Hawaii is a dream destination, but surprisingly still not very well publicized in France. So when we started our research, we spent many hours on Internet to gather all the information we needed to plan our trip. We also had some problems when booking our accommodations or calculating our budget because of information we didn't have.
We have therefore gathered in this article all the tips we can give you to help you prepare your trip to the Hawaiian Islands.
Estimate the duration of his trip to Hawaii
Understanding the Geography and Interest of a trip to Hawaii
Contrary to popular belief, Hawaii is not just a holiday destination in the sun. Although the heavenly side of its beaches is widely highlighted, Hawaii is also an archipelago of volcanic islands with sumptuous tropical landscapes and impressive volcanoes. In fact, on Big Island, there are 13 of the 15 types of climates in the world!
So, it is impossible to go to Hawaii without taking the time to discover the interior and the exceptional attractions of each island. Yes, because Hawaii is an archipelago composed of 19 islands and atolls! The north-western part of the archipelago called "Islands to the wind" consists of protected and uninhabited islets, which are rarely visited. The main part of Hawaii, the "Windward Islands", is composed of 8 "large" islands located southeast of the archipelago. These are the ones we will focus on.
Of these 8 islands, Ni'ihau (located southwest of Kauai) is private with controlled access and Kahoolawe, a small island located south of Maui, has been the victim of intensive bombardment since the Second World War, limiting its access to facilitate its ecological restoration.
There are still 6 main islands to discover, each with its own particularities and interests.
Finally, we are often asked what map we used to plan our itinerary (the one we show you from time to time in our vlogs). This is the Hawaii National Geographic 1/220,000 map that we find very well made and practical.
Plan enough time to enjoy each island
Considering the diversity of landscapes to discover during a trip to Hawaii and the geographical remoteness, it is important to properly size your trip so as not to come back disappointed. It is generally recommended to spend 1 week per island, but to avoid the generalities, we will take a closer look at each of them.
It should be noted that the recommended durations were estimated on the basis of our experience of 3 weeks in the Hawaiian Islands in April 2017 and one week in November 2018.
O'ahu is the most famous island because it is the most populated. It is also highly publicized in TV series, which means that many people still think wrongly that Hawaii is only the island of O'ahu!
O'ahu is an essential stopover during a trip to Hawaii for all those who want to discover the lively atmosphere of Honolulu and its famous Waikiki beach, or to immerse themselves in history by visiting the Pearl Harbor military base. The island is not very large, but its relief offers a beautiful diversity. You will therefore find on O'ahu a large number of points of interest including impressive hikes (breathtaking!), very pretty beaches but also interesting cultural places. It is a pleasant island, but it is by far the most touristy island! The attractions located near Honolulu are mostly for a fee and often very popular.
If you wish to discover the island as a whole, a minimum of 5 days seems essential to us to have time to enjoy its various attractions and make some hikes. If, on the other hand, you only want to make a quick stop to get an idea of life in Honolulu and only do the must-see things in Oahu, 3 days may be enough.
Big Island, also known as Hawaii Island, is the largest island in the archipelago with 120 km wide and 150 km long. It is therefore logical to plan the most time on Big Island because the distances are longer. Big Island has a number of attractions, including exceptional climatic diversity. On the island's 10,000 km2,13 of the 15 climates exist on Earth! But that's not all, because Big Island has many attractions, including an exceptional climatic diversity. On the 10,000 km2 of the island, there are 13 of the 15 climates on Earth! Indeed, Big Island is home to two huge volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, both of which reach an altitude of more than 4100 meters!
Discovering Big Island is also about admiring the almost daily lava flows of Kīlauea, when the lava is visible at Volcanoes National Park (but unfortunately this is no longer the case since the May 2018 restart of activity). Big Island also has pretty beaches with shades from black to yellow and green and famous snorkeling spots where you can swim among many fish, turtles and dolphins, and especially go to meet the impressive Manta rays that can be seen around Kona.
To discover Big Island as a whole, we recommend a stay of 10 to 12 days to have time to explore the island at your own rhythm. On average, you can expect 3 days in the Kona region, 2 days around the Volcanoes National Park, 1 day if you want to go up to Mauna Kea, 1 day for the north of the island and 2 days around Hilo, without including traveling time.
