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BlogTravel tipsHawaii Travel Guide: tips for visiting the 5 major Hawaiian Islands
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Travel tips

Hawaii Travel Guide: tips for visiting the 5 major Hawaiian Islands

Feb 08, 2022 by Jamie Gallerani

What if we told you there’s a place right here in the U.S. that has lush, green rainforests full of cascading waterfalls, black sand beaches dotted with sunning sea turtles, and snorkeling spots worth writing home about? That’s Hawaii for you, and let us tell you: The 50th state really delivers.

There are so many things to do in Hawaii, and how you spend your day all depends on the island you’re visiting. “Different members of our group fell in love with different islands because each one has a distinct personality,” said traveler Frank after our Hawaii: Oahu, the Big Island & Maui tour. Check out our Hawaii Travel Guide to get expert tips from staffers who have soaked in the beauty of the Aloha State.


Currency

U.S. dollar

Best way to get around

With all the winding roads that weave past the unforgettable coastline, one of the best ways to get around Hawaii is by bus or car. (And good news, we’ve saved you a seat on a private motor coach on our tour of Hawaii.)

If island hopping is up your alley, then you’re going to want to book quick flights to make your way from Oahu, to the Big Island, to Maui, and beyond. Our travel experts handle those flights on tour, so all you have to do is show up! Our tip? Keep your eyes on the window, since it doesn’t get any more spectacular than seeing the Hawaiian Islands from above. See how Go Ahead does flights right → 

Languages

Hawaii is the only U.S. state to have two official languages: English and Hawaiian (ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi). But, don’t expect every local you meet to speak Hawaiian—while there’s an effort by the United Nations to preserve this culturally rich indigenous language, only a small percentage of native Hawaiians still speak it, and UNESCO has listed it as critically endangered.

English is the predominant language, and you’ll be able to speak it everywhere while visiting Hawaii on tour. But many native Hawaiians are also fluent in a third, unofficial language: Pidgin, also known as Hawaiian Creole English. This unofficial language was born in the 19th century, when people of many different backgrounds were brought to work on Hawaii’s sugar plantations. This new language allowed people from Japan, the Philippines, Portugal, and beyond to communicate with each other, and it’s since become part of Hawaii’s cultural fabric.

Today, a large population of people from the Philippines and Japan still call Hawaii home, so keep your ears perked to hear Japanese, and the Filipino dialects of Tagalog and Ilocano!

Hawaiian phrases to know

  • Aloha. This sunny sentiment means “hello” and “goodbye,” but it’s also used to capture the spirit and way of life in Hawaii. It conveys warmth, love, compassion, respect, and affection between people, and is a phrase deeply engrained in the heart and culture of Hawaii.
  • Mahalo is the local way to say “thank you.”

How to travel responsibly in Hawaii

No matter where you are in the world, traveling responsibly is a must. So, as you check out some of the best places to visit in Hawaii in this guide to the Hawaiian Islands, remember that being a good visitor means being respectful of Hawaii’s people, culture, wildlife, and landscapes. Here are some responsible travel tips to keep in mind while exploring Hawaii.

  • Only go off the beaten path in designated areas. Hawaiians take great care to protect their aina (land) and the moana (ocean), and straying from designated trails can lead to erosion and other damage to the natural area.
  • Leave rocks where you found them. Rocks are sacred in Hawaiian culture, and it’s not only disrespectful and potentially harmful to disrupt the natural landscape by removing them, but it’s also culturally insensitive. That also goes for collecting sand, shells, and other items that locals hold dear. Always respect the locals’ beliefs and connection to the land.
  • Maintain a safe distance from wildlife. Getting too close might scare the animals, so it’s best to stand back while marveling at everything from sunning sea turtles to seals to geese.
  • Be sure your sunscreen is reef-safe. The Hawaiian government has banned chemical-filled sunscreens that may damage the fragile ecosystem in Hawaii, so protect your skin and the environment with reef-safe options.
  • Support local businesses—and in turn, support local culture! Spending your money at small, sustainable shops is a tangible way to help the locals maintain their way of life and authentic culture.

See eco-friendly travel essentials for your trip →


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When is the best time to visit Hawaii?

