If Kauai is the prettiest of the Hawaiian Islands, it’s thanks in large part to the Napali Coast. You know those jagged green mountains from Jurassic Park? That’s Napali. And like most of the Earth’s most beautiful places, it’s extremely remote.
It’s so remote that there are only three ways to see it 1) a grueling 22 mile hike, 2) a boat tour, and 3) a helicopter ride.
While it’s possible to catch a glimpse of the Napali Coast on a day hike of the Kalalau Trail (read all about that here), the best ways to see it are via boat or helicopter. So which one is best?
Napali Coast: Boat or Helicopter?
The good news is, whichever one of these you pick is going to knock your socks off. And really, if you have the budget, why not splurge and do both?
But in case you’re not made of $$$, let me break down the pros and cons for you.
Seeing the Napali Coast by Boat
A boat tour down the Napali Coast is one of the most popular excursions on Kauai and for good reason…it’s a great way to see Kauai’s most epic scenery. Seeing the Napali Coast by water gives you a great perspective on just how majestic this piece of coast line really is. Being right up at the bottom of these mountains where they plunge into the ocean is really incredible.
It’s also the most cost effective Napali Coast tour option and the one where you’ll get the best bang for your buck. Let’s do some math.
The most popular Napali Coast boat tour in Kauai (Captain Andy’s Classic Na Pali Snorkel Picnic Sail) costs $185 for 5.5 hours. That’s $33.63/hour. My favorite Napali Coast boat tour (Holoholo’s Napali Adventure & Snorkel) is $315 for 4 hours. That’s $78.75/hour.
A helicopter tour over Kauai with Blue Hawaiian is $339 for 50 minutes.
So even the most expensive Napali Coast boat tour is a waaaaaaay better value when you’re comparing time for the money than a helicopter tour.
Besides offering a better value, you’re going to get to see the Napali Coast so much more up close and personal on a boat than in a helicopter. The Zodiac ocean rafts (what I prefer over the catamarans) are able to zip in and out of sea caves along the coast plus stop for snorkeling and lunch.
The big catamaran tours leave out of Port Allen, but I suggest going out on a smaller ocean raft or Zodiac from Hanalei on the north shore. You can read all about the north shore boat tours here.
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Seeing the Napali Coast by Helicopter
There’s a reason why helicopters are so popular on Kauai (way more than the other Hawaiian Islands). They offer a vantage point of the island that you simply cannot get any other way.
I am not super comfortable with the idea of flying in a helicopter, but my tour of Kauai is one of the most special things I’ve done anywhere.
Really, one of the big perks of doing a Kauai helicopter tour isn’t just seeing the Napali (since you can see it other ways), but places like Waialeale Crater that can only be viewed from the air.
A helicopter tour is arguably the most comfortable way to see the Napali Coast. A 50 minute air conditioned flight is certainly easier than a four hour boat ride with the potential for rough waves and sea spray.
So what’s the downside of a helicopter tour? Well just the price really. And if you’re most interested in seeing the Napali Coast, your 50 minute helicopter ride is really only going to feature it for 15-20 minutes.
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Also weather is (should be) a much bigger deal when you’re talking helicopters than boats. Weather will impact where the pilot is able to take you on the island and (hopefully) they’re more careful about canceling when the weather isn’t perfect.
Also, I’ll be honest. Helicopters make me kind of nervous and they don’t have the best track record in Hawaii. There are soooo many companies and it doesn’t seem to be as regulated as it should be. So you’ll be on the hook to do your research and make sure you’re booking with a company with a good safety record (pilots and equipment). Read more about Kauai helicopter tours (including a bunch of FAQs) in this post.
Want to read more? Don’t miss some of my most popular (and favorite) posts about Kauai: my personal Kauai favorites, a breakdown of where to stay on Kauai comparing Princeville vs Poipu, my favorite restaurants in Poipu, the best places to watch sunset on Kauai, 5 day Kauai itinerary, my review of the Grand Hyatt Kauai, everything you need to know about Napali Coast boat tours leaving from Port Allen (south side) and Hanalei (north shore), my best Kauai travel tips, all about hiking the Kalalau trail (Kauai’s best hike), Maui vs Kauai, the best things to do on Kauai and more specifically in Hanalei and Poipu, whether you should see the Napali Coast via boat or helicopter, my best (and specific) condo recommendations on Kauai, everything you need to know about Kauai helicopter tours, Kauai’s best north shore beaches, where to play tennis on Kauai, how many days you should spend on Kauai (plus other FAQs), the best spas on Kauai, and my review of the Smith Family Luau.
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