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Big Island vs Kauai: Which is the Best Hawaiian Island for Your Next Vacation?

Do you need some help planning your next trip to Hawaii? If you’re debating the Big Island vs Kauai, you’ll definitely want to read this comparison post so you can choose the best Hawaiian island for your next trip!
This comparison post of Big Island vs Kauai was written by Marcie Cheung (a Hawaii travel expert) and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

Trying to decide which Hawaiian island to visit on your next vacation?

Is it down to the Big Island vs Kauai?

Well, we’ve got great news – these are TWO amazing Hawaiian islands to choose from!

You might wonder about my credentials – well, I’ve been to Hawaii 40+ times, ensuring an expertise that stands out.

Kauai and the Big Island both have their own unique charms that make them perfect for different types of travelers.

So how do you decide which one is right for you?

Scroll down to find out all about the Big Island and Kauai, then make your decision about which island is best for you!

With so much to see and do on each island, you won’t be disappointed with either choice. Keep reading to find out why!

Want to skip all the planning and just access my detailed Hawaii itineraries complete with daily schedules, fun activities, and travel hacks? Click the button below.

Weather on Kauai and the Big Island

I know a lot of people wonder if there’s much difference between the weather on the Big Island and Kauai.

It’s pretty similar between the islands. Temperatures usually range from the 70s-80s and winter is the rainy season. When it rains during the rest of the year, it’s often just quick rain showers.

Both islands can also get pretty windy. The South Shore of Kauai (Poipu area) and the South Shore of the Big Island are the windiest areas.

Tell Me the Difference Between the Big Island and Kauai

The Big Island is seriously massive. It can take a few hours to drive to different areas of the island. This is one reason why it helps to do a split stay on the Big Island.

Kauai is much smaller than the Big Island. It’s also the oldest island in Hawaii. There’s typically a lot of traffic on the East Shore but you can stay in one area and do day trips to the other parts of the island.

Since you are debating Big Island vs Kauai, I figured I should probably go over a few highlights of each island. Hopefully, these will help you decide between the Big Island or Kauai.

Top Places to Visit on Kauai

Na Pali Coast

If you’ve seen a gorgeous photo of Kauai, there’s a good chance it was of the majestic Na Pali Coast.

Image of a lush green mountain coastline leading to the ocean along the Na Pali Coast on Kauai
The Na Pali Coast is breathtaking.

Most people book a Na Pali Coast boat tour to really enjoy it. These are often snorkeling tours but some are sunset cruises. It’s one of the best things to do on Kauai.

Another option is to experience it by hiking. There are trails on both the North Shore and the West Shore.

Waimea Canyon

Another top Kauai attraction is the Waimea Canyon. It is nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” because it truly looks like a mini replica of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Image of a woman wearing a tank top sitting at the edge of Waimea Canyon on Kauai
Don’t miss Waimea Canyon on Kauai.

There are several scenic viewpoints as you drive up the windy road. But, you can also do some hiking if you want to see a Waimea Canyon waterfall.

While you’re there, you might want to continue driving up the mountain a bit more to check out Kokee State Park.

Hanalei Bay

One of the most beautiful places in Hawaii is North Shore Kauai. And one of the cutest small towns in Hawaii is Hanalei.

Image of Hanalei Bay on Kauai
Hanalei Bay is one of the prettiest beaches on Kauai.

We love visiting Hanalei Bay because it has an epic view of the lush green mountains and the ocean. The natural beauty will blow your mind.

Plus, it’s one of the top swimmable beaches on Kauai.

Top Places to Visit on the Big Island

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Most people head to the Big Island for one reason: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This is the main national park in Hawaii.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Image of lava
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.

Here, you’ll find two active volcanoes that will give you your best shot at seeing lava in Hawaii. Plus there are tons of Big Island volcano tours.

Akaka Falls

The Hilo side of the Big Island has some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Hawaii. My top pick is Akaka Falls.

Akaka Falls: Image of a tall Big Island waterfall surounded by lush greenery
It’s a short walk to see this Hilo waterfall.

It’s a really easy, paved loop path that will take you to a stunning Big Island waterfall. It’s a must-do on the Big Island.

Kona Coast

The vast majority of people visiting the Big Island will stay somewhere along the Kona Coast. It’s famous for having a rocky coastline.

It’s a great place for night snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, or walking on lava rocks. Plus, there are tons of tourist attractions in the area.

Kauai vs the Big Island for a Honeymoon

Planning a honeymoon in Hawaii? You probably already know that both Kauai and the Big Island are low-key Hawaii honeymoon islands.

