Hawai‘i is, quite simply, America’s paradise. Its long stretches of white sand, crystal blue waters, swaying palms, and lush tropical rainforests dotted with pristine waterfalls attract millions of visitors each year. Hawai‘i represents an ever-growing population encompassing a myriad of ethnic groups, development and tourism, agricultural diversity, and it is home to a rich cultural heritage.
Flying time to Oahu or Maui is about 10 hours from New York, 8 hours from Chicago, and 5 hours from Los Angeles.
All the major airline carriers serving Hawaii fly direct to Honolulu; some also offer nonstops to Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island, though most flights to the latter two come from the West Coast only. Honolulu International Airport, although open-air and seemingly more casual than most major airports, can be very busy. Allow extra travel time during busy mornings and afternoons.
Plants and plant products are subject to regulation by the Department of Agriculture, both on entering and leaving Hawaii. Upon leaving, you’ll have to have your bags x-rayed and tagged at the airport’s agricultural inspection station before you proceed to check-in. Pineapples and coconuts with the packer’s agricultural inspection stamp pass freely; papayas must be treated, inspected, and stamped. All other fruits are banned for export to the U.S. mainland. Flowers pass except for gardenia, rose leaves, jade vine, and Mauna Loa. Also banned are insects, snails, soil, cotton, cacti, sugarcane, and all berry plants.
Bringing your dog or cat with you is a tricky process and not something to be done lightly. Hawaii is a rabies-free state and requires animals to pass strict quarantine rules, which you can find online at hdoa.hawaii.gov/ai/aqs/. Most airlines do not allow pets to travel in the cabin on flights to Hawaii (though Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines are notable exceptions). If specific pre-and post-arrival requirements are met, most animals qualify for a five-day-or-less quarantine.
All of Hawaii’s major islands have their own airports, but Honolulu’s International Airport is the main stopover for most domestic and international flights. From Honolulu, there are flights to the Neighbor Islands almost every half-hour from early morning until evening. In addition, some carriers now offer nonstop service directly from the mainland to Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island on a limited basis.
BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII AIRPORTS
Those flying to the Big Island regularly land at one of two fields. Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole, on the west side, serves Kailua-Kona, Keauhou, the Kohala Coast, North Kohala, Waimea, and points south. Hilo International Airport is more appropriate for those planning visits based on the east side of the island.
Waimea-Kohala Airport, called Kamuela Airport by residents, is used primarily for private flights between islands but has recently welcomed one commercial carrier with a single route.
Honolulu International Airport (HNL) is roughly 20 minutes (9 miles) west of Waikiki (40 minutes during rush hour) and is served by most of the major domestic and international carriers. To travel to other islands from Honolulu, you can depart from either the interisland terminal or the commuter-airline terminal, located in two separate structures adjacent to the main overseas terminal building. A free Wiki-Wiki shuttle bus operates between terminals.
Molokai’s transportation hub is Hoolehua Airport, a tiny airstrip 8 miles west of Kaunakakai and about 18 miles east of Maunaloa. An even smaller airstrip serves the little community of Kalaupapa on the north shore.
Lanai’s tiny airport is in Lanai City.
There is a daily ferry service between Lahaina on Maui, and Manele Bay on Lanai, with Expeditions Lanai Ferry. The 9-mile crossing costs $60 round-trip and takes about 45 minutes or so, depending on ocean conditions (which can make this trip a rough one).
There is no longer a ferry service to Molokai
Depending on where you’re staying, you can take advantage of the affordable Hawaii County Mass Transit Agency’s Hele-On Bus, which travels several routes throughout the island. Mostly serving local commuters, the Hele-On Bus costs $2 per person (students and senior citizens pay $1). Just wait at a scheduled stop and flag down the bus. A one-way journey between Hilo and Kona takes about four hours. There’s regular service in and around downtown Hilo, Kailua-Kona, Waimea, North and South Kohala, Honokaa, and Pahoa. However, some routes are served only once a day so if you are planning on using the bus, be sure to study up carefully before assuming the bus serves your area.
