Having a well-planned itinerary for Kauai ensures that you maximize the most precious commodity there is on the island – time!
With only a week or less in Kauai, every second lost to planning on the go is a second you could have been exploring the savage beauty of the Na Pali Coast, relaxing on the pristine beaches of Hanalei Bay, or swimming amongst the exotic marine life off of Poipu Beach.
To ensure you get the most of your time on “the Garden Isle”, we have put together the perfect 5 to 7 day Kauai itinerary designed to be customizable to your preferences.
In other words, the itinerary proposed is for first-time visitors traveling to the island who want to see it all, but also want time to relax and feel like they’re on vacation.
All prices and information you read is accurate as of March, 2023.
Disclosure: In order to keep providing you with free content, this post likely contains affiliate links. If you make a booking or purchase through one of these links we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. So a HUGE thank you to you if you click one of these links 🙂
☀️ 5 to 7 Day Kauai Itinerary Overview
Visitors traveling to Kauai for the first time should try to schedule at least 5 days for the island.
“The Garden Isle” (as Kauai is known) is the smallest of the 4 major Hawaiian islands and therefore requires a little less time to discover than most.
If possible, however, 7 days on Kauai is the perfect amount of time. Having a full week available provides time to both explore and relax.
The perfect 7 day itinerary for Kauai breaks down as follows:
- Day 1: Arrive in Lihue
- Day 2: Waimea Canyon & Koke’e State Park
- Day 3: Poipu & South Shore
- Day 4: Na Pali Coast & Polihale State Park
- Day 5: Kapa’a & Wailua
- Day 6: Princeville, Hanalei, & North Shore
- Day 7: Depart
For 5-day Kauai itineraries, a few minor adjustments should be made.
The first adjustment is to use Day 1 and/or Day 7 to explore whichever region above is nearest to your accommodation (typically Princeville or Poipu).
The second adjustment is to combine Day 2 & 3.
The perfect 5-day Kauai itinerary is:
- Day 1: Explore Locally
- Day 2:Waimea Canyon, Koke’e, Poipu, and south shore drive
- Day 3: Na Pali Coast & Polihale State Park
- Day 4: Kapa’a & Wailua Region
- Day 5: Princeville, Hanalei, & Kauai North Shore
🌄 SUGGESTED: PLANNING A TRIP TO KAUAI ULTIMATE GUIDE
Getting Around Kauai
This itinerary can be completed as a self-guided tour, whereby you’ll need to rent a car or camper van to explore the island.
If you are not able to drive, the other option is to take guided tours for the different activities mentioned. Most of these provide pick-up and drop-off services from the Princeville and Poipu areas, which are the two most popular areas to stay.
Those traveling on a budget should definitely consider traveling Kauai by camper van. This not only liberates more time by cutting down on commutes, but it also saves a lot of money on accommodation costs. Kauai is very driver-friendly with wide roads for larger vehicle.
Where to Stay
The two most popular places to stay on Kauai are Princeville on the north shore and Poipu on the south shore. Our recommendation is to divide your time between them.
For 5 day Kauai itineraries, spend 2 nights in Poipu and 2 in Princeville. If you have a fifth night, stay an extra night in Poipu.
For 7 day Kauai itineraries, we generally recommend spending 4-5 nights on the south shore (Poipu) and 2-3 nights on the north shore (Princeville).
Travelers who prefer spending an entire week in one accommodation will simply have to factor longer drive times into their schedules when sightseeing.
We provide further details and advice on where to stay in a dedicated section of this guide.
For the most complete guide available, bookmark the WHERE TO STAY ON KAUAI ULTIMATE GUIDE and have that ready when you are onto the booking phase of your planning.
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🗺 Map of Kauai
Click on the image above to open our Kauai Points of Interest Google Maps in a new tab.
The Garden Isle is extremely small. The longest drive on main roads is only 2 hours and 20 minutes; this is from Wainiha Beach on the North Shore to Pu’u O Kila Lookout on Koke’e State Park.
What this means is that any point of interest in Kauai could be visited on just a day trip!
🌺 The PERFECT 5 – 7 Day Itinerary for Kauai
The itinerary below explains how to most effectively use your time to ensure you see the best that the island has to offer, while also having time to relax on your Hawaii vacation.
Following the daily breakdown below will guarantee you have the opportunity to see all the highlights. If you are the type of person who prefer to be active, you may want to browse the complete list of all the best things to do in Kauai to add more stops into your itinerary.
We have constructed this itinerary with consideration for the most efficient use of time. However, the order of days is only a suggestion and they are mostly interchangeable.
🍹 Day 1: Check-in
Most people traveling to Kauai will arrive via the Lihue airport on the Southeast corner of Kauai. If you are island hopping, however, there is a chance you will be arriving via Princeville. Therefore, be sure to arrange your rental car accordingly!
We have intentionally kept Day 1 of our 7 day Kauai itinerary very light. We know some of you will have just traveled great distances, some will be arriving at night, and you will need to deal with rental cars, check-ins, etc.
