Up until 1819, ancient Hawaiians adhered to religious laws that were generally known as kapu. Everything in Hawaiian life—from which fish you could eat in which season to the clothes you were allowed to wear—was regulated by thousands of different kapu that carried stiff penalties if broken. Should your shadow ever have fallen on a chief, or if you failed to kneel while he was eating, it was a broken kapu punishable by death since you had disrespected the will of the gods.
Once a sacred kapu had been broken, the only way to redeem yourself was to find a puuhonua—a city of refuge where an elder or priest could cleanse you of the offending sin. Should you be found before your arrival, however, the punishment was often death.
As you can imagine, puuhonua were popular places during the days of ancient Hawaii, but a few are popular visitor attractions in this modern era of tourism. At the Puuhonua o Honaunau on the Big Island of Hawaii, the entire complex has been restored to reveal its original sacred grandeur. On a self-guided tour of the historic complex, walk around a lava rock wall that is 17 feet in width, and admire the massive wood-carved kii (tiki) that guard a sacred heiau (temple).
Once finished exploring the grounds and learning about ancient Hawaii, head next door to the black sand beach for some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii.
Located 45 minutes south of Kona, Puuhonua o Honaunau is a National Historic Park. It opens at 7am and is open until just after sunset, while its visitor center is open from 8:30am to 4:30pm, seven days a week. There is a $5 per vehicle entrance fee, and free ranger talks take place daily at 10:30am and 2:30pm.