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Things you should never do in Hawaii
What not to do in Hawaii. There are lots and lots of blog posts out there with things to do in Hawaii. I have quite a few of them myself, such as 100 things to do in Hawaii.
What I wanted to write about today is what not to do in Hawaii, because there are a few things that should make this list too.
As of 2022, there have been a lot of videos circulating with tourists touching wildlife, being disrespectful, trespassing to get a good shot for the ‘gram, etc. It’s not surprising that this post about what not to do in Hawaii is gaining popularity once again.
If you don’t want to be “that tourist” make sure to check this out.
So, if you’re wondering “what to ask people who live in Hawaii” or “things you shouldn’t do in Hawaii” you’re in the right place.
Do I need a rental car in Hawaii?
You’ll find this later on the list, but it’s so important that I want to mention it here too. One of the things you should never do in Hawaii is to forget about a rental car!
For almost two years now there has been a major rental car shortage in Hawaii, so get a car as soon as possible. The good news is that the rental car crisis is calming down, but it’s still important to rent a car as soon as possible.
I recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental. My #1 recommendation is to get a rental car to explore the islands! They have the best rates and free cancellation.
Now, let’s get right to the things you should never do in Hawaii.
1. Don’t touch the turtles in Hawaii
The honu (green sea turtles) are legally protected and you shouldn’t bother them. Hawaii is also home to four other types of turtles, Hawksbill, leatherback, loggerhead, and olive ridley.
This should go without saying but just leave the turtles alone. Keep a safe distance and remember that this is their home and you are a guest. It’s not only disrespectful and harmful to the turtles, but it’s illegal and you could be faced with a hefty fine or even jail time.
If you’d like to see them (not too close!), check out where to find sea turtles on the Big Island of Hawaii.
I have a blog post with the ultimate guide to Hawaiian animals if you’d like to learn more about sea turtles and other wildlife on the islands.
Snorkeling with sea turtles is one of the most fun things to do in Hawaii, just make sure to keep your distance.
Sea turtles at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach on the Big Island.
2. Don’t touch the dolphins and monk seals
Swimming with dolphins in the wild is a fantastic experience, but keep your distance from dolphins, Hawaiian monk seals, and all other sea creatures.
Tourists being disrespectful and breaking the law by harassing or touching monk seals has been a huge problem in recent months. The Hawaiian monk seal is an endangered special, so it really is a treat to see them in person!
It is estimated that there are only around 1400 Hawaiian monk seals remaining. It’s a privilege to see these beautiful animals, so please be very careful not to disturb them. You will often find wildlife officials and locals protecting the areas where the Hawaiian monk seals are spotted.
Look, but don’t touch! Two Hawaiian monk seals on Glass Beach in Kauai.
3. Don’t touch the coral in Hawaii
Are you sending a trend with what not to do in Hawaii? There are plenty of “look but don’t touch” things on this list.
Don’t touch the coral, don’t step on the coral, just be careful around the coral. Touching or stepping on coral can cause irreparable damage to the coral. It can also cut you, so be very careful.
You’re probably starting to get the idea. When in doubt, don’t touch it. Wildlife, coral, lava, etc. Don’t touch it.
4. Don’t wear sunscreen that isn’t reef-safe
Speaking of coral, make sure to choose a sunscreen that is 100% reef-friendly. I have a blog post about what reef-safe sunscreen is and why it’s important.
Hawaii has phased out sunscreen that isn’t reef-safe, but of course, many tourists still bring their own. Make sure to choose brands that are reef-friendly such as All-Good, Badger, and Coola.
5. Don’t call everyone “Hawaiian” in Hawaii
Being “Hawaiian” isn’t like being “Californian” or a “New Yorker.” Generally, those who live in Hawaii are referred to as “locals.”
You might also see the term “kama’aina” which literally translates “child or person of the land.” This is another reference to being local but not necessarily Hawaiian. For example, some restaurants offer “kama’aina” discounts to locals with a Hawaiian drivers license.
The term Hawaiian (or kanaka) is reserved for those with Native Hawaiian heritage. Native Hawaiians make up only a small percentage of the residents of Hawaii so don’t assume that everyone in Hawaii is Native Hawaiian.
6. Don’t underestimate the power of the sun in Hawaii
I always have people tell me that they “don’t burn,” including my own husband. Hawaii is close to the equator and the sun is intense.
Well, even if you don’t burn at home, you might burn in Hawaii! Make sure to stock up on reef-safe sunscreen before you leave, just in case. It’s also a good idea to bring chapstick with SPF as well as some aloe very gel just incase you do burn.
7. Don’t skip the car rental in Hawaii
Every island in Hawaii is beautiful, and you’ll need a car to experience most of it. I recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental. You’ll find the best prices on rental cars in Hawaii.
Trust me, you don’t want to wait until you arrive and pay “tourist prices” at the airport when you realize that you need a car.