Allow yourself a bit of a free day here! After you’ve got the keys to your rental and have dropped your bags off, find a good bar or beach nearby and drink in that aloha spirit; figuratively or literally!
When you visit Kauai or any Hawaiian Island, it is important that you remember that you are on vacation! Use this first day to simply wander about locally and find a place you love to start taking in some island vibes.
*Kauai 5-day Itinerary Adjustment
For shorter itineraries, you may need to pack more into this first day. After you have unpacked, explore the region in which you find yourself to free up one of the other days.
If you are arriving too late in the day to venture out or simply do not have the energy, you may need to make up some time on the day of departure and/or simply skip whichever activity sounds least interesting to you.
🌈 Day 2: Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park
You will be too enthralled by the beauty of Kauai to spend your first day sitting on a beach. While your energy reserves are at their highest, we recommend visiting Waimea Canyon, as well as neighboring Koke’e State Park.
You may recall that these Kauai destinations are the furthest inland you will be required to drive. For many of you, this will also be the most “hiking” required as well.
Waimea Canyon State Park
The Waimea Canyon is also known as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. It is considered one of the Top 10 best canyons in the US.
It is an incredible expanse of color and layers that even the best photos scarcely do justice to. As you drive along Hwy 550 you’ll discover a ton of viewpoints that provide unique vantage points of the canyon and distant Waipo’o Falls.
Some require short walks, while many are basically roadside pull-offs. Allow yourself plenty of time to stop at these various overlooks, have some lunch, and enjoy the views.
Koke’e State Park
As you continue along the road, you will eventually leave the Waimea Canyon State Park. This is where Koke’e State Park begins.
This is home to some of the best views of the Na Pali coast that you can access by land. Be forewarned, however, that most of these are muddy and unmaintained trails.
Be absolutely sure to read up on our favorite hike in Kauai, the Kalepa Ridge Trail. This guide details the legality and how to find the trail, as well as alternative options.
The Na Pali coast is hands down the most special feature of the island of Kauai. For those physically able, it’s well worth including one of the hikes to your 7 day itinerary for Kauai.
If you do not have the time, interest, or athletic ability for one of these hikes, fear not! Kalalau Lookout is easily accessible and provides incredible views of part of the Na Pali coast. Just beyond that is the Pu’u O Kila Lookout with similar and also impressive views.
Plan to spend the first day of your Kauai trip exploring all that this region has to offer. However, you’ll need to come prepared. There may be a few vendors selling some snacks and drinks at some of the lookouts, but you are best off packing a lunch and bringing it with you.
YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY: Kalepa Ridge Trail Hike Kauai
*Kauai 5-day Itinerary Adjustment
Day 2 and 3 are the easiest days to combine for travelers on a 5-day visit. This may mean less time for relaxing and hiking, however.
There would also be the option to combine Day 3 & 4, but it is not recommended for most. This would mean eliminating or rush your day on the Na Pali Coast, which is the absolute best part of Kauai.
🌄 Day 3: Poipu Region
After an active day exploring the impressive Waimea Canyon on Day 2, you’re undoubtedly ready for a day on the beach! Not to worry – there is plenty to see and do around Poipu!
One of the reasons we prefer an itinerary for Kauai that divides your trip up into accommodation on both the south and north shore is that it will give you longer days at each destination.
Another reason is that many of the parking areas fill up at the local beaches. If you are staying nearby, you can leave your car at the hotel and explore by foot. If you prefer not to walk, you only have a short drive to the beach. This will allow you to arrive early enough to find parking.
Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail
To begin Day 3, we recommend waking up early (groan!) to watch and photograph the sunrise from our absolute favorite vista. Park at Shipwreck Beach and, facing the ocean, find the trail and follow it to your left. This is the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail and it takes you to incredible ocean views facing east as the sun rises.
There are plenty of incredible places to watch the sunrise over the ocean along the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail. However, our favorite composition from a photography standpoint was from Makawehi Bluff. From here, the first light kisses the lush tropical landscape and distant mountain ranges that make Kauai so beautiful.
Explore the Beaches
Following sunrise, we recommend enjoying the divine beaches of the south shore.
Shipwreck Beach is very nice, and if you meander down the beach you will stroll past the Grand Hyatt Kauai. This is a beautiful resort and a great place to enjoy a hammock and a cocktail, even if you are not staying there.
There is also a turtle viewing area here! Walk to the end of Shipwreck Beach and continue toward “The Point at Poipu.”
After spending some time at Shipwreck Beach, consider visiting Poipu Beach for some of the best snorkeling on Kauai. Many varieties of tropical fish call this cove home. It is also very common for honu (Hawaiian for green sea turtles) to come ashore. There are also resorts and plenty of services nearby.
If you want to explore one more beach, you can access the neighboring Kiahuna Beach from Poipu easily by foot. This is yet another beautiful, golden sand beach with all the qualities one seeks on a beach in Hawaii.
Did you know that Hawaii is considered the birthplace of surfing? For a fun activity in Kauai, take a surf lesson in Poipu!
Polihale State Park
Are you too active to spend all day relaxing on a beach? If so, consider using the afternoon on Day 3 to visit Polihale State Park.
