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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the most beautiful places in Hawaii is North Shore Kauai. And one of the cutest small towns in Hawaii is Hanalei.
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
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.
The Hilo side of the Big Island has some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Hawaii. My top pick is Akaka Falls.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Big Island vs Kauai: Which Island is Best for Kids?
Kauai with Kids
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
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
There are also a few places to camp on Kauai and a handful of Kauai hostels.
Cheap Places to Stay on the Big Island
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.
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.
Grand Hyatt Kauai
They have a lazy river and a cute waterslide. Plus, tons of amazing restaurants. Check the latest rates and availability.
Koloa Landing Resort
Plus, this is one of the best pools in Hawaii! Check the latest rates and availability.
Royal Sonesta Kauai
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
You can hike to Hanakapiai Beach or go a few miles further to Hanakapiai 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.
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.
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.