Our post on The Best Things to do in Molokai will take you on a tour of the fifth largest island in Hawaii, known as the “Friendly Isle.” It will take you from the highest sea cliffs in the world to a beautiful waterfall and everything in between, so be prepared to be adventurous when you visit this Hawaiian island.
We Have Been Visiting Molokai for Over Two Decades!
I would like to start off this post by mentioning that Andrew has been coming to Molokai since he was 7 years old. His parents bought a condo in the Ke Nani Kai condo complex in the west end of Molokai in the early ’80s, and his family has been traveling there ever since.
The island of Molokai has drastically changed over the years. There used to be a Sheraton Hotel Resort with an incredible 18-hole golf course, and the old Molokai Ranch in Mauna Loa used to run a 22-room luxury hotel called The Lodge at Molokai Ranch.
Unfortunately, those days are long gone, but that doesn’t mean that Molokai should be scratched off your travel list. On the contrary, this is a must-see island to experience what Hawaii used to be.
Where is Molokai, HI?
Molokai is the fifth-largest of the Hawaiian islands, measuring 38 miles long by 10 miles wide. It lies 25 miles east of Oahu across the 25-mile wide Ka’iwi Channel, north of Lanai, separated by the Kalohi Channel, and only 8 miles to the west of Maui.
Many of the other Hawaiian islands are visible from the shores of Molokai. You can see Maui from the eastern shores and both Oahu and Lanai from the south shores.
Is Molokai Worth Visiting?
When we tell people about our experiences on Molokai, most have either never heard of this Hawaiian island before or never considered visiting.
Molokai is everything that Maui and Oahu are not. There is very little tourism, the island is incredibly laid back, there are no luxury resorts (there is only one hotel called Hotel Molokai) and you will often find the beaches empty.
What you will find are the tallest sea cliffs in the world, Hawaii’s longest white sand beach, and many other adventures that you just won’t find anywhere else in Hawaii. If you want a vacation to slow down and get away from it all, Molokai just might be what you are looking for.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Molokai?
We have visited Molokai pretty much every month of the year, and our answer is always the same. Anytime is a good time to visit Molokai.
If you are coming for a whale-watching tour on Molokai, the best time to come is during the months of February and March, which will give you the best chance at seeing a humpback whale breaching the waters.
The water temperatures only fluctuate about 5 degrees throughout the year, with September being the warmest and March being the coolest. The “rainy” season is technically from December to April, but the island only receives 24 inches of rain per year, with June being the driest month.
How To Get to Molokai
The only way to get to Molokai is by airplane. There used to be a ferry that ran between Maui and Molokai but unfortunately, that is no longer in service.
There are only three airlines that operate in and out of Molokai Airport (MKK), Hawaiian, Mokulele, and Makani Kai. The airport is located in the middle of the island and is 7 miles away from Kaunakakai, which is the largest city in Molokai.
The airplanes that service Molokai are turbo-prop planes, and the smaller airline, Mokulele is a 9-seat aircraft with a single engine. It is important to note that when you are flying out of Molokai, they will weigh your bags.
When you are flying on Mokulele, they will make you check any luggage with roller wheels regardless of the size or weight.
There is another airport on Molokai but it is very important to understand that Kalaupapa Airport (LUP) only services the Kalaupapa Peninsula, which is surrounded by ocean on three sides and by massive sea cliffs on the other. There is absolutely no ground service to the rest of Molokai from Kalaupapa airport.
The Best Things To Do in Molokai:
Molokai Mule Ride to Kalaupapa
The first thing most people read about Molokai is the mule ride down 1700 feet along the sea cliffs to the Kalaupapa peninsula below. The trail traverses the 2.9-mile trail consisting of 26 switchbacks and provides some of the most incredible views of this isolated area.
It may seem hard to believe that the Molokai leper colony still exists in this day and age but the Kalaupapa National Historic Park houses a tragic part of Hawaiian history.
From 1886 to 1969, the Kalaupapa peninsula became a prison for those suffering from what we now call Hansen’s Disease. The peninsula was inescapable, surrounded on three sides by ocean and by massive 2000 foot sea cliffs on the other.
