Are you planning on visiting Hawaii for the first time, but you don’t know where to start? In this article, you’ll read everything about this tropical state in the US.
Why should Hawaii be on top of your bucket list?
Remote tropical islands with sandy beaches, filled with swaying palm trees. A gorgeous underwater world with colorful fish and coral. Jungle with waterfalls and bamboo forests. A coastline that you recognize from many different movies. Dancing girls with flowers in their hair. Hawaii is a paradise destination that makes many travelers’ hearts beat faster. So why not plan your dream trip to Hawaii right now?
Hawaii: the islands
Hawaii is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, between the United States of America and Japan. The state consists of some 137 islands, most of which are uninhabited. As a tourist, you mainly visit the inhabited islands. These are the most popular island of which you will visit a number when you’re visiting Hawaii for the first time.
No less than 80% of the Hawaiian population lives on the island of Oahu. It is a bit of a shock when you arrive by plane in Honolulu. This is Hawaii’s capital and is full of skyscrapers. Don’t let that put you off, because there are many beautiful things to see on Oahu. On Oahu, you’ll definitely want to learn about Pearl Harbor, and it’s also worth checking out the north coast (which is more quiet and authentic).
In addition, Oahu is might be the best Hawaiian island for kids to explore, since many activities suitable for the whole family.
- Highlights: Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, and the Kualoa Ranch.
- Nickname: The Gathering Place
- How much time do you need for Oahu? A week.
The island of Kauai has one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. The east side of the island is the wettest place on earth and therefore the island is very green. Most people visit Kauai to explore nature, there are several beautiful trails to be found on the island. One of the most famous hikes is the Kalalau Trail, which is also one of the scariest hiking trails in the world.
- Highlights: The Napali Coast, Wai’ale’ale Crater, and the Kalalau Trail.
- Nickname: The Garden Island
- How much time do you need for Kauai? Four days.
Moloka’i Island is located between Oahu and Maui and consists of two extinct volcanoes. Moloka’i is one of the smallest islands in the state and on this island you go back in time and discover authentic Hawaii. Everything is moving at a slower pace and there are no large flats or apartment complexes (nothing is higher than a palm tree). A great place to discover nature and unwind.
- Highlights: Kaunakakai Fishing Village, Halawa Valley, Papohaku Beach, and Kamakou Preserve.
- Nickname: The Friendly Island
- How much time do you need for Moloka’i? Three days.
While pineapples grow all over Hawaii, Lanai is known as The Pineapple Island. in 1922, John Dole (of the Dole Food Company) bought the island and made Lanai the largest pineapple plantation in the world. These closed in 1992 and since then it has been mainly an island for tourists.
Lanai is primarily seen as a luxury destination. There are only a few hotels on the island and the cheapest room costs about $ 200 a night. The island is very popular for weddings or as a honeymoon destination.
- Highlights: Hulopoe Beach, Sweetheart Rock, Koloiki Ridge Trail, and Shipwreck Beach.
- Nickname: The Pineapple Island
- How much time do you need for Lanai? You can visit Lanai as a day trip by taking a ferry from Maui. Do you want to see more? Make sure to spend three days on the island.
Maui is an island with a very diverse landscape. The island consists of two volcanoes with a valley in the middle, hence the nickname Valley Island. In the southwest, you will find fun villages and beautiful sandy beaches with palm trees. In the northeast a jungle with bamboo forests, waterfalls, and black lava beaches. To the southwest is the impressive Haleakala National Park with a landscape that looks otherworldly.
- Highlights: Haleakala National Park, the Road to Hana, Lahaina, Nakalele Point, and Wailea.
- Nickname: The Valley Island
- How much time do you need for Maui? Five days.
- Fun read: 5 things to do in Maui
Hawaii (Big Island)
The largest island in the state of Hawaii is also called Hawaii, but to avoid confusion it is usually referred to as The Big Island. The island consists of no less than five volcanoes and the volcanoes are still regularly active, so you see black lava flows all over the island.
- Highlights: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Akaka Falls State Park, Captain James Cook Monument, Kailua, and Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.
- Nickname: The Big Island
- How much time do you need for Hawaii? Five days.
- Fun read: 7 awesome things to do on Big Island Hawaii
How do you book a trip to Hawaii?
Before you book a trip to Hawaii, it is wise to first consider which islands you want to visit. You can of course visit all islands in two weeks, but then you see very little and don’t get the real Hawaii experience. It is therefore wise to take your time for each island and only pick a couple of islands when you are visiting Hawaii for the first time.
