Six distinct Hawaiian islands are open to tourists to visit, the main four being Oahu, the Big Island, Kauai and Maui. The other smaller — but equally noteworthy — islands are Lanai and Molokai. It might be challenging to pick the perfect island for you; however, each one offers something special for any type of vacation you wish to embark on.
Oahu: Big City, Small Island
From upscale shopping and restaurants to white-sand beaches and sprawling resorts outside the hustle and bustle, Oahu has a lot to offer the everyday traveler with its signature blend of island and American tradition. It’s the perfect island for those who prefer the luxuries of having a metropolitan city at their fingertips. Many travelers start in the capital city of Honolulu, hometown of President Obama and home to Pearl Harbor. With numerous flight options, Oahu is often the start of an island-hopping trip — or a long weekend getaway from the West Coast. Also, with so many hotels in Waikiki and the quieter North Shore and Windward Coast, there is something for everyone from the budget traveler to the high roller.
Getting there: Many major airlines fly to Honolulu International Airport (HNL).
Big Island: Endless Options For All Travelers
The largest of all the Hawaiian Islands (hence the name), the Big Island features eight ecosystems — from a dry volcanic landscape reminiscent of Mars to lush rain forests. Travelers can spend the day lounging at the beach on the Kohala Coast — boasting an average of 355 days of sunshine per year — or hiking around Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. There is a never-ending list of things to do on the Big Island; explore the rain forest, tee off at one of the many golf courses or take a tour of Kona Brewing Co.
Getting there: There are two international airports on Big Island: Kona International Airport (KOA) in the west and Hilo International Airport (ITO) in the east. Due to limited flights direct from the mainland, most visitors fly into Honolulu, then take a 40-minute flight to either Kona or Hilo.
Kauai: For Nature-Loving Adventurers
Nicknamed the Garden Island, Kauai is legendary for its natural beauty, ranging from mountains and sea cliffs to sandy beaches and coral reefs. Zip-lining? ATVing? Hiking to waterfalls? Relaxing at the beach? If any of those spark your interest, then Kauai is the place you want to be. For the beach lover, there is sunny Poipu, a prime place to spot humpback whales in winter and spring or sea turtles in summer. Or admire the breathtaking Waimea Canyon on the way to the dramatic Na Pali Coast, home of secluded beaches and waterfalls.
Getting there: Many visitors choose to fly into Honolulu and hop over to Kauai, which is only a 40-minute flight. Some airlines from the West Coast fly into Kauai’s Lihue Airport, but expect to pay more for direct flights.
Maui: Honeymoon Haven
The second largest of the Hawaiian Islands and arguably one of the most romantic, Maui is home to some of the best beaches in the world. The island is considered an international favorite, and its draws include charming historic villages, beautiful beaches not far from bright green valleys and critically acclaimed restaurants and resorts such as the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort, Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua and the Grand Wailea – A Waldorf Astoria Resort. Travelers can drive the windy road to Hana, boasting coastal views along the way. For those who enjoy snorkeling, be sure to stay at Kaanapali Beach, home to Black Rock, boasting calm waters where guests can swim with turtles.
Getting there: There are direct flights from many mainland cities to Kahului Airport (OGG), with more being added each year. Virgin America just added flights from San Francisco this winter, which is ultimately bringing down the cost of getting here from the West Coast with flights also from United and Hawaiian.
Lanai: Secluded & Pricey
Known as Hawaii’s most enticing island, the remote Lanai offers a romantic — and expensive — remote escape. Lanai draws travelers who really want a secluded spot to spend their vacation. There are only two resorts on the island, both Four Seasons properties, with one set above Lanai City on 21 acres overlooking the countryside and the other sitting steps from the beach along a protected marine reserve. Guests receive access to both properties, giving them best of both worlds.
Getting there: There is no direct service from the continental U.S., so most visitors fly to Honolulu or Maui, and connect to local airlines that fly to Lanai Airport (LNY). Both flights are about 30 minutes long.
Molokai: Traditional Hawaii
More than half the population living on Molokai have indigenous heritage, making the island one of the most traditionally Hawaiian places to visit. “Molokai remains a time capsule on the dawn of the 21st century,” states Frommer’s of the island with no sprawling big-name resorts. There are no traffic lights on Molokai, where everyday life is relaxed and laid-back. Molokai is the place to take a break and experience old Hawaii, without all the glitz.
Getting there: There are two ways to get to Molokai: by plane and by ferry. Many visitors fly to Honolulu or Maui, where you can connect to local airlines that fly to Hoolehua Molokai Airport (MKK), which is only a 30-minute flight. To take the ferry, fly into Maui. The trip by ferry from Maui is about two hours long.
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