Planning a Kauai Honeymoon

You won’t have to look far for luxurious resorts on Kauai for your dream vacation. If you head up to the North Shore, you’ll find secluded beaches with incredible views. If you head to the South Shore, you’ll enjoy world-class amenities.

Find out the most romantic Kauai honeymoon resorts recommended by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel Spot! Image of a couple holding hands walkind down a path in North Shore Kauai
Kauai is a dream honeymoon destination.

Kauai is known for having impressive farm-to-table dining experiences and romantic restaurants. There are lots of farms on Kauai that grow some of the tastiest produce in Hawaii.

You’ll also find plenty of honeymoon activities on Kauai. These include helicopter rides, kayaking to hidden waterfalls, and chocolate tasting.

Planning a Big Island Honeymoon

There are some amazing honeymoon resorts on the Big Island, specifically in the Waikoloa area. Here, you’ll find resorts right on the best Big Island beaches that are far away from the crowds.

Check out these amazing Big Island Hawaii honeymoon resorts recommended by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel Spot. Image of a couple holding hands on the beach
Enjoy a peaceful honeymoon on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Couples will also appreciate the romantic restaurants in Kona. You’ll enjoy the freshest food with an epic sunset view.

There are also some amazing Big Island honeymoon activities. Some options include tasting authentic Kona coffee, hiking to see lava, and seeing waterfalls in Hilo.

Book a Hawaii Photo Shoot

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Big Island vs Kauai: Which Island is Best for Kids?

Planning a family vacation to Hawaii? You probably already know that both Kauai and the Big Island are interesting Hawaiian islands for kids.

Find out the best things to do on the Big Island with family recommended by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel Spot! Image of a kid and mom snorkeling in clear water
Kauai and the Big Island offer a lot of fun adventures for kids!

Kauai with Kids

There are tons of fun things to do on Kauai with kids. A few of our favorites include the Kilohana Plantation Train, the Lydgate Chocolate Farm, and Na Aina Kai Botanical Garden.

Plus there are several beautiful beaches perfect for young swimmers. And lots of tasty kid-friendly Kauai restaurants featuring local dishes.

Big Island with Kids

You won’t run out of cool things to do on the Big Island with kids. Our family loves the Atlantis Submarine, Aloha Adventure Tiki Carving, and exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

A-Bay and King Kam Beach are perfect for beach time and calm waters. And there are tons of kid-friendly Big Island restaurants and amazing shave ice spots.

Which Island is Cheaper to Visit: Kauai or the Big Island?

Are you heading to Hawaii on a budget? You’re probably wondering if Kauai or the Big Island is the cheapest Hawaiian island to visit. The good news is both of them can be somewhat affordable.

However, I want to stress that Hawaii is generally an expensive destination.

Cheap Places to Stay on Kauai

If you’re heading to Kauai on a budget, there are some cheap places to stay on Kauai. A couple of my top picks include Kauai Shores and The ISO.

There are also a few places to camp on Kauai and a handful of Kauai hostels.

Cheap Places to Stay on the Big Island

If you’re heading to the Big Island on a budget, check out some of the best cheap places to stay on the Big Island. A few of my recommendations include the Grand Naniloa and Hilo Reeds Bay Hotel.

Things to do on Kauai on a Budget

You’ll find tons of free things to do on Kauai. Besides the sandy beaches and beautiful rainforest, you can go snorkeling, do a free rum tasting, or catch a stunning Kauai sunrise. Kauai also has amazing shave ice spots, the Kauai Museum, and the Kilauea Lighthouse.

Things to do on the Big Island on a Budget

There are plenty of free things to do on the Big Island, no matter where your interests lay. You can explore black sand beaches and the green sand beach or take advantage of the amazing hiking trails. The Big Island also has amazing farm tours, stargazing at Mauna Kea, and exploring Waipio Valley.

Best Places to Stay on the Big Island and Kauai

If you’re planning your dream vacation to Hawaii, you’ll probably want to stay at a nice resort. Kauai and the Big Island both have some incredible options worth checking out.

There are also lots of vacation rentals on the Big Island and Kauai. But for the sake of this post, I’ll just focus on Hawaii resorts I can personally recommend.

Big Island Resorts

Hilton Waikoloa Village

If you’re heading to the Big Island with kids, it doesn’t get much better than the Hilton Waikoloa Village. It’s a massive Big Island resort with an incredible pool area, restaurants, shops, and more. Check the latest rates and availability.

Fairmont Orchid

If you want a truly luxurious experience, head to the Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast. Read our full Fairmont Orchid review.

