Wondering where to go in Hawaii? Our experts weigh in on which island is the best option for you.
Author: Jemima Forbes
Picture paradise, and the islands of Hawaii come tantalizingly close. The archipelago on the Pacific Ocean is one of our favorite beach destinations, and it’s easy to see why. With lush greenery, stunning beaches, cascading waterfalls and its inherent Aloha spirit, this beautiful state has a lot going for it.
Before you start plotting your island escape, you’ll need to decide where to go in Hawaii. With several islands to choose from – each with its own set of unmissable allures – we understand that choosing when and where to go in Hawaii can be overwhelming. Luckily, our experts are here to help you uncover Hawaii’s wonderful diversity, while giving you pointers on the best islands to visit, based on your idea of the perfect getaway.
1The Big Island
Great for: intrepid hikes, coffee tastings and heritage sites
Big Island is among the largest and youngest of Hawaii’s islands. Formed over 400,000 years ago, it is particularly recognizable for its rugged terrain dotted with soaring volcanoes. This includes the mighty Kilauea – the world’s most active volcano.
Adventure-seekers can enjoy excursions at the Big Island’s epic volcanic landscapes. Venture into meandering lava tubes or explore caves carved out over millennia by steaming magma. For an activity that brings a little less heat, consider a sea kayak tour around the island’s emerald-hued coast or swim alongside manta rays and green sea turtles.
Want to sprinkle your itinerary with some exciting activities? Stargazers will love climbing to the top of Mauna Kea for crystal-clear vistas of the night sky, while history lovers can spend hours admiring the ancient rock carvings in the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological District.
Sustainable Tour Ideas
Embark on a tour of one of the island’s working coffee farms. As well as sampling Hawaii’s world-renowned Kona coffee, you’ll be able to enjoy a sustainable shopping experience by buying directly from an independent grower. For a touch of adventure, hike through the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and soak up nature at its rawest.
Great for: snorkeling, beaches and culinary delights
Traveling to Hawaii for a special anniversary or your honeymoon? Head to Maui for an unforgettable romantic getaway. The second-largest island in the archipelago is famed for its magical multi-colored sand beaches and undulating valleys.
If you’re wondering where to go in Hawaii for snorkeling and diving trips, Maui is hard to beat. Molokini is the go-to place for truly spectacular underwater adventures. The partially submerged caldera sits a few miles off Maui’s southwest coast and is home to the region’s only island marine sanctuary. Visiting between December and April? Keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales as you go on a boat trip into the ocean. Round off your trip to Maui by driving up to Haleakala Summit to catch a glorious sunrise above the sea and clouds.
As well as soaking up Maui’s natural beauty on the water or during a mini road trip across the island, you could also explore some of its buzzing towns and cities. Lahaina, a former whaling town, was briefly the capital of Hawaii and is straight out of a picture postcard with its oceanfront location and traditional wooden buildings. Art galleries and eateries abound here, so feast your senses as you soak up this historic town.
Fresh seafood is always on the menu in Maui. Plan your trip around the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival that takes place in October across Maui, Oahu and the Big Island. Indulge in delectable local cuisine and enjoy masterclasses from world-renowned chefs.
Sustainable Tour Ideas
Maui is dotted with several tropical plantations, organic farms, wineries and more. You could set-off on self-guided visits to some of these verdant landscapes nestled in the upcountry region of Kula, which is famed for its fertile volcanic soil and effective agricultural practices.
Great for: sea adventures and culture
Hawaii’s most-populated island is also its most historic. Oahu is where you’ll find Honolulu, the state’s capital, and it’s a great place to start if you’re a first-time visitor to Hawaii.
Wander around Pearl Harbor and hop aboard the USS Missouri to learn more about the island’s role in WWII. Nearby Waikiki Beach is famous for its huge waves and you might just spot a few pro surfers riding the waves. The crescent-shaped bay is fringed by hotels, restaurants and shopping malls, making it a hub for travelers who enjoy an electrifying atmosphere.
Prefer something a little more laidback? Tucked away on Oahu’s northeast coast is pristine Kailua Beach, an oasis with white sand and turquoise waters. Visit for a leisurely day trip or go on a catamaran sailing excursion to snorkel alongside its resident sea turtles. Our team can also help give your Oahu itinerary a more adventurous spin, if you wish, with a hike along the Manoa Falls Trail or bike rides along the edges of extinct volcanoes.
Oahu additionally packs a punch with its cultural offerings. Admire the USA’s only royal residence at Iolani Palace or stroll through decades-old pineapple plantations such as Dole Plantation, one of Oahu’s key attractions.
Sustainable Tour Ideas
Gain insights into Polynesian culture at the Polynesian Cultural Center, a living museum in Laie, Oahu. The museum brings the spirit of Polynesia to the fore with its simulated tropical villages, where you can watch captivating shows and presentations.
Great for: nature lovers, film buffs
Also known as Garden Isle, Kauai is resplendent with lush greenery, making it a great pick for outdoor enthusiasts and those looking to go off the grid.
More than three-quarters of the island is inaccessible by car, making it an excellent destination to truly get away from it all. One area that’s delightfully devoid of roads is the Na Pali Coast. The 17-mile shoreline stretches along Kauai’s north, and it’s blessed with pristine beaches and craggy sea caves which can be explored via kayak, raft or catamaran.
Discover the Grand Canyon of the Pacific with a hike through the dramatic Waimea Canyon or walk alongside winding rivers up to tinkling waterfalls in Koke’e State Park. For an adventure you’ll never forget, try zip-lining above an ancient rainforest or hopping into an inflatable tube to traverse mountain tunnels carved a century ago.
If you enjoy the movies, you’re in for a treat. Kauai has served as the backdrop to several iconic Hollywood films such as Jurassic Park, Blue Hawaii, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Descendents, Pirates Of The Caribbean and so many more. It is possible to take a tour of these regions and relive your favorite scenes!
Sustainable Tour Ideas
We can help organize kayaking adventures to Kauai’s Hidden Falls and biking excursions across the island, if you are looking for an active, yet sustainable, vacation. Want to slow down for a while? Enjoy a quiet pace of life in places such as Lihue and take the opportunity to experience some of the island’s wonderful rituals including a luau, a traditional Hawaiian feast.
Feeling inspired to book your dream vacation to Hawaii? Let us help you plan a personalized itinerary for your chosen island that is in sync with your unique wishlist. Reach out to us and our experts will curate your most memorable Hawaii vacation yet.
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