Honestly, the best time to visit Hawaii is any time. Yep, any time at all. The sunny Aloha State is as close to paradise on Earth as you’ll get, and whether you need to duck into a local shop during a brief rain shower, or take an extra dive in the ocean during free time on extra hot days, you’ll be glad you’re there. Here are some of our staffers’ favorite times to visit Hawaii.

  • March (or any time in the spring!). “This time of year offered sun-and-shorts weather without the sweltering temps and crowds that the summer brings,” said staffer Emily. “Expect a bit more rain this time of year, but just know it won’t ruin your trip! I still went to the beach, hiked, and snorkeled while on Oahu in March.”
  • We went in May and it was perfect,” said staffer Andrea. “We avoided school breaks so it wasn’t crazy packed with lots of families, but the weather was still perfect every day and not too hot like it can be in July and August.”
  • June. “My husband and I usually spend 3–4 weeks on Maui in June—it’s a great time of year there in terms of weather and isn’t the most packed in terms of tourists,” said staffer Courtney.
  • The winter months. “There is really no bad time to visit Hawaii,” said staffer Kyle. “Yes, guides will tell you that the winter months have more rain, but rain in Hawaii is more of a temporary condition than a day-ruining event. It will rain for 40 minutes, clear up, and be beautifully sunny again before you know it. The trade winds push everything through pretty quickly. November isn’t supposed to be a great time to go, but when I was there it was 85 degrees and beautiful every single day.” Staffer Liz was right there with him. “August is HOTTTTTT, but I went a second time in December and it was beautiful!” she said.

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What to pack for a trip to Hawaii

Hawaii may make you think of sunny beach days and warm weather galore—and you’re not far off the mark. But, while packing for warm weather is a must when traveling to Hawaii, be sure to throw the following items in your suitcase, too.

  • The key is layers,” said staffer Marina. “Hawaii can be toasty during the day and chillier at night, so always bring a light jacket to dinner just in case.”
  • Don’t forget sun protection. “Reef-safe sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and UV-protected clothes are highly encouraged,” said staffer Liz. “The sun is super intense regardless of the time of year.”
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes,” said staffer Ronni. “I brought a good pair of sneaks and Birkenstocks, and both were perfect.”
  • Bring all the beach day essentials,” said staffer Emily. “I’m talking sunscreen, bathing suit, sunglasses, sandals—the whole nine yards. All of these must-pack items will come in handy while you’re out on the water, and some will serve double duty during sightseeing tours.”
  • Wear light, moisture wicking clothes. “Sun showers and bouts of humidity come and go throughout the day in Hawaii,” said staffer Emily. “It’s what keeps the vegetation looking so fresh and green! Be sure to pack a raincoat, as well as sneakers that won’t get waterlogged. If you’re looking to be more active, quick-dry shorts and tanks will be your best friend.”
  • A beach coverup. “Bathing suits and athleisure are the name of the game in Hawaii, as well as sundresses for nice afternoons and evenings out on the water,” said staffer Stephanie. “Having a coverup over a bathing suit was a popular option when it came to more relaxing days.”
  • Pack a good pair of water shoes (like Chacos) for walking in the sand and having a quick rinse afterward,” said staffer Ronni.
  • Bring bug spray, especially if you plan to hike or spend ample time out in nature,” suggested staffer Andrea.

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What to eat & drink in Hawaii

No Hawaii Travel Guide is complete without a mention of the authentic, unique, go-back-for-seconds food! It’s truly something to write home about. Hawaiian cuisine is a fusion of local flavors and fascinating history, with influences from both fourth-century Polynesian settlers and the modern-day U.S. Here are some of the top bites to try on tour in Hawaii.

