Home » Kauai » Maui or Kauai: Find the Best Hawaiian Island for Your Next Vacation

Maui or Kauai: Find the Best Hawaiian Island for Your Next Vacation

Alert for Visitors: Maui has experienced significant wildfires in August 2023, causing major disruption for both locals and tourists. For your safety and up-to-date information, please visit the Maui County website before planning any activities or travels. Your understanding and cooperation are appreciated. Stay safe!

Do you need some advice on planning your next trip to Hawaii? If you’re debating between Maui or 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 Maui or 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 choose between Maui and Kauai for your next vacation?

Hawaii is a great place to visit no matter which island you choose, but there are definitely some differences between Kauai and Maui.

Here we compare the two so you can make an informed decision about the best Hawaiian island for you.

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

Both Maui and Kauai are beautiful islands with plenty of activities and attractions to keep travelers busy, but if you’re looking for something specific then one of these islands might be better suited than the other.

Keep scrolling to find out more about which is the best Hawaiian island worth visiting next!

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 Maui

I know a lot of people wonder if there’s much difference between the weather on Maui 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 usually quick rain showers.

Both islands can also get pretty windy. The South Shore of Kauai (Poipu area) and West Maui (Ka’anapali and Lahaina) are the windiest areas.

Tell Me the Difference Between Maui and Kauai

Out of all the Hawaiian islands, Oahu is by far the busiest. In the middle are Maui and Kauai and the least busy is the Big Island.

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

Top Places to Visit on Maui

Haleakala National Park

One of the most popular Maui attractions is Haleakala National Park. It’s one of the few national parks in Hawaii.

Image of Haleakala National Park on Maui with lots of rocks at sunrise
Don’t miss the sunrise from Haleakala Crater on Maui.

You can explore it any time of day, but the most coveted time is sunrise. People say that seeing the sunrise from Haleakala volcano is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

We’ve done it and I totally agree! Although sunset is a close second!

Road to Hana

Driving the Road to Hana is one of the best things to do on Maui. It’s a really windy road that goes from the North Shore to the East Shore, ending in Hana town.

Find out the best stops on the Road to Hana recommended by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel Spot. Image of Makapipi Falls on the Road to Hana Maui
The Road to Hana is one of the most scenic drives in Hawaii.

While there are lots of cool things to do in Hana town, the main draw of this activity is the scenic drive on Maui. There are tons of Road to Hana stops including waterfalls, food trucks, hikes, beaches, and so much more.

Lots of people rent a car and drive it themselves. However, you can also book a Road to Hana tour and leave the driving to the professionals.

Black Sand Beaches

If you have black sand beaches on your Hawaii bucket list, you’ll definitely want to head to Maui.

Hana Black Sand Beach at Waianapanapa State Park on Maui. Image of a black sand beach with a green hill in the background.
Hana Black Sand Beach at Waianapanapa State Park on Maui.

Waianapanapa State Park is located in Hana and it’s one of the best black sand beaches in Hawaii.

You will need to make a reservation to visit, but it’s totally worth that extra step. I mean, how often will you get to experience something like this?

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 couple taking a selfie on a Na Pali Boat Tour
Add a Na Pali Coast boat tour to your Kauai bucket list!

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 Waipoo Falls in Waimea Canyon on Kauai
Waipoo Falls in Waimea Canyon.

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
Don’t miss Hanalei Bay 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.

Kauai vs Maui for a Honeymoon

Planning a honeymoon in Hawaii? You probably already know that both Kauai and Maui are popular Hawaii honeymoon islands.

Planning a Maui Honeymoon

There are tons of romantic luxury resorts on Maui that are perfect for honeymoons. Most offer adult-only pools, secluded beaches, and amazing spa services.

Check out the best honeymoon hotels in Maui recommended by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel Spot! Image of a couple sitting on the edge of a hotel pool in Maui
Maui is a popular honeymoon destination.

Maui also has some great nightlife, especially on Front Street in Lahaina. There are many romantic Maui restaurants, cocktail bars, and places to hear live music.

And there is no shortage of romantic things to do on Maui. A few favorites include sunset cruises, horseback riding, or wine tasting.

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 more secluded Hawaii honeymoon spot.

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.

Book a Hawaii Photo Shoot

Whenever we travel to Hawaii, we almost always book a photo shoot with Flytographer. They are super easy, affordable, AND it guarantees that I’ll have more than just selfies. You can get $25 off if you book through this link or use the code HAWAIITRAVEL.

Which Island is Cheaper to Visit: Kauai or Maui?

Are you heading to Hawaii on a budget? You’re probably wondering if Kauai or Maui 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 Maui

If you’re heading to Maui on a budget, there are several cheap places to stay on Maui. A couple of my top recommendations include the Maui Beach Hotel and the Kaanapali Ocean Inn.

There are also places to camp on Maui and even some Maui hostels.

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.

