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Why Go To Kauai

Brilliant sunsets, pristine beaches, aquamarine skies – Kauai has mastered seduction. But the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain doesn't have to resort to over-the-top luxury or tourist traps to entice; instead, it appeals to a no-muss, no-fuss type of traveler. You prefer rural to resplendent? Kauai's your island – there are only two major highways, and some regions can only be explored on foot. Resorts are no taller than a coconut tree (literally).

Some would say that you need little more than a good pair of hiking boots, an umbrella and an adventurous spirit to visit. But we should warn you: You might also need a little cash. Kauai has put a premium on its natural beauty and prized hiking trails, and room rates during the winter can reach $500 a night. To get the most and save the most, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons


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Kauai Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best time to visit Kauai is between September and November or from April to June, when the weather is pleasant and airfare and hotel rates drop. The rainy season that occurs from December to March doesn't deter visitors looking for a winter getaway, but a word to the wise: You'll face the highest markup on rooms and flights if you visit at this time (it's peak travel season in Kauai). If winter is too pricey for your liking, consider the spring and fall months as a compromise: Kauai sees a slight dip in prices after the peak season concludes and before families take summer vacations. Vacationing in Kauai during the summer won't yield the same high prices as winter, but they won't be a whole lot lower either. 

Weather in Kauai

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What You Need to Know

  • It will probably rain Kauai is the rainest of the Hawaiian islands. Though rainy season officially occurs from December to March, the Hawaii tourism board recommends travelers bring rain gear with them no matter what time of year they visit. 
  • Don't visit in winter if you want to swim Due to rough conditions, many of the beaches in Kauai become unsafe for swimming during the winter months. If you want to do a lot of swimming at many different beaches, come right just before summer or during summer. 
  • Always check conditions before you hike or swim Conditions in Kauai can change hourly and unanticipated changes have resulted in serious injury, rescues and even death among tourists. Always check conditions with an official before starting a hike or entering the water. 
  • See the island from the air Much of the island is inaccessible from land. Helicopter tours are a great way to view the valleys and coast from a bird's-eye view.

How to Save Money in Kauai

  • Ditch the convertible We hate to deflate your dream of having the wind in your hair, but considering how often it rains in Hawaii, you may not end up using it as much as you want. Save yourself the disappointment and rent a compact car with a solid roof instead.
  • Reread your car-insurance policy Some car rental agencies will try to sell you collision insurance. (Hawaii is a no-fault state, and you'd have to pay for any accident damages before you leave). But many personal insurance policies already cover this. Double-check before you book.
  • Stick to farmers markets if you want to buy groceries Because so much is imported in Hawaii, you'll balk at the high prices of food at grocery stores. Do what the locals do and go to as many farmers markets as possible.  

Culture & Customs

Travelers used to a fast-paced life should take it easy in Kauai, and elsewhere in Hawaii, where life is considerably slower than on the mainland. While Kauai's laid-back attitude might aggravate some less-patient travelers, it tends to suit most vacationers seeking relaxation and solace in one of the United States' most beautiful travel destinations.

Although the slower pace and natural beauty of Kauai may seem very foreign, it is important to remember that Hawaii is part of the United States, and its residents are proud of their American heritage. It is impolite to refer to Hawaiian citizens as "islanders" or "natives." Aside from the laid-back pace of life and attitude, don’t expect things to be too different here. Language, currency as well as tipping guidelines are all the same as they are on the mainland. 


What to Eat

Classic Hawaiian dishes often come in the form of comfort food (don't expect a whole lot of salads) and are typically a unique blend of the many different cultures that have immigrated to Hawaii. One of the best examples of this cultural immersion is reflected in a dish called saimin. What appears to be just plain ramen is actually a combination of Japanese (broth), Chinese (noodles), Filipino (green onions), Portuguese (sausage), Korean (kimchi) and Hawaiian (ham) ingredients. Hamura Saimin in Lihue, situated in southwestern Kauai, is said to have some of the best saimin on the island.

Saimin is just the start of imports with a Hawaiian twist. There's also Spam musubi, which is basically sushi, but instead of fish, the substitute is flavored Spam. If that's a little too unconventional for your liking, try manapua. Manapua resembles traditional Chinese pork buns that are much bigger in size and packed with unconventional fillings, such as sweet potato, barbecue pork or curry chicken, to name a few. For something sweet, sink your teeth into malasada. This dessert was brought over by Portuguese immigrants and is basically a hole-less doughnut coated with sugar and filled with a custard, chocolate or fruit-based filling.

Another tradition is the plate lunch, a robust dish that always consists of two scoops of rice and macaroni salad alongside a serving of meat that could range from kalua pork (the type of meat traditionally served at luaus) to mahi-mahi. Loco moco is the island's version of an English breakfast. But instead of a hodgepodge of meat, there is a slab of teriyaki-flavored beef that sits on a bed of rice and is topped with a fried egg and gravy. If all that sounds a bit too heavy, try huli-huli chicken, a grilled chicken dish coated in a sweet teriyaki marinade.

You also can't leave the island without trying poke, the Hawaiian classic that is currently sweeping the mainland. Poke is marinated, cubed raw fish typically accompanied with rice. Whatever meals you decide to sample in Kauai, be sure to top it all off with flavored shaved ice, Hawaii's unofficial state dessert.

