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Japan is a bewildering, beautiful country that is like nowhere else. There are so many amazing things to do in Japan that one trip is never enough—it has stolen our hearts and we can’t stop returning.

From ancient temples to futuristic skyscrapers, tranquil tea ceremonies to over-the-top arcades, relaxing hot springs to cosplay go-kart rides, Japan has so much to offer everyone.

In this post I share the best things to do in Japan divided into the categories Culture (for unique things you can only do in Japan), Fun (for all the quirky and futuristic stuff), Food (because the food is extraordinary and you must eat as much as possible), Spiritual (for all those wonderful temples and shrines) and Beautiful (for the gorgeous natural scenery).

Even on a short visit to Japan, you can choose a few experiences from each category for an unforgettable trip.

Cultural Things to Do in Japan

These unique things to do in Japan are activities you don’t find elsewhere and are the best ways of experiencing Japanese culture.

1) Spend a Night in a Ryokan

Our room at Hotel Mushashiya ryokan overlooking Lake Ashi in Hakone

For at least one night of your trip, I highly recommend staying in a ryokan, which is a traditional Japanese inn. Tatami mat rooms are elegant, minimalist spaces, usually with just a table and low chairs where you can enjoy green tea on arrival. Breakfast and dinner are often included in the price and served in your room.

The epic, multi-course meals are a highlight of a stay in a ryokan and have been some of our best meals in Japan. Ryokans can often cater to vegetarians and vegans, but let them know any dietary requirements in advance (you don’t get a choice of dishes).

After dinner, futons will be set up on the floor and can be surprisingly comfortable to sleep on.

Ryokans range from simple (such as guesthouses called minshuku) to ultra-luxurious, sometimes with private baths and views overlooking exquisite Japanese gardens. They are more expensive than regular hotels but are well worth it for the experience.

We loved our stay at Hotel Musashiya in Hakone (a top spot for seeing Mount Fuji) where our room and the public Japanese bath overlooked Lake Ashi. It’s reasonably priced, friendly, and the food was wonderful. 

You can find many other ryokans all over Japan—search on Booking.com

2) Soak in an Onsen

The classic Japanese experience is soaking in the steaming hot waters of an onsen (hot spring bath)—it’s a must for your Japan bucket list. Onsens come in many forms—indoor and outdoor, simple and luxurious, small and large. Most of them are shared, but some ryokans have private baths you can reserve.

Onsens can be a challenge for foreigners (they were for us at first!), as you must be completely naked (most are divided by gender). Make sure you shower thoroughly before you get in the bath too. It’s worth getting over your fears as they are such a relaxing experience.

3) Wander Around an Onsen Town in a Kimono

In winter kimonos at Kinosaki Onsen

If you want the full onsen experience, head to an onsen town. These small resort towns are usually in rural settings and feature many different onsens. They are popular destinations for the Japanese for relaxing getaways.

The best way to experience one is to stay in a ryokan. Some have their own onsens and usually include a pass to visit the other onsens in town. After putting on the provided yukata (cotton kimono) and geta (wooden sandals), you head out to hop from one onsen to another and relax in the steaming waters.

There are many onsen towns in Japan. We loved Kinosaki Onsen, which is easily accessible from Kyoto and Osaka and is particularly pretty in the spring when the canals are lined with cherry blossoms.

We stayed at the friendly Morizuya Ryokan which has two small onsens available for private use in the afternoon—perfect for your first time. 

Read more about Kinosaki Onsen and onsen etiquette.

4) Watch a Geisha Dance

Geishas are one of the most fascinating aspects of Japan, especially if you’ve read Arthur Golden’s popular novel Memoirs of a Geisha about these highly-skilled women who entertain using traditional arts. 

It’s hard to believe they still exist, but when we spent a month living on a traditional street in Miyagawacho in Kyoto (near the more well-known Gion area), we often saw them in brightly coloured kimonos emerging from wooden teahouses.

Rather than stalking geisha on the streets of Gion, I recommend watching them perform at one of the annual dances that take place every spring and autumn. The most famous is the Miyako Odori in April, but we went to the Kyo Odori instead, which doesn’t attract many foreign guests.

The performance was spectacular, and it was fascinating to get a closer look at the extravagant kimono, ornate hairstyles, and iconic white makeup these graceful women wear.

Top tip: Miyagawacho is the perfect area to stay in Kyoto for spotting geisha without the crowds of Gion. We rented a studio on VRBO that’s no longer available, but this three-bedroom townhouse was above us. Other options in this area are this traditional machiya with outdoor bath and a stylish machiya formerly owned by a geiko.

5) Admire Ukiyo-e Prints

Ukiyo-e or Japanese woodblock prints are uniquely Japanese and flourished during the Edo Period from the 17th to 19th centuries. The prints depict landscapes, regular life of ordinary people, and popular kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers, and geisha from the world of entertainment or “floating world”.

You can see ukiyo-e in many cities in Japan. We enjoyed the small Ota Memorial Museum in Harajuku, Tokyo which displays rotating exhibitions—we were lucky enough to see the 36 Views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai including the famous Great Wave off Kanagawa.

6) See Sumo Wrestlers in Action

Sumo is serious in Japan and the national sport is steeped in tradition. Matches still include rituals that date back to its ancient origins as part of the Shinto religion such as purifying the ring with salt.

You can see sumo wrestling at one of the sumo tournaments that happen a few times a year (book tickets in advance on Voyagin) or take a tour to a sumo stable in Tokyo or Osaka to see the wrestlers’ morning training session. Tournaments happen in Tokyo in January, May and September and Osaka in March.

I loved the novel The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama, which gave me a greater insight into sumo culture. 

7) Watch a Kabuki Performance

Kabuki is a form of traditional Japanese theatre that dates back to the Edo Period. It includes drama, dance and music and the all-male performers wear elaborate makeup.

The best place to see a Kabuki performance is the Kabukiza Theatre in Ginza, Tokyo (English captions are available), but you might find performances in other major cities.

9) Dress Up as a Geisha

Hiring a kimono for the day and wandering the historic streets of Gion and Higashiyama is a popular activity in Kyoto with both Japanese and foreigners. There are many shops in Gion and the surrounding areas to rent them (the Yasaka Shrine area is a convenient place to start).

Although Kyoto’s ancient streets are the most common place to rent a kimono, you can find rental shops throughout Japan.

10) Gaze at Itchiku Kubota’s Stunning Kimonos

On a cloudy day at Kawaguchiko (when Mt Fuji did not emerge), we came across the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum on the shores of the lake. We didn’t expect much from a kimono museum, but Itchiku Kubota’s oversize kimonos are exquisite works of art and we were blown away.

Kubota made it his life’s mission to recreate a lost textile dyeing technique from the 16th century and the results are stunning. His kimonos are full of colour and texture and depict nature such as the changes in Mount Fuji through the seasons.

This museum isn’t on many things to do in Japan lists, but I think it’s a hidden gem, especially if you visit the beautiful onsite teahouse too.

11) Pay Your Respects at the Hiroshima Peace Museum

Head to Hiroshima to pay your respects to the victims of the atomic bombing at Hiroshima’s moving Peace Memorial Park. The park is beautiful and the museum is heartbreaking, riveting, and vitally important. Afterwards, explore the modern city that was almost entirely rebuilt after World War II.

Fun Things to Do in Japan 12) Ride a Shinkansen (Bullet Train)

We adore train travel in Japan. The network is extensive and the trains are comfortable, clean, quiet, safe, and always on time (to the minute!).

Best of all are the shinkansen or bullet trains which travel at ultra-high speeds of up to 320 km/h (199 mph). They make travelling between major cities very fast—Tokyo to Kyoto, a distance of 450km (280 miles) can be covered in 2 hours 15 minutes by the fastest shinkansen Nozomi.

You can even ride fun themed bullet trains such as the Hello Kitty shinkansen which runs from Osaka to Fukuoka.

Shinkansen are expensive, but a Japan Rail Pass makes them more affordable as you can hop on as many as you’d like without a reservation.

Recommended Reading: Is a Japan Rail Pass Worth it?
13) Go-Kart Around Tokyo

Simon dressed up as Yoshi while go-karting in Tokyo

Go-karting is our pick for the most fun thing to do in Japan! Where else in the world can you dress up as your favourite character and drive go-karts on the real streets of a major city?

We went go-karting in Tokyo, but you can also do it in Osaka and Kyoto. I was terrified at first as we drove alongside buses and cars but ended up having so much fun! You used to be able to dress up as Mario characters but Nintendo shut that down. 

Make sure you get an international driving permit from your home country before you come to Japan as they are strict about this requirement.

14) Enjoy a Day at DisneySea

DisneySea is one of the best Disney parks in the world with a unique nautical theme featuring ports like Mysterious Island with an erupting volcano and Mediterranean Harbor which looks just like Italy.

There are many fun rides at DisneySea as well as more adult-orientated attractions like seeing a Broadway show or drinking a cocktail in a 1920s lounge aboard a cruise liner.

Disney is easily accessible from central Tokyo in about 30 minutes, but on our third visit we stayed a short walk away at the inexpensive Hotel Mystays Maihama and loved avoiding rush hour travel and being able to take a break during the day.

I definitely recommend staying nearby if you want to visit the neighbouring Disneyland Tokyo park as well as you’ll need two full days. 

15) Head up High for a City View

View from Harukas 300 in Osaka at night

Japanese cities are vast and impressive with towering skyscrapers and neon signs. I think they are best admired from above at night, so head up to an observatory in one of the tall buildings.

My favourite observatory is Harukas 300 in Osaka which has 360º views from the floor to ceiling windows and a cool open-air garden bar.

In Tokyo you can get a free view from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku or enjoy VR rides along with the city skyline at the Sky Circus Sunshine 60 Observation Deck in Ikebukuro. Tokyo Tower is another popular viewpoint and looks like a red Eiffel Tower.

16) Rent a Karaoke Booth

Karaoke is one of the most typical Japan activities—everyone from teenagers to businessmen loves it here.

But don’t worry if you are shy—there’s no need to sing in public as in Japan you rent a private booth in one of the many huge karaoke buildings. The rooms are equipped with comfy seating, microphones, TV, and a tablet which you use to choose from a wide selection of songs. You can even order drinks and food.

We went to a branch of the budget Karaoke no Tetsujin chain in Tokyo and were surprised that the cost included a drink—it makes an affordable night out.

17) Be Spirited Away at the Studio Ghibli Museum

If you are a fan of Studio Ghibli films like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, don’t miss this whimsical museum in Tokyo where you can see props and drawings from the animations in a quirky building.

You must buy your tickets at least a month in advance—see the Ghibli website for details. If you miss out, Voyagin has more expensive last-minute tickets

Recommended Reading: 17 Cool Things to Do in Tokyo
18) Enter the World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan

Harry Potter World at Universal Studios Japan

Universal Studios Japan in Osaka is a must for Harry Potter and theme park fans.

The highlight is the immersive Wizarding World of Harry Potter where you can wander the snowy cobbled streets, stroll through Hogwarts, drink butterbeer, shop for sweets in Honeydukes, and even cast your own spells if you buy a magic wand.

Elsewhere in the park, there are plenty of rides for thrill-seekers including Hollywood Dream and The Flying Dinosaur—the scariest rollercoaster I’ve ever been on!

See our favourite Universal Studios Japan rides.

The park gets extremely busy, so avoid weekends and buy your tickets in advance. Consider purchasing an Express Pass to skip the queues.

19) Experience Sensory Overload at the Robot Restaurant

The Robot Restaurant is one of the weirdest things to do in Japan. It’s not actually a restaurant but is a bizarre, high-energy show featuring robots, dragons, ninjas, blue-haired dancers, creepy clowns, guitarists on swings, drummers, and lots of flashing neon lights. It’s incredibly loud, obnoxious, and hilarious.

Don’t pay full price on the door for the Robot Restaurant—buy discounted tickets in advance from Voyagin.

