Discover Molokai - Hawaii's fifth-largest island
Hawaii is made up of 8 major islands, and Molokai is definitely one that you should explore when visiting this tropical paradise. Every island has its claim to fame, and Molokai is the ideal island to get an authentic experience of Hawaiian culture and traditions.
Molokai is the fifth-largest island that makes up the state of Hawaii and is predominantly known for its largely untouched natural landscape and for having some of the highest cliffs in the world. Molokai isn't a tourist destination like many other well-known Hawaiian destinations.
Molokai isn't as prominent as some of the more famous islands like Maui, but that's what makes it a bit of a hidden gem, especially for any nature or hiking enthusiasts. Keep reading to learn all you need to know when visiting Molokai.
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Get to Know the Island of Molokai
Molokai is the ideal Hawaiian island for any tourist looking to experience a natural paradise largely untouched by industry.
While there are no typical cruise hubs or large resorts like traditional tourist destinations, Molokai is a great place to really interact with locals and get a genuine experience of the culture. The island is primarily rural, and the locals have maintained traditions and ways of life that span far back through history.
Molokai has fantastic attractions, but they're often centered on the values and history of the island, which may create a unique experience for different visitors. Many of the activities on the island are not suited for visitors trying to get as many things packed into the itinerary as possible.
Instead, Molokai island is ideal for any tourist that wants to slow down, live like a local, and go with the flow of island time.
The island is 38 miles long and 10 miles across, with three major areas making up the island:
- The West End: This area is known for its serene beaches that are largely closed off from the rest of the world. Quite the hidden gem, the west end of the island is the ideal spot to relax along the shores, take a sunset stroll, and observe the practically untouched sandy beaches.
- Central Molokai: Home to the central town of Kaunakakai, a fishing town that also has some unique shopping options and a pier for those late evening walks. There are also incredible bakeries and other local dining options that will give you a great sense of the island's culture.
- The East End: The east end is where Molokai's nature really shines with preserves and valleys that showcase fantastic views and the unbelievably lush and green vegetation. This area of the island is perfect for those hiking trips and to explore the different trails that lead to overlooks and cliffs with views that you'll never be able to get enough of.
Molokai is a small island, but there are plenty of activities and tours to guide you through the island's history and culture. This island is known as the spot to escape to when visitors and other Hawaiian locals want to escape the hustle and bustle of large cruise ships and resorts that usually pepper most of the other larger islands.
Molokai communities have worked hard to preserve the natural landscape of the island. You won't find any buildings that are any taller than the surrounding trees in order to keep the ocean views and access as clear as possible.
Molokai is Not Your Average Tourist Destination
Molokai residents have largely resisted and successfully prevented any large-scale tourism investments because they want to preserve the land and their culture as much as possible. While many other islands are hubs for large cruise ships and boast a large number of resorts, Molokai is relatively untouched by the tourist industry.
The locals do well in maintaining their traditions. While fast-paced or flashy tourism isn't very welcome on this island, it is a great spot for travelers to slow down and get a real feel for what it's like living in Hawaii. It's also generally less crowded than other major Hawaiian Islands because the attractions are not as large or well known as others.
But don't let this stop you from exploring this gorgeous island! Once you show your respect for the land and the communities that protect it, you'll most likely be welcomed among the locals, and the hospitality of others on the island will make you see how special this place is.
When Is the Best Time to Travel to Molokai?
You've set your sights on visiting the island, and now it's time to figure out when the best time to book your flight is. You'll be happy to know that the weather on the island is very consistent all year round!
Temperatures generally stay in the mid-70s to high-80s all year long. You can book a trip to Molokai almost any time of the year and be confident that you'll have mild temperatures. Not too cool and not too hot days make for the perfect travel destination, especially when you'll likely be spending most of your time outside exploring all that the island has to offer.
Best Accommodations in Molokai
In Molokai, you're more likely to come across a cozy bed and breakfast or a rustic cottage home for rent along the beach more than a large resort. In fact, the island is one of the few that lack a large-scale resort.