Book your flights
Have you made a decision on which islands to visit? Then it’s time to book your trip to Hawaii! The islands are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and you can only get there by plane. When you’re traveling from Europe, you usually have to transfer in the US. From mainland USA, you can fly to various islands, for example to these airports:
- Honolulu – Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (Oahu)
- Hilo International Airport (Big Island)
- Kona International Airport (Big Island)
- Molokai Airport (Molokai)
- Kahului Airport (Maui)
- Lihue Airport (Kauai)
It’s smart to check for open-jaw tickets: flying into one airport and departing from another. You can then book the domestic flights at a later time. It’s a bit of a puzzle to find the best and cheapest options, but Skyscanner will always get you there. To find open-jaw tickets, use the multi-city search options.
How to get around
How do you travel from one island to another? And how do you get around on the islands?
Travel between the islands
Due to the rough seas, there are hardly any boat connections between the islands. The only boat connection is the Expeditions ferry between Maui and Lanai.
TIP Are you flying with Hawaiian Airlines? Then sign up for their loyalty program. Then you will receive a discount on your hold luggage.
Traveling on the islands
On the islands themselves, you can use shuttles, public transport, and a rental car.
The easiest way to discover the islands is by rental car. You can get these at any airport and there are also city offices in the larger places (such as in Waikiki) Renting a car in Hawaii is often a bit more expensive than other places in the United States, but usually still affordable (just like the gasoline). Request some quotes via various websites to find the order deals. These are some recommended websites to rent a car:
You can also use public transport on most islands. There are buses and the timetable can be checked via Google Maps. A bus ride is usually not expensive. There are even day tickets on Oahu for as little as $5.
The big disadvantage of traveling by public transport in Hawaii is that the timetable is very limited and you cannot get to all the places you’d like to see. Also, you are usually not allowed to take luggage (as in large suitcases).
Are you planning to mainly stay in one place? Then it is useful to also look at shuttles (for example from the airport to your accommodation). Often you are not allowed to take large luggage with you on the regular buses, so you have to take a shuttle or rent a car. For example, I used a shuttle during my stay on Oahu. Roberts Hawaii Airport Shuttle picked me up at the airport and dropped me off in front of my apartment in Waikiki.
Hawaii is a popular tourist destination and therefore there are many places to stay. They are often expensive accommodations, so it is advisable to book them as early as possible. The largest selection of accommodations can be found on Booking.com, here you can find hostels, hotels, and apartments. In addition, it is also good to check VBRO for special accommodations and apartments.
Hawaii is located in a very remote area and therefore almost all food has to be imported. There are therefore few fresh products available and shopping is quite expensive. What do you eat in Hawaii? Rice with fish! There are all kinds of variations, such as fried fish (in coconut chips) or marinated fish.
The poke bowl is originally from Hawaii and they are very tasty there. In addition, you also have many dishes with banana, coconut, and pineapple. Also, make sure to try the refreshing Hawaiian shaved ice at least once when you’re visiting Hawaii for the first time. The most popular place to get that is Matsumoto Shave Ice on Oahu.
You can eat at one of the many restaurants, but there are also plenty of food trucks where you can get good food.
How expensive is a trip to Hawaii?
Let me start by saying that Hawaii is not a cheap destination. When you’re flying from Europe, you’ll easily spend more than € 1000 on airline tickets alone. Also, the costs for accommodation and food can be quite high.
In the article How much does a trip to Hawaii cost? I have listed all my expenses for a 17-day trip (three islands). Is spent a total of € 2,689.03. An overview by post:
- Plane tickets: € 328.69 (flight from LA to Honolulu, two domestic flights and flight from Hawaii to Portland)
- Accomodation: € 1,114.33
- Transportation: €681,42 (shuttle, bus and rental car)
- Food: €386,12 (I cooked my own meals most of the time)
- Excursions: €67,12
- Other: € 111.34 (souvenirs, hold luggage, laundry)
Do you want to do Hawaii on a budget? You can save money by cooking your own meals, sleep in a campground, or staying in hostels. In the article Hawaii on a budget, I share more budget tips for Hawaii.
Would you like to read more about Hawaii?
Would you like to read more about a trip to Hawaii? Then I can recommend this travel guide:
Would you like more information about the individual islands? Many travel guides have been written about the islands, you can find some of the best guides along with Andrew Doughty’s “revealed” series. These travel guides were even recommended to me by the locals. Revealed guides are available for the following islands:
I also wrote several articles on this website about a trip to Hawaii. You might also like to read these articles:
- Perfect itinerary for Hawaii: exploring Oahu, Maui & Big Island
- How much does a trip to Hawaii cost?
- Visiting Haleakala National Park: the most beautiful place in Hawaii
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