As the world’s largest island chain, Hawaii is known as “Paradise of the Pacific” for a reason. With breathtaking beaches, abundant greenery, incomparable vistas and rich community rooted in a loving aloha spirit, the islands provide an entirely unique opportunity to explore and connect with the land, or ‘aina, that give us life.
In fact, due to the unique blend of climate and community, Hawaii is known to attract more than 10 million visitors a year—over seven times the state’s population—making it the most popular destination among U.S. travelers.
Join us in taking a few moments to learn about eight small things every tourist should know before visiting Hawaii to better understand the native culture and preserve its beauty.
1. The Aloha Spirit
You may have heard that “aloha” is the Hawaiian word for hello and goodbye. That’s true! But it’s also much more than that. When broken down, aloha can be translated as “the breath of life.” It is used to describe a way of living in which people treat each other with love and respect. As you explore, interact and observe the community, you’ll notice that the aloha spirit is not just an expression, but a feeling that surrounds you at all times.
2. A Slower Pace of Life
Like many beach communities, Hawaii is very laid back. People are not in a rush, and that especially goes for drivers. You’ll seldom see a resident driving over 40 miles an hour (including the highway), and locals rarely ever use their horn. As you drive around, you may notice that drivers politely let others merge and often wave (or even call out) their thanks to each other.
3. Respect for ‘?ina
As mentioned above, the word ‘?ina can be used to mean “land,” but its meaning goes deeper. Hawaiians believe that the land is not just rock and stone, but also has a spirit of its own. In many Hawaiian myths, land and elements are beings with wants, desires and abilities. Those beings gave life to the Hawaiian people and, through the ‘?ina, continue to provide food, water, shelter and the things that Hawaiians need to survive. To Native Hawaiians, love for the ‘?ina is foundational and as natural as love for oneself.
4. Malama Hawaii
The word ‘aina is sometimes paired with malama, meaning to give back. It creates the phrase “malama ‘aina,” or “care for the land.” As sustainable tourism and mindful travel become more prominent, practicing malama is a key way to gain a truly immersive experience while also having a positive impact on Hawaii. As such, the state has implemented the Malama Hawaii Program, which connects tourists with local nonprofit organizations to complete community-focused activities such as beach clean-up or tree planting. If you’re interested in an opportunity to care for the land during your visit, learn more here.
5. Respect for the Sea
Like the ‘aina, Hawaiians have a deep-rooted respect for the ocean—because they know first-hand what it can do. There’s a local saying, “Never turn your back to the ocean.” When swimming or engaging in water sports, always buddy up with others, swim where there are lifeguards and look for posted signage and rules. It’s not uncommon for dangerously large waves to appear or for unfriendly animals, such as sharks or jellyfish to come close to shore. Stayed tuned to Hawaii Beach Safety for current beach conditions.
6. Look but Do Not Touch Marine Life
Hawaii is home to a myriad of stunning marine creatures, which is part of what makes it an ideal destination for snorkeling, scuba diving and general exploration. Although it’s perfectly fine to observe sea creatures as you come across them, it is against the law to approach, touch or feed any marine mammals. Visitors and locals alike should stay at a recommended minimum viewing distance of 50 yards to minimize human impacts on their natural habits and habitats. In particular, these include monk seals and green sea turtles, which are endangered, as well as coral reefs, which are often accidentally stepped on by those exploring shallow waters.
7. Use Reef-Friendly Sunscreen
Coral reefs are an important part of the Hawaiian ocean ecosystem and can be disproportionately affected by the use of harmful chemicals found in many sunscreens. With so many tourists wading into the waters of the islands each year, making sure to use sunscreen that is free of oxybenzone and octinoxate is a small change that can make a huge difference. Fortunately, the use of these chemicals was banned in Hawaii in 2018, meaning you can skip the extra item in your luggage and purchase sunscreen once you arrive to easily make sure it’s reef friendly.
8. Bring a Tote or Backpack
As part of efforts to maintain local marine ecosystems and minimize the amount of garbage that makes its way into the ocean, Hawaii banned the use of plastic bags in restaurants, stores and other businesses. To help in this effort and prevent being charged for a paper or reusable bag, be sure to bring a tote or backpack that you can use while shopping or traveling.
With these tips in your back pocket, now you’re ready to head to the Paradise of the Pacific! Check out our stunning oasis on the island of Kaua’i, Royal Sonesta Kaua’i Resort Lihue. At our Kaua’i resort, you’ll enjoy golden sands, beachside spa treatments, five restaurants offering a variety of cuisines, a weekly luau and the largest one-level pool in Hawaii.