Of the 137 islands that make up the Aloha State, Oahu is by far the most popular, pulling in as many tourists annually as the rest of the islands combined. No surprise perhaps, when you consider that it’s home to some of Hawaii’s biggest attractions – Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor and the state capital of Honolulu among them. But is Oahu safe? We went undercover in Ray-Bans and our most eye-catching Hawaiian shirts to find out…
How Safe is Oahu?
Hawaii is among the safest places to visit in the United States, ranking in the lowest 25% for violent crime, well below other tourism hotspots like California, Florida, New York and Nevada. That Honolulu is frequently ranked as one of the planet’s safest big cities – as evidenced by independent studies like this one and this one – is also testament to Oahu’s low crime rate.
None of which means you shouldn’t still keep your wits about you when visiting this remote Pacific archipelago, where data suggests that annual tourists outnumber residents by a factor of around six to one. That makes Oahu as much a paradise for petty thieves as it is for wide-eyed, sun-starved visitors fresh off the plane.
Indeed, most of Oahu’s crime is theft-related, with pickpocketing, bag-snatching and car crime making up the majority of offenses. And, as inevitably as night follows day, it is you, the humble tourist, who is most likely to be on the receiving end, particularly around tourist hotspots where distracted punters and the anonymity of crowds provide easy pickings for modern-day Artful Dodgers. Even the very well-patrolled Waikiki Beach occasionally falls foul of opportunistic crooks. However, keeping your wits about you, understanding the warning signs and not brandishing cash, jewelry and expensive electronic gadgets wherever you go – you know, just like you wouldn’t back home – should make for a problem-free vacation.
Here are a few common sense tips that will stand you in good stead for keeping yourself and your belongings safe in Oahu:
- Don’t carry large sums of cash around with you.
- Don’t leave valuable devices where they can be snatched easily – think restaurant/café tables, beach bags, jacket pockets, etc.
- Keep bags zipped and credit cards secured in tight pockets.
- Park your car in designated areas, lock it and make sure no valuables are left in sight.
- If you’re unfortunate enough to have your possessions nabbed, don’t give chase; instead report the incident to local police and let your insurance take care of the rest.
- Finally, in Oahu you’re probably more at risk from a nasty sunburn or riptide than a thief. Read on for our tips on avoiding Oahu’s natural dangers…
Staying Safe in the Hawaiian Sun
Hawaii’s string of volcanic islands are manna for nature lovers, all soaring peaks dense with tropical vegetation (and wildlife), sparkling blue seas, spectacular blowholes, craters and canyons, and glorious, glorious sunshine. It’s warm and sunny year-round in Hawaii, with average highs in the 80s and lows that rarely drop below the 70s. And hot sunny weather means one thing: sunscreen!
Our advice? Stay out of the sun between 11AM and 2PM (great time for a long, lazy lunch in the shade, right?) and slather yourself liberally with a skin-suitable SPF at all other times. The last thing you want to bring back as a souvenir of your trip is a brick-red sunburn, a ‘hilarious’ anecdote about how you had to be treated for sunstroke – or worse. Respect the sun and you’ll have no such issues. Rather than stuffing your beach bag with thief-attracting electronic gadgets, pack plenty of factor 50, UV sunglasses and a great big floppy Audrey Hepburn sunhat. Who needs screentime with those epic ocean views anyway? Don’t forget to carry water, and plenty of it, to keep you hydrated. And yes, the occasional refreshing mai tai is also fine (and perhaps essential), as long as consumed in moderation during the hottest parts of the day.
The sea here commands just as much respect, thanks to its potentially dangerous combination of inviting, balmy waters and pull-the-rug-from-under-your-feet riptides. Many Oahu beaches have lifeguards on patrol from morning to late afternoon. This includes Waikiki Beach where unexpected rips have been known to carry swimmers out to sea. Exercise caution and follow local guidance on swimming and surfing in risk-prone areas. Don’t swim alone, don’t turn your back on the sea and finally, don’t forget to reapply that all-important sunscreen after a dip.
A common-sense approach is also advised when it comes to Oahu’s other natural attractions, including hiking trails and blowholes. There are dozens of spectacular hiking routes across the island, including the epic Moanalua Valley Trail with its sweeping panoramas of Honolulu and iconic ‘Stairway to Heaven’, and the family friendly east coast Pu'u Ma'eli'eli Trail with its lush rainforest and awe-inspiring views across Kāneʻohe Bay and the Koʻolau Mountain Range. Dress sensibly and pack plenty of water, snacks and sunscreen, and plan to be home well before sundown. And always make sure to let someone know where you’re going, especially if you’re heading off the beaten path.
Last but by no means least, Hawaii’s extraordinary blowholes – of which Oahu’s Hālona Blowhole is the most famous – are as impressive as they are dangerous. Sure, get close, but not that close. The waters here are turbulent and unpredictable and you wouldn’t be the first selfie-taker to fall fatally foul of a rogue sea surge or particularly violent geyser.
Solo travelers and seekers of lively nightlife will find much to enjoy in the Waikiki tiki bars and lively Honolulu club scene. Again, Honolulu is safer than most cities, but use judgment and caution, especially when meeting new people. Buy your own drinks while you gauge the trustworthiness of new companions and stick to busy, well-lit areas rather than drifting to dive bars down dark alleys. Just like any other big city anywhere else on the planet, you probably don’t want to be staggering drunkenly around unfamiliar downtown streets at two o’clock in the morning. And especially not alone – it only serves to make you an easy moving target for even the laziest of criminals.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t have fun; you absolutely should – and will – have buckets of fun! Remember: friendly locals and a solid police presence around downtown Honolulu and Waikiki Beach makes these areas largely very safe for tourists at night. All you need do to enjoy a worry-free experience is keep your wits about you, exercise caution and common sense and, ideally, get a cab home at the end of the night.