Remember the Travel Story, “My First Time Traveling Solo”? That life changing trip was to the northernmost Hawaiian island, Kauai. If you’ve ever been interested in visiting Hawaii, I highly recommend this island.
However, I understand that everyone has a different travel style, and different things they seek from a travel destination. If you are interested in visiting one of the other beauties in the Hawaiian archipelago, here’s a quick guide to help you choose the right island(s) for you.
After the “Hawaiian Island Quick Guide”, you’ll find a detailed travel guide specifically for Kauai. The guide includes flight information, tips on where to stay, what to do, and how to get around.
Hawaiian Island Quick Guide
Kauai, or “The Garden Isle” as it is sometimes called, is Hawaii’s oldest island. Not only is Kauai insanely beautiful, it also has a magical energy vibrating through it, which allows you to reap spiritual benefits as well. With its amazing hiking trails, the only passable rivers in Hawaii, water sports, and more, Kauai is the perfect island to visit if you are an outdoor-adventure seeker. The name “Garden Isle”, is a pretty accurate name, considering only 5% of the island is commercially developed, preserving the rest of its natural, green beauty. However, if you are looking to party and get lit during your Hawaiian vacation, Kauai is not the island for you.
If you’d prefer an island that offers both natural beauty and a vibrant party scene, I recommend Oahu, a.k.a. “The Gathering Place”. Oahu is one of the more well-known islands, as it is home to Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital city. In my opinion, Oahu is a city on an island; it has buildings, museums, lots of resorts, and historical sites like Pearl Harbor. One of the coolest things about Oahu, is being able to watch pro-surfers take on the huge waves. What deterred me from visiting Oahu, is how touristy and crowded it is. Not only is it home to over 900,000 people, it is also the most visited Hawaiian island. If you prefer an island with a more chill vibe, keep reading.
Molokai, or “The Friendly Isle”, is one of the least visited Hawaiian islands, but it is special, being the most traditional Hawaiian island. If you’d like to experience a trip off-the-beaten path, this is the perfect island for you. The residents of Molokai, who are mostly Hawaiian natives, value and preserve their roots, so this is where you are most likely to get a realistic feel for the culture. Molokai is the birthplace of the beautiful dance of hula, which Hawaii is famous for. Not only is this island perfect for a cultural immersion, it is also known for its amazing seafood. Think of your trip to Molokai as a secluded getaway in a private and rural island; it is so rural in fact, that it doesn’t even have street lights or fancy restaurants. If this is too rural for you, consider Lanai instead.
Lanai, nicknamed “The Private Isle” (once called “The Pineapple Isle”), is between Molokai and Maui, giving you easy access to all three islands. Lanai is similar to Molokai in that it doesn’t have any street lights, has rugged dirt roads, and a small population. However, Lanai has a few resorts, including the Four Seasons. One of the most popular things to do in Lanai is to explore the island on an ATV (a.k.a. 4-wheeler), via rental or a guided tour. Getting around Lanai is easy, as there are shuttles provided by the resorts that get you to and from the airport, and to the ferry that takes you to Maui. Just keep in mind, Lanai is very expensive to visit.
Maui, or “The Valley Isle”, is the second most visited Hawaiian destination, voted one of the best islands in the world for over 20 years, and it’s easy to see why. In fact, Maui is at the top of my list for when I return to Hawaii. It has a little bit of everything that Hawaii has to offer, including volcanoes, beautiful beaches with white, black, and red sand, waterfalls, hiking trails, some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world, and more.
Hawai’i, more commonly known as “The Big Island”, is the largest and youngest Hawaiian island. This island is mostly known for its five volcanoes, three of which are active, with Kilauea being the most active volcano in the world. Another thing about “The Big Island” which sets it apart from the others, is the amount of diverse climate zones it has; you can find rainforests, grasslands, lava deserts, and more. Similar to Kauai, this island is perfect for the adventure-seeker in you. You can go diving with Manta Rays, go swimming with dolphins, surfing, ziplining, and more.
Kauai Travel Guide -
One thing that I found very interesting when I visited Kauai, is the large amount of residents that went there on vacation from the mainland (the contiguous 48 states), and decided to start a life there.
Go visit Kauai and find out why for yourself.
I spent $894 on a round-trip ticket from JFK (NYC) to HNL (Honolulu), plus $165 for a round-trip ticket from HNL to LIH (Kauai). Had I known at the time that I could fly direct from JFK, I would have done so. Check first to see if your city offers direct flights. Keep in mind I traveled to Kauai during the holiday season, December 29th to be exact, which is a very expensive time to fly anywhere, so yes, you can find cheaper flights to Kauai.
Best times to fly:
Any Hawaiian island can be expensive to fly to depending on the time of year. For cheaper fares, fly during the off-peak times which are:
Last week in August
November (Avoid Thanksgiving)
Tips for getting the best fare:
- The day you fly makes a difference; choose weekdays over weekends, with Tuesdays being the cheapest.
