🏝 Planning a Trip to Kauai in 2024: Itinerary, Costs, Flights & Tips

Planning a trip to Kauai Hawaii blog cover image.  Text overlaying a photo of the Na Pali Coast as seen from a boat with golden afternoon light spilling into the frame over the rugged green cliffs.

Of all the Hawaiian islands, planning a trip to Kauai may be the most difficult but also the most rewarding.

The incredible nature that makes “The Garden Isle” so beautiful is a result of the unique climate, geography, and weather systems that Kauai receives.

However, these amazing landscapes and temperamental weather patterns also force visitors to do a bit more to prepare for their visit!

This guide will provide everything you need to know for planning a trip to Kauai. This includes the best things to see, how to get around, finding cheaper flights, cultural considerations, and general Kauai travel tips!

On a personal note, we have visited each of the Hawaiian islands and consider the Garden Isle to be the best in many regards. For landscape photography, it is unmatched. We also prefer the slower pace and chiller vibes that you get from this lesser-inhabited island over the tourist circus you often encounter in Oahu and Maui.

🌺 Planning a Trip to Kauai Overview

Sunset photography from Queens Bath should be on every itinerary when planning a trip to Kauai.

Kauai Overview

  • Nickname: The Garden Isle
  • Where to Stay: Poipu or Princeville
  • Recommended Days: 5-7
  • When to Visit: April – October
  • Airports
    • Lihue (LIH) – Main Airport
  • Best Things to Do on Kauai
    • Na Pali Coast Tour
    • Waimea Canyon & Koke’e
    • Explore Wailua Valley
    • Hanalei Bay & North Shore
    • Hike Na Pali Coast
    • Queen’s Bath

Best Hawaiian island for:

People who see Hawaii as a place to be explored, not just a place to relax and sunbathe.

Kauai is about adventure, activity, and nature more than it is about resorts and cocktails… though it has those too!

🌴 Top 10 Kauai Travel Tips

  1. If non-stop flights to Kauai are not available, try to arrange your layover for one of the Hawaiian islands in case you get stuck or delayed.
  2. Book well ahead of time. Kauai is a small island with fewer services than most, so things sell out quickly.
  3. Princeville is the most beautiful place to stay, but Poipu is the driest.
  4. Book at least one boat or helicopter tour of the Na Pali Coast. You cannot settle for the limited views by land of this unbelievable place.
  5. Bring only reef-safe sunscreen. All other sunscreens are illegal in Hawaii.
  6. Kauai is the only island with access to “The Forbidden Island” of Ni’ihau. If you want to visit all 7 inhabited island, you will need to make special arrangements for this one.
  7. Bring your own snorkel and mask unless you only plan on snorkeling with tours.
  8. Get your permits for the massively popular Kalalau Trail early if you wish to hike it.
  9. Kauai is located on the edge of a tropical zone and only has two seasons, both warm: wet and dry. Bring appropriate layers and footwear for winter (wet season) visits.
  10. May and September are the best months to visit as they typically are dry but fall outside peak season meaning more availability and lower prices.

🏝 How to Plan a Trip to Kauai: Step by Step

  • Step 1: Review Hawaii travel restrictions
  • Step 2: Book your flights to and from Kauai
  • Step 3: Book any inter-island flights or boats, such as Nii’hau
  • Step 4: Find the best place to stay on Kauai for your budget
  • Step 5: Create your perfect Kauai Itinerary
  • Step 6: Book tours and activities early
  • Step 7: Establish how to get around (car rental highly recommended)
  • Step 8: Pack your bags!

⚠️ Review Hawaii Travel Restrictions

A view of a beach from our plane window taken while flying into the Big Island of Hawaii.

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 COVID-19 pandemic.

International Travel to Hawaii

For those traveling from international destinations with direct flights to Hawaii, you will only need to follow federal requirements for international visitors to the USA. There are no additional State of Hawaiβ€˜i requirements.

You will need to ensure you either have a valid EST

πŸ›« Planning a Trip to Kauai: Booking Flights

Aerial photo of low clouds in the Na Pali cliffs on a flight tour of the Na Pali Coast in Kauai.

Before getting lost in all the things to do and see in Kauai, the first thing you need to do is book your flights! The more flexibility you have in your dates, the better and cheaper your options will be.

Try to book a non-stop flight to Kauai if any are available from your city of departure. If one-stop is the only thing available, try to ensure the layover is in one of the Hawaiian islands. This way you are stuck in Hawaii and not somewhere halfway between home and the islands if your connecting flight gets cancelled or you miss it due to delays in your first flight.