This is the most remote stretch of beach accessible by road on Kauai. It is also a favorite destination for campers and locals.
Four-wheel drive is recommended and some rental car companies will not allow you to take their vehicles here. Check with your rental company if you want to include Polihale in your 7 day itinerary for Kauai.
Day 3 is all about enjoying the beaches and aloha! Treat yourself to some shaved ice, poke, and other local flavors. If budget allows, consider having dinner somewhere that offers traditional Hawaiian fare or attending a luau.
READ MORE: Best Kauai Photography Locations
🚤 Day 4: Na Pali Coast Tour
There are two Na Pali Coast tour options available; by sea or by sky! No matter which you choose, we can guarantee a tour of the Na Pali coast will be one of the best things you do on Kauai.
Despite exploring the Na Pali Coast via the trails from Koke’e State Park multiple times, NOTHING compared to our experience from the water. Even if your budget is limited, make sure you give yourself the time and budget to arrange at least one tour of the Na Pali Coast during your week in Kauai.
Whatever you decide to book, we recommend booking a tour for as late in the day as possible! The light is best on the Na Pali coast when the sun is hitting it, which won’t be until the late afternoon. Some companies offer sunset and dinner cruises, and that is a beautiful time to be on the water!
Na Pali Coast Tour by Boat
The advantage of a boat tour is that you get a lot more time for your money, and some of the companies are extremely accommodating for photography requests and such.
You also get access to sea caves and waterfalls that are extremely beautiful.
Last, as anyone who has tried will know, it is a lot easier to photograph from a boat than a plane or helicopter!
Depending on the type of experience you’re looking to have will depend on which boat tour is the right fit for you.
Na Pali Coast Raft Tours
For young and active Kauai travelers, you will want to consider a raft tour. These smaller boats allow you to explore the coast in a unique way, giving you access to the sea caves and waterfalls that dot the Na Pali Coast. Below are some of the top-rated raft tours available:
- Raft Adventure – Na Pali 1/2 Day Snorkel: 5/5 ⭐
Explore the dramatic cliffs and crystalline waters of Kauai’s Na Pali Coast on a 5.5-hour snorkeling adventure.
- Na Pali Coast Super Raft Adventure: 4.5/5 ⭐
This 4.5-hour raft adventure will have you spending the morning or afternoon traversing in and out of sea caves, and snorkeling along the incredible Kauai coastline.
- Na Pali Coast Zodiac Boat Snorkeling & Sea Cave Eco Tour: 4.5/5 ⭐
Maneuver in and out of sea caves, snorkel, and soak up the views of jagged cliffs and waterfalls with an ecologist guide sharing their knowledge of the marine life that calls the area home.
Na Pali Coast Catamaran Cruises
If you have young children or are less interested in a bumpy ride, there are plenty of boat tours that prioritize COMFORT. Some of these options include:
- Deluxe Na Pali Morning Snorkel Tour: 4.5/5 ⭐
This 5.5 hour catamaran cruise takes you past unbeatable views of lush green valleys, towering spires, jagged sea cliffs, and wildlife such as dolphins and sea turtles, as well as time for snorkeling and swimming. In the summer months, they also offer a sunset snorkel tour.
- Deluxe Na Pali Sunset Tour: 4.5/5 ⭐
As the sun sets, glide past the jagged peaks and emerald valleys from aboard a luxury catamaran on this 4 hour cruise.
- Na Pali Sunset & Sightseeing Boat Tour: 4.5/5 ⭐
Spend 3.5 hours cruising along the coast in a 65’ Kauai-built power catamaran as you take in all the most beautiful sights.
- Ni’ihau and Na Pali Coast Snorkel Boat Tour: 4.5/5 ⭐
This 7 hour ocean adventure explores 60 miles up the Napali Coast and across the Kaulakahi Channel to Lehua Crater and the “Forbidden Island” of Ni’ihau.
We recommend booking your Na Pali coast tour a couple of days in advance. This way you can choose a day with the best weather!
Na Pali Coast Tour by Flight
One of the most amazing sights you could ever witness is the Na Pali cliffs from the sky. If you’ve not been on a scenic flight before, it’s also a great excuse to tick an item off your bucket list over one of the most incredible landscapes on the planet.
The views and access you are able to get from the sky are just so unique! While seeing the savage Na Pali cliffs from the water is incredible, we are all accustomed to taking in the world from eye level. Seeing this place as only the birds’ can is a very unique opportunity that you will never forget.
A helicopter tour is definitely something to consider. There are plenty of tour providers offering scenic flights over the Na Pali coast to choose from.
If you’re taking a flight with photography in mind then we’d highly recommend a helicopter ride over an airplane ride. This way, you won’t be battling a restricted view due to the plane’s wings. For an even better photography experience, book a doors-off helicopter ride to avoid having to shoot through glass. However, if you’re wanting to just experience Kauai from above rather than photograph it, a plane may be better as it is less expensive than a helicopter.