Visitors staying in Hilo can take advantage of the Transit Agency’s Shared Ride Taxi program, which provides door-to-door transportation in the area. A one-way fare is $2, and a book of 15 coupons can be purchased for $30. Visitors to Kona can also take advantage of free trolleys operated by local shopping centers.
On Kauai, the County Transportation Agency operates the Kauai Bus, which provides service between Hanalei and Kekaha. It also provides limited service to the airport and to Koloa and Poipu. The fare is $2 for adults, and frequent-rider passes are available.
Maui Bus, operated by the tour company Roberts Hawaii, offers 13 routes in and between various Central, South, and West Maui communities. You can travel in and around Wailuku, Kahului, Lahaina, Kaanapali, Kapalua, Kihei, Wailea, Maalaea, the North Shore (Paia), and Upcountry (including Kula, Pukalani, Makawao, Haliimaile, and Haiku). The Upcountry and Haiku Islander routes include a stop at Kahului Airport. All routes cost $2 per boarding.
Getting around by bus is an affordable option on Oahu, particularly in the most heavily touristed areas of Waikiki. In addition to TheBus and the Waikiki Trolley, Waikiki has brightly painted private buses, many of them free, that shuttle you to such commercial attractions as dinner cruises, garment factories, and the like.
You can travel around the island or just down Kalakaua Avenue for $2.75 on Honolulu’s municipal transportation system, affectionately known as TheBus. It’s one of the island’s best bargains. Buses make stops in Waikiki every 10–15 minutes to take passengers to nearby shopping areas. Free transfers have been discontinued, but you can purchase a one-day pass for $5.50. Just ask the driver as you’re boarding. Exact change is required, and dollar bills are accepted.
The Waikiki Trolley has five lines and dozens of stops that allow you to plan your own itinerary while riding on brass-trimmed, open-air buses that look like trolleys. The Historic Honolulu Tour (Red Line) travels between Waikiki and Chinatown and includes stops at the State Capitol, Iolani Palace, and the King Kamehameha statue. The Waikiki-Ala Moana Shopping Shuttle (Pink Line) runs from the T Galleria by DFS to Eggs ‘n Things, stopping at various Waikiki locations and the Ala Moana Center. The Scenic Diamond Head Sightseeing Tour (Green Line) runs through Waikiki and down around Diamond Head. There’s also a south shore coastline tour (Blue Line) and a line that runs to Aloha Stadium and Pearl Harbor (Purple Line). A one-day pass costs $23 to $45, four-day passes are $36.50 to $74, and seven-day passes are $41 to $79. All passes are discounted when purchased in advance.
Technically, the Big Island of Hawaii is the only island you can completely circle by car, but each island offers plenty of sightseeing from its miles of roadways.
On Kauai, the 15-mile stretch of the Napali Coast is the only part of the island’s coastline that’s not accessible by car. Otherwise, one main road can get you from Barking Sands Beach on the West Side to Haena on the North Shore.
Traffic on Maui can be very bad branching out from Kahului to and from Paia, Kihei, and Lahaina. Parking along many streets is curtailed during these times, and towing is strictly practiced. Read curbside parking signs before leaving your vehicle, even at a meter.
Although Molokai and Lanai have fewer roadways, car rental is still worthwhile and will allow plenty of interesting sightseeing. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is best.
Oahu can be circled except for the roadless northwest-shore area around Kaena Point. Elsewhere, major highways follow the shoreline and traverse the island at two points. Rush-hour traffic (6:30 to 8:30 am and 3:30 to 6 pm) can be frustrating around Honolulu and the outlying areas, as many thoroughfares allow no left turns.
Asking for directions will almost always produce a helpful explanation from the locals, but you should be prepared for an Islands term or two. Instead of using compass directions, remember that Hawaii residents refer to places as being either mauka (toward the mountains) or makai (toward the ocean) from one another.
National chains like 76, Chevron, 7-Eleven, and Shell are ubiquitous, and accept all major credit cards right at the pump or inside the station. Gasoline is generally more expensive than on the mainland United States (other than in California). Neighbor Islands have higher gasoline prices than Oahu.
