I visited a reopened Kauai in Hawaii — 5 things to know before you go
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Hawaii is hot right now.
With more airlines increasing capacity to the archipelago and vaccinations accelerating, tourism to the 50th state is booming.
If you are considering a visit from the U.S. mainland, TPG has a full guide to the ever-changing Hawaii entry requirements. While the entire state follows the “Safe Travels” program, each major island also has its own set of policies in place.
Therefore, it’s important to note that entering the island of Oahu, for instance, may not be the same as entering the island of Maui.
Now, you can add another fully-open Hawaiian island to the list for leisure travelers — Kauai. On April 5, Kauai rejoined the state’s Safe Travels program, allowing visitors to bypass quarantine upon arrival if they met the COVID-19 testing requirements.
I recently traveled to the “Garden Island” in early May, flying from New York for a one-week stay. Here are five things you should know about a reopened Kauai before you go.
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Be ready to show proof that you don’t need to quarantine
Travelers to Kauai will be flying into Lihue Airport (LIH), a small eight-gate facility that’s mostly unwalled and open air.
Upon landing, officials will be scanning your Safe Travels QR code, which you get after filling out the Safe Travels travel and health form, to ensure COVID-19 testing compliance. Therefore, similar to immigration checks when traveling abroad, those that are sitting near the front of the plane stand to benefit from waiting in the shortest lines.
You will be asked to log in to your Safe Travels account to show proof of your negative test throughout the arrivals process. Not only should you have the Safe Travels QR code ready to go at Lihue Airport, but it also should be handy at both the rental car (I secured a car and didn’t need a U-Haul, thankfully) and hotel check-in.
You will also be asked to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Remember, not all negative COVID-19 results are accepted in order to avoid quarantine; your test must be with a provider that partners with the state.
It’s not as crowded as other Hawaiian islands — yet
Since I visited within several weeks of Kauai’s reopening, the island wasn’t at full capacity. In fact, the hotel where I stayed, the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, felt downright empty at times. Trails and beaches weren’t yet clogged with day hikers and sunbathers. But don’t expect this to last.
In the coming months, as travelers learn they have yet another option beyond the more popular locales, expect a more crowded island. Staff at the Grand Hyatt told me they were already getting close to full capacity by mid-summer.
If you want to visit and not pay exorbitant rates, the time to book (and visit) is now.
Currently, with limited capacity at restaurants — and some dining establishments either temporarily or permanently closed — it’s already tough to get dinner reservations for sit-down venues. It’s best to book in advance, before arriving to the island.
With that said, Kauai has always been somewhat of an under-the-radar option. It’s a smaller island than its more touristy peers, with 1.37 million visitors per year (2019 data). In contrast, over 6 million people visited Oahu in 2019.
The island is as green and lush as ever
Mother Nature didn’t stop doing her thing during the pandemic. Kauai is called the “Garden Island” for a reason. It’s the lushest of all the Hawaiian islands, with some areas to the north receiving up to 400 inches of rain per year.
The result is a green, luxuriant island with a jungle-like atmosphere that sometimes feels like you’re in another world. (Yes, the Jurassic Park movies were filmed here.)
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Give yourself extra time to drive around
Kauai has a somewhat notorious reputation for always having road construction and traffic delays. And although Kauai isn’t quite at full tourist capacity just yet, that’s no different now.
Throughout my drive around the island, there were a variety of traffic backups and construction projects that slowed us down. Most roads have just one lane in each direction. Some bridges, especially in the north, only have one lane for both directions.
One of the biggest road bottlenecks is because of a series of natural disasters.
As a result of heavy rains, the island’s North Shore has been hit with a number of landslides over the past several years. Currently, the Kuhio Highway that connects the northernmost part of the island (Hanalei and the iconic Na Pali coast) is only open on a limited schedule with a single-lane road. During access hours, vehicles are escorted through the construction work zone by a pilot vehicle.
However, it’s definitely worth visiting Hanalei in the north — just plan accordingly. If you can get access to Hā’ena State Park, I’d highly recommend it. Reservations to the state park (including the famed Kalalau Trail) are required, with only 100 parking spots available.
The best points hotel on the island continues to impress
Kauai’s largest hotel happens to be one of the best on the island.
The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa reopened in early April and as a first-time visitor, I was very impressed. Back in 2019, TPG’s Summer Hull reviewed the sprawling 50+ acre property, calling it the “crown jewel of award redemptions.” I would have to agree.
This Category 6 Hyatt hotel (25,000 World of Hyatt points per night) has a stunning beachfront location and grounds that resemble a lush, tropical jungle. The number of water features at the resort is truly mind-boggling: there are at least four pools and waterfalls, a salt-water lagoon, a massive koi-fish pond, three jacuzzis, a lap pool (in the spa), a lazy river and a giant waterslide.
However, what impressed me, even more, was the top-notch service from every employee that we encountered. Service was befitting of a true five-star hotel, with small touches — such as the waitress remembering my coffee order every morning — that showed staff went the extra mile.
Kauai has now reopened again to visitors without having the need to quarantine.
The island is ready to take in eager travelers from the U.S. mainland and beyond. In the months to come, Hawaii also plans to roll out a visitor program for those who are vaccinated, but for now, you’ll have to go through the entry process outlined above.
Featured photo of the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.
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