⭐️ Pro Tip: Avoid early flights as the Na Pali Coast is on the western side and will be in shade early. If you are visiting the island with Kauai landscape photography in mind, a late afternoon into evening flight will provide the nicest light for your photos.
Polihale State Park
Assuming you have taken our advice and booked an afternoon tour, you will have plenty of time in the morning to kill. Therefore, if you didn’t visit Polihale State Park yesterday, you should consider doing so today.
As previously mentioned, not all rental companies will allow it and 4WD is required for much of the park. However, even standard cars can access the parking lot for the beach there. It was not the most impressive beach we saw on Kauai, but it does have a unique charm, ample space, and silky soft sand!
READ MORE: Camera Gear for Epic Travel Photos
🌴 Day 5: Wailua Region
After spending the first half of your Kauai vacation on the south shore, it is time to head north!
You may wish to spend the night in Wailua. However, we recommend seeing as much as possible on your way through and ending the day at your new home on the North Shore.
The Wailua region is known for its lush, tropical forest and its unswimmable beaches. Not to worry though, there’s no need to put your flip flops away just yet!
Kayak the Wailua River
One of the most popular activities in Wailua is to rent a kayak and explore the beautiful Wailua River. If you have even basic confidence in kayaking, you can rent one easily enough and simply go for a paddle.
There are also plenty of local companies who will take you on guided trips, which is probably the better option for most who want to enjoy this activity.
We’d definitely recommend taking a “Secret Falls” tour! This tour requires a bit of kayaking and hiking to discover a stunning waterfall in the heart of the forest.
If kayaking the Wailua River does not have a spot on your Kauai itinerary, then you can leave in the morning at a more relaxed pace.
You should absolutely visit the beautiful Wailua Falls, as well as the nearby ‘Opaeka’a Falls regardless. These are two of the best waterfalls in Kauai.
Both of these beautiful waterfalls can be driven to and seen from easy-to-access roadside viewpoints, and will not require too lengthy a detour. While there was once access to both, the trails have now been closed.
Taste the Local Flavors
As most Kauai locals live in this region, Wailua and nearby Kapa’a have some of the best local food you will find, and at reasonable prices.
As our primary concern is photography over all else, I must admit that we did not explore enough of the restaurants to provide any well-rounded insight. However, we did destroy some burgers from Bubba’s Burgers in Kapa’a! If you’re a local burger kind of person, many consider Bubba’s the best on the island!
If you’re more of a foody, you may want to consider a Kauai food tour. Your local guide will take you to sample artisan foods, meet chefs and farmers, and indulge in some of the best cuisines the island has to offer.
If you skipped the Wailua River, then you should consider stopping by some of the more remote central beaches on your way north.
In particular, there is a hidden gem called Papa’a Bay Beach that is absolutely stunning. It requires a short walk, but it’s not often you find such a stunning slice of paradise so empty.
To access Papa’a Beach, use Google Maps to locate ‘Aliomanu Beach Parking and find the trail once parked. When you arrive at the first beach, walk left and scramble over some boulders a short distance. Through the trees, you’ll happen upon one of our favorite beaches in all of Kauai.
If you are beached out or do not have time for this detour, continue north toward Princeville instead and get checked in for your next few nights.
Time permitting, nearby Hanalei Bay is one of the most heralded beaches in all of Hawaii, and will now be right on your doorstep! We definitely recommend getting to Hanalei Beach or one of the Hanalei Valley overlooks in time for sunset if you are able.
If you arrive in Hanalei with time, you may wish to consider a kayak and snorkel tour here. Or for a unique, fun activity, try out your detective skills on a Hanalei Scavenger Hunt.
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🌅 Day 6: North Shore
While the North Shore tends to be the wetter shore, there is a reason the beaches there have such impressive reputations. We don’t need to tell you much about the Hanalei Valley; you will see for yourself that it is another level of beauty.
Various overlooks will provide views of the valley and Hanalei Bay below which you can access right from the roadside. Obviously, you will likely want to spend at least one sunset here.
Tunnels Beach and Ke’e Beach
Beyond Hanalei, you have a handful of other amazing beaches. Tunnels Beach and Ke’e Beach are both incredibly scenic, dawning the amazing Na Pali coast as their backdrop.
You should spend this last full day by getting an early start and checking out all of the amazing beaches the north shore has to offer. The more moderately paced can make a full day out of this, soaking in those final aloha vibes with every moment available.
You more active readers may want to consider including the Kalalau Trail to your 7 day itinerary for Kauai! The trail begins at Ke’e beach and ends 2 miles later at Hanakapi’ai Beach for people not holding a permit.
If you are really adventurous and have the time, get your permit ahead of time from the Kalalau Trail website. This allows you to walk as far as the land will allow, ending at Kalalau Beach.
This hike requires serious planning and is an all-day affair. Therefore, you will need to amend your Kauai itinerary appropriately if this is a priority for you. Otherwise, simply enjoy the hike and views available on the short hike from Ke’e Beach.
Relax and Enjoy Your Final Night
As this is your final night in Kauai, make the most of it.
