There aren’t many places on planet earth that are as wild, magical, or resplendent as Kauai Hawaii. Nicknamed the Garden Isle for its verdant landscapes, its natural beauty defies belief. Think Lost World meets Garden of Eden with a small smattering of resorts, restaurants, and other travel conveniences.
Kauai’s about the simple life. The good life. The get-back-to-basics-and-let-the-stress-subside life. It’s where you go to unwind, explore, and revel in the wonders of Mother Nature. Dramatic ridged cliffs covered in emerald rainforests rise like giants from the cobalt-blue waters of the Pacific. There are more beaches, rivers, and waterfalls than you can imagine.
In this guide to visiting Kauai Hawaii, we’ll give you all the insights you need to make the most of your time there. From helpful tips to its top attractions and activities, read on for a comprehensive Kauai travel guide for those days when you feel like leaving your temporary slice of paradise and exploring the island.
The Kauai itinerary ideas are just around the corner! But let’s begin with some travel insights to help inform your stay and ensure you have the best possible time.
When to Visit Kauai Hawaii
The “best time” to visit Kauai is generally considered to be either March to May or September to October/mid-November. These shoulder seasons offer the best balance of affordability, good weather, and smaller crowds. However, there is really no wrong time to visit Hawaii if you’re restricted by school or work schedules; just pick a side of the island accordingly.
Mid-summer offers the best weather but has much bigger crowds and higher prices. Go in winter, and you’re more likely to get wet! Indeed, Kauai’s known to have far more rain than the other Hawaiian Islands – especially on the north shore.
Fun fact: Hawaii only has two seasons, kau (summer) and hooilo (winter), which run from May to October and November to April, respectively.
How Long to Spend in Kauai Hawaii
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, visitors spent an average of almost eight days in Kauai in 2019. However, it all depends on your budget, intentions, and interests. If money isn’t an issue and you love sunbathing, swimming, and being in nature, you could easily spend weeks or longer here!
So if you’re retired, or have remote work options, think about booking an extended stay to really explore all the island has to offer!
How Much Does It Cost to Visit Kauai Hawaii?
According to Budget Your Trip, the average per-person daily cost of visiting Kauai is $152. That means a week-long trip for two people would set you back around $2,100.
Ultimately, though, the amount you spend will depend on where you stay and what you do! One of the nicest parts of traveling around Kauai is the predominance of budget-friendly activities. From hiking on the Na Pali Coast and gawping at huge cascading waterfalls to sunbathing on tropical beaches, you can do an awful lot in Kauai Hawaii without spending a dime on activities.
How Can I Afford a Vacation to Kauai Hawaii?
Since a road trip is out when it comes to traveling to The Hawaiian Islands, it takes a bit more saving up or travel hacking to get your way there! But with just three realistic spending swaps, anyone can find money for their vacation!
Saving Money on Flights
One of personal favorite ways to dramatically cut down our family vacation costs is securing free flights for our family of 4 by using an airline credit card to pay for our regular yearly expenses.
If you’re uncomfortable, sign up for route price alerts with Google Flights or Hopper to find flight deals. Taking a Kauai Hawaii flight with a connection will also save you money.
Saving Money on Accommodations
Hawaii accommodations are notorious for being sky-high, but there are actually fantastic, award-winning affordable resort options in Kauai. One example is The Cliffs at Princeville.
One of the many draws of staying at the Cliffs at Princeville Resort is their spacious condo offerings. They offer one-bedroom suites as well as two-bedroom units that span two floors. So if you’re planning a family or group trip to Kauai, you don’t have to worry about living in a tiny one-room hotel unit. The home-like accommodations are perfect for long vacations too!
The Cliffs at Princeville is a mixed-use hotel/timeshare resort. More than half of their rooms are Kauai timeshare units affiliated with the world’s largest timeshare exchange company, RCI. So if you also own a timeshare affiliated with RCI, you can trade yours for a week at the Best Timeshare in Kauai, according to Hawaii Magazine readers.
If you’re not a timeshare owner, it may surprise you that booking a timeshare rental can save you a significant amount of money on resort condo accommodations. Below is a real-life listing of a Redweek Rental at The Cliffs at Princeville.
