Hawaii : Safety by CityUnited States - safety as a country Hawaii - state review
For a place that is supposed to be so tropically relaxing, just trying to understand Honolulu, Hawaii, can be confusing – if you let it.
While Honolulu is the largest “city” in Hawaii, it’s actually not a city at all.
It’s an approximate area called a city, for lack of a better word.
Honolulu is also a county.
The government and law enforcement oversee the “city” and county area.
For reference in this article, when we refer to Honolulu, it will be “city” specific.
5.8 million passengers arrive on the island chain through the Honolulu airport, a nearly 90% increase from the pandemic-ridden 2021.
Tourists are back, and there’s a lot to explore in this beachfront yet metropolitan location.
Honolulu is on the southern side of the island of O’ahu (oh-WAH-who), but that’s not the biggest island in Hawaii.
The island of Hawai’i (yes, Hawaii is also an island and a state encompassing all of the islands) is the largest and more often referred to as “The Big Island.”
The city holds stunning views of the sea from the insanely popular Waikiki Beach, the memorial of Pearl Harbor, and immersive Polynesian culture.
English is spoken here, as well as Hawaiian, and you’ll learn plenty of new phrases during your trip.
Warnings & Dangers in Honolulu
OVERALL RISK : LOW
Despite the petty thefts in a resort destination like Hawaii, the overall risk is low. This only holds if visitors use smart safety measures and personal awareness. While crime rates are growing in certain categories, Forbes lists Honolulu as the second-safest city to visit in America.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
The Bus is the public transportation system in Honolulu (the city and county), and there are plenty of shuttle services. Mopeds and bicycles are available for rental. If you want a rental car, you need to book it well in advance since they sell out often. A valid driver's license from a foreign country can be legally used here for one year.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk here, though just 2% of thefts in 2021 were pickpockets or purse snatchings. The elevated risk comes from the potential, since there are large crowds, distracted tourists, and many places where you might be tempted to leave your belongings out of plain sight.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
Honolulu has great weather throughout the year, but there are risks of tsunamis, tropical storms, flooding, and volcano eruptions. Offshore weather can also cause dangerous wave conditions, even when the weather is nice in Honolulu.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
The robbery rate is almost twice the national average, and about half of all robberies happen in public places. You'll keep a low risk if you stay in well-lit areas, don't walk around after dark by yourself, and avoid drawing attention to any valuables.
TERRORISM RISK : MEDIUM
Hawaii has already been the site of a horrible attack on Pearl Harbor, and it still sits in distant ocean waters at risk of attack. There is also an incredible Homeland Security and military presence here to protect the islands.
SCAMS RISK : MEDIUM
With more people returning to the island, there's going to be a medium risk someone will try to scam you when booking a trip. Avoid any third-party websites or trips that require you to watch videos in exchange for a discount. Don't give your credit card information to a business unless you've verified they are accredited with the Better Business Bureau. The safest way to book travel is to ask the Chamber of Commerce for verified agents who can help you plan the trip. Don't look for a cheap deal. Look for good value for what you get.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Women should use a lot of caution when enjoying the nightlife in Hawaii. Try to go in pairs or groups, so you aren't out alone. Bars can get loud and boisterous, and patrons might be more aggressive than if they were at their neighborhood bars. Don't go into the wilderness, ocean, or mountains alone, either. There are manmade and natural dangers on the island, and you should study safety steps before you arrive.
TAP WATER RISK : MEDIUM
You can search for the Consumer Confidence Water Quality Report using your hotel address on the Board of Water Supply website. There is an FAQ that goes through potential risks and concerns. It's not easy to find specific reports, so I can't detail any violations from 2021. Because of this lack of convenience when trying to find this critical information, there's medium risk. Your hotel should also have a copy of this report for you to review.
Safest Places to Visit in Honolulu
There are a lot of tourism websites for Hawaii, and some could be loaded with spam or scams.
To be sure you’re on the official tourism site of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, visit gohawaii.com.
You’ll probably be tempted to make a dash for the beach, but don’t miss the other great things to see and do in Honolulu.
The Aloha Tower and surrounding marketplace are a great place to start.