We will not be so brash as to tell you how to do that. But we do urge you to consider the best way to create a once-in-a-lifetime memory to take home with you.
Perhaps it’s something adventurous like one final flight over the Na Pali Coast. Or maybe the opposite, relaxing and enjoying culture with a meal at the best Hawaiian luau in Kuaui: Luau Kalamaku.
Of course, sometimes the best things in life are the most simple. Find a spot in the sand at your favorite North Shore beach and watch for “the green flash” as the sun goes down.
Whatever you do, make it count!
🏝️ FIND MORE INSPIRATION: 101+ Dream Destinations for your Travel Bucket List
🛫 Day 7: Depart
We didn’t want to include any specific recommendations for Day 7 of your one week in Kauai itinerary as the amount of time you have available depends entirely on what time you depart.
Fortunately, Lihue Airport is only 45 minutes away from Princeville. Therefore most of you should have time for one final sunrise and perhaps even a snorkel.
If you didn’t have time the previous day, use this last day as an excuse to taste the Pacific Ocean once more and enjoy the aquatic life from Tunnels Beach!
Oh, and don’t forget to pick up some world-famous Kauai coffee as a souvenir, as well as the quintessential macadamia nut varieties.
If you have the time, you can even consider visiting a coffee estate. Kauai coffee offers free tastings and complimentary walking tours daily.
🚁 Extra Day(s) Options
If you find yourself getting ahead of schedule, wanting to remove some of the suggested activities, or just have more than 5-7 days on Kauai, there are plenty of incredible things to do on the island to consider.
Below are some of our favorites to consider. For a complete list, however, open our BEST THINGS TO DO IN KAUAI guide in another browser.
- Visit the “Forbidden Island” of Ni’ihau
The once-forbidden island now allows visitors to actually step foot on the island! As of January 2023, there is currently only one company that provides this experience via a half-day scenic flight which provides 3 hours on one of the least-visited places on the planet.
Click here or in the title link to view tours!
- Attend Kauai’s best luau
Kalamaku Luau is considered the best luau on Kauai. If you are interested in dinner with a show and a cultural experience, this is one of the best ways to spend an evening.
- Fly to “Jurassic Park Falls”
One of the best helicopter tours you can take not only delivers you to the Na Pali coast, but to the famous “Jurassic Park Falls”. This is the only way to visit this remote Kauai waterfall.
- Attend a sunset dinner cruise
Experience the Na Pali coast while being wined and dined on a sunset cruise. A feast for the eyes and mouth!
☀️ Planning Your Kauai Itinerary
Now you know how to spend your time in Kauai, there are some important logistics to consider while planning your vacation!
Choosing both how you get around Kauai and where to stay will help maximize your time on the island.
Additionally, we’ve included some essentials you’ll want to ensure you pack for Hawaii.
Getting Around Kauai
Unless you plan on staying at your resort for all 7 days in Kauai, you will need to either rent a car or book some tours.
There are pros and cons to each of these options. Which option you decide on will be dependent on the way you prefer to travel.
If you are planning on never leaving the beach or pool outside of your resort, then what you need is not an itinerary but simply a drink menu! If, however, you plan on exploring, you will need to rent a car or book some tours.
Renting A Car
Rental cars are very reasonably priced, the roads are safe and easy to drive, and relying on limited public options will simply eat up more of your precious vacation time than it’s worth.
The benefit to renting a car is having the freedom to travel at times that suit you and to change your plans according to the weather and your energy level. The downside is you have to drive!
If you either do not drive or don’t wish to in Kauai, or just prefer to have things taken care of for you then it is well worth booking some guided tours.
While there are many tour companies to choose from and websites to book through, the two we recommend are Viator or Get Your Guide. Both of these companies have excellent reputations and incredible reviews on Trustpilot.
🏠 Where to Stay in Kauai
Perhaps the most crucial decision you will have to make in planning your 7 day itinerary for Kauai is where to stay.
🛌 You can find out everything you need to know in our comprehensive guide detailing the best areas and Where to Stay in Kauai.
However, we’ll also cover the basics below and how where you stay may affect your Kauai itinerary.
As the island is small and it is possible to make day trips, you may decide to spend the duration of your week in Kauai in one place. However, the recommended option is to break up your vacation by region. This would minimize your drive times and allow you a few days at a time at each location.
The choice you must make to craft your ideal 7 day Kauai itinerary is this: would you prefer the simplicity in unpacking only once but increasing drive times for day trips, or would you prefer relocating at least once to limit the amount of driving you do each day.
With this 7 day Kauai itinerary in mind, we would recommend breaking up your stay as follows:
- 4-5 nights on the south shore in the Poipu region
- 2-3 nights on the north shore in Princeville
This will allow you to explore Wailua on your way from the south to the north shore. However, we’ve also included the option of staying one night in Wailua / Kapa’a region for those that want longer in the area.
To help you decide, we’ll discuss the three major hubs to consider booking accommodation, as well as the pros and cons of each.
Poipu (4-5 nights)
Pros of Staying in Poipu
As the hub of the south shore, there are plenty of things to do in Poipu. This is considered the “dry side” of Kauai, but there is still plenty of lush vegetation and swaying palms to marvel at!