When you arrive in Kalaupapa, you will be met by a Kekaula Tours guide who will take you by bus to see the gravesite of Father Damien, the Priest who came to serve the leprosy patients living hidden from the world.
You will visit St. Philomena Church, where Father Damien did his sermons, you will enjoy your lunch at Judd Park on the scenic Kalawao side which was my favourite part of the tour.
**Sadly in 2018, a landslide wiped out part of the trail so The Molokai Mule Ride tour is currently not in operation. The only way to get to the Kalaupapa Peninsula is to take a scenic flight with a tour company that includes a permit, airfare and a day tour by bus. Mokulele Airlines offers a package tour and is undoubtedly the most popular tour on the island of Molokai and tops our list of the best things to do on Molokai.**
The Best Beaches in Molokai
The beaches found on this Hawaiian island provide some of the best things to do on Molokai because they are often empty and allow you to roam freely no matter which beach you choose to visit.
Papohaku is on the western end of the island and provides three miles of stunningly sandy beach. As beautiful as this beach is, it is best enjoyed from the safety of the beach as it has sharp hidden coral reefs and swift, treacherous rip currents.
It can be quite windy on Papohaku so we like to suggest exploring this beach on foot and perhaps enjoy one of the hikes to the viewpoints above.
Dixie Maru Cove
We tend to spend the majority of our beach time at Dixie Maru Cove as it provides for great swimming and snorkeling in the protected sandy cove.
There is Japanese sailboat wreckage offshore that adventurous spirits can snorkel out to. The Japanese sailboat was named Dixie Maru hence the name of the cove but the actual Hawaiian name is Kapukahehu Beach.
We usually stay in the west end of Molokai in one of the condos located near Kepuhi beach. We have spent many sunsets on this beach, with a drink in hand, just sitting and enjoying the isolated feeling of being on the beach of Molokai.
You will see the occasional surfer on Kepuhi Beach, but swimming here is only recommended on very calm days because of strong alongshore currents.
During winter months, we have watched the waves pound the beach and expose the rocky shoreline. On the southern end of the beach is Kaiaka Rock, which was once a Hawaiian temple.
Pohaku Mauliuli Beach
Located in the west end of Molokai, there are two beaches at Pohaku Mauliuli Beach, one of which is known as “bare buns beach” because of the private setting allowed by having to scramble over a small hill of lava rocks to access it.
Pohaku Mauliuli Beach has the nicest white sand beach in my opinion but the water is treacherous and swimming should be avoided.
You can access Pohaku Mauliuli Beach (also known as Make Horse Beach) one of two ways. You can drive along a very rough dirt road full of potholes to a parking lot about 100 yards from the beach and walk-in.
Or you can walk north along the shoreline of neighboring Kepuhi beach by following the cart path that is still evident from the golf course that used to operate there. It is roughly a 10-minute walk to the first cove.
We discovered Kaupoa Beach after walking to this abandoned beach village from Dixie Maru Cove. It was roughly a 15-minute walk along a well-marked path, and our boys loved playing in the lava rocks that lined much of Kaupoa Beach.
It isn’t as protected as Dixie Maru Cove, but there is a large beach area, and it was fun to explore the lava rocks along the water’s edge.
Other beaches on Molokai include:
- Murphy Beach (great for snorkeling)
- Sandy Beach (protected coral reef)
- Halawa Beach Park (two small beaches separated by a river)
- Moomomi Beach (difficult to find)
Hike the Halawa Valley to Moa’ula Falls
The east end of Molokai, where Moaula Falls is located, has a wet climate and rainforest-like foliage. The road trip through the Halawa Valley is quite the adventure, passing through 60 incredible fishponds that were built hundreds of years ago.
Hotel Molokai, the only hotel on the island, is at the start of the road trip, so be sure to stop for lunch before you carry on. You will pass many white-sand beaches that are just at the side of the road, so plan to take your time and pull over when the urge hits!
As you get closer to the Halawa Valley, the road becomes extremely twisty, with a few hairpin turns and switchbacks that may leave some travelers prone to car sickness.
The beginning of the trail to Moa’ula Falls lies on private property, so you will need to arrange a guide. The hike takes about 2.5 hours round trip and is relatively easy but make sure you bring snacks and water with you.
