Bargaining is not appropriate in Kauaʻi and can be construed as offensive by locals.
Dangers & Annoyances
Kaua'i can be a safe and easy-to-navigate destination for seasoned travelers, but however beautiful, nature can pose a threat.
- Drownings happen in high surf and in sheltered coves. Always be aware of currents, swell and tides, and when in doubt, don't go out.
- Roads can be dark at night, which can be disorienting and intimidating for big-city drivers.
- Keep valuables out of sight when parked at beaches and trailheads.
Visitors who become accident or crime victims can contact the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, a traveler’s aid organization, for short-term assistance.
Hiking & Swimming
The major risks on Kauaʻi lie here. In 2016, 11 people drowned on Kauaʻi, nearly one every month. Most who drown here are tourists.
The climate, while idyllic in one sense, can bite back if you venture onto trails without ample food, water or bad weather gear. Rivers can rise fast too. Make sure you are prepared for the elements and your level of activity before you venture out.
Theft & Violence
Kauaʻi is a pretty quiet place and there’s virtually no nightlife. Populated areas, such as towns and major sights, are relatively safe. Having said that, the island has its issues, like everywhere else.
- There’s a drug problem, generally involving ice (crystal methamphetamine) or pakalolo (marijuana), which fuels petty crime. Be on guard at deserted beaches and parks (eg Nawiliwili Beach Park, Keahua Arboretum) after dark.
- Car break-ins occur mainly in remote areas, including roadside parks, campgrounds and parking lots, but not always.
- There’s a deep insider/outsider mentality, with racial overtones. Certain beaches, surf spots, swimming holes and rural neighborhoods are unofficially considered locals only. In these places haole (white) tourists might encounter resentment or worse. The key is to avoid confrontation. Be careful in places where that bright new aloha shirt makes you stand out. Be aware when driving that this is not downtown Manhattan. When in doubt, drive slow, and don't use that horn.
- Heed kapu (no trespassing) signs on private property.
- Like the rest of the US, Hawaii does not have the open-access laws found in certain European countries.
During the 20th century, Kauaʻi was hit by two major tsunamis. Both ravaged the North Shore, causing 14 deaths in 1946, and demolishing 75 homes and washing out six essential bridges in 1957. Today, new homes built in tsunami-prone areas (flood zones) must be built high off the ground.
- If you’re at the coast when a tsunami occurs, immediately head inland.
- The front section of local telephone books has maps of areas susceptible to tsunamis and safety evacuation zones.
- Kauaʻi has four civil defense sirens that can be used to issue a tsunami warning.
Voltage is 110/120V at 60 cycles, with a standard US plug.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Hawaii's area code (808) is optional for local calls and compulsory when calling between islands. Dial 1 before toll-free or long-distance calls, including to Canada (for which international rates apply).
|USA's country code||1|
|International access code||011|
|Emergency (ambulance, fire & police)||911|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Non-US citizens and permanent residents may import the following duty free:
- 1L of liquor (if over 21 years)
- 200 cigarettes or 50 non-Cuban cigars (if over 21 years)
- $100 worth of gifts
Hawaii has strict restrictions against bringing in any fresh fruits and plants, to prevent entry of invasive species. The rabies-free state enforces strict pet quarantine laws, though you can slice the time to five days if you meet specific requirements. For complete details, contact the Hawaiian Department of Agriculture.
Rules for entry to the US keep changing. Confirm current visa and passport requirements for your country at the US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov) website.
To remain in the US longer than the date stamped on your passport, you must go to the Honolulu office of the US Citizenship & Immigration Service before the stamped date to apply for an extension.
Upon arriving in the US, all foreign visitors must have their two index fingers scanned and a digital photo taken, a process that takes under a minute. For more information, see the Travel Security section of the US Department of Homeland Security (https://www.dhs.gov/how-do-i/for-travelers) site.
Sexual preference on Kauaʻi is basically a non-issue. The island culture here is very welcoming and diverse. Hawaii has strong legislation which protects minority groups, and there is also a constitutional guarantee of privacy regarding sexual behavior between consenting adults. That said, there’s neither a gay scene nor any public displays of affection on the island, as locals tend to keep their private lives to themselves.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Wi-fi is available at many accommodations. Smaller accommodations (eg B&Bs) typically provide free wi-fi; larger hotels will often charge $12 to $15 per day for in-room access, but that can often be negotiated out of the bill. Make sure to handle that ahead of time, or simply use the lobby wi-fi.
