hawai'i visitor guide

Three Ways to Visit Hawai'i Respectfully

resources & organizations to support on o'ahu

Hawai’i is the most isolated island chain in the world, with significant threats to the land, water, and Native Hawaiian Population. Although Hawai’i has relied on tourism since the illegal overthrow of the government in 1893, there is a significant need to support Hawai’i-owned businesses and culturally aligned organizations.

If traveling to Hawai’i, it’s vital that you practice both ethical- and eco-tourism. Many companies around the islands are changing the narrative of what it means to be a tourist in Hawai’i. Businesses are increasingly finding ways to become sustainable to help preserve the natural environment and provide opportunities to give back.

There are some amazing Native Hawaiian-owned businesses and sustainable organizations you can support by donating your time and money. In addition, many other companies have shifted to focus on sustainability to further conserve Hawaii’s environment. While we list some starting places for being a respectful and responsible tourist below, our intention is not to provide a standard or checklist for that the end-all, be-all for how to be a responsible tourist in Hawai’i. Instead, we hope to serve as a starting point that enables a deeper conversation about the relationship between tourism and the people that live , work, and play in Hawai’i. We recognize that we are not the authority on this subject and encourage you to seek out native voices and do your own research before visiting the islands.


Spend Time with Culturally Aligned Organizations, Rooted in Education

Couple plants endemic Legacy Tree in Hawai'i

When visiting Hawai'i, it is important to spend time with culturally aligned organizations in order to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the islands’ rich history and customs. Hawai'i is home to a diverse mix of cultures, including Native Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Islander influences. By supporting these organizations, you are also helping to preserve and promote the local culture, which is an important aspect of responsible travel. Overall, spending time with a culturally aligned organization can add depth and meaning to your trip and help you gain a more authentic and meaningful understanding of Hawaii.

Mālama Loko Ea Foundation

Plant a tree Hawai’i

Ka’ala Farms

Mālama Loko Ea is a foundation that has restored the Loko Ea fishpond in Haleiwa. They focus on community and education, spreading awareness of ancient Hawaiian fishpond techniques and the importance of natural resources. They are a 501(C)(3) organization that rely on volunteers, keiki, and the community to help achieve self-reliance at the fishpond. In addition, they offer multiple educational classes to learn about Hawai’i’s culture, ʻŌlelos, and ancient practices.

How will this make a difference?

Immersing in the culture while volunteering is a great way to learn about the places you visit as a tourist. Fishponds were, and are, a vital resource to Hawaiian culture and self-sufficiency. These provide a sustainable food source for the people here in Hawai’i, providing a natural place for fish and seaweed to thrive. Encompassing fresh streams and spring resources, the fish ponds at this foundation make up the third largest wetland on Oahu.

Ka’ala Farms is a lo’i patch that focuses on ancient Hawaiian farming techniques. Its mission is to reclaim and preserve the ancient practice of lo’i farming patches and help serve the Hawaiian community.

How will this make a difference?

Lo’i patches are an ancient Hawaiian technique to grow Kalo (Taro). Taro is a purple root starch used to make poi and other Hawaiian dishes. Taro leaves are also used in cooking certain Hawaiian dishes like lao lao. These practices and other Hawaiian techniques were attempted to be forced out with the annexation of Hawaii in 1898. With the urbanization of Hawaii, farming land was taken over. Ka’ala farms focuses on educating the community about the importance of Hawaiian farming and self-reliance. With the blow of Covid, Ka’ala farms needs support more now than ever. Volunteering with this company will enhance your knowledge and connection to the Hawaiian environment.

Plant tree Hawaii is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit that focuses on restoring Hawaii’s forests. Pulling weeds, planting legacy trees, and cleaning the land is an excellent way to make a difference while traveling. Volunteer on community work days, or even schedule a time to volunteer.

How will this make a difference?

Over the last two hundred years, Hawai’i has gone through waves of new plants, trees, and animals. As a result, the islands have seen an influx of invasive species and new environments. These invasive species can outcompete the species endemic to Hawaii. Oahu especially has been subjected to many alien species that can outcompete and take over areas of the island. This initiative presented by Plant Tree Hawaii will help restore Hawaii’s native forests and be rid of invasive plants and weeds that never belonged here.

Visit plant a tree website

Visit Ka’ala Farms website

Visit Mālama Loko Ea website

Sustainable Coastlines Hawai'i

Sustainable coastlines are an initiative here in Hawaii inspired by sustainable coastlines of New Zealand. Their mission is to clean our beaches; however, they reach farther by working to put a stop to plastic making its way to our oceans. They find ways to get rid of the debris found on the beaches without it making its way back.

How will this make a difference?