The foliage is dense in some areas, and I highly recommend keeping your eyes peeled for any large insects or spiders. On one of our hikes to Moa’ula Falls, I walked right into a very large spider web complete with a very large spider attached.
After a few shrieks and frantic shakes trying to get rid of any evidence of spiders left on me, we carried on, but I made sure not to get swept up in the beauty of my surroundings as we continued.
Hiking to Moa’ula Falls is one of the best things to do in Molokai because it offers such a drastically different landscape compared to the west end of the main harbor of Kaunakakai.
Once you get to the falls, you have greeted with stunning scenery and an opportunity to swim in the water and cool off at the base of the waterfall.
It is important to bring proper footwear for the hike and perhaps a wet bag, swimsuit, and towel if you are planning on swimming. We highly recommend swimming, it is incredibly refreshing and will keep you cooler on the hike back.
Explore the Abandoned Beach Village of Kaupoa
The abandoned beach village of Kaupoa used to consist of 40 “tentalows” or cabins built on platforms and made of canvas tents. It was owned and operated by Molokai Ranch before handing off operations to Sheraton Hotels.
In 2008, Molokai Ranch ceased all tourism operations on the island after locals voted to reject plans to develop 200 luxury homes at La’au Point.
You can access the abandoned beach from either the path connecting to Dixie Maru Cove or from the driveway on Pohakuloa Rd.
It is a fascinating area and one that we return to again and again when we are in Molokai. It is an easy hike from Dixie Maru Cove, and we usually pack a picnic lunch to have on Kaupoa Beach.
It is an eerie experience walking around, especially as the palm trees that are not indigenous to Molokai and were brought in to provide shade for the guests were topped off by Molokai Ranch due to liability fears of coconuts or branches falling on people as they wandered through.
The locals took it as a parting shot from Molokai Ranch for rejecting their proposed development.
Papayas from Kumu Farms
The very first stop we make after landing at the airport in Molokai is at Kumu Farms. We always pick up a box of papayas that will usually last us for our entire week-long trip and some other produce offered at Kumu Farms.
I have never tasted papaya as mouthwatering and delicious as those from Kumu Farms on Molokai. Kumu Farms is open to visitors from Tuesday to Friday from 9 am to 4 pm. They also grow carrots, lettuce, kale, rosemary, thyme, and other herbs and vegetables.
Kumu Farms is a ten-minute drive from Molokai Airport. The address is 551 Huaai Rd, and this is definitely one of the best things to do in Molokai, so don’t miss it, your tastebuds will thank you.
Scenic Flight To See the Molokai Sea Cliffs
Perhaps the most breathtaking adventure on our best things to do in Molokai list is to take a scenic flight to see the world’s highest sea cliffs. That’s right, these towering sea cliffs are a sight to see, and Mokulele Airlines offers two options to see them.
They offer one-hour scenic flights which fly by the cliffs and the length of Molokai’s coral reefs, or they offer a flight plus tour package which includes the round trip flight, 4 hours guided land tour of the Kalaupapa settlement, and lunch.
Flights depart from either Kahului or Kapalua on Maui. If you are just interested in seeing the sights from the sky, the one-hour scenic flight is the most economical choice.
Whale Watching in Molokai
Humpback whale watching in Molokai during high season, where they can be seen fin slapping, jumping, breaching, and diving in the ocean water, is one of the best things to do in Molokai.
February and March are the best times to spot Humpback whales, and even though you can see them from shore, the best way to view them is on a boat tour.
Whale Watch Molokai offers tours starting at $79 per adult and tours depart daily from Kaunakakai Harbour during whale season. Whale Watch Molokai guarantees whale sightings during your tour, or you can join them on their next tour free of charge!
Go Fishing in Molokai
The Kaunakakai pier is a perfect spot to fish from, or you can fish from the rocks at Kepuhi Beach, as pictured below. It is always encouraged to talk with a local and find out some of their favorite spots to fish. There are a few types of fish to be caught, including marlin, mahimahi, ahi (tuna), and ono.
If you choose to book a fishing charter, Captain Joe Reich offers half-day, full-day, 3/4 day, or Round Isle packages. Alyce C Sportfishing specializes in deep-sea fishing charters in Maui County’s “triangle”- south Molokai, Lanai, and the Penguin Banks- and Molokai’s rugged North Shore.
