Our review and tips after 3 weeks in Hawaii

  1. Hawaii
  2. Our review and tips after 3 weeks in Hawaii
Written by SandrineUpdated on 05/03/22

The sun rises on Honolulu still asleep. As the city awakens, the wheels of our plane take off from the ground, taking us into the air. We watch as the island of Oahu, the heart filled with melancholy, moves away.

Usually we are happy to have our duvet back after several weeks of mop, but this time it's different. It's only been a few minutes since we left the Pacific islands and we already miss Hawaii. Hawaii touched us in the heart, we were captivated and overwhelmed by these incredible islands and an Aloha way of life as they call it there.

Hawaii is magic! And yet, the archipelago does not possess the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Even if the islands have magnificent landscapes, here it is the variety and diversity of discoveries we have made that made our trip fantastic! This is one of the most beautiful trips we've ever made.

Here is our hot opinion on this 3 weeks trip in the Hawaiian islands.

Walk along Waikiki beach in Oahu

1First steps in Hawaii

As soon as we arrived at Honolulu airport, we were immersed in another universe. Hawaiian music, flower and shell necklaces, relaxed shirts and soft warmth... We're in the Pacific! I've been to the West Indies before, but the atmosphere here is very different. Our first contacts with the locals are very pleasant. We feel welcome, we don't hesitate to help us spontaneously and the smiles are on everyone's lips.

By daylight the landscapes reveal themselves. The islands are not large but have an extraordinary relief. The vegetation is dense and lush, covering impressive ridges carved by erosion called ridges, promising beautiful discoveries. Everything seems perfectly maintained and clean.

Panorama on the ridges of Kauai

We quickly took our marks, because Hawaii is the fiftieth state of the United States, a country we are already accustomed to. But the disorientation is still present because the Hawaiian way of life is rather cool. There is no stress here, nobody seems to get impatient or complain, even if there are always a few exceptions. In case of a problem, we take our patience with philosophy. And surprisingly, punctuality is in order! Whether at the airport, in restaurants, or for local events, we didn't see any delays, which was very appreciable.

Soon, we realize that Hawaii is a cosmopolitan archipelago, a cultural crossroads at the crossroads of Polynesian, American and Asian cultures, which offers a cultural richness (even if the American culture is very present) and also a huge choice in terms of restoration (hawaiian, American, Japanese...) and that's really cool!

2Hawaiian islands: an incredible diversity

During this trip we were able to discover the islands of Kauai, Big Island, Maui and Oahu. Each time we were surprised by the diversity of landscapes that each island was able to offer us. Although there are many similarities between the islands, each island has its own particularity, which makes the journey even faster and allows you to discover new things each time.

Kauai - An amazing garden in the ocean

Kauai will have been our favourite island, the island we preferred. Not because it's the first island we've discovered, but because the island offers an incredible variety of landscapes and many other benefits. Immediately we are immersed in a small paradise: everything is beautiful, especially the vegetation, maintained to perfection in almost all the island which gives a wild charm!

Views of Na Pali Coast from Kokee State Park

The relief of Kauai is impressive with large ridges and above all a sumptuous steep coastline. The relief of the  Na Pali Coast is absolutely breathtaking. The Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific", is also impressive. Kauai is also several rivers of which the  Wailua river that we could discover in canöe (a great memory), beautiful waterfalls, beautiful isolated beaches and a wild coastline...

So we were able to vary our days, alternating the beach, jungle walks, hikes or snorkeling. Every day was completely different. In addition, the island is quite small, which limits travel and therefore the time spent on the road. We had chosen Lihue as our base camp during our 6 days on the island which was very convenient because central and well served by shops. So we were able to build our schedule according to our desires, which was very appreciable.

The impressive canyon of Waimea, the only canyon in Hawaii.

One thing is certain, it is that our 6 days spent on the island were not enough to discover it well. We just had time to discover the main points of interest at a steady pace. Two more days would have been very enjoyable if we felt comfortable on this island.

Kauai is not very populated and much less touristy than the other islands. On the other hand, on the price side, it is quite expensive especially in food stores. Our food budget took a hit and forced us to make sandwiches every lunchtime. This is really the only negative point we found on Kauai!

