Covered in forest that’s fed by a healthy dose of sunshine and rain, Kauai is known as the ‘Garden Isle’. But, it’s the coastline that most impresses: the cliffs rise from the swirling Pacific in steep folds, velvety green vegetation growing across their sharp edges.
The most striking section is the Nā Pali Coast in the northwest of the island, which featured as a backdrop in Jurassic Park. It’s inaccessible by road, but you can admire it from a boat, or go hiking in Nā Pali Coast State Park.
Within the forested interior, walk to hidden waterfalls, zip-line through the treetops, or join a guided mountain bike ride down into Waimea Canyon, dubbed the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’.
The oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is also the wildest. Untouched tropical forests run with rivers, streams and waterfalls, and coves tucked between sheer cliffs hide sandy beaches. You can visit timeless villages such as Hanalei, with its taro farms, art galleries and pier jutting out into the bay. Or, opt for a more exhilarating activity, such as zip-lining.
There are seven zip-lines to try out, including the longest in Hawaii. You glide over treetops, through the tropical canopy and across rivers and waterfalls as the air rushes past your ears. Some zip-lines are more intense in terms of height, speed or distance than others, and on a few you can ride in tandem. Between each one, your guide will tell you about the island’s ecology, culture and folklore.
Another high-adrenaline activity is downhill mountain biking at Waimea Canyon. This vast, red-rock canyon spans 16 km (10 miles) and its steep sides are 900 m (3,000 ft) deep in some places. Joining a local guide, you can safely wind down into the canyon from an elevation of 1,100 m (3,610 ft).
You’re provided with a light breakfast as you’re driven up to the top of the canyon. From here, you can take in views over the rust-hued lava rock dappled with green foliage and spilling with long, wispy waterfalls.
On the descent, there’s time to take photographs as your guide tells you more about the island’s history and culture. Upon reaching the bottom of the canyon, the ride continues along more even terrain toward Koke’e State Park.
Exploring the Nā Pali Coast
This stretch of sheer, notched sea cliffs, deep-cut valleys and deserted sandy coves is sacred to Hawaiians by virtue of its natural beauty. There are no coastal drives here, so the best way to take in Nā Pali is by boat.
You can sail around the island’s coastline aboard a catamaran, craning your neck to see the full extent of Nā Pali’s 1,000 m (3,300 ft) cliffs. Waterfalls spill out into the ocean, and your guide points out volcanic features such as lava tubes. The crew will tell you about Kauai’s geology and its early inhabitants, who are thought to have arrived in the 3rd century.
You eventually anchor in a remote spot, where you can spend time snorkeling before sitting down to a barbecue lunch served on board. On your way back, look out for pods of spinner dolphins, which often frolic among the waves.
Back on land, you can also explore Nā Pali on foot. The state park’s strenuous 18 km (11 mile) Kalalau Trail follows the coastline, giving you views over the sparkling ocean. It then dips into the steep-sided Kalalau Valley before ending at Kalalau Beach, where you can relax on the golden sands. We can arrange for you to walk with a guide, who’ll recount the island’s history and local legends.
Best time to visit Kauai
Kauai enjoys a year-round tropical climate, but the island does experience a lot of rainfall — March to September sees the least precipitation. The island is busiest in July and August, so visit in June or September for the best weather without the crowds. To see humpback whales, visit between December and March.
Suggested Kauai itinerary
This sample itinerary will give you an idea of what is possible when you travel in Kauai, and showcases routes we know work particularly well. Treat this as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.
Map of Kauai
Places & hotels on the map
Accommodation choices for Kauai
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Kauai. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.
Ideas for experiencing Kauai
Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Kauai, and which use the best local guides.