And at the cost of sounding like a robot, credit card points can also be redeemed for free stays at hotels across the island, helping you afford this bucket list trip or perhaps allow you to stay for longer.
Which Part of The Island Should You Stay In?
The oldest and fourth largest island of the Hawaiian Archipelago, Kauai boasts four main regions – each offering its own unique vibe, attractions, and topography. Here’s a quick rundown of each place, including a description of its commercial center, Lihue.
A cultural hotspot located on the southeast of the island, Lihue’s, where you’ll likely start your time on the island. A beautiful place to begin, you’ll be able to explore the Kauai Museum, see the historic Alekoko Fishpond, and have easy access to one of Kauai’s biggest tourist attractions: the majestic Wailua Falls.
Known as the Coconut Coast after its abundance of palm trees, the eastern side of Kauai is the most populated part of the island. There’s a lively vibe here, with many historical points of interest, tourist attractions, pristine beaches, and dining/shopping opportunities in the towns of Kapa’a and Wailua. Don’t miss ʻŌpaekaʻa Falls!
Tip: If you’re looking for budget-friendlier accommodation, the east side’s where to go.
The north shore’s arguably the most beautiful, dramatic, and untamed part of the island. Get ready for breathtaking landscapes characterized by jagged cliffs, lush tropical rainforests, countless waterfalls, and the charming town of Hanalei.
The weather in this part of the island’s unpredictable, but it’s the place to be to experience the best of its natural beauty.
Offering pristine beaches, sunny weather, and first-class resorts, the south side is the most popular part of Kauai to stay in. The perfect place for a relaxing getaway, everything you could need is within easy reach.
There are masses to do here, too, including hiking, golfing, surfing, and scuba diving. The towns of Poipu, Lawai, and Omao provide excellent bases for exploring.
It’s only an hour in the car from Lihue, but the west side of Kauai has a distinct and remote feel that’s well worth experiencing. Bid farewell to road noise and resorts. The west side is all about history, hiking, and nature. Remember though, that you’re in a residential area and please be respectful of not only the people but the physical land you’re in.
Aside from the tiny towns of Hanapepe and Waimea, there are miles and miles of hiking trails here, as well as magnificent natural attractions, including Kokee State Park and Waimea Canyon.
10 Things to Do in Kauai Hawaii
Kauai’s saturated with bucket-list activities and attractions, despite many people’s opinion that’s there not enough to do here to fill a week! As clichéd as it sounds, there truly is something for everyone – regardless of your age or interests.
Suppose you’ve got a Pokémon fan in your house and hope that your next family vacation is met with more enthusiasm and fewer complaints. In that case, Kauai Hawaii (the real-life inspiration for the Alola region) has a long list of Pokémon landmarks you can visit IRL and add to your itinerary.
In this section, we’ll highlight a selection of the best things to do in Kauai Hawaii whether you’re in a couples trip or trying to keep teens busy and entertained!
1. Visit the Na Pali Coast (North Shore)
The sheer beauty on display in this part of the island makes it a must for your Kauai itinerary. You can hike a section of the incredible Kalalau Trail, explore the area by boat (and do some snorkeling while you’re there), and even splurge for a helicopter tour for an epic bird’s eye view of the region.
2. Go Snorkeling at Makua Beach
Also known as Tunnels Beach, this stunning place offers some of the best Kauai snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities. Better still, you’ll find it right at the start of the Kalalau Trail, making this the perfect way to cool off after your hike! With dramatic underwater topography and tropical marine life (including sea turtles) on display, this really is one of the best things to do in Kauai Hawaii.
3. Go Kayaking
Kayaking on Kauai has a nice ring to it. Offering picturesque beaches, peaceful bays, hidden waterborne oases, and winding rivers that lead to cascading waterfalls, going for a paddle here is hard to beat. Can’t get enough of the north shore? Hanalei Bay and the Na Pali Coast are two of the best places to do it.
4. Visit the Waimea Canyon
Known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, this 14-mile-long, mile-wide, and the 3,600-feet deep canyon is a real sight to behold. You’ll need to pay for parking and entrance fees, but the views and hikes here are worth the entry cost. The canyon’s close to the Kalalau Trail, but the lack of access from here forces you to drive all the way around the island to get there!