Here you’ll be at a Hawaiian icon in front of the 184-foot tall tower and have plenty of restaurants around this harborfront market.
There are tour excursion locations here as well if you want to review the many options available.
NOTE: The Aloha Tower is also near the cruise terminal, so if you want to enjoy smaller crowds, go when there isn’t a cruise ship in port.
The Foster Botanical Garden is a perfect spot for those who want to experience the lush life of the island without going into the natural hazards of the wild.
The aromas of the flowers are almost as mesmerizing as the butterfly garden.
Grab a bird checklist so you can check them off as you go.
This smaller garden is a nice place for those who need a break from the downtown crowds.
The Discovery Center of Hawaii is a great place for the kids to blow off some steam while learning about Hawaiian culture and nature.
Exhibits walk children through everything from the art of picking a pineapple to learning about the importance of rainforests.
Visiting Pearl Harbor is an emotional experience.
There isn’t one museum here – you’ll get to walk through ships, museums, open-air spaces, and a visitor’s center.
Some of the attractions are free, while others have admission.
You can’t bring any bags or purses into Pearl Harbor, so only bring what you need in your pockets.
Waikiki Beach is about 15 minutes from downtown Honolulu.
There’s more here than just the beach, including the Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium.
Walk the Waikiki Historical Trail to learn about this beach’s history, which will make the experience all the more meaningful.
Please take a surfing lesson before you try your skills on the water if you haven’t surfed Hawaiian waters before.
Even surfing the Florida coastline is different than the waters off Waikiki Beach.
Get a panoramic view from Diamond Head State Monument with sweeping water views and the Honolulu skyline.
The hike to the summit is less than a mile, but it’s a rigorous hike.
The hike is worth it to get a view of the lighthouse and military bunkers at the top.
As of May 2022, you must have a reservation as a non-resident to park here.
Places to Avoid in Honolulu
Chinatown is known for being a dangerous neighborhood, but there are also unique things to see and do there.
It’s best to visit during the day and don’t go alone.
Avoid going to any city or portion of the island that isn’t a tourist region.
Not every small island city is happy to see visitors, and you could stumble into a dangerous or crime-ridden community.
Ask the concierge or front desk at your hotel about the crime trends and neighborhoods to avoid, as they will know the latest information about crime sprees or concerns.
When looking at a map, Sand Island looks like a nice getaway just across the water from downtown Honolulu.
While I’m not telling you to avoid it, you should know you’ll drive through a large industrial area and by the water treatment plant before you get to Sand Island National Recreation Center.
This isn’t going to be a stunning beach with incredible views like some other more popular beaches.
However, since it’s not as popular, this is a great place to go to the beach without large crowds.
Just don’t expect too much from it.
You can camp here on weekends.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Honolulu
- The Honolulu Police Department (HPD) offers crime mapping technology that is updated daily on its website. You can search for various crimes around different neighborhoods and select the time range, whether you want to see the past week or the past year.
- Hawaii has pretty strict rules about the types of knives you can and can’t carry on the islands. HPD bans carrying or keeping the following weapons in a vehicle or on your person; dirk, dagger, blackjack, slug shot, billy, and metal knuckles. Butterfly knives and switchblades are also banned. You can be arrested just for carrying one of these around, either openly or in your pocket.
- Anyone over 16 years of age is required to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle. Never ride against the flow of traffic and follow all the traffic laws required of a vehicle. You must also stop for pedestrians when you are on a bicycle.
- For pedestrians, look up the Walk Wise Hawaii program through the Hawaiian government’s website. You’ll learn all the safety steps required of people walking around. Jaywalkers are not given the same legal protection as those who use crosswalks. People caught jaywalking can be fined $100 or more.
- Hawaii has the highest rates of homelessness in all of America. You’ll see homeless people on the streets or setting up tents on beaches. Avoid groups of homeless people and opt to donate to a homeless shelter instead of an individual.
- Many hotels in Honolulu are at or near the beach. Double check you have locked all windows and sliding doors when you leave your room. For extra safety, put any valuables in the room’s safe.
