How many islands should you visit during your Hawaii vacation?

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Is it possible to visit all six Hawaiian Islands in a week? Yes, it is technically possible, though you won’t get to see much of each island. You will, however, get to see a lot of the airports as we will describe later. (The exception, of course, would be if you go on a cruise. In that case, you really only get a taste of the four major islands — Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii, the Big Island.)

It’s so easy to become overwhelmed when planning your first visit to Hawaii. One of the toughest decisions that you must face in the early planning stages is choosing how many islands to visit.

When you look at photos of each of the six visitable islands, they all look enticing. We’ve lost count of how many trips we’ve made to each island, so we can attest to the fact that they’re all great. Each island has its own features and personality that make it worth the journey. That being said, unless you have about a month or so planned for your Hawaii vacation, in our opinion, you really shouldn’t attempt to stay on every island.

Why do we recommend limiting the number of islands in a visit?

First, there’s so much to see and do on each island it’s unlikely you’ll get bored. The sights and activities on each island are practically endless. We find that we really need to rein in the activities on every visit in order to enjoy downtime on a beach.

Secondly, you lose so much time in transport that would be much better spent on a trail or at a beach. Here’s a list of the logistics required to transfer to another island.

  • Pack your belongings at your hotel on island A
  • Check out of the hotel on island A.
  • Drive to the airport of island A.
  • Return the rental car at island A.
  • Take the rental car shuttle bus to the airport terminal of island A.
  • Check your luggage and get boarding passes.
  • Go through airport security and walk to your gate.
  • Wait for your flight.
  • Board flight and wait for take off.
  • Fly from island A to island B, hopefully without a connection. See our inter-island Hawaii travel guide.
  • Disembark plane on island B.
  • Walk to baggage claim and collect your luggage.
  • Find rental car shuttle waiting location.
  • Take the shuttle to the rental car desk.
  • Rent car on island B.
  • Drive to hotel on island B.
  • Check into hotel on island B.
  • Unpack belongings at island B.

It’s possible that you can shave some time off by not renting a car and not checking luggage, but you’re still going to spend at least three to four hours in transport from door to door. That’s precious time that you could be spend exploring island A or relaxing on a beach. Additionally, think of all the stress in traveling and frustrating lines you’ll have to stand in at multiple points of the transfer. We’ve even experienced multiple flight delays with inter-island flights that only steal time away from enjoying Hawaii.

How many islands do we recommend you visit based on your length of stay?

There aren’t any hard and fast rules for how many islands you should visit based on your allotted vacation days.  However, based on our experiences, we can make some recommendations for you to consider.

If you have 1 to 8 days, we recommend that you choose only one island for your base stay. If you want more, consider planning a day-trip island hop.

If you have 9 to 14 days, we recommend planning to visit up to two islands. If you want more, consider planning a day-trip island hop.

If you have 15 to 20 days, we recommend planning to visit up to three islands, which would result in roughly five to seven days per your three chosen islands. You could see more islands with day trips to other islands.

If you have 21 to 25 days, we recommend planning to visit up to four islands, which would result in roughly 5 to 6 days per island. Again, you might opt to see more with a day trip.

If you have 26 to 30 days, we recommend planning up to five or perhaps even six islands if you have nearly 30 days.

Again, there aren’t any rules about the number of islands you should/could visit. Our recommendations are just suggestions based on our numerous Hawaii vacations. If you want a quick rule of thumb, to see and experience the major highlights of each island, you’re going to need at least four days for Molokai and Lanai and five days minimum for Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii’s Big Island.

Day trips can be your friend when time is the enemy.

If you are torn between which islands to include in your Hawaii vacation, a day-trip, island hop might solve this issue. Day trips are easy to do with a pre-packaged tours or with your own independent planning. Several Hawaii-based tour companies offer day trips which include flights and fully guided tours. Basically you only need to show up at the airport and they take care of the rest of the day’s plans.

On what we thought would be our one and only trip to Hawaii, we visited Maui for eight nights. We also wanted to also visit Oahu to see Pearl Harbor so we took a packaged day-trip to Oahu that included visiting the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri battleship in Pearl Harbor, lunch in Waikiki, Punchbowl and the Pali Lookout. On another Maui vacation with family, we created our own independent day-trip to Oahu that we customized to our interests.

Special considerations:

– Hawaii, the Big Island, is indeed big. It’s bigger than all the other Hawaiian Islands combined. If you are considering visiting the Big Island, we recommend you considering adding extra time. Our first visit to the island was a nine-night stay. We didn’t not run out of things to see and do.

– If you are traveling from the Midwest or East Coast, your flight from Hawaii back to the mainland will most likely be a red-eye (overnight) flight. As you are allotting your vacation days, make sure you include enough time for your return back to the mainland.

– A cruise is a great way to see some highlights of the four major islands. With the seven day itineraries, each day is spent in port — some include overnight stays at a single port. The ships sail to new destinations at night.

– Day trips to Lanai and Molokai from Maui can be done by flights, ferries and some packaged trips.

– If you are a repeat visitor to the Hawaiian Islands, you may find that you need less time than five days on a particular island if you have previously visited that island.


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About Sheila Beal

Sheila Beal is the founder and editor of Go Visit Hawaii. You can connect with Sheila Beal on Twitter, Go Visit Hawaii on Facebook, or Sheila Beal on Google+.

4 comments

  1. In September 2013 we spent 17 wonderful days “exploring Hawaii”. It was a first visit to the islands for us. We started at Big Island, then Maui, Kauai and then Waikiki/Honolulu on Ohau. You are correct you can loose 1/2 day to a day on inter-island transport.
    We had a wonderful time during our whole trip. We had spent months culling down what was on our “Must Do” list, thanks to your site, Go Visit Hawaii, and TV show Hawaii Life on HGTV which helped us to get familiar with activities, sites and geography. (Also the Ultimate Guide books in app worked great while on island as the Gypsy Guide app for Maui is a Must have)

    If you have limited time know what you want to really see or do during your time. It helps you to plan out your time and give you space to just relax or even be spontaneous. We also did a variety of accomodations from resorts, basic hotel to self catering.

    We targeted the Hawiian cultural and historic sites and more non-tourist things on our trip. Of course the site everyone has to do are Volcanos National Park and Pearl Harbor, hit high on our list. (each is a day in themselves)
    Now, that we’ve been to Hawaii, we have a better idea for the next trip. (Yes we are thinking of another trip, planning starts on the plane ride home)
    Still it is hard to pick a favorite, they each unique in their own way.

    • Mahalo for sharing your experience, Brigidanne. By the way, we’re very happy to hear that Go Visit Hawaii was helpful in your planning. We really do aim to provide the information to help folks make the most of their Hawaii vacation time and budget.

      Great advice on planning your time. If you do most of the planning at home before your trip, that allows you to enjoy your plans while you’re there rather than having the stress of making your plans on the fly. You can be much more informed, do your research, find the best prices, read reviews, etc at home before the vacation.

      Regarding Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we’ve probably spent about 6 days there in total over several trips to Hawaii Island. We’ve still not seen and done all we’d like. It seems like the more you explore, the more you realize that there’s even more to explore — which keeps us coming back. :-)

  2. Thanks for the tips! I would love to visit Hawaii soon.

  3. I agree, for those who are visiting Hawaii, it can get pretty tricky managing their vacation time. That said, it really is best to plan and plot out an itinerary ahead of time.

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