Hawaii Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Hawaii travel guide

Hawaii, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, is synonymous with paradise. With its stunning landscapes, rich culture, and warm hospitality, it's no wonder that millions of travelers flock to its shores each year. Whether you're seeking adventure, relaxation, or cultural immersion, Hawaii offers something for everyone. In this travel guide, we'll dive into everything you need to know to make the most of your Hawaiian getaway.

In this guide:

Queen's Beach, HonoluluWaikiki // Unsplash

Best Time to Visit Hawaii

Hawaii enjoys a tropical climate year-round, making it a popular destination regardless of the season. However, there are certain times of the year that may be more favorable, depending on your preferences.

  • High season (December to April): This period typically sees the highest influx of tourists as visitors seek to escape the winter chill in other parts of the world. Expect crowded beaches and higher prices for accommodations and activities during this time.
  • Shoulder season (May to June, September to November): Shoulder seasons offer a balance between favorable weather and fewer crowds. May and June are particularly pleasant, with warm temperatures and lower humidity. November can also be a great time to visit, as it marks the end of hurricane season.
  • Low season (July to August): While summer months may see slightly warmer temperatures and higher humidity, they also coincide with school holidays, making it an ideal time for families to visit. Additionally, you may find better deals on accommodations and activities during this period.

Top Attractions in Hawaii

Hawaii boasts an abundance of natural wonders, cultural sites, and outdoor adventures. Here are the must-see attractions that should be on every traveler's itinerary.

Waikiki Beach and Diamond HeadWaikiki // Unsplash

Waikiki (Oahu)

One of the most famous beaches in the world, Waikiki offers pristine white sand, crystal-clear waters, and breathtaking views of Diamond Head crater. Whether you're sunbathing, swimming, or learning to surf, Waikiki epitomizes the beauty of Hawaii.

The best things to do in Waikiki: 

 

  • Catch a wave: Waikiki Beach is renowned for its gentle waves, making it the perfect spot for beginners to learn how to surf. Numerous surf schools and rental shops line the shore, offering lessons and equipment for all skill levels. Whether you're a seasoned surfer or hitting the waves for the first time, catching a wave in Waikiki is an unforgettable experience.
  • Hike Diamond Head: Embark on a scenic hike to the summit of Diamond Head, an iconic volcanic crater that offers panoramic views of Waikiki and the surrounding coastline. The hike takes approximately 1-1.5 hours round trip and involves climbing a series of switchbacks and stairs to reach the summit. Once at the top, you'll be rewarded with breathtaking vistas and photo opportunities.
  • Walk along Waikiki Beach: Take a leisurely stroll along the Waikiki Beach Walk, a bustling promenade lined with shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Browse for souvenirs, sample local cuisine, or simply soak up the lively atmosphere as you enjoy views of the beach and Diamond Head in the distance.
  • Embark on a sunset sail: Experience the beauty of Waikiki from the water on a sunset sail. Board a catamaran or sailboat and set sail along the coastline, where you'll be treated to stunning views of the sunset, casting a golden glow over the ocean. 
  • Watch a hula show: Immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture with a traditional hula show. Several hotels and cultural centers in Waikiki offer free hula performances featuring graceful dancers adorned in colorful costumes. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the mesmerizing movements and enchanting music as you learn about the history and significance of this ancient Hawaiian art form.

Haleakalā National Park, MauiHaleakalā National Park // Unsplash

Haleakalā National Park (Maui)

Home to the world's largest dormant volcano, Haleakalā National Park is a paradise for hikers and nature enthusiasts. Watch the sunrise from the summit, explore otherworldly landscapes, and marvel at the endemic flora and fauna that call this park home.