The most options for accommodations if you plan to spend a few nights on the island are going to be in the main town of Kaunakakai. This is where most of the hotels and rental properties are situated. These quaint and cozy accommodations are perfect for any visitor that wants a genuine island experience, close to the water with amazing views.
Here are some of the top-rated rentals and hotels in Molokai:
- Hotel Molokai: Located along Kamiloloa beach, visitors here will find intimate bungalows decked out with small kitchens and Wi-Fi access. Not only are visitors right on the beach, but they'll also have access to a pool for when they want to switch it up.
- Dunbar Beachfront Cottages: For that lux private experience, you can stay in one of these two-bedroom cottages surrounded by lush greenery right on the beach. Visitors will have private access to the beach and fun water activities throughout the year, such as snorkeling and fishing. There are even private views of other major islands like Maui.
- Castle Molokai Shores: Offers one and two-bedroom units with a full kitchen and access to a community pool. The location is superior, with quick access to some of the most popular trails and lookouts of the island.
The lack of large resorts means that almost anywhere you stay, you'll have unobstructed access to the beach and the amazing Molokai views. Molokai accommodations are relaxed and casual spaces where visitors can unwind from their island adventures while listening to the rolling waves of the beach.
A lot of condos also include kitchenettes or full kitchens, and there are a few grocery stores peppered around the central town. Many of the beaches have plenty of picnic facilities, making it easy for visitors to pick up a few things at one of the local grocery stores in the central part of the island and have a great meal on the beach.
With the cozy spaces, Molokai also includes impeccable hospitality that makes each and every visitor feel welcomed and relaxed.
Unique Activities on Molokai Island
With few large developments and communities that are largely rural, it's no surprise that Molokai culture values nature and living in harmony with. There are plenty of cliffs that offer incredible views, as well as a plethora of unique nature preserves that also have extremely rich histories that are worth learning about.
Molokai is Hawaii at its most natural and unspoiled state. The lack of large-scale tourist investments and industry has successfully worked to preserve the beauty of the island. The beaches are often secluded, the hiking trails are not overcrowded, and most hubs are not only where tourists go to stay but plenty of locals.
Unlike other popular tourist destinations, when visitors come to Molokai island, they're likely to encounter plenty of true locals throughout their trip. In other places, many times, the cities and neighborhoods where tourists often stay are not where locals actually live.
On Molokai island, though, the local communities, natural parks, and preserves, and tourist destinations often blend into each other. This makes Molokai the ideal destination for visitors that want a genuine and authentic experience of Hawaiian culture, rather than staying secluded in places or doing activities that only tourists do.
Take a Tour of Kalaupapa
Kalaupapa is one of the most beautiful spots on the island, surrounded by the Pacific's blue waters. But this peninsula has not always been just a place to get access to the cool views.
Kalaupapa has a darker history as it was a place of exile for people afflicted with Hansen's Disease (leprosy).
These people were forced to remain in Kalaupapa during the time when the disease was believed to be highly contagious, and antibiotics had not been developed to treat it yet.
The few residents with a history of exile on the peninsula still reside there, so visitors' access is severely limited for the sake of their privacy.
There are few options for tours, but Damien Tours of Kalaupapa is the main way for visitors to check out the towering cliffs and see all that this secluded and largely closed-off part of the island is like.
Kalaupapa is actually a national historic park, and most of the people who live there are dedicated to the preservation of history as well as the land.
There aren't any shopping or dining spots available at Kalaupapa, so if you plan to take a tour, make sure to eat before your guide begins.
Also, be prepared to take some unconventional transportation methods in order to reach this area of the island. In order to explore the park and hike up to the cliffs, guests generally have to fly, hike, or ride a mule rather than simply drive a car.
It's definitely a unique experience, but oftentimes, some of the most secluded or closed-off spaces are the most worth visiting. The cliffs of Kalaupapa national park are well worth the extra work to get access to them. It's also worth learning about some of the darker parts of the island's history and gaining more of an understanding of different residents' experiences.
Hike to the Incredible Halawa Valley Views
Halawa Valley is situated at the east end of Molokai island, and it includes two large waterfalls and a lot of history as the site where one of the earliest Hawaiian settlements was.