- When you go to one of the parks or wilderness areas, don’t park and then stash a bunch of stuff in your trunk. Thieves could be watching for you to do just that and then break into the trunk once you’re climbing a mountain. Make the item transfer before you arrive, or better yet, don’t bring anything you can’t carry with you.
- You’ll get sick of hearing this in Hawaii, but it’s worth repeating – never turn your back on the ocean. Even something as simple as setting up a selfie could leave you waterlogged or washed out into the water. The waves here are not predictable.
- Always read the signs at any beach. Calm waters can be deceiving, and a shallow ocean floor or box jellyfish can cause serious injuries. Don’t take the warning signs as suggestions. Heed the warnings.
- GoHawaii has an app with a full list of tourist attractions, how to get around transportation options, and safety advice for any part of the city, county, and state.
So... How Safe Is Honolulu Really?
With violent crime rising in the United States, Honolulu is staying safer than most tourist communities.
The challenge here is, I don’t want you to think it’s a super safe place to visit with a bunch of friendly people always willing to help.
About half of the 20,000 thefts in 2021 were car break-ins.
All the violent crime rates were up in 2021 except for forcible rape, which was the lowest it has been since 2018.
The crime numbers provided by the Honolulu Police Department cover the entire island of Oahu, so Honolulu’s crime rates aren’t exactly in line with the department’s information.
That’s one reason I suggest you check out the crime mapping technology so you can get a better look at specific crimes in the places you want to visit.
The rugged terrain of Hawaii is also risky.
Sure, if you’re a seasoned outdoor person, you’ll be more prepared, but too many people push themselves beyond their limits for a “once in a lifetime” trip.
The hikes can be very rugged and steep.
Trails aren’t paved in most cases and mosquitos are everywhere.
Always listen to a tour guide about dangers, especially around active volcanoes where the hot earth or nearby lava can easily melt sandals and fashionable tennis shoes.
The ocean is a whole other beast here too.
It is strongly recommended you never go into the ocean water alone, not even just for an ankle-deep walk on the beach.
Don’t go to the beaches at night, either.
The lack of lighting, homeless population, and shady characters hanging out there are too risky.
With Hawaii having such a large port, this is also where a lot of illegal drugs come in.
Don’t buy illegal drugs here (well, or anywhere) because there’s an overdose crisis happening across America.
Drugs made to look like prescription drugs are laced with deadly doses of Fentanyl.
You don’t know the dangerous drug is in a pill and you could easily overdose.
You also can’t use marijuana here recreationally, but if you are caught with less than three grams, you won’t be arrested or face a fine.
Hawaii is a safe place to visit if you use the proper safety precautions and study all the risks.
How Does Honolulu Compare?
- Visas - While it should go without saying - if you are an American you don't need a passport or visa because this is a state. (You'd be surprised how many people get that wrong!) Visitors from outside the United States need a travel or work visa to visit. You can also see if you live in one of the countries where travelers can get a visa waiver (ESTA). Check out the U.S. State Department website for in-depth information.
- Currency - The U.S. Dollar is the only currency accepted here. Don't bring cash, and never use a public ATM machine. Try to pay for everything on the same credit card so you can monitor for fraud charges. If you insist on having cash, don't put it all in one place. Some of the independent markets could see you are carrying a wad of $20 as you pay a nearby vendor, and suddenly everything at their booth is $20.
- Weather - Temperatures in Hawaii don't fluctuate much throughout the year or the days. You can expect the high and low to only be about 10°(F) apart. Even winter here has average temperatures near 80°(F). Hawaiian shirts, shorts, sun dresses, tank tops, sturdy hiking boots, and walking shoes are just fine. You must bring reef-safe sunscreen to Hawaii or purchase it locally. Check your sunscreen for the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. Both of those chemicals are banned.
- Airports - The Honolulu airport, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, is 15 minutes from downtown and 30 minutes from Waikiki Beach, but plan more time during periods of higher traffic volume.
- Travel Insurance - Healthcare for accidents or injuries can be costly here, so make sure you have health insurance that covers any mishaps or emergency room visits. You'll want to have insurance for your flights and hotel room in case of any weather delays or technical issues.
Honolulu Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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