Big Island - The Big Island of Contrasts

Big Island is the largest and most incredible island in the world. 13 of the 15 climates in the world are present on Big Island, so you will understand why it is so fascinating! We spent 8 days on the island, with 3 successive accommodation places in Hilo, near Volcanoes NP and Kona.

As the days went by, the landscapes were different and never looked alike! So we alternated between white sandy beaches, lava flows, large green meadows, jungle, lush rainforest and still snowy peaks.

Sandrine in front of an immense leaf! The vegetation is very lush near Hilo.

To the southwest, Kilauea, the most active volcano in the world, continues to shape the island. When we came, we could see the lava flowing into the ocean, a magnificent sight! In the evening we walked in the dark on lava barely cooled by our headlamps in search of active lava flows. An experience we will never forget!

The lava flow of the Kilauea reaches the ocean.

In the center, the huge volcanoes  Mona Kea and Mona Loa reach a height of more than 4000 meters, the opportunity for us to admire the sunset on a sea of clouds and discover a starry sky like few places in the world allow us to observe it.

Big Island is also the island where we saw the most turtles! Although we observed them on all the islands, they were most numerous and easily visible on Big Island. Our most beautiful snorkeling spots have also been on Big Island, with an incredible variety of fish and corals underwater. We were able to swim with the Manta rays near Kona, our most beautiful experience during this trip (to do absolutely)!

Sea turtle on the sand at Big Island

Big Island is also a big island and the distances are long. We drove a lot, usually between 3 and 4 hours a day, see more some days, which was quite stressful in addition to the visits. Big Island's landscapes are generally less beautiful than on the other islands because in some places the vegetation is almost absent. But all the points of interest make it unavoidable! This is the second island we preferred after Kauai. We had our most intense moments on Big Island.

In 8 days we unfortunately could not deepen our discovery of the island. We missed an extra day at Volcanoes NP to take more time to stroll on the volcano, but also one more day to enjoy the beautiful beaches of the east that we did in gales.

On the budget side, Big Island was the cheapest island in our stay in terms of food. It should be noted that the area around Hilo is less expensive than Kona, especially for petrol. However, you will have to get your hands on the wallet for each trip and the prices go up quickly. It will also require a 4x4 to climb the summit of Mauna Kea (even if the access road does not have any particular difficulty except for the potholes). For more information on the road to Mauna Kea, you can read our article:  Climbing the Mauna Kea, the highest peak in Hawaii

Maui - The island with many resorts

Maui is a complete island with an impressive variety of landscapes that looked very promising when preparing the trip. But what struck us the most when we discovered Maui was the large number of hotels and resorts along its coasts.

Here we change the frame again. The western part is bordered by beautiful beaches with fine sand and crystal clear waters. The colors are beautiful, but attract the world. The edge of the North-West coast is made of concrete, dotted with large buildings, hotels and resorts. The setting is still nice, reminiscent of the seaside resorts of the French Riviera, but more pleasant. It feels good, the place seems ideal to spend a few days of idyllic relaxation by the sea in an idyllic setting. Here, let's relax!

Sunset in Maui ... magical!

In the centre of the western part, Iao Valley offers an incredible carved decoration dotted with tropical vegetation, but to our great regret, we were not able to discover this place, the park being forbidden to the public after having suffered great damage after floods at the end of 2016. The park is expected to re-open in June 2017.

Maui is also a beautiful scenic and winding road like the famous Hana Highway, to the north-east, which winds among the tropical vegetation on more than 600 bends with beautiful waterfalls along the way. It's very refreshing but still quite a long way to go. To the south-east, Highway 31 runs along the coast and offers superb views of the sea. This is the route we preferred on the island.

In the centre, Maui's great volcano, the Haleakal?, rises to more than 3000 meters. In good weather, it seems that the sunrise and sunset are magnificent. Unfortunately, the day we got up, we were in the rain and fog. We could not therefore discover the superb craters of slag at the top of which the photos made us dream.

We also spent a day relaxing on the south and southwest beaches. It was very pleasant but relatively busy compared to other islands.

Color gradients in water in Maui

Because of its very touristic aspect, Maui is finally the island that we liked the least, even if we liked to travel along the roads in the East or to walk on the beautiful beaches with fine sand.

