How many islands should you visit during your Hawaii vacation?


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.

  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.

    1. 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. 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.

  3. HI!
    I am planning going to Hawaii for 8 weeks just for travelling around and try different things. could this be too much time? Should I rather spend two of the weeks in LA and New York instead? Im travelling from Denmark.
    I hope to hear from you 🙂

    1. Too much time? Should you visit other US cities? That’s probably a personal decision that you need to make.

      We often hear people say that no matter the length of the stay in Hawaii, it never seems like it’s enough time, but that is usually said by people who just completed a one to three week visit.

  4. So far i planned(and bought my tickets) to go to New York first for 5 nights and then to fly directly to Honolulu. I plan to figure out which island to visit when I am there.. So all I know is that i have gotten my ticket back home to Denmark from LA 2 months after leaving DK.
    Do you know any nice places or good connections between Hawaii and the mainland and then in the end to LA to catch my plane? It could be nice with some insider knowledge! 🙂

    1. Nina – there aren’t any “nice places or good connections between Hawaii and the mainland” — it’s all ocean.

  5. Hello, Sheila, thank you for this article. It answered the exact question I had. We live in NJ and are planning our first (8-day) visit to Hawaii, for Nov 2015. For some reason, I have always been fascinated by Kauai and that is where we intend to spend our entire vacation. United flies non-stop to SFO from Newark and then to Lihue airport in Kauai, which is a huge thing (no connections in Hawaii to catch!).

    Any recommendations regarding stay – which part of the island? Condo rental vs staying at a resort? Renting a car? We are both vegetarians and find that renting a condo is easier to plan our meals (and also save money!). Thank you for your help!

  6. Hi we are a family of 4 ( mum dad 2 sons 23 & 18) flying in from Australia late Jan early Feb. We hope to have 7 nights and have no idea re the best itinerary / island etc We have a 11 hours flight each way from Melb and want to maximise seeing as much as possible.

    Can you please give us a few suggestions – I am slowly working my way through your links

    Thank you

    1. Hi Sharon – it really depends on what you are interested in seeing and doing.

      The good news is that you can’t make a bad choice. In the following article, you can either order or download brochures to help you get a better idea of the islands. From that you might see something that really catches your eye and helps you choose that island.

      With seven days, we recommend visiting one island only, but if you feel you really must add another, visit two islands at the very most.

      As far as itineraries go, we have written an itinerary for Hawaii’s most popular island, Oahu: As for the other islands, this skeleton list will help you quickly design your own itinerary:
      Maui –
      Big Island –
      Kauai –

  7. Hi Shelia! I have a Hawaii trip planned for 2017 @ Ko’Olina on Oahu Island. I am traveling with my parents and 9 year old daughter and they have expressed a desire to view the active volcanoes on the Big Island. Is there a day trip provider that you could recommend for this? I am really finding your website to be very helpful as this will be our first visit to Hawaii. Thanks for posting all this awesome information 🙂

    1. I can’t really speak from experience. Roberts Hawaii and Polynesian Adventures are the two big companies who operate guided island hops. They plan and organize everything from the inter-island flights, ground transportation, fully guided tour, etc.

      I think Hawaii Forest & Trail offers some great tours on the Big Island, though you’d have to plan and book your own flights over to the Big Island. That should be relatively easy to do as there are multiple direct flights from Oahu to both Hilo (nearest to the volcano) and Kona.

      The volcano activity is amazing right now. If it remains the same for your visit, a day trip to see it should be well worth the effort.

  8. I am just starting research on a June 2017 trip to Hawai’i. It will be the first visit for my children (ages 13 and 11) and I, 2nd time for my husband. We are meeting family for about 8 days of the trip on the Big Island, with plans to stay two nights in Volcanos Park and the rest of the time in the Kona Beach area. My husband and I are interested in extending our trip to 2 – 3 weeks total. What I am reading is it may be possible to do 2 days at Oahu, 5 @ Maui, 7 @ Kauai and 7 @ Big Island. I like hiking and birding, and the kids enjoy beaching and water sports, with a little hiking and birding thrown in. Good food, relaxing and sightseeing are how we like to vacation. Any thoughts on how we split our time? Thanks in advance!

    1. There are so many ways you could split your time among the islands. There’s at least a week’s worth of sightseeing and adventures to do on every island. Just go with what you think is best and make the most of your available time. There is not right or wrong answer.

  9. My husband and I are staying on Kauai for 9 days and we’d like to see at least one other island for just a day trip. Which island would you recommend for a day trip and what should we see there?

  10. I love your website ! Easy to understand and very helpful !
    Question- we are traveling to Hawaii end of July. We plan on visiting two islands – oahu and maui – 4 days each. How would you handle the hotels and transportation ? We could fly into Honolulu and stay in oahu for 4 days – fly to maui and stay 4 days but which airport is better to fly home to ? we live on the east coast.