  • Poke, pronounced “poh-keh,” which is marinated raw fish cut into chunks, and often served with rice, seaweed avocado, and more. “Insider tip: The local grocery store, Foodland, has some of the best poke ever in the fresh seafood section!” said staffer Carly. “And it is very affordable.” Staffer Lindsay couldn’t agree more. “You can’t go to Hawaii and not eat poke,” she said. “Pop into the nearest Foodland—a locally owned, family-run grocer that was founded in Honolulu in 1948 and now has locations on Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island—and order scoops of spicy ahi poke and ahi poke with avocado to enjoy at the beach, on a park bench, or wherever you feel like enjoying this authentically Hawaiian snack.”
  • SPAM musubi. “For a tasty, easy-to-eat snack or light lunch with some history behind it, get your hands on some SPAM musubi,” said staffer Lindsay. “It originated in Hawaii during WWII and is made by wrapping a strip of nori, or seaweed paper, around a stack of grilled SPAM and cooked white rice—similar in style to Japanese onigiri.” Staffer Liz also dug into this authentic bite on tour in Hawaii. “I became obsessed with musubi rolls—they’re DELICIOUS,” she said.
  • Any fish dish, really. “Fresh fish dishes were the highlight at pretty much all the restaurants we visited,” said staffer Kyle. “You can’t go wrong there.” Staffer Andrea loved the fresh coconut shrimp, and if that doesn’t sound like a delicious bite, we don’t know what does.
  • Poi. This purple, pudding-like bite is a truly special Hawaiian dish, and every guide to the Hawaiian Islands should include a mention. It’s made from water and the mashed root of the taro plant—using the same method that’s been used for centuries!—and can be either sweet or sour.
  • Shave ice, which is exactly what it sounds like: a block of ice shaved down into fine pieces, and drizzled with sweet syrup. Remind you of a snow cone? You’re right on the mark! Japanese immigrants working on sugar and pineapple plantations in the 1800s brought this refreshing treat to Hawaii, and it’s popular with both locals and visitors today.
  • A plate lunch. This inexpensive, filling, and famous dish came about in the 1800s, and is still a go-to bite for Hawaiians at roadside stalls. Every plate has macaroni salad, two scoops of rice, and a protein like chicken, shrimp, pork, or loco moco.
  • Loco moco is a must-try,” said staffer Andrea. “It’s a ground beef dish with rice, fried egg, and gravy—a heavy and hearty breakfast or brunch option!”
  • Acai bowls. “When fresh, tropical fruit is what you’re craving, an acai bowl is always the answer,” said staffer Emily. “The best part about them is you can customize your toppings. Most places offer a variety of options including coconut, pineapple, granola, honey, strawberries, and so much more.”
  • Pineapple upside down cake. “Pineapple is so important to Hawaii’s culture and economy, and it just so happens to be delicious,” said staffer Lindsay. “One of my favorite ways to enjoy the fruit on Maui: the pineapple upside down cake from Hali’imaile General Store. They bake slices of Maui Gold pineapple into rounds of buttery pound cake and serve it with scoops of fresh whipped cream or ice cream. It’s blissfully warm, sweet, tart, caramelized, and melty all at once.”
  • Any traditional dish at Helena’s Hawaiian Food. “While I didn’t eat here when I visited Oahu, this place made the New York Times’ 2021 Restaurant List so I immediately saved it for when I (hopefully!) get back to the island,” said staffer Emily.
  • Puka Dogs. “These are hot dogs from a particular shop called Puka Dog in Kauai, and they have special sauces and buns,” said staffer Nilsen.
  • Mai Tais were of course delicious and plentiful, but a pleasant surprise was Kona Brewing Co. beer,” said staffer Kyle. “Nothing like a Big Wave Golden Ale after a day at the beach, or a hike through a Kīlauea lava field.”

Read about the evolution of Hawaiian cuisine → 


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Things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii

Sure, the entire state is known as “Hawaii,” but that’s also the name of the largest island in the state’s island chain. It’s not only big in size—it’s big in adventure, scenery, and geological wonders you just won’t find anywhere else in the world. Here are some of the top things to do in Hawaii on tour.

  • Stand in awe of UNESCO-listed Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where new lava flows from Kīlauea volcano on a daily basis. (It is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, after all!) “There are big clearings where trees can’t grow because the ground is too hot, and the landscape is very craggy from the lava flows,” said traveler Haley. “It’s so different than what you’d expect!” Get a sneak peek on a virtual sightseeing tour of North America’s national parks →
  • Kick back on a catamaran or snorkel in Kealakekua Bay. This protected bay is one of the best places to dive in on our Kealakekua Catamaran Cruise & Snorkeling excursion thanks to its remote location and dazzling marine life. “Kealakekua Bay is a famous snorkeling spot because it’s in a very protected cove,” said traveler Haley. “There were dolphins that swam beside our boat, and we got to see them while we snorkeled, too!”
  • Take a helicopter ride over Kīlauea Volcano on an added excursion. You’ll view lava flows, black sand beaches, and tropical rainforests from above—which is just as dazzling as you imagine! Get your camera ready for some of the most spectacular photo ops of your life.
  • Look for sea turtles at Punaluʻu Beach in Kona. You may come to simply stroll along this black sand beach, but if you’re lucky, you’ll see sea turtles, too! Check out six coastal cities worth visiting →
  • Enter the Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, one of the most sacred heiau (places of worship) on the island. Up until the 19th century, this was a place of refuge for warriors and others who had broken a kapu (sacred law); Hawaiians would flee here to escape punishment by death, and would be absolved by a priest. It’s a powerful, peaceful spot in Kona, and a visit should be at the top of your Hawaii bucket list.