Things to do on Maui on a Budget

You won’t run out of free things to do on Maui. Besides the amazing beaches and hikes, you can peruse art galleries, catch a free hula show, or experience a gorgeous Maui sunset. Maui also has some fantastic Happy Hours, a lavender farm, and tons of botanical gardens.

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.

Best Places to Stay on Maui and Kauai

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

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

Maui Resorts

Fairmont Kea Lani

This Maui resort is located in the upscale area of Wailea in South Maui. It’s not cheap, but you’ll get your money’s worth, especially if you’re looking for a resort vacation in Hawaii. Check the latest rates and availability.

Honua Kai Resort & Spa

This is a cool place to stay on Maui because it has the option of hotel rooms or condos. It’s my top pick for multi-generational trips to Hawaii. Plus, there’s a Duke’s restaurant on the property. Check the latest rates and availability.

Hyatt Regency Maui

If you’re looking for a Maui resort with a swim-up bar and water slides, you’ll want to stay at the Hyatt Regency Maui. It also has the best Maui shave ice stand right at the hotel. 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. Read 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 Maui or Kauai?

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

Image of a man and woman sitting on the hood of a Jeep looking out at the ocean
You’ll want to rent a car on Kauai or Maui.

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.

Maui versus Kauai: Beaches and Snorkeling

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

Top Kauai Beaches

Poipu Beach Park

If you’re dreaming of golden sand beaches, look no further than Poipu Beach Park. 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.

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.

Tunnels Beach. Image of a North Shore Kauai beach with clear water
Tunnels Beach is one of the most popular North Shore Kauai beaches for snorkeling.

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

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!

Top Maui Beaches

Kaanapali beach

Out of all Maui’s beaches, Ka’anapali Beach is a crowd favorite. It’s a huge beach that is lined with several resorts. This makes it super convenient for people who don’t want to drive far from their hotel.

Kapalua Beach

I think Kapalua Beach is one of the prettiest beaches on Maui. It’s a popular photography spot. And it’s usually not very crowded.

Image of Kapalua Bay on Maui
Kapalua Bay on Maui.

There’s also a restaurant nearby which makes a great spot to sit and watch the sunset after hanging out at the beach.

Red Sand Beaches

Something unique about Maui is that it has red sand beaches, like Kaihalulu Beach in Hana. It takes some effort to get to but it’s unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced.

Maui 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 nature lovers, but they are vastly different.

Where to Hike on Maui

I’ao Needle

If you want an easy hike on Maui, look no further than I’ao Valley State Park. There’s a short, paved trail that leads up to a viewing platform of I’ao Needle.

Image of a sharp mountain peak called I'ao Needle on Maui surrounded by green mountains and bushes
I’ao Needle on Maui.

Plus, you can walk through a cute garden and even visit a Maui swimming hole.

Advance reservations to enter I’ao Valley State Monument are now available online. The parking fee is $10 per vehicle. The additional non-resident entrance fee is $5 per person with no charge for children under three years old.

Sliding Sands Trail

Want to hike at Haleakala volcano? The Sliding Sands Trail is a popular choice. You’ll get to explore a dormant volcano while catching amazing views of the Maui coastline in the distance.

Pipiwai Trail

This is one of the best hikes on the Road to Hana. You’ll get to hike through a bamboo forest until you reach a secluded waterfall.

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.

Image of a boy walking at Limahuli Garden on Kauai
Limahuli Garden is one of the prettiest gardens on Kauai.

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

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.

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

Adventurous Activities on Kauai and Maui

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 Maui Adventures

Ziplining on Maui

Thrill-seekers will love all the Maui ziplining options! One of the most popular places to zipline on Maui is Camp Maui along the North Shore.

Swimming in a Waterfall

Not all Hawaii waterfalls are safe to swim in. On Maui, there’s Twin Falls along the Road to Hana. This is one of the best Maui waterfalls to swim in. It’s not too far into the drive, so it makes a great first stop!

Parasailing on Maui

I’m highlighting parasailing on Maui mainly because you cannot do this on Kauai. I think the only other place to parasail in Hawaii is in Waikiki on Oahu.

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.

Hawaiian Cultural Activities on Maui and Kauai

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

Twilight Fire Dancer in the Hawaiian Islands
Both Maui and Kauai have great luau options!

Best Maui Luaus

My all-time favorite luau on Maui is the Feast at Mokapu in Wailea. They have strong cocktails and the plated dinner is a gourmet experience. It’s perfect for honeymooners! Other Maui luau options include the Old Lahaina Luau and the Myths of Maui.

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.

Should You do Maui or Kauai 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 Maui 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.

Maui has several big experiences (like the Road to Hana and Haleakala National Park) that require separate days.

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

If you’re planning on doing both Maui and Kauai in one trip, I’d probably start with Maui (which has more hustle and bustle) 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 Maui?

Are you ready to plan your trip to Maui? I have TONS of resources to help you! Check out 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, my planning guide for first-timers, and my Hawaii island hopping guide!

Leave a Comment