Although Molokai attracts (and rewards) independent travelers, a few guided tours are essential—they’re the only way to see the island’s most awe-inspiring sights up close.

Birding Tours—Arleone Dibben-Young will chauffer you to the island’s unpredictably great birding spots: suburban wetlands, a wastewater treatment plant, mangrove-fringed mudflats, and a softball field, where a rare seabird likes to hang out in the diamond. Not only can Dibben-Young reliably call the rare kioea (bristle-thighed curlew), she has a permit to shelter endangered nene (Hawaiian geese) at her home. Even non-birders will get a kick out of her tremendous humor and passion for Hawaiian avifauna. Contact Ahupuaa Natives ★★ 808/553-5992) for early-morning excursions, typically at high tide. Tours cost $60 per hour, per person, with 1 1/2 hours minimum.

Damien Tours—The only way to explore the spectacular, haunting Kalaupapa peninsula is with Damien Tours ★★★ (; 808/567-6171). Whether you descend the treacherous sea cliffs by foot, mule, or air, you must meet the bus at 10am (Mon–Sat) for a 4-hour tour, designed to protect the privacy of the few remaining residents. Prepare to be deeply moved by the landscape and the stories of those exiled here. Stops include the original graves of Father Damien and Mother Marianne (see “The Saints of Molokai”); St. Philomena Church, where the Belgian priest carved holes in the floor so patients could discreetly spit during services; a snack shop and bookstore (bring cash; no large bills); and a small museum with heart-rending photos and artifacts, such as a spoon reshaped for a disfigured hand. Lunch is an oceanside picnic at Kalawao, one of the most scenic spots in all of Hawaii. Restricted to ages 16 and older, the tour costs $60, with limited spaces. Note: All tours must be booked in advance, which is easier to do through the “topside” outfitters listed in “Kalaupapa National Historical Park"

Halawa Valley Tours—On the East End, a guided tour or authorized escort is required to go beyond Halawa Beach Park into breathtakingly beautiful Halawa Valley, home to the island’s earliest settlement and 250-foot Mooula Falls. Pilipo Solatorio’s 4-hour, culturally focused tours start with traditional Hawaiian protocol and are the most renowned. Kalani Pruet will pair Halawa Valley tours ($40 adults, $20 children) with a visit to his flower farm (; Tues–Sat 10am–4pm, Sun by appointment; e-mail him several days in advance at Note: The valley is privately owned—trespassers may be prosecuted, and almost certainly hassled, if caught.

Whale-Watching Tours—If you’re on island in winter (Dec–Mar), don’t miss the chance to see humpback whales from Alaska frolic in island waters, often with clingy calves in tow, or boisterous pods of males competing for a female’s attention. Though you may spot whales spouting or breaching from the shore, a whale-watching cruise from Kaunakakai skirts the fringing reef to provide front-row seats. Veteran outfitter Molokai Fish & Dive (; 808/553-5926) offers 2- to 3-hour tours for $79 on its comfortable 31-foot power catamaran or 38-foot, two-level dive boat. Molokai Ocean Tours (; [tel] 808/553-3290) also leads humpback-spotting hunts on its 30- and 40-foot power cats for $75.

Van Tours—If your time on the island is tight—as in a day trip from Maui or Oahu—I also recommend a van tour with an affable local guide. For groups of four or more, Molokai Outdoors (; 877/553-4477 or 808/633-8700) offers the 7- to 8-hour Island Tour ($184), covering Halawa Valley Lookout on the East End to Papohaku Beach on the West End with lunch included. Molokai Ocean Tours (; 808/553-3290) provides a rare glimpse of natural and historic sites in the nearly inaccessible upland forest on its 6-hour Mountain Cultural Tour. The expert local guide uses a 4WD vehicle to explore Molokai Forest Reserve, home to the dramatic Waikolu Canyon Overlook and a massive ship-size pit dug during the early-19th-century sandalwood trade. Time permitting, he’ll also show you petroglyph sites and sea cliffs. Four guests maximum: $155 each for the first two guests and $85 apiece for the additional two.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.