Kauai is a relatively small island, almost 40 by 50 km round, located northwest of the Hawaiian archipelago. Kauai is a wild paradise where nature lovers will be delighted. Although the island is small, it is full of incredible landscapes such as the superb Nā Pali Coast or the majestic Waimea canyon, not to mention dozens of waterfalls, pretty hidden beaches and a very luxuriant nature.
Also known as the garden island, Kauai is considered to be the most beautiful of the Hawaiian islands and its reputation is the same as what awaits you on the island! Kauai is also a quiet island, where it is possible to find yourself alone on a beach even in the middle of summer. A real change of scenery!
The best way to discover Kauai is by walking because the rugged and steep relief does not allow roads to go there. The landscapes of Kauai have been made famous by being used for the shooting of many films, including the Jurassic Park saga. If you are a hiking, nature or solitude lover, Kauai is the island not to be missed under any circumstances!
With so many trails and places to discover, we recommend staying at least 7 days on the island, or even longer if you want to hike and discover it from every aspect. As the island is small, we recommend that you take only one central accommodation place and travel around the island according to your desires and weather conditions.
Maui is the second largest island in the Hawaiian Islands after Big Island. It is famous for its beautiful sandy beaches, its great volcano, Haleakalā, which rises to 3000 meters and offers an exceptional lunar landscape, as well as the Hāna Highway, a superb 100 km road across the island that crosses a wet jungle dotted with waterfalls. Maui also offers the opportunity to take an excursion to the famous small islet of Molokini, renowned for its seabed and thousands of fish, or simply to relax on the Pacific coast, admiring the most beautiful sunsets in the world!
As you will have understood, Maui offers a wide variety of landscapes and will satisfy travellers looking for a destination that combines relaxation and adventure! Nevertheless Maui is also the most expensive island in the archipelago and is relatively touristic.
A stay of at least 5 to 6 days will allow you to discover all the main points of interest of Maui, which you can extend for a few days to fully enjoy the multitude of fine sandy beaches along the west coast of the island.
Molokai is located west of Maui. This still wild island is not very popular because its inhabitants defend it against mass tourism which they accuse of distorting the other islands of the archipelago. As a result, you will not find much accommodation in Molokai (and therefore expensive) and expect not to be welcome on the island. But past these obstacles, you will discover a peaceful and wild island, bordered by a beautiful coral reef to the south, paradise for snorkeling and huge impressive cliffs to the north.
It can be interesting to spend 2 to 3 days on Molokai to discover this other facet of the Hawaiian archipelago. You can reach it from Maui by plane or ferry.
Lanai is a relatively little touristic island with only one city: Lanai city. The island was bought by an American billionaire at 98%. Lanai still has a very wild side and almost all the roads are trails accessible only by 4x4, which makes it obligatory to rent a 4x4 to discover the island.
If you want to venture into Lanai, you will have to either take a round trip from Maui during the day, or stay with the locals or in one of the 3 hotels on the island, but be careful, prices are very high.
Distribute your trip wisely between the different islands
All in all, if you want to discover the Hawaii archipelago as a whole, you will have to leave for at least 1 month because there are so many sights to see on each island, knowing that the inter-island transfers will take you a small half-day each time. On a shorter stay, you will unfortunately have to make concessions. There is still the choice of eliminating one or more islands to take full advantage of the ones you discover, or devoting less time to each island but in return you will concentrate only on the main tourist sites. Again, don't forget the time needed for transfers because with short stays on each island, you may not spend much time on the spot to really enjoy it.
Fly to Hawaii: book your plane ticket
How much for my plane ticket to Hawaii and when should I book?
When you think of Hawaii, you can imagine the cost of huge flights. But rest assured, if you look carefully, it is possible to go to Hawaii without breaking your piggy bank completely.
On rare occasions, a few times a year, companies can break prices. At the end of 2016, we saw an exceptional offer at 550€ from France, but beware, such offers never last very long. In 2017 we have observed several times tickets at 400€ from Amsterdam, Canada or USA.
