If you plan to visit Hawaii in 2023, you are in for a treat. Hawaii is an incredible vacation destination with its sparkling waters, beautiful sand beaches, waterfalls, and volcanoes. After living in Hawaii for five years (and visiting the island dozens of times before making the move), we have mastered the skill of vacation planning.
Whether this is your first trip or your fiftieth, here are the best travel tips you need to know to have a fantastic time:
What you should know before traveling to Hawaii:
1. What are the restrictions imposed by COVID?
Domestic travelers are no longer subject to COVID-related entry restrictions as of March 2022. Therefore, if you are traveling to Hawaii from anywhere in the United States, there are no special entry requirements.
International travelers arriving in Hawaii from an international airport must still comply with U.S. federal regulations. On the CDC website, you can read about Federal entry requirements.
Hawaii’s mask mandate has also expired, so there is no requirement to wear masks indoors or outdoors. Many people in Hawaii, such as retail workers, continue to wear masks indoors. Do what you find comfortable.
2. What is the best island to visit?
The first and most crucial step in planning a trip to Hawaii is deciding which island(s) you wish to visit. There are enough differences between the islands that it is important to take your time deciding which one is best for you.
If you enjoy nightlife, great food, and a cosmopolitan vacation, you should visit Oahu. It is also the best island for hiking in Hawaii.
If you enjoy beaches, snorkeling, and luxurious resorts, you should fly to Maui. It is also the best island for snorkeling in Hawaii.
If volcanoes, adventure, and swimming with manta rays are on your bucket list, Big Island is the place to be.
Kauai is the place to relax if you enjoy jagged cliffs, lush landscapes, food trucks, and a slower, quieter pace.
3. What is the optimal time to visit Hawaii?
There is no bad time to visit Hawaii, but certain times of the year are better than others due to a variety of factors. When considering the best (or worst) time to visit Hawaii, we prefer to consider the weather, cost, and number of tourists.
In general, we believe that the best time to visit any Hawaiian island is between September and October and April and May.
Here’s how we arrived at that conclusion:
Hawaii is located in the tropics, so you can expect year-round warm weather. There are, however, months with greater precipitation. And if you want the best chance of avoiding rain during your trip, you should avoid visiting during these months.
The chart below details the average monthly precipitation for each island. Note that precipitation varies on different sides of each island; we provide the average precipitation for a popular tourist destination on each island.
A visit to Hawaii is costly. And traveling during peak seasons, such as between Christmas and New Year’s, can increase the cost of your trip. May, September, October, and November are the best months to visit if you want your travel dollar to go further and you want to find better deals on accommodations and flights. During these months, hotel rooms and vacation rentals are more affordably priced. Our comprehensive breakdown of the costs for a family of four to visit Oahu clarifies the costs.
Crowds: Avoiding the crowds could mean the difference between boarding the boat tour you’ve been looking forward to or staying on land. Or locating parking near the beach you wish to visit.
As with most vacation destinations, Hawaii has distinct busy and slower seasons. The Hawaii Tourism Authority does an excellent job of tracking visitor arrivals, and it is clear that February, April, May, September, and October are the best months to visit if you want to avoid crowds.
However, if you are coming to Hawaii for a very specific reason, such as whale watching, you will be less flexible with your schedule. Mid-December to mid-April is whale season, so showing up outside of those months would be disappointing.
4.How long should your vacation to Hawaii last?
It can be difficult to get away for a vacation, but you want to stay long enough to make it worthwhile. Even from the west coast, Hawaii is not a quick trip. Plan for a 5-hour flight and a time difference of several hours. Therefore, traveling to Hawaii for only a few days will feel rushed and exhausting.
A minimum of one week should be planned for a trip to Hawaii, in our opinion. During that week, you will be able to explore multiple areas on a single island. Utilizing one of our step-by-step itineraries allows you to maximize your time.
If possible, extend your stay and see more. And if you intend to hop from island to island, your trip must be much longer than one week.
5. Where should you lodge? Hotel or vacation rental?
Once you have determined which island you will visit, it is time to book accommodations. The initial significant choice is between booking a hotel or a vacation rental.