It isn’t new news that the ocean contains an unimaginable amount of plastic. The ocean is infested with microplastics and larger garbage patches. The Pacific garbage patch (the closest to Hawai’i) is estimated to hold 3 million tonnes of plastic. Most of this plastic is micro, leading to widespread of this plastic (National Geographic). The patch is located between Hawai'i and California, bringing debris to the islands. Sustainable coastlines focus on sifting out microplastics from the beach and collecting large pieces of plastic and nets. Microplastics find themselves a target of consumption by marine life, mistaking plastic for plankton or even turtles mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish. Microplastics can contain multiple toxins that can find their way into our own bodies through our consumption of seafood. When in Hawai’i, you can volunteer at a community beach cleanup or reach out for other volunteering opportunities. When visiting beaches or trails, please also help by packing out any trash you find along the way. Hawai’i is currently becoming completely plastic free, so pack reusable shopping bags and water bottles to keep your visit as plastic-free as possible!

Visit sustainable coastlines website

Eternal Tides

Eternal Tides started as an adventure elopement photography and videography business and expanded in 2022 to offer private sailing charters. We’re on a mission to redefine what sustainable tourism means. Eternal Tides offers sailing, snorkeling, and elopements at sea aboard the renovated 1978 sailboat. All charters include citizen science, and 5% of gross revenue from the charters is donated to Hawaiian Led Coalitions and Environmental Non-Profits.

How will this make a difference?

Some tour boats off the coast of Honolulu are motor powered and use larger amounts of diesel than sailboats do. Eternal Tides hopes to purchase an electric engine in 2023, finalizing the transformation of Blue Planet. This upgrade would make us the first fully electrical commercial charter in the Pacific, helping set a precedent for other businesses to follow and allowing us to combine our passions for both photography and ocean science. We want to bring together the two in an environment that fosters learning and stewardship of our oceans. We will use this business as a platform to teach guests about how they can help protect the marine life, reefs, and coastlines in which we live and play.

learn more about eternal tides

TWO: Spend Your Money with Hawaiian Organizations and Businesses



By choosing to support these businesses, you are directly supporting the livelihoods of local residents, and helping to keep the local economy strong. Additionally, many Hawaiian owned businesses are committed to sustainable and responsible practices, which can help to protect the natural environment and preserve the island's unique culture for future generations. Examples of businesses to consider supporting include small restaurants and artisanal shops. This is not an exhaustive list, but if visiting the islands we encourage you to go out of your way to support Kanaka businesses.

THREE: Have Aloha

In Hawaii, the word aloha is more than just a greeting. It's a way of life. The Hawaiian people are known for their love of hospitality, and it's part of what makes their culture so special.

But please note, that no one owes you aloha.

Respect their culture. If a Hawaiian person tells you they're offended by something, apologize, learn from it, and don't do it again.

Remember that Hawai'i is still recovering from decades of exploitation by the United States and other countries who used the land for their own gain. There are numerous organizations and movements working hard to restore the land and balance between tourism and overuse so future generations can enjoy it as much as we do today!

A few other notes

Don’t touch the animals (turtles, monk seal, etc.)

Don’t take any lava, sand, or seashells

When visiting Hawai'i, it may be tempting to touch or interact with the local wildlife, such as turtles, monk seals, and even stray cats. However, it is important to remember that these animals are wild and should not be touched or disturbed. Touching or interacting with these animals can cause them stress, which can negatively impact their health and well-being. Additionally, many of these animals are protected by laws and regulations, and it is illegal to touch or harass them. Remember that when visiting Hawai'i, you are guests in their home, and it's important to respect and preserve the natural environment and wildlife.

It’s illegal and considered extremely disrespectful. If you want to take anything off the beach make it trash and microplastics. Leave the beaches and trails cleaner than how you found them. ) Be conscious of your waste. Littering is illegal here because of how critical beaches and streams are for marine life. If you see other people littering at a beach or waterfall, call them out! Let them know that they are hurting our oceans with their trash.

Wear reef-safe sunscreen

Reef safe sunscreen is a type of sunscreen that does not contain ingredients that are harmful to coral reefs and marine life. These ingredients include oxybenzone and octinoxate, which have been shown to cause coral bleaching and harm marine life. Reef safe sunscreen is typically made with mineral-based ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which provide protection from the sun without damaging the ocean's ecosystems. It's important to read the labels of sunscreens before purchasing them, to ensure that the product is reef safe, and also to use enough sunscreen, and apply it often to ensure the protection. By choosing reef safe sunscreen, you can enjoy your time in the ocean while also protecting the delicate marine environment.

understand the history of exploitation

Remember that Hawai'i is still recovering from decades of exploitation by other countries who used our land for their own gain; we're working hard to restore it now so future generations can enjoy it as much as we do today!

Understand the importance of asking for permission – If denied permission, respect the no.