20) Ride the Don Quixote Ferris Wheel in Dotonburi

Don Quixote Ferris wheel in Dotonburi, Osaka

A nighttime visit to Osaka’s Dotonbori neighbourhood is a must-do in..

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Admit it—you came to Italy to eat. It’s certainly the reason we’ve visited the country a dozen times and can’t stay away for long.

Eating in Italy is a serious business and the locals have strict food rules. You can find some of the best food in the world in Italy, but it’s also possible to pay over the odds for a disappointing meal.

Visitors (especially Americans as the food culture is vastly different from the US) are often confused by aspects of dining in Italy and end up starving at 6pm or feeling ripped off.

By following these tips you’ll be able to avoid tourist traps, eat the best food in Italy, and avoid shocking any Italians along the way.

If you are wondering what to eat in Italy, I also share my favourite Italian dishes to try while you are there. 

Buon appetito!

This post was originally published in 2012 and was updated in 2019 after many more delicious trips to Italy.

Eating in Italy Key Facts

A menu at a restaurant in Tuscany

Here are the most important things you need to know when dining in Italy. 

Italian menus are divided into the following courses:

  • Antipasti – Appetisers such as bruschetta (toast with toppings), grilled and marinated vegetables, and meat and cheese platters. They can be quite filling (or absolutely humungous in Puglia and Basilicata) so we always share. Antipasti are often our favourite part of the meal as they are so diverse, feature regional specialities, and are often vegetable-heavy (less so in the north).
  • Primi – The first course consists of pasta, gnocchi, risotto, or a hearty soup (such as minestrone). Portions aren’t huge (usually), but it can be enough for a full meal (we usually get an antipasto as well). There are hundreds of pasta shapes in Italy so learn the regional specialities for your destination. Otherwise you might not recognise pasta on the menu as it will be called something like trofie (in Liguria) or orecchiette (in Puglia). 
  • Secondi  – The second course is meat or fish. It is just that—a slab of meat with nothing on the side. Very occasionally a restaurant will list a vegetarian secondo like an omelette or platter of grilled vegetables, but you’re better off sticking to the antipasti and primi. 
  • Contorni – Side dishes such as potatoes, french fries, grilled or fried vegetables, salad, and beans. If you want your meat or fish to have anything with it, you must order it separately. Note that salad will arrive after you’ve eaten your meat, but hot vegetables will come with it. Vegetarians can also make a meal from sides. Sometimes we order a side of grilled vegetables as an antipasto if there’s nothing else on the menu we want (or feel free to have some veg after pasta).
  • Dolci – Desserts. The menu is usually quite simple and will include fruit, gelato, a cake or tart, and a regional speciality. The creamy coffee flavoured dessert tiramisù is one of the most common desserts all over the country.  A cheaper alternative to dessert in a restaurant is heading to a gelateria and enjoying a cone on an evening stroll. 
  • Caffè – It’s very common to finish your meal with un caffè (espresso). It comes after dessert, not with it. 

Ricotta tart at Il Frantoio in Puglia

Italian dishes vary widely depending on the region. You can get pizza and pasta with tomato sauce everywhere, but don’t expect to find spaghetti carbonara in Puglia—stick to local dishes instead. I share some of my favourites at the end of this post. 

Opening hours at Italian restaurants are limited. They open for lunch between 12pm and 1pm and close between 2pm and 3pm. They open again for dinner at 7.30pm or 8pm (maybe 7pm for pizzerias). Make sure you plan for this when eating out in Italy. Grocery stores (except for major supermarkets) also close in the afternoon.

Below I’ve included tips on what to do if you get hungry in the afternoon or early evening (it’s a common problem for us!).  

When Eating in Italy Do:
  • Eat gelato every day. It’s that good.
  • Look for the signs produzione propria and artigianale in gelaterias which means that the gelato is made on-site and in the old-fashioned way with natural ingredients.
  • Order more than one flavour of gelato. Even if you order a small size (which is usually plenty), you can choose two flavours. My personal favourite combination is pistachio and chocolate. 

Pistachio and chocolate gelato at Bloom in Modena. Note that the pistachio is not bright green!

On our Bologna food tour we saw tortellini being made in a local pasta shop

  • Read Eating My Way Through Italy by Elizabeth Minchelli which explores the differences between regional cuisines. It includes personal stories as well as practical tips and restaurant recommendations. I want to do her DIY pizza tour of Naples!
  • Avoid restaurants near major tourist attractions. If you do choose to eat on a popular piazza like Piazza Navona in Rome, accept that you are paying for the view and not for quality food. Perhaps just have a drink instead.
  • Try regional specialities. Do some research before you go or ask a local. Read about our favourites in Puglia, Liguria, Sicily, Tuscany, and Piemonte. If you order a non-local dish, it will likely be disappointing. 

Cappellacci di Zucca, a type of pumpkin stuffed ravioli, is a local speciality of Ferrara.

  • Order un caffè (espresso) after dessert, not during the meal.
  • Visit bars at any time of day. They are more like cafes and are family-friendly. Stop by for a coffee, snack, soft drink, or alcoholic beverage from breakfast until late at night. They can be a good place for a sandwich if you get hungry mid-afternoon, although quality varies and some bars close in the afternoon (especially in small towns). 
  • Drink coffee standing at the bar (al banco) to avoid paying extra to sit down—up to four times more in touristy areas. 
  • Check the bar menu if you really want to sit down. It’s usually on the wall and you can see the prices for banco (standing) and tavolo (sitting). 
  • Eat pizza with your hands. In a pizzeria you’ll cut the pizza into slices yourself then feel free to use your hands.
  • Buy slices of takeaway pizza or focaccia with different toppings for a cheap snack. This is your best option if you get hungry outside the usual meal times. You usually choose how much you want and pay by weight. 

Tomato focaccia in Bari charged by weight

  • Stick with a primo (first course, usually pasta, risotto or soup) if you are vegetarian—a secondo (second course) is almost always meat and a primo is tasty and filling enough (and cheaper).

Cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper pasta) is a delicious Roman speciality

  • Order wine (or just water) with a meal—Italians only drink beer and soft drinks with pizza.
  • Ask for a glass of wine even if only bottles are listed on the menu. There is always the option of un bicchiere (glass) or un quarto (quarter litre) or mezzo litro (half litre) jug of house wine. The house wine is very affordable and often the same price as water—we’ve had a half litre for as low as 2 euros!
  • Choose your mineral water naturale (normal) or frizzante (fizzy). You’ll usually be asked this as soon as you sit down as a litre bottle is served with every meal. Unfortunately, Italians don’t drink tap water at restaurants (although it is safe to drink). 

Wine is an important part of an Italian meal

  • Enjoy a pre-dinner drink or aperitivo at a bar. This is usually a glass of wine or cocktail. My favourite is a Spritz made with Aperol (or Campari), prosecco, and soda water. Bars always provide a snack with your drink such as potato chips, olives, nuts, and/or focaccia. This helps keep us going until restaurants open. 
  • Fill up on the aperitivo buffets that some bars offer for free when you buy a drink in the early evenings (usually from around 6-8pm). If you are on a tight budget, it could even be enough for dinner, which is why it’s known as apericena. Although it’s frowned upon if you eat too much—in general it’s best to stick with one plate of food per drink. The best place for apericena is northern Italy, especially Milan and Turin. 

The classic aperitivo Spritz with access to a large vegan-friendly buffet cost €10 at Ketumbar in Rome

Simon hiking through the vineyards in the Barolo wine region

  • Try real aged balsamic vinegar. The 25-year-old stuff is like nothing you’ve tasted before. We visited a family-run acetaia in Modena on a day trip from Bologna.
  • Picnic. Even the simplest things taste amazing in Italy so buy some bread, cheese, olives, and fruit from an alimentari (small grocery store), market or supermarket and find a park to enjoy them in. Testaccio market in Rome is our favourite place for this.

Learning to make pasta in Lecce, Puglia

  • Ask for the bill/check (il conto). Restaurant staff will not automatically bring it as they don’t want to rush you. It can take a while as they assume you’re not in a hurry. 
  • Enjoy a digestivo (after-dinner liquor) after your meal. The best ones are homemade and they can be bitter like an amaro, sweet like limoncello, or strong like grappa. If your server offers you a digestivo after you’ve received your bill, it’s on the house.
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I’ve written before about how Tieks are my favourite flats for travel as they are comfortable, look great, and fold up into a small pouch. I’m currently on my fourth pair and I can wear them all day for city sightseeing or even 12-hour days at Disney.

I really didn’t need a second pair of flats—as a full-time traveller with just a carry-on bag, space is limited. But my friend raved about Rothy’s, and once I saw the pointed toe flats in my favourite purple colour, I couldn’t resist.

Rothy’s shoes are vegan, machine washable, made from recycled plastic bottles, and come in tons of stylish designs. Meghan Markle even wears them! Many people claim they are the most comfortable flats they’ve ever worn (including my friend), but I was dubious they could match my beloved Tieks.

In this Tieks vs Rothy’s review, I compare the pros and cons of these two flats for women after six months of travelling with them both.

Rothy’s vs Tieks Overview

Rothy’s are:

  • Made from recycled plastic bottles
  • Vegan
  • Not foldable
  • Machine washable and have removable insoles
  • Available in four styles including pointed and rounded ballet flats
  • Available in many colours and patterns which change regularly
  • Priced from $125

Wearing my Mulberry Point Rothy’s in Maui

Tieks by Gavrieli are:

  • Made from Italian leather or vegan fabric
  • Foldable and come with a pouch to pack them in
  • More difficult to clean
  • Available in one style (rounded toe ballet flat)
  • Available in over 70 colours and patterns including patent, matte, and metallic leather and vegan fabric
  • Priced from $175

Wearing my Silver Lake Vegan Tieks in Austin

Style

Both Tieks and Rothy’s are stylish flats that look great.

Tieks are a rounded toe ballet flat with their signature turquoise sole. There are over 70 designs available from classic matte leather to unique shimmering metallic designs and snake prints. There’s even a Game of Thrones inspired design called the Drago with silver foiled scales. There are five vegan shoes made from fabric.

Some of the many Tieks designs

Tieks classic leather flats come in many vibrant colours

I currently have the Silver Lake Vegan Tieks—I love them (especially when they shimmer in the sun), but they are a more casual style. I would happily wear them out to dinner, but they didn’t feel dressy enough for a wedding.

My Silver Lake Vegan Tieks (and the lovely box they came in)

If you are looking for comfortable dressy flats, the leather Tieks come in some stunning styles (I covet the Moonstruck Tieks) which would be suitable for elegant events (brides even wear them at their weddings).

I used to have the Lilac leather Tieks and I loved the colour. My Tieks review has a comparison on the vegan and leather Tieks.

My Lilac Tieks

Rothy’s has a much greater choice of designs for vegans as they are all made from recycled plastic bottles. The bottles are hot washed, sterilised, then fused into fibre that is knit into yarn. The fabric is remarkably soft and flexible considering their origin.

You can choose from four styles including rounded toe ballet flats (The Flat), pointed toe flats (The Point), The Loafer, and The Sneaker.

The four Rothy’s styles

I have a pair of The Point and love them—they make me feel fancy and are dressier than the vegan Tieks. I even wore them to a wedding in Singapore—I didn’t feel underdressed and it was so nice to feel comfortable all day and night.

Some of the Rothy’s Point colours and patterns

Some of the Rothy’s Flat designs

Rothy’s don’t come in as wide a variety of designs as Tieks, but there are still many different colours and patterns from solids in black or chili red to unusual embroidered patterns and leopard prints. I have the Mulberry Rothy’s which are purple with gold embroidery on the toe. I haven’t seen any shoes like them before and adore them.

My Mulberry Point Rothy’s

Rothy’s soles are dark and neutral, which some people might prefer to the vibrant turquoise soles of Tieks, especially if you need comfortable work flats for a more conservative workplace.

Rothy’s designs change frequently, so if you see a pair you like, don’t wait! My Mulberry Rothy’s are no longer available. They do sometimes bring back old favourites, so it’s worth checking their website regularly or signing up to their newsletter.

