Kauai is Hawaii’s oldest island, giving it a rich ecological and geographical history that it shows off proudly. Just about the entire island is ringed by beautiful sandy beaches – more than any other Hawaiian island – and the little towns you’ll find throughout Kauai make for charming stops punctuating your day no matter what you’re up to.
Things to Do on Kauai
Contrasted with the other popular islands in Hawaii, Kauai has less of the things that some people come to Hawaii for – less land area, less congestion and fewer people overall. It’s more about relaxing and enjoying nature, and generally not about fast-paced sight seeing. There’s certainly lots of stuff you can pack into a vacation on Kauai, but you’re more apt to find yourself wanting to go with the flow of the people around you and just slow down.
While the beaches of Kauai are clearly a big draw for tourists, and the island has some beautiful waterfalls, easily one of the biggest natural attractions in Hawaii is the Waimea Canyon. It’s been dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” by none other than Mark Twain, and it stretches for more than 10 miles. The canyon is in the west of Kauai and was formed by the dual processes of collapse and erosion. Waimea Canyon is an excellent place to spend some time hiking or camping, and you can combine a trip there with a visit to Koke’e State Park – perhaps even an overnight stay.
Where to Stay on Kauai
The northern and eastern parts of the island tend to be the wettest, although they still have lovely beaches. This is where you’re going to find the most lush and tropical areas. Conversely, the southern and western sides of Kauai generally get more sun and less rain. To fully appreciate the climactic changes of the island, you’ll want to explore both the wet and the dry side. Each offers different activities and attractions, and it’s not often you can experience so many different climates within a short drive from each other.
Some of the towns you might want to visit, or in which you might want to base yourself for a Kauai visit, are Lihu’e (which includes the main airport on the island and the main island government buildings, also a great museum on Kauai history and the island’s biggest mall), Kapa’a (where most of the island’s residents live, and where you’ll also find lots of resort beds), Princeville (one of the more expensive golf resorts on the island, there are also some reasonable condo rentals), Po’ipu (where most of the big chain hotels have set up), and Waimea (something of a throw-back to old Kauai, worth more than a drive-by).
How to Get to Kauai
Currently there are only direct transpacific flights to Kauai from West Coast U.S. destinations, however you will broaden your search (and possibly savings) by also searching for flights to Honolulu from your destination, as it is much more of a hub for airlines. Getting from Honolulu to Kauai is pretty simple from there, so you should definitely consider looking at both when you’re planning airfare options. There are no ferries between Honolulu and Kauai, so flying is your only means of arrival.
Quick search for flights to Lihue, Kauai (LIH) from Honolulu (HNL), San Francisco (SFO), and Los Angeles (LAX):
Getting Around on Kauai
This is one of those places where you’re going to need to rent a car – public transportation is not great, and most of the places you’ll want to explore are way off the beaten path. If you’re really watching your budget and you don’t mind skipping any sights you can’t reach on the bus, then there is a bus system that shuttles between the major towns and beaches.
Map of Kauai
Here’s an interactive map of the island of Kauai. You can also turn on the satellite view (top right corner of the map) in order to get an idea of the mountains and terrain or zoom in and out as needed.