How to travel between islands in Hawaii? [Cheapest Way + Map]

If you haven’t been to Hawaii already, it must be your next destination for sure. Culturally rich, a foodie’s paradise and an adventure junkie’s home, this nature’s jewel is an unmissable destination that provides something for every traveler.

Whether you want to party hard, soak in the tropical sun, venture into the unexplored, or simply relax in the lap of nature, the six visitable islands in Hawaii are an absolute treat to your senses.

Over the years, Hawaii has gained almost a mythical status for tourists hobnobbing here for distinct experiences, and Hawaii never fails to deliver. A soul-stirring adventure is just around the corner when in Hawaii. Every single moment spent here is awe-inspiring, making it a complete package for travelers of all age groups. 

As one of the top destinations in America, the one thing you need to sort out before landing in Hawaii is what you want to experience and which islands you wish to visit. Even though island hopping in Hawaii is a must, it is not all that easy and it requires careful planning and meticulous execution.

Every island offers a weeklong adventure and if you really wish to enjoy these islands to the fullest, it is best not to overpack your schedule with too many islands at a time.

Hawaii is best explored at a leisurely pace, else your trip here will become hopping from one airport to another, leaving little space to marvel at the beauty and experiences it has to offer. 

To ensure you make the most out of your trip, we have compiled an exhaustive list of everything you to know about island hopping in Hawaii. From its different islands, and what they offer to how to travel between islands, this article provides a comprehensive break-up of useful information that you can use as the ultimate travel guide to the Hawaiian Islands. Before we continue, be sure to check these essential items you need to take with you during the trip !

Table of Contents

Which island in Hawaii to visit?

The Hawaiian Islands, despite all their cultural, physical, and geographical differences, are bound by the aloha spirit, a common thread that binds the Hawaiian people together.

While aloha is the common greeting here, it is a lot more than just saying hello. Literally meaning alo (face) and ha (the breath of life), the island clusters live and abide by living life to the fullest. And no matter where you go, this full-of-life spirit will welcome you with open arms, making you fall in love with this place almost instantly. 

The genesis of Hawaii was a result of a massive volcanic eruption from the vent of Kilauea, which continues to erupt even today. These islands rose from the Pacific Ocean due to these eruptions and became home to fertile sea sanctuaries, fiery sunsets, misty and mysterious mountains, and colossal Cascading waterfalls. 

The six main islands – Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Hawaii (aka Big Island), Lanai, and Molokai comprise the Hawaiian archipelago and are lined with an abundance of natural beauty and cultural nuances. Each one of them is unique in its composition, experiences and tourist offerings.

From scaling the mighty volcanic pinnacles, surfing the gigantic waves, discovering the local culture and cuisine, or simply soaking in the sun at the beaches, these islands deliver everything you want, sometimes even more than you expect. 

So, which island should you go to? We will tell you how these islands are uniquely attractive and you can decide which one to prioritize. You can then plan your island-hopping itinerary with this informative article.

Oahu

Oahu Hawaii
Photo by David Kovalenko on Unsplash

To say that Oahu is a unique place would be a gross understatement. Where else do you find volcanic craters, dense rainforests, wild waves to surf on, a million-dollar cityscape, and a Disney Park all in one place? The biggest and the most popular island in Hawaii, Oahu is where all the buzz is.

The city of Honolulu is the travel hub for Hawaii as most international flights land at the Honolulu International Airport which is the main departure point for the rest of the islands. Honolulu itself is a vibrant place to spend some quality time around.

If you want to do some touristy things, you can visit the Iolani Palace and the Honolulu Museum of Art. If WWII fascinates you, take a trip to Pearl Harbour in a curated four-hour tour from here. If you want to get a complete feel of history and culture, then take a full-day tour of the island that will take you to places like Waimea Valley’s waterfalls, the beautiful Byodo-In temple, and Halona Blowhole amongst other popular destinations.

Honolulu is also home to a string of beaches just three miles east of the city. You can satiate the adventure junkie inside you by going snorkeling, surfing, and cruising at beaches including Sans Souci, Queen’s Surf, Kuhio, Waikiki, DeRussy, and Duke Kahanamoku. 

Maui

Maui, Hawaii, USA
Photo by Pascal Debrunner on Unsplash

Bio-diversity, water sports, whale spotting, and experience-oriented hotels and resorts, Maui provides it all. One of the most scenic and diverse islands, Maui is a dream destination for all nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts. Lahaina, the island’s most popular tiny town boasts a rich history.

It was a hotspot for whalers and seamen once upon a time and the languishing small streets now lined up with cozy cafes were the favorites of legendary writers like Mark Twain and Herman Melville. Such is the magic of this place, that you would not want to move away from here. But remember, every nook and corner of the Hawaiian Islands is just as magical. So, soak in all you can, but keep moving on for more magical moments. 

Maui is just as expansive in terms of lovely beaches including Kapalua Beach, Big Beach (also named Oneloa Beach, or Makena Beach State Park), and La Pérouse Bay, a snorkeling and kayaking paradise.  

Head to the Haleakala National Park for an unforgettable experience. You can go for an on-foot or horseback trail of Maui’s volcanic trail, complete with some breathtaking views and a variety of flora and fauna. The Hana highway drive is yet another unmissable experience. Overall, Maui is perfect for beach and adventure lovers. 

Kauai

Kauai hawaii
Photo by Jelle de Gier on Unsplash

Known as the Garden Isle of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is laced with some eye-popping beauty and is frequented by hikers, adventure seekers, and bird-watchers (some extremely rare species of birds can be spotted here).

