North of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, the snorkeling off Aitutaki Atoll is best known for the clear waters surrounding its 15 motu islets. Located about 220km north of Rarotonga, the main island of Arutanga is home to a year-round population of only 2,000 inhabitants. With a surrounding barrier reef, it has magnificent lagoons formed by ancient sunken volcanoes that provide habitat for diverse coral and marine life. While snorkeling Aitutaki Atoll, you may encounter masked butterfly fish, blue chromis and the dangerous stonefish among the brain coral, star coral and pillar coral formations. Keep an eye out for the massive giant clams found in the waters around Aitutaki. Luckily, most of the lagoon waters are within a protected marine reserve that keeps boat traffic to a minimum.
For the most part, the shore-accessed snorkeling on the central Arutanga Island can be disappointing due to expansive algae growth from the resort run-off, which has covered the near-shore coral formations. With that said, the best shore-accessed snorkeling can be found on the northwest coast just north of the Pacific Resort, and it is best just after high tide.
For the best Aitutaki atoll snorkeling, definitely plan on a daily snorkel boat tour to get out into the clear waters of the lagoon, such as from Silent One Lagoon Charters. There are numerous snorkeling dive spots in the lagoon including off Motu Maina, Honeymoon Island near Maina for sea turtles, Motu Tapuaetai (aka One Foot Island) and O'out Beach off little Akitua Island at the end of the airport runway.
To reach the Aitutaki Atoll snorkeling by air, you’ll first need to fly into the Rarotonga International Airport (RAR) located on the northwest side of the Rarotonga Island. There are direct flights into Rarotonga at least once a week from Sydney, Auckland, Tahiti (Air Tahiti) and Los Angeles. Next, there are inter-island flights on Air Rarotonga to Aitutaki airport on the north side of the island. The inter-island flight covers the 220km in about 50 minutes. Since Sunday is a major day of rest, make sure not to arrive or depart on Sundays since many services are closed including car rentals and shuttle buses.
TIP: The Cook Islands cyclone/typhoon rainy season starts in November and ends in late March. The best Cook Islands snorkeling is typically from May through October during the dry winter season, but be aware that the water becomes cooler as the winter season progresses.
Overall, Aitutaki Atoll is the 2nd most popular snorkel dive spot of all 2 snorkeling dives in Cook Islands.