With only ten days to spend in Hawaii and six main islands to choose from – each unique in its own way – planning your Hawaiian vacation can be quite a challenging task. In this post, I’ll share with you a sample itinerary for spending 10 days in Hawaii that is based on my experience of island hopping across the chain over the course of four months. This itinerary will mainly focus on the very best islands in Hawaii which strike a healthy balance between beach and breathtaking natural beauty. Let’s get started!
10 Days in Hawaii Overview
Here’s how we’ll split our time in this sample itinerary:
- Oahu or Maui – 2 days
- Big Island – 4 days
- Kauai – 4 days
Visiting Hawaii? Sample itineraries, guides to the best spots, and the must-see highlights in five island are all waiting for you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!
Pro tip: if you are the type of traveler who likes to take it slow and if you really want to strike a good balance between sightseeing and relaxation, consider splitting your entire 10 days in Hawaii between Kauai and the Big Island (5 days in each).
Part 1: Oahu or Maui (2 Days)
The first leg of your 10 days in Hawaii requires a bit of decision making, though it might be dedicated based on your international or mainland-based flight. You can either spend the first two days on the island of Oahu or arrive directly to Maui, from where you can catch an inter-island flight to the following leg in the journey.
Option A: Oahu
Start your Hawaiian adventure in Oahu, the main international gateway to the island chain and home to roughly 70% of the state’s population. I was pleasantly surprised on my visit to the island despite “warnings” of the “concrete jungle” from friends and residents of other islands. If it weren’t for its swelling population, Oahu may possibly be the most beautiful island in Hawaii.
Where to Stay?
Since you only have 2 days in Oahu, I recommend staying in the Honolulu area, either in Waikiki Beach for the action or in the Manoa neighborhood for a quieter stay. >> Here’s a link to a complete list of Honolulu accommodations which you can book online.
What to Do?
Spend your first day in the Honolulu area, either visiting the Pearl Harbor Museums and the Bishop Museum, or going for a short and memorable (yet sweaty) morning hike to the summit of the Diamond Head Crater. From the summit, enjoy awesome views of Waikiki Beach, our next destination. Back on level ground, head to one of the most famous beaches in Hawaii, the place to see and be seen in Honolulu. Body surfing, swimming, shopping, dining or just beach bumming – Waikiki is a perfect way to relax on your first afternoon.
On the second day in Oahu, rent a car and hit the road. Head out of town along the south coast, admire Hanauma Bay from above or snorkel in its amazing coral reef, see the Halona Blowhole in action and hike to Makapuʻu Point, before wrapping things up in gorgeous Waimanalo Beach. Alternatively, you can take the scenic Pali Highway and explore the beautiful windward coast, before heading back to town via the famous surfing beaches of the north shore.
Option B: Maui
Alternatively, you can start your holiday in Hawaii on the island of Maui – one of the most famous islands in the world. Maui is far from its image on the global tourism scene as an absolute paradise, mainly because of years of uncontrolled development, but it does have pockets of absolute beauty.
Where to Stay?
Since you only have 2 days in Maui, I recommend taking a deep breath and deciding what’s more important: beaches or sightseeing? If it’s the former, I recommend basing yourself either in the south coast of East Maui or in the Kalapana resort area of West Maui. If it’s easier access to the sightseeing we’re about to do that you’re after, look for places around Kahului, Wailuku or Paia. >> Here’s a link to a complete list of Maui accommodations which you can book online.
What to Do?
Spend your first day in Maui driving the slow going scenic road to Hana – one of the best scenic drives in Hawaii. The Hana Highway crosses 54 one-lane bridges and nearly as many waterfalls on Maui’s tropical and wet northeast coast. Along the way, hike in a giant bamboo forest to a towering waterfall, make landfall on black and red sand beaches and go for a dip in natural swimming pools fed by waterfalls. On day two, drive to the summit of the Haleakala Volcano (3,055m or 10,000 feet). From this windswept spot, watch how this giant shield volcano creates Maui’s unique weather and peer into the Mars-like crater from a number of spectacular roadside lookouts. An even better option is to hike part of the Sliding Sands Trail to get a close look at the unique colors of the crater, the desert flora, and the bizarre cinder cones.
