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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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.
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
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.
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.
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.
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.See details for Getting Around
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