Molokai is not like its Hawaiian neighbours. It’s not touristy or overdeveloped. It does not have luxury resorts, five-star restaurants or designer retail stores. Heck, it doesn’t even have traffic lights!
Because of this, first time visitors to The Most Hawaiian Island should understand what to expect when visiting the island. With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of things to do (and not do) when traveling to Molokai.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Traveling to Molokai
Reader’s note – this post was originally written in 2013 and updated in 2023.
DO – Rent a car
Like most of the Hawaiian Islands, convenient public transportation is virtually non existent on Molokai. The island is quite big and most of the popular activities and attractions are spread out, so renting a car is a must.
Alamo is the only car rental company on Molokai but it has a surprisingly large selection of vehicles and the prices are reasonable. It’s located at the airport, making it easy to pick up and drop off the vehicle (unless you arrive via ferry).
DON’T – Expect to find lots of gas stations
There are only a few gas stations on the island, so plan accordingly. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the hours of operation. Don’t be that person who runs out of gas because of poor planning – this isn’t the big city!
DON’T – Worry about heavy traffic or getting lost
There is very little traffic, few roads, no traffic lights and only a handful of stop signs. If you’re worried about renting a car, don’t be. Molokai is one of the easiest places to drive.
DO – Ride the mules to Kalaupapa
Rated by TripAdvisor as the number one adventure on Molokai, the mule tour to Kalaupapa is highly recommended for any visitor to Molokai. It’s an experience hard to replicate and we think it will be a highlight from your trip to the island.
Did we mention that you will descend 1,700 feet down the world’s tallest sea cliffs on a mule?
DON’T – Try to visit Kalaupapa without an organized tour
Unless you are invited by one of the residents of Kalaupapa, you must take a tour. You don’t have to take the mule tour to reach the peninsula, you can catch a short flight or hike the trail, but you must be accompanied by a guide.
DO – Hike the Halawa Valley
Another popular activity is hiking the Halawa Valley to the Moa’ula Waterfalls. Because the hike passes through private property, a tour guide is required.
The hike takes about 2.5 to 3 hours return trip. It’s not a strenuous hike, but you should come prepared with a snack and bottled water (the closest grocery store is about 15 kilometers away).
The trail passes through thick rainforest, so it’s wise to bring proper footwear and a light rain jacket. If the weather permits, you may want to bring a bathing suit to go swimming near the waterfall.
Check out this short video from our hike – Halawa Valley Hike
DO – Get on (or in) the water
Stretching over 30 miles, Molokai’s barrier reef is the longest reef in the Hawaiian Islands. The shallow water along the beaches and shoreline is quite murky and unattractive, but once you get about 25 meters out the water becomes incredibly clear and blue.
The photo above was taken over 200 meters from shore. Even at that distance from the shore we could still see the ocean floor from our kayak.
DO – Use a local tour operator
We went ocean kayaking with Molokai Outdoors and would recommend them as a local tour operator. They are a small, family run company that offers every tour and activity available on the island, including transportation, rentals and accommodations.
On our ocean kayaking trip we saw a sting ray, multiple sea turtles and several humpback whales playing in the channel (see photo above).
DON’T – Go out on the water alone
It’s tempting to go out alone, but always bring a buddy and make sure you talk to experienced locals first. It’s not safe to swim in certain parts of the island because of strong currents and hazardous rocks.
Claire, our ocean kayaking guide with Molokai Outdoors, advised us to always bring a kayak, paddle board or floating device when heading out to snorkel or swim in the reef.
Although it’s rare, sharks do make an appearance inside the reef. It’s best to be prepared.
DO – Slow Down
Philosophically and literally. Molokai has no traffic lights and there are only a few major roads. Nobody is in a hurry, so slow down. The roads are windy and you never know what lies around the corner.
Molokai is the perfect place to sit back and relax. One of our highlights was simply sitting on our balcony watching the sunset with a cold beer in hand, and enjoying a coffee while watching the morning sunrise.
DO – Visit Coffees of Hawaii
We almost missed a visit to Coffees of Hawaii because we were always out and about. That would have been a big mistake. The coffee is fresh and delicious and you can purchase coffee to bring home with you (we bought 2 bags of beans and have already consumed them both!).
The cafe and gift shop are located on the coffee plantation, so you can take a tour if that interests you.
It’s also a fun social spot for locals to get together and play music. Every afternoon, a group of residents bring their musical instruments (mostly ukuleles) and play Hawaiian favorites to guests, both tourists and residents alike.
DON’T – Expect wild partying and nightlife
If you’re looking for wild parties and trendy nightclubs you’re best to visit Oahu or Maui. There are no nightclubs on Molokai. In fact, there are very few restaurants and bars to be found.
Instead, visit the liquor store in Kaunakakai, grab your drink of choice and hang out on your hotel balcony or the beach.
After all, you didn’t travel all the way to Hawaii to do the things you can do at home – did you?
DON’T – Expect to find major chains or big brands
There are no Starbucks coffee shops, no McDonald’s restaurants, no Fairmont Hotels or any other big names on the island. The only recognizable brand we saw was the Chevron gas station.
Grocery stores, restaurants and hotels are all locally owned and operated – and residents of Molokai intend to keep it that way.
There are very few places left in the world that don’t have either a Starbucks or McDonald’s, and we dig that about Molokai.
DON’T – Expect to find shopping malls
There are a few cute local shops in Kaunakakai, but not a lot. Many of them have strange hours of operation. We actually found the best souvenirs at the Blue Monkey Gift Shop at Coffees of Hawaii.
If you’re looking for shopping malls or high-end retail stores, you’ll be looking for a long time because there aren’t any. You don’t come to Molokai for its shopping experience.
DON’T – Expect mass tourism
I know what you’re thinking, “no tourists? That’s fantastic! Where do I sign up?!”
But it’s important to understand what this really means. You will pass the occasional tourist but you’re mostly on your own. You won’t find a lot of choice and you will need to be flexible with your schedule.
You won’t find big luau’s with hula dancing performances (at least not very often). You won’t find glitz and glamor. There are limited places to eat and it’s hard to find convenient transportation.
Residents of Molokai support tourism, but in a responsible way that creates jobs for residents and doesn’t negatively impact the environment.
The people of Molokai don’t want their island to replicate that of Oahu and Maui. They like it the way it is, so you need to respect that and shift your expectations accordingly.
DO – Put Molokai on your travel wish list!
Molokai is unlike any other island we’ve visited. It’s quiet, unassuming and filled with natural beauty. If you enjoy the outdoors and want to escape the tourist trail, we think you’ll have a great time on Molokai.
Read more from our trip to Molokai:
- Unspoiled coastlines. Untamed wilderness. Our upcoming trip to Molokai
- Our First Impressions of Molokai
- VIDEO: Hiking the lush Halawa Valley to giant waterfalls
- VIDEO: The Scenic (and dizzying) Drive to Halawa Valley
- Riding Mules Down the World’s Tallest Sea Cliffs
Have you visited the Hawaiian Island of Molokai?
Share your experience in the comments section below, we’d love to read about it!