Kauai vs Maui – which island is better? I get asked this question very often by those who know that I travel to Hawaii almost every year. Both islands are incredibly beautiful, yet different from each other. That makes it difficult to decide which one to pick, even if you have seen them before. Some believe Kauai is everything a tropical island should be. Others swear by Maui and wouldn’t go anywhere else. People’s idea of a tropical paradise may vary a lot, depending on their lifestyle. So if you are not sure weather go to Kauai or to Maui, here are some considerations that may help you decide which island is a good fit for you:
What’s Unique About Kauai?
Kauai is more rural and laid back atmosphere. It has more of an “island” feel: secluded beaches, taro fields and wild rugged cliffs. Agriculture still dominates much of the island’s landscape. Kauai seems to go to sleep after the sun sets below the horizon. Although there is still a good array of bars and lounges with live music and dance, you won’t see any bright laser lights and nightclubs on this island. Here is what’s unique about this island:
• Pristine nature
Kauai is the most pristine and secluded of the four major islands of Hawaii. On this island you’ll have a real sense of peace and privacy. In Kauai you are most likely to sunbathe next to a monk seal, or swim with a huge turtle.
• Lots of hiking trails
Kauai has some of the best hiking trails in the entire state. Depending on your hiking abilities, you can climb to an upland swamp, descend into a deep valley in the canyon, hike to a hidden waterfall, or walk along the steep cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. For active, outdoorsy travelers, Kauai is heaven on earth!
• Secluded beaches
Kauai has more beaches than any other Hawaiian island. Most of them are easily accessible, but there are some that can only be reached by trail, or by sea. Some are great for surfing, others are perfect for swimming, or snorkeling. There are some great family beaches too, but if you like private, secluded beaches Kauai is perfect for that.
• Gorgeous botanical gardens
Kauai meets its nickname’s expectations. The Garden Isle –as it is also called– is home to Hawaii’s best and most atmospheric botanical gardens. The endless sunshine and warm rain bursts on this island create a kaleidoscope of colors, shapes and textures: luxuriant ferns, patterned orchids, rope-thick vines, lush fruit trees and shimmering flowers.
• Navigable rivers
Of all the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is the ONLY one that has navigable rivers. You can kayak past taro fields and under a canopy of lianas, watch birds and eat fresh guava directly from the trees.
• Varied scenery
Kauai is an island of contrasts. From evergreen valleys, to sharp mountain peaks, ragged cliffs, and pristine beaches, the scenery is quite varied. While both islands are stunning, Kauai wins by a narrow margin.
What’s Unique About Maui?
There are so many reasons to fall in love with Maui! The beaches, the sunsets, the waterfalls. The great variety of restaurants and shops. But then you have most of these these in Kauai as well. So why Maui? Here are some unique things about this island:
• Reliable weather
Unlike Kauai where you will encounter more rain (especially in the northern part of the Island), Maui boast reliably sunny days all year round. Especially on the western part of the island. For that reason, most resorts and sought after beaches are located on the west side of Maui. However, if you to travel to Hana, on the east side of the island, you are almost guaranteed to encounter rain.
• Black sand beaches and great snorkeling spots
Maui is great for snorkeling. The waters around Maui are calmer than the waters around Kauai, especially in winter. While both islands have good snorkeling, Maui has more top-notch sites and more are easily accessible from the beach. One particularity of this island are the black sand beaches which are made of ground lava rock.
• The wide variety of entertainment
Maui can be a great choice if you travel with a larger group of people who have different interests. Or if you travel with children and family members of different ages. On Maui you are more likely to find something entertaining for each one in your group. Although entertainment on Maui doesn’t even come close to the lively Oahu, there is a good number of dance clubs and lively bars that stay open till dawn. There are also a couple of comedy clubs, many good restaurants and some great shopping areas, especially in the little town of Lahaina.
• The vibe
Lahaina is the typical old-time sea town turned tourist spot. The town is an odd mix of history, art galleries, T-shirt shops and fine jewelry stores. The number-one attraction in Lahaina is definitely “the buzz,” – the restaurants, the night-life and the swinging bars.
• The sunsets
Maui sunsets are simply spectacular. There are several great spots to catch a perfect Maui sunset, like Kaanapali Beach, Napili Bay Beach, or Kimo’s Restaurant in Lahaina. Just grab a Mai Tai and join the crowd.
Recommended read: Packing list for the beach.