The Ultimate Kauai Travel Guide
Are you a nature and outdoorsy type of person? Do you like to explore hidden waterfalls, soar up high in helicopters, and venture out to explore the best beaches? If you answered YES to all the above, Kauai should be on your next place to visit, if it isn’t already!
Kauai is located just north of Oahu and is the 4th largest island in the Hawaiian chain. Kauai (also known as the Garden Isle) has more beaches, rivers, streams, and waterfalls than any of the other Hawaiian islands. It’s known for its beautiful rainforests, the Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon.
As you may know, I LOVE Hawaii; I make it out there at least ONCE a year. I usually go to Honolulu but this time around, I finally visited Kauai – and it sure was a memorable one!
To be honest, I didn’t know much about the island at first, all I knew was it had a lot of outdoor activities which I desperately needed to do! I haven’t taken a nature trip in quite some time now, and was up for fun new adventures! Flights were unexpectedly cheap Labor Day weekend, so my friend and I said why not, and we spontaneously booked our trip to Kauai!
Kauai may seem like a small island but since everything is so spread out, you definitely need more than a few days to conquer it all! Lauren and I had 4 full days to explore this beautiful island and in just those 4 days, I’d say we covered a good amount of grounds. If you’re planning a visit or are just curious to learn more of what this island has to offer, I suggest you read on:
TOURS YOU MUST BOOK:
We booked all our tours via Best Kauai Tours which by the way is a one-stop-shop for the best Kauai tours on the island.
1) Ride a Helicopter
One of the best and coolest ways to view and explore the island is up high on the Helicopter Tour.
The helicopter tour was about 55 minutes long and during that time we explored and saw the Na Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon, Wailua Falls, Mount Waialeale while learning about the legends and history of the island.
This has been high on my bucket list and was so ecstatic to finally be able to do it. It was definitely nerve-racking at first but well worth it! One random thing I noticed while flying up high was I felt really drowsy like I could barely keep my eyes open at one point. I think it might have just been the high altitude, who knows?
HELPFUL TIPS –
- It’s recommended you eat a meal or substantial snack an hour or two before as it helps prevent motion sickness. (I definitely felt nauseous at one point as I did not eat much beforehand!!)
- Also, plan to take Dramamine prior to riding if you get motion sickness easily like me!
- Wear DARK clothing and avoid wearing WHITE because it reduces the glare/reflection.
2) Soar through the Jungle with Ziplining
Another cool way to enjoy scenic views and explore the nature side of Kauai is to book a Zipline Tour.
The tour we did was via Koloa Zipline and not only was the staff INCREDIBLE but the tour was SO MUCH FUN!! The tour was 4 hours long (so make sure you block off a good chunk of your schedule). Their 8 line course had you flying through the jungle with breathtaking backdrops!
Like the helicopter, this was my very first time ziplining and I LOVED it! Our tour guides were amazing and I would totally book this tour again!
HELPFUL TIPS –
- The tour is long but they provide snacks towards the end and water is always available.
- If you’re afraid to bring your phone in fear you’d drop it, I suggest you purchase a Waterproof Phone Pouch – it’s totally handy and affordable! It has a lanyard so you can easily wear it around your neck (which works great when you’re ziplining!) With this pouch, you can essentially bring your phone with you anywhere even while swimming!
- Wear comfy clothes and/or activewear! Avoid wearing shorts as the harness tends to hike them up a bit making it feel super uncomfortable – which you obviously do not want!
- Make sure you also wear tennis shoes or closed-toed water shoes.
- Wear your hair in a ponytail or low braid because you’ll be wearing a helmet.
- Spray yourself using BUG SPRAY and SUNSCREEN!
3) Attend a Luau
You can’t do Hawaii without experiencing a luau! Luaus are a great way to get an inside scoop of Polynesian culture. With traditional Hawaiian food and skilled performances of the hula telling stories of the islands, there is no doubt, you’ll have an amazing time.
I have been to luaus before but back when I was really young with my family so going to one this trip was a great idea! I really enjoyed the Kauai Luau we went to, tickets included open-bar, buffet-style dinner, and an entertaining Hawaiian storytelling show. The dancers were great and I enjoyed trying out a variety of Hawaiian cuisine I’ve never had before.
4) Sail through Kauai’s beautiful Na Pali Coast
This was one of the top-rated suggestions by locals and tourists alike; though we did not get to do it this trip I can’t wait to do it next time!
There are a few different boat tours to choose from, and I can imagine all are great options! Like any boat tour, especially in Kauai, you get remarkable views on the water! And if you’re looking to knock out snorkeling, and watching the sunset, might as well conquer it all on a boat tour!
HELPFUL TIPS –
- Take Dramamine 30 minutes prior to your trip to prevent motion sickness.
- Dress comfortably, wear a swimsuit underneath, bring a lot of sunscreen!
- If you’re in fear of getting your phone wet, buy a Waterproof Phone Pouch – the best cheap decision gadget ever!
5) Kayak your way to Scenic Destinations
Kayaking is a great way to venture through Kauai while getting in a great workout (those strokes are no joke!!!). Forewarning, if you are out of shape and not looking for a strenuous activity, kayaking might not be your calling. But if you’re up for the adventure and don’t want to miss out, sore arms might be well worth it!
There are different kayak tours to choose from, we booked the Uluwehi Falls Kayak Tours which included kayaking and a hike to Uluwehi Falls aka Secret Falls.