This is an upscale hotel with memorable restaurants and activities for both couples and families. Check the latest rates and availability.

Courtyard by Marriott’s King Kamehameha Beach Hotel

A more moderate Kona resort is the Courtyard by Marriott’s King Kamehameha Beach Hotel. Read my honest hotel review HERE.

It has a small lagoon area, an awesome shave ice spot, and it’s right in the heart of downtown Kona. Check the latest rates and availability.

Kauai Resorts

Grand Hyatt Kauai

Whether you are heading to Kauai with kids or going on a honeymoon, this is a fantastic Kauai resort for all types of visitors. Check out our full Grand Hyatt Kauai review.

They have a lazy river and a cute waterslide. Plus, tons of amazing restaurants. Check the latest rates and availability.

Koloa Landing Resort

This is a great option for visitors wanting a full kitchen and a separate bedroom. Read my full Koloa Landing Resort review.

Plus, this is one of the best pools in Hawaii! Check the latest rates and availability.

Royal Sonesta Kauai

This amazing resort is located on one of the most accessible beaches on Kauai. Read my full Royal Sonesta Kauai review.

Plus, it has the largest pool in Hawaii and there are several great restaurants within walking distance. Check the latest rates and availability.

Do You Need a Car on the Big Island or Kauai?

Honestly, there really aren’t a lot of great public transportation options on the Big Island or Kauai. It’s definitely possible to visit the Big Island or Kauai without a rental car, but it really limits your options if you want to leave your resort.

Road trip car people taking phone pictures of nature landscape on summer travel vacation. Tourists couple taking photos on Hawaii Kauai island, with smartphone camera app.
It’s fun to rent a convertible on Kauai to soak in all the sights!

Personally, I recommend renting a car. Discount Hawaii Car Rental is an excellent cheap option for any tourist. They feature rental cars from some of the best companies in the nation, such as Alamo, Dollar, Thrifty, Avis, and more. Check out the latest prices and details.

Big Island versus Kauai: Beaches and Snorkeling

If you are a total beach bum or want to do some snorkeling in Hawaii, both Kauai and the Big Island have tons of great options.

Top Big Island Beaches

Hapuna Beach Park

This is one of the most popular family-friendly beaches on the Big Island. It has a bunch of white sand and it’s perfect for a relaxing beach day.

Papakolea Green Sand Beach

This is one of the most unique beaches in Hawaii because it features rare green sand.

Papakolea Green Sand Beach on the Big Island. Image of a green sand beach with crashing waves
Mahana Beach aka Papakolea Green Sand Beach.

It can be tricky to get to. You’ll either need to hike or pay a local to drive you. Rental cars are not allowed.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

If you want to check out a black sand beach, head to Punalu’u. It’s a fun Hawaii bucket list item. Plus, you’ll probably see Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles here!

Top Kauai Beaches

Tunnels Beach

If you want to do some snorkeling on Kauai, put Tunnels Beach at the top of your list. This North Shore Kauai beach is one of the top snorkeling beaches in Kauai.

You’ll definitely want to get there early though, as there are limited parking spots.

Poipu Beach Park

If you’re dreaming of golden sand beaches, look no further than Poipu Beach Park. It’s conveniently located near tons of South Shore resorts.

Image of a couple running on a beach on Kauai
Poipu Beach Park is a top Kauai beach.

This is one of the best beaches on Kauai for spotting monk seals and Hawaiian green sea turtles. It’s also one of the easiest swimmable beaches to get to.

Anini Beach

If you want a beach with calm waters, Anini Beach is it. The water laps up to the shore, sort of like a lake. And it’s a great place to watch windsurfing!

Big Island vs Kauai: Hiking Trails

If you’re wondering which is the best Hawaiian island for hiking, let me break it down for you. Both have pretty amazing hiking trails for active travelers, but they are vastly different.

Where to Hike on the Big Island

Akaka Falls

For an easy Big Island hike, head to Akaka Falls State Park in Hilo. It’s one of the prettiest waterfalls in Hawaii and it’s also one of the most accessible.

There’s a short, paved loop trail with a few stairs and lots of scenic lookouts along the way.

Pololu Valley

For those wanting a bit more adventure, head to the Pololu Valley. Here, you’ll get to explore one of the most beautiful valleys in Hawaii.

Pololu Valley on the Big Island: Image of a sandy beach with lush greenery and the bright blue ocean
Pololu Valley on the Big Island

The lush greenery and epic scenery will blow your mind.

