Named Makako Bay by Hawaiians, Garden eel cove is the dive site name used locally by dive companies due to the garden eels living in the sand at 80 feet. As the sun dips below the horizon Makako bay turns into an underwater show of sorts with divers and snorkelers waiting in anticipation of the nightly manta ray show.
About Manta Ray Heaven / Garden Eel Cove:
What is Manta Ray Heaven / Garden Eel Cove?
Manta Ray Heaven / Garden Eel Cove is one of 3 manta ray night dive sights in Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is the most popular and best manta ray viewing site for scuba diving.
Not only does this site have a great night dive with manta rays, it’s also a great spot to dive during the day as mantas will cruise through in addition to whales, dolphins, and monk seals. Just off-shore from the site nearby are the Kanpachi farm nets. This nearshore fish farm attracts many of the well-fed marine mammals seen in the area. The reefs are often blanketed by squirrelfish and schools of goatfish are a common sighting. Of course we mustn’t forget about it’s namesake, the garden eels living in the sand poke out from their holes only to withdraw slowly as divers approach.
Where is Manta Ray Heaven / Garden Eel Cove?
Located just off-shore from the Kona airport, Manta Ray Heaven / Garden Eel cove is just one of the 3 popular manta ray dive sites on the Big Island.
There are a total of 3 manta ray snorkel and dive sites on the Big Island. Click one on the map for distances to the site. Most operators will leave from Honokohau Harbor.
Manta Ray Sites on The Big island
The middle manta dive site and one of the best for scuba diving, Manta Heaven is where Kona Honu Divers goes nightly to do the manta ray night dive. We’ve chosen this site as our go-to because our values of safety and stewardship mean we’ve committed to the safest and environmentally friendly manta ray dive site on the island.
Manta Ray Heaven / Garden Eel cove is easily the best manta ray dive site because Keahole point blocks the southern swell that is typical in the summer. It also has plenty of moorings so most boats can tie up. It is also the best topographically with a ‘campfire’ that companies have set up so divers can gather around and view the mantas together. This means everyone gets a good show versus Manta Village where the rays are fewer and can be more fragmented. This means if you’re not in place and paying attention when a manta comes around you might miss it!
Kona Honu Divers has been committed only going to this site since 2018. Since then a few other operators has committed to only visiting this site seeing the benefit to the safety and environment that it offers. Sometimes we’re the only boat out there and we get a spectacular show all to ourselves!
It is located just offshore from the Keahole (Kona) Airport runway. The western most point on the island (Keahole point) is just to the south.
Manta Village in Keahou
The other Kona manta viewing site is located in Keahou off of Kaukalaelae Point just offshore from the Keahou Outrigger Hotel. This was the first manta viewing site established in the 70’s when bright floodlights from the hotel attracted plankton and the mantas took notice flocking to the area. Since then is has exploded in popularity causing congestion and angst with the local fishermen onshore due to the limited parking and small launch ramp. The site itself only has a few moorings and if the mantas don’t show up in Manta Heaven for a night or two all of the companies head to this site. This means there can be up to 40-50 boats in one spot running their motors while snorkelers are swimming around! It can get a bit chaotic.
If you are considering visiting this site you might prefer the moonlight manta which is a later tour that goes out after many of the other operations have gone home. This is best during the busier times of year when school is out.
Manta Point in Kohala
This newer, less established site was set up as a shore snorkel from the Mauna Kea beach hotel in Kohala. It’s best accessible to people staying far north of Kona and is great for seasick prone individuals as the experience can be entirely guided from shore.
The Mauna Kea Beach hotel’s Manta Restaurant overlooks the spot so if you have friends or family who want to stay on-shore this is a good spot for them. They won’t be able to see the mantas but the ambience is nice.
How to Dive & Snorkel with Manta Rays
So you’ve decided to take the plunge. Here’s how you can join the party.
Scuba Dive with the Manta Rays (Certified Divers Only)
Join Hawaii’s top rated and most reviewed dive company Kona Honu Divers for our 2-tank manta ray night dive. The first dive takes place in Garden Eel cove during the day while the second takes place at Manta Heaven after the sun sets.
Sometimes the mantas will get a bit too close!
Snorkel with the Manta Rays
Kona Snorkel Trips is the top rated and most reviewed snorkel company in Hawaii offering the manta ray snorkel tour twice nightly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is the best place to see manta rays?
The most consistent and popular spot is in Kona, Hawaii home of the world famous manta ray night dive & snorkel. Hundreds of people get in the water each night to view these large fish up-close and personal. While the rays don’t always show up every night they are very consistent.
Where do I meet the boat?
Most operators like Kona Honu Divers and Kona Snorkel Trips leave from Honokohau Marina which is located between the Kona Airport and Kona Town.
Which Manta Dive Site is Best?
For scuba diving the Manta Ray Heaven / Garden Eel cove site is the best due to the protection, depth, layout and bottom topography. You’ll also likely see more manta rays here in a greater concentration.
What time is best to snorkel with manta rays?
At night after the sun has gone down. After sunset the mantas are drawn to lights underwater. This means you will be most likely to see them up-close and personal during feeding time at night.
Can you see manta rays from manta Restaurant?
Kinda. You might see some backlit shadows on the surface from the light below. The refraction of the light from the rough ocean surface makes it difficult to discern what you may be seeing.
Can you snorkel with manta rays without a tour?
No, it is unsafe. Without proper lighting and understanding the etiquette the manta ray industry has set in place it is not safe or environmentally sound to attempt to snorkel with the manta rays without a tour. You will have a lot of angry tour operators if you try to go out on your own and don’t abide by the rules.
Do I need wetsuit for manta ray snorkel?
Yes, it is recommended. A wetsuit will protect you from cold, sinking, stings, and scrapes.
What does it mean if a manta ray touches you?
Manta Rays can come really close to observers underwater. Sometimes a little too close. Manta rays have a protective layer of mucus on their skin. This prevents them from getting sick so it’s best to try to avoid contact if possible.
Is it safe to swim with manta rays at night?
It depends. If you’re with a responsible tour operator who follows industry best practices it is safe. Make sure you choose a reputable provider like Kona Honu Divers or Kona Snorkel Trips who each have the most reviews and highest rating of any tour operator in the State of Hawaii.
What time of night is best to see manta rays in Kona?
After the sun goes down within a few hours the mantas feed. Just after sundown is the most popular time to see the mantas and is the only option for divers. But snorkelers have a later option so if it’s a busier time of year it may be best to go on a later manta tour to avoid the crowds.