The return flight is typically less catastrophic if you are delayed somewhere as it does not ripple onward to impact all of your reservations. Accordingly, this is the flight to consider the more budget-friendly options that may exist.

Skyscanner flight search for flights to and from Hawaii
An example of a flexible flight search with “Cheapest Month” selected.

If you have flexibility in your dates, use SkyScanner to find the cheapest flights possible using the flexible departure feature.

Just type in your departure city to LIH and choose to search for the cheapest ticket within the month you are planning a trip to Kauai, or even the cheapest ticket available within a calendar year!

At no cost to you, we receive a small amount for any bookings made using the links below.

πŸ›¬ Planning a Trip to Kauai: Island Hopping

Kauai is the only island that allows tourists to visit “The Forbidden Island” of Ni’ihau. This private island is owned by the Robinson family and is home to less than 100 people. No one outside of this select group was allowed to step foot on the island without an official invitation prior to 2022.

A rare view of the sea cliffs on the Forbidden Island of Hawaii in Niihau. If you are planning a trip to Kauai and want to visit Ni'ihau, a helicopter tour is required.
The Forbidden Island of Ni’ihau can only be visited from Kauai via a special tour.

However, those compelled to see it all can now arrange a half-day helicopter tour where they get a scenic flight over the amazing Na Pali coast and the island of Ni’ihau, as well as 3 hours on one of its best beaches.

You can also fly from Kauai to any of the other 3 major Hawaiian islands of Oahu, Maui, and Big Island with Hawaiian Airlines. Flights to Maui and Oahu start at $45, while Big Island is $85 with a layover or over $100 direct. There are no ferries, boats, or other airlines that service Kauai.

If you plan on doing any island hopping during your visit, booking your ongoing flights or scenic tours should be the first thing you do once you’ve scheduled your initial roundtrip tickets.


🏠 Planning a Trip to Kauai: Where to Stay

Deciding where to stay is perhaps the most important detail for planning a trip to Kauai!

Where you choose to call home for the duration of your visit will determine your proximity to the best things the island has to offer, your level of comfort, and so much more.

We recommend reading our extensive guide on the topic to make sure you find the perfect place for your vacation and understand the nuances involved with this decision:

Princeville and Poipu are by far the most popular places to stay on Kauai. This is where you will find the best resorts, restaurants, and tourist services.


Princeville is on the North Coast of Kauai which is the wet side of the island. This rain can be a deterrent to some, but it makes for unspeakably beautiful scenery. The North Shore is home to the famous Hanalei Bay, Tunnels Beach, and the start of the Kalalau Trail.

Poipu is the gateway to the south shore. This is the dry side of the island which boasts some of the most impressive landscapes in Hawaii, as well as idyllic beaches. The south shore is the region where you will find Waimea Canyon (aka The Grand Canyon of the Pacific), Koke’e State Park and the Kalepa Ridge Trail, Polihale Beach, and more. It is also the pick up point for most of the Na Pali Coast tours, as well as the helicopter tour to Ni’ihau.

🏝 Planning your Kauai Itinerary

Now that you have booked your hotels or BnBs and your flight to Kauai, it is time for the fun stuff – creating your perfect Kauai itinerary.

While most Hawaiian holidays are all about beach hopping and tanning, those who choose to vacation in Kauai tend to pick this island for the many beautiful places there are to explore and exciting things to do.

From kayaking rivers to secret waterfalls to flying over the jagged cliffs of the Na Pali coast, from soaking in the Queen’s Bath to hiking the Grand Canyon of the Pacific at Waimea Canyon, there are a ton of amazing, one of a kind experiences awaiting you in Kauai.

Crafting your itinerary involves more research and thoughtfulness than we can pack into this guide. For help with the most critical details of planning a trip to Kauai and finding the best things to do while there, consult the complete guides below.

🚁 Planning a Trip to Kauai: Tours & Activities

Sooner is better in regards to tour and activity bookings when planning your trip to Kauai. As the island is so small and services limited, the most popular activities often sell out weeks or even months in advance.

