Vacation to Molokai, the Basics of Planning [Know Before You Go]

In case you haven’t guessed it, the vacations I tend to take aren’t necessarily your typical relaxation vacations. I don’t waste my time or money going to a beach where the only thing you can do is get a tan. I can do that just fine in Pennsylvania during the summer, thank you very much. So when I choose to travel, and I’m not talking just a weekend trip to explore a new city, I tend to seek out unique experiences where I can A. Immerse myself in a new experience/new culture and/or B. Spend as much time as I can submerging myself in the sea/ocean and hang out with see critters (Just started the PADI open water certification process (SCUBA)… but that’s for another blog).

If you have even heard of Molokai (HI), you’ve probably heard that it is one of the more remote islands and less traveled. Instant appeal for me. I like being away from crowds. I love learning about the world. I love nature, untouched by humans, and I am respectful of marine life. It should go without saying I never pay for experiences at places like Sea World. Anyway. Molokai isn’t for everyone, especially if you’re looking for bars, clubs, touristy spots, jam packed beaches, endless excursions, and a vast array of dining experiences. But, if you’re like me, and would be fine with living in a hut on the beach so long as you could snorkel and experience the culture… it may be perfect for you. Here are some things to know before you go.

  1. There is one hotel on the island. One. Hotel Molokai. [and no, it’s nowhere near to being just a hut on a beach]. We stayed there and it’s lovely. It’s more or less in a central location between the east and west end of the island so you can explore both (about a half hour drive to beaches that are pleasant to swim at). It does have a pool and a restaurant. Every staff member we interacted with was great. Super helpful and friendly. There are adorable little crabs right on the beach. We were there in July 2021, and I would say you can’t really swim right off the beach from the hotel. I mean, you could, but it was shallow and a bit murky so I’m recommending heading to other swimming spots. The room itself was lovely. We had our own kitchenette, including utensils, stove, and cooking pots/pans. Truth be told, we didn’t spend much time at the hotel because we were busy exploring/in the ocean. I believe it’s possible to stay elsewhere (renting condos), but that is not something I can speak to because I didn’t experience it. We did meet some folks who say they rented a space on the west end.
  2. Small planes. The only way to get to Molokai now is by a small, by my standards, plane (12 ish seater?). I’m saying this because when my boyfriend and I arrived exhausted at the Honolulu airport on Oahu, our gate wasn’t listed on the boards for our flight from HNL to MKK. That’s because we had to take the Wiki Wiki Shuttle from the larger part of the airport to where the Mokulele/Southern airlines fly from. I didn’t see that information posted anywhere on my bookings. Know before you go. We almost missed this last flight because we had a 2 hour delay in Chicago and had zero time to figure out where to go once at HNL. About 30 minutes to be exact. We asked multiple people who told us just to wait in the main part of the airport, and then finally a security guard told us about the shuttle. If you’re flying in to MKK from Maui, I’m not sure what you’ll have to do, but check that out before you go to avoid the stress I felt. If you’re flying in to MKK from HNL– Wiki Wiki shuttle is your best friend.
  3. You MUST rent a car. We used Mobettah and had a great experience. We picked it up right from the airport. No hassles. I mean it when I say it’s remote. There’s no stop lights and the few excursions you can book will not pick you up from your hotel or living accommodation more than likely. Plus, with a car you’ll get to explore this gorgeous island at your leisure.
  4. Food. Know that there isn’t a huge selection of dining options. What is available is nice, but there isn’t a lot. I would recommend getting yourself some basic grub to keep in your room from the Friendly Market, the Mini Mart, and Kumu Farms. We had SUCH good papaya and mango from Kumu. Even though Kumu likely supplies produce to the stores, it’s worth a drive out there. Gorgeous. On Molokai, the restaurant hours can really vary and close randomly, so don’t only rely on dining out. Have some options for yourself. My boyfriend and I usually started with some fresh fruit from the island and yogurt most mornings. YUM! Also the poke bowls and acai bowls from the Taste of Molokai food truck in town were the best I’ve ever had. Molokai Burger is great for a late night bite. And of course the Fish and Dive Food Truck has some great Ono (fish) and shrimp!
  5. Excursions. I’ll go more into depth with this in another post, but know there isn’t a whole lot of options. There are no cruise ships allowed on/near Molokai (so not a lot of organized excursions/activities), so much of the exploring you’ll be doing yourself. However, here are a couple “must-dos.” There is a Fish and Dive shop that is amazing and you can go on a cultural hike into Halawa Valley. We enjoyed exploring on our own and snorkeling in our free time. Just be aware to stay in public areas and always ask if you’re unsure about if you can go somewhere. For instance, we had a guide take us to a waterfall in Halawa Valley. More on that adventure later too.
  6. Tourist friendly? This is an interesting question. Prior to heading to Molokai myself I read that it wasn’t exactly tourist friendly. I found this to be untrue. If you are respectful, you will likely have no issue. My boyfriend and I had a lot of conversations with local people, some of which gave us tips on ocean swimming spots and safety because we obviously weren’t familiar with the area. I will say that we saw a sign on one of the main roads reading “Tourists not welcome. Visit. Spend. Go Home.” Now… if you saw that, I could see how it could be off putting. My boyfriend and I were worried at first. But the more we got to learn about the culture we understood. Aloha (love) doesn’t mean an invitation to come and take over a person’s home/homeland and usurp/white wash their culture and traditions. Learn even just a bit about Hawaii’s history and you’ll understand why people would be fiercely protective of Molokai. I’m so glad that at least at this time, no more hotels can be built on Molokai and the commercialization/commodification of Hawaiian culture isn’t nearly as present on this island. What a lovely and awesome thing to experience. I’ll make a separate blog about this too.

Needless to say… I’m in love with Molokai. Its beauty, mystery, history, and wonder are so powerful. I love vacations that are more… experiences than “just vacations.” Truly, I feel honored to have had the opportunity to visit Molokai. I hope to return. And, if Molokai doesn’t seem like it’s for you, no worries 🙂 It’s one of those gems that I even hesitated to write about for fear of attracting too much attention 😉

What sparks your passion? Travel? The ocean? New experiences? Whatever it is… do it and do it as often as you can while, of course, being respectful and open to learning.

Much love to you


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