The best things to do in Haleakalā National Park:

 

  • Watch the sunrise at Haleakalā Summit: Wake up early and witness one of nature's most awe-inspiring spectacles as the sun rises over the summit of Haleakalā volcano. Drive or hike to the summit before dawn and prepare to be dazzled as the sky erupts in a kaleidoscope of colors, illuminating the crater and surrounding landscape.
  • Explore the park's trails: Lace up your hiking boots and explore the park's extensive network of trails, which traverse diverse ecosystems ranging from lush rainforests to barren lava fields. Popular hikes include the Sliding Sands Trail, which leads into the crater, and the Pipiwai Trail, which passes through bamboo forests and leads to the majestic Waimoku Falls.
  • Go stargazing: Stay after dark for some of the best stargazing opportunities in the world. With its high elevation and minimal light pollution, Haleakalā offers crystal-clear views of the night sky, allowing you to marvel at the Milky Way, distant galaxies, and twinkling stars. Join a guided stargazing tour for expert insights and telescope observations.
  • Take a guided bike tour: Experience the thrill of biking down the slopes of Haleakalā on a guided bike tour. Begin your journey at the summit and descend through the park's scenic landscapes, passing volcanic craters, lush forests, and rolling hills along the way. Whether you choose a guided tour or rent a bike independently, biking in Haleakalā is an exhilarating adventure.
  • Learn about the area's history and culture: Visit the Haleakalā Visitor Center to explore exhibits on the park's geology, ecology, and cultural significance, or participate in ranger-led programs and demonstrations to gain a deeper understanding of Hawaiian traditions and customs.

Aerial view of the Na Pali Coast, KauaiNa Pali Coast // Unsplash

Na Pali Coast (Kauai)

With its dramatic cliffs, lush valleys, and cascading waterfalls, the Na Pali Coast is a sight to behold. Explore by boat, helicopter, or on foot via the challenging Kalalau Trail for unparalleled views of this rugged coastline.

The best things to do on the Na Pali Coast:

 

  • Take a boat tour: Embark on a boat tour to explore the rugged beauty of the Na Pali Coast from the water. Cruise along the coastline aboard a catamaran, zodiac raft, or traditional Hawaiian sailing canoe, and marvel at the towering sea cliffs, hidden sea caves, and cascading waterfalls. Many boat tours also offer opportunities for snorkeling, dolphin watching, and even sunset cruises.
  • Take a helicopter tour: Gain a bird's-eye view of the Na Pali Coast on a thrilling helicopter tour. Soar above the coastline and witness its majestic beauty from above as you fly over remote valleys, towering peaks, and turquoise waters. With panoramic windows and expert pilots providing commentary, a helicopter tour offers an unforgettable perspective on the Na Pali Coast.
  • Go hiking: Lace up your hiking boots and explore the rugged terrain of the Na Pali Coast on foot. The Kalalau Trail is the most famous hiking trail in the area, offering 18 kilometers (11 miles) of challenging terrain that winds through lush valleys, along towering cliffs, and past secluded beaches. For a shorter hike, consider the Hanakapiai Falls Trail, which leads to a stunning waterfall deep in the heart of the Na Pali Coast.
  • Go snorkeling: Dive into the crystal-clear waters of the Na Pali Coast to discover an underwater paradise teeming with marine life. Many boat tours include snorkeling stops at secluded reefs and pristine coves, where you can swim alongside colorful fish, sea turtles, and even dolphins. Bring your own snorkeling gear or rent equipment from tour operators for an unforgettable underwater adventure.
  • Relax on the beach: Spend a day exploring the secluded beaches that dot the Na Pali Coastline. Accessible only by boat or foot, these pristine stretches of sand offer opportunities for sunbathing, picnicking, and beachcombing. Popular beaches include Hanakapiai Beach, Ke'e Beach, and Milolii Beach.

Lava flowing into the ocean in Volcanoes National Park, HawaiiVolcanoes National Park // Unsplash

Volcanoes National Park (Big Island)

Witness the raw power of nature at Volcanoes National Park, where you can see active lava flows, steaming vents, and volcanic craters up close. Don't miss the opportunity to hike through the park's otherworldly terrain and learn about the geological forces that shape the Hawaiian Islands.