Check out four things to do in Hawaii beyond the beach →


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Things to do on the island of Maui

Looking for things to do in Maui, Hawaii? Lucky for you, there are plenty of moments that’ll knock your traveling socks off! “The only thing I can say about Maui is WOW,” said traveler Susan after our Hawaii: Oahu, the Big Island & Maui tour. If that doesn’t tell you just how spectacular the island is, then let these Hawaii Travel Guide tips convince you.

  • Hike to the waterfalls along the Hana Highway. (You get a full free day in Maui on our Hawaii: Oahu, the Big Island & Maui tour, so there’s plenty of time to lace up your hiking shoes!) “The falls are really beautiful, and you can bring along a swimsuit so you can jump in the water if you want to cool down” said traveler Haley.
  • Hiking not really your thing? “To fully appreciate Maui’s rugged beauty, rent a Jeep and drive the long, winding, narrow road to Hana,” suggested staffer Lindsay. “It offers spectacular views of waterfalls, tropical forests, and the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, keep an eye out for roadside stands selling snacks like homemade lilikoi (passion fruit) ice cream, coconut pudding, and loaves of warm banana bread. And be sure to pull over for quick hikes, photo ops, and—especially—to explore breathtaking beaches, like the black sand stunner at Wai'ānapanapa State Park.” Staffer Amanda also rented a car to explore part of the Hana Highway during a free day on tour in Maui. “The experience and views are awesome—but note that driving is not for the faint of heart,” she said. “There are some very tight turns and roads, so be aware of that! We downloaded the Shaka Guide: Road to Hana Driving Tour, which will let you know what you’re looking at as your drive and what stops you can make to see interesting things, and shares history and stories about the area.”
  • Snorkel at Molokini Crater,” said staffer Marina. “Just a short boat ride off the island of Maui is Molokini, a beautiful volcanic crater with clear blue water and a variety of sea life. If you’re lucky, you may even see octopus and sea turtles. Make sure to go in the morning to avoid high tide and increase your chances of seeing lots of fish!”
  • Watch the sunrise at Haleakala National Park. Even if you’re not much of an early bird, staffer Courtney said this experience is worth the early wake-up call. But, she suggests planning your visit ahead of time—the park does timed visits.
  • Set off on the Waihee Ridge hike, suggested staffer Courtney. “It’s about three miles on a moderately difficult trail with amazing views,” she said.
  • Visit the Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm during free time. “With its panoramic views of the Pacific, beautiful walking paths, and rows and rows of purple lavender plants, the Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm on Maui is well worth a visit,” said staffer Lindsay. “The farm grows more than 45 varieties of lavender, and its impressive gift shop is packed with lavender-infused products that range from body lotion to coffee to aromatherapy pet shampoo.”
  • “For an activity that’ll get your heart pumping and provide insight into an important part of life for ancient Hawaiians, take a guided outrigger canoe tour on Maui,” said staffer Lindsay. “You’ll see some spectacular ocean scenery (and maybe even spot whales!) and learn about this ancient tradition that’s still a deeply revered and celebrated part of Hawaii’s history.”
  • Explore downtown Lahaina. “We loved Maui the most as a group,” said staffer Stephanie. “There was plenty of beach time and relaxing, but also incredible places to explore like Haleakala National Park, where you can hike above the clouds, and the downtown area of Lahaina, where you can shop and do a beautiful sunset cruise.”
  • Take to the water for a whale watch during free time. “One of my best memories yet,” said staffer Ronni. “The boat crew brought cookies and pineapple to share with everyone on the boat, and it was magical.”
  • Get in on Maui’s wine scene. “One place on Maui that completely surprised me—and that I’ve returned to each time I’ve visited the island—is MauiWine,” said staffer Lindsay. “Its 23-acre vineyard is located on the slopes of Haleakala at an elevation of more than 1,700 feet, and its beautiful cellar, tasting room, and production facilities are set on a nearby former ranch that’s steeped in fascinating history. Hawaii might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of wine, but MauiWine produces sophisticated whites, reds, rosés, and sparkling wines that are on par with wines produced in more well-known places.”
  • “If spirits are more your speed, head to Hali’imaile Distilling Company, which produces farm-to-bottle vodka, rum, whiskey, and gin using locally grown sugar cane and other crops,” said staffer Lindsay. “Take a tour of the distillery’s spotless production facilities, and chat with friendly, knowledgeable staffers during a post-tour tasting.
  • “For travelers who are craft-beer buffs, a visit to Maui Brewing Co., in Kihei, is a must,” said staffer Lindsay. “There, visitors can check out its production facilities—and learn how this once-tiny operation grew into the booming business it is today—during a guided tour. Afterward, enjoy a guided tasting, or post up with a pint of Big Swell IPA or Bikini Blonde lager on the brewery’s sunny outdoor patio.”
  • Visit the Maui Gold Pineapple Farm. “We were able to go to the Maui Gold Pineapple Farm and cut and taste some fresh pineapple right in the fields, and they were AMAZING,” said staffer Stephanie. Even if this stop isn’t on your itinerary, tasting pineapple in Hawaii is always a good idea. “You should start your day with a fresh acai bowl, have tuna poke at some point during your time because the fish is outrageously fresh, and anything pineapple,” she said.

