Photo Credit: Carissa Rogers Waimea Falls

Photo Credit: Carissa Rogers Waimea Falls

A Travel Challenge: I dare you to research and find the best Hawaiian day tour on the island of Oahu, you only have one day away from 90+ high schoolers and you don’t have time to rent a car.

First, you might Google ‘Oahu Tours’ or search ideas for tours, you might even make it all the way to direct websites of tour companies in Honolulu. (Good luck with that, they are painful to navigate.)

DestinationReviewHundreds of suggestions and no real way to know which ones are what they say they are. Which tour makes the most sense for you and your idea of the perfect day trip? Or which tour is the best bang for your precious tour bucks?

I was on this trip as a third-timer with my daughter’s band. Please read my full travel story!

Online Booking Agent Viator Finds the Perfect Tour for You

Image courtesy Viator.com website

Image courtesy Viator.com website

I’ve got the perfect solution to my own challenge. I was offered the chance to choose a day tour from Viator’s selection in order to give my honest feedback on the process and the tour.

Viator is like a best buddy in the form of an online tour booking website. Like a smart girlfriend, they skip the lame tours and stick to sharing the most interesting day trips, excursions and vacation ideas. When you need to fill a day in Oahu the tours listed on Viator.com are hand-picked and easy to navigate. With the benefit that the cost will be the best available price!

I drilled down to day trips that were no more than 8 or 9 hours and covered areas I hoped would be unique and interesting for a third-timer. Many included tours of the Dole Plantation (uhm… been there, rode the train, got lost in the pineapple maze, LOVED the Dole Whip, but don’t need to go back). Or they stopped at Pearl Harbor—see above: my whole reason for coming. Or toured around Waikiki (already jogged to Diamond Head, mahalo).

Wait. Is it possible? The perfect outing for a hardened Hawaii traveler?
No trinket shops or fake shell leis in sight?

What is a Small Group ‘Eco-Tour’?

  • Photo credit: Carissa Rogers

    Photo credit: Carissa Rogers

    This small-group tour is limited to 20 people, ensuring a more personalized experience. It is approximately a 9 hour whole island tour with pick up at your Waikiki Hotel—$125.

  • Travel on a comfortable and small tour bus
  • Extremely friendly & knowledgeable tour guide
  • Hiking through the Waimea Valley Botanical Garden. On previous trips I BEGGED my family to see these gardens and they refused, how BOR-ING they whined. And I lost the battle. Finally, I had nearly an hour in the gardens, just me and my camera
  • Swimming in the Waimea Waterfalls. This was the one point I truly wished I was on my second honeymoon with my sweetheart. How romantic.
  • Photo credit: Carissa Rogers

    Photo credit: Carissa Rogers

    A quick stop at the Kahuku Fruit Stand along the North Shore. We purchased banana lumpia (small fried crispy strips with banana inside) for $1 at the suggestion of our tour guide, totally amazing! And I picked up a pre-sliced fresh mango to snack on for $5. This is the kind of stop if I were driving a rental car myself: first of all, I would miss because it’s so small and second I might skip because it looked a bit sketchy. With the confidence of a small group of ‘Eco-Tourists’ I happily sampled pickled mangoes, you never know, you might like ‘em?!

  • Stretches of 15 and 20 minutes to wander around less-frequented beaches, including the famous Sunset Beach (surfer’s Mecca) and the nearly empty and unknown Waimanalo Beach
  • Picture-perfect photo opps at Lookout Points I had no idea were even on the map! Laie Point was a highlight and the kind of spot if you don’t know it’s there you’d have a hard time finding it. Along with views from Pali Lookout, Halona Blowhole, the Top of Hanauma Bay—heart & soul of Oahu’s sensational snorkeling experience.
  • Photo credit: Carissa Rogers

    Photo credit: Carissa Rogers

    The Japanese Buddhist Temple Byodo-In I can’t believe I knew nothing about this! I literally passed by the area at least 5 or 6 times in my 3 visits to Oahu. Absolutely my favorite part of the whole day. Serene, as if you disappeared into a Japanese scroll painting and wow… totally Nikon-eyeball-worthy!

  • Lunch at Kualoa Ranch, including a boat ride to Secret Island and the Moli’i Fishpond Apparently Jurassic Park 4 was in the middle of filming there that day… it’s a secret, though! Choice of brown bag sandwiches turned out to be surprisingly yummy, I highly recommend the Santa Fe wrap!

The Island Eco tour isn’t for everyone. You will be on and off the bus over and over all day long. I watched a family with teens and younger tweens who slowly melted into miserable wretches by the end. Please, Mom, don’t make me get off to see ONE MORE THING, they begged. We were all very tired by the end of the day. The last 30 minutes on the bus seemed very long and you might spend an extra 30 or 40 minutes dropping everyone off at their individual hotels in Waikiki.

This tour IS for you if you are new to Oahu and want an authentic tour of the Island. Not just an outing snapping photos through a window. I’m talking plenty of meandering time at each stop to breathe in the uniqueness and capture photo memories.

TRAVEL TIP: take the Eco-Tour at the beginning of your trip and make notes about what you like best; later rent a car or ride public buses returning to those spots at your leisure.

Or if like me, you mainly want to see areas most people never experience and especially appreciate the lack of tchotchkes shoved in your face, bring your camera and like the natives say:

Hang Loose in one of the most alluring and beautiful places in the world.

The Nitty Gritty Tour Details

Bring a large beach bag packed with extra shoes, clothes and sunblock. The hike and waterfall swim will be first so wear your swimsuit under your clothes. There were large changing rooms after the swim and the hike

Photo Credit: Carissa Rogers, Hanauma Bay

Photo Credit: Carissa Rogers, Hanauma Bay

was at most a 15 minute walk back down in my island-ready flip-flops and dry underclothes. Bring snacks and water with you. The included lunch was tasty and filled me but we still had several hours of tour after the lunch break.

Bathrooms along the route were mostly acceptable and our tour guide always warned of the time between possible pit stops. We were able to leave our belongings on the bus during stops—of course remember to keep your valuables on your person at all times. Bring cash for treats at the fruit stand and for tipping your tour guide. Admission to appropriate stops is included in the tour.

The cost of the Small Group Oahu Eco-Tour through Viator was $125 before taxes and Viator’s voucher system is pain free. I had no way to print my voucher since I was already on the Island when I booked my trip. Instead the voucher was emailed to my smartphone and I was in business! I did have to call the tour company directly to verify the tour start time and where exactly the shuttle would pick me up. Overall the price of this tour is definitely worth the value of a small group and plenty of time at each stop.

Disclosure: I traveled to Hawaii on my own dime and time. Viator kindly allowed me to sample one of their suggested tours at no cost to me. My opinions and hundreds of amazing photos are all my own.