Hawaii is a mystical, otherworldly place of 10,000-foot volcanoes, lava-strewn beaches, tumbling waterfalls and verdant rainforests. But it’s also a place of cultural wonders, where you can learn to dance the hula, play the ukulele or make leis from fragrant plumeria. And don’t miss the chance to experience Hawaiian food and cuisine – you can eat your way around all six islands!

The six largest Hawaiian islands form a chain circling the northwestern edge of the Pacific Ocean. They were formed one after the other as a tectonic plate slid over a plume of magma (molten rock) punching through Earth’s crust. Volcanoes then erupted, spewing lava across the island chain and creating new land.

In the 18th century, the kings of Hawaii sought to expand their power. But as the kings died and had no heirs, power struggles arose. After a series of political events, the last king, Lunalilo, was overthrown by his nephew Kalakaua, who also took over as president of the islands. A number of royalists tried to regain power, but they were easily quashed by the new government.

Today, the Hawaiian Islands are a thriving culture of natural wonders and modern conveniences. You can surf some of the world’s best waves in Oahu’s Waikiki Beach, snorkel the turquoise waters off Kauai, or climb to the top of Maui’s 10,023-foot Haleakala volcano. But no visit to Hawaii is complete without experiencing the local culture. Many resorts and hotels offer daily cultural activities ranging from learning to dance the hula to making leis out of fragrant plumeria. And Honolulu’s Polynesian Cultural Center and the East-West Center offer a window into the diverse, vibrant heritage of Hawaii.

If you’re visiting Hilo, stop by the big Hilo Farmers Market on Wednesdays or Saturdays for fresh local produce and arts and crafts. You can also visit the Kahanu Garden on the Hana Highway to see exotic plants and flowers in a picturesque setting. And make sure to stop at Hana Bay, a large black-sand beach where you can swim or stroll along the pier and look back at the beautiful town of Hana.

To the east of Hilo, you’ll find the volcanoes of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Drive the Chain of Craters Road to see vast lava fields carved out by the volcanoes. And don’t miss a trip to the summit of Haleakala, where you can hike on miles of trails and view the sun rise or sunset over the sea. During your hike, you might even see some active lava flows!

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