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Do I need to rent a car in Hawaii? I get asked this question a lot. Going to Hawaii can be such an expensive trip that many travelers look to cut costs wherever they can. And while there may be many destinations where you don’t need a rental car to get around, I don’t think Hawaii is one of them.
I cannot imagine going to any Hawaiian island without having a car so I can come and go as I please. Going to Hawaii is not like going to an all-inclusive resort in Cancun. Part of the Hawaii experience is getting out and actually exploring the island. While there are some tours or excursions that offer pick up, not having a car will severely limit what you’ll be able to see and do.
With the exception of Oahu, the public transportation options on each island are pretty much non-existent so don’t expect to be able to travel around by bus. And Uber/Lyft can get REALLY expensive (when it’s even available). The Hawaiian Islands are each pretty sizable, so you could end up exceeding the cost of a rental car with just one or two Uber rides.
What about Oahu?
Oahu has a pretty decent public bus system and it’s handy for getting around to the major tourist sites (Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor, Hanauma Bay, etc.), but it takes sooooo much longer than having your own car. Even with an itinerary that takes advantage of the bus routes, you’ll be able to do 2-3 times more each day with your own car. It also offers you the option of being more spontaneous.
For example, from Waikiki, you could take the bus out to Hanauma Bay and snorkel/beach bum for the day and then ride the bus back. But with a car, you can drive over to Hanauma Bay, stop at the Leonard’s truck for fresh malasadas on the way, pull over at an overlook for an amazing photo op, visit the Halona Blowhole after you’re done snorkeling, hike up to the Makapu’u Lighthouse (one of the best views on Oahu), and stop for happy hour at Kona Brewing Company on the way back to Waikiki. There’s no way you could do all of that one the bus.