Once you have determined which island you will visit, it is time to book accommodations. The initial significant choice is between booking a hotel or a vacation rental.
6. Do you require a rental car?
To fully appreciate your vacation, you should probably rent a car. However, this does not necessarily imply that you must rent it for the entirety of your stay, particularly if you’re staying in Waikiki.
If you are planning a trip to Oahu and will be staying in Waikiki, you may not use your rental car on certain days. There is much to do along this 2-mile stretch! When you want to explore the rest of the island, you can avoid paying expensive hotel parking fees by simply renting a car. There are rental car agencies in Waikiki, making it convenient to pick up a vehicle and take it out for the day.
Drive Hui, a car-sharing company, is also accessible in Waikiki.
On the other islands, traveling without a car is more difficult. To see and explore, you should likely reserve one. We appreciate Discount Hawaii Car Rental’s assistance in obtaining the best rental car rates on each island.
7. What is the cost of a trip to Hawaii?
Let’s be honest: trips to Hawaii are never inexpensive. There are unquestionably ways to save money, but it remains an expensive destination.
To give you an idea of how much you should budget (or how much money you’ll need to save), we calculated the cost for a family of four. We estimate that the average cost of a 10-day trip for a family of four is approximately $13,000. Here you can read all about how we estimated the cost of a trip to Hawaii. However, remember that this is only an estimate. The cost of your trip will vary depending on when you travel, which islands you visit, and how you choose to spend or save your money.
8. How far in advance should a trip to Hawaii be booked?
The summer of 2021 taught us a valuable lesson: book early for the best vacation experience (pandemic travel rush in 2021!). The lack of rental car availability, the complete sell-out of tours and luaus, and the inability to make restaurant reservations dissatisfied tourists.
To avoid disappointment, reserve the following in advance:
We advise booking a rental car at the same time as a flight. Thus, you will know you have a reservation and won’t be forced to rent a two-door coupe for $500 per day for your family of five.
Because it is essential to reserve a rental car in advance, we always recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental. They almost always have the best prices (we’ve saved thousands of dollars with them), they book with national carriers, and you don’t have to pay in advance. You are welcome to check prices as frequently as possible, and if you discover that they have decreased, you can cancel your reservation and make a new one.
Excursions and actions
Consider booking a specific tour or activity several months in advance if you know you want to participate. Especially during the busiest months, luaus and popular tours book up very early.
We have compiled a list of our favorite tours on each island to assist you in planning. It took us 18 months and a great deal of testing to compile a list of tours for each island, which we are eager to share.
A number of Hawaii’s natural attractions require an admission fee. The state attempts to protect the land and natural resources by limiting the number of visitors at any given location. However, with some planning in advance, you can secure tickets to some of these beautiful locations.
These popular locations require admission tickets:
Tickets for the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve can be reserved two days in advance. Here you can make a Hanauma Bay reservation.
Reservations for Haleakala Sunrise can be made 60 days in advance (with additional tickets being released two days prior to the date you want to visit). Here you can make sunrise reservations. Consider whether you should visit Haleakala for sunrise or sunset.
Plan your trip to this park on the north shore of Kauai 30 days in advance and purchase tickets.
In our island itineraries, all necessary reservation deadlines are outlined. They simplify your planning considerably.
9. How many islands should you visit during your Hawaii vacation?
You’re planning an extensive trip to Hawaii and want to see as much as possible, but do you have time to visit multiple islands? If you are taking a one-week trip, we recommend that you visit only one island. There is so much to see on each island that you could easily spend more than a week exploring. If your trip is longer than 10 days, you could add a second island to your itinerary, but be aware that you will be moving around more and may not be able to see everything on each island.
Despite the close proximity of the islands in Hawaii and the 30- to 45-minute flight time between them, your island-hopping travel day will still cut into your vacation. This can easily consume a half-day of your vacation between packing, airport procedures, and checking into your accommodations on the new island.’
While you’re in Hawaii:
Once you’ve arrived in Hawaii, congrats! Soak up the sun and embark on an epic vacation lifestyle. Now that you’re on island time, here are some pertinent facts to consider.
