Updated July 24, 2020.
This Faraway Friday I’m taking a break from my usual “top 10 reasons to visit” list to bring you some tips for visiting the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in all the world: Kauai, Hawaii! They don’t call it the Garden Isle for nothing. If you’re taking a trip Kauai in the near future, read through these tips to help you plan, pack, and make the most of your time!
Hawaiians speak English, but there are still some words and phrases you probably won’t recognize if this is your first time in the islands. Here’s a crash course for what you need to know:
- Aloha: Hello, goodbye, and love
- Mahalo: Thank you
- Leeward: the side of the island that is sheltered from the wind
- Windward: the side of the island that faces into the wind
- Surf: Not surfing the sport. The “surf” is the water that breaks on the shoreline. If there is a “strong surf,” that means be careful out there
- Tradewinds: also called “trades,” these are the winds that mostly come from the northeast of all the islands in the northern hemisphere (that’s Hawaii!)
- Pali: Cliff
- Kapu: Danger/Keep Out–and they mean it
- The Garden Isle: Kauai’s nickname; is it any wonder?
More here: The Ultimate Kauai Bucket List
What to Pack
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- Sunscreen! Try to find some that will not damage coral, and don’t forget to reapply as needed! One 3-ounce tube is enough to last my husband and me about a week.
- Bug repellent. It may be paradise, but there are still bugs!
- Comfortable, sturdy, hiking shoes. Kauai is best explored on foot through the natural beauty, and flip flops just won’t cut it.
- An extra water bottle. Before you go out for a day of hiking, pack twice the water you think you’ll need.
- A waterproof day bag. I found one on Amazon from Skog a Kust Gear, and it is so helpful! Keep your phone, keys, snacks, extra water, and sunscreen in your waterproof bag to keep the water and sand out while you’re hiking, splashing around the pool, and sunning on the beach.
- Water shoes. The beaches are beautiful, but rockier than you may think. Water shoes will give your feet the protection they need without weighing you down!
- A wedding ring placeholder. Learn from our experience: my sweet husband’s wedding ring has been shifting with the Kauai tides since April 30, 2016, two days before our second wedding anniversary. He was afraid to tell me, but I couldn’t help laughing. He now has a far less expensive wedding ring that fits much better. If you like your wedding rings (and engagement ring, and nice jewelry), do yourself a favor and wear a fake so you can leave it at home!
- At least one bathing suit that can double as part of an outfit. I often hike in a tankini top while exploring an island. Find one that’s comfortable and modest enough to be a top, and you’ll be glad you did! Wear bathing suit bottoms under your shorts (or quick-dry shorts that act as bathing suit bottoms) because you never know when you’ll com up on a waterfall or swimming hole you’ll want to explore!
Read next: 5 Things You Forgot to Pack for Kauai
Not to Be Missed
No matter where you are on Kauai, you will find beauty. But there are a few things I recommend putting at the top of your priority list:
- An aerial view of the Na’Pali Coast. This was one the first things we did our first full day on Kauai, and it was the perfect introduction to this majestic island. We opted for the small airplane with Wings Over Kauai instead of a helicopter, but go with your personal preference. The scenery is majestic and breath-taking either way!
More here: What to Do Your Last Day in Hawaii
- Waimea Canyon: Known also as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, it’s a beautiful place to hike and really take in the stunning, vast beauty of this island. We dedicated a whole day to exploring the canyon and surrounding area, and we felt like that was a good plan–no rushing, we didn’t miss anything, and we were still back to the hotel before dark!
Read next: The Ultimate List of Hiking Tips
- Hiking the Kalalau Trail. This is a long trail that follows the Na’Pali Coast, so don’t feel pressured to do the whole thing. Wear sturdy shoes and bring plenty of water!
More here: What to Eat on Kauai
- Kauai Coffee Plantation. Love coffee? This is for you! It’s the largest coffee plantation in the United States, and you can take a tour. Oh, and you can sample all of their coffees! Don’t forget to take some home. Kauai coffee is the very best coffee I’ve ever tasted.
This location was featured in my book, Paradise Lost and Found!
This will largely depend on where you stay. We stayed at the Kauai Marriott Beach Resort on Rice Street in Lihue. We found this to be an idea location for us because we were walking distance (2 miles) from the airport, and it’s at the midpoint of highway 50.
- Highway 50 is the road that goes as far around the coast of Kauai as it can. Most islands have one road that goes all the way around, but because of Waimea Canyon and the Na’Pali Coast, the road can’t go all the way around!
- If you rent a car, do so on non-consecutive days. If you’re staying close enough to a car rental place, let them keep the car overnight and save yourself the parking fee at your hotel! We rented on a Sunday and the following Tuesday, meaning we had a one day in the middle to lay around on the beach and really relax without stressing out about getting our money’s worth out of a rental car.
- Use your feet and go hiking. There are so many gorgeous trails, and Kauai is best seen on a hike, in my opinion. Bring extra sunscreen and water, and a sturdy pair of shoes, as mentioned in the “what to pack” section above!
A few more things to help you be prepared:
- Kauai is the most beautiful place I have ever been, and I’ve been a lot of places! It is so fertile and lush, you can’t look anywhere without seeing vibrant colors and stunning natural beauty. Take pictures, but also take time to simply look and be in awe of your surroundings. Pictures can’t do it justice, but your memories will!
- You may not bring food onto the island–or any Hawaiian island! You may also not take any fruit from the islands.
- Kauai is home to one of the wettest places on Earth.
- There are chickens absolutely everywhere! They are on all of the islands, but we noticed them the absolute most on Kauai. They won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. They’re just everywhere!
More here: Hawaii’s Best Adventures
Recommended Reading and Watching
- Paradise Lost and Found by Whitney O’Halek
- Kauai Revealed by Andrew Doughty and Harriett Friedman (guide book)
- Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton (autobiography)
- Soul Surfer (movie)
- Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific (movie)
- Six Days, Seven Nights (movie)
- Blue Hawaii, starring Elvis Presley (movie)
- Jurassic Park (movie)
More here: Books to Read Before You Trip to Hawaii
Want more? Check out my Pacific Islands Page for all my Hawaii posts!
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