Choose Your Own Hawaiian Island

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“Aloha!” is a welcome greeting you’ll hear often in Hawaii — the island state known for its powdery white beaches, turquoise waves ridden by surfers, and sightseeing trips to lava-spewing volcanoes. You might also think of luxurious yachts, spa resorts, or honeymoon suites.

Hawaii has many faces, and with a little research on the Aloha state, you’ll discover all the exciting things to see and do on your dream vacation.

For those planning their first trip to Hawaii, (spelled Hawai’i by native residents) a commonly asked question is, “Which island is best?” The answer really depends on your preferences.

That’s because, while each of the six major islands of Kauai, Lanai, Maui, Molokai, Oahu, and The Big Island are blessed with tropical beaches and sunshine, each one offers something unique for visitors.

Generally, when choosing which island(s) to visit, consider what special geography, scenery, historic sites, and activities most appeal to you. If you have a family member in need of handicap facilities, be sure to ask hotel guest services and tour operators what they provide before booking.

Hawaii’s mature tourism industry is capable of catering to any taste, and arranging weeks of fun is easy to do. But because you may not have weeks, there are questions to ask yourself when planning your trip.

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The obvious questions about trip budget, and the length of your visit can be answered later. First, let your imagination play and consider everything you want for your ideal Hawaiian vacation. Think big — you never know, wishes that seem initially out of reach (like pricier tours or hotels), may become possible by finding package deals online.

Create a wish list of places and activities you most want to experience while in Hawaii. Then prioritize these items in order of importance. This may make it easier to decide which are the most interesting, and shouldn’t be missed.

To help you narrow your choices, we’ve put together a list of questions below (including some researched tips) for each island.

What is the main reason for my trip?

Leisure — quiet sunbathing and dipping in the ocean (Maui), visiting friends, deep sea fishing (the Big Island), riding motorcycles along the coastline.

Relaxation/de-stress from work — massage and body wraps, cooling cucumber facials, pedicures, yoga or hot stone therapy (Lanai).

Adventure — hike through fern forest or look down the mouth of active, Kilauea Volcano safely above from a helicopter (Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – the Big Island), go off-roading, skydiving, or dive with manta rays (Kona coast – the Big Island).

Hawaiian excursions — visit the Hawaiian capital city of Honolulu or historic site like Pearl Harbor, the Royal Palace or Waikiki beach (Oahu), or hop aboard a catamaran for scenic views on different islands.

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Hawaiian culture — luau’s, hula shows, ukulele lessons, learn native surfing (Maui), make beaded or banana leaf jewelry, see theater plays (Oahu), meet native Hawaiians (Molokai).

Family vacation — safe and fun kids activities, budget-friendly accommodations, magic shows, daycare, hotel kid’s program (Oahu or Maui).

Special event — wedding, anniversary, or honeymoon destination with romantic candlelight dinners, music, catered cruises (Maui or Kauai).

Luxury — 5-star resorts (Lanai), sailing, private tours by limo or helicopter, gourmet meals with personal service.

What time of the year is best?

Do you prefer lots of warmth and sunshine or cooler weather? Calm or breezy conditions? Keep in mind it rains more during winter months (east coast of the Big Island) It’s also important to consider the many micro-climates of each island.

When is the best time for diving (ocean and weather conditions), or to see marine life (whale watching off Maui, December-April, or glass bottom boat excursions when water is clearest)?

When is the best time for festivals and state celebrations, or special events (triathlons or World Surfing championships on Oahu’s North shore) you want to attend?

Quick Facts:

  • Lang: English, Hawaiian
  • Currency: USD, dollar
  • Time zone: GMT -10 h
  • Tel. country code: +1

What activities do I most want to do?

Sample the food culture — trying delicious local seafood, tropical fruits & salads, creative appetizers and award-winning wines (Oahu).

Sports — world-class windsurfing on Maui’s Ho’okipa Beach, surfing, kitesurfing, kayaking (Kauai or Oahu), scuba diving (Maui or Kauai), snorkeling (Molokini crater off Maui), waterskiing, jet skiing, horseback riding in Waipio Valley (the Big Island), see an awe-inspiring sunrise and bike down Haleakala Mountain, a dormant volcano (Maui) or try PGA tour worthy golfing (Maui).

Shopping — gemstones or jewelry, Hawaiian clothing, fine art (Oahu).

Tour activities — cruises, museums (Oahu), dolphin watching (Maui), historic walking tours.

Photography — Any and all islands.

What setting do I prefer?

Are you dreaming of soft sand beaches with lots of social activity, accessible public facilities and lockers, equipment rental booths and food stands nearby? Looking for great restaurants and nightlife (Oahu)?

Do you prefer secluded, natural beaches? Wilderness trails, tropical flowers, and waterfalls? Then Kauai, the lush garden isle is for you.

Do you want quiet evenings with room service at your hotel? Visits to unspoiled Hawaiian heritage forest? Stay on Molokai or Kauai.

Finally, when planning your trip, remember to leave some downtime for yourself. If you organize a jam-packed schedule, time may go by in a blur. Better to savor and remember each day, each magical sunset.