Winner: Tie

Sizing

Rothy’s flats come in half sizes whereas Tieks shoes are only available in full sizes. Both shoes can be a little tricky to get the right fit, but they offer free exchanges within the US.

I’ve found I need to go up a size in both styles. I am usually a US size 8 and while the Tieks size 8 fit OK, they felt a little tight and I went up to a 9 for my second and subsequent pairs. If you have wide feet, Tieks also advises going up a size.

Some women go up a half size for the Rothy’s Point style to allow more space around the toes. I decided on an 8.5 which felt a little big at first, but I soon appreciated the extra toe space and I think they were the right call. They also advise going up a half size if your foot is wider than a B.

Rothy’s says that their shoes do not stretch over time, so if they are snug, exchange them for a half size larger.

Leather Tieks do stretch out over time as they are designed to mould to your feet, so if they are a little tight they might be OK after a few days.

Rothy’s and Tieks both have kids sizes.

Winner: Tie

Break-In Time

The remarkable thing about my Tieks was how I had no break-in period. They are the only flats I’ve ever had that fit me right away with no blisters or cuts. One of my four pairs did rub slightly on the first day, but they didn’t break the skin.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have as good as experience with Rothy’s. While Rothy’s claims there is no break-in period with their shoes, there was for me. On my first day of wearing them, the back of the shoe cut into one of my heels and drew blood. I wore them with band-aids for the next few days and after that I didn’t have any more rubbing.

My friend did not have a break-in period with her Rothy’s, whereas some people do with Tieks, so unfortunately this one really comes down to your feet.

Winner: Tieks

Comfort

As much as I love the look of both Tieks and Rothy’s, for me the priority is comfort. I can only travel with a few pairs of shoes and I need a pair of comfy flats that work well for long days of walking.

Tieks have always been really comfortable for me. I frequently wear them for days exploring the cobbled streets of Rome or enjoying Disney. They are by far the most comfortable ballet flats I’ve ever owned and are totally different from the flimsy ballet flats I’d previously worn.

The non-skid rubber soles are thicker than most ballet flat soles and feel bouncy. The backs are cushioned rather than elasticised so they don’t constrain your heel.

Wearing my Tieks for a long day of sightseeing in Kyoto, Japan

My first impression of Rothy’s was that they didn’t feel as bouncy or as comfortable as my Tieks. After I’d broken them in, though, they did feel more comfortable and I happily wore them out for a few hours of walking or to a wedding (with a mix of standing and sitting).

Wearing my Rothy’s for a stroll in a Tokyo park

I decided the real test would be Disney as we are often in the parks for 12 hours and can walk 10 miles or more. We were spending two days at Tokyo Disneyland and I planned to wear Tieks one day and Rothy’s the other. By this stage my Rothy’s were well worn in and I bought them at the same time as my latest Tieks.

Wearing my Tieks at Tokyo Disney Sea

On day one I wore my Tieks all day and had no problems—my feet felt fine at the end of the long day.

On day two I wore my Rothy’s. In the morning I was fine, but by mid-afternoon my feet were achy, my little toe on one foot felt cramped, and the back of the heel had started to rub.

Wearing my Rothy’s at Tokyo Disneyland

I didn’t want to continue wearing them, so after we returned to our hotel for a break, I switched into my Tieks for the evening and my feet instantly felt better.

The Tieks definitely won the Disney test—they are the best flats for walking and my go-to for long days out. I still love my Rothy’s, though, and I prefer the look, so they are my choice for dinners out and half day trips where we won’t be walking so much.

Note that neither flats offers arch support, but you could try adding your own insole on either.

Winner: Tieks

Smell

So far I’ve found that Tieks and Rothy’s are evenly matched when it comes to odour resistance. I wear them without socks and haven’t found either get very smelly, unlike cheap flats I’ve had in the past.

Some Rothy’s reviews say that the shoes can become smelly if you wear them every day continuously (which I haven’t done), but you can always swap out or wash the insoles if this is a problem.

I wouldn’t say either of them are totally odour-free, but even if at the end of a hot sweaty day they smell a little, the next day they’ll be fine.

Winner: Tie

Cleaning

Rothy’s are definitely easier to clean than Tieks. Amazingly they are machine washable, so you just remove the insoles and throw the shoes and insoles in the wash (in cold water on a delicate cycle) and they come out looking new. I haven’t needed to wash them yet, but my friend has multiple times with no issues. Don’t wash them in hot water or put them in the dryer as heat causes them to shrink.

I’ve found that dirt sponges off easily if you just want to clean a certain area. I’ve managed to easily remove blood (when they rubbed my heel at first) and mud (after wearing them after a torrential downpour in Thailand).

Rothy’s also have removable insoles (and you can buy replacements), so you can just wash these if you find they are getting smelly. This isn’t something I’ve had to do yet.

One downside of the insoles is that I can feel the edge of them under my feet, which becomes more pronounced after wearing them for a long time. It’s not a big deal, but I prefer the smoother feel of Tieks’s built-in insoles.

The unique knit material of the Rothy’s is designed to dry quickly if it gets wet, so they are the best ballet flats for wearing in the rain.

Cleaning Tieks depends on the style you have. Patent and matte leather Tieks can be wiped off easily, but my fabric vegan Tieks are harder to clean. It doesn’t help that I have a light silver grey colour that does get dirty (I wear them in all conditions).

I usually clean them with a sponge and slightly soapy water, but eventually the discolouration gets too much. I typically replace them after about two years, primarily because they are looking too dirty.

Winner: Rothy’s

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Planning a trip to Hawaii is something many people dream of. With its stunning beaches, dramatic volcanic landscapes, and lush green hills, it’s one of the most beautiful places we’ve visited but also the most expensive.

While we do think the islands are worth the high price, to make the most of your stay, it’s essential to plan in advance.

These tips will help you plan the perfect trip to Hawaii.

Best Island to Visit in Hawaii

Hanalei Bay in Kauai

Choosing the best island to visit is one of the most challenging parts of planning a trip to Hawaii. They are all diverse with lots to offer, so it just depends what you are looking for.

Most visitors to Hawaii visit one of these four islands:

  • Oahu – The most visited and developed island is home to the large city of Honolulu and the famous and very crowded Waikiki Beach. You can surf huge waves on the North Shore and visit the museum and memorials at Pearl Harbour. You’ll find the most shopping, dining, and nightlife options here. It’s the easiest island to get around by public transport.
  • Maui – The second most visited island has beautiful beaches, world-class whale watching, and the Road to Hana drive where you can see waterfalls, bamboo forest, and red and black sand beaches. You can also watch the sun rise above a volcanic crater and visit wineries and lavender farms in Upcountry. There’s a wide range of resorts, dining, shopping, and activities as well as natural attractions.
  • Big Island – The largest island is the youngest, so it’s not as green as the other islands and has more lava landscapes. If you want to see an active volcano, this is the island to visit. The landscapes are incredibly diverse from beautiful white sand beaches to snow-capped mountains.
  • Kauai – Known as The Garden Isle, Kauai is the most lush and green of the islands. The jagged green cliffs of the stunning Napali Coast are the big draw, but there are also lovely beaches, waterfalls, and multi-coloured canyons. A helicopter ride over the island is spectacular, and there are plenty of hiking trails. Kauai has become popular, but it isn’t as developed as Maui or Oahu.

Kauai’s Napali Coast

If you are looking to get off-the-beaten-track, you could consider visiting one of these smaller, much less visited islands:

  • Molokai – Known as The Friendly Isle, on Molokai you’ll find a slow pace of life and more native Hawaiians, but less choice of accommodation and activities. It’s also home to the leper colony of Kalaupapa, which I became fascinated with after reading a couple of these Hawaii books.
  • Lanai – For many years Lanai was a pineapple plantation and it’s now home to a few luxury resorts. If you want to enjoy the secluded beaches without the high price tag, the ferry from Lahaina on Maui only takes an hour so you could visit on a day trip.

The character of each island also depends on which part you visit. All the islands have a rainy side where the scenery is lush and green and a dry side where you’ll usually get more sun. They are both worth visiting, which is why we decided to split our island stays between two or three locations.

We had 3.5 weeks in Hawaii and chose to divide our time between Kauai and Maui, with one night in Honolulu before our flight to Japan. We loved them both, and there’s so much to do on each island that we’re glad we didn’t try to add in an extra island.

We plan to visit the Big Island and maybe Molokai on our next trip, although we’d also happily return to Kauai and Maui.

For more details on our trip, see our Maui itinerary and the best things to do on Kauai.

Our friends Tom and Jenny have visited the Big Island many times and share their favourite things to do

The black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park, Maui

Before You Arrive in Hawaii Do
  • Save up – Hawaii is expensive and you’ll enjoy it more if you aren’t worrying about every penny. We spent $267 per person per day including everything except flights from the mainland US. You could spend less by travelling in the off season, choosing non-beachfront accommodation, and skipping pricey tours. You could also spend a lot more by staying in luxury resorts and eating out for every meal.
  • Visit in the winter to see humpback whales – We were astounded by how many we saw in Maui in February. January to March are the best months, but you might see a few from November to May. Winter weather can be cooler and rainier, but we still had mostly sunny days and the ocean is swimmable year round.
  • Visit in the off season to save money – In the spring (April and May) and autumn (September to mid-November), the islands are less crowded, prices are lower, and the weather is excellent.
  • Book your accommodation far in advance – Especially if you are travelling in the high season, want an ocean view, or are travelling to places like Hana or Upcountry on Maui where accommodation is limited. We searched for options on Booking, Airbnb, and VRBO.
  • Consider a condo rather than a resort – For families, stays of a week or more, and for those on a budget, renting a condo with a kitchen is a great way to save money. There are many to choose from and some have resort facilities like pools and beachfront locations. We stayed in condos for most of our stay and Kiahuna Plantation on Poipu Beach in Kauai was one of our favourites.

Kiahuna Beach

  • Search on Kiwi for the best flight deals – The cheapest rates will be from Los Angeles or other West Coast cities. Southwest now flies to Hawaii at low rates. You can also get affordable flights from Asia (especially Japan) to Honolulu.
  • Fly in and out of different islands – Maximise your time on the islands by flying into one island (such as Kauai) and out of another (such as Maui). I was surprised by how many affordable direct flights there are from the US mainland to places other than Honolulu.
  • Rent a car – It’s the best (and often only) way to get around. At busy times they can run out, so book far in advance. We used Rental Cars to find the best deal and just booked the cheapest economy car.
  • Consider splitting your time between two or three locations on each island – If you want to do a lot of exploring, this will help avoid long drives to attractions. We did this on Kauai and Maui and it worked out well.

Red Sand Beach in Hana

  • Book Haleakala sunrise in advance – If you want to see Maui’s most popular sunrise, you must book up to 60 days in advance. If you miss out, try again two days before when more tickets are released.
  • Bring reusable shopping bags – Plastic bags are banned on the islands.
  • Pack a sweater – While most of the time you’ll only need summer clothing and beachwear, it can get chilly on morning boat trips or if you go to higher elevations (like Upcountry in Maui or Waimea Canyon on Kauai) especially in the winter. Sunrise at Haleakala is literally freezing and you’ll appreciate as many layers as possible.
  • Bring spices – If you are self-catering, you’ll save money by bringing a small amount of spices with you. We bought some at the bulk-buy section of a supermarket on the mainland.
  • Pack hiking sandals – We wore these all the time and they were perfect for beaches and hiking. Many beaches have rough access trails so you’ll appreciate something more than flip-flops. Simon wore the Teva Terra Fi Lite sandals and I have the Merrell Terran Lattice sandals.
  • Learn a few Hawaii words – Even if it’s just Aloha (hello and goodbye but also love and compassion) and Mahalo (thank you). I picked up vocabulary by reading the astounding novel Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport (which I highly recommend every visitor reads).
Don’t
  • Plan to visit more than one island per week – You’ll spend too much of your precious vacation time travelling and there’s so much to do on each island.
  • Forget hidden fees – The listed price for hotels and resorts is rarely what you’ll actually pay. You’ll have to add tax and often a resort fee, cleaning fee (for condos), and parking charge. Check the final total price when comparing accommodation options.
  • Visit during holidays – Try to avoid the busiest times of year, especially Christmas and New Year when crowds and prices soar. Thanksgiving week is another busy time. If you must visit then, book far in advance.
  • Stay on the beach (maybe) – If you are on a tight budget you’ll save by staying a short walk or drive from the beach. Airbnb is a good place to look for budget accommodation. That said, we splurged on beachfront accommodation and loved it.