Not only do hikers get to see the views of lush cliffs and rushing water, but they can also get a glimpse into the spiritual history of the place and see for themselves some of the historical relics that lie within the valley.
This trail is one of the most popular on the island, and once you get to the view of the valley, you'll understand why. The bright green foliage and lush rolling waterfalls make the entire hike worth it. Visitors require a guide to make the trek, but there are plenty of options that will lead you safely to these amazing views.
Therefore, having a hiking guide to talk through the history and give more insight into the significance of the area is a fantastic resource to learn more about the culture and early history of the island while also enjoying the views along the way.
Many visitors describe the drive to the valley itself to be quite an adventure, but with great sights of the water along the way, you'll have some welcome distractions along the relatively windy roads that lead to the valley.
Take a Tranquil Walk Along Papohaku Beach
If you're seeking a pristine, white, sandy beach to enjoy a beautiful sunset, Papohaku beach is your ideal spot.
Papohaku is Molokai's longest stretch of sandy beach, but from the lack of foot traffic, you really wouldn't know it. This part of the island is often uncrowded, giving it a relatively private feel throughout the entire stretch of sand.
This beach is truly the best large, secluded, and tranquil space you'll find along the entire island. Many visitors are often surprised to find that this beach is largely empty, and it's rarely crowded. Most likely for its size and lack of overcrowded resorts, the beach remains very quiet, and visitors are likely to go long stretches of time without seeing other visitors nearby.
The main exception is during Molokai's large annual hula festival. Many people actually site Molokai as the birthplace of Hulu, so it's no wonder that this festival often draws many visitors as well as locals in the name of celebrating such an integral and famous part of Hawaiian culture and traditions.
Enjoy and private and uninterrupted stroll along this soft sandy beach while you watch the sunset along the water. You won't be able to help but feel like you have the beach all to yourself.
Explore a True Rainforest at Kamakou Preserve
The biodiversity of the Kamakou preserve is truly incredible. This forest is home to more than 200 different species of native plants that provide a home for many different birds, insects, and other organisms.
This preserve is located along the slope of Molokai's tallest mountain, and you'll be in awe of the lush and abundant nature around you if you choose to hike through the preserve. This forest is even home to a few endangered species of birds, so you'll be getting an experience that is not easily replicated if you choose to spend some time among the animals of this preserve.
If you want to know more about the species of plants and other living beings throughout the hike, the island's nature conservancy volunteers lead monthly hikes through the forest. These guided tours are the perfect way to get some exercise while also learning about the species of plants and animals that are special to Molokai.
Mail Someone a Coconut from the Hoolehua Post Office
If you're into quirky and fun activities while visiting new places, this Molokai post office has got you covered.
Say goodbye to those boring postcards and mail your friends and family a personalized coconut instead. At the Hoolehua Post Office, the manager keeps a large pile of coconuts and materials to decorate on hand for anyone that wants to mail out a coconut to someone else.
This fun activity is definitely more unique than sending your average postcard while on vacation. The postage can be a little pricey, running around $15 to send each coconut, but many visitors find it an eclectic activity to do while visiting this special island.
This Post-a-Nut program has garnered plenty of attention, and on average, this post office sends out about 3,000 coconuts per year!
Sending someone back home a coconut is a fun way to show that you're enjoying your time in Molokai and that it's a unique island that's determined to maintain its personality.
Take an Air-tour of the Highest Cliffs in the World
Molokai has vertical cliffs at an unbelievable 3800 feet high! Take advantage of these amazing sights by going on an air-tour around the island to see these magnificent aspects of nature from views that you can't get from the ground.
The cliffs are right along the Kalaupapa Peninsula, which is quite difficult to reach any other way besides by air.
This type of tour is unlike any other because you'll get to view the island from a completely unique perspective. It's great to be able to see the island from a new view and truly marvel at all the nature and views that it has to offer.
Cool Off in the Pacific with These Amazing Molokai Water Activities
Although this island is small, there is no shortage of land activities for every adventurer, but there's also just as much fun to be had in the water.