Order pancakes at Kualapu’u Cookhouse
My absolute favorite thing to eat on the island of Molokai is the pancakes at Kualapu’u Cookhouse. While it resembles a diner from days long ago and offers minimalist decor inside, the portions are hearty and it easily lands on our best things to do on Molokai list.
The pancakes are the fluffiest, most delicious pancakes I have ever tasted. It is hearty home-style cooking at its finest. I can never finish the pancakes in one sitting but that suits me just fine as I take the rest to go and enjoy it again for breakfast the next morning.
See Molokai’s Phallic Rock
Located near the Kalaupapa overlook, this “phallic” rock is a short hike from the parking lot. Molokai is full of off-the-beaten-path adventures, and this is certainly one of them. According to Hawaiian legends, if a woman brings offerings and spends the night, she will return home pregnant.
While you are visiting, don’t miss the Kalaupapa overlook. You will have a beautiful view of the leper colony below, and if you were not able to arrange a flight to see the Kalaupapa peninsula, this would be the closest you come to one of the best things to do on Molokai.
Enjoy Molokai Hot Bread
The smell of fresh-baked bread wafts out from the alleyway in which it’s located. Tourists and locals alike swarm towards “Hot Bread Lane,” where you can purchase your delicious loaves of Molokai goodness.
Visitors to Molokai should visit Kanemitsu’s Bakery during the day, which is located on the other side of the alley. If you are looking for an experience worth your time in Molokai this must be done: satisfying your taste buds by eating some of their famous Molokai hot bread.
Saturday Farmers Market
On Saturday mornings, Molokai comes alive with their farmers market, with shop owners selling fresh produce and crafts of all kinds. It is a great opportunity to shop, but more importantly, it is the perfect time to talk with locals. The market runs every Saturday from 7 am until noon, and you will find it on Ala Malama Street in Kaunakakai.
How to Get Around Molokai, HI
You will need to rent a car in order to get around the island of Molokai. You can easily rent a car from the open-air Molokai airport when you arrive, and you will quickly be on your way. It is important to note that there are very few streets on the island, so there is no need to worry about getting lost.
Make sure to fill up in the main town of Kaunakakai before you head back to the airport, as there is no other gas station.
Molokai Car Rental
There are three car rental companies on the island of Molokai:
- Alamo Car Rental – book early to avoid very high rental pricing!
- Molokai Car Rental – currently booking Alamo vehicles on their website
- Mobettah Car Rentals – You will need to call or email to reserve a vehicle.
Hotels on Molokai
It might surprise you to find out that there is only one hotel on the island of Molokai! Located on Kamiloloa beach, Hotel Molokai is just a five-minute drive from the main town of Kaunakakai. This Polynesian style hotel has an outdoor pool and on-site restaurant. We always enjoy stopping in for a drink or lunch if we are continuing on to the Halawa Valley.
Other Accommodations on Molokai:
There are many Airbnb’s or vacation properties for rent on Molokai. We have always stayed in the west end in the Ke Nani Kai complex which is a short walk from Kepuhi Beach. Also located in the west end is Paniolo Hale and Kaluakoi Villas/Kepuhi Beach Resort, the latter has a beautiful oceanfront pool.
Molokai Shores is located centrally on the island just one mile east of Kaunakakai. Wavecrest Resort is located on the east end of the island and is perfectly situated for an easy trip to Halawa Valley.
Where To Eat on Molokai
Restaurants on Molokai provide a casual atmosphere and the service is on Molokai time. You will not find anything fancy or trendy on the island of Molokai but you will find some delicious homestyle cooking:
- Kualapu’u Cookhouse – probably the most famous restaurant on Molokai with huge portions
- Molokai Burger
- Paddlers Inn Restaurant and Bar
- Hiro’s Ohana Grill – located at Hotel Molokai
- Molokai Pizza
- Mana’e Goods & Grindz – located on the east side of Molokai
- Kanemitsu Bakery – the best bread on Molokai
- Coffees of Hawaii
- Kamoi Snack-N-Go – best spot for ice cream
- Ono Fish & Shrimp food truck – great for fish tacos
- A Taste of Molokai – Poke Truck – we are obsessed with Poke bowls and loved these
- Hula Bean Café
There are two main grocery stores in the town of Kaunakakai. The Friendly Market and Misaki’s Grocery have a great selection and will have what you need to cook your own meals.
