The Perfect Kauai Itinerary

McCabe David / February 22, 2021

As the hub of the south shore, there are plenty of things to do in Poipu. This is considered the “dry side” of Kauai, but there is still plenty of lush vegetation and swaying palms to marvel at! Like Princeville, Poipu offers a wide variety of places to stay. Here you’ll find everything from hotels and resorts to more moderately priced Air BnBs. Also like Princeville, Poipu is home to some truly incredible beaches. These include Shipwreck Beach and Poipu Beach, which many consider the best snorkeling spot on Kauai. Perhaps the greatest advantage to staying in Poipu is that you are much closer to the more remote Kauai points of interest. If you are planning on spending significant time in the Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park, which you absolutely should, you will allow yourself a lot more time on a day trip by starting from Poipu. The same goes for visits to the isolated Polihale State Park. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there are any cons to staying in Poipu. However, you may find more affordable and less touristy options by electing to stay in Wailua or Kapa’a instead.
Poipu is a great place to stay due to the proximity to beautiful beaches, as well as the south shore gems. We recommend planning to stay at least 4 nights in Poipu. This will give you the chance to organize day trips to Polihale, Waimea Canyon, and the Na Pali coast, all while remaining fairly close to home. And believe us, you will want to have at least one free day to just soak in some sun right there from the sands in Poipu. If you are planning your one week in Kauai itinerary around staying in just one place, Poipu would be our recommendation! You are a bit further from the north shore, of course, but still only about an hour away.
The majority of locals live in the central region of Kauai. For this reason, you will find high-end hotel and resorts options far more limited than in Princeville or Poipu. Accordingly, those of you looking for more budget-friendly accommodation in Kauai will want to begin your search in the Wailua or Kapa’a region. Most of the more affordable AirBnBs, restaurants, and grocery stores are found nearby. Another advantage of staying in Wailua or Kapa’a is that you are more central. Therefore, you are cutting drive times on your individual day trips to the north and south. The last reason to consider spending at least one night in Wailua is that it is a truly stunning place. The Wailua River is famous for renting kayaks and paddling about the tropical jungle. Plus, the nearby waterfalls are the best in all of Kauai.
While the Wailua Valley is beautiful, it is also very wet. Additionally, the beach options nearby are rather poor by Hawaii standards. They are not swimmable, nor are they particularly photogenic. Furthermore, many of the points of interest in Kauai are dotted along the north and south shore. This means you may find yourself doing a lot more driving than you’d like. Princeville neighbors the famous Hanalei Bay, and is the hub of the North Shore. When the trade winds are kind and the sun is shining, there are few places anywhere in the world that boast beaches as beautiful as Hanalei Beach, Wainiha Beach, and Tunnels Beach. Those interested in exploring the Napali Coast by foot will be only a short drive away to the Kalalau Trail. This trail offers one of the only access points to this stretch of the coast via land. There are also plenty of boat and helicopter tours that pick up from Princeville. Princeville also has a wider variety of accommodation than anywhere else on the island. More options is never a bad thing!
Every Hawaiian Island has a wet side and a dry side; Princeville and the north shore happen to be the wet side of Kauai. The ample rain is credited for the lush greenery and beauty it creates. However, it is less appealing for beach bums or those of you planning to spend a lot of time poolside. Those electing to make Princeville home for all 7 days in Kauai will discover that visiting Polihale and Waimea Canyon make for extremely long days. In fact, if you truly want to have sufficient time to see some of the best Kauai points of interest on the south side of the island, you may be looking at having to make two separate trips that entail 4-5 hour days of just driving.
We’ve aimed to keep this itinerary for Kauai as flexible as possible. Therefore, we have divided the days up by what we feel most people can see and do at an enjoyable pace. We have also separated the days according to our recommended way of traveling Kauai. That is, to spend 4-5 nights on the south shore and 2-3 nights on the north. Of course, those of you planning on spending your entire week in one accommodation will simply have to factor in slightly longer drive times. If you are planning a sky or boat tour to the Na Pali Coast, and we strongly recommend doing so, I would make sure you book that for the day where the weather looks the most reliable! All days are basically interchangeable, and this experience will surely be the most memorable of your week in Kauai!