What It’s Like Visiting Hawaii Right Now (March 2022)

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What It's Like Visiting Hawaii Right Now (March 2022)
The main atrium at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki.

What It’s Like Visiting Hawaii Right Now (March 2022)

My wife and I just returned from a week in Hawaii, and I want to share our experiences with what it’s like visiting right now. Hawaii is not only a mega-popular destination, there’s also the news about upcoming changes to the rules for visiting. Given all of the curiosity and possible confusion, you might wonder what it’s like visiting Hawaii right now. These were our experiences.

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Travel Rules Right Now / When We Arrived

The current arrival rules for domestic flights to Hawaii require quarantine, unless you get an exemption. You can get an exemption in two ways:

  • Full vaccination
  • Pre-travel negative test result from a list of approved partners

A few days before our trip, my wife and I uploaded our proof of vaccination to the Hawaii Safe Travels website. If you have your vaccination proof stored in CLEAR, you can even link that through the app quickly. It will immediately turn your QR code green. We weren’t sure if we would really need that, but anything to speed through the airport is beneficial.

Note: If you have a Hyphenated Last Name

We had a rough time trying to get my wife’s Hawaii Safe Travels and CLEAR apps to sync up. She has a hyphenated last name. When you sign up for CLEAR, their website doesn’t accept the -. Thus, the Hawaii website and CLEAR website wouldn’t match, because the spelling wasn’t the same. I was able to change the spelling of her name on the Hawaii website without any issues, make it match the CLEAR website, and do the sync. Then, we changed it back to match her ID.

Day of Travel

The morning of our flight, we showed our vaccine cards and the proof of submitting everything in the Hawaii Safe Travels website when checking in at LAX.

Before our flight, we visited the Delta SkyClub at LAX. On arrival there, they told us to listen for an announcement about wristbands, starting an hour before boarding for our flight. Once they made the announcement, we went to the desk with our IDs, proof of vaccination, and proof we had submitted documents to the Hawaii Safe Travels site. The desk agents gave us wrist bands.

Wrist Bands at the Gate

If you don’t visit a lounge, we noticed people getting wristbands at the boarding gate. The same process applies: ID, proof of submitting documents in advance, and showing your proof of vaccination.

I assume this same process applies with non-vaccinated visitors who are using a negative COVID test result. That’s how it worked for my sister’s family when they visited in March of 2021 and got wristbands pre-flight.

Image of tourists on top of Diamond Head near Honolulu, with the city and a rainbow in the background.
The beautiful view of a rainbow over Honolulu as seen from the top of Diamond Head.

New Travel Rules March 26, 2022

The Hawaii Safe Travels program for quarantine and testing / vaccination exemptions will end on March 25, 2022. The state website says this:

Beginning March 26, 2022, there will be no COVID-related requirements for arriving domestic passengers. Indoor mask mandate will remain in place statewide. Travelers arriving in Hawaii directly from international airports must still comply with U.S. federal requirements(link is external); consult with your airline.

The website still says this after the Governor announced that the mask mandate would also end on March 26, 2022.

What It’s Like in Hawaii Right Now

My wife and I spent a week in Hawaii, with half of that time in Honolulu (island of Oahu) and half of that time near Kona (island of Hawaii, “the big island”). What’s it like in Hawaii right now? Here were our experiences.

Masks and Vaccine Rules

These are in the process of changing and will go away as of March 26, 2022. However, if you visit before that, here’s what you should know.

  • Stores require masks inside per law, and we saw very few people not complying. Stores had signs like “no mask, no entry”, and we saw store employees telling people they needed to put on a mask or leave the store. It wasn’t done in a rude way, but it was firm.
  • Transportation, like city buses or vans from the airport, also requires masks. By and large, we saw very few people not using masks in transportation vehicles, and that was only during our many uses of The Bus (the Honolulu city bus system).
  • Restaurants in Honolulu required proof of vaccination to dine inside. We were asked for this before we could get a table or see a menu. It was done at our hotel restaurant and when dining at other places, and it happened at every single meal. Showing proof of vaccination via a photo of the vaccine card on your phone was sufficient. However, this is ending. While no longer a mandatory policy, some restaurants could still ask.
  • When arriving at our hotels, we had to log into the Hawaii Safe Travels website and show that our status said ‘exempt from quarantine’. The checkmark or a wristband was not sufficient. Hotels wanted to see this directly from the government website.

It’s PACKED in Honolulu

Let’s talk about what it’s like just being a tourist in Hawaii right now.

We thought we were going to Hawaii during the lull after the holidays and before Spring Break. Boy, were we wrong when thinking there wouldn’t be a lot of people. Hawaii is PACKED right now–at least where we went. Hotels are super full, and many restaurants have a wait every day at every meal.

Expect crowds if you’re going to Hawaii soon. People are excited to visit again from Asia, domestic tourists are excited to travel to Hawaii with simpler requirements, and travel agencies are offering incentives. We were shocked how many people were on our flights and at our hotels.

Kona / the big island was also pretty busy, but not “filled to the brim” like we experienced in Honolulu. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon in Waikiki and could hardly see the sand on the beach, due to how many people there were.

Image of a beach in Hawaii as part of a discussion about what it's like visiting Hawaii right now

Final Thoughts

Since we just got back from a week in Hawaii and many of our readers have expressed interest in visiting the islands, I wanted to share our experience with what it’s like in Hawaii right now. Sure, we didn’t go to all of the islands or even every inch of the two we did visit. However, we went to two popular spots and got a good feel for the travel requirements and the tourist experience. If you’re planning to visit Hawaii soon, here’s a little glimpse of what it’s like right now.

Ryan Smith
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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