Sunset at Kiahuna

In Hawaii Do
  • Read novels set in Hawaii – Learn more about Hawaii’s fascinating culture and turbulent history by reading one of these books about Hawaii while you relax on the beach.
  • Schedule your most important activities early – Weather can change and cancel activities like boat trips and helicopter rides, so make sure you’ll have time to reschedule.

Waterfalls in Kauai from a helicopter

  • Use reef-safe sunscreen – Hawaii has banned the sale of sunscreen that uses coral-harming chemicals. You can pick some up from Longs Drugs, which we found surprisingly affordable.
  • Sign up to the Snorkel Report on Maui – You’ll get an email every morning with tips on the best beaches to visit that day. They also rent inexpensive snorkelling and beach gear.
  • Check the Hawaii Beach Safety website – To find out which beaches are safe for swimming or best for surfing. The Kauai Explorer Surf Report is also useful. 
  • Go whale watching – It was one of our favourite experiences in Hawaii. We chose a small boat trip with Makai Adventures from Lahaina in Maui and loved it so much we went twice.
  • Hike – All the islands have beautiful trails from easy coastal walks to challenging multi-day treks. It’s a great free way to enjoy the beauty of the islands.

Hiking the Pipiwai Trail in Maui

  • Rent a Tommy Bahama beach chair and umbrella – Our condos came with these, but you can rent them on the islands inexpensively. They have backpack straps for easy carrying and make beach hopping much more comfortable.
  • Visit a farmer’s market – The fresh produce is usually cheaper and better quality than the supermarkets and there are lots of tasty treats and foodie souvenirs to enjoy.
  • Cool off with shave ice – This delicious icy treat is so much better than we expected. Add a scoop of macadamia ice-cream on the bottom for maximum tastiness.
  • Enjoy a Mai Tai on the beach – Touristy yes, but it’s a classic Hawaii experience and these tasty rum cocktails come in cool Tiki glasses.
  • Drive the Road to Hana on Maui – Most people do this in one day, but we loved spending a few nights in Hana to explore without the crowds.

Wai‘anapanapa State Park is a Maui highlight

  • Eat all the banana bread – Especially in the Hana area, homemade banana bread sold at farm stalls is so good.
  • Indulge in chocolate-covered macadamia nuts – We were addicted to the ones by Moana Loa.
  • Let local drivers pass you – They know the winding roads better than you and drive at a faster pace, so pull over and let them pass.
  • See Kauai from above – Our doors-off helicopter trip on Kauai was mind-blowing.
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There’s more to Hawaii than just beautiful beaches and Mai Tais, and these Hawaii books are the best way to prepare for your trip. The islands have a rich culture, multi-cultural people, and turbulent history including the overthrow of their monarchy and annexation by the USA in 1898.

I think it’s important to learn more about these seemingly paradise islands before you visit. As usual with my pre-travel reading, I focused on fictional books set in Hawaii rather than dry histories, and I learned a lot while enjoying engaging stories.

These historical and contemporary Hawaii novels and short stories are a mix of fascinating, tragic, and entertaining.

1) Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport
If you only read one book set in Hawaii, make it this one by Hawaiian writer Kiana Davenport. It's one of my favourite books ever!

Shark Dialogues is an epic, complex, multi-generational family saga that weaves the history of Hawaii with the story of powerful matriarch Pono and her four granddaughters. You’ll learn about the Polynesian ancestors, whaling industry, sugar plantations, different immigrant groups (Japanese, Chinese, Filipino), annexation by the US, leper colony, and the fight for sovereignty.

The language is luscious and poetic with magical realism elements that reminded me of Isabel Allende. The novel features Hawaiian myths and language (with a glossary) and some characters use Hawaiian Pidgin, so it feels very immersive and you can pick up some of the local language.

It’s set mostly on the Big Island but also features Oahu, Maui, and Molokai. It does awaken you to the impact of tourism on the islands, so while you may be left feeling guilty for visiting, I think it’s important to be aware of the reality.

Shark Dialogues is a tremendous book and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

2) Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
Moloka’i is one of the most popular books about Hawaii. This captivating novel tells the story of Rachel, a young Native Hawaiian girl who is sent to the leper colony on Molokai at the very end of the 19th century.

It’s fascinating to read what life was like in the Kalaupapa colony, both the horrors and how it became a strong and supportive community over the years as the residents embraced life in the face of death.

There’s information about traditional Hawaiian culture as well as a historical backdrop—the introduction of planes, World War II, and the changes to Honolulu after the war.

Although it’s fiction, it’s inspired by the real leper colony, which you can now visit and still houses a few elderly residents (voluntarily).

If you enjoy Moloka’i, don’t miss the new sequel, Daughter of Moloka’i, which follows Rachel’s daughter. Although it’s mostly set in California with a focus on the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, it also features Honolulu and Maui.

3) This is Paradise: Stories by Kristiana Kahakauwila
This is a powerful, beautiful collection of short stories that depict the glories and struggles of contemporary Hawaiian life on Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island.

The stories are all very different with a wide range of characters, but common themes are identity, family, love, home, and death. The use of Pidgin in the dialogue immerses you in the culture.

I especially loved the first eponymous story which cleverly uses the voices of three groups of Hawaiian women (young surfers, hotel cleaners, professionals) in Waikiki, Honolulu to tell the story of a young tourist whose vacation takes a dark turn.

4) Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman
This Hawaii novel is an enjoyable, easy read, although the subject matter is serious. It’s set during World War II in a small town on the Big Island where most residents are of Japanese heritage. Soldiers set up a base nearby and some of the local women befriend them and their mascot lion (which is based on a real lion!).

One of the women’s husband has gone missing and another’s is sent to a Japanese internment camp. The women come together to get through the tough times and bake pies for the soldiers to earn extra money.

The story is partly told by 10-year-old Ella who knows what happened to her father but is too scared to tell.

I also enjoyed Ackerman’s latest novel, The Lieutenant’s Nurse, about a nurse who arrives in Honolulu just before the Pearl Harbour attack during WWII.

5) The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
The Descendants is set in contemporary Hawaii on Oahu and Kauai (Hanalei). It’s a moving novel about Matthew King, a descendant of Hawaiian royalty who struggles to deal with his two girls as his wife lays in a coma. At the same time he has to make a decision about selling the land he has inherited on Kauai.

I enjoyed the book and it covers some important issues in Hawaii as well as grief and forgiveness. It has also been made into a good movie starring George Clooney.

6) House of Many Gods by Kiana Davenport
If you enjoyed Shark Dialogues, I also recommend this novel by Kiana Davenport. House of Many Gods tells the story of a Hawaiian family on the impoverished Waianae Coast on Oahu from the 1960s to current day.

They have to deal with traumatised and injured war veterans, drugs, parents abandoning their kids, and limited opportunities. At first I found it bleak, but I soon became engaged by the story of Ana, who was abandoned by her mother but goes on to become a doctor.

As with Shark Dialogues, the writing is lyrical and the book is a fascinating insight into Hawaiian language, culture, traditions (especially during pregnancy and childbirth), and the wisdom of elders. Environmental justice is a major theme.

There’s also a short section set in Kauai that includes a helicopter ride over the island and is worth reading if you are planning to do that.

7) Honolulu by Alan Brennert
Honolulu is another engrossing historical novel set in Hawaii by Alan Brennert. It takes place in the early 20th century in pre-WWII Honolulu and focuses on the Asian immigrants who were brought to the island to work on sugar and pineapple plantations.

The main character is Jin, a young Korean girl who comes to Hawaii as a picture bride (like a mail-order bride) and is shocked to discover that her arranged marriage is to a poor and violent plantation worker.

The book follows the tragedies and triumphs of immigrant life and features some real-life characters such as Queen Liliʻuokalani and Duke Kahanamoku (a swimmer who popularised surfing).

8) The Last Aloha by Gaellen Quinn
I didn’t find this novel as well written as the ones above, but it is enjoyable and tells the important story of how Hawaii’s queen was dethroned.

It’s told through the eyes of Laura, a young American woman who moves from San Francisco to the islands to live with relatives after her father dies. Her uncle came from a missionary background but is now part of the wealthy elite making enormous amounts of money from the sugar industry. He and others plot to overthrow the queen to protect their business interests.

Laura ends up working for the royal family and is close to them as they struggle to save their kingdom.

For a more authentic account of these events, you might want to read Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen, which was written by the last monarch Queen Liliʻuokalani herself. I found the book rather dry and difficult to get through, though.

9) The Goddesses by Swan Huntley
If you are looking for an easy beach read set in Hawaii, try The Goddesses. Nancy, a 48-year-old American woman, moves to Kona on the Big Island with her teenage sons and husband as they try to rebuild their marriage after his infidelity.

Nancy becomes swept up in a dangerous friendship with her charismatic yoga teacher and things start going wrong. There are lovely descriptions of the island, but you won’t learn much about Hawaiian culture.

I hope you enjoy these Hawaii books and that they give you more insight into the islands’ unique culture and history. 

If you are looking for a Hawaii travel guidebook, I recommend the detailed Hawaii Revealed series by local Andrew Doughty. We used the Maui and Kauai guides and there are also books on Oahu and the Big Island. 

You can also read these other posts about Hawaii: 

Do you have any other recommendations for books about Hawaii? We’re already planning our next trip and I need to add to my reading list!

 
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Simon has been travelling with Bluffworks Original pants for six years, so he was excited when Bluffworks released a pair of travel-friendly jeans.

The Bluffworks Departure jeans look like classic denim but are softer, stretchier, and lighter than regular jeans. They are super comfortable and Simon barely took them off during our two months travelling around Japan. As always with Bluffworks pants, they even have hidden pockets for extra security on the road.

In this Bluffworks jeans review, we share our thoughts on the pros and cons of the jeans and compare them to the Bluffworks pants.

Disclosure: Bluffworks provided us with these jeans for review, but we only give our honest opinions, and if Simon didn’t love them, he wouldn’t still be travelling with them.

Bluffworks Departure Jeans Details

Fabric: 68% Cotton, 22% COOLMAX Polyester, 9% Rayon, and 1% Spandex
Pockets: Five classic jean pockets plus two hidden, zippered pockets in the back waistband
Sizes: Waist from 28 to 40 inches and length from 28 to 36 inches
Fit: Slim or regular
Colour: Medium wash blue denim
Cost: $125 (free US shipping and exchanges)
Buy from: Bluffworks website

Bluffworks Jeans Features Style and Fit

After nine years on the road, we don’t want to look like travellers—we want to be able to wear regular-looking clothes that perform well on the road. This is something that Bluffworks does really well (and why a large portion of Simon’s travel wardrobe is made up of their clothes!).

Unlike many travel pants, Bluffworks jeans don’t look like technical pants. They look like normal jeans in a slightly faded indigo blue with all the traditional denim details like five pockets, brass rivets, and dual stitching in contrasting yellow and orange thread.

We love the classic styling without any unnecessary details or branding (just a simple Bluffworks patch on the back).

Jeans are the most common garment you’ll find anywhere in the world, and with the Departure jeans, you’ll definitely fit in.

Simon has the Slim Fit jeans which work well for him. They don’t cling to the leg like skinny jeans, so they are more breathable but still have a modern look.

They also come in Regular Fit, which might be better if you have larger thighs or prefer a looser fit.

Due to the stretch in the fabric, Bluffworks recommends ordering one size down from usual. Simon didn’t do this and wishes he had, as they did stretch out after a few wears and are a little too loose now (it’s also possible that he lost weight in Japan!).