It’s difficult to get lost in most of Hawaii. Although their names may challenge a visitor’s tongue, roads and streets are well marked; just watch out for the many one-way streets in Waikiki. Keep an eye open for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau’s red-caped King Kamehameha signs, which mark attractions and scenic spots. Free publications containing high-quality road maps can be found on all islands. And, of course, a GPS or your passenger’s smartphone are great ways to find your way around, too.
Many of Hawaii’s roads are two-lane highways with limited shoulders—and yes, even in paradise, there is traffic, especially during the morning and afternoon rush hour. In rural areas, it’s not unusual for gas stations to close early. If you see that your tank is getting low, don’t take any chances; fill up when you see a station. In Hawaii, turning right on a red light is legal, except where noted. Use caution during heavy downpours, especially if you see signs warning of falling rocks. If you’re enjoying views from the road or need to study a map, pull over to the side. Remember the aloha spirit when you are driving; allow other cars to merge, don’t honk (it’s considered extremely rude in the Islands), leave a comfortable distance between your car and the car ahead of you; use your headlights, especially during sunrise and sunset, and use your turn signals.
If you have an accident or car trouble, call the roadside assistance number on your rental car contract or AAA Help. If you find that your car has been broken into or stolen, report it immediately to your rental car company and they can assist you. Call 911 for any emergency.
RULES OF THE ROAD
Be sure to buckle up, as Hawaii has a strictly enforced mandatory seat-belt law for front- and backseat passengers. Children under four must be in a car seat (available from car-rental agencies), and children ages four to seven must be seated in a booster seat or child safety seat with restraint such as a lap and shoulder belt. Hawaii also prohibits texting or talking on the phone (unless you are over 18 and using a hands-free device) while driving. The highway speed limit is usually 55 mph. In-town traffic travels 25–40 mph. Jaywalking is not uncommon, so watch for pedestrians, especially in congested areas such as Waikiki and downtown Honolulu. Unauthorized use of a parking space reserved for persons with disabilities can net you a $250–$500 fine.
Oahu’s drivers are generally courteous, and you rarely hear a horn. People will slow down and let you into traffic with a wave of the hand. A friendly wave back is customary. If a driver sticks a hand out the window in a fist with the thumb and pinky sticking straight out, this is a good thing: it’s the shaka, the Hawaiian symbol for “hang loose,” and is often used to say “thanks.”
If you plan to do lots of sightseeing, it’s best to rent a car. Even if all you want to do is relax at your resort, you may want to hop in the car to check out a popular restaurant. All the big national rental car agencies have locations throughout Hawaii. There also are several local rental car companies so be sure to compare prices before you book. While in the Islands, you can rent anything from an econobox to a Ferrari. On the Big Island, Lanai, and Molokai, four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended for exploring off the beaten path. It’s wise to make reservations far in advance and make sure that a confirmed reservation guarantees you a car, especially if visiting during peak seasons or for major conventions or sporting events.
Rates begin at about $30 to $40 a day for an economy car with air-conditioning, automatic transmission, and unlimited mileage, depending on your pickup location. This does not include the airport concession fee, general excise tax, rental vehicle surcharge, or vehicle license fee. When you reserve a car, ask about cancellation penalties and drop-off charges should you plan to pick up the car in one location and return it to another.
In Hawaii, you must be 21 years of age to rent a car and you must have a valid driver’s license and a major credit card. Those under 25 will pay a daily surcharge of $10 to $30. Your unexpired mainland driver’s license is valid for rental for up to 90 days. Request car seats and extras such as GPS when you make your reservation. Car seats and boosters range from about $10 to $15 per day.
If you’ve brought your laptop with you to the Islands, you should have no problem connecting to the Internet. Major hotels and resorts offer high-speed access in rooms and/or lobbies. In some cases, there will be an hourly or daily charge billed to your room. If you’re staying at a small inn or vacation home without Internet access (a rarity these days), ask for the nearest café or coffee shop with wireless access.
Whether you’re looking for a dinner for two in a romantic oceanfront dining room or a family get-together in a hole-in-the-wall serving traditional Hawaiian fare like kalua (cooked in an underground oven) pig, you’ll find it throughout the Islands. When it comes to eating, Hawaii has something for every taste bud and every budget. With chefs using locally grown fruits and vegetables, vegetarians often have many exciting choices for their meals. And because Hawaii is a popular destination for families, restaurants almost always have a children’s menu. When making a reservation at your hotel’s dining room, ask about free or reduced-price meals for children.