I have “kayaked” before but didn’t have to do any work due to the fact that during our tour in Asia the guide on our kayak did all the strenuous work for us. So technically, I was not ready for what was to come. The Kayak Tour we booked was really pretty but in honor of being transparent on here, I didn’t know what I was signing up for! I hate saying negative things but our tour guide didn’t seem to care as much for our safety and was quite sexist.
Basically to sum it up: the “kayak tour” turned into a kayak race vs. a nice, leisurely, kayak tour as I imagined. Can you guess? My friend and I ended up in last place every time; which resulted in inappropriate jokes by our tour guide. What’s strange and a huge concern to me about this specific tour is the lack of concern for safety. That said if you’re a KAYAK BEGINNER, I DO NOT recommend you take this specific tour. But if you’re intermediate or advanced, by all means!
After kayaking through the Wailua River, we hiked to Uluwehi Falls (the hike is fairly easy) — which was absolutely beautiful! It was quite muddy during our hike FYI so don’t be AFRAID to get your FEET DIRTY!
Aside from that, this tour overall was a challenging yet great physical workout — a total of 4 hours of kayaking (4 miles) and hiking (2 miles)! Be prepared to SWEAT!
*FYI do not let this review scare you! This was my personal experience, but there are MANY OTHER KAYAK tours or even rentals you can do aside from this!
HELPFUL TIPS –
- Wear your bathing suit underneath your clothes as you can enjoy a nice dip at the end of the hike.
- Wear either water shoes or hiking/fitness shoes (which are highly recommended as you’ll be hiking halfway through this tour).
- Be prepared to GET WET and DIRTY! It rains a lot in Kauai, and during our hike, it was very MUDDY as it rained prior and on the same day. During the hike, you also go through rivers to get to the other side.
- Bring a lot of sunscreen and bug spray.
- Bring lunch and a towel as this tour is 4 hours long.
OTHER THINGS TO DO:
1) Relax on the North and South Shore Beaches
Kauai is known for the most beautiful beaches that you definitely should check out during your visit.
- Poipu Beach is located on the south of the island and is quite the sensation! It was named “best beach in America.”
- Shipwreck Beach is another great beach located right in front of Grant Hyatt Kauai Resort. Shipwreck Beach is a local favorite for surfing and body surfing.
- Kalapaki Beach is Kauai’s Marriott Resort’s private beach and can be found right in front of Duke’s Kauai (which is another place to grab some drinks and/or grub). After our helicopter tour (it’s right next door), we grabbed lunch at Duke’s and walked on over to the beach afterward! It was the perfect, chill and relaxing day well spent.
- Tunnels Beach is known to be the best place to snorkel and scuba dive. Located on the north side of the island, this beach gives you a look at the famous Napali ridges.
- Hanakapiai Beach is a beach located on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast. It’s more secluded and 2 miles from there you can access the Kalalau Trail, a very popular hiking trail.
2) Pamper Yourself at Anara Spa in Grand Hyatt Kauai
Because you’re on vacation and you deserve a relaxing spa day! During my visit, I had one of the best spa experiences at Anara Spa located in Grand Hyatt Kauai. It was absolutely what I needed after a long and adventurous few days exploring the island. They offer a variety of treatments that suits all traveler’s needs!
3) Venture Out and Do Some Hiking
You came to Kauai for a reason, and one of those is probably to take in some major nature views!
Luckily, Kauai offers the best of the best! Take a look at some of these hikes below:
- Waimea Canyon State Park is another popular hike and is known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” This trail offers hikers with exquisite views and is great for all types of hikers!
- Waipo’o Falls Trail might not get you the waterfalls view you expected but it will not disappoint! You get incredible views the entire trail; which is even better!
- Secret Falls aka Uluwehi Falls is a beginner-intermediate hike (very slippery and muddy) that will lead you to a private and beautiful waterfall. You can only access this hike by water, and the best way is via a guided tour guide, which you can book here.
- Kalalau Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Kauai. People come from all over the world just to do this trail. Supposedly this hike is really advanced and you need a permit to hike it. It might be well worth it for the epic views! You can hike about 2 miles of this trail to Hanakapiai Falls.
BEST RESTAURANTS IN KAUAI:
- Merriman’s Fish House is a must if you’re looking for fresh seafood and impeccable ambiance. Check out my recommendations and more of my review here.
- Stevenson’s Sushi and Spirits is great for both dinner and/or late-night drinks, it is one of the few places that close at midnight on the island. Both their sushi and cocktails were well-worth the money! Super fresh and tasty! Book your reservations here.
WHERE TO STAY IN KAUAI:
Didn’t stay here much, but based on reviews, The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas and The St. Regis Princeville Resort was recommended for the best Kauai hotels on North Shore.
Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa is hands down the best resort on the island! From its wide-range hotel amenities to its incredible views and spectacular hospitality, there is no question to not want to stay here. We stayed here during our trip and I can most definitely vouch for it! I recommend staying here if you’re staying on the South Shore.
Kauai is an island like none other; it’s an island to escape to the great outdoors, for ADVENTURE — and to really IMMERSE yourself in the beauty of the island!
Watch my latest YOUTUBE Vlog on my Kauai Trip:
I explored a great amount during my stay but there’s still SO MUCH MORE to SEE! Until then…
Thank you to Best Kauai Tours for hosting our tours; as always, all opinions are my own.
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