It pains me to title a post in such a negative way. Don’t misunderstand me – Papakolea green sand beach in Hawaii is absolutely stunning. But there is a scam being run there, and I don’t want anyone to fall for it.
Located on the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii, the green sand beach, officially known as Papakolea green sand beach is quite the site to see. As a matter of fact, it is one of only four green sand beaches on the entire planet! This olivine crystal-laden beach is quite a treasure! Unfortunately, a few disappointing locals have decided to take advantage of this rarity and tourists’ (justifiable) desperation to see this site.
When you plug “Papakolea beach” or even “green sand beach” into Google Maps when you are on the Big Island, it’ll take you on a long road full of cows until you pull up in a dirt parking lot where other cars are parked. You may notice that the road actually continues for a tad bit longer, but there is a parked truck that is blocking your way. That was my first hint that something was wrong.
Almost immediately after we parked, a local walked up to our car and said, “Are you going to hike the six miles?” We looked at each other and thought, “What? Six miles?” And then, when she saw our confusion, she said, “Because, if not, it’s $20 for the shuttle and the shuttle just left, so you’ll have to wait.”
We let her know that we were going to discuss it, and we all knew that something was off. Things just didn’t add up. If a shuttle could make it to the beach, why couldn’t our car? Why wasn’t the lady wearing any sort of official uniform? Why is she saying the beach is six miles away, because it only looks like two miles on the map. And why is she charging us to go to a beach, despite the fact that all beaches in Hawaii are public property?
While we likely could’ve just walked on past and said we were going to do the not-really-six-mile hike, in our confusion, we decided it was better to just leave. We didn’t want to have any interactions with these locals who clearly were not friendly to visitors. (And despite the fact that I’ve lived in the Hawaiian Islands my entire life, I still don’t give off the local-vibe, so she likely thought we were visitors as well.)
What to Know About the Scam
Just for clarity, I thought I’d reiterate some important points:
- You do NOT need to pay to access Papakolea Beach (the green sand beach in Hawaii) or any other beach in Hawaii, as all beaches are public access.
- All green sand beach shuttle services are illegal and should never be used.
- You CANNOT drive your rental car (or your owned car, or any other vehicle) to the Papakolea green sand beach.
- The hike to the green sand beach is NOT six miles. It is only two and a half miles and is relatively easy to follow due to all of the traffic in and out of the area. (But, as with any hike, be prepared! Definitely bring water, athletic shoes, and sunscreen!)
Are There Any Tours to Papakolea Beach? That’d Be an Easy Way to Avoid the Scam!
Unfortunately, no. There are no legal tours to Papakolea Beach. The easiest way to tell if a tour is legal or not is if they drive you directly to Papakolea Beach, and, at the moment, all of them drive you directly to the beach. It is actually illegal to drive to the green sand beach in Hawaii, as that area in particular is a fragile ecosystem. (Just another reason that this scam is quite sad. Their shuttles are also damaging the ecosystem!)
In theory, it is possible for a legal tour to Papakolea Beach to be set up. It would just be a 2.5-mile hiking tour, rather than a tour right to the beach. If that sort of tour does start, it may be legal. But as June 2019, there are no tours like that.
So How Can I Legally Get to the Green Sand Beach in Hawaii?
There is only one way to legally get to the green sand beach in Hawaii: hiking. (This also happens to be the only way to preserve the natural landscape and the cultural sites along the way.) Any form of driving, whether it’s your car or the shuttle, is illegal and does irreparable damage to the area.
If you do choose to hike to the green sand beach, bring a lot of water and a hat, because there is no shade a long the route! It would also be a great idea to start early in the morning, so that way the heat doesn’t get too intense. Because of the cars and shuttles illegally driving around the area, the path can be a bit confusing at times, so, when in doubt, veer towards the path headed towards the ocean.
How Can We End the Scam at the Green Sand Beach in Hawaii?
Honestly, that’s a great question. As far as I can tell, the scam has been going on since 2016, and as of June 2019, it is still in progress. Local police know about it, but there is little that they can do about it. The only real way they can prevent this scam from occurring is by stationing someone there every single day, which is difficult to do with an already-limited force.
The only way I can think about making any difference is by spreading the word about this green sand beach scam, and that’s where this post comes into play. So if you want others to know how to get to get to the green sand beach in Hawaii WITHOUT getting scammed, share this post! Spread the word now, because there is no cell phone service at Papakolea Beach! That means that visitors won’t be able to check if it’s a scam while they are there, so they need to find out before they go!
This post is by no means meant to paint a negative experience of the local population as a whole. As a Hawaii local, I know that the local population is a very kind community. The purpose of this post is simply to inform visitors of this one disappointing occurrence in order to help them avoid it or manage it.
Looking for a different stunning Big Island beach that is worth your time? Kua Bay is one of my favorites!
If you’ve had a positive experience at the green sand beach, tell me about it in the comments!
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Disclosure: I may use referral links in this post, and I might make a commission on my recommendations at no extra cost to you.