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.
Save Money with Points
Here are the best credit card offers for people who travel and want to use points to pay for airfare and hotels in Hawaii.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Cheap Places to Stay on Kauai
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Head to Waimea Canyon on the West Coast and hike to see Waipoo Falls. It’s a unique experience on this beautiful 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.
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.
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.