With so many international borders closed, our thoughts turn to a tropical island paradise in the Pacific you don’t need a passport to visit:
Your choice of island has has always been important and tailored to the type of your experience you’re looking for, as each has its own unique style and charm. With COVID-19 restrictions, the choice and order of islands you visit is more important than ever, as requirements vary. When it reopened for travel without a mandatory 14-day quarantine in October, the state introduced its Safe Travels program with testing requirements to avoid a 10-day quarantine. Kauai, however, has opted out of the program and developed its own. So not only will you need a negative NAAT test provided by an approved partner within 72 hours of your departure to the state, you’ll also need to either pass another test to go to Kauai or spend a three-day quarantine in one of the island’s approved bubble resorts (and test negative) before exploring the Garden Isle. If you’re going to the Big Island, there’s a 25% chance you’ll be randomly selected to take a test on arrival (paid for by Hawaii County). If you’re going to Maui, you’ll need to download the AlohaSafe Alert App. If you’re going from an outer island to Oahu, you don’t need to meet additional requirements or add that trip to your Safe Travels profile. If you’re going from Oahu to an outer island, you probably do, but rules vary depending on which island it is. No matter which island you visit, you’ll need to complete a health declaration and upload your test results to the Safe Travels website. Suffice it to say, it’s complicated. The above is not even an exhaustive list of the various requirements. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the adventures in the rainforest, beneath the waves and at the top of volcanoes that formed the islands so many years ago. You can still relax on some of the most scenic beaches you could ever hope to find. It just means you need some help from a travel advisor to comply with all the protocols.
Now the fun part - which island is best for you?
It’s the only U.S. state in the tropics, the most remote island chain in the world and actually made up of more than 100 islands. You can go SCUBA diving well below sea level and go to the top of what is technically the world’s tallest mountain (though most of it is underwater). There are great beaches and great golf courses everywhere, and the weather is just about perfect year-round. No matter how you slice it, Hawaii is pretty awesome. But which island is best for you? Off the eight main islands, Kaho‘olawe is uninhabited, Ni‘ihau is off limits to non-Native Hawaiians and Moloka‘i has limited options for accommodations. That leaves five islands that vacationers commonly seek out, each with something unique in store.
Hawai‘i, “The Big Island”
By far the largest of the islands, Hawai‘i is made up of five volcanoes and could fit the rest of the islands inside it with room to spare. With Kilauea volcano erupting continuously since 1983 and occasional snow atop Mauna Kea, it is truly a land of fire and ice. Most of the resorts (including Four Season Hualalai, Fairmont Orchid, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and the recently renovated and reopened Auberge Mauna Lani Bay) are along the Kohala Coast on the western, leeward side of the island, which gets only a few inches of rain year. The eastern half of the island features rain forest, waterfalls, black sand beaches and Kilauea, where you can hike to flowing lava or through an old lava tube. On the bottom is South Point, the southernmost point in the U.S., and not far away is Papakolea, one of four green sand beaches in the world. In the north is a string of valleys bookended by the gorgeous Pololu and Waipi‘o valleys. On the west side, you can dive with manta rays and snorkel in the amazingly clear Kealakekua Bay. In the middle is the crowning jewel, Mauna Kea. With a summit 13,796 feet above sea level, it is above 40 percent of the earth’s atmosphere, making stargazing a must. Add another 20,000 feet of Mauna Kea below sea level, and it beats Everest by a few thousand feet.
Maui, “The Valley Isle”
There is a saying in Hawaiian, Maui no ka‘oi, “Maui is the best.” With the amount of activities packed into the island, it’s hard to argue. You can take the Road to Hana, one of the most scenic drives in the world, and go a little bit farther than Hana to the Seven Sacred Pools at Ohe‘o Gulch. You can watch the sunrise at 10,000 feet atop Haleakala and bike down (for maximum enjoyment, go early in your trip before your body adjusts to the time difference). Explore the paniolo (“cowboy”) town of Makawao or take a tour of Kula Lavender Farm. For more action, Maui has some spectacular hikes in ‘Iao Valley, which separates the western and eastern parts of the island, and in the rainforest along the Hana Highway. Kihei and Lahaina are great spots for novice surfers, and Trilogy has great snorkeling tours. Discover Molokini, visiting Molokini Crater just offshore, and the full-day Discover Lanai are favorites. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, it’s time for a luau. Old Lahaina Luau, great for families, and Feast at Lele are two of the best in the islands. The main resort area are Kapalua in the west (home to Montage Kapalua Bay and the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua) and Wailea in the south (where you’ll find Andaz Maui, the Fairmont Kea Lani and Four Seasons Resort Maui).
Lana‘i, “The Pineapple Isle”
Part of Maui Nui (“Greater Maui”) before a sea level rise a couple hundred thousand years ago and after that a pineapple plantation, Lana‘i is now 97 percent privately owned by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. As evidenced by the Trilogy tour from Maui, the snorkeling around Lana‘i is world-class. With a population of just a few thousand, Lana‘i is a place to relax and enjoy the great outdoors. The Four Seasons Resort Lana‘i (beach), and recently opened Sensai Lanai, also a Four Seasons Resort (up-country), are outstanding places to do just that. Activities include horseback riding, a 4×4 Jeep outing, clay shooting and cave diving.
O‘ahu, “The Gathering Place”
Home to about two thirds of the state’s population and the city of Honolulu, O‘ahu is not the place to go if you’re looking to get away from it all. If you’re looking for high-end shopping and dining, look no farther than Waikiki. You can’t go without visiting Pearl Harbor, but be sure to get tickets well in advance to avoid having to line up at 6 a.m. for them. The snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is excellent, but get there early before the parking lot fills up, or take a tour with pickup at your Waikiki hotel (Halekulani, The Royal Hawaiian and the Modern Honolulu are Virtuoso-preferred). Learn to surf or just people-watch at Waikiki Beach. To see the pros on the big waves, head up to the North Shore, a 7-mile stretch that includes the world-famous Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach (the name says it all). That isn’t to say you can’t find some peace and quiet. Four Seasons Resort at Ko Olina and The Kahala offer respite off the beaten track. The Byodo-In Temple is a replica of a thousand-year-old Buddhist temple in Japan and a good place to calm the mind. Just outside the urban center, there are great hikes at Diamond Head and the Makapuu Lighthouse trails.
What O‘ahu may lack in tranquility, Kaua‘i more than makes up for. The rainiest of the main islands, Kaua‘i is quite rural and its main attractions are natural phenomena. The middle of the island is covered by Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” going to depths of about 3,000 feet. In the northwest, the Na Pali Coast juts out of the ocean, its cliffs resembling the ridged cone of a citrus juicer. These features make Kaua‘i the best island for a helicopter tour that allows you to take in the full scope of its beauty. While the rain can put a damper on some days, without it you wouldn’t be able to go tubing through the irrigation system of a former sugar plantation or kayak down the Wailua River. Not far from Na Pali is the Princeville Hotel which has now closed for a total renovation and to re-open in 2022. If you prefer to set up shop on the sunnier south shore, the Virtuoso-preferred Grand Hyatt Kauai has lush grounds and a great stretch of beach and proximity to Poipu Beach Park, considered one of America’s best beaches.
Now that you've chosen the Island(s) to make your dreams come true, let us do what we do best, navigate the ins and outs of travel so you can make the most of your vacation. Not only will we help you get there, we know where to stay, where to eat and what to do to make your Hawaii getaway a true tropical paradise escape.