Most towns have at least one cafe with wi-fi. It's free at Starbucks (Lihuʻe and Waipouli).
- You are entitled to an attorney from the moment that you are arrested. The Hawaii State Bar Association is one starting point to find an attorney. If you can’t afford one, the state is obligated to provide one for free.
- Driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher constitutes driving under the influence (DUI).
- Possessing marijuana and narcotics is illegal, although smoking a joint rarely leads to arrest unless other crimes are involved. Still, better not to get spotted doing so.
- Hitchhiking and public nudity (eg at nude beaches) are illegal but the laws are rarely enforced.
- Smoking cigarettes is prohibited in all public spaces, including airports, bars, restaurants and businesses, and, as of 2015, state parks and beaches.
- While the Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs (www.cca.hawaii.gov) deals primarily with residents’ issues, visitors who want to lodge a complaint against a business should contact the Department’s Office of Consumer Protection.
- Franko’s Maps (www.frankosmaps.com) Outstanding full-color, fold-up, waterproof maps ($7 to $11) that pinpoint snorkeling, diving, surfing and kayaking spots, and also identify tropical fish.
- Kauaʻi Island Atlas & Maps (www.envdhawaii.com) Like a land version of the Franko map ($10), with all sorts of info on climate, geology and culture, along with town insets. Available at Kokeʻe Natural History Museum.
- Kauaʻi: Island of Discovery Nice fold-out tourist freebie available from Kauaʻi Visitors Bureau, Lihuʻe. Identifies all locations used in feature films.
- Na Ala Hele Detailed topographical trail maps ($5 in person, $6 by mail) for hikers, from the Division of Forestry & Wildlife. The interactive website is also a tremendous resource.
- TopoZone (www.topozone.com) If you’re a geographer, backcountry explorer or map fiend, TopoZone has general topographical maps.
- Newspapers The Garden Island (www.thegardenisland.com), Kauaʻi’s daily newspaper, is the best source of current island events and issues. 101 Things to Do (www.101thingstodo.com) and This Week Kauaʻi (thisweekmagazines.com) are freebie tourist pamphlets handy for activities info and cost-cutting coupons.
- Radio KCR 91.9FM (www.kkcr.org) is Kauaʻi community radio – 100% volunteer-run, listener-supported and noncommercial. KITH 98.9FM has Hawaiian hits of the past 20 years, plus reggae. KQNG 93.5FM (www.kongradio.com), known as KONG radio, is a popular station playing mainstream US pop and contemporary island music. KTOH 99.9FM (www.roostercountry.com) is Kauaʻi’s only pure-country radio station.
- TV All the major US TV networks and cable channels are represented. KVIC, the Kauaʻi Visitor Information Channel, is a televised loop of tourist information on channel 3.
ATMs are available in all major towns. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted. American Express and Discover hit or miss.
ATMs are available 24/7 at banks, supermarkets, convenience stores, shopping centers and gas stations. Expect a surcharge of about $2 per transaction, plus any fees charged by your home bank.
Major credit cards are widely accepted at larger businesses, and they’re necessary to rent a car, order tickets by phone and book a hotel room. But smaller businesses such as B&Bs may not accept credit cards. In those cases, a Paypal or Venmo account may suffice if you'd rather not deal in cash.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Leaving no tip is rare and requires real cause.
- Hotel bellhops $1 to $2 per bag.
- Housekeeping staff $2 to $4 daily.
- Parking valets At least $2 when handed back your car keys.
- Restaurants Tip 15% to 20%, unless gratuity is included.
- Taxi drivers Tip 10% to 15% of metered fare.