10. Be familiar with geography
The geography of the islands is significant because it affects the weather and your vacation activities. Each island has a windward and a leeward side, which is a crucial geographical concept to comprehend.
Each island’s leeward side faces the tradewinds. Here you will experience more rain and wind, but also lush landscapes (thanks to all the rain!). On the leeward side of each island, which is more protected from wind and rain, the weather is drier and sunnier. The leeward side of the island contains the majority of the famously beautiful beaches you intend to visit.
Wailea Beach and Ka’anapali Beach, for instance, are located on the leeward side of the island of Maui. On the island’s windward side are the Road to Hana and a number of breathtaking waterfalls.
When you comprehend the island’s geography, you will be better able to anticipate what to expect. If you want to experience a lush jungle with waterfalls and vegetation, head east to the windward side. If you want to avoid rain and enjoy the sun, the west or leeward side is your best option.
11. Eat local
One of the perks of traveling to a new location is the chance to try local foods that you might not consume at home. There are a few activities you should try while you are here:
If you’re a fan of seafood, don’t miss out on the fresh, locally caught fish. It is available in both restaurants and fish markets. You will find options such as Mahi Mahi, Ono, Opah, and Ahi, among others.
Enjoy locally grown dragon fruit, coconut, lilikoi, pineapples, and more, as well as locally produced honey. If farm tours are not on your vacation itinerary, you should try a farm-to-table restaurant. You can enjoy island flavors while supporting the local agriculture industry.
There is no need to attend a luau in order to sample traditional Hawaiian cuisine. Poi (taro ground into a paste), laulau (meat wrapped and cooked in taro leaves), kalua pig (slow-roasted pork cooked in an underground oven), and poke are popular dishes (diced, raw fish that is wonderfully flavored).
Ice shavings: Not ice shavings. You may believe that this is a snow cone, but nothing could be further from the truth. Soft, fluffy ice shavings flavored with a variety of syrups and inventive flavor combinations. You may also add fruit and ice cream to your meal. It is so, so great.
12. See the can’t-miss attractions
Hawaii’s beaches are incredible. However, there is much more to discover on each of the islands. You might want to add the following to your list:
Snorkeling or scuba diving at night with Manta Rays on the Big Island
Observing the sunrise or sunset from Maui’s Haleakala Crater
Observing the big wave surfers on Oahu’s north shore
Viewing the breathtaking cliffs of Kauai’s NaPali coast
Participating in the annual migration of humpback whales to Hawaii
This was merely a sample; there is so much more. Check out our cheat sheets if you wish to learn about the most notable features of each island.
Not only do these island cheat sheets highlight the top four must-see attractions and activities on each island, but they also include tips on where to stay, a map of the island with the main attractions, towns, and airport locations, and the best restaurants on each island.
They are intended to facilitate the trip planning process. Grab them for nothing and begin your planning!
Check out our island-by-island listing of the best things to do in Hawaii if you want a comprehensive list of all the activities available in Hawaii. This list contains a number of surprising concepts!
13. Bring the appropriate (reef-safe) sunscreen.
Stop before you toss your preferred brand of sunscreen into your bag. Hawaii has regulations in place to aid in the protection of the reef and sea life, both of which are vital. One of these rules pertains to the type of sunscreen permitted. In Hawaii, sunblocks containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate are no longer sold. It has been determined that these chemicals contribute to coral reef bleaching.
14. Snorkel to see incredible marine life
We enjoy spending our days in the ocean because we live here. There is nothing quite like diving into warm, tropical waters and being greeted by a variety of colorful fish, turtles, and octopi. However, if this is your first time snorkeling in Hawaii, there are a few things you should know.
Understand safety risks
Snorkeling may appear simple, but water conditions, physical conditions, and other factors must be considered. The leading cause of visitor fatalities in Hawaii is drowning. Review the safety tips before leaving the house to ensure that you’re doing everything possible to keep yourself safe.
Use good gear
Please hear me out on this. A number of blogs will instruct you to purchase inexpensive fins and a mask from an ABC store or Target once you arrive. There are several reasons why we do not recommend that.