Part 2: The Big Island (4 Days)
You could fit the rest of the islands in Hawaii inside the Big Island and still have plenty of spare room. That’s how big the “Big Island” is. It is by far the most diverse destination in the archipelago, an island where you could theoretically ski, get soaked by torrential rain, and work on your tan at the beach – all in the same day. The Big Island has something for everyone and it’s usually served in a low key and unpretentious manner.
Where to Stay?
In order to reduce the time you spend on the road and to maximize your sightseeing time on the opposite coasts, I do recommend splitting your time evenly between the sunny Kona Coast on the west side of the island and the tropical (and obviously wetter) Hilo side on the east coast. This, however, is not a must >> Here’s a link to a complete list of Big Island accommodations which you can book online.
What to Do?
Spend day one on the Big Island in one (or more) of the Kona Coast’s fine beaches. Go for a swim, check out the (protected) green sea turtles, body surf on the waves, and snorkel in Kealakekua Bay or Two Step Beach – two of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii. On your second day, hit the road and head north to explore the Kohala Region. Visit historical small towns that seem to be stuck in the 1950’s and hike down to the majestic Waipio Valley. On your third day, slice through the middle of the island on Saddle Road and explore Akaka Falls, the lush east coast, and Hilo – the beating heart of the Big Island. If there’s enough time, you can even hike or cycle to the current lava flow in Kalapana – an experience you’ll never forget.
Spend your final day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park getting to know the Kilauea Volcano from up close via hikes, scenic drives, lava tubes and more. Wrap things up at the Jaggar Museum as the sun sets and watch the night sky illuminated by lava erupting from the birthplace of the fire goddess Pele!
Part 4: Kauai (4 Days)
Your 10 days in Hawaii are about to reach their climax in the final leg. The “Garden Isle” is blessed with immense natural beauty, that even a quick trip to the gas station is a scenic drive. It is the oldest of the major Hawaiian islands, home to some of the wettest spots on the planet and to the most “hippies” you’ll find in the state. Given this geological head start, Mother Nature has had millennia to erode Kauai’s volcanic peaks and carve its lush interior to absolute works of art. You come to Kauai for the outdoors and to get as close as possible to experiencing that “paradise” of a feeling.
Where to Stay?
As we saw in the case of the Big Island, I recommend splitting your time in Kauai, this time between north and south – though this is not a must if you don’t mind long drives. On the tropical north coast, stay in the vacation community of Princeville or in the paradise-setting of Hanalei. Down south, where it’s usually sunny, Poipu is a top choice for families and resort-goers, while Hanapepe is more for laid-back. >> Here’s a link to a complete list of Kauai accommodations which you can book online.
What to Do?
Spend the first of your 4 days in Kauai exploring the area from Lihue to Hanapepe. Pause for a picnic lunch in Poipu Beach and pick up the coastal Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail. For awesome sunset views, head to either Salt Pond Park on the Hanapepe side or to Menehune Fishpond Overlook on the Lihue side. On day two, get an early start and drive the scenic Waimea Canyon Drive. Admire the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” from dozens of lookouts and continue to Koke’e State Park where you can pick up a few hiking trails and enjoy spectacular views of the Na Pali Coastline. In the evening, head to Luau Kalamaku for the best Polynesian dance show in Kauai.
On day three, head up the coast to Hanalei Bay. En route, gaze at Wailua Falls from its lookout, visit the bird sanctuary at the Kilauea Lighthouse, and spend the rest of your day in Hanalei and its gorgeous bay. On day four, drive early in the morning to Ke’e Beach and hike part of the Kalalau Trail – one of the best hikes in Hawaii. After the strenuous effort, get some beach and snorkel time in Tunnels Beach – the best beach in Kauai!
More from Hawaii
I hope you’ve found this 10 days in Hawaii sample itinerary helpful in building your own Hawaiian adventure. Want to see more of Hawaii? Guides to the best beaches, scenic drives and plenty more are all waiting for you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!
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