Responsible travel tip: Skip the Dole Plantation on Oahu in favor of more ethical farms, like the Maui Gold Pineapple Farm. It was the Dole fruit company, after all, that locked arms with the American government and staged a coup against the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893, effectively ending the Hawaiian monarchy and forcing Hawaii to become part of the U.S. This allowed Sanford Dole to profit from the pineapple production on the island—and that’s not a history we can get behind.


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Things to do on the island of Oahu

The island of Oahu is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii. To start, the Hawaiian state capital, Honolulu, is there, which is a must-visit. And, no matter how how spend your days, one of the best things to do on Oahu, Hawaii, is to immerse yourself in culture at every opportunity. “One of my best friends lived in Oahu and one thing I noticed whenever she talked with her friends was how proud the locals are of their home and the native Hawaiian culture—especially those who grew up there,” said staffer Emily. Here are more ways to uncover Hawaiian culture and history on tour.

  • Dig into history at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. “Learning about the different Pacific Island nations was really interesting,” said traveler Haley. “Our Tour Director took us to a short presentation at the museum where we learned about the old wayfinders—it made me really appreciate how the first Polynesians discovered Hawaii.”
  • Visit Pearl Harbor. “My husband and I especially liked the trip to Pearl Harbor, not realizing that it would be such an emotional visit to the USS Arizona Memorial,” said traveler Susan.
  • Watch an authentic luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center on an added excursion. The park highlights Hawaiian tradition as well as the diverse cultures from all of Polynesia, including Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, the Marquesas Islands, and Aotearoa (the Māori name for New Zealand). Uncover the regional flavors of the islands at a buffet dinner before enjoying the world’s largest Polynesian night show. “A luau is such a neat and captivating way of telling the story of the culture and history of the islands and people,” said staffer Beth. “And of course, it includes a delicious meal with the traditional pig roast!”
  • Do a pillbox hike during free time,” suggests staffer Emily. “You can see these concrete lookout platforms perched on hilltops across Oahu. In the 1940s, the military used them to observe boats out in the ocean. Today, they offer rewarding views of the coastline after an exhilarating hike. I recommend hiking the Lanikai Pillbox Trail in the morning before the sun gets too high in the sky. The hike is steep so be sure to take rests and water breaks when needed. The whole hike only takes 30-45 minutes to reach the first pillbox. If you’re up for it, be sure to hike the extra 10 minutes to the second pillbox—the views are worth it!”
  • Sunbathe on Lanikai Beach. “If you go to any beach on Oahu, let it be Lanikai,” said staffer Emily. “Located on the eastern side of the island, it truly feels like paradise. First, there’s the drive there. The road winds through a jungle-like forest that feels like it’s straight out of Jurassic Park. The beach has some of the bluest, clearest water I’ve ever seen. Plus, the water is serene, so it’s perfect for those who prefer to enjoy a calming day in the ocean instead of riding those big Hawaiian waves.”
  • Watch surfers catching waves on Oahu’s North Shore,” said staffer Emily. “Haleʻiwa Beach is one of the best places to see surfers in action while on Oahu. Plus, it’s walking distance from restaurants and shops. If you’re hungry, stop by Matsumoto Shave Ice or Hale’iwa Bowls for a refreshing pick-me-up!”
  • Explore the Kaka’ako district. “If you love trying local eats, scoping out street art, and exploring buzzy, urban neighborhoods, take a stroll around Honolulu’s Kaka’ako district,” suggests staffer Lindsay. “It’s home to excellent restaurants, shops, and monthly night market and food truck events.”