In 2021 and 2022 there has been a serious shortage of rental cars after many rentals were taken off-island during the closures of 2020. Makes sure to reserve a car early to avoid any problems.
Even on Oahu where excellent public transportation exists, you’ll still want to venture out on your own and explore. Some visitors think they won’t need a car, and then spend more money later to get one.
Just trust me that unless you’re spending two days in Waikiki only, you’re going to want a car! Check out my “Do you need a rental car in Hawaii” post or check out Discount Hawaii Car Rental and reserve your car now.
Polihale State Park on Kauai. You can’t get here without a car!
8. Don’t forget that you’re on “island time” in Hawaii
Things tend to move a little slower in Hawaii, and that’s okay. You’re on vacation, so lose your mainland “go go go” attitude and relax. I know it’s easier said than done!
Most of the speed limits in Hawaii aren’t over 55 miles per hour if that. It’s always a good idea to plan out your days, but remain flexible and try not to rush.
If you’d like some ideas for Hawaii itineraries, check out:
- 7-day Maui Itinerary
- 7-day Big Island Itinerary
- 4-day Big Island Itinerary
- 7-day Kauai Itinerary
- 4-day Maui itinerary
- 4-day Kauai Itinerary
9. Don’t be an aggressive driver in Hawaii
Most people in Hawaii are friendly drivers; it’s part of the Aloha spirit. Don’t be an aggressive driver, honk your horn at everyone, etc.
As one commenter pointed out, it is a little different on Oahu. There is definitely more traffic on Oahu, and a bit more road rage.
However, in general, drivers in Hawaii are friendlier than average. On the flip side, locals know the roads better than you do. If you are enjoying the sights but see cars lining up behind you, pull over and let them pass.
You might also enjoy: The ultimate guide to the Road to Hana
10. Don’t be rude to your restaurant servers/bartenders etc.
Again, this is something else that shouldn’t have to be said, but it does. Most people in the service industry are paid very little, work very hard, and rely on tips to make money. Just don’t be rude.
Many of those in the service industry have had a very tough time with Hawaii being shut down for so long. Then after reopening, there are more rules and regulations in Hawaii than a lot of other places. Sometimes tourists are surprised by these rules and end up being rude to those enforcing them.
Please try to remember that your servers and bartenders, etc. do not make the rules! So again, just be nice! It takes nothing away from you to be nice to another person.
11. Don’t forget that Hawaii is the 50th state
Here we go. There are two parts to this one. First, Hawaii is part of the United States, so don’t be weird and act like it’s a third-world country. Everyone speaks English, and it’s overall a very safe place to visit.
Second, the history of Hawaii becoming part of the U.S. is very complicated, and some locals aren’t happy about it, so try to be conscientious of that.
12. Don’t rent snorkel gear
Germs aside, it will get expensive renting snorkeling gear over and over. If you plan to snorkel often, bring your own set.
13. Don’t forget that there are ACCOMMODATIONS for every budget
If a 5-star resort is what you have in mind, check out the best luxury hotels on Maui and Oahu:
- The best 5-star resorts on Maui
- The best 5-star resorts on Oahu
- The Best Luxury Resorts Big Island
- The best Kauai honeymoon resorts
If you’re celebrating a honeymoon or anniversary, check out the best resorts in Hawaii for honeymoons.
No matter what your budget, you can probably find something Expedia. They also have vacation rentals, so you also have that option if a condo is what you’re looking for.
I do not recommend Airbnb in Hawaii; you can find out why in my blog post. VRBO is a decent alternative if you must go in that direction since it’s owned by Expedia. However, I generally do not recommend any type of vacation rental as they are not well regulated in Hawaii.
If you’re planning a Hawaii honeymoon or another special occasion, I recommend working with a Hawaii Travel Agent (like me!) to find the right resort for you. Contact me for more information.
14. Don’t forget to try Hawaiian food
Hey, you’re in Hawaii, try some Hawaiian food! Many local restaurants offer options like plate lunch, poke, and more.
You can also check out the Farmers Markets for local produce. If you’re on the Big Island, make sure to tour a coffee plantation for Kona coffee.
You can also get great smoothies and juices made from local fruits. My favorite is Kauai Juice Company on Kauai which sources as much local produce as possible.
Checking out a Hawaii pineapple farm is another fun activity. Check out my post about where to find pineapple farms in Hawaii if it’s on your must-do list.
15. Don’t speed or use your phone while driving
You really shouldn’t do these things anywhere, but don’t do them in Hawaii either.
Using your phone while driving is illegal. It’s also good to remember “island time” as I mentioned earlier, most people aren’t in a hurry, and you shouldn’t be in a hurry either.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you are taking your time enjoying the beautiful Hawaii scenery, it’s customary to pull over and let locals around you when possible.
16. Don’t forget to give yourself ample amounts of travel time
Fifty miles in Hawaii isn’t the same as 50 miles on the mainland on an interstate. Depending on where you are, driving 50 miles will likely take an hour, and maybe much longer.