Kilauea Iki Trail

One of the most popular Hawaii Volcanoes National Park hikes is the Kilauea Iki trail. It’s a great opportunity to hike over lava rocks and catch some stunning scenery.

Where to Hike on Kauai

Limahuli Garden

For an easy hike on Kauai, head to Limahuli Garden in North Shore Kauai. It’s one of the coolest cultural botanical gardens on Kauai.

There’s an easy path through the garden with gorgeous views of this tropical island.

Hanakapiai Trail

One of the most gorgeous hikes on the Garden Island is the Hanakapiai Trail along the Na Pali Coast. It’s a pretty difficult hike, but the views are totally worth it.

Hanakapiai Falls on Kauai: Image of a man standing in front of a Kauai waterfall
Hanakapiai Falls on Kauai.

You can hike to Hanakapiai Beach or go a few miles further to Hanakapiai Falls.

Waipoo Falls

Head to Waimea Canyon on the West Coast and hike to see Waipoo Falls. It’s a unique experience on this beautiful island.

Things to do and Outdoor Adventures: Kauai vs Big Island

For people who love adrenaline rushes, both of these Hawaiian islands are a great fit. They offer some of the same activities but also ones unique to each island.

Best Outdoor Kauai Adventures

Kauai ATV Rides

If you want to get covered in red dirt, you’ll definitely want to book an ATV tour on Kauai. There are a couple of options on the South Coast where you’ll see waterfalls, secret spots, and even some Kauai filming locations.

Kauai Mountain Tubing

Kauai is the only island where you can tube down a ditch. It takes place at Mt. Waialeale (the wettest spot on Earth) and the only way to see this part of Kauai is on this tour.

Kayaking Wailua River

Another popular Kauai activity is kayaking down the Wailua River. You can rent your own kayaks or join a tour where you can also hike to Secret Falls. It’s one of the best things to do on the Garden Isle.

Best Outdoor Big Island Adventures

Swimming with Manta Rays

If you want an experience you cannot do on any other Hawaiian islands, book a Manta Ray snorkeling tour. It takes place at night and you’ll get to swim with Manta Rays!

Cultural ATV Ride

One of the most unique ATV tours in Hawaii is the Aloha Adventures cultural ATV tour in Kona. Not only do you get to ride in the jungle, but you’ll stop at cultural “villages” along the way to do hands-on activities.

Horseback Riding

The Big Island is home to paniolos (aka Hawaiian cowboys). So, it makes sense that it’s a great place to go horseback riding. You can find all types of rides along dramatic cliffs or scenic landscapes.

Hawaiian Cultural Activities on Kauai and the Big Island

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Hawaiian vacation without attending a luau! You’ll be happy to know that both Kauai and the Big Island have some great luau options.

Image of the Royal Kona Luau on the Big Island
Royal Kona Luau. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Best Kauai Luaus

My absolute favorite luau on Kauai is the Auli’i Luau in Poipu. They have tons of cool pre-show activities and the show itself is fantastic. It’s great for couples or for families. Other Kauai luau options include Luau Kalamaku or Smith’s Tropical Paradise.

Best Big Island Luaus

We really love the Voyagers of the Pacific Luau at the Royal Kona Resort. The show is great and the food is mouthwatering. It’s perfect for any type of traveler. Other Big Island luau options include Legends of Hawaii at the Hilton Waikoloa Village and Island Breeze Kona Luau at the King Kamehameha Beach Hotel.

Should You do Kauai or the Big Island First?

Whether you are already thinking about future Hawaiian vacations or you are planning on island hopping, you might be wondering if you should do Kauai or the Big Island first.

It really depends on what activities you’d like to do on each island. Both of these tropical islands have beautiful beaches and cool outdoor activities.

The Big Island has several full-day experiences (like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or exploring Hilo waterfalls) that require separate and possibly another hotel stay.

Kauai also has all-day adventures, like visiting Waimea Canyon or exploring North Shore Kauai.

If you’re planning on doing both the Big Island and Kauai in one trip, I’d probably start with the Big Island (which will have a lot more driving and adventures) and then head to Kauai to relax.

Want to Know More About Visiting Kauai?

Are you ready to plan your trip to Kauai? I have TONS of resources to help you! Check out where to stay, where to eat, what to do, and what to pack!

Want to Know More About Visiting the Big Island?

Are you ready to plan your trip to the Big Island? Let me tell you where to stay, where to eat, what to do, and what to pack!

Looking for general Hawaii travel resources? Find out the biggest Hawaii mistakes to avoid, Big Island vs Maui, my planning guide for first-timers, and my Hawaii island hopping guide!

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