It is also possible to reduce the bill by combining two flights, the first to a city on the west coast of the United States or Canada (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oackland, San Jose, Seattle, Vancouver...), then a second to Hawaii. Thus, expect fares around 600€/700€ round trip almost all year round, or even around 500€ in off-peak periods.
Be careful, in the case of tickets purchased separately, connections between flights are no longer guaranteed, which requires you to have enough time to make your stopover, or even to spend a night near the airport.
To help you find the best prices for your flights, we recommend that you use alerts from sites such as Skyscanner or Algofly when choosing your selection criteria. This method also works for domestic flights.
In summary, look at prices a little more than 6 months in advance to benefit from advantageous fares especially if you travel during school holidays. Be on the lookout for exceptional offers that may fall at any time.
Tip: Think about multi-destination flights
You will most likely have to take one or more domestic flights during your stay in Hawaii. The first thing to know is that you can count on multi-destination flights to save a domestic flight such as arriving in Honolulu on Oahu and leaving from Kona on Big Island.
Don't do like us and think about it when booking your long distance trips (we always regret not having thought about it before). And in addition, in the vast majority of cases, multi-destination flights are no more expensive than a conventional round trip. And so, a 4-hour connection avoided and more than $100 saved!
Optimize domestic flights
To discover the different islands of the Hawaii archipelago, you will have to travel by air. In recent years, the ferries that operated inter-island connections have stopped their daily rotations. From now on, the only way to travel from island to island is by plane, with one exception: there is still a ferry between Maui and Molokai, and Maui and Lanai.. But the plane will also allow you to make these connections.
When to buy your ticket?
Domestic flight prices are unlikely to drop at the last minute, especially since Hawaiian Airlines has a quasi-monopoly over the archipelago's domestic flights. Generally, flights have a starting price and increase according to the aircraft's occupancy rate. We therefore advise you to book your tickets in advance, especially if you have a specific time slot during a busy period (weekend, morning and end of the day).
In our case, on our first trip, we booked our domestic flights a few days after our long-haul flights, 7 months before our departure. Almost a month before we flew away, we checked the prices. Those on our flights had risen significantly and were sometimes double what we had paid. During our last stay in November 2018, we booked the return flight Kauai - Oahu in advance as the price was at its lowest but we only bought our return flight ticket the day before, knowing that the price had not changed in 3 months (the plane was almost empty for a slot in the middle of the afternoon during the week).
In a nutshell, we advise you to book your domestic flights as soon as you know your travel dates, unless you are travelling during off-peak periods and on a rarely requested schedule for which you can book until the very last minute.
Which company to choose?
3 companies operate inter-island flights in Hawaii: Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest (newcomer since March 2019) and Mokulele Airlines. Island Air stopped its flights in November 2017. Hawaiian Airlines is a classic regular airline, Southwest is a low-cost airline but integrates good services such as 2 check-in baggages included, while Mokulele Airlines offers trips in small propeller aircraft boarded in a small dedicated terminal, often on the tarmac, in "free style" mode whose bookings are only open 3 months before departure.
The advantage of the latter, Mokulele Airlines, is that the time spent on the transfer is reduced, with the requirement to arrive only 1 hour before the flight, while for Hawaiian Airlines, it is advisable on their website to arrive 2 hours before departure (1h30 for Honolulu). Nevertheless, it is more likely that a flight will be delayed or cancelled with Mokulele Airlines and quite honestly, Hawaii's airports are small, especially in Big Island and Kauai, where sometimes only 10-20 minutes are enough in off-peak periods between the passage of security and boarding the plane with Hawaiian Airlines (remember to check the deadline for checking in checked baggage).
How much does it cost to travel between islands?
The good news is that Southwest's arrival in early March 2019 on the Hawaiian inter-island market has disrupted Hawaiian Airlines, which had been operating a near-monopoly for nearly two years. The immediate impact was therefore a drop of a few dollars in Hawaiian Airlines' fares on the islands served by Southwest (Oahu, Maui and Big Island) and above all the possibility of finding attractive prices on flights operated by Southwest.
