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The trick to getting around Kauai is understanding that the island has only two highways to get around. Kūhiō Highway (Route 56) travels between Kauai’s north shore to Lihue and Kaumualiʻi Highway (Route 50) travels from Lihue to Waimea. What this means is that there’s traffic going in and out of Lihue, Kauai’s main town. Once you understand the limitations of Kauai’s roads, you’ll be able to choose the mode of transportation that suits you best.
Aloha with love,
Kauai really only has the one main road that runs clockwise from the north shore to the southwestern shore. The northwest area of Kauai is where Kokeʻe State Park, Waimea Canyon State Park and Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park are located, which is made up of canyons, mountains, cliffs, hikes, and forests.
Getting around Kauai without a car
Is it possible? Yes. Would I do it? Probably not.
The main reason is that if you’re visiting Kauai as a tourist, you’re usually on a strict budget of time. You have a few days to see all the important attractions like the Na Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon and Kokeʻe State Park. Not having a car limits you to one specific area and although it’s a smaller island, it takes a drive to get to each attraction.
So rather than aiming for getting around Kauai without a car, I think it’s a lot more feasible to try to minimize the number of days you plan on using a car. From your basecamp, use a car to get to the faraway places where you won’t have the option of walking by foot or renting a bike to move from stop to stop. As for towns that do have rentals, rideshares, or are great walking towns, you can rely on public transportation to get there.
Getting around Kauai with a car
Getting around Kauai with a car is by far the easiest transportation method on the island. Here’s how I separate Kauai into regions and what they’re known for.
- North shore: Hanalei and Princeville.
- East side (coconut coast): Kapaʻa Town and Wailua River.
- Lihue: The central hub where most locals live and/or work. Southeast Kauai.
- South shore: Koloa and Poipu.
- West side: Waimea Canyon and Na Pali Cliffs.
From Lihue, it takes about 1 hour to get to Hanalei and 1 hour to get to Waimea Canyon by car. If you decide to stay in the Poipu or Koloa area, you’ll be a lot closer to Waimea Canyon, but at least 1.5 hours away from Hanalei. Lihue is the most convenient in terms of exploring the local area. But if you truly want to discover Kauai fully, you’ll have to reach the other regions to see the top sights.
Road Trip >> The Best Road Trips In Hawaii You Can Drive
For the most part, Kauai’s car rentals are located near Lihue Airport with a couple of outliers in Kapaʻa. There’s a decent following of national rental car companies: SIXT, Budget, J & J, Avis, Payless, Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, National, Advantage and Economy.
There are also a few local car rental companies near Lihue Airport that may be worth checking out:
- Rent A Car Kauai: Minimum 7-day car rental.
- Aloha Rents: Also has a second location in Poipu.
- Rent-A-Wreck Kauai: Rent a no-frills vehicle with a ding here and there.
- Aliʻi Rental Cars: You can also book them with the Turo app.
Car rentals: 21 year-olds
If you’re under 21, renting a car from any car rental company will be almost impossible. Instead, check out the rideshare and carshare options below.
Car rentals: 25 year-olds
If you’re 21 to 25 years old, most car rental companies will rent to you but you’ll have to pay a young driver fee. Your best bet is to rent a car from a local company and check out their policies and/or prices.
Learn more at Hui Car Share >> Car rentals for 25 year-olds and under
Rideshares and carshares
Turo is a popular carsharing app that allows you to rent a car from local individuals. What’s neat about it is you could rent a minivan with a couple of dings, but drives perfectly fine. You get to save a few bucks and blend in with the local cars, too. Young drivers will be charged an additional $50 a day and you can only rent cars that are worth $20k or less.
Uber and Lyft are spotty at best. Your best chance at catching these rideshares is in Lihue near the airport and maybe up and down along the east coast. If you end up hailing one to go to a more remote area, you’ll have a tough time coming back.
Holoholo (Hawaiian for let’s go cruising) is a neat ridesharing app that services the Hawaiian Islands. Although the presence of Uber and Lyft are weak on Kauai, Holoholo actually does pretty well. However, I recommend putting in your request early (the day before if possible). Most people treat ridesharing services as a taxi they can call immediately. It’s better to think of Holoholo as a bookable transportation service so you’re not surprised by a sudden cancellation.