MEALS AND MEALTIMES
Breakfast is usually served from 6 or 7 am to 9:30 or 10 am.
Lunch typically runs from 11:30 am to around 1:30 or 2 pm, and will include salads, sandwiches, and lighter fare. The “plate lunch,” a favorite of many locals, usually consists of an Asian protein, like shoyu chicken, seared ahi or teriyaki beef—served with two scoops of white rice and a scoop of macaroni or potato salad. The phrase “broke da mouth,” often used to describe these plates, refers not only to their size but also their tastiness.
Dinner is usually served from 5 to 9 pm and, depending on the restaurant, can be a simple or lavish affair. Stick to the chefs’ specials if you can because they usually represent the best of the season. Poke (marinated raw tuna) is a local specialty and can often be found on pupu (appetizer) menus.
Meals in resort areas are pricey and only sometimes excellent. The restaurants we include are the cream of the crop in each price category. Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed are open daily for lunch and dinner.
RESERVATIONS AND DRESS
Hawaii is decidedly casual. Aloha shirts and shorts or long pants for men and Islands-style dresses or casual resort wear for women are standard attire for evenings in most hotel restaurants and local eateries. T-shirts and shorts will do the trick for breakfast and lunch.
Regardless of where you are, it’s a good idea to make a reservation if you can. In some places, it’s expected. For popular restaurants, book as far ahead as you can (often a month or more), and reconfirm as soon as you arrive. Large parties should always call ahead to check the reservations policy.
WINE, BEER, AND SPIRITS
Hawaii has a new generation of microbreweries, including on-site microbreweries at many restaurants. The drinking age in Hawaii is 21 years of age, and a photo ID must be presented to purchase alcoholic beverages. Bars are open until 2 am; venues with a cabaret license can stay open until 4 am. No matter what you might see in the local parks, drinking alcohol in public parks or on the beaches is illegal. It’s also illegal to have open containers of alcohol in motor vehicles.
Hawaii is known as the Health State. The life expectancy here is 81.3 years, the longest in the nation. Balmy weather makes it easy to remain active year-round, and the low-stress aloha attitude contributes to the general well-being. When visiting the Islands, however, there are a few health issues to keep in mind.
The Hawaii State Department of Health recommends that you drink 16 ounces of water per hour to avoid dehydration when hiking or spending time in the sun. Use sunblock, wear UV-reflective sunglasses, and protect your head with a visor or hat. If you’re not used to warm, humid weather, allow plenty of time for rest stops and refreshments.
When visiting freshwater streams, be aware of the relatively rare tropical disease leptospirosis, which is spread by animal urine. Symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, and red eyes. To avoid leptospirosis, don’t swim or wade in freshwater streams or ponds if you have open sores, and don’t drink from any freshwater streams or ponds. If you do exhibit symptoms after exposure to freshwater streams, seek immediate medical assistance.
On the Islands, fog is a rare occurrence, but there can often be “vog,” an airborne haze of gases released from volcanic vents on the Big Island. During certain weather conditions such as “Kona Winds,” the vog can settle over the Islands and wreak havoc with respiratory conditions, especially asthma or emphysema. If susceptible, stay indoors and get emergency assistance if needed. Periodic sugarcane burning by Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company can also affect some people’s respiratory systems. A burning schedule is posted on the company’s website.
The Islands have their share of insects. Most are harmless but annoying. When planning to spend time outdoors in hiking areas, wear long-sleeved clothing and long pants and use mosquito repellent containing DEET. In damp places, you may encounter the dreaded local centipedes, which are brown and blue and measure up to eight inches long. Their painful sting is similar to those of bees and wasps. When camping, shake out your sleeping bag and check your shoes, as the centipedes like cozy places. When hiking in remote areas, always carry a first-aid kit.
HOURS OF OPERATION
Even people in paradise have to work. Generally, local business hours are weekdays 8–5. Banks are usually open Monday through Thursday 8:30–4 and until 6 on Friday. Some banks have Saturday-morning hours.