  11. Your website and articles are very informative. I have gained a lot of knowledge in choosing what’s best for my family. My question is, my husband and I along with our four children, 25,21,18,16 and planning at least a week in Hawaii for next year Christmas. I notice resorts that are more kid friendly, but I need a resort which will accommodate my teenager as well. Can you recommend an island or resort that will be enjoyable for teens. I want to ensure she enjoys herself, as most times the activities for kids usually only are for those up to 12. We also like to have some sort of nightlife along with many day activities.

    1. A couple of resorts that have come to mind that offer teen activities — Aulani Disney Resort on Oahu and Grand Wailea on Maui. Both are listed in the main article. There may be more, but those are two that have come to mind.

  12. Hi Sheila great to see your advice. We are family from India me my wife n 11 yr old son. Visiting first time to big island planning tour of 10 days we are particular about Indian food as me n my wife we are vegetarian. Please guide us where to stay and how to explore maximum in limited budgets. It will be great help. We are travelling from 15 Jun to 25 Jun this year

  13. Hi Sheila,
    Great article, and thanks for the advice (and the advice in your other articles).

    My family and I (me, wife, two kids 6 + 8) are planning a trip for late Aug, 10 days, and I think I’ve settled on visiting 2 islands – Big Island, and Kauai. We’re nature loving hiking adventure family, so that seemed like the best choice for a first visit.

    I totally agree with your take on the whole “travel by plane takes away vacation time”, agree wholeheartedly. Which is why I was wondering if there are any travel methods besides airplane where the travel kind of IS the destination.

    Is it possible to charter a vessel for a family of 4 (plus two younger grandparents who’ll be tagging along) from the Big Island to Kauai? I have a feeling it may be prohibitive in terms of cost, but I want to explore the option if it exists. And yeah, I do realise that those two islands are on opposite ends and pretty far away from each other, ha ha.

    Thanks in advance for any help you can offer!

    1. The only way to get around between the four major islands is by flying. Surprisingly, there aren’t even ferry services between the four main islands. I don’t know of any charter companies who sail between the major islands. It would probably be very expensive and also time consuming as compared to flying on a commercial airline.

  14. Hi Sheila,

    My fiancé and I are planning our honeymoon for 2 weeks in Hawaii. We would love to touch upon 4 islands: Oahu, big island, Kauai and maui. DO you have a suggestive itinerary and or best place/site to recommend for us. I have checked out go Hawaii and it’s been somewhat helpful 🙂 Thank you 🙂

  15. I am planning a 4-6 week vacation to Hawaii for the Summer of 2018. It will be my first time visiting, I want to make the most of it, so I want to thank you for this great blog!! I do have a question, can you give me any information on the cruises that could take me to the smaller islands for a week or so, this way I spend more time on the Big Island? Thanks in advance for your help. Also, is it extremely crazy to go by myself? I am single and ready to mingle so any pointers on that is double appreciated 🙂

    1. The way to get around from island to island in Hawaii is by flying. There is one ferry that goes from Maui to Lanai, but that’s it for ferries in Hawaii for now. Read more here:

      It’s not crazy to go to Hawaii by yourself at all. I’ve met several solo travelers in Hawaii and they loved it.

      There’s not a great deal of nightlife in Hawaii with the exception on Honolulu. You should be able to find places with live music that plays fairly late at night on every island.

  16. Hi Sheila,
    I am so glad I came across your website, it’s going to be really helpful for us.
    So we are flying from the UK mid October, so not long, and have 11 nights in Hawaii. We fly to Oahu,spend 3 nights there and then I was planning a couple of nights on Big island and then the rest in Maui, we fly home from there.
    Reading your articles I am feeling we should not stay on Big island but take a day trip or maybe an overnight stop, with backpacks from Maui or even Oahu if there are more flights. I would welcome your input as to which island to do the day trip from, I am only interested in visiting the Volcano National Park, so i am assuming fly to Hilo? I was a bit surprised that a return trip is around $200 pp and we are in the off season!
    I am used to planning our own itinerary but are there companies that would say pick us up at the airport, and deliver us back? Otherwise I would hire a car, and follow some of the excellent advice on the site.
    I am thinking first flight in and last flight out would do it.
    Very grateful for any input.

    1. Day trips can be wonderful adventures to add to your Hawaii vacation.

      Yes, the nearest airport to Hawaii Volcanoes Park is Hilo (ITO). Be sure and check out the small, inter-island airlines for all options. We list here Some of them don’t usually show up on the big flight search engines.