Learn About Holoholo >> Maui News: First Hawaii-Based Rideshare Company
Taxis are available on Kauai and they’re affordable if you’re headed to Lihue. Here are some approximate fares:
- Lihue – Kukui Grove: $9.00 – $12.75
- Poipu – Koloa: $42.00 – $52.50
- Wailua – Waipouli: $22.00 – $27.60
- Princeville – Haena: $88.50 – $118.50
You can call these taxi services at the Lihue Airport or walk out to their vehicle if you see them. If they’re waiting for passengers, they’ll be at the curb right in front of the baggage claim.
Things to think about when you have a car
Gas prices: Gas prices are constantly changing in response to world politics and events, so I won’t list the prices here. But, typically prices rival the big cities on the mainland. For Kauai, gas tends to be about $0.30 to $0.40 more than Oahu because it has to make that extra trip.
Parking costs and availability: While Kauai is less populated, it has an ongoing problem of illegal parking taking place usually at hiking sites on the side of the road. There are talks about a parking fee to limit the amount of illegally parked cars, but as of yet there hasn’t been a decision on this yet.
Getting around Kauai with a shuttle
There are four shuttle options to get you to your hotel and back to Lihue Airport. Roberts Hawaii and SpeediShuttle are the more popular and usually more economical especially if you choose to rideshare with other passengers. Both companies are statewide and service many of Hawaii’s major airports.
- Roberts Hawaii provides rideshare and private transfer services.
- SpeediShuttle is heavily advertised and reservations are not required.
- Kauai Island Shuttle has private transfer services with set rates to your accommodation.
- Worldstar is a full-service destination management company that does airport transfers.
If you’re staying at the Marriott’s Kauai Beach Club, they’ll have a complimentary shuttle service at the group tour area outside of baggage claim running every 15 to 30 minutes.
Make it a point to hang out in Poipu for a night so you can hop on the Aloha Spirit Kauai Shuttle for a ride. With just a phone call, the shuttle will take you wherever you need to go within the Poipu area in the evening. The shuttle is free and you’ll have a grand time with your driver as you drive through Poipu.
Kauai North Shore Shuttle
If you’re staying on Kauai’s North Shore (Waipa, Wainiha, Haena) and headed to Haena State Park, the free Kauai North Shore Shuttle is something you’ll want to look into. The shuttle ride requires advanced reservations and a little admin work on your end if you want to arrange a particular stop, but it’s at no cost to you and you won’t have to worry about parking as you hike and camp.
Getting around Kauai with public transportation
The Kauai Bus covers transportation from Kekaha to Hanalei. You can see from the map below that the bus route is sparse because the rest of the island is mountains, rainforests, and canyons. If you decide to rely on the bus to travel between towns, I recommend staying in Lihue (where the red route is). Almost all of the bus routes overlap at Lihue, making it the most convenient place to stay.
If you’d rather not stay in Lihue, another strategy would be to stay in Hanalei (north) or Koloa/Poipu (south) and explore the immediate area. When you’re ready to move, use the bus to travel to your next destination.
The bus fare costs $2.00 per ride and $5.00 for a day pass. If you plan on relying heavily on the bus, there’s also a monthly pass available for $50.00. Senior citizens (65+) and youth (7-18) do have discounted rates but they must be able to show their ID if asked. Children 6 and under ride free with a paying passenger.
Learn More >> Check bus fares, routes, and rules at the County of Kauaʻi website.
Getting around Kauai with a bike
There are only a few bike rental shops scattered along the north, east, and south shores of Kauai.
- Biking In Paradise: E-bike rentals delivered to you. Services also available on Maui.
- Bike Doktor: Rents and sells a variety of bicycles.
- Hele On Kauai Bike Rentals: Located on the northern end of the multi-use path in Kapaʻa (Kapaʻa Bike Path or Ke Ala Hele Makalae) that goes along the coast. By bike it will take you about 1.5 hours roundtrip and is about 4.5 miles long each way.
- Eco eBikes Kauai: eBike rentals that are friendly to the environment.
- Briggs Bicycles: A variety of different bicycles available.