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Kauai is both the fourth-largest island in Hawaii and its oldest. Of all the major islands, Kauai is the least populated, with fewer than 59,000 people (smaller islands, such as Lanai and Molokai, both have less than 7,500 residents). As such, expect way less development than more commercialized islands like Oahu. Most of the island's towns and cities are located on the coast, while inner Kauai – home to many of the island's forest and wilderness preserves – remains largely uninhabited. The best way to navigate Kauai is to split the island up by its north, south, east and west shores, as conditions and amenities vary greatly by area. 

The west side of Kauai is a wild one. The area is largely covered in mountains, valleys and forests. It is here where you'll find Koke'e State Park and Waimea Canyon, along with Polihale State Park. There's also Salt Pond Beach Park in the small town of Hanapepe, Kauai's art capital. Unlike Polihale, Salt Pond Beach Park is safe to swim at and has lifeguards. The beach is a favorite among families for its calm waters, tide pools and facilities (there are restrooms, picnic tables and pavilions). Waimea is also a notable town on the west side, known as the place where British explorer James Cook landed in 1778. Stop here if you want to get a sense of local life, as there are few accommodations for visitors. 

In comparison to the western shore, the southern area of Kauai is more developed. Here, you'll find the Poipu resort area, home to the popular Poipu Beach, as well as a handful of golf courses. If you stay here, amenities of any kind, whether that be dining or shopping options, are never too far from reach. Another town to visit in the south is Old Koloa Town, situated just 3 miles north of Poipu. Old Koloa Town holds historical significance in Kauai for its ties to the sugar industry. The town's first sugar mill, which was established in 1835, eventually set the standard for commercial sugar production in all of Hawaii. While the sugar industry is long gone, much of the town's businesses occupy old planation buildings, giving it an authentic charm that you might not find in the resort areas of Kauai. 

The eastern side of Kauai is a healthy mixture of the natural beauty of the west and the commercialism of the south. The east side is the most populated part of the island, with its biggest town, Lihue, housing the local government as well as the island's main airport, cruise port and commercial shipping harbor. You'll find resorts lining the shore, including the Kauai Marriott Resort, home to Kalapaki Beach. There's also the popular Lydgate Beach Park. Lydgate is actually more of a series of pools than a beach thanks to the rock walls that prevent the ocean's surf from coming in. For untouched natural beauty, head to Wailua River State Park, situated about 2 miles west of Lydgate Beach. And if you're wanting to bring home some unique Hawaiian souvenirs, Kapaa Town, located 5 miles north of the state park, features numerous shopping plazas offering everything from Hawaiian shirts and one-of-a-kind crafts to antiques.

Kauai's north shore is probably the island's most popular region. Here is where you'll find the breathtaking Napali Coast, easily the island's most popular attraction. Some of the island's most beautiful beaches can be also be found here, including Hanalei Bay, Tunnels Beach and Ke'e Beach, the latter of which can be found right next to the Kalalau trailhead. Other popular shorelines on this region include Haena Beach Park, located about a half-mile west of Tunnels Beach, and Anini Beach, located in Princeville. Princeville is the premier resort area of Kauai, right after Poipu. It's here where you'll find the island's best hotels, as well as multiple golf courses. Other points of interest in the northern region include the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse, a breathtaking vantage point that also serves as a prime spot during whale watching season. There's also Hanalei Town at Hanalei Bay, which features plenty of charming shops and restaurants.

Safety in Kauai isn't so much about watching out for crime as it is watching out for Mother Nature. When hiking or going to the beach, it is highly advised to consult local resources about the conditions. Weather is known to be fickle in Kauai, especially when it comes to rain. It's not unusual for a bright, sunny day to suddenly experience unscheduled downpours. Hawaiian state park officials recommend all hikers bring a hiking partner (hiking alone in Kauai is not safe), don proper hiking boots, and wear waterproof attire, sunscreen and a hat. It's also recommended to bring at least two liters of water while hiking.  

Another key feature on the Kalalau Trail, as well as other trails and popular outdoor adventures in Hawaii, is crossing streams. Streams are subject to flash floods and have resulted in numerous tourist deaths on the island. If you see a stream start to rise, or is risen, do not cross it. Wait until it goes down. If you're uncomfortable taking on the terrain by yourself, consider booking a tour with an experienced operator. 

It's equally important to be mindful of the weather conditions when at any of the island's beaches. Generally, winter sees rougher conditions unsuitable for swimming, especially on the northern and western shores. It is advised to only swim at beaches where lifeguards are present; you can find a list of lifeguarded beaches on the Hawaii Tourism board's website. If you are going to a beach but not swimming, you'll still want to be mindful of the ocean. High tide can quickly sweep in and take an unsuspecting traveler close to the shore out to sea. 

Getting Around Kauai

The best way to get around Kauai is in a car actually, the only way to get around Kauai is in a car. The bus system, though inexpensive, does not cater to tourists. Taxis are virtually nonexistent, though you will see them congregate at Lihue Airport (LIH), which is near the town of Lihue on the southeastern side of Kauai. Many hotels also provide free shuttle service to and from the airport.

There are direct flights into the Lihue Airport from several North American destinations, but many travelers choose to fly through Honolulu International Airport (HNL). If you opt for the layover, try to get a seat on the left side of the plane as you island-hop: You'll have an awesome view of Kauai as you approach the island.


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Kauai2 of 38

The Napali Coast is undeniably one of Kauai's top sights.

GlowingEarth/Getty Images

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