Many self-serve gas stations stay open around the clock, with full-service stations usually open 7 am–9 pm; stations in rural spots may close earlier. U.S. post offices generally open between 8:30 and 9:30 am on weekdays, and close between 3:30 and 4:30 pm. Saturday hours are generally short and vary from office to office.
Most museums open their doors between 9 and 10 am and stay open until 4 or 4:30 pm. Many museums close on Sunday and Monday. Visitor-attraction hours vary throughout the state, but most sights are open daily with the exception of major holidays.
Stores in resort areas sometimes open as early as 8, with shopping-center opening hours varying from 9:30 to 10 on weekdays and Saturday, a bit later on Sunday. Bigger malls stay open until 9 weekdays and Saturday and close at 5 on Sunday. Boutiques in resort areas may stay open as late as 11.
Prices in listings are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
It’s a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you’re prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you’re abroad) if your card is lost, but you’re better off calling the number of your issuing bank since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank’s number is usually printed on your card.
Hawaii is casual: sandals, bathing suits, and comfortable, informal clothing are the norm. In summer, synthetic slacks and shirts, although easy to care for, can be uncomfortably warm. Only a few upscale restaurants require a jacket for dinner. The aloha shirt is accepted dress in Hawaii for business and most social occasions. Shorts are standard daytime attire, along with a T-shirt or polo shirt. There’s no need to buy expensive sandals on the mainland—here you can get flip-flops for a couple of dollars and off-brand sandals for $20. Golfers should remember that many courses have dress codes requiring a collared shirt. If you’re not prepared, you can pick up appropriate clothing at resort pro shops. If you’re visiting in winter or planning to visit a high-altitude area, bring a sweater or light- to medium-weight jacket. A polar fleece pullover is ideal.
One of the most important things to tuck into your suitcase is sunscreen. Hats and sunglasses offer important sun protection, too. All major hotels in Hawaii provide beach towels.
Hawaii is generally a safe tourist destination, but it’s still wise to follow common-sense safety precautions. Hotel and visitor-center staff can provide information should you decide to head out on your own to more remote areas. Don’t leave any valuables in your rental car, not even in a locked trunk. Avoid poorly lighted areas, beach parks, and isolated areas after dark as a precaution.
When hiking, stay on marked trails, no matter how alluring the temptation might be to stray. Weather conditions can cause landscapes to become muddy, slippery, and tenuous, so staying on marked trails will lessen the possibility of a fall or getting lost. Be sure to heed flash flood watches or warnings. Never try to cross a stream, either on food or in a vehicle, during these weather conditions.
Ocean safety is of the utmost importance when visiting an island destination. Don’t swim alone, and follow the international signage posted at beaches that alerts swimmers to strong currents, man-of-war jellyfish, sharp coral, high surf, sharks, and dangerous shore breaks. At coastal lookouts along cliff tops, heed the signs indicating that waves can climb over the ledges. Check with lifeguards at each beach for current conditions, and if the red flags are up, indicating swimming and surfing are not allowed, don’t go in. Waters that look calm on the surface can harbor strong currents and undertows.
There’s a 4.17% state sales tax on all purchases, including food. A hotel room tax of 10.25%, combined with the sales tax of 4.17%, equals a 14.42% rate added onto your hotel bill. A $7.50-per-day road tax is also assessed on each rental vehicle.
Hawaii is on Hawaiian standard time, 5 hours behind New York, 2 hours behind Los Angeles, and 10 hours behind London.
When the U.S. mainland is on daylight saving time, Hawaii is not, so add an extra hour of time difference between the Islands and U.S. mainland destinations. You may find that things generally move more slowly here. That has nothing to do with your watch—it’s just the laid-back way called Hawaiian time.
As this is a major vacation destination and many of the people who work in the service industry rely on tips to supplement their wages, tipping is not only common but expected. Consider a tip of 18% to 20% for excellent restaurant service, even at casual eateries. It’s customary to tip all service folk at hotels and resorts, from bellmen to valets to housekeepers. Keeping a stash of “singles” in your wallet or handbag makes this easy.
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.