First and foremost, safety. Fitting equipment (fins that stay on and a mask that doesn’t leak) is essential for safety.
Second, snorkeling is significantly more enjoyable when using equipment that fits well and is simple to operate. This became evident as we attempted to teach our preschooler to snorkel. As soon as we put him in a quality mask, he was able to perform effectively.
Third, purchasing inexpensive equipment contributes to the region’s already overflowing landfills.
That does not mean you must purchase expensive equipment. If you intend to snorkel frequently, even after this trip to Hawaii, it is worthwhile to invest in quality equipment. Our recommendations page contains a list of sets.
Renting snorkeling equipment is a great alternative. The staff can assist you in locating equipment that is a good fit. And if it does not function properly, you can exchange it for a different rental set.
Visit the best locations.
Not all snorkeling locations are created equal. Some areas of the island have a more vibrant reef and are home to a greater variety of marine life. At various times of the year, ocean swells may be more pronounced in other areas.
On each island’s guide page, we list the best snorkeling spots. Before entering the water, you’ll want to review the following pages:
Oahu Travel Guide
Maui Travel Guide
Big Island Travel Guide
Kauai Travel Guide
Take a tour of snorkeling
Although we enjoy snorkeling from the beach frequently, going on a snorkeling tour is a truly unique experience. On a good snorkeling tour, you will learn about the ocean and its marine life, and you will be taken to places that are difficult to reach from the beach. In addition, you will be able to view the islands from the water, which will provide you with a unique perspective and appreciation for their beauty.
We have a comprehensive list of our favorite activity providers and tours on each island, but the following are particularly noteworthy:
Molokini Sunrise Snorkel with Kai Kanani: beat the crowds to Molokini with this special sunrise snorkeling tour leaving directly from the beach in Makena/Wailea.
Ultimate Whale Watch & Snorkel Lanai: head out on a power raft to the coast of Lana’i for a snorkeling adventure. Use discount code ‘HVG’ at checkout to save 10%!
Snorkeling the Lana’i Coast with Sail Maui: If a raft isn’t your thing, take a beautiful sail to the island of Lana’i for snorkeling. Use discount code ‘HVG10’ at checkout to save 10%!
Na Pali Coast Snorkeling with Holo Holo Charters: Cruise up the coast of Kaua’i and off the island of Niihau for a full day of snorkeling.
Power Raft snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay with Captain Zodiac: Head to Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook monument for the best snorkeling on the island.
Understand the rules protecting sea life
When you’re snorkeling and enjoying the crystal clear water, it’s important to keep in mind that you want to make as little impact on the sea life as possible. Stay at least 10 feet away from turtles while snorkeling. You’re required to stay at least 50 feet away from Monk Seals. And if you see spinner dolphins, you’ll need to give them 50 yards of space.
15. Become familiar with the culture of the islands
Before becoming a part of the United States, Hawaii had a long and illustrious history, which is a crucial fact to keep in mind when discussing Hawaii’s uniqueness. Learning a little bit about the culture and history will enrich your stay and provide you with a new appreciation for these incredible islands.
There are numerous opportunities to learn more about Hawaii while you are in the state. Consider going to museums. We enjoy visiting the Bishop Museum and Iolani Palace on Oahu.
On the Big Island, you can also visit historical sites such as Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.
Volunteering can also teach you about the local culture, land, sea, and wildlife. Check to see if any of these 12 volunteer programs in Hawaii offer volunteer days during your stay.
Facilitate your travel planning significantly
if you plan to travel to Hawaii, we have you covered. Our island itineraries guide you through the planning process and ensure a seamless trip once you arrive. Thousands of customers have enjoyed them, regardless of whether they were planning for a trip a year or a day in advance.
“This is not a question, but rather a simple “thank you.” Our original vacation plans for Europe fell through at the last minute. Therefore, we had two weeks to plan something else; your Vacation Guide saved our lives. We had no idea how to begin planning, which island to visit, where to stay, or what activities to engage in. Your trustworthy reviews of the islands led us to spend 8 days on Maui…. Mahalo!!. You guys are incredible!” – Eva M.
Topic: Planning a Trip to Hawaii in 2023: 15 essential details
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