Since March 4, 2019, now expect between $29 and $150 for each domestic flight, knowing that you may have to add the cost of your checked baggage from $15 to $25 if you choose Hawaiian Airlines or Mokulele.
To get the best prices, we advise you to book your flights directly on the airline's website, choosing multi-destination flights if you choose Hawaiian Airlines which will be cheaper than in several separate bookings.
Attention to the billing of checked luggage
If you are travelling on Hawaiian Airlines or Mokulele, you will have to pay an extra fee to check one piece of checked baggage. The fee will be payable at check-in, directly at the airport (you will not be able to pay it online, at the same time as your tickets).
Hawaiian Airlines allows 2 carry-on bags per person in the cabin: a cabin bag to be placed in the luggage compartments, as well as a "personal effects" bag whose size must be smaller than that of the cabin bag. So you can board the plane for free with a trolley suitcase and a backpack. Please note that you will be able to benefit from a discount on your checked baggage if you subscribe to the company's Hawaiian Miles loyalty program before check-in and indicate it on your tickets. The registration is free of charge.
If you are travelling with Southwest, the price includes 2 free checked baggage items. You can also take with you a cabin bag and a personal item whose dimensions are indicated on the company's website.
Here is the list of prices for checked baggage:
- With the loyalty Hawaiian Miles program: $15 if a bag, $20 for the second bag.
- Without the loyalty Hawaiian Miles program, $35 for the second bag.
- $20 if a bag, $25 for the 2nd bag. No reduction possible.
- 2 free bags included.
Lodging in Hawaiian islands
How much to pay for lodging in Hawaii?
On the lodging side, expect relatively high prices compared to the rest of the USA. Your accommodations expenses will be more or less substantial depending on the comfort you are looking for. To get the details of the average prices of the different types of accommodation for each island, we recommend that you read our detailed article: How much does a trip to Hawaii cost? Price and estimated budget.
Where to stay on each island?
The Hawaiian islands do not have a large area except for Big Island, the largest of the islands in the archipelago. So it is wise to ask yourself the question of choosing the location of each of your accommodations in order to take advantage of either a central location to radiate on each island, or to opt for 2 different places generally opposite in order to minimize your distances.
To help you make the best decisions, we have written a full article on this subject: Where to stay in Hawaii? The best places to sleep on each island
Which accommodation to choose in Hawaii?
For hotel enthusiasts, there are many accommodation options in one of the many resorts. From the large complex with swimming pool and beach by the sea to the small family hotel, there is something for every taste and every budget!
If you travel alone or have a reduced budget, you can push the door open to youth hostels that are rather welcoming, but whose price remains high. It should be noted that there are relatively few on each island. Some hostels also organise excursions in small groups, which can be very nice for solo travelers. Here are some of the youth hostels in Hawaii.
You can also find good accommodation on the Airbnb side even if the prices in the archipelago remain rather expensive (you must always pay the cleaning costs). However, this may be economical for stays of several days (3 days or more).
Finally, for very tight budgets or lovers of nature, you can opt for camping, but beware, there are not many! Wilderness camping is not allowed in Hawaii and to be allowed to camp, you will need a permit, knowing that each island has its own regulations. Permit applications must be made in advance via forms depending on the area where the campsite is located. There are private campsites located outside the parks, but there are relatively few.
Tip: Thinking about renting a condo
A condo or condominium is a condominium apartment. In Hawaii, many Americans have bought small apartments to spend a few weeks of vacation in Hawaii during the year or in anticipation of retirement. The rest of the time, they usually rent their apartments on a weekly basis, or sometimes for shorter periods.
A large part of the condos in Hawaii are managed by rental agencies or are directly integrated into large rental resorts, but some of them remain under the management of their owners. It is often on the latter that it will be possible to obtain the best prices.
For example, we paid less for the rental of a condo in Maui just 50 meters from the Pacific Ocean, than a 2-star hotel room in the middle of town!
