Do you need a rental car in Hawaii?
I’ve talked about this before, but I wanted to dedicate an entire post to whether or not you need a rental car in Hawaii. Are you looking for Hawaii travel tips, or planning your first trip to the islands? You’re in the right place! You can start by checking out which Hawaiian island to visit or my top 25 Hawai travel tips.
So, do you need to have a rental car in Hawaii? First, let’s start by saying that “do you need a rental car in Hawaii?” is a really broad question. It will depend on which island you’re visiting and the type of vacation that you want.
All about rental cars in Hawaii
There are four main islands in Hawaii: Oahu, Maui, Hawaii (the Big Island), and Kauai. Each island is very different, and how much you need a rental car will vary based on where you’re staying. I will say that Hawaii isn’t the kind of place to stay at a resort and never leave. If that’s the kind of vacation you want, try Mexico instead, it’s much cheaper!
There’s too much to experience in Hawaii to stay at a resort. Of course, staying at a beautiful resort is fun and relaxing, make sure to get out a bit too. If you’re trying to figure out where to stay in Hawaii, check out my “best resorts” posts:
- The 7 best Luxury Resorts on Oahu
- The 7 best resorts on Kauai
- Best honeymoon resorts in Hawaii
- 10 best Maui resorts
- 7 Best Big Island resorts
Hawaii rental car tips
There are only so many rental cars in Hawaii, and you’ll want to reserve yours as soon as possible. Unlike many areas, rental cars in Hawaii rarely go down in price as you get closer to your travel dates. That is because rental cars often sell out. Book as soon as possible to avoid being stuck with more car than you need (and a bigger bill.)
You will often get a different vehicle than what you rent in Hawaii. We’ve been upgraded to a larger car than what we reserved several times. Gas is pricey in Hawaii, so I recommend going with the smallest car that you need. They once tried to give us a van in Kona, and we declined until they “found” a car.
It can be fun to upgrade to a Jeep or convertible (keep reading for my tips on when to get a Jeep.) I recommend reserving a Jeep immediately rather than hoping for a cheaper upgrade at the counter. You’re taking a gamble that the upgrade you want will be available.
Let’s talk about the different islands and whether you’ll need a rental car on Oahu, Maui, The Big Island or Kauai.
Do you need a rental car on Oahu?
You might have heard some people say no, you don’t need a rental car in Oahu. I disagree. Yes, it may be an extra expense to park your rental car, especially if you’re staying in the Waikiki area. However, there is so much more to Oahu than Waikiki/Honolulu.
Oahu does have an excellent bus system, especially in the Honolulu area. So, do you need a rental car on Oahu? If there is one island where you don’t need a rental car, it’s Oahu. However, I’d recommend getting one if you don’t want to rely on public transportation.
There is one exception. If you are flying into Honolulu (many people do as flights are often cheaper) and spending a day or two, you might not need a rental car. If you plan to stay only 1-2 nights in Honolulu/Waikiki and hang out at Waikiki Beach, visit Pearl Harbor, or stay in that general vicinity, you can skip the rental car.
You might also want to check out the 10 best things to do on Oahu.
Do you need a rental car in Maui?
You probably guessed what I am going to say; you need a rental car in Maui. On Maui, any rental car will do. Feel free to upgrade for fun, but you don’t need a Jeep on Maui. We have done the road to Hana (as well as the backroad from Hana) in a small car with no problems at all. It can be a bit of a scary drive, but I’d honestly prefer to be in the smallest car possible in case you meet other cars along the road.
If you’re interested in driving up Haleakala, you will most likely be able to do that in a car. Unless you have no experience driving in the hills/mountains, you should be just fine. If you’d be more comfortable taking a tour, that is an option. I would consider it a moderate drive, not too difficult. If you can drive the Road to Hana, you can drive up Haleakala. 🙂
Want to know my Maui recommendations? Check out 7 things to do in Maui.
Do you need a rental car on the Big Island?
The Big Island is, well, big. You can fit all of the other islands on the Big Island, twice! You’ll need a rental car to see all the sights. I do recommend renting a Jeep on the Big Island over all of the other islands. There are beautiful places that you’ll want to see (Mauna Kea, Waipio Valley) and some of them are inaccessible by car.
Check out my list of the 7 best things to do on the Big Island. You’ll see that they are pretty spread out over the island, you’ll need a car.
Do you need a rental car on Kauai?
Although some of the most beautiful spots in Kauai are inaccessible, even by car, you will need a rental car on Kauai. Kauai is another place where I’d recommend upgrading to the 4-wheel drive if you’d like to have more access to certain areas. Some roads can be hard to access by car, especially if there has been a lot of rain.
There will be rain. Did you know that the rainiest spot in the world is on Kauai? Mt. Waialeale averages more than 373 inches of rainfall each year. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that all of Kauai is continually raining. Much of the island remains relatively dry, especially in the summer.
I wouldn’t skip the rental car in Kauai; you’re going to want to explore the beautiful Garden Isle as much as possible. Check out my top 10 things to do in Kauai for what to do while you’re there.
Do you need a rental car in Hawaii? Yes!
You’ve probably gathered that I generally recommend renting a car in Hawaii no matter which island you’re visiting. If you’re traveling to multiple islands, it may be okay to skip the car in Oahu, especially if you’re only staying for a couple of days. If that’s part of your itinerary, you may also want to check out the best airline for interisland flights.
If you’re looking to save money, I recommend looking to save money elsewhere and spending the money to rent a car. One way to save money is to consider booking with a travel agent. Working with a travel agent will not only save money most of the time, but it will also save time and so much frustration.
Let’s plan your Hawaii vacation
Planning a trip to Hawaii can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first visit. Check out why to work with a travel agent in 2019, or fill out a custom travel request to get started. You can also email me for more information.
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