We also found that the jeans are a tiny bit (less than half an inch) longer than the Original pants even though he got a 32” leg in both styles. I think Simon’s jeans look longer because they are looser at the waist. They gather a little at the ankle but this doesn’t bother him, and they also look good with the cuffs turned up.

If you are unsure about the best fit, you can take advantage of the free exchanges.

Pockets

The Bluffworks jeans have the classic five pockets—two front pockets, one coin pocket on the front, and two back pockets.

In addition, Bluffworks has added two hidden pockets in the back. Hidden pockets are one of our favourite features with Bluffworks clothing because they are so useful for travel. It was a hidden pocket that prevented Simon from losing his phone when pickpocketed (they got his wallet which was in a regular pocket). Jeans with hidden pockets are unusual so we were pleased to see this feature.

The hidden pockets on the Departure jeans are so discrete that it took me a while to find them. They are accessed from below the waistband (above the regular back pocket) where a hidden flap is camouflaged in the seam. It’s practically invisible and only when you lift the flap do you see the zip. This is so unusual that no one will know it’s there.

We’ve taken out the Bluffworks jeans hidden pocket here so you can see the lightweight design

These pockets sit inside the jeans and are quite deep and made from a thin, water-resistant, silky polyester. The fabric is so light that you don’t notice it when you are wearing the jeans.

The hidden pockets work best for slimmer items like cash, cards, and passports. They aren’t ideal for bulkier phones and large wallets. Although, even if someone could see their shape, they’d have a tough time figuring out how to access it!

A passport fits inside the hidden pockets (there’s one on each side on the back)

You can barely see the passport here or how to access it in the hidden pocket

Simon hasn’t needed to use these pockets so far. Partly because Japan is so safe (where he’s worn them most), and also because he prefers not to put things in his back pockets as it’s not comfortable to sit down on.

While you can easily fit a passport in the pockets, you can feel it if you sit down—it’s not ideal for long bus trips but walking around a crowded market would be fine.

Our one complaint with the Bluffworks jeans is that they don’t have the hidden front pockets that the Chinos and Original pants have. We think these are more practical for storing a phone and wallet on a daily basis. I imagine this decision was because they worked hard to keep a classic jeans look.

Comfort

The comfort factor is where the Departure jeans really stand out and why Simon wore them almost every day for two months.

They are ultra soft and have just enough stretch that they are much more comfortable than stiff classic denim.

Whether you are wearing them on a plane or sightseeing all day, these jeans feel great. Simon has worn them on two-hour hikes, bike rides, axe-throwing, temple-hopping, and for 12-hour days at Universal Studios and Tokyo Disney theme parks.

Hiking up 12,000 steps at Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto

Spending a long, cold day at Universal Japan

The fabric is breathable and versatile. They kept Simon warm in the Japanese winter (where it snowed at one point) but cool enough when he wore them in Singapore’s steamy climate. While shorts are more practical in the tropics, it’s good to have a pair of jeans that don’t make you overheat if you do want to wear them.

Simon wearing the Bluffworks jeans in hot, humid Singapore (where he also wore them axe-throwing!)

Weight

At 11 oz fabric weight per yard versus the standard 14 oz denim, Bluffworks jeans are lighter than regular jeans. They are not ultra light and will still take up a decent amount of space in your luggage, but for those of us who don’t want to travel without jeans, they are a good compromise.

Plus they are comfortable enough to wear on the plane, so you don’t even need to pack them.

If weight is a priority, it’s best to leave the jeans behind and travel with the Bluffworks Originals instead (see the comparison below).

We haven’t been able to weigh the Departure jeans yet, but Bluffworks says a pair with a 33″ waist weighs 23 oz (650g). Simon’s Original pants in a 29″ waist weigh 13.4 oz (380g).

Bluffworks Original pants on the left and Bluffworks jeans on the right

Care

The jeans are machine washable and can be line or tumble dried. They do recommend washing them alone for the first wash as the indigo dye can transfer—we just washed them first with a few black items and have had no issues since including them in our regular wash.

They aren’t as quick drying as other Bluffworks pants, but we’ve found they air dry reasonably quickly (within a day in Japan and a half day in Thailand). They don’t wrinkle after washing.

After five months of wear, the jeans are holding up well and haven’t shrunk or lost colour (although they will fade over time like classic denim). After years of wearing Bluffworks products, we can vouch for the quality of their clothes and expect the jeans to be just as durable. We’ll report back as time goes on.

Where to Buy

The Bluffworks Departure Jeans are only sold on the Bluffworks website and cost $125 with free shipping and exchanges within the US. They also ship internationally for a fee.

Bluffworks is a small American company and their customer service is excellent. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them if you have any questions or need to find your perfect fit—they’ll exchange unworn pairs for free within 90 days.

We have arranged a 10% discount on Bluffworks products for our readers. Just click the link below and use the promo code NEVENDVOY at checkout. 

Check out the Bluffworks Departure Jeans on the Bluffworks website.

Bluffworks Jeans vs Original Pants

Simon in Paris in the Bluffworks blazer, Meridian shirt and Original pants

The Bluffworks Original pants have been an essential part of Simon’s travel wardrobe for years. They are one of only two pairs of pants he owns (and now the Departure jeans are the second!).

How do the Bluffworks jeans compare to the Original pants?

The Bluffworks Departure jeans are:

  • Styled like classic jeans
  • Softer
  • Stretchier
  • Heavier
  • Bulkier
  • Less quick-drying
  • Wrinkle-resistant
  • Warmer in cold climates
  • $27 more expensive at $125
  • Available in one colour (medium wash denim)
  • Have two hidden back pockets

The Bluffworks Original pants are:

  • Dressier on more formal occasions
  • Lighter 
  • Smaller to pack
  • Quick-drying
  • Wrinkle-resistant
  • Stain-resistant
  • Cooler in warm climates
  • Better for hiking
  • $27 cheaper at $98
  • Available in six colours
  • Have two hidden front pockets

The Bluffworks Original pants are the best all-round travel pants as they are lighter, dry more quickly, and are more versatile (wear them on a six-day hike or to a wedding—Simon has done both). If you are travelling with just one pair of pants, you can’t go wrong with these. 

But nothing beats the comfort and ability to blend in that a good pair of jeans provides. And the Departure jeans are a great pair of travel jeans.

If you are travelling to both hot and cold climates, the combination of a pair of Bluffworks jeans and the Originals is ideal.

Read our Bluffworks pants review for more details about the Original pants.

Other Bluffworks Travel Clothes
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We weren’t initially going to visit Maui on our Hawaii trip as we’d heard it was too overdeveloped and touristy. While this is true in certain areas, it’s also possible to get off the beaten path, and the island has so much to offer including gorgeous beaches, whales, turtles, snorkelling, waterfalls, hikes, volcanoes, bamboo forests, and some stunning scenery.

Maui isn’t a huge island and you could explore everywhere on day trips from one base, but we really enjoyed spending a few nights in less touristed areas. For our Maui itinerary, we chose three places to stay, which enabled us to explore the island without any long exhausting day trips.

Most visitors to Maui stay in West or South Maui where the best beaches are. You definitely want to spend time here for some relaxation and activities like whale watching, snorkelling at Molokini Crater, and exploring the historic town of Lahaina.

But I also think less-visited East Maui deserves more than just a day trip for the popular Road to Hana drive, and there’s a lot to see in Upcountry (the centre of the island) too.

Maui Tips

At Wai‘anapanapa State Park near Hana

If you want to see humpback whales in Maui (the best thing we did on the island), the best time to visit is from January to March, although you may be able to see a few from November to May.

Prices are higher in the winter, though, so for lower rates visit in the spring (April and May) and fall (September to early November).

It can be rainier and cooler (70ºF at worst) in the winter. In late January/early February, we had a mix of hot sunny days and cloudy, windy days with some rain.

You’ll need to rent a car to make the most of your time on the island. We used Rental Cars to search for the best deal and ended up renting with Thrifty. We just chose the cheapest economy car and it was fine.

If you want to snorkel at Molokini Crater (details below), schedule it for early in your trip as it can be cancelled if it’s windy, and this will allow you time to reschedule.

I also recommend booking a whale watching trip for early on too. They usually run even in bad weather (we got soaked but it was still wonderful!), but you might love it so much like us that you decide to go out on another trip.

Sign up to the Snorkel Store’s snorkel report and you’ll get an email at 8 am every day with information on snorkelling conditions and the best beaches to visit that day. They also have reasonable rental rates for snorkelling gear, beach chairs, umbrellas, and boogie boards. 

Our Maui Itinerary at a Glance
  • Hana (East Maui) – 2 nights
  • Makawao (Upcountry) – 2 nights
  • Kahana (West Maui) – 10 nights

We arrived in Maui at 10 am on a short flight from Kauai, so we weren’t too tired to drive the Road to Hana on our first day.

If you are arriving from the mainland US, it would make more sense to reverse this itinerary and start with the relaxing beach portion of your trip in West or South Maui and finish with overnight stays in Hana and then Upcountry (where you’ll be closer to the airport).

We had plenty of downtime during our two weeks in Maui, so you could easily adapt this itinerary for 7 days in Maui.

Wai‘anapanapa State Park is a Maui highlight

A 7 Day Maui Itinerary

Here’s what I would recommend for the perfect week in Maui:

  • West or South Maui – 5 nights
  • Hana – 1 night
  • Upcountry – 1 night

If you’ll looking for a 5 day Maui itinerary, I would spend one night in Hana at the beginning or end of your trip and the other four nights in South or West Maui. You’ll still have time for the Road to Hana, sunrise at Haleakalā, and then choose the other activities you are most interested in from below.

Our Maui Road Trip Map

Note: The distances of each leg of our journey are taken from Google Maps (which we used for navigation) and the times are the actual time it took us including stops along the way.

Day 1 Kahului Airport to Hana (2 nights)

Distance: 50 miles
Time: 4 hours including breaks

We arrived at the airport at 10 am and within an hour we had rented a car and were on our way. On our first day we drove the Road to Hana, which is one of the most popular things to do in Maui.

This narrow, windy road through the rainforest passes waterfalls, beaches, gardens, and bamboo forests. There are many places to stop to hike, swim, enjoy the view, or buy homemade treats from local snack stands.

Most visitors to Maui do the Road to Hana in one exhausting 12-hour day, but I think it’s worth spending a night in Hana (ideally two as we did in this itinerary). This allows you to enjoy the area at a more leisurely pace and avoid the crowds by visiting the most popular places near Hana early in the morning.

We first stopped in Paia to stock up on food at Mana Foods then visited the rainbow eucalyptus trees, the Ke’anae Arboretum for a short walk, the Ke’anae Peninsula for coastal views and banana bread, and Upper Waikani Falls.

At the rainbow eucalyptus trees on the Road to Hana

We left the rest of the road’s attractions for the next few days and arrived at our hotel by 3 pm where we relaxed for the afternoon then took a walk around the cute town in the early evening.

See my post on the best Road to Hana stops for more details about everywhere we visited in this area.

Where to Stay in Hana

We stayed in a studio condo at Hana Kai and it was our favourite place we stayed in Hawaii. The condo was comfortable and well-equipped and had a fantastic view of the quiet black sand beach and ocean in front of the hotel. Waking up to the sunrise over the ocean was magical. I highly recommend it. 

Hana Kai condos in Hana

There’s only one resort in town—the Travaasa Hana. It looks beautiful but is very expensive. 

Otherwise, it’s just B&Bs and vacation rentals—search on Airbnb and VRBO for the options. Make sure you book well in advance as accommodation is limited.

Where to Eat in Hana

We heard that there was nowhere to eat in Hana in the evenings, so we brought food to self-cater. We ended up only using it for breakfast and lunch as we couldn’t resist the town’s food trucks in the evenings.

We enjoyed our inexpensive meals at Ae’s Thai Kitchen and The Surfing Burro (Mexican) trucks and finished with ice-cream at Coconut Glens. These are all in the same area opposite Hana Ranch Restaurant.