Condos are an excellent alternative to hotels or AirBnB. Renting a condo can be very interesting from 3 days and even more if you stay longer or with your family. Below 3 nights, it is quite unlikely that you will be rented and the end of stay cleaning fees will not be advantageous. You will be able to find many rentals on booking sites, such as, Vrbo, HomeAway or Booking.com.
You should find your happiness in the wide variety of condos on offer, from a small studio apartment with a garden view to a superb luxury apartment facing the ocean. Most condos have a lanai, a kind of small balcony equipped with a table and generally 2 chairs.
The advantage of a condo is that you will almost always have a small kitchen, or at least a fridge and microwave. This way you can cook at home and lower your budget. Most condominiums also have a swimming pool and a small Jacuzzi, as well as barbecues to cook fish and meat outside (this is very common in Hawaii). In most cases, a parking space is allocated with the rental.
On the equipment side, some owners sometimes leave beach equipment available! Finally, the vast majority of apartments/condos are quite comfortable, often more than just a hotel room.
A deposit will be systematically requested upon arrival, see a few days in advance. It will be returned at the end of the rental period if nothing has been damaged. Housekeeping charges will also apply, even for short stays. In spite of this, renting a condo is often much more advantageous than renting a hotel of the same category.
Attention: Do not forget to add taxes and other fees
In France, we are not used to taxes, tips and other additional costs. Please be very careful before giving your credit card number, as there may be additional charges that you have not seen.
Taxes not always very visible
If you make your reservations or research on American sites, it is important to know that all the advertised prices are exclusive of tax. And often the taxes are calculated only at the end of the transaction or indicated in small numbers at the bottom of the page, even accessible only by clicking on a link!
All state taxes for hotels are composed of the GET (General Excise Tax for non-Hawaiian owners) and the TAT (Transient Accommodation Tax). Look for these famous taxes whose rates vary according to the island. In 2018, it was globally (GET + TAT) of the order of 14.416% on Maui, Kauai and Big Island and 14.962% on Oahu, with an increase of 1% effective January 1,2018.
Beware of resort fees
In addition to taxes, the price of your accommodation could be inflated by resort fees, which are set at the discretion of each establishment, often claiming fees for the use of common areas (computers, swimming pools, gym, etc.). Some hotels do not have one, others do, and they usually accumulate according to the number of days spent there. In some establishments, resort fees can rise up to 20% of the overall rating! And often, they are only indicated in very small or at the end of the reservation. Please note that these fees are to be paid directly to the hotel. For example it is indicated for a hotel at $126 per night:"This hotel charges guests a resort fee of $18.75 per room per night" (this hotel charges guests a tax of $18.75 per room and per night).
We take the case of 3 hotels located on Hotwire for a stay of 7 nights. The first is shown at $101 per night, the second at $103 and the third at $126 per night. Logic would have it that the cheapest hotel would be the first. For each one we push the reservation to the end.
Hotel 1 :
- $ 101.00 per night x 7 nights: $ 707.00
- Tax recovery charges + fees: $ 171.71
- Resort fee due at hotel: $ 77.00
- Total: $955.71 or $ 136 /night
Hotel 2 :
- $ 103.00 per night x 7 nights: $ 721.00
- Tax recovery charges + fees: $ 180.95
- Total: $901.95 or $ 128 /night
Hotel 3 :
- $ 126.00 per night x 7 nights : $882.00
- Tax recovery charges + fees: $215.62
- Resort fee due at hotel: $131.25
- Total: $1,228.87 or $ 175 /night!
Hotel number 2 is finally the cheapest 8$ per night whereas at the base it cost 2$ more. As for the third hotel, the bill explodes, going from $126 a night to $175! That's almost 40% more than the price indicated!!
Do not forget parking fees
If you have a vehicle, don't forget the parking fees! Indeed, if you have to stay in the big cities or in large resorts, there is a good chance that the parking lot will not be included in the service.
To save you the trouble of turning around to find a place, you will have to pay parking fees that are usually in the order of $20 to $30 per day excluding taxes! Sometimes service by valet will even be mandatory to park your vehicle (and therefore more expensive!). During a long stay, the extra cost of parking is not to be taken lightly.