Standard opening hours year-round are as follows:
Banks 8:30am–4pm Monday to Friday, some to 6pm Friday, and 9am–noon or 1pm Saturday
Bars & Clubs to midnight daily, some to 2am Thursday to Saturday
Businesses 8:30am–4:30pm Monday to Friday, some post offices 9am–noon Saturday
Restaurants breakfast 6–10am, lunch 11:30am–2:30pm, dinner 5–9:30pm
Shops 9am–5pm Monday to Saturday, some also noon-5pm Sunday
- The US Postal Service (www.usps.com) delivers mail to and from Kauaʻi. Service is reliable but slower than within continental USA. First-class airmail between Kauaʻi and the mainland takes up to four days.
- First-class letters up to 1oz (about 28g) cost 49¢ within the USA, $1.15 internationally.
- You can receive mail c/o General Delivery at most post offices on Kauaʻi, but you must first complete an application in person. Bring two forms of ID and your temporary local address. The accepted application is valid for 30 days; mail is held for up to 15 days. Many accommodations will also hold mail for incoming guests.
New Year’s Day January 1
Martin Luther King Jr Day Third Monday in January
Presidents' Day Third Monday in February
Kuhio Day March 26
Good Friday Friday before Easter Sunday
Memorial Day Last Monday in May
King Kamehameha Day June 11
Independence Day July 4
Statehood Day Third Friday in August
Labor Day First Monday in September
Election Day Second Tuesday in November
Veterans Day November 11
Thanksgiving Fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day December 25
Cell reception is good except in remote locations. Only tri- or quad-band models work in the USA.
Verizon has the best cellular network across the state, but AT&T and Sprint have decent coverage. While coverage on Kauaʻi is good in major towns, it’s spotty or nonexistent in rural areas.
You need a multiband GSM phone to make calls in the USA. If your phone doesn’t work, pop in a US prepaid rechargeable SIM card (with an unlocked multiband phone) or buy an inexpensive prepaid phone.
- Domestic long-distance calls must be preceded by 1.
- Toll-free numbers (area codes 800, 866, 877 or 888) must be preceded by 1.
- For all Kauaʻi calls from a local landline, dial only the seven-digit number. For interisland calls, dial 1-808 and then the seven-digit number; long-distance charges apply.
- For Kauaʻi, Hawaii and all out-of-state calls from a cell phone, dial the 10-digit number beginning with the 808 area code.
- For direct international calls, dial 011 plus the country code, area code and local number. An exception is Canada, where you dial 1 plus the area code and local number, but international rates still apply.
- If you’re calling from abroad, the US country code is 1.
Pay Phones & Phonecards
- Prepaid phonecards are sold at convenience stores, supermarkets and other locations.
- Hawaii has its own time zone and does not observe daylight saving time.
- During standard time (winter), Hawaii time differs from Los Angeles by two hours, from New York by five hours, from London by 10 hours and from Tokyo by 19 hours. During daylight saving time (summer), the difference is one hour more for countries that observe it.
- In midwinter, the sun rises around 7am and sets around 6pm. In midsummer, it rises before 6am and sets after 7pm.
- Upon arrival, set your internal clock to ‘Hawaiian time,’ meaning slow down!
Tourist information kiosks aren't really a thing on Kauaʻi, but the local tourist board, Kauaʻi Visitors Bureau, does have a useful website.
Travel with Children
Kauaʻi is an amusement park of sorts, just of the more natural variety. Instead of riding roller coasters and eating too much cotton candy, keiki (kids) can snorkel amid tropical fish, eat just the right amount of shave ice, zipline in forest canopies and enjoy sandy beaches, with bodyboarding hot spots and shallow, toddler-sized lagoons. As for you, if you came to Kauaʻi to recapture a childlike free-spiritedness, those tots you’re toting may prove to be an inspiration for letting go and diving into some fun in the sun!
Calling Kauaʻi ‘kid-friendly’ would be an understatement; na keiki (children) are adored on the Garden Island. There’s an explanation for this – cuteness aside. The entire island has a small-town vibe and, as the saying goes, ‘we’re all in the same canoe.’ When it comes down to it, people look out for each other, and each others’ kids, because almost everybody else has kids too.
Not much can go wrong on Kauaʻi – except in the water. Temperatures never drop below 65°F (18°C), driving distances are relatively short and everyone speaks English. Still, proper planning can be a game changer, especially when traveling with kids. With just a few tidbits of insider information you can minimize costs and maximize adventure.