There are a couple of restaurants open in the evening—Hana Ranch and The Preserve Kitchen at Travaasa—but they are pricey. I think eating early (before 7 pm) at the food trucks is a better option.

We also loved the Hana Farms snack stand about 15 minutes before Hana near Wai‘anapanapa State Park. The banana bread and chocolate macadamia cookies are divine. They also sell coffee, sandwiches, and lots of foodie souvenirs.

Day 2 Hana

On our second day, we left at 7 am to visit the Kipahulu section of Haleakalā National Park (also called Oheo Gulch), a 35-minute drive past Hana. Entrance costs $25 but includes the Haleakalā Summit and is valid for three days so you can use it when you get to Upcountry.

The Seven Sacred Pools here were a bit disappointing (you can no longer swim), but the Pipiwai Trail is a highlight of the Road to Hana. As we arrived early, we had the first half of this four-mile out and back trail entirely to ourselves. In the afternoons it gets very crowded, so this is a major reason for staying in Hana.

The hike took us two hours and included a large bamboo grove, banyan tree, and ended at a 400ft waterfall.

On the way back to Hana we stopped briefly at Wailua Falls, Koki Beach and Hamoa Beach.

After lunch and a rest at our condo, we walked 20 minutes to Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach. This was our favourite beach in Maui and is a magical place, but it can only be accessed down a steep, slippery trail.

Many people have been injured here so only visit if you are a confident hiker (it’s not suitable for small children). We spent the afternoon relaxing and swimming here.

Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach

Recommended Reading: 17 Stunning Road to Hana Stops.

Day 3 Hana to Makawao (2 nights)

Distance: 58 miles
Time: 4.5 hours including breaks

Before we checked out, we left at 8.15am to visit Wai‘anapanapa State Park, a 15-minute drive before Hana. This is one of the most popular stops on the Road to Hana, but early in the morning there were only a few others around. We spent an hour visiting the beautiful black sand beach, sea cave, blowhole, and walking along the coastal trails.

Back at our hotel we checked out at 10.30am and drove past Hana on what is known as the Back Road to Hana. This road has a bad reputation, and there is a bumpy unpaved section, but after that it turns into a smooth and empty road. The scenery is very different on this side of the island—drier and more open with ocean views. I think it’s worth doing.

Our first stop was just past Oheo Gulch at Charles Lindbergh’s Grave. It’s not a must-do unless you are a big fan of the aviator, but it’s located in the lush gardens of the scenic Palapala Ho‘omau Church which overlooks the ocean.

The Back Road to Hana

We continued along the coast past black pebble beaches and rolling brown hills, before beginning the climb up into the centre of the island. This central area at higher elevations is known as Upcountry and surrounds the island’s highest peak, the Haleakalā volcano at 10,023 feet. It’s colder up here so keep a sweater handy.

Our first stop in Upcountry (just over two hours from Hana) was MauiWine (open 10 am – 5 pm), a winery with lovely views and an outdoor tasting area. We shared the tropical tasting ($12) which included three sweet pineapple wines and one white and snacked on goats cheese and crackers ($12). They also offer free tours at 10.30am and 1.30pm, but the timings didn’t work for us.

Twenty minutes further down the road is Ali‘i Kula Lavender Farm ($3 entry). Don’t expect the fields of Provence, but on the pretty grounds there are 45 varieties of lavender and views down to the ocean. It was chilly when we visited, but on a sunny day it would be a lovely place to hang out. You can also buy souvenirs and tasty lavender scones and tea in the shop.

We were considering visiting the Surfing Goat Dairy Farm as well, but we felt too tired so continued 20 minutes further along to Makawao where we were staying.

Makawao is a cute little town with some early 20th-century shop fronts. It’s described as a Paniolo (Hawaiian Cowboy) town, but you won’t see many cowboys around any more. It does have a very local feel, though, and there are lots of unique shops and art galleries.

Where to Stay in Makawao

We rented an Airbnb room in someone’s house with a private entrance and bathroom. It was small but pleasant with windows overlooking the gardens and the owner gave us fruit from the garden. We enjoyed staying in a local residential neighbourhood that felt very different from the beach resorts.

The listing is no longer available, but you can search for other Airbnbs in Makawao here. Accommodation is limited in Upcountry so book as far in advance as possible.

The closest place to stay for the Haleakalā National Park summit is Kula Lodge. The setting is beautiful, but the rooms look dated for the price. 

Where to Eat in Makawao

Sip Me has good coffee including nitro cold brew.

The old-school Komoda Bakery is supposed to have the best donuts on the island, but they were sold out by the time we got there at 1 pm. It’s best to go early.

We had dinner one night at Casanova Italian Restaurant. It was nice enough but quite pricey (as are all restaurants in Hawaii) and I wouldn’t go out of your way to eat there. It’s cheaper at lunch. A better option for pizza is Flatbread in Paia, a 15-minute drive away.

On our second night we drove 10 minutes away to Hali’maile General Store. This is one of the best-rated restaurants on the island and was our one splurge meal on Maui. Reservations are essential for dinner. The service was excellent, and they have a separate vegetarian menu, but I have mixed feelings about whether it’s worth the high price.

We really enjoyed some of our dishes like the blackened tofu with wasabi greens and mashed potato and the Maui Gold pineapple upside down cake, but our $30 green curry was too mild and creamy for our tastes (we preferred the $11 version at the Hana food truck). If you are on a budget, I’d skip it, but otherwise, it’s worth a visit and is cheaper at lunch.

Habibi is a cute outdoor cafe in the centre of Makawao serving Middle Eastern food for lunch. We didn’t eat here, but it looked good.

Other restaurants we wanted to try in the Kula area were La Provence, Grandma’s Coffeehouse, and Kula Bistro. 

Day 4 Upcountry

Our main reason for staying overnight in Upcountry was to be close to Haleakalā National Park for sunrise at the crater. Many people do this from the other side of the island, but it requires a very early start.

For sunrise, you must make reservations here up to 60 days in advance and it costs $1 per vehicle. If you miss those..

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The Amalfi Coast is one of the most beautiful parts of Italy, but also one of the most crowded and expensive. We decided to find out if it’s possible to experience a quieter side of the dramatic coast without spending a fortune.

It seemed like the best way to do this was on foot. There are many trails carved into the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast and we chose the most famous—the Sentiero degli Dei or Path of the Gods, along a mountain ridge high above the sea.

The hike was stunning and we also discovered an off-the-beaten-path village where we stayed for a fraction of the price of more popular towns like Positano. 

This post was originally written in 2015 and updated extensively in 2019. 

What is the Path of the Gods?

The Path of the Gods (or Sentiero degli Dei in Italian) is a clifftop trail above the Amalfi Coast. The main section of the hike is 6.5 km (4 miles) between the small villages of Bomerano (in Agerola) and Nocelle (above Positano). There are beautiful views of the sea and coastal towns below along the way. 

Both these villages are above the sea, so there isn’t a huge change of elevation between them. The hike is of moderate difficulty. If you are an experienced hiker you’ll find it easy and if you are reasonably fit you’ll be fine. 

The hike becomes more difficult if you start or finish at the coastal towns of Praiano (below Bomerano) or Positano (below Nocelle). These towns are connected to the trail by steep staircases of over 1500 steps. You can avoid these sections (as we did) and I share transport tips below. 

The trail is easy to follow and you don’t need a guide. 

Path of the Gods Map

San Lazzaro: Our Quiet, Affordable Base on the Amalfi Coast

Accommodation is the biggest challenge for an affordable Amalfi Coast trip so, as usual in Italy, I turned to Airbnb and used the map view to find rooms close to the hiking trail.

Praiano and Positano were way too expensive, but I was amazed to find this lovely room with private bathroom in the village of San Lazzaro for just £33 ($50). When everything on the coast was well over £100 ($150) it seemed too good to be true.

I couldn’t find out much about the village—other than it’s in Agerola, a collection of villages that includes Bomerano where the hike starts—but we find it’s hard to go wrong in Italy.

We made the right decision. San Lazzaro may not be as attractive as the famous towns in the area, but it has an understated Italian charm. Instead of souvenir shops and tourist menus, we enjoyed morning cornetti and evening aperitivo with locals.

It’s not the place to come for beaches, but there are views of the sea far down below and plenty of hikes nearby.

Prices are much lower than the popular destinations—at the family-run Trattoria Da Gigino we paid €5 for tasty pasta dishes and even at the fancier Leonardo’s pizzas were €3-4.

View from San Lazzaro

San Lazzaro is not the most convenient location for exploring the coast—buses are infrequent and it takes an hour to get down to Amalfi where you can change for other places like Ravello and Positano. But it is only a 15-minute bus ride from the start of the Path of the Gods in Bomerano.

Bomerano is an even better location for the hike and still affordable—B&B A 2 Passi Dagli Dei is only 100 metres from the start of the hike and the lovely rooms are inexpensive and highly-rated. 

Hiking the Path of the Gods from Bomerano to Nocelle

To avoid the crowds and heat we set out early—taking the 6.50am bus from San Lazzaro to Bomerano and having a cornetto (croissant) breakfast in a bar in Bomerano’s piazza before setting out on the trail at 7.30am.

At first mist obscured the views of the sea, but it was still a gorgeous hike past towering limestone mountains, colourful wildflowers, and ancient abandoned stone houses, and through forests and meadows of long grass.

Farmers grow vines on terraces carved into the hillside and still use donkeys for transport along the narrow pathways.

Eventually, the mist burned away and the deep blue sea revealed itself far below, with views of Positano, its houses clinging to the cliff.

What surprised us most was how peaceful the trail was. It took us 1 hour 45 mins to get to Nocelle and we didn’t see anyone else until the last 15 minutes—all that beauty, all to ourselves!

Nocelle is a tiny village and we couldn’t find an open bar to have a drink and rest. There are public toilets by the church downhill and on the terrace outside we discovered that Lemon Point was opening, a stall selling fresh lemonade from local lemons—just what we needed.

Hiking the Path of the Gods from Nocelle to Bomerano

In Nocelle there are signs to continue the trail down steep stairs to Positano (or you can take a bus), but as we’d have had to take two buses from there to get back to San Lazzaro, we decided to walk back to Bomerano instead.

At 10 am the Path of the Gods was much busier and as we were facing into the sun, much hotter. The trail is a mix of up and downhill sections, and it felt a little steeper on the way back, but that could have been because we were more tired.

We’re glad we made the return journey as we got a different perspective on the trail and saw things we hadn’t noticed before.

Back in Bomerano we would have had to wait 1.5 hours for the bus to San Lazzaro, so we decided to walk instead, which took us 40 minutes along a fairly quiet road.

Then it was time for a big lunch of pasta and wine and a well-deserved siesta.

Path of the Gods Tips Hike Length and Details
  • You can start the Path of the Gods hike from Bomerano or Nocelle, or the coastal towns of Praiano or Positano (but be prepared for lots of stairs).
  • There are signs from Bomerano piazza to the start of the trail—here are some detailed visual instructions.
  • The trail is easy to follow—look out for the red and white lines that mark it along the way.
  • From Bomerano to Nocelle was 4 miles (6.5km) each way. 
  • Allow around four hours to do the route as we did from Bomerano to Nocelle and back which includes time for breaks. Or two hours for a one way hike. 
  • Allow around three hours if you hike one way from Bomerano to Positano.
  • We highly recommend getting an early start to avoid the heat and crowds. 7.30am from Bomerano was ideal. 
Starting in Praiano

If you are staying in Praiano, it makes sense to start the trail from here. You won’t miss any of the best bits of the hike by connecting to the Path of Gods from Praiano, but you do need to be fit.

To get to the trail from Praiano, you’ll have a steep climb up 1900 steps which makes the hike much more strenuous, especially if it’s hot (definitely start early!). I’ve heard mixed reports on how long these stairs take—anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours depending on your fitness level.

Expect the total hike from Praiano to Nocelle to take from 2 hours 15 minutes to 3.5 hours. From Nocelle you could hike back or continue to Positano (see below) and take the bus back to Praiano. 