My clients will tell you about a special skill that I have where I can almost always accurately guess how long it will take to get from one location to another. Of course, I’m not a mind-reader so I won’t know the traffic situation.
This is one reason why it’s important to work with a Hawaii Travel Specialist, I create itineraries for all of my clients!
If you are planning a DIY vacation, make sure to do your research and know-how long travel will take and plan accordingly.
The Hana Highway or Road to Hana is an experience that takes a few hours, but did you know it’s only 45 miles from Paia to Hana?
If you’re planning a Maui vacation, don’t miss 50 things to do in Maui. There are plenty of spots on the Road to Hana that made the list.
17. Don’t dismiss warning signs in Hawaii
You know, the signs that say “sharp coral” or “strong current” or “60 people have died here.” If there are a lot of warning signs on a beach, you can always try another beach.
The same goes for a hike; if a trail is closed, there is probably a reason for that! Don’t risk your life for an Instagram photo. I have mentioned this already, but keep in mind that a lot of these “Instagram photo ops” are trespassing and illegal.
18. Don’t litter, smoke on the beach, be disrespectful, etc. in Hawaii
Should I have to mention this? I will say it anyway. Smoking on the beach is illegal in Hawaii, so don’t do it. Also, make sure to pick up after yourself. Hawaii is a beautiful place, and everyone would like to keep it that way.
On the subject of being respectful, don’t trespass on private property. Stay away from areas that say Kapu, which can translate to “keep out,” “no trespassing,” “sacred,” etc.
I’ve had a few people ask me about incidents they’ve read about online with tourists having problems with locals. 99% of the time the tourist was trespassing, littering, or being disrespectful to local culture in some way.
Take a few minutes to learn about Hawaiian culture before your vacation to avoid any issues like this.
You can check out my ten things to know before going to Hawaii post for more information.
19. Don’t touch the lava
If you have the opportunity to see active lava, don’t touch it. Just don’t do it. This is obvious, right?!
That said, if you have the opportunity to see active lava on the Big Island, you should definitely do it!
Many visitors think that there is always active lava on the Big Island, but that isn’t true. The best way to find out about active lava is to check Hawaii Volcanos National Park website.
Many of my clients also enjoy a Big Island helicopter tour over Volcanos National Park. There are a few but my favorite is the Big Island Spectacular which covers the whole island!
You can choose Big Island Spectacular Helicopter Tour: A two-hour tour of Hawaii’s volcanic badlands, lush rain forests, and Kohala Mountains. Or, Circle of Fire and Waterfalls which remains mostly on the Hilo side of the island.
Another way to see Volcanos National Park is a guided evening tour. Of course, you can always explore the park on your own too.
20. Don’t take lava rocks home
Lava rocks might seem like a great souvenir, but legend has it that you’ll be cursed if you take it home. The elements return to Hawaii is the only thing that will lift the curse.
You might roll your eyes, but the post office sees hundreds of lava rocks, sand, and other materials returned to Hawaii every year! Better safe than cursed, right?!
If you’d like to learn more about lava rocks and black sand, I have a post about black sand beaches in Maui that discusses all of those things in detail.
Speaking of sand, you aren’t allowed to take the sand home either. Yes. black/green/red sand is really fun and unique but leave it in Hawaii. Take only photos and leave only footprints is the best motto for your Hawaii vacation.
Things you should never do in Hawaii
I hope that you enjoyed this post. Of course, there are more things that we could add to this list, but I think I covered most of the big ones. If you have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment and let me know.
More Hawaii Travel Tips
If you loved this list, you’d probably love my other blog posts. I have everything you need to plan a Hawaii vacation. Here are some posts that you might enjoy:
- 7 best things to do on the Big Island
- 7 best things to do in Maui
- 10 best things to do on Oahu
- 10 best things to do on Kauai
- Things to do in Haleiwa
- When is the BEST time to go to Hawaii?
- The questions you’re afraid to ask about Hawaii.
- Maui vs. Kauai
- What is Hawaii like right now?
- What is the best luau on Maui?
- Taking a dog to Hawaii
- First Timer’s Guide to Hawaii
Ready to plan your Hawaii vacation?
I am a Hawaii Travel Agent who specializes in honeymoons, vacations, and group trips. However, I am currently only taking on a select number of clients per month. You can contact me if you want to learn more and check my availability.
If you’re having trouble figuring out your Hawaii vacation, that’s what I am here for! I’d love to help you create a customized Hawaii vacation just for you. I don’t do anything with packages, I get an idea of what you want and create a custom Hawaii trip from there. Just reach out if you want to learn more about working with a Hawaii Travel Agent.
If you prefer to DIY your trip, you should also check out this post on how to plan a Hawaii vacation.
The best way to get more travel tips? Sign up for my newsletter! You will receive a weekly email with travel tips, Hawaii deals, and more. Sign up below. If you love these posts and want to support my blog but aren’t ready to travel yet, you can buy me a coffee to show your support. I ❤️ coffee!
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