If you plan to spend some time in the water, check out these exciting water activities:
- Snorkel along the longest continuing fringing reef
- Go on a whale watching tour through the Pacific Ocean
- Kayak and paddleboard along the white sandy shores of Papohaku beach
There is a ton of amazing exploring to be done below the water surface of Molokai island. With fewer visitors than your average tourist destination, the waters are often calm and primed to see the wildlife that exists in the water.
These water activities are the perfect way to balance out a lot of those hikes and outdoor adventures.
Slow Down and Get to Know the Locals for a True Molokai Experience
As evidenced by Molokai's dedication to preserving the land and warding off flashy large-scale tourism efforts, the Molokai locals care deeply for their environment and communities.
It's not that visitors are unwelcome; it's just that visiting this island is not going to be your typical tropical vacation. To experience all that the Molokai community really has to offer, experts suggest interacting with the locals as much as possible.
Some of the local farms will offer lodging to visitors that agree to volunteer for a short amount of time. Owners of local businesses are also likely to share island secrets like hiking paths and additional resources with visitors who show a genuine interest in supporting the community.
If you're the kind of visitor that wants to know what it's really like living on Molokai, it's best to slow down and get to know the people who know the island the best rather than trying to see as many sights and gather as many experiences as possible under your belt just to post online.
Don't be afraid to venture into local communities to volunteer, patronize small businesses, and learn about the culture from people who live it every day. You'll walk away from these experiences feeling like you got an authentic experience of the island that is very unique and genuine to the Hawaiian culture and traditions.
Don't Miss Out on the Molokai Cuisine
Molokai cuisine is authentic, rustic, and incredibly delicious. While fine dining doesn't really fit the traditional and casual culture of the island, Molokai restaurants do not disappoint when it comes to taste.
Molokai's eateries are authentically Hawaiian. Hitting one of the local hot spots is the best way to enjoy traditional Hawaiian classics in the ultimate island environment. You have to check out some of these fantastic restaurants during your stay:
- Paddler's Restaurant and Bar: This place blends local favorites like macaroni salad with innovative flavors to create masterfully flavorful dishes. There's usually something for everyone on the menu, from hot wings to complex curry dishes that are sure to satisfy any hungry belly.
- Hiro's Ohana Grill: Another local favorite, this restaurant has modernized traditional island favorites along with having a beautiful beachfront location, so visitors get to experience the best views and food that Molokai has to offer.
- Molokai Pizza: For any visitor that wants to hang at the local neighborhood favorite. Pizza is undeniably many people's favorite food, and after a day of hiking and adventuring around the island, a cheesy, saucy slice of pizza is the perfect way to end the day. It's also a great place to mix and mingle with the locals and make a few new friends.
If you really want to eat like a local, then you have to visit Kanemitsu's bakery for their infamous hot bread. There's often a line forming right outside this bakery's doors with eager patrons ready to get their loaf of bread doctored up with sweet toppings like cinnamon sugar.
While much of the dining options on the island are casual takeaway plates or diner cuisine, the flavor is always there. Even many of the elevated restaurants take inspiration from local favorites, which makes every meal on Molokai feel authentic and true to the island culture.
Visiting local hangouts is also a great way to learn more about the island residents. You might even find someone willing to share one of their favorite hidden gems on the island that you otherwise wouldn't discover!
Final Thoughts on Molokai
Molokai, Hawaii, is the ideal destination to unplug from the world and connect with the environment and Hawaiian culture. The island's lack of flashy or large-scale resorts or other tourism investments has solidified Molokai's reputation as a destination, unlike any other major Hawaiian island.
If you're looking to stay at a large hotel chain with fine dining on every corner and a large tourist attraction, this island may not be for you. But if you're looking to explore some of the most pristine forests, beaches, and trails, view some of the highest cliffs in the world, and get a glimpse at how local Hawaiians actually spend their time, then Molokai should be at the top of your travel bucket list.
You'll see Hawaiian nature at its most pristine, and the lack of heavy crowds means you'll often feel like you have the entire island all to yourself.
Book your flight to Molokai today!