Here are directions for starting the Path of the Gods in Praiano

Path of the Gods from Positano 

If you start the hike in Bomerano and want to finish in Positano, you have two options: 

  1. Walk down the 1700 steps from Nocelle to Positano (approximately 45 minutes) which most people report as surprisingly challenging and tough on your knees. The views are good, though. At the end of the stairs, you reach Arienzo then have to walk another 15 minutes along the road to the centre of Positano. 
  2. Take the bus from Nocelle to Positano. 

There are a few options on how to hike the Path of the Gods from Positano if you are staying there: 

  1. Hike up the 1700 steps to Nocelle—only for the fit! Walk from there to Bomerano and either walk back or take the bus back via Amalfi. 
  2. Take the bus up to Nocelle and continue as above. 
  3. Take the bus or ferry to Amalfi and connect to the 5080 SITA bus to Bomerano. This takes at least two hours. 
  4. Drive to Bomerano (if you have a car), which takes about one hour, and walk to Nocelle and back. 
  5. Hire a taxi to drive you to Nocelle or Bomerano—very expensive!

See below for more details on getting around. 

Path of the Gods from Sorrento

To get to the Path of the Gods hike from Sorrento you have to take the SITA bus to Amalfi and then change to another bus to Bomerano. This takes at least two hours.

Walk from Bomerano to Nocelle then walk or bus down to Positano. You can take the bus back to Sorrento from Positano. 

It might be easier to take this Path of the Gods tour from Sorrento which includes return trip minibus transfers and a guide for the hike. 

What to Pack
  • It’s a rocky, uneven trail so you need decent shoes. Most people wear hiking shoes or boots, but we were happy in hiking sandals—Simon always travels with Teva Terra Fi Lite sandals and I like Merrell Terran Lattice sandals which are pretty enough for Italian cities but comfortable and grippy enough for hiking. 
  • Take water and snacks. You can refill at a water tap near the beginning where the trail connects with the Praiano stairs, and also in Nocelle and Bomerano. We always travel with a lightweight, foldable Vapur water bottle
  • Pack sunglasses, sun hat, and suncream. 
  • Don’t forget travel insurance in case anything goes wrong. We’ve used True Traveller (UK/EU citizens) for the last seven years and highly recommend it. World Nomads is another reliable option that we’ve used in the past and is available worldwide. 
When to Hike the Path of the Gods

We visited in early June and had sunny days and 30ºC (86ºF) temperatures. It was fine when we first started, but we did feel the heat after 10 am. I would still recommend this time of year as good weather is likely and it’s not as crowded as July or August. 

Spring (April and May) and autumn (September and October) are the best times to hike the Path of the Gods. Spring is especially lovely as the wildflowers are in bloom. 

I would avoid August if possible as this is when the Italian population heads to the coast.

You can hike the Path of the Gods in winter, but many hotels and restaurants close and the weather can be cool and rainy. 

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The Road to Hana is one of the best things to do in Maui (and all of Hawaii). This road trip along the north shore of the island to the less visited eastern side takes place on a narrow winding road through lush rainforest.

Along the way you can stop at waterfalls, gardens, black, red and golden beaches, bamboo forests, and snack stands serving delicious homemade banana bread.

You can choose to be active and hike through the jungle to hidden waterfalls or stay close to your car and still see plenty.

You can drive the Road to Hana yourself in a rental car or take a private or group bus tour. I highly recommend driving yourself as long as you are a confident driver as you’ll have the flexibility to visit where you want for as long as you want.

There are a huge number of potential Road to Hana stops and it’s impossible to see them all in one or even two or three days, so it’s important to plan a few priorities in advance. The best stops are near Hana, so don’t do too much in the early stages and end up exhausted when you reach the good stuff.

Wai‘anapanapa State Park and its black sand beach is one of the best places to visit on the Road to Hana

Most people drive the Road to Hana in one (very long) day, starting early (6 am is best) and returning the same way they came. A few people continue past Hana and return to West Maui via the Back Road to Hana (more on that below).

We did things differently and stayed in Hana for two nights, and I’m so glad we had more time in this beautiful area.

In this post I’ll share why I think you should stay in Hana, the best Road to Hana stops, and useful tips to make the most of the journey, whether you decide to do it in just one day or more.

How Long is the Road to Hana?

The Road to Hana (officially known as the Hana Highway) is 64.4 miles (103.6 km) long. It includes Hawaii Routes 36 and 360 and connects Kahului (Maui’s largest town and home of the airport) with the small town of Hana in East Maui.

The road takes two to three hours to drive without any stops as it’s windy and narrow with many hairpin turns and one-lane bridges where you have to wait for oncoming traffic to pass. With stops you can easily spend 12 hours on the return journey along the Road to Hana.

A section of the Road to Hana between Hana and Oheo Gulch

Despite the name, one of the major attractions on the Road to Hana is 10 miles past Hana. The Pipiwai Trail in Haleakala National Park, where you can hike through a beautiful bamboo forest, is well worth adding to your itinerary and is a priority for many (including us). The Seven Sacred Pools at Oheo Gulch are also located here.

The bamboo forest on the Pipiwai Trail is one of the best Road to Hana stops

If you’re making a day trip, you’ll need to consider how long it will take you to get to the start in Paia from where you are staying. From West and South Maui (where you’ll likely spend most of your time on Maui) this will add an extra 30 to 60 minutes.

Road to Hana Map

Why Stay in Hana

Everyone says the Road to Hana is all about the journey, not the destination, and recommends not even stopping in Hana as it’s a boring small town. I wholeheartedly disagree.

The Road to Hana is the most beautiful part of Maui, so why rush through it on an exhausting day trip? Even staying in Hana for one night will give you time to explore at a more leisurely pace.

You’ll also be close to two of the most popular attractions, so the next morning you can hike the Pipiwai Trail or visit the famous black sand beach at Wai‘anapanapa State Park before the crowds arrive.

The black sand beach at Wai‘anapanapa State Park

If you stay for two nights, you can visit both places early in the morning, as we did. We had the first half of the Pipiwai Trail entirely to ourselves, and it was wonderfully peaceful (in the afternoon it’s a very different experience).

People say Hana itself is dull, but we found it a lovely little town. It may not have any obvious attractions if you rush through, but I fell in love with it when taking a stroll in the late afternoon.

Hana is described as what Hawaii used to be like, and we found it the least Americanised place we visited with no big supermarkets, strip malls, or fast food restaurants. It reminded us more of the relaxed pace of life and lushness of South Pacific villages.

The sleepy town between the mountains and the sea is green and pretty with wooden houses and grassy lawns full of banana trees and hibiscus plants. We wandered past cows grazing in fields, wooden churches backed by mountains, and the school where kids played baseball while parents laughed and cheered on the sidelines. It was by far the most multi-cultural place we visited in Hawaii.

Wananalua Congregational Church in Hana

We’d heard that the town shuts down in the evenings so we brought food to self-cater, but we didn’t need it as there’s a great cluster of food trucks as well as a wonderfully quirky General Store.

There’s so much to do in this beautiful area that we could have happily spent a week here, soaking up the relaxed atmosphere and visiting the nearby beaches and hikes.

This gorgeous red sand beach is a short walk from the centre of Hana

If you want nightlife and shopping, Hana is not the place for you, but if you appreciate quieter places, it’s well worth spending some of your time on Maui here.

And I think everyone should consider spending a night in Hana, either at the beginning or end of your trip, to enjoy the Road to Hana without the crowds or rush.

You’ll find tips on where to stay and eat in Hana near the end of this post.

The view from our condo balcony at Hana Kai

Road to Hana Tips

App and Guidebook

There’s no cell signal for most of the Road to Hana so you’ll need to plan your navigation. I recommend downloading the GyPSy app, which is a guided audio tour of the road. It works offline, gives you information about the sights along the way, and most usefully on this narrow road, warns you of upcoming turnings to attractions (if you miss a turn it’s difficult to find a place to turn around).

If you are keen to visit some off-the-beaten-track spots, I recommend the guidebook Maui Revealed which includes an extensive list of places to visit on the Road to Hana.

Luggage

If you decide to spend a night in Hana, you’ll likely have your luggage with you in your car. We were worried about this as we’d heard that car break-ins were common and we should never leave luggage unattended. I think it’s fine as long as you practice caution.

Make sure everything is hidden out of sight in the trunk and don’t open it along the route. Keep your most important things (cash, passports, camera) with you. And stick to the more visited spots where there are plenty of other cars and people around. If you turn up at a deserted parking area with broken glass on the ground, don’t leave your vehicle there.

Food

It’s not a bad idea to bring a picnic lunch, but there are a few simple food stalls along the way. Best of all, there are many stands where you can buy homemade banana bread and other sweet treats. Make sure you take advantage of these as you’ll regret it later if you don’t stock up. We’ve written about our favourites below.

What to Pack

Wear shoes suitable for hiking (hiking sandals are ideal although your feet may get muddy) and bring water, sunscreen, insect repellant, and enough cash for the day (many stands don’t take cards). If you plan to swim at one of the waterfalls or beaches, bring a towel and wear your swimsuit under your clothes, as there isn’t often places to get changed.

Fill up your car with gas before you head off.

The Back Road to Hana

The road past Hana and Oheo Gulch along the southeast coast of Maui is known as the Back Road to Hana. Most people don’t continue on this road as they’ve heard horror stories about its terrible condition. This is out of date and most of the road is now paved, although there are some bumpy unpaved sections.

We were fine in a regular car, but if you are a nervous driver you probably want to skip it (but then you probably shouldn’t drive the Road to Hana anyway).

We also heard that driving this road voided your rental car agreement, but we didn’t see anything like this in our contract.

If you don’t have time to stay in Hana as we did, consider driving the route in reverse, starting with the Back Road to Hana, as you’ll get to the Pipwai Trail first when you have the most energy. Our friends Tom and Jenny recommend this strategy

A Multi-Day Road to Hana Itinerary

Below I have included the best Road to Hana stops in the order that most people will reach them driving from Paia to Hana (and slightly beyond).

If you have two nights in Hana, here’s our itinerary which allowed us to visit the most popular places early in the morning.

Day 1

10 am – Arrive at the airport and rent a car.

11 am – Pick up a packed lunch at Mana Foods in Paia.

11.30am – Set off on the Road to Hana! We stopped at everywhere on the list below until Upper Waikani Falls and left the rest for the following days.

2.45pm – Arrive in Hana (3 hours 15 minutes from Paia with stops) and check-in to our condo at Hana Kai. We relaxed, wandered the town, and had a food truck dinner.

Day 2

7 am – Left for the Pipiwai Trail (a 35-minute drive past Hana) and visited the Seven Sacred Falls first.

8 am – Started the Pipiwai Trail hike which took two hours return.

10 am – Headed back to Hana with short stops at Wailua Falls, Koki and Hamoa beaches.

11 am – Lunch at our condo.

1 pm – Walked to Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach (20 minutes) and swam and relaxed there.

4 pm – Back to our condo then out for a walk and food truck dinner.

Day 3

8.15am – Left for Wai‘anapanapa State Park.

8.30am – Arrived at the park and walked along the coastal trails and black sand beach.

9.30am – Left the park and picked up coffee and baked goods at Hana Farms.

10.30am – Checked out of Hana Kai and drove the Back Road from Hana to Makawao in Upcountry.

Our Top 5 Road to Hana Picks

If you only have one day you won’t have time for all of the Road to Hana stops below. Our favourites (marked with stars on the list) are:

  • Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees
  • Hana Farms Snack Stand
  • Wai‘anapanapa State Park (black sand beach)
  • Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach (for confident hikers only)
  • Pipiwai Trail (bamboo forest)
Best Road to Hana Stops

For each stop, I have included the approximate Mile Marker (MM) where it is located on Route 360. Note that the mile markers change after Hana and count down from 51.

1) Paia and Ho’okipa Beach

The hippy beach town of Paia is the first interesting stop on the Road to Hana, but it’s best to visit another time and prioritise more remote attractions.