Now that you have everything else booked, you will want to start making reservations for the things you would be most disappointed to miss. In particular, the following tours tend to go very quick and should be booked ASAP:

  • Na Pali Coast boat tour
  • Na Pali Coast helicopter tours
  • Kayak tours of Wailua River to Secret Falls
  • A Hawaiian Luau on Kauai
  • Trips to Ni’ihau

Additionally, some destinations require permits. The most important to arrange beforehand is a permit for the Kalalau Trail if you are hoping to attempt this famous hike.

If you have not yet done so, consult our 5-7 Day Kauai Itinerary. This will help you align the tours you want to take with the best days to do them and also provide more information on what to consider when booking.

πŸš™ Planning a Trip to Kauai: How to Get Around

A camper van is parked in front of the Hanalei Bay overlook looking out onto the tropical rainforest of Kauai in Hawaii.
Rental cars and campervans are the best way to get around the incredible Garden Isle.

The easiest way to explore Kauai is via a self-guided tour with a rental car. As the Garden Isle is so incredibly small, having a car will enable you to see pretty much every highlight in short day trips.

If you are not comfortable driving, the next 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.

Public transportation in Kauai is limited and not recommended with the precious value of vacation time. Rideshare apps such as Uber and Lyft are available on the island.

πŸ›„ Packing for a Trip to Kauai

An empty suitcase is ready to be backed for a trip to Kauai.

One final step in preparing for a trip to Kauai is to load up the suitcase with everything you’ll need.

The best thing to do when packing for a trip to Hawaii is to print a checklist of the essential items that are most important to bring. You should be able to find most basic essentials in Hawaii, but it is better not to count on it.

If you have never been to Hawaii before and/or do not travel often, I recommended reading our HAWAII PACKING LIST GUIDE. In it, we provide a printable essentials checklist, list of items you may want to consider, and general tips on what to bring and how to pack.

Even if you’re an avid traveler, you may find some things you’d likely have never thought to bring!

πŸŒ… When to Visit Kauai

Sunset is a magical time to consider when planning a trip to Kauai.

Anytime is good to visit Kauai, but it is the smallest and wettest island. Accordingly, some months tend to be better regarding the amount of sunshine to expect and the availability of tours and accommodation.

The rainy season in Kauai is from November-March. It is still warm, but the ground will be extremely muddy on a lot of the nature hikes and you should expect to get wet.

April, early-May, September, and early-October are the best months to visit Kauai. This is when the island is in its dry season but is not overrun by peak season tourism.

πŸ€™πŸ½ Hawaiian Words, Customs & Culture to Observe

A hand showing the Hawaiian shaka greeting
A hand showing the Hawaiian “shaka” greeting.

Before getting lost in the logistics, there are a few customs that are important to understand as well.

All too many tourists forget that while this is a vacation destination to them, it is a home to the locals. Please treat people on the island as if you are guests in their home.

Beyond typical good manners, here are a few Hawaiian customs to note:

  • Tipping: Locals survive on tourism! In the US in 2023, the standard tip amount is 20% of your bill. 15% is seen as the minimum and 25% is often given for truly exceptional service.
  • Aloha: This word means a lot in Hawaiian, including both “hello” and “goodbye”, but also “love” and “peace”.
  • Mahalo: The Hawaiian word for “thank you”.
  • Island Time: The Hawaiian culture is a “lei-d” back culture (pun alert!) Expect a slower pace and less concern with punctuality on Hawaii than on the mainland.
  • Attire: Outside of a few luxury clubs or restaurants, casual attire is the expectation. Flip flops (known as slippers in Hawaii) can be worn to any restaurant or outing.
  • Shaka: The “shaka” is the hand signal using the thumb and pinky with a side-to-side motion that is often translated to “hang loose” on the mainland. In actuality, it is closer to “aloha” and/or “mahalo” in Hawaii. It can be hello, goodbye, thank you, or anything really with positive intention. Think of it a bit like a polite wave or a thumbs up.

Beautiful Hawaii Quotes, Sayings & Proverbs

🍍 More Kauai and Hawaii Travel Guides

Before you go, you may find some of these other guides to the Garden Isle useful as you continue planning your holiday.

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 πŸ™‚

🀫 Final Thoughts on Planning a Trip to Kauai in 2023

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 πŸ™‚

We truly hope you have found this complete guide on planning a trip to Kauai and travel tips useful in planning your visit.

Now we’d like to hear from you!

Was there any question left unanswered, or information you think needs to be updated? Did you learn everything you needed to in order to confidently visit? Did we knock it out of the park?

Let us know your thoughts and help us improve by leaving some feedback in the comments below!

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Written by
Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's β€œChief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

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