Like Princeville, Poipu offers a wide variety of places to stay. Here you’ll find everything from hotels and resorts to more moderately priced Air BnBs. Also like Princeville, Poipu is home to some truly incredible beaches. These include Shipwreck Beach and Poipu Beach, which many consider the best snorkeling spot on Kauai.
Perhaps the greatest advantage to staying in Poipu is that you are much closer to the more remote Kauai points of interest. If you are planning on spending significant time in the Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park, which you absolutely should, you will allow yourself a lot more time on a day trip by starting from Poipu. The same goes for visits to the isolated Polihale State Park.
Cons of Staying in Poipu
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there are any cons to staying in Poipu. However, you may find more affordable and less touristy options by electing to stay in Wailua or Kapa’a instead.
Poipu is a great place to stay due to the proximity to beautiful beaches, as well as the south shore gems. We recommend planning to stay at least 4 nights in Poipu. This will give you the chance to organize day trips to Polihale, Waimea Canyon, and the Na Pali coast, all while remaining fairly close to home. And believe us, you will want to have at least one free day to just soak in some sun right there from the sands in Poipu.
If you are planning your one week in Kauai itinerary around staying in just one place, Poipu would be our recommendation! You are a bit further from the north shore, of course, but still only about an hour away.
Wailua / Kapa’a (1 night)
Pros of Staying in Wailua / Kapa’a
The majority of locals live in the central region of Kauai. For this reason, you will find high-end hotel and resorts options far more limited than in Princeville or Poipu. Accordingly, those of you looking for more budget-friendly accommodation in Kauai will want to begin your search in the Wailua or Kapa’a region. Most of the more affordable AirBnBs, restaurants, and grocery stores are found nearby.
Another advantage of staying in Wailua or Kapa’a is that you are more central. Therefore, you are cutting drive times on your individual day trips to the north and south.
The last reason to consider spending at least one night in Wailua is that it is a truly stunning place. The Wailua River is famous for renting kayaks and paddling about the tropical jungle. Plus, the nearby waterfalls are the best in all of Kauai.
💦 DISCOVER THE 19 BEST WATERFALLS IN KAUAI HERE!
Cons of Staying in Wailua / Kapa’a
While the Wailua Valley is beautiful, it is also very wet. Additionally, the beach options nearby are rather poor by Hawaii standards. They are not swimmable, nor are they particularly photogenic.
Furthermore, many of the points of interest in Kauai are dotted along the north and south shore. This means you may find yourself doing a lot more driving than you’d like.
If budget is your primary concern, you may find your best options in Wailua or nearby Kapa’a. Due to the island’s small size, even those of you spending your entire 7 days in Kauai in the same place will have no trouble making this home base.
However, for those of you planning on dividing your time amongst multiple accommodations, we feel one night is more than enough here. This will allow you to spend your day exploring the waterfalls of Kauai and paddling the Wailua River, and offers a bit more of a local experience.
Princeville (2-3 nights)
Pros of Staying in Princeville
Princeville neighbors the famous Hanalei Bay, and is the hub of the North Shore. When the trade winds are kind and the sun is shining, there are few places anywhere in the world that boast beaches as beautiful as Hanalei Beach, Wainiha Beach, and Tunnels Beach.
Those interested in exploring the Napali Coast by foot will be only a short drive away to the Kalalau Trail. This trail offers one of the only access points to this stretch of the coast via land. There are also plenty of boat and helicopter tours that pick up from Princeville.
Princeville also has a wider variety of accommodation than anywhere else on the island. More options is never a bad thing!
Cons of Staying in Princeville
Every Hawaiian Island has a wet side and a dry side; Princeville and the north shore happen to be the wet side of Kauai. The ample rain is credited for the lush greenery and beauty it creates. However, it is less appealing for beach bums or those of you planning to spend a lot of time poolside.
Those electing to make Princeville home for all 7 days in Kauai will discover that visiting Polihale and Waimea Canyon make for extremely long days. In fact, if you truly want to have sufficient time to see some of the best Kauai points of interest on the south side of the island, you may be looking at having to make two separate trips that entail 4-5 hour days of just driving.
Due to the lengthy drive times to the south shore and less reliable weather, we recommend spending just 2-3 nights in Princeville. There is simply so much to see and do in the south that wasting too much time driving just doesn’t make much sense. That said, if you are one of those travelers who plan on spending your week in Kauai in one place, you would not be the first to fall in love with Hanalei Bay and never want to leave!
🧳 Packing for 5 to 7 Days in Kauai
While your individual packing list will vary depending on the type of vacation you intend to have, there are a few essentials that you will want to consider taking with you to Kauai.
You can also find a printable checklist in our What to Pack for Hawaii guide, which covers all the essentials, as well as often overlooked items.
- Swimsuit: Whether swimming in waterfalls, rivers or the ocean, you’ll want a swimsuit to enjoy the water in Kauai.