Finding an appropriate home base is a good first step. Resorts and hotels typically allow children under 18 years to stay for free with their parents and might even provide rollaway beds or cribs. Poʻipu’s Sheraton Kauaʻi Resort and Grand Hyatt Kauaʻi Resort & Spa, the St Regis in Princeville and the Marriott in Lihuʻe offer professionally supervised ‘day camps.’ And kids will love playing in the monstro pool areas. Vacation-rental rates often apply only to doubles; kids above a certain age might count as extra guests at a cost of $15 to $25 each per night. B&Bs are generally not as kid-friendly, as they tend to be more intimate and host multiple parties in close proximity.
Most car-rental companies lease child-safety seats (cost per day $10 to $12, or per week $50 to $60), but they’re limited so it’s best to reserve in advance. Supplies, such as disposable diapers and infant formula, are sold island-wide, but try shopping in Lihuʻe and on the Eastside for the best selection and prices. Facilities for diaper changing and breastfeeding are scarce, and doing either in public is frowned upon, so chances are backseat improvisation will be necessary.
Need to Know
- Changing facilities Sparse; plan for improvisation.
- Highchairs Ubiquitous.
- Kids’ menus At most restaurants.
- Diapers (Nappies) Cheapest and best selection in Lihuʻe or on the Eastside.
- Strollers For rent from Kauai Baby Rentals along with everything else one could need, including cribs, toys and booster seats to name a few.
- Car seats For rent from car companies; you must reserve in advance or just bring your own.
- Breastfeeding Generally done discreetly or in private.
- Age limits While age limits apply to some activities and upscale B&Bs, so do discounts.
- Strong currents on the coasts Can make for dangerous conditions. Find a well-protected beach.
Food & Drink
Hawaii is a family-oriented and unfussy place, so all restaurants welcome children, many even with keiki menus, or you can ask for half portions. Highchairs are usually available, even at Kauaʻi’s finest resorts.
If restaurant dining is not your family’s strong suit, no problem. Eating outdoors is among the simplest and the best of island pleasures. Pack a picnic, stop for smoothies at roadside stands, and order plate lunches or fish wraps at patio counters. Accommodations providing full kitchens are convenient for eat-in-breakfasts, especially if you stock up on exotic fruit at farmers markets. A luau is definitely recommended, as is challenging your kids to eat fresh fish, poke (cubed raw fish mixed with shōyu, sesame oil, salt, chili pepper, ʻinamona or other condiments), poi (steamed, mashed taro) and other local delicacies.
The food itself should pose little trouble, as Kauaʻi grocers stock mainstream national brands, just at around 140% of the cost you’re expecting.
The Kauai Youth Directory is an extensive resource for numerous youth and teen activities on the island, with links to recreational, environmental and cultural youth activities that may coincide with your visit.
For valuable tips and interesting anecdotes check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
In the Water
With 55 miles of beach coastline, ocean activities are bound to be a part of the agenda. If your child cannot swim or fears the ocean, try one of Kauaʻi’s gentle ‘baby beaches’ in Poʻipu or Kapaʻa for toddlers. Lydgate Beach Park is an ideal starter beach for grade-schoolers or anyone who needs well-protected waters. Although not lifeguard-staffed, ʻAnini Beach Park’s massive offshore reef creates consistently calm waters ideal for kids.
Snorkeling is generally family-friendly on Kauaʻi, exciting for young kids and teens alike, especially in Poʻipu. Boss Frog is a great starting point as it rents gear and has a wealth of knowledge and direction to share. Little kids love the float-on-top boogie boards with the windows so you can see below. Otherwise, indulge in a thrilling cruise to snorkel the iconic Na Pali waters. If your kid has never sailed before, a smoother catamaran ride might be safer than a zippy raft adventure. Many Na Pali operators will not take children aged under six. If your kid gets seasick, sit downstairs in the middle of the boat.