Maui was the most expensive island of our stay. Everything is expensive here, whether it's lodging, food or gas. It's a real financial pit! That's why we spent only 3 days on the island, far too short to appreciate it as a whole. Five to six days would have been better.

Oahu - Effervescence and splendor

Oahu is a bit of an island that we neglected. Due to a lack of time, we spent only 3 days discovering the island, divided into 2 parts. That means it was very short! And what a shame because Oahu impressed us.

We don't particularly like cities and we didn't want to spend a lot of time in Honolulu. And yet, this city has been one of the favorites of this trip. We loved walking on Kalakaua Avenue along Waikiki Beach, which is a bit like the Hawaiian Croisette. Bordered by beautiful hotels, shops and palm trees, the avenue bubbles in a very relaxed and pleasant atmosphere. In the evening, the streets become more lively, torches are lit up everywhere and the decorations of the shopping malls are simply amazing!

Even if not all the neighborhoods of Honolulu are like this (our hotel located two blocks away was rather gloomy), we took a lot of pleasure to walk in the lively streets of Honolulu whether it was the day or at nightfall.

The famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.

Oahu is also an island with a relief very marked by huge ridges famous for their vertiginous walks. It's a pity because with so little time we didn't have the opportunity to take a walk on these impressive formations.

The island's coasts are pretty with beautiful beaches, some of which are very good for surfing. In the East we discovered the most beautiful of our trip, especially near Kailua, at Lanikai beach: white sand, turquoise water, some corals... a real postcard decor!

Panorama on the southwest coast of Oahu.

Near Honolulu is also Pearl Harbor, famous for its history. Visiting the site alone requires at least half a day, or even a full day if you wish to visit the different museums.

Oahu is the island that we would have liked to discover more, we had so much to explore. We left a little saddened to not have been able to discover all the facets of Oahu. On the budget side, fuel and food are reasonable but accommodations are expensive (well, always cheaper than Maui).

In the end, I think it would take at least 5 to 6 days to discover Oahu and take the time to soak up Hawaiian culture.

3The review of our trip to Hawaii

What's for sure is that we loved Hawaii. It's a very different destination from what we imagined. The beaches are not all paradisiacal as one might expect, even if some of them are splendid. Hawaii is above all a tropical destination and a multitude of things to discover, which makes this trip extremely rich and complete. It would be a shame to go to Hawaii only for the beach side.

In retrospect, we should have spent more time in Oahu and not Maui. 4 islands in 20 days on the spot is definitely too much. To do it again, we would have done 6 days on Kauai, 9 days on Big Island and 5 days on Oahu without splitting.

Even if it may seem long, 3 weeks in Hawaii is not enough to discover the archipelago. There are so many things that we have heard about and haven't been able to get close to. We passed in front of dozens of trails that looked great without being able to discover them and we only flew over some parts.

We also didn't have enough time to immerse ourselves in Hawaiian culture. There are many museums and animations, but there again time was scarce. With 2 to 3 weeks more, we could have taken advantage of it a lot more, but this is a matter of means.

What is certain is that a trip to Hawaii will be a cruel dilemma because you will have to make choices, but in any case, it is a destination from which you can hardly return disappointed!

4Our trip to Hawaii in videos

During our stay, we made 21 daily videos to help you discover the Hawaiian islands, but also show the reality of the trip. Here is our short best of video, but you can find all our Hawaii vlogs on our YouTube channel.

About us

We are Sandrine and Flo, French thirty-somethings. In 2019 we quit everything to live our dream, become nomads and travel around the world. We left with our baby, Lena, who was only 5 months old at the time. After a first trip around the Pacific Ocean by plane and a long 3 months stay in Hawaii, we left to discover Iceland for 3 months on board our 4WD pickup truck and truck camper. Then we continued our adventure in North America.

Today, if we can continue this adventure, it is above all thanks to our blog, Smartrippers! We created it one day in 2016, with the desire to share our good travel tips, without thinking that it would lead us there! We have developed it a lot over the years and have become experts on our 3 favorite destinations: Hawaii, Iceland and the American West. We now guide you to these destinations to help you plan the trip of your dreams!

Follow our adventures!