- Reef-safe sunscreen: Hawaii is the first state to require the use of reef-safe sunscreen. We use Stream 2 Sea sunscreen as it’s non-harmful and most of their bottles are made from sugarcane resin rather than plastic.
- Beach travel towel: Hotels will provide towels for use within their grounds but you will want to take a towel with you for the beach. We recommend bringing a travel towel specifically as they are small, dry quickly, and do not collect sand!
- Hiking shoes: Kauai has some incredible hikes so you’ll want to ensure you pack some comfortable shoes. Ideally, bring a waterproof pair of hiking shoes as rain is not uncommon on Kauai or some hiking sandals that can also be worn in the water.
- Lightweight waterproof jacket: It’s likely to rain while in Kauai at least once, so having a lightweight waterproof jacket will come in handy! We love our Columbia jackets as they’re super lightweight making them easy to pack and they come in a variety of colors.
- Snorkel gear: If you’re planning on doing a lot of snorkeling while in Hawaii, it is cheaper and easier to bring your own snorkel and mask and fins than renting them each day. You can also buy these items as a snorkel set which works out cheaper still.
Photography Gear for Photographing Kauai
- Camera: Kauai is a stunning place and you’ll want to capture those moments to cherish. We use the Sony a7riii love it. However, beginners may wish to consider an entry level DSLR.
- Waterproof camera: With incredible snorkeling and waterfalls to explore you may find yourself taking more photos from underwater than on the land! We recommend either the GoPro or Olympus TG6, both of which we use.
- Microfiber cleaning cloths: You will want to bring plenty of dry microfiber cloths to clean your lens between shots. Expect a lot of spray when photographing at the waterfalls in Kauai!
- Filters: We strongly recommend learning how to use a Circular Polarizing (CPL) filter. These are incredible for enhancing natural colors by cutting glare the same way that polarized sunglasses do. The best CPL we have found is the Quartzline from Polar Pro.
- Camera Rain Cover: You may want to consider a rain cover for your camera to protect it from both rain and salt water spray. Both can damage your camera, but salt water is especially harmful
❓ Kauai Itinerary FAQs
Below you will find concise answers to the most frequently asked questions when planning a Kauai itinerary. If you have any questions you do not find answered, leave it in the comments below to be added to the list!
*Click the dropdown arrows to reveal answers to these FAQs.*
How many days do you need for Kauai?
7 days is the ideal amount of time for a trip to Kauai.
However, Kauai is a very small island and ambitious travelers who are short on time could see most of the Garden Isle in 2-3 very busy days.
Is 7 days in Kauai enough?
Yes, 7 days is the perfect amount of time to visit Kauai! This is a small island and one week in Kauai is more than enough time to explore most of it.
Which is better: Maui or Kauai?
Kauai is better for nature lovers and hikers as the landscape is more dramatic. Maui is better for beaches and resorts, and also has plenty of beautiful nature.
Should I stay in Princeville or Poipu? Where should I stay in Kauai?
The best option is to stay in Princeville for one half of your visit and to stay in Poipu for the second half. This allows you to spend time near the attractions on both the north shore and south shore of Kauai.
If you want to spend your entire time in Kauai in one place, Poipu is the better option for reliable weather, proximity to Lihue airport, and plentiful resorts, while Princeville is better for the lush greenery, Hanalei Bay, and for hiking the Kalalau Trail.
What is the best month to visit Kauai?
According to local hospitality experts, the best month to visit Kauai is in April when airfare and hotel rates are at their lowest.
✈️ Traveling to Hawaii in 2023
Hawai‘i is welcoming travelers again! There are no longer any Covid-19 requirements nor mask mandates in place for the flights or on the islands themselves.
However, there are some pre-travel requirements for international travelers visiting Hawai‘i.
Domestic Travel to Hawaii
There are no current domestic restrictions for domestic flights to Hawaii. Additionally, the REAL ID enforcement date has been pushed back to May 7, 2025 due to the recent pandemic.
International Travel to Hawaii
For those traveling from international destinations with direct flights to Hawaii, you will only need to follow federal international requirements. There are no additional State of Hawai‘i requirements.
There are no longer any negative Covid testing requirements for international arrivals to the US. However, all international visitors to the USA must show proof of being fully vaccinated.
(Information accurate as of March 24, 2023.)
Requirements are constantly changing so ensure you check the CDC website or with your airline for current guidelines.
🌺 Additional Hawaii & Kauai Travel Guides
If you’re still looking for some more Kauai inspiration or need help planning other facets of your trip, you will likely find a lot of value in some of the other popular guides below:
More Kauai Guides
- BEST THINGS TO DO IN KAUAI
- WHERE TO STAY ON KAUAI
- PLANNING A TRIP TO KAUAI: STEP BY STEP GUIDE
- KAUAI PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE
- BEST DESTINATIONS FOR SUNSET IN KAUAI
- COMPLETE KAUAI WATERFALL GUIDE
- HIKING THE KALEPA RIDGE TRAIL: KAUAI’S BEST HIKE
General Hawaii Guides
- PRINTABLE HAWAII PACKING LIST
- PLANNING A TRIP TO HAWAII: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE
- THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN HAWAII: BUCKET LIST
- TOP 25 PLACES TO VISIT IN HAWAII
- HAWAII ISLAND HOPPING COMPLETE GUIDE
- HAWAII ITINERARIES FOR ALL ISLANDS & TRIP DURATIONS
- 7-DAY HAWAII ITINERARY
- 10-DAY HAWAII ITINERARY FOR ISLAND HOPPERS
- 14-DAY HAWAII ITINERARY GUIDE
- HAWAII PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE
- ALL THE BEST BEACHES OF HAWAII
- 200+ BEAUTIFUL & INSPIRING HAWAII QUOTES
📖 Additional Hawaiian Island Travel Guides
The blessed among you will not be saying aloha (farewell in this case) to Hawaii, but simply hopping on a short flight to another island.