Surf lessons are another fun family activity and can be a big hit with teenagers looking to beef up their coolness résumé. Kauaʻi’s waters are relatively uncrowded, and beginner groups are generally small and personalized. If your child (or you) associates the word ‘surf’ with iPads and laptops more than set waves and ‘hanging 10,’ go bodyboarding before trying the real thing as it’s much easier to learn and provides that all-important seed of confidence. The best beginner breaks are in Poʻipu and Lihuʻe. As with any waterborn activity, you have to be respectful of the waves. Kauaʻi has some strong currents. Keep to the shallows and well-protected areas with young ones, and protect from them from sun and dehydration.
When all fingers and toes are thoroughly wrinkled, there are some land-based activities that are especially geared toward children. At Lydgate Beach Park, you’ll find two massive playgrounds with swings, slides, bridges and mysterious nooks and crannies. Na ʻAina Kai Botanical Gardens includes a special children’s area with a wading pond, jungle playground, treehouse and more. Smith’s Tropical Paradise is a family-friendly park where there are no time limits to strolling the island-themed 30-acre grounds. There's a train trip from the Kilohana Plantation that younger kids will love, as well as occasional crafts, sand-castle building and lei-making courses at the resorts. A kayak adventure up the Wailua River and ziplining are both usually a hit with teens – many have age and weight limits – as is cruising around the shops of Kapaʻa or Hanalei for tropical knickknacks to show off back at school.
Hiking trails abound on Kauaʻi, though some are geared more toward the experienced enthusiast. At Waimea Canyon and Kokeʻe State Parks, you’ll find trails ranging from simple nature walks to strenuous treks amid the striking landscape of a gargantuan lava gorge and rugged forestland. Hiking even a couple of hundred feet up the Kalalau Trail offers unforgettable views.
Other great adventures include horseback riding, or bicycling along the Eastside coastal path.
Bring lots of water and snacks for hikes, plus sun protection.
Travellers with Disabilities
Accommodations Major hotels are equipped with elevators, phones with telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) and wheelchair-accessible rooms (which must be reserved in advance). These services are unlikely in B&Bs and small hotels.
General Information Kauaʻi County can be a resource, though its website (www.kauai.gov/visitors) is clunky. If you have specific questions about traveling with a disability on Kauaʻi, call the American Disability Act (ADA) Coordinator at the Office of the Mayor (808-241-4921). The Disability and Communication Access Board also provides a tip sheet specifically for Kauaʻi at www.health.hawaii.gov/dcab/files/2015/12/Traveler-Tips-Kauai.pdf.
Mobility There are currently no car-rental agencies with lift-equipped vehicles. Gammie HomeCare (www.gammie.com) rents portable ramps, wheelchairs, hospital beds, walking aids and other medical equipment. Wheelchair Getaways of Hawaii rents wheelchair-accessible vans. Kauaʻi County provides a Landeez all-terrain wheelchair at lifeguard stations at Poʻipu, Lydgate and Salt Pond Beach Parks. All Kauaʻi county buses are wheelchair lift equipped.
Seeing-Eye & Guide Dogs These dogs are not subject to the general quarantine rules for pets if they meet the Department of Agriculture’s minimum requirements; see http://hawaii.gov/hdoa/ai/aqs/guide-service-dogs-entering-hawai-i for more details. All animals must enter the state via Honolulu International Airport.
Accessible Travel Online Resources
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Although paid work on Kauaʻi can be hard to find, volunteers are often welcome, especially in the botanic gardens and state parks.
Hui O Laka Work to eradicate invasive species, plant endemic species and participate in a bird count.
Kauaʻi Habitat for Humanity Join a team of volunteers to build affordable homes for families in need.
Malama Kauaʻi Volunteers needed for half-day shifts at Kilauea's community gardens.
National Tropical Botanical Garden Apply in advance to work in two of the most astonishingly beautiful botanical gardens in the world.
Sierra Club Apply to volunteer with the island chapter of the age-old environmental group founded by the legendary John Muir.
Surfrider Foundation Join a beach cleanup and help mitigate marine plastic pollution.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures As on the US mainland, imperial units are used.
- US citizens can legally work in Hawaii, but considering the high unemployment rate, opportunities are limited. Short-term employment will probably mean entry-level jobs in the service industry. Specific outdoor skills (eg scuba diving) might land you a job with an activity outfit.
- Check the listings in newspaper classifieds and also the Big Island Craigslist (http://honolulu.craigslist.org/big) website.