Nicknamed “the Garden Isle”, Kauai is often called the most beautiful island in Hawaii. With its stunning beaches, canyons, waterfalls, mountain, and coastline, its natural beauty is truly diverse. As Hawaii’s oldest island, there are additionally many opportunities to learn about the Native Hawaiian culture and history. And of course, for the relaxation seekers, the island provides tons of opportunities to unwind between its sleepy beaches and luxury resorts.
How should you prepare for your trip? And what should you know before you go? Here are nine things to know before you visit Kauai! These are all either things that helped or would have helped me be prepared for one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.
The best time to go is during their off-season
They say the best time to visit Kauai is mid-April to mid-June and September to mid-December, which is actually the island’s off-season. During these months, the weather is better, the hotel/airfare prices are cheaper, and it’s less busy. We went in September and it was perfect! Yes, there were some sprinkles, but nothing that lasted longer than a couple hours.
The best place to stay in Kauai is….
Well… it depends. Each part of the island is completely different. So the best place to stay really depends on what you want out of your trip! This post has a detailed guide of all the possibilities if you want the full run down.
Personally, we stayed near Lihue for most of the trip to be close to everything! It’s liveliest on this side, and there are countless things to do and explore. You’re centrally located whether you want to go to Hanalei, Poipu, or around the area. We stayed in an oceanfront room at the Marriott’s Kauai Beach Club that we shared with our couple friends, and it was an absolutely beautiful resort and experience!
And before that, my boyfriend and I stayed on the west side for the first couple days. It’s not a popular area to stay, but we wanted to get away from all the business and just relax with each other by the beach. We rented the cutest beachfront Airbnb, which helped create the perfect escape! PS: If you haven’t used Airbnb before, here’s $40 off your first stay! There aren’t as many activities or restaurants on this side, but it is closer to the gorgeous Polihale Beach and the many hiking trails in Waimea Canyon.
Book the best activities in advance
The top, must-do activities that everyone will recommend to you in Kauai are the Na Pali Coast tours. There’s nowhere else in the world like the Na Pali Coast. You truly feel like you’re on another planet, and the boat, helicopter, plane, etc tours give amazing unique views that you can’t get on your own.
What they don’t say is that they sell out, so you should book in advance! We were able to get boat tour tickets the day before, but we literally got the last 4 tickets. If you know this is something you want to do, plan ahead so you don’t miss out! We did the 4 hour sunset dinner cruise, which we absolutely loved (plus, there was unlimited alcohol!). We didn’t try to do any of the air tours because we don’t have that much money, and they’re a lot shorter than the boat tours, but we heard similarly that they fill up as well.
This isn’t a picture of the “best” part of the coast – to keep you in suspense!
PS: The boat tours go rain or shine, so plan accordingly if you don’t like rain.
You need a 4×4 to visit Kauai’s best beach
Polihale is where everyone says has the best sunsets and beach in Kauai. But to get there, you have to drive down an unpaved road for a few miles. And to do that, you NEED a 4 or all wheel drive vehicle. You shouldn’t do this drive without one! So if you are planning to visit this beach, plan your rental accordingly. We rented a Jeep with Dollar rental (who are having a 15% off deal right now!) originally to visit the beach, but ended up keeping it the whole time because it was nice driving with the top down!
This is a different beach in Kauai, not Polihale, also to keep you in suspense!
Download offline maps, because cell phone service is really bad
Not having service is probably the top complaint you hear when you meet other tourists. For some people, this is actually a plus. You’re forced to disconnect and enjoy people and the island!
But if you rely on your phone 100% for directions, download offline maps! This way you’ll be able to navigate when you’re trying to get to a hike or landmark or restaurant, because your service will probably cut out before you find it.
Note: Kauai isn’t hard to navigate if you have *some* sense of direction though.
Pack for for wet/muddy hikes
Like, pack real hiking shoes for grip, because the trails can get really slippery. It’ll be even better if they’re waterproof so your feet stay dry (I love this brand!). You might have gotten away with hiking in tennis shoes or even flip flops in other places, but the rain and loose dirt make the trails in Kauai totally different. Stay safe and prepared!
Also bring darker / older clothes that you don’t mind getting muddy, or element-resistant hiking gear designed for staying dry, because you will get extra dirty and wet while hiking in Kauai! The the hikes I did in here were some of the muddiest and wettest hikes I’ve ever done– and this is coming from someone who used to hike around rainy Seattle!
This is a picture of what not to wear while hiking in Kauai lmao. Luckily, this was actually a drive to somewhere – not a hike!
And bring a change of clothes for after your hikes
You may also want to pack a change of clothes (including socks!) for after your hikes in Kauai, in case you want to do something before heading back to your hotel. You will be gross after your hike.
Many casual restaurants open late and close early
If you’re used to eating an early breakfast and late dinner, you might need to look a little harder for food in Kauai. Definitely not all restaurants fall in this category (it’s not like the open/close times of Europe!), but many of the more casual restaurants do.
So just be prepared because the restaurant you’re trying to go to may actually be closed! In our experience, many restaurants didn’t open until 11, and/or they closed at 4. Double check before you head out hangry!
This is at a nice restaurant though 🙂
Recycle your plastic bottles….
Don’t throw them in the trash. Plastic water bottles are recyclable. People used to recycling might roll their eyes at this, but some people honestly might not know– because it’s surprising how many tourists you see throw them in the trash bin, instead of a recycling bin, or just leave them on out in public!
Plastic waste destroys our planet. Kauai is a place with a recycling system that will help reduce that. So use it!
Plus, plastic bottles are so easy to recycle, unlike this random plastic stuff that ends up on the beach!
And those are my Kauai travel tips! What questions do you still have? What weren’t you expecting? Let me know in the comments!