- Pedego Electric Bikes: Chain store for electric bikes.
Getting around Kauai by foot
Despite the limited choices for alternative transportation, once you’re in one of the bigger towns, Kauai is fantastic by foot! A popular favorite is Poipu, where there’s an entertaining collection of shops and restaurants along the beach. Nearly everything is within walking distance and the views you get are outstanding.
Another good one is Hanalei on the north shore. There are no condos or resorts here, so you’ll have to rent a vacation rental or cottage if you plan to stay in the area. But Hanalei Bay and its boardwalk is beautiful, plus you get a great view of the Na Pali cliffs.
Getting around Kauai by booking tours
Many tours and excursions will actually pick you up at your hotel or meet you at a central meeting point. So if you’re planning on booking a snorkeling tour, cruise, or even a lūʻau – it’s usually convenient meeting up with your guide. Below, I’ve listed a few Kauai tours that are great for getting around Kauai.
Best budget driving tour: Shaka Guide
Shaka Guide is a local company that has an excellent driving app for Kauai. They’ve got 4 different driving tours that guide you around Kauai with history, local legends, cultural insights and authentic music. Basically, you turn on the app and start driving. The storyteller for your tour automatically kicks in based on your GPS location.
The tours range from 4 to 8 hours long, which is a steal since each tour only costs 20 bucks (and that covers everyone in your car). Plus, you can stop and explore at your own pace. The tour resumes when you hop back into your car. There’s a lot of money to be saved here since most guided driving tours cost at least $100 per person!
Download >> Shaka Guide Kauai app and browse their tours.
Na Pali Coast Tours
The Na Pali cliffs on the northwestern coast of Kauai are just gorgeous. You’ll feel teeny-tiny next to them and it’s an unbelievable feeling to be next to something that looks like a painting. You can tour the Na Pali cliffs by helicopter, cruise, or by foot hiking the Kalalau Trail. Whichever you choose, make it a point to see the Na Pali cliffs because you won’t regret it.
Other locations or activities that I highly suggest you explore (either by yourself or via a tour) is the Waimea Canyon, Kokeʻe State Park, whale watching (during whale watching season), Wailua River and Kauai river tubing.
Kauai may not be the only island you plan on visiting. It’s common for travelers to include 2 or even 3 islands in their Hawaii travel plans so they can see as much of the different islands as possible. Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest Airlines are your main choices for interisland flights. But if you’re okay with smaller commuter airplanes, I suggest giving Mokulele Airlines a try if you want to save some money.
There are several short cruises on Kauai such as snorkeling cruises, sea cave cruises, sunset cruises and even whale watching cruises, but if you’re interested in a multi-day cruise, check out the Pride of America. The ship sails from Honolulu and over the course of 1 week you’ll visit the 4 major islands and stop at 5 ports.
Kauai and the Big Island ferry
There are some old sources on the internet promoting the Hawaii Superferry, but this does not exist anymore. If you want to visit several islands in your trip, consider going to Maui where there’s a ferry that runs to Lanai and Molokai.
Read More >> Getting Around Maui And Transportation Tips
Is getting around Kauai easy?
If you have a car, getting around Kauai is going to be pretty easy. Without a car, it is noticeably more difficult, but not impossible especially if you’re on Kauai for an extended stay. Taking the bus to move your basecamp is ideal and using the 2 free shuttles and bike rentals to explore will turn out much cheaper than if you were to rent a vehicle.
Here are a few more helpful links and resources that I think will help you plan your trip to Kauai:
- Book my favorite Kauai tours on my blog’s sister site, Aloha With Tours.
- Browse all Kauai tours and activity discounts at Hawaii Activities.
- Download Shaka Guide’s Kauai app tours to your phone for awesome driving tours.
- The Local’s Guide To Hawaii Travel
- The Best Road Trips In Hawaii You Can Drive
- The Best Things To Do In Kauai: 20+ Bucketlist Locations
- Kauai Hikes With Na Pali Views That Are Easier Than The Kalalau
- Kauai Tubing Is One Of The Best Hawaiian Adventures
- Toughest Kauai Hikes
- Easy Hikes for Kids in Kauai