      Our activities partner has a tour that might be a good fit.–Hilo-580 You’d need to check to see how the flights line up, though. It’s cheaper to hire a car and create your own tour, plus you get flexibility to stop when and where you want.

  17. Hi,
    I was reading through this blog. I am visiting Hawaii from December 20 to December 28,2017. I was planning for 1.5 days in Kuauei(LIH), 3 nights in Waikeki and 4 nights in Maui. After reading through OAHU day trip, i am thinking of changing to 2.5 days in LIH, 2 days ( 1 night stay) in Waikikii and 4 nights in Maui. Can you please suggest whether it will be good.
    I am celebrating my 10th anniversary on 25 Dec so its special occasion. i want to spend in Maui. can you please suggest.


    1. I think it would be best for you to read the article and decide for yourself. We give our best advice there, but we understand there’s no one-size fits all.

  18. Hi!,

    My name is Marissa. My husband and I just booked our honeymoon to Hawaii in June. We both have never been before. We are leaving from Newark and fly direct to Honolulu. We booked our return flight from Maui to Newark with a layover in Honolulu (so we know the last leg of our trip will be Maui). We have 14 nights to stay so 15 days, though 1 day is arrival and 1 day is returning. We definitely want to go to Maui and Kauai and we aren’t sure whether we should go to another Island as well. The Volcano on the Big Island sounds really cool but I’m not sure its worth it to go to the big island just to see the volcano. Is it? Is there lava that we could see in June? We do plan on going to Haleakala on Maui but I read they are completely different. Should we split the trip up: 5 nights on the Big Island, 4 nights on Kauai, and 5 nights in Maui? Or is it more relaxing to do 7 nights Kauai and 7 nights on Maui?
    Lastly, the other option we have is when we fly into Honolulu, we can stay 2 nights in Honolulu/Oahu and then spend 6 nights in Kauai and 6 nights in Maui. A lot of people said to skip Oahu that it isn’t so special and its like Miami. What do you think we should do/how should we break up our trip? Any help is greatly appreciated.

    1. I think you’ll find the answers to your questions if you read the article. In general, less is more when it comes to the number of islands you visit.

      If you still find you’re stuck, you might find it helpful to plan your trip with a travel agent who specializes in Hawaii.

      The active volcano on the Big Island is AMAZING. However, there’s no way to predict if lava will be flowing where you can easily see it.

  19. Hi- I really appreciate your webpage and advise! We do have quite a bit of time for our first visit and have mapped it out like this so far:

    10 nights Oahu
    7 days Pride of America Cruise
    7 nights Kauai

    I have 2 questions- it was recommended to us to skip the cruise in lieu of a weeklong visit to Maui, but then we would not see the Big Island at all. Another option we have is to shorten our stay in Kauai to 6 nights since we are there 2 days on our cruise, and then include a 5 night stay in Maui before flying home. Would you recommend we adjust our current plan by either replacing the cruise or adding Maui at the end?

    1. There are so many ways you could plan the time and there’s really not a right or wrong answer.

      A cruise is a great way to see all the major islands and certainly the Big Island is worth seeing.

      Consider that you are going to already be spending some nights on Oahu as well. Maybe you could trim off some days on Oahu and one off Kauai and put those days towards Maui?

  20. Hello,

    It is going to be my husband’s and I first visit to Hawaii. I am planning the trip and is a bit overwhelmed. We will be leaving from Ottawa, Canada for maximum ten days late October to early November. I am pretty down to anything but my husband is adventurous and does not like to just sit at the beach (unlike me). What can you recommend, where to go so that we can both have an amazing time.

  21. On our first trip to Hawaii last year, we did two islands on a Saturday to Saturday trip and had a great time. I’m a city mouse and wanted to spend time in Honolulu. My dad is the outdoors type and wanted to see the volcano on the Big Island. Here is how we pulled it off.

    First, we packed light so we wouldn’t have to check bags. We landed in Honolulu in the afternoon and headed straight for a mellow afternoon at the hotel pool. Knowing we would be awake early from jet lag in the morning, we took a very early flight out to the Big Island when the airport was relatively uncrowded. The flight to Hilo on the Big Island was quick and the views out the window were beautiful. Coming back from an active five days in Hilo, Volcano, and Kona, we took an early evening flight and landed in Honolulu after rush hour, ready for a night out. We spent the next two days having fun in Oahu before heading home.

    I was surprised how much fun Honolulu was. If you like some of the city life mixed in to your vacation, I’d recommend carving out some time there. You can still make another island work, even if you only have a week. But if you want to focus on outdoor activities and relaxation, stick to a single island.

    Sheila, your advice and tips were invaluable in planning our trip. We are heading back again this year, this time to Maui. We can’t wait!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hawaii Vacation Must Haves
You May Also Like