We have compiled a list of some helpful Kauai travel tips, especially for the first timers. A list of things that we wish we had known before going. If you are considering going to Maui, we have compiled a similar list. Read it here.
Kauai is known as the “Garden Island” so you can expect things to be very green and very lush. It is breathtakingly beautiful and possibly our favorite place on Earth.
Baggage claim and car rental pick up
The Kauai airport is tiny and not very busy. In our experience, the wait for the luggage hasn’t been very long. The car rental companies are a quick shuttle ride away, but things aren’t very busy there either. One of our favorite Kauai Travel tips: If you have checked luggage, in order to save a few minutes, send someone to go get the car while the others wait for the luggage. You will avoid having to load all of your bags onto the shuttle, and be on your vacation sooner.
Traveling to accommodations
The airport is located in Lihue, the commercial center of Kauai. The island is small but it can be a bit of a drive to get to your accommodations, especially if you are staying on the North Shore.
Here are some expected travel times to some of the more popular areas. Another surprising thing might be how much traffic there can be in some areas. And, expect some delays due to construction somewhere along the way.
- Hanalei – 55 minutes
- Princeville – 50 minutes
- Kapa’a – 20 minutes
- Poipu – 30 minutes
- Waimea – 40 minutes
Where to get the necessities and shopping
Kauai is definitely not a top shopping destination. Aside from Costco, Walmart and a few others, there isn’t much in terms of big box stores. However, there are plenty of unique little shops, selling local products, to satisfy all the shopping needs. There are farmers markets all over the Island as well. Our favorite is the Culinary Market at the Shops of Kukuiula in Poipu on Wednesdays. They have great local vendors, music, cooking demonstrations, and Merriman’s serves mai-tais. Win-Win-Win!
Wary Travelers Tip:
The big box stores are located in Lihue so if you are heading to a condo, it might be a good idea to stop on your way there from the airport – time and space permitting of course.
Chickens – here, there and everywhere
One of the first things that you will notice after landing on Kauai, is the fact that there are wild chickens everywhere! They are also crowing in parking lots, hanging out at beaches and flocking in forests.
Story is that many of the Kauai chickens are descendants of birds that escaped when Hurricane Iwa in 1982 and Hurricane Iniki in 1992 blew open coops.
When you hear “cock-a-doodle-doo” outside your window early morning, try to laugh it off.
There is an interesting New York Times article on the topic.
No building can be taller than a palm tree
As you explore the island, you will notice that building aren’t more than a couple stories high. The people of Kauai did not want to see their island become the next Waikiki and so there is a law that no buildings can be taller than the palm trees. You will see a few exceptions, notably the Kauai Marriott Resort and the St. Regis in Princeville, they were built prior to the implementation of the rule.
Before leaving for Kauai, you should take some time to plan some activities. Do a bit a research on TripAdvisor or the Kauai section of this site for some great ideas. During peak travel season, and especially during the holidays, some activities do book up well in advance. We recommend you book these 4 to 6 weeks in advance.
One of the most shocking things for us the first time we were in Hawaii was how early the sun sets. In December, the sun sets before 6 pm! Factor this in while planning your day… the good news is that you will most likely be up early due to the time change. There is no daylight savings time in Hawaii.
Winter Water Conditions
If you go during the winter months, the waters around the island can be quite rough with surf advisories being very frequent. Expect that there might be some days where it’s not safe for you to do any type of water activities in the ocean. Make sure that you have some land activities planned or take advantage of Kauai’s rivers. Kauai has the only navigable rivers in the state and the longest river is Wailua river at 19.2 miles and is the only navigable river by boats larger than kayaks. Smaller navigable waterways include the Waimea, Hanape’pe, Lumahai, and Hanalei Rivers. Several tour companies offer kayak and SUP tours on those rivers.
If you are on Kauai, expect some rain. In fact, it will probably rain every day. But don’t worry, it typically doesn’t last very long. Not shocking since Mount Waialeale is considered one of the rainiest spots on the planet with averages more than 452 inches per year. On one of our first trips there a local said to us “if it is raining where you are, keep going west until you find the sun”. We have tested it out several times and we were able to find the sun every time.
Here are a few facts to keep in mind if you are trying to avoid the rain:
- Waimea is probably the driest of all the areas on the island but not much in terms of accommodations. Check out Kekaha Beach Park, it’s a great beach to spend a day.
- Poipu or Lawai, have plenty of choices of accommodations and are your best bet for a dry and sunny vacation. The area averages about 30-40 inches of rain each year.
- Kapa’a on the Eastern Coast is your next best choice, averaging about 50 inches of rain annually.
- The North Shore: Princeville, Hanalei, Kilauea, get about 85 inches of rain each year.
Most of our trips to Kauai have been in December, smack in the middle of their rainy season and we have always seen plenty of sun. No matter where you are on the Island, weather systems tend to clear out quickly so the rain doesn’t last very long.
Heading back home
Unfortunately, most of you won’t be able to stay and will head back to the airport to catch a flight home. Give yourself plenty of time! Even if the airport isn’t terribly busy, it can take longer than you would expect to check in and get past security. To avoid unnecessary stress, give yourself plenty of time.
Finally, since you are going to follow all of our advice, you will be at the airport early and will have gone through check in and security without any issues, you now have some time to kill before departure. When you landed you were probably too excited to notice how small the airport really is and that there aren’t too many food choices. Don’t worry, like everywhere else in the world, there’s a Starbucks!
Comment below if you have additional Kauai travel tips!