The dramatic geographical features of this island will leave you spellbound, which is why coming here is totally worth it even though Kauai isn’t the easiest island to reach. Due to its secluded location, it is not very easy to get to these islands. The best way to get around is by helicopter, ferry, boat, paddleboarding, and kayaking. 

If you can afford it, a helicopter ride to Kauai Island is nothing short of a Jurassic World kind of experience, but if money is a constraint, you can look at other, more adventurous ways of getting there. Kayaking is a great way to explore the route to these islands, and so is paddleboarding. Once there, you can go trekking or hiking at the Kalalau Trail coastline.

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The trek might be tough, but it is worth the effort as you will end the trek at Kalalau beach, which is one of the most pristine beaches in the Hawaiian Islands. Alternatively, you can also visit the Kauai Museum and Grove Farm Homestead and Sugar Plantation Museum for a more relaxed and informative outing.

However, Kauai is an adventure seeker’s paradise. With miles of coastline, beautiful beaches and hiking and trekking trails, this is where you must head for an adventurous holiday. 

The Hawaii Island – Or the Big Island?

Time seems to have come to a standstill at Hawaii’s biggest island – Hawaii Island, also called the Big Island. It is easily the biggest island of all Hawaiian Islands with several small towns that still seem to be following the century-old lifestyle. While these towns make for a great experience, the biggest tourist attraction here is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is made up of its southernmost volcanoes – Mauna Loa and Kilauea.

The park consists of some active volcanoes, so you can experience what it is like to witness this natural phenomenon. That aside, the national park provides amazing geological variety with windswept deserts, arctic tundra, and canopied rainforests. When here, don’t forget to visit Kilauea – the most active volcano in this region. Although it takes time to reach here, the effort will be well worth it. 

There are some guided tours available too that will not only take you to the volcano sites but will also take you around to explore local coffee and green turtles. These tours end at a stargazing spot near Mauna Kea – a dormant volcano that is covered with snow at all times. If you wish to learn more about the history of this place, head to the Kona district where the royalty of these islands is at full display. The town is also laced with high-end boutiques, hotels and bars. You can spend a relaxing evening enjoying the party scene. 

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Lanai

Lanai island
Photo by Anton Repponen on Unsplash

Lanai provides a completely different experience than the rest of them. It was once the hub of a pineapple plantation in this region, but now it has become home to some luxurious hotels and resorts.

The beaches provide an eerie red rocky look and seem to be straight out of a Wild Wild West film. It is also sometimes referred to as Gardens of Gods as there are several strange formations from lava that look orangish at the end of the day. The island also has a shipwreck beach that is home to a WWII tanker. Most of these destinations are well-connected and can be reached easily. 

Molokai

molokai hawaii
Photo by Justin Busa on Unsplash

This island is home to the highest number of native Hawaiians. So, if you wish to experience everything authentic Hawaiian, this is the island to visit. Life moves slowly here and there are select hotels and resorts. But that is the charm of this island as you can interact with the locals and try some authentic Hawaiian cuisine.

However, drama is never away on the Hawaiian Islands. The three geological anchors at Molokai – Mauna Loa, Mauna Kamakou and Kauhako, this island is home to the world’s highest sea cliffs and Hawaii’s longest continuous fringing reef.

Some of the other important and exciting tourist attractions include the Pepe‘opae Trail, Kalaupapa National Historical Park, and Pala’Au State Park. After adventure-hopping at different Hawaiian Islands, Molokai is the perfect place to experience the slow pace of life where things happen at a leisurely pace. However, Molokai is relaxing and gives you a peek into authentic Hawaiian life. 

The best way to Island Hop n Hawaii

Traveling between the Hawaiian Islands is extremely easy as there are plenty of flights that move back and forth from the town of Oahu. No matter what kind of itinerary you create and whichever island you wish to visit, Oahu is the place to start and end your trip. 

Island hopping in Hawaii by air: Flying to different islands in Hawaii is by far the easiest way of getting around. In some cases, it is the only way of traveling.

There are three major operators in Hawaii and hundreds of flights operate on a daily basis with almost a flight flying off the airport every hour to the three major destinations of Oahu, Maui and Kauai. Most islands have more than one airport, so it is advisable to first check which airport is closer to your hotel before booking the flights as it can reduce your overall travel time considerably. This will be especially useful at the Kona islands as the two airports are poles apart. 

The other modes of transport are a little more on the adventurous side as they are mostly by water. However, the options are fewer and more time-consuming. But if you are an adventure seeker, you will definitely enjoy it. Kayaking, paddle boarding, and smaller boats are also available to reach some of the islands, but they are not the most convenient ones. 

Since Hawaii is home to a delicate ecology and the oceanic waters are often quite bumpy, the local government has refrained from providing consistent ferry services to most of the islands. The first move to introduce this service was met with heavy opposition from the people of Hawaii and it was duly respected by the authorities.

However, there are a few ferry services available to the nearby islands of Lanai. This is the only regular ferry service available in this region and it takes around 30 minutes to reach. Cruises are a good way to move around as these are guided tours and provide a more comfortable way of traveling. 

Hawaii is a paradise for every kind of traveler. Whether you like a slow-paced holiday or an adventure amidst some of nature’s most unique marvels, Hawaii has something for everyone. Every island here provides a lot to absorb and explore. That is why it is important to not over-fill your itinerary with too many islands in one go.

Plan wisely and give every island enough time to be explored. You will not be disappointed with the amount of time you spend here. An eight-day trip will allow you to cover two islands with ease. So, visit this heaven on Earth and enjoy a holiday of a lifetime.