  • Take a self-guided tour of Honolulu’s murals,” suggested staffer Emily. “The street art in Honolulu’s Kaka‘ako neighborhood was a real hidden-gem. Some pieces symbolize Hawaiian heritage and culture, many showcase the local ties to protecting local wildlife and preserving the land, and others showcase the warm aloha spirit. It’s a great way for visitors to get an insight into the values and culture of those who live on the island. Staffer Lindsay also loved this staggering street art. “Dozens of massive, incredibly detailed murals blanket the sides of buildings in the area,” she said. “They’re painted each February by hundreds of local and international artists as part of POW! WOW!, an international art movement.”
  • Visit the Sangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design if you love art, architecture, and design and want to experience a hidden cultural gem during your free time on Oahu,” said staffer Lindsay. “Set on the stunningly beautiful former Honolulu estate of the late American billionaire tobacco heiress Doris Duke and her husband, James Cromwell, it features art, textiles, and other objects from North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia—regions Duke explored extensively. Reservations are required, and tours are offered exclusively through the Honolulu Museum of Art. Be sure to plan accordingly, because you won’t want to miss it.”

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Things to do on the island of Kauai

Of all the things to do in Hawaii, adding our tour extension to Kauai tops the list. Kauai is sitting pretty as the oldest Hawaiian island—and the greenest! “Lush” comes to mind when picturing the waterfall-filled rainforest here on the aptly named “Garden Island.” Here are some of the unique things to do in Hawaii on this postcard-perfect island.

  • Visit Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” “I loved it,” said staffer Nilsen. “We have this on our Hawaii tour extension, and it’s a great experience for our travelers. It’s mostly driving on windy roads with stops at beautiful lookouts, and the views are incredible. Waimea Canyon does remind one of a small Grand Canyon.”
  • Snap a photo of ‘Opaeka’a Falls, which are over 150 feet tall. It’s one of the island’s major waterfalls, and is also one of the most accessible. Fun fact: The waterfall’s name means “rolling shrimp” after the freshwater shrimp that thrive in the stream below. The falls are bound to be beautiful no matter when you see them, but they really shine on sunny days—no pun intended!
  • Boat to the Fern Grotto on the Wailua River, which is nothing short of captivating. The grotto was formed by lava millions of years ago, and the waterfall mist and hanging foliage make it truly something special. In the past, only Hawaiian royalty were permitted to visit the grotto, so take advantage of your VIP access and put it on your Hawaii to-do list on our Kauai extension.
  • Pay a visit to Hanalei Bay. This is the place to soak in over two miles of picturesque beach surrounded by mountains—and yes, that’s just as picturesque as it sounds! “I went here on the Fourth of July in 2021, and it was awesome,” said staffer Nilsen. “Truly incredible scenery. You are on this gorgeous tropical beach, and behind you are staggering mountains with gigantic waterfalls cascading down them. It was fun to watch bodyboarders and surfers. One more thing to note is that Kauai is one of the wettest places on Earth, which is why it’s so lush and green. Hanalei is on the rainier side of the island. Throughout the day we got short, but intense, passing showers. I didn’t care because it was so hot, and the rain also got some of the salt and sand off of me.”
  • Take in the beauty of Kōkeʻe State Park. “The viewpoint at the end of the road in Kōkeʻe State Park is the only way to see the Nāpali Coast without a boat, helicopter, or by hiking in,” said staffer Nilsen.

