Travel Sustainably on Kauai: 17 Ways To Keep Your Visit Authentic

Have an interest in enjoying an authentic Kauai island vacation? It might not be your first thought, but traveling sustainably on an island, even one this small, can make your stay very impactful. Bring your impact and your vacation reality together when you travel sustainably on Kauai, and prepare to enjoy a holiday like none other!

Protect our Ecosystems

–  Treat the unique environment around you with respect. It’s not everyday you find yourself on an island that houses both dry canyonland and tropical rainforest. Stay on marked paths, read signs that provide directions and remember that you have the ability to help us conserve our distinctive island ecosystems.  

When hitting the beach, leave them cleaner than when you arrived. In order to keep beaches open to all travelers we need to respect them and leave no trace. Volunteer with local organizations to clean up beaches, such as Surf Rider or Sierra Club. You might want to travel sustainably on Kauai, but not everyone does, so set the example and volunteer to keep them clean.

Don’t feed or touch any wildlife! Avoid illegally engaging with the fish, birds (especially friendly nene geese), endangered sea turtles, and dangerous monk seals. They are all protected species!  Residents also appreciate that you don’t feed the feral chickens, cats or birds.

Do not stand on reefs, and please use reef-safe sunscreens. Corals are are highly sensitive organisms, prone to bleaching at even the slightest stress. The chemical oxybenzone, found in most name-brand sunscreens, plays an active role in the process of coral bleaching. Avoid all sunscreen brands with oxybenzone and protect our fragile coral reef systems.

Respect & Honor our Culture

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Plan ahead for travel, respect the nature of our roads and pathways, and stay alert. For those of us that live and work here, our two lane highway is the one way to commute around Kauai, and we appreciate when drivers keep up their speed. In addition, please drive respectfully in our residential areas where keiki (children) and pets frequent.

Do not touch, move, stack, or sit on pohaku (stones or rocks) or walls. Po and Haku can be interpreted to mean “Master of the Spirit World”, and as such, these are very sacred to kanaka maoli (native Hawaiians). It is kapu (forbidden) to disrupt them.

Respect the `Aina (land that feeds us). Acting as a steward of the land is an important concept in Hawaiian culture. Act with this virtue while you travel sustainably on Kauai, and you will be surprised how many new friends you will make!

Immerse yourself in authentic cultural experiences.  As you explore Kaua‘i, slow down, chat with locals, and take the time to learn about Hawaiian traditions. Put down your phone or camera, and approach learning opportunities with genuine interest – then let the resident community feed your curiosity!

Conserve our Natural Resources

Rethink your transportation. Kauai is a very small island, and often the amount of traffic on the road slows everyone down and wastes a lot of energy! There are many options for traveling sustainably on Kauai, including The Kauai Bus, bicycle rentals, uber, numerous local tour companies that can schedule destination visits. Transport can take you out to areas where parking is very limited. Purchasing your own rental car is tempting, but the struggle to find parking and gas prices should be enough incentive to carpool!

Watch your electricity use. While we are working on increasing renewable energy, we currently import coal and oil in order to provide the island with electricity, making it quite expensive. Being mindful of electricity usage is incredibly important to lowering operating costs, starting this trend may even result in lower hotel prices when you come back to visit!

Conserve water. Don’t let the regular rain showers fool you, conserving water is integral to lower costs and increasing sustainability. Often times hotels offer ways of doing so easily such as hanging up towels so they can be reused, or requesting to keep glasses and sheets in the room until after check out. Only run water when necessary and take shorter showers.    

Reduce your waste. Limit usage of single-use packaging for food, drinks and products, and  please recycle. The process of transporting waste is incredibly expensive, and our landfill is already over capacity. Reduce your waste while visiting by bringing a reusable water bottle, buying local foods and using reusable or compostable eating-ware. Avoid plastics, glass and especially styrofoam.

Travel Sustainably by Supporting Local Businesses

Looking for the best restaurants to try while you are visiting? Go Local! Restaurants that purchase produce fresh and local truly have the most ono (tasty) foods! Not to mention you will be supporting our local economy and farmers on the island.

Shop for local souvenirs. Talk with vendors and learn the stories about their art, trade, and their life. Everything you purchase will increase in value as you take time learn about it. Not to mention, your friends will be impressed with how much you learned on your vacation! Check the origin labels on items and look for ‘Locally Made’ or ‘Handcrafted on Kauai’. You can also shop at places like The Kauai Store that only carry local products.

Visit the daily farmers markets to experience the fresh lifestyle of Kauai’s garden island fame. Take a taste of the fresh fruits and veggies available to you while you visit. Support our local farmers and dare yourself to experiment with something you’ve never tried, or enjoy something you know you can’t get anywhere else.

Unable to make it to farmers markets? Choose locally owned markets to support our Kauai business owners and stimulate our local economy.  Hanai, Papaya’s, Healthy Hut, Ishihara’s and Hoku are all local grocery stores that can help you choose local!

Choose locally owned and managed accommodations. Getting the full Kauai experience is easier and sometimes more affordable when you choose a smaller hotel over a large brand name resort. Plus the money you spend there will support local business owners over large corporations. If you do go big, find an accommodation that puts sustainability at the forefront.   

To travel sustainably on Kauai is to protect our precious ecosystems as well as the local economy that supports the adventure you expect to have on our unique island. Visitors flock to Kauai expecting an authentic experience – help us maintain that genuine magic for each local who calls Kauai home and to every friendly visitor who wishes to enjoy it!  


Emma Cornish Jacobsen is an AmeriCorps VISTA for Malama Kauai, working in Youth & Food Programs. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in Environmental Studies, with a focus on Environmental Writing. Emma’s grandparents lived on the north shore for many years, and she is excited to continue their legacy of giving back to the Kauai community. She loves to travel sustainably.

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