If this includes you, be sure to check out our other Hawaii travel guides for more tips and the best locations on each island below:
- HAWAII PACKING LIST: A printable essential packing list + 25 useful items to consider
- 5-7 DAY MAUI ITINERARY: How to see the entire island in one week or less
- WHERE TO STAY ON MAUI: The best places and areas to stay on the island
- PLANNING A TRIP TO MAUI: Step by step guide for planning your first visit to Maui
- ROAD TO HANA STOPS: The Top 25 places to visit on the Road to Hana
- ROAD TO HANA ITINERARY: How to plan for a 1-2 day self drive.
- BEST MAUI PHOTO SPOTS: 15 best places for photographing Maui
- SECRET BEACHES OF MAUI: The 10 most incredible hidden beaches on the island
- MAUI SUNSETS: The Top 10 places & activities for watching sunset in Maui
- KIHEI BEACHES GUIDE: Photos, locations, and descriptions for all 15 beaches in Kihei
- BEST SNORKELING IN MAUI: Best snorkel spots, tips, tours and more.
Big Island Guides
- 7 DAY BIG ISLAND ITINERARY
- 5 DAY BIG ISLAND ITINERARY
- WHERE TO STAY ON THE BIG ISLAND
- PLANNING A TRIP TO BIG ISLAND
- BEST BEACHES ON BIG ISLAND
- BIG ISLAND PHOTOGRAPHY LOCATIONS
- BEST BEACHES IN KONA
🤔 5-7 Day Itinerary for Kauai Final Thoughts
The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below 🙂
We hope you have found this guide to the perfect 5-7 day Kauai itinerary useful in planning the vacation of a lifetime. We visited all of the Hawaiian Islands on our 6-week visit and while they all charmed us in different ways, there is nothing anywhere in the world quite like the Na Pali coast!
There is also no island in the world quite like Kauai!
See something we missed, let us know in the comments below!
13 thoughts on “🏝 5-7 Day Kauai Itinerary: Plan the Perfect Vacation in 2023”
What a detailed guide!! The waterfalls look incredible 🙂 You make me want to go there even more now!!
Hawai’i is one of my favorite places in the world–I’d love to go to Kauai someday + hike everywhere! Your photos are beautiful! <3
Ours too! The islands are all so beautiful. Thank you!
Of all the Hawaiian islands, Kauai is the one I most want to visit! It just looks absolutely stunning!! This is such a great guide. I definitely want to visit some of the more adventurous/remote places, so good to know Poipou is the place I’d probably want to stay
Kauai is absolutely breathtaking. I hope you can make it there and glad this guide has helped you figure out where to stay 🙂
Thank you so much for this detailed IT – it is so helpful in making my trip plans. Your photographs are amazing.
Thank you so much for taking the time to leave us a comment 🙂 We’re so happy to hear you found it useful and hope you have the most wonderful time in Kauai!
Hi! This is such an awesome list- using it to plan our upcoming trip! Quick question- do you need the permit/reservation for Tunnels Beach, or is that just Haena Beach/Park? Were you able to access Tunnels without any permit or reservation?
Thank you so much Jess! Unfortunately when we visited in Jan 2019 Tunnels Beach was closed. I’m not 100% sure but I don’t think Tunnels Beach is within Hāʻena State Park, so you shouldn’t need to pay to visit. However, it may be that you need to book/reserve parking or a shuttle as they’re restricting access in that direction.
You will definitely need to purchase an entrance ($5 per person) and parking ($10 per vehicle) reservation if you plan to visit Hāʻena State Park.
We are planning our trip to Kauai this year and your detailed itinerary is what I was looking for. It has every detail so well explained. Thank you so much!
Oh how exciting! I’m so happy to hear that our Kauai itinerary helped you. I hope you have the most amazing time, it’s such a beautiful island 🙂
This was amazing!! We are going to Kauai in June for 11 days and I can’t wait to visit all of the places you wrote about! Thank you for taking the time to write such detail! One question…is there a luau you would recommend? Thank you!
Hi Jaime. Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m so excited for you, Kauai is my favorite island! We didn’t go to a Luau in Kauai, however, the Luau Kalamaku came highly recommended to us by some local friends. Here’s a link for it if you want to see prices and reviews, it seems to have some great reviews online too!: Luau Kalamaku