaina is also one of the best dive sites on the north shore of Maui. The depth of its waters reaches about 10 meters, making it an ideal dive site for beginners and also for intermediate levels.

If you are looking to dive in Maui it is wise to know that shallow sites are ideal, as they allow divers long periods of time at the bottom in the water without depleting their air reserves. At Mala Wharf you can dive for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Here you can even swim with sharks without a safety cage, as many of the white tip reef sharks reside peacefully in this area because the pier serves as a protective shield for them to relax and take their daily naps.

The pier, known by locals as Mala Wharf or Mala Pier, suffered a partial collapse in 1992 during Hurricane Iniki. Today, the fallen cement posts serve as a shield and refuge for sharks and other species.

How to get there

The harbor is located north of Front Street on Mala Wharf Rd. just behind Longs at the Lahaina Cannery Mall.

Traveller Tip

If you are driving to Lahaina from other locations, DO NOT park in the parking lots marked Boat Trailer or your vehicle will be reclaimed.

Helpful Information

  • Possibility to see sharks: Considered the best place to see sharks the Maui, the chances exceed 90%.
  • Price: This type of experience is available from 130€ per traveler, approximately.
  • Duration of the experience: Depending on the company you hire, it can take 2 to 3 hours to complete the experience.
  • Is it recommended to book in advance: Yes, I recommend booking your diving experience in Lahaina in advance, as the specialized companies are scarce and the quotas are sold out quickly.

Book a diving experience in Maui

2. Swimming with sharks at the Maui Aquarium.

Shark at the Ocean Maui Center| ©Joe Boyd
Shark at the Ocean Maui Center| ©Joe Boyd

When it comes to swimming with sharks in Maui, the Ocean Maui Center aquarium offers one of the best alternatives.

This diving experience takes divers to swim among approximately 20 sharks, rays and hundreds of fish; in a controlled environment and with certified professionals.

It is available on specific days and times by advance reservation. These days are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 2:30 pm in the afternoon. If your stay on the island is of short duration, 5 days in Maui or less, book your visit to the aquarium well in advance of your arrival.

All participants must meet a number of requirements, including: be at least 12 years of age; present a diver's certification; have read the liability waiver; and have booked in advance.

The Ocean Center Aquarium is also considered one of the best places to see turtles on Maui, so I recommend taking advantage of your visit to see these fabulous creatures.

How to get there

The Maui Ocean Center is located in Maalaea in the central part of the island. From any point it is easy to get there by bus or private transportation.

In addition, the port of Maalaea is the place from which most excursions depart to visit the Molokini Crater. If you are looking to make the most of the day you can book both experiences for the same date.

Useful information

  • Possibility to see sharks: 100% as they are in a controlled habitat.
  • Price: The price to pay for the experience of swimming with sharks in the aquarium is available from 350€ per participant. The aquarium provides all the necessary equipment for the experience.
  • Duration of the activity: Approximately 3 hours.
  • Is it recommended to book in advance: Yes, the aquarium requires participants to make their reservations at least 24 hours in advance. Reservations are non-refundable if you miss your appointment.

Buy your ticket for the Maui Ocean Center

3. Swim with sharks at Kaanapali Beach.

Kaanapali| ©Keith Roper
Kaanapali| ©Keith Roper

Airport Beach Maui is considered an excellent dive site for beginners and intermediates and because of the shark sightings, it is also considered a place in Maui where it is possible to observe some specific specimens.

However, keep in mind that sightings are occasional, so if your ultimate goal is to swim with sharks in Maui, I recommend you opt for one of the two alternatives explored above in the post.

Airport Beach in Kaanapali is, on the other hand, an excellent place to perfect your diving skills and swim among some of the most beautiful coral reefs on the island.

It's a great alternative if you want to explore other Maui beaches or if you're going to Maui for your honeymoon and are looking for couple's activities.

How to get to Kaanapali Beach

Kaanapali Beach is located north of Lahaina, in the direction of the island's airport. Take Highway 30 past Kaanapali Parkway; at the bottom of the hill take a left onto Kai Ala Dr. Your destination is across from the Sugar Cane Railroad station.

Useful Information

  • Possibility of seeing sharks: Unfortunately, the chances are not very high, reaching just 5% at the best times.
  • Price: Diving experiences in Kaanapali are available from 130€ per participant.
  • Duration of the experience: From 2 to 3 hours depending on the company you hire for the experience.

What to expect from your first experience swimming with sharks

Sharks in Maui| ©Joe Boyd
Sharks in Maui| ©Joe Boyd

Your first shark experience should be fun and memorable. The team of the company you hire for the experience takes care of it and starts the diving adventure by teaching you the correct behaviors and safety measures for swimming with sharks.

During your diving experience in Maui, you can expect to see different species of sharks depending on the location you choose for the experience. You will also see other creatures that live in the same natural habitat with these animals.

Although movies have led us to believe that sharks are creatures of an aggressive and fearsome nature, the reality is far from this fantasy. Sharks like to feed primarily on other fish, turtles and seals.

When attacks do occur, it is almost always because they mistake humans for one of their preferred food sources. All expert divers who swim with sharks on a daily basis agree on the same point: sharks are quite tolerant of human presence and are not interested in having us as part of their diet.

Sharks are ancient dinosaur species that have remained on the planet with very little change in their shape and anatomy (beyond a reduction in size) for more than 400 million years. There are about 400 known species of sharks on the planet.

Safety tips for swimming with sharks in Maui

Tiger Shark, Maui| ©Gord Webster
Tiger Shark, Maui| ©Gord Webster

While it is true that swimming with sharks in Maui is an epic and memorable experience that you will treasure for a lifetime, you should never, under any circumstances, compromise your safety or that of the people accompanying you.

Safety comes first, which is why I have compiled for you the most important considerations to remember before you enter the water and while you are in it.

Wear the right wetsuit.

Your wetsuit should be a deep, dark color that resembles the colors of the ocean.

If possible, match your wetsuit with wetsuit gear of the same color in order to avoid contrasts and be as inconspicuous as possible.

Be sure not to wear bright objects or colors. Shiny objects, such as accessories, can easily be mistaken for the reflection of fish scales, and bright colors such as yellow are usually associated with fish and food.

Always stay close to the group

Once in the water, avoid diving alone and stay close to the group, as this makes it very unlikely that sharks will take the initiative to approach.

Always follow the instructions of the guide in charge of the experience, for your own safety and for the other people accompanying you.

Stay calm but alert

While you are in the water swimming with sharks, remember to stay calm and not make any sudden movements that may upset your companions or the sharks. Keeping a steady pace and making an effort not to make noise are usually excellent practices.

If you notice erratic behavior in some of the sharks, the best thing to do for safety reasons is to end the dive as soon as possible.

Sharks need their space

When conducting this type of practice always remember that you are an intruder in the sharks' habitat, so respecting their space is vital.

Keep a safe distance, because like any species in the animal kingdom, when a shark sees something approaching it may attack in defense. If you swim in the direction of a shark and it moves away, leave it alone!

Finally, do not stroke their head or near the jaw area and please do not take flash photos that may disturb them.

Avoid early morning and late afternoon.

Most shark species are crepuscular in their feeding habits. This means that they ingest food primarily at dawn and dusk.

Consequently, avoid diving near them at dawn and dusk, both times of day when they actively forage for food. However, midday in bright sunlight is usually a pretty good time to dive.