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Things to do on the island of Lanai

Lanai may not be an included stop on our Hawaii: Oahu, the Big Island & Maui tour, but visiting during free time is always a good idea—it’s one of the best places to visit in Hawaii, and it deserves a spotlight in every guide to the Hawaiian Islands! Plus, it’s easy to get to from the other islands. “There’s a ferry from Maui to Lanai, which is quick and affordable,” said staffer Courtney. Check out some of the top things to do in Lanai during free time—and keep in mind that many of the island’s rugged roads are unpaved, so it’s important to plan transportation ahead of time.

  • Explore Lanai on a mountain bike tour around the island,” said staffer Marina. “Lanai Adventure Park offers electric QuietKat mountain bikes, and expert guides will take you through a variety of routes to explore the island from a unique vantage point. They share tons of history and knowledge about the island along the way. It’s a super fun and adventurous way to see the beautiful island while getting some exercise in!”
  • Pay a visit to Shipwreck Beach, which was one of staffer Courtney’s favorite experiences. “You can see a beached, abandoned WWII ironclad ship,” she said.
  • Step into history at the Kaunolu Fishing Village. It takes four-wheel-drive to get to this sacred spot, which is home to impressive ruins from a prehistoric fishing village. Explore an ancient temple, take in sea views, and marvel at the over-60-foot-tall cliff called Kahekili’s Leap, where brave warriors used to dive into the ocean to demonstrate loyalty to King Kahekili.
  • Admire the lunar landscape of the Garden of the Gods, also known as Keahiakawelo. Here, the landscape is varying shades of orange and red, and boulders of every size lay strewn about as a visual nod to the island’s volcanic activity. Visit during the early morning or during the afternoon’s golden hour to see all the shadows cast around the stones, and remember that this is a sacred spot—taking rocks or even rearranging them is a big no no. It’s believed that this place was created by the Hawaiian gods, after all.

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Souvenirs to buy in Hawaii

Hawaii is so off-the-charts unforgettable that you’re sure to want to take a piece home with you when you leave. Just remember: Collect all the pictures and trinkets you want, but leave everything else as you explore the island. You don’t want to risk contributing to erosion, or insulting traditional beliefs. “One thing to absolutely NOT take is volcanic rocks from the top of Haleakala or any of the other sacred volcanoes,” said staffer Kyle. “In all seriousness, it angers the gods and will bring bad luck.” Sacred volcanic rocks aside, here are some of the best souvenirs to pick up on tour in Hawaii.

  • Pineapples! “One of my favorite souvenirs to bring back is a fresh pineapple picked from the farms,” said staffer Jess. “They have small boxes for you to pack a single pineapple in your luggage, or you can get a pack of six pineapples and check it as a bag.”
  • “A must-try, and a uniquely Maui gift to bring home for wine-loving friends, is Maui Blanc, a crisp, off-dry wine made from—what else?—Maui pineapples,” said staffer Lindsay.
  • Hawaiian coffee. Staffers Jess and Kyle were sure to grab some freshly roasted Kona coffee while visiting the Big Island, but it’s bound to be good on other islands, too. “Kauai has some of America’s biggest coffee plantations,” said staffer Andrea.
  • Homemade Anahola Granola from Kauai. “Anahola is a brand we saw everywhere, but there are also TONS of cute little farmers market-type grocery stores on the side of the road in each little town, and they’d each have their own varieties,” said staffer Andrea. “We saw everything from plain to honey toasted to mixed berry, etc. Anything mixed with macadamia nut was also super popular (ginger-macademia, coconut-macadamia, etc.).
  • A ukulele. “If you want a more expensive gift, an authentic ukulele is awesome, or you could get something made of Hawaiian Koa wood,” said staffer Kyle.


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About the author | Jamie Gallerani
It was Jamie’s homestay in Germany that made her fall in love with travel (and her studies in Florence that really sealed the deal). When she’s not writing and sharing the magic of seeing the world with others, she’s usually on the lookout for her new favorite memoir, testing out recipes at home, or visiting her family on Cape Cod.

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