The best things to do in Volcanoes National Park:

 

  • Go hiking: Don't miss the Kīlauea Iki Trail, which takes you across a crater floor and through lush rainforest, or the Devastation Trail, which offers views of the aftermath of past eruptions. For more adventurous hikers, consider the challenging hike to the summit of Mauna Loa, the world's largest active volcano.
  • Explore Crater Rim Drive: Take a scenic drive along Crater Rim Drive to explore the park's most iconic landmarks. Stop at viewpoints overlooking the Kīlauea Caldera and Halema'uma'u Crater, where you can witness volcanic activity and steam vents up close. 
  • Visit the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum and Overlook: Learn about the science of volcanoes and witness the ongoing volcanic activity in the park. Explore exhibits on seismology, geology, and Hawaiian culture, and step outside to view the Kīlauea Caldera and Halema'uma'u Crater from observation decks.
  • Visit the Thurston Lava Tube: Step back in time as you explore the Thurston Lava Tube, a natural tunnel formed by flowing lava. Walk through the underground passage and marvel at the unique rock formations and eerie atmosphere created by the ancient lava flows. Be sure to bring a flashlight to illuminate the dark interior of the lava tube.
  • Drive the Chain of Craters Road: Stop at scenic viewpoints, hike to see petroglyphs left by ancient Hawaiians, and marvel at the rugged coastline where lava meets the sea. Be sure to check road conditions before heading out, as portions of the road may be closed due to volcanic activity.

Aerial view of Waimea Canyon, KauaiWaimea Canyon // Unsplash

Waimea Canyon (Kauai)

Known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," Waimea Canyon offers awe-inspiring vistas of rugged cliffs, deep valleys, and cascading waterfalls. Explore scenic lookout points, hike through lush forests, and marvel at the vibrant hues of the canyon walls, which range from deep reds to lush greens.

The best things to do in Waimea Canyon:

 

  • Stop at scenic lookouts: Take in panoramic views of Waimea Canyon from various scenic overlooks along Waimea Canyon Drive. Stop at popular viewpoints such as Pu'u Hinahina Lookout, Waimea Canyon Lookout, and Pu'u o Kila Lookout to marvel at the canyon's vibrant colors and majestic landscapes. Don't forget your camera to capture the awe-inspiring vistas.
  • Go for a hike: Lace up your hiking boots and explore the network of trails that wind through Waimea Canyon and nearby Koke'e State Park. Popular hikes include the Canyon Trail, which offers breathtaking views of the canyon floor, and the Cliff Trail, which takes you along the canyon rim to viewpoints overlooking the valley below. For a more challenging trek, consider hiking the Awa'awapuhi Trail or the Nu'alolo Cliffs Trail for stunning vistas of the Na Pali Coast.
  • Take a helicopter tour: Experience Waimea Canyon from a different perspective on a thrilling helicopter tour. Soar above the canyon's rugged terrain and cascading waterfalls as you take in panoramic views of this natural wonder from the air. With expert pilots providing commentary, a helicopter tour offers a unique and unforgettable way to experience Waimea Canyon.

Aerial view of Molokini CraterMolokini Crater // Unsplash

Hidden Gems

While Hawaii's popular attractions are undeniably spectacular, the islands are also home to numerous hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered. Here are five off-the-beaten-path destinations that promise unforgettable experiences:

Molokai

Often referred to as the "Friendly Isle," Molokai offers a glimpse into traditional Hawaiian culture and a slower pace of life. Explore the remote Kalaupapa Peninsula, hike through lush forests, and discover deserted beaches where you'll feel like you have the whole island to yourself.

Molokini Crater (Maui)

Situated just off the coast of Maui, Molokini Crater is a partially submerged volcanic crater that boasts some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii. Protected as a marine sanctuary, its crystal-clear waters teem with colorful coral reefs and diverse marine life, including tropical fish, manta rays, and even the occasional whale shark.

Hanauma Bay (Oahu)

While Hanauma Bay is no secret, many visitors overlook its stunning snorkeling opportunities. Dive into the crystal-clear waters to swim alongside colorful reef fish, sea turtles, and other marine life in this protected marine conservation area.

Waipio Valley (Big Island)

Tucked away on the northeastern coast of the Big Island, Waipio Valley is a lush paradise of towering cliffs, taro fields, and black sand beaches. Embark on a guided horseback ride or hike down into the valley to experience its serene beauty up close.

Kaena Point (Oahu)

Escape the crowds and journey to the westernmost point of Oahu, where you'll find rugged coastlines, tide pools, and seabird sanctuaries. Hike along the Kaena Point Trail for sweeping views of the ocean and the chance to spot Hawaiian monk seals basking in the sun.