Tip: book hotels in advance with free cancellation
Hawaii is a popular destination, especially for Americans and Japanese. It is therefore advisable to book your accommodation as soon as possible in order to obtain better prices. Early bookings are often advantageous and offer good prices. But booking well in advance also means depriving yourself of a good opportunity that could appear along the way. That's why we recommend that you book your reservations with free cancellation in case good news arrives before D-day.
For example, we noticed a drop in our hotel rates on Kauai 3 months after we made our reservation. Neither one nor two, we cancelled our 7 nights free of charge and then made a new reservation. In the end, 150€ more in our pocket!
As you approach your departure, don't hesitate to scan the offers for possible last-minute promotions. Even if this practice is not very frequent in the archipelago, it is better to try your luck!
Car Rentals in Hawaii: find the best deals
Select a local broker
In the vast majority of cases, it will be much cheaper to book a car through a broker than directly with the rental company. Thus, after much research, we did not find cheaper than Discount USA Car Rental, which was originally "Discount Hawaii Car Rental", one of the first Hawaiian broker founded 17 years ago, and therefore with a strong network in the archipelago. The company then expanded throughout the country.
Discount USA Car Rental has the advantage of offering very advantageous rates in Hawaii and allows you to book without a deposit. It is this last advantage that seduced us, because it gave us the possibility to cancel one of our reservations in order to realize a new one, following a price decrease (as for the airplanes, the prices of the cars fluctuate also). As an intermediary, the rental company is known in advance, from the search page, which also makes it possible to know who we will go to.
In the end, we made all our reservations at Discount USA Car Rental (7 times during our 2 trips to Hawaii) and never had any surprises once we arrived at the car rental office. All our cars were waiting for us. We had to contact the customer service department because of an error in the email of one of our reservations and the support was very fast.
Attention to insurance
If you are not an American, please be aware that your insurance may not work completely in Hawaii. Except for the Gold Mastercard and Visa Premier payment cards, which will cover damage to rental vehicles except for accidents on unpaved roads, you will never, in any case, be covered for civil liability in the event of an accident causing injury to a third party.
Indeed, as far as we know, Gold Mastercard or Visa Premier bank cards generally have an exclusion on the liability coverage abroad, mentioned in the general conditions like this: "In addition to the common exclusions, are also excluded: any damage caused by motor vehicles, [...] of which the insured or persons for whom he is civilly liable have ownership, control or custody." Remember to check your general terms and conditions, as some banks have different terms and conditions.
Property and casualty (CDW) and civil liability (LIS) insurance are generally sold together online when booking a rental vehicle, it is quite rare to be able to separate them.
You can decline these insurances (and therefore take the risk), but in most cases, you will be asked very strongly at the counter to subscribe at least to civil liability (it is not uncommon for the amounts requested by lawyers in the event of a personal accident to exceed one million dollars). Allow about $10 to $20/day for liability (liability - LIS) if you want to add it to the counter. It is therefore much cheaper to buy the full insurance package at the time of booking online.
Last but not least, you will NEVER be covered on off-road, even with your Gold or Premier card.
If you want to take a 4x4 and be insured, you will have to rent it from a specialized rental company, (like Harper on Big Island), but the bill is more salty right now! Otherwise, you can take the risk of riding on tracks with your rental car... but keep in mind that you won't be covered in case of a glitch.
Try combos offers "hotel + car rental"
You will find very interesting offers by booking your hotel and vehicle at the same time on a reservation centre. The prices are thus reduced and will allow you to save a little on your stay. The disadvantage of this formula is that to enjoy it, you will have to stay in the same place for the duration of your stay on an island.
Tip: Sometimes, going beyond a few hours does not change the price of the rental
Here is a strange observation we have made. In France, we are used to being increased by one full day for any additional hour, thus limiting rental periods to similar start and end times. But this is not always the case in the USA.
For example, for our reservation in Lihue with a pick-up of our car at 11pm, it was no more expensive for us to return it at 7am in the morning than at 11pm the day before the last day.
Pretty advantageous to avoid the hassle of transfers to the airport! So it's worth trying to make sure of the proposed rate, even if it won't necessarily work in all cases.