The health food supermarket Mana Foods is an excellent place to stock up on snacks and lunch as it has a large salad and hot food bar.

Just past Paia is Ho’okipa Lookout where you can get a good view of surfers and windsurfers riding the huge waves and many turtles on the beach below.

2) Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees (MM 6.7)*

This isn’t a well-known attraction, but it’s definitely worth a stop. By the side of the road between mile markers 6 and 7 (about 30 minutes past Paia) is a cluster of beautiful rainbow eucalyptus trees. You’ll see them on the left and will need to drive a little further along to find a place to park.

These unusual trees have multi-coloured bark that peels off revealing new bark below in streaks of vibrant orange, green and blue. It’s hard to believe they are real.

After you have wandered through the main grove by the road, follow a short trail up behind these to see a huge and even more beautiful rainbow eucalyptus. Just beyond that you can also see a lovely ocean view.

Unfortunately, many people have carved their names into these trees—please don’t do this!

3) Ke’anae Peninsula Viewpoint (MM 13)

On your way to the next stop, look out for a pull off by the side of the road just past Kaumahina State Wayside Park where you can get a view of the Ke’anae Peninsula.

4) Ke’anae Arboretum (MM 16.7)

We chose to skip the Garden of Eden Arboretum ($15 entrance) and visit the free Ke’anae Arboretum instead (30–40 minutes from the rainbow eucalyptus grove). We enjoyed a pleasant 30-minute walk on the easy but sometimes muddy trail through a variety of trees.

If you missed the rainbow eucalyptus trees earlier, definitely stop here as you can see more of them. There’s also a banyan tree, papaya trees, and a taro field at the end of the trail.

If you’ve spent a lot of time in the tropics, it’s nothing spectacular but it’s a nice place to stretch your legs.

5) Ke’anae Peninsula and Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread (Turn off at MM 16.8)

The Ke’anae Peninsula is a short diversion from the main road and the turnoff is just past the Ke’anae Arboretum on the left.

Drive to the end of the peninsula where you’ll find a parking lot, baseball field, and public toilets. There’s a pretty view of the coastline and the waves crashing into the rocks.

Return the way you came and stop at the snack stand Aunty Sandy’s for your first banana bread of the day. Our loaf ($6) was warm and moist and was our..

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We loved our stay on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Kauai, but it did take some planning. It was confusing trying to decide which side of the island we should stay on, whether or not to divide our time between two areas, and which accommodation was worth the high price tag.

Hawaii was a dream trip for us, as it is for many people, and we wanted it to be perfect.

Happily, my research paid off and our plan for the island was ideal. In this post I share what I learned about where to stay in Kauai including a comparison of the different areas, reviews of the accommodation we stayed in, and suggestions for alternative places to stay in Kauai.

Choosing The Best Area to Stay in Kauai

The first decision to make when planning your trip is deciding what side of Kauai is the best to stay on. Here’s a comparison of each area from (roughly) the most to least popular:

South Shore (Poipu)
  • Sunnier and drier most of the year
  • Calmer, swimmable ocean in winter
  • Easily accessible beaches
  • Wide range of accommodation including resorts and condos
  • Convenient for helicopter tours from Lihue, boat trips from Port Allen, and Waimea Canyon
  • Expensive

As we were visiting in winter (January), the South Shore was the area that was most recommended as it receives less rain than the North Shore. In practice, we didn’t find a difference in the weather between the two coasts and had little rain throughout our stay (just some cloudy days on both sides), but perhaps we were lucky.

The ocean was better for swimming on the South Shore, though, (some days were calmer than others and we still had waves), and we loved staying right on the beach (which wouldn’t have been affordable for us in the north).

Sunset from Kiahuna Plantation Resort in Poipu

North Shore (Hanalei, Princeville)
  • Green and mountainous
  • Beaches have stunning mountain backdrops
  • Rainier in winter
  • Big waves in winter so most beaches aren’t safe for swimming
  • Convenient for Napali Coast hiking (when open: the Kalalau Trail is currently closed)
  • Boat trips do not run from the north in winter
  • Many beautiful beaches to explore
  • Hanalei is the best town on the island
  • Expensive (especially Hanalei)

The North Shore is the most beautiful part of the island and one of the best places to stay in Kauai. We loved the mountain scenery, string of beautiful beaches, and cool town of Hanalei. Even though the road past Hanalei was closed in early 2019 so we couldn’t visit many of the popular beaches or Napali Coast, we still had plenty to explore.

Accommodation choices are more limited and expensive in the north, though, and it was further from many of our favourite activities (helicopter tour, boat trip, Waimea Canyon).

See our post on the best things to do in Kauai for all our favourite activities and restaurants.

The stunning Napali Coast on the North Shore from our helicopter trip

East Side (Kapaa, Wailua, Lihue)
  • Most populated area
  • Budget accommodation available
  • Convenient for North and South Shores
  • Wide range of restaurants and shopping
  • Close to historic sites, hikes, river kayaking, and waterfalls
  • Beaches not as attractive as in the north and south (but still nice!)
  • Traffic can be bad

We didn’t spend much time in the east as it didn’t feel as appealing to us as the north or south coasts. But many people love to stay here as it’s more affordable and convenient, especially if you can only choose one area as a base.

Wailua Falls on the East Side

West Side (Waimea Canyon)
  • Remote and less developed
  • Quiet
  • Drier and more barren than the rest of the island
  • Beautiful canyon scenery
  • Limited accommodation
  • Convenient access to hiking

Most people visit the west on a day trip rather than staying here, but if you are a keen hiker you might enjoy camping or staying in a rustic cabin in Kokee State Park (just beyond Waimea Canyon). Advance reservations are necessary.

Waimea Canyon

Should You Split Your Time Between Two Locations?

Kauai isn’t a huge island and you can drive from one side to another in about two hours, so you could choose to stay in one place and visit all the main attractions on day trips.

We wanted to avoid long drives, though, so we chose to divide our 11 days on Kauai between Poipu on the south shore (6 nights) and Princeville on the north shore (5 nights).

This plan worked out really well for us. We got to experience the best of both worlds and all our day trips were a manageable distance (the longest was an hour from Poipu to Waimea Canyon).

It is a bit inconvenient changing hotels, especially when there can be a six-hour gap between check out and check in times. I recommend requesting late check out and early check in times when possible, buying a cheap cool bag from Longs to store any food, and exploring the east coast on the way. You might also be able to use the hotel pool and facilities before or after checking in/out.

Despite the inconvenience, we felt we made the right decision and it would be hard to choose which coast we preferred. If we’d stayed on the South Shore, we’d probably only have made one day trip to the North Shore, and it was worth having much longer to explore. If the North Shore had been our one base, we’d have had to make multiple long day trips to some of our favourite activities.

If you have a week or more on Kauai, I recommend splitting your time between two locations, unless you are planning to spend most of your time relaxing at your resort rather than exploring the island.

Types and Prices of Kauai Hotels and Rentals

The most common types of Kauai accommodation are resorts (large hotels with pools, restaurants, and other facilities) and condo complexes (self-catering apartments, often with pools but fewer facilities). You can also find budget hotels, B&Bs, and house rentals, but these are less common.

If you want the full luxury Hawaii experience, perhaps for a honeymoon or anniversary, you’ll probably want to stay in a Kauai beach resort where everything is provided onsite and service is excellent.

The best resorts on Kauai are Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort in Poipu in the south and Princeville Resort (previously called St Regis) in Princeville in the north, but you can expect to pay over $500 a night (and possibly over $800 in high season).

View from the Seaview Terrace cafe in the Grand Hyatt

If you are on more of a budget (Kauai is not cheap!), condos are usually more affordable than resorts, and you’ll be able to save money on eating out, even if you only cook some of your own meals. We also liked having more space with a separate bedroom and living room.

We stayed in two great condos, Kiahuna Plantation in the south and Hanalei Bay Resort in the north, and have written detailed reviews of them below. For a beachfront condo expect to pay $300–400 a night including extra fees in high season, but in low season you can find better deals.

Kiahuna Plantation condos have a great beachfront location in Poipu

The cheapest accommodation is on the East Coast where you can find budget hotels such as Kauai Palms Hotel near the airport for around $100 a night. A budget beachfront option with pool is Kauai Shores in Kapaa with rooms for under $150. Airbnbs in Kapaa are also great value.

Note that you’ll pay higher rates for beachfront properties and even more for ocean views. It was important to us to be in short walking distance of a beach, so we paid the premium for this, but chose units further back from the ocean.

How to find accommodation on Kauai

You can search Booking.com for resorts, budget hotels, and condos on Kauai. For condos and house rentals look on Airbnb, VRBO, or contact a local agent. If you haven’t tried Airbnb before you can get $38 off your first stay here.

Make sure to check the final price when comparing accommodation. Tax and sometimes resort fees, cleaning fees, and car parking may be added as extra charges to the quoted rates.

Prices vary widely depending on the time of year and how far in advance you book. The cheapest months to travel are mid-April to early June and September to mid-December. Make sure you book as far in advance as possible in the high season.

Where to Stay on the South Shore of Kauai

Poipu is the most popular area in south Kauai. There’s a lovely beach, wide range of accommodation (although limited budget options), and plenty of restaurants and shops.

Kiahuna Plantation Resort, Poipu Review

We stayed in a condo at Kiahuna Plantation which is right on beautiful Kiahuna Beach (a quieter extension of Poipu Beach).

Of everywhere we stayed in Hawaii, Kiahuna Plantation is the place we most want to return to for an extended stay. We loved the location, beautiful grounds, and our comfortable condo with ocean view.

Sunbeds overlooking the beach at Kiahuna Plantation

Condos

Kiahuna Plantation is a large complex of one and two bedroom condos in cottage-style buildings spread over 35 acres of lush lawns that reach to the beach.

Condos have different owners and agents, so they are all decorated differently, and it’s a bit of a lottery which unit you’ll get. To avoid this we booked a specific unit (106) with the agent Great Vacation Retreats

You pay more to be closer to the beach, but we were in the last row (on the 2nd floor of building 17) and still had an ocean view. We did have some traffic noise as we were closer to the road, but mostly we found it a very peaceful place. It took a couple of minutes to walk to the beach, but we could go barefoot over the lovely lawns.

Living area of our condo at Kiahuna Plantation

Our one bedroom condo was comfortable and well-equipped with good WiFi, a dishwasher, blender, rice cooker, beach chairs, and boogie board. There’s no A/C (which is common in Hawaii) but we didn’t miss it as the condo stayed cool and there are fans and screened doors to the lanai (balcony) that let in the breeze.

The bedroom is at the back and doesn’t have much natural light or view, but the bed was comfy and there was plenty of storage. The bathroom was simple but fine. The kitchen overlooks the living room which has a couch, dining table and chairs, and simple but homely tropical decor.

Sliding doors lead onto the lanai where there are another table and chairs and a couple of loungers for enjoying the ocean view. While you can’t see the sun sink below the horizon, the sky is beautiful when it lights up in shades of orange at sunset (see top photo). We often saw birds and even a few whales jumping out of the ocean.

Our lanai

Facilities

Kiahuna Plantation grounds

There’s no swimming pool on site, but guests can use the resort style pool, gym and tennis courts at the Athletic Club across the road for free. We never ended up using it as it was so convenient to head to the beach.

There was no washing machine in our unit, but the Kiahuna laundry room has plenty of machines and they take credit cards ($3 per wash or dry).

You can borrow beach towels and chairs from the hut by the beach.

There are a number of BBQs on the grounds. The beachfront ones are popular at sunset when everyone gathers at the loungers on the lawn overlooking the ocean.

Sunset at Kiahuna

The Plantations Garden restaurant is on site, but the menu didn’t look very exciting for vegetarians and we mostly self-catered.

Location

We loved the location right on Kiahuna (aka Sheraton) Beach. The beach is fairly narrow but has golden sand and is quieter than Poipu Beach around the corner. We always found a quiet spot just outside our resort. Sunrises and sunsets are beautiful.

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