HONOLULU The Hawaiian Islands are a string of tropical isles that have long beckoned visitors to their shores because of their beautiful weather and unmatched natural beauty.

From Kauai in the north to the Big Island of Hawaii in the south, each island has its own unique characteristics and destinations. When in Hawaii you can either shop at the finest of boutiques such as Tiffany and Louis Vuitton in Waikiki or have a beach all to yourself on Molokai.

When planning a visit to Hawaii, the first thing to do is to decide which of the islands you want to visit. With so much to do on each island you really need a week to explore an island fully. So, unless you have a month to vacation in Hawaii you will need to make the choice of which islands you want to visit.

Oahu has Hawaii”s largest city, Honolulu, and the world-famous Waikiki Beach. The Big Island is home to Volcanoes National Park with active lava flows. Maui has many of Hawaii”s best beaches and offers a dizzying array of fantastic outdoor adventures. Molokai is the least developed of the islands and showcases Hawaii”s undisturbed natural beauty. Lanai also has natural wonders but also caters to the rich and famous with its luxury hotels. Kauai is great for budget travelers and is home to lush forests that have been the backdrop for numerous movies including Jurrasic Park.

The two most popular islands are Oahu and Maui because they both are accessible by many flights and have a good balance of commercial development and natural wonders to explore.

Since a majority of flights to Hawaii land in Honolulu, Oahu is likely to be the island where your Hawaiian adventure will begin. By far the most popular tourist area in all of Hawaii is Waikiki along the south shore of Oahu. Waikiki Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world and on clear, sunny days the sand is packed with beach towels and oiled bodies as far as the eye can see.

When looking for accommodations in the Waikiki area you are going to have to settle for a place with a walk to the beach unless you are willing to spend hundreds of dollars for a room each night. If you are willing to walk to the beach you can get a decent hotel room for less than $100 a night for a double. For an even cheaper stay, try finding a hostel there are quite a few in Waikiki, and some are a very short walk from the beach.

If you came to Hawaii to get away from all the bustle and congestion of city life, then consider staying away from Waikiki and checking out some of the other areas of Oahu.

The North Shore of Oahu is the surfing capital of the world and it can get crowded in the winter when crowds gather to watch the pros surf waves upwards of 20 feet. But during the summer when the waves are calmer, the beaches along the North Shore are as beautiful but less crowded than Waikiki.

Accommodations on the North Shore are also far more reasonable, with many affordable bed and breakfasts along the coast. There you can get a room at a bed and breakfast next to the beach for less than $100 or stay in a private room in a hostel for $50. Even if you decide to stay in Waikiki, definitely make a day trip to the North Shore to get away from the crowds.

Maui is the second-most visited island after Oahu and has been twice named the “Best island in the world” by the Conde Nast Traveler readers” poll.

Maui is not as urban as Honolulu and Waikiki, but it isn”t as rural as some of the other islands for most people Maui is just right. On Maui there is a wide variety of outdoor activities to choose from you can go snorkeling, scuba diving, whale watching, surfing, windsurfing, golfing, mountain biking, hiking or play tennis.

Perhaps the most popular activity on Maui is mountain biking down the ten thousand foot Haleakala volcano crater, the world”s largest dormant volcano. Starting for around $100 companies will pick you up from your hotel, drive you to the summit of the volcano to watch the unforgettable sunrise, and then provide you with a bike and gear to coast the 37 miles back down. Or if there is someone traveling with you who would rather drive back down the volcano, you can rent just the bikes and gear you need for about $30 a person.

When on Maui, it can be tempting to just lay on the beach and drink mai tais all day, but do yourself a favor and check out some of the island”s incredible natural beauty.

If you decide to plan a visit to Hawaii, be sure to remember that almost everything on the islands costs more than it would on the mainland. Gasoline costs about 70 cents more than it does in the Midwest and a bean burrito at Taco Bell goes for a little over a dollar.

Before you leave for Hawaii, be sure to plan your visit so that get the most out of the little time you will have in paradise.

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