- Try to book at least 4 months in advance to secure a better fare.
- When searching for flights, use a private/incognito browser window.
- Consider flying to a West Coast city using a budget airline like Spirit or Southwest, then fly to Kauai from there - which could save you a lot of money.
- Check flight prices for Hawaiian Airlines, they tend to have cheaper flights.
Flight prices range from $650 to $900 for a week, round-trip. I recommend using websites like Momondo, Skyscanner, Kayak, and Google Flights to find the best fares, and to compare between different airlines, dates, and times.
Tip! Check out Airfordable.com to pay off your flight in installments. Signing up is free, and there are no credit checks.
Where to stay:
Kauai has four different locations in which you can stay. I strongly recommend staying on the East Side a.k.a. “Coconut Coast” - specifically in Kapaa, and here’s why:
I stayed there and loved it
Has a chill, local vibe
Has beautiful, empty beaches where you can meet locals
Has a gorgeous 5-mile, beach-side bike trail
Easiest point of access to other parts of the island
South Shore: A lot of resorts and beach options, including Poipu Beach (Named best beach in America)
North Shore: Stunning mountains, valleys, and waterfalls, but has heavy rainfall
West Coast: Mostly empty land, and is practically isolated from the rest of the island - but make sure you visit because it has the Na Pali Coast
Types of accommodation:
Kauai has many options, which include Airbnb’s, traditional bed and breakfasts, hostels, and hotels big and small. I stayed at an Airbnb 2 minutes away from the beach and the bike-path, which cost me $526 for 7 nights and 8 days, with service and cleaning fees included. The Airbnb also came with a bike, and my wonderful host, arranged for me to be picked up at the airport.
If you’re really feeling adventurous and want to save money on accommodation, consider Couchsurfing.com. I tried it once when I was backpacking in Europe, and it was a really great experience. Couchsurfing is not only free, it is a great opportunity to get to know locals and the culture. This could also save you money on activities, because if the local can show you around and take you on natural excursions (which is common in the Couchsurfing community), you won’t have to pay for a guided tour.
Tip! If you decide to Couchsurf, type in the name of the specific part of Kauai you are staying at (i.e. Kapaa, Wailua, Poipu) - typing in "Kauai" alone, will not produce any results.
What to do -
There are so many amazing things to see and do on the island of Kauai! Here are some of the island’s highlights.
- Na Pali Coast Tour* - BEST experience ever, and most beautiful place I have ever seen!
Kayaking on Wailua River
Many waterfalls like Wailua Falls, Secret Falls, Opaekaa, and more
Koke’e State Park
Take Surfing lessons
Waimea Canyon - Grand Canyon of the Pacific
Tip! For activities like the Na Pali Coast tour, surfing lessons, windsurfing, kayaking, and guided tours, I highly recommend visiting Tombarefoot.com, as it is the best place to find activities on any of the Hawaiian islands, for the lowest prices. This site is the middle-man between you, and the local businesses that you otherwise wouldn't find easily.
Through this site, I booked a 5-hour Na Pali Coast catamaran tour, which included snorkeling, food, and beverages. In addition, you are guaranteed to see Dolphins, and maybe even whales (I did!), and it only cost me $100. I also booked a Kayaking tour of Wailua River, which then led to a 45-minute easy (and muddy) hike through a rainforest that leads to Secret Falls. I paid $95 (with tax), which included lunch.
Best Beaches -
Hanalei Beach - North Shore - Great if you just want to chill or go paddle boarding
Kealia Beach - East Coast - Great for surfing, tanning, and bike riding (one of my favorites)
Kapaa Beach Park - East Coast - Perfect for watching the sunsets and chilling with locals.(A local gave me a coconut from her tree here)
Poipu Beach - South Shore - Award winning beach; great for Snorkeling and Scuba Diving.
Shipwreck Beach - South Shore - Insanely beautiful; great for surfing and bodysurfing.
It is very difficult to get lost in Kauai, since there is only one main road which loops around the island (except for parts of the West Side), and every other road connects to it. I recommend renting a car so that you can have the freedom and convenience of being able to navigate the island as you please; book early for cheaper prices. There are also taxis, and one bus (not super reliable), that goes around the main road. You can also travel by bike, which is easiest if you are staying on the East Coast.
Another popular option is hitchhiking. Yes, I said hitchhiking. Honestly, I would be afraid to do this in other parts of the world but in Kauai it is safe, legal, and very common. I saw many young people standing by the road with their thumbs up. There is only one road, so just hitch a ride with someone who seems trustworthy and get off when you reach the part of the road you want to get to. I would recommend doing this with a friend, keeping your location on, and using your instincts and good judgement.
I had the time of my life in Kauai, and it's a place I hadn't considered visiting. Think about making Kauai your next travel destination - it may just become one of your favorites.
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