5. Visit Limahuli Garden & Preserve
Explore the best botanical garden in Kauai by visiting the wonderful Limahuli Garden & Preserve. Built to protect the diverse Hawaiian flora and fauna in this part of the island, it’s a tranquil place around which you can do a short self-guided tour. See the ancient taro patches (lo’i kalo), escape the hustle and bustle, and enjoy a peaceful afternoon in paradise.
6. See Wailua Falls
As we noted earlier, Wailua Falls is one of Kauai’s most popular tourist attractions. For a good reason too! This 80ft double-streamed fall is like something straight out of The Lost World. Boasting spectacular views across the Wailua valley from the top, it symbolizes the very best of Hawaii’s natural beauty. Located just over 5 miles from Lihue, it’s also easily accessible by car.
According to legend, Hawaiian men once tested their courage here by jumping from the top into the waters below (something that’s illegal today!).
7. See Opaeka’a Falls
Want to see more impressive waterfalls on your trip to Kauai? Head 2 miles along Route 580 in the Wailua Valley to see the mighty Opaeka’a Falls. One hundred fifty-one feet tall and 40 feet wide, it’s one of the most easily accessible waterfalls on the island, thanks to a paved walkway that leads from the parking lot to the viewing area. Picnic tables and restrooms make it a great place to spend a few hours.
8. Spend the Day on Poipu Beach
Once voted the best beach in America, the south shore’s Poipu Beach is the place to be if you want a relaxing day of swimming, snorkeling, surfing, boogie boarding, and sunbathing. It may not be the hidden coastal oasis you find elsewhere in Kauai, but it’s still a particular stretch of golden sand. Likewise, its easy access to amenities and facilities is a bonus if you’re traveling to Hawaii with kids.
9. Walk the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail
Starting at Shipwreck Beach (another great stretch of sand on the south shore that’s worth checking out while you’re there), this fantastic heritage trail offers a relatively easy walk along the coast.
One of the undeveloped places in this part of the island, you’re immersed in nature, with nothing but ocean, kiawe trees, and cliffs for company. A sacred place for Native Hawaiians, take extra care to respect the land and leave no trace.
10. See Spouting Horn Blowhole
No guide to visiting Kauai Hawaii would be complete without mentioning Spouting Horn. One of the island’s most Instagrammable spots, it’s located on the south shore, not far from Poipu. This striking blowhole shoots water 50ft into the air! You don’t have to spend long here, but it’s definitely worth stopping to see.
How to Get To and Around Kauai Hawaii
The primary way to get to and from Kauai Hawaii is by plane. You’ll find the island’s one airport, Lihue Airport (LIH), on its southeastern side. It’s a relatively short and straightforward journey from the airport to wherever you’ve chosen to stay, as it’s one of Hawaii’s smallest islands.
If you’re a cruiser, you can also visit Kauai on a cruise of the Hawaiian Islands. They dock at Lihue’s main port – Nawiliwili Harbor.
The best way to explore Kauai Hawaii is in your own rented vehicle. It’s by far the easiest way to get around and make the most of your time here! Please, please be respectful of the island and its people by obey private property signs and staying on the roads.
There is a bus service in Kauai, but its resident designed, not necessarily for tourism, like Honolulu’s Waikiki Trolley, for example. You’ll find taxis and Ubers here, too – especially around Lihue Airport – but they can be few and far between elsewhere on the island. For shorter trips, consider renting a bike during your stay.
What to Pack for Kauai Hawaii
Make sure you take some supportive walking shoes/sandals for all the hiking you’ll be doing, a good camera to photograph the stunning scenery, and a small daypack to easily transport everything while you’re sightseeing. Oh, and don’t forget your swimsuit, water bottle, bug repellent, and sunscreen!
Don’t worry if you forget something though. There are plenty of stores and shops in Kauai Hawaii, where you can pick up the essentials you forget or if you prefer to pack light.
Bookmark This Guide to Visiting Kauai Hawaii
In all honesty, words don’t do Kauai justice. Another place in Hawaii where you soon run out of superlatives; you’ll see what we mean as soon as you get there. With its laidback lifestyle, natural wonders, and wealth of wonderful things to do, it’s an unbeatable travel destination that you won’t forget in a hurry.