If you want to visit Hawaii in 2021 but feel hopeless, I understand. I was supposed to take my Mom here for her 60th birthday (next week, according to when I’m writing this), but had to postpone the trip for a year due to Covid-19.
Well, the Hawaiian government’s response to Covid-19, which has largely been to kill the tourism industry, at least for the first several months of the crisis.
Although I have plenty of opinions about it, I’ll try not to get to deep into the weeds of pandemic politics over the next few paragraphs. What I will do is provide you with both a sober assessment of Hawaii’s status quo for tourists, as well as hope about the future of travel to America’s paradise islands.
Is Hawaii Open to Travelers Now?
It’s technically already possible to visit Hawaii in 2021. You’ll simply need to choose one of two options. If you can obtain a Covid-19 test within 72 hours of travel (and it’s negative), you can fly to many of the Hawaiian islands from the US mainland without the need to quarantine. If you travel to the Hawaiian islands without a negative Covid test, you will be subject to a mandatory 10-day self-quarantine, which is strictly enforced.
Confused, or simply want to make sure you haven’t missed anything? You can read Hawaii’s full Covid-19 travel rules (which, to be fair, are constantly changing) here. Also keep in mind that individual Hawaiian islands may impose their own rules, though as of now, all seem to be willing to let travelers who can prove their Covid-negative status skip the mandatory quarantine. Don’t hold me to that, though!
Things to Do on Your 2021 (or 2022) Hawaii Trip
Enjoy classic Oahu
Some people see Oahu and Waikiki Beach as cliché or even overrated, but not me. Rather, I see “downtown Hawaii” as classic and essential. This is true whether you stay in Honolulu and visit Pearl Harbor, hike up Diamond Head (or—and I don’t officially recommend this, the “illegal” Haiku Stairs or visit the famous surfer’s paradise of the North Shore.
Take a Maui road trip
Another place to consider if you want to visit Hawaii in 2021 is Maui. Some tourists won’t venture far from their resorts near the western tip of the island, in Kaanapali not far from Kahului Airport. Others, however, will rent a car and drive far to the east, circumnavigating the larger lobe of Maui via the famous Hana Highway.
Hole up on the big island
Although it’s the largest Hawaiian island (as its nickname, the “Big” Island, suggests), Hawaii is somewhat underrated. This is true whether you base yourself along the beaches of coffee-producing Kona on the west coast, or in the state capital of Hilo, a hotbed of Hawaiian history. Speaking of hotbeds, you won’t want to miss volcanoes like Mauna Loa and Kilauea.
(Or one of the smaller ones)
Which is not to say you can’t take another tack when you visit Hawaii in 2021. In particular, when it comes to smaller Hawaiian islands, I love visiting Kauai. The aptly-named “Garden Island,” this circular slice of paradise is famous not only for the scenic Na Pali Coast, but dramatic Waimea Canyon.
Island hop at your own risk
I don’t say this because island hopping is dangerous—there’s no better medicine than Vitamin Sea! Rather, as I’ve alluded to many times within this article, heavy-handed Hawaiian government officials at the state, island and local level are prone to re-introduce restrictions. Don’t avoid island hopping, but do be mindful of the possibility that you could get stuck.
Will I Need a Covid-19 Vaccine to Visit Hawaii?
As of March 2021, a Covid-vaccine vaccine is not a requirement for entering Hawaii. This is partially because the vaccine rollout, especially outside of the US, is still in a relatively early phase. It wouldn’t make sense to restrict travel to vaccinated people when only a small fraction of the global population has had access to a vaccine. Another reason vaccines aren’t yet required to visit Hawaii? No standardized framework for verifying vaccination status exists.
Which is not to say you will absolutely need to be vaccinated in order to visit Hawaii in 2021 or beyond. Rather, I imagine a vaccine will simply serve as a kind of VIP pass. It will exempt you from having to quarantine. And, once it’s established that vaccines definitively prevent transmission of Covid-19, from having to submit to PCR tests before travel, which is currently required even if you’ve had the vaccine.
Other FAQ About Hawaii in 2021
How much does the average trip to Hawaii cost?
Hawaii is both an expensive destination, and one with a large cost spread—there is no “average” cost of a trip to Hawaii. There is a minimum cost, however. Given a minimum cost of about $200 per person, per day based on double occupancy, a couple can expect to spend no less than $3,000 for a week in Hawaii, not including the cost of flights to and from the mainland.
What is the best month to visit Hawaii in 2021?
While Hawaii is, to some extent, a 365-day per year destination, some months are better than others. In particular, the summer months of June and July feature bright sunshine and minimal rain. While August sees a slight uptick in tropical moisture, September is a great time to visit, given that families with kids will be back in school-year mode.
How many days in Hawaii is enough?
How many days you need to spend in Hawaii depends on how many places you want to go. While a week is plenty to visit Oahu and Maui, two weeks is more ideal if you want to visit other islands, be it the aptly-named “Big” Island of Hawaii, or underrated and off-the-beaten-path Kauai.
The Bottom Line
When planning for trips to the states, you will probably be able to visit Hawaii in 2021, although there will almost certainly be strings attached. The state has been pathologically cautious about lifting its Covid-related restrictions, in spite of how little their stringency seems to correlate with infection trends, and at the cost of the essential tourism industry. The good news is that facts always win over fear; ongoing vaccination campaigns combined with faster, more accurate testing has lit an escape path out of the destruction, which has already enabled tourism to resume to some extent.