Surfboards lined upUnsplash

Bucket List Experiences

No trip to Hawaii is complete without ticking off a few bucket list experiences. Whether you're seeking adrenaline-pumping adventures or serene moments of relaxation, Hawaii has something for every traveler. Here are ten experiences that should be on your radar:

  • Watch the sunrise at Haleakalā: Wake up early to witness the breathtaking sunrise from the summit of Haleakalā volcano on Maui. As the first light of dawn illuminates the crater, you'll feel like you're standing on the edge of the world.
  • Go lava viewing: Get up close and personal with molten lava by taking a guided tour to see active volcanic activity on the Big Island. Witness lava flows cascading into the ocean, creating spectacular displays of steam and fire.
  • Snorkel with manta rays: Dive into the waters off the Kona coast to snorkel with gentle giants known as manta rays. These graceful creatures glide effortlessly through the water, providing an unforgettable underwater encounter.
  • Take a helicopter tour: Soar above Hawaii's stunning landscapes on a thrilling helicopter tour. From cascading waterfalls and lush valleys to towering sea cliffs and volcanic craters, you'll gain a new perspective on the islands' natural beauty.
  • Attend a luau: Immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture by attending a traditional luau. Feast on delicious island cuisine, watch captivating hula performances, and learn about the history and heritage of the Hawaiian people.
  • Learn to surf: Channel your inner surfer and catch some waves on Hawaii's world-renowned surf breaks. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced rider, there are plenty of opportunities to hang ten in the birthplace of surfing.
  • Go whale watching: Embark on a whale-watching cruise during the winter months to see humpback whales as they migrate to Hawaii's warm waters to breed and give birth. Witnessing these majestic creatures breach and play is a truly unforgettable experience.
  • Go for a sunset paddleboard: Glide across the calm waters of Hawaii's coastline on a stand-up paddleboarding adventure. As the sun dips below the horizon, you'll be treated to a spectacular display of colors reflecting off the ocean.
  • Discover secluded beaches: Lace up your hiking boots and embark on a trek to discover Hawaii's hidden beaches. From secluded coves accessible only by foot to pristine stretches of sand tucked away from the crowds, these hidden gems are worth the effort to find.
  • Go stargazing: Escape the city lights and head to Hawaii's high-elevation observatories for some of the best stargazing in the world. With clear skies and minimal light pollution, you'll have the chance to marvel at the Milky Way and glimpse distant galaxies with the naked eye.

Ho'omaluhia botanical gardenHo’omaluhia Botanical Gardens // Unsplash

Hawaii Travel Tips

Before embarking on your Hawaiian adventure, here are some essential travel tips to help you make the most of your trip:

  • Entry and exit requirements: U.S. citizens do not need a passport to travel to Hawaii, but non-U.S. citizens will require a valid passport and may need a visa, depending on their country of origin. Be sure to check entry requirements well in advance of your trip.
  • Language: English is the primary language spoken in Hawaii, but you'll also hear Hawaiian spoken by locals. Learning a few basic Hawaiian phrases can enhance your cultural experience and show respect for the local language.
  • Currency: The official currency of Hawaii is the U.S. dollar (USD). Credit cards are widely accepted, but it's always a good idea to carry some cash for small purchases and tipping.
  • Getting around: While renting a car is the most convenient way to explore the islands, public transportation options are also available, particularly on Oahu. Alternatively, you can join guided tours or use rideshare services to get around.
  • Plugs and adapters: Hawaii operates on standard 120-volt electricity with two-pin plugs (Type A and Type B), so you won't need a voltage converter if you're traveling from North America.

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United States eSIM: Stay Connected With Airalo

Stay connected during your trip to Hawaii with an eSIM from Airalo. An eSIM is a tiny SIM that's embedded in your device and works 100% digitally. You can download an eSIM plan for your destination and instantly connect to a mobile network. There's no need to find a SIM card vendor, manage multiple SIMs, or worry about roaming fees. 

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You're all set to plan a trip to Hawaii! Head to the Airalo store to browse eSIMs for the United States and 200+ countries and regions worldwide.


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