On the west side is Maunaloa General Store for basic staples, in Kualapu’u there is Kualapu’u Market and on the east side, Mana’e Goods & Grindz has a small convenience store. The Molokai Mini Mart in Kaunakakai has a decent little section of natural foods which we always stock up on while we are visiting.
Camping on Molokai
It is important to note that there is a maximum of 5 consecutive nights at any given campsite. After that, you must wait 30 days to return. Campgrounds on Molokai are not set up for camping in vehicles, including campers, vans and trailers. Sleeping in vehicles in campground parking lots is not allowed.
There are three campgrounds on Molokai. We recommend staying at Pala’au State Park, which is a perfect location to view the Kalaupapa peninsula below. The campsite is $30 per night for non-residents up to 10 people.
You can get a camping permit online from the Division of State Parks. It does tend to be a little rainier at this campground than the other two options but we feel the location and feel of the site more than makeup for it!
Papohaku Beach Park is located in the west end of Molokai and boasts a stunning three miles of white sand beach. You can get a permit from the Parks Department on Ailoa Street at Mitchell Pauole Center.
It is imperative to understand that you do not swim in the ocean at Papohaku Beach unless is absolute, 100% calm. This is a beautiful campground to stay at and be lulled to sleep by the crashing waves.
One Alii Beach Park is centrally located on the island of Molokai but it is located right off the main road and will be noisy from the cars going back and forth across the island.
The location is great if that is what concerns you most but the other two options are far better in our opinion. The ocean water is too shallow in this area to swim in but is fine to relax on the beach and enjoy some downtime.
Is Molokai safe?
Molokai is safe for tourists to visit, there is a reason it is called the “friendly isle” of Hawaii. While locals may seem reserved at first, if you engage them in conversation you will find them incredibly friendly and full of local advice. Just don’t wander onto private property and make sure you have the required permits for exploring.
What to pack for a trip to Molokai
You will not need any fancy clothes or dress shoes for a vacation on Molokai. It is a casual island with a focus on adventure or relaxation or both! The number one thing you should pack for Molokai is a good pair of walking or hiking shoes. On the west side of the island, the sand is a rich, earthy red and will stain your shoes and clothes so bring along some items that you don’t mind getting stained.
The weather is generally beautiful throughout the year but we encourage packing layers for wind and rain and for cooler evenings in the winter. Places like Papohaku Beach can be very windy so having a light sweater to throw on will make you more comfortable while exploring. And the east end in the Halawa Valley can be rainy so a light rain jacket is a great option while you are exploring there.
Are tourists allowed on Molokai?
Tourists are allowed and welcome, but it’s not for everyone. Molokai is the fifth-largest island but not meant to be a large tourist attraction. The people who visit want peace and quiet, where they can get away from it all.
How do I get from Maui to Molokai?
There used to be a ferry service which was a very popular day trip. Now, you can only get from Maui to Molokai by plane. Molokai has one airport and direct flights arrive in Molokai Airport from both of the airports on Maui: Kahului Airport and Kapalua Airport.
Is there cell service on Molokai?
There is cell service but not in all areas. Some hotels, condos or other rental properties will have landline service, The same goes for the internet. Molokai is not a place to go if you want to be glued to your phone.
What is Molokai’s highest mountain?
Molokai’s highest peak is Kamakou at 4,961 feet (1,512 m).
Final Thoughts on the Best Things to do in Molokai
Molokai is not the most popular island in Hawaii, but if you are looking for an authentic Hawaiian experience, you won’t find anything better.
Casandra Karpiak is a travel writer and owner of Savoteur. A Toronto native with Danish roots currently residing in British Columbia, her travel writing has been seen on The Associated Press wire, MSN, FOX, CBS, NBC, Entrepreneur, 24/7 Wall St, Times Daily, and many more. When she’s not traveling, she can be found at hockey arenas all over BC cheering on her two young sons.