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Maui vs Big Island: Which is the Right Hawaiian Island for You?

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 help planning your next trip to Hawaii? If you’re debating Maui vs Big Island, 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 vs Big Island 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.

Planning your next Hawaiian vacation and stuck between Maui and the Big Island?

I know how hard it can be to choose just one island when there are so many amazing places in Hawaii to visit. That’s why we’re here to help you figure out which island is right for you.

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

We’ll provide all of the information you need to make an informed decision before booking your flight and hotel.

Both Maui and the Big Island are incredible islands, but they offer different experiences. With our help, you can choose the right island for your needs and have a vacation of a lifetime!

Keep scrolling to read my full comparison of Maui vs Big Island so you can make the right choice!

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 in Maui vs Big Island

Are you wondering if there’s much difference between the weather on the Big Island and Maui?

It’s pretty similar between the two islands. Hawaii temperatures usually range from the 70s-80s and winter is the rainy season. During the rest of the year, it’s typically just short rain showers.

Both islands can also get pretty windy, especially during the winter months. West Maui (Lahaina/Ka’anapali area) and the South Shore of the Big Island are the windiest areas.

Tell Me the Difference Between the Big Island and Maui

The Big Island is much bigger than you might realize. 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 (like Kona/Waikoloa and Hilo/Volcano).

By comparison, Maui is much smaller. There’s typically a lot of traffic between Kahului and Lahaina during rush hour. However, you can easily stay in one area and do day trips to the other parts of the island.

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

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 one of the two main national parks in Hawaii.

Hawaii Big Island lava tourist on volcano poking stick in red hot moving lava. flowing lava from Kilauea volcano around Hawaii volcanoes national park, USA. Young asian woman hiker.
Check out 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. You can join one of the many Big Island volcano tours or explore on your own.

Akaka Falls

The Hilo side of the Big Island has some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Hawaii. One of the coolest ones to visit is Akaka Falls.

Check out this state and national parks in Hawaii list by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel Spot! Image of a couple taking a photo at Akaka Falls on the Big Island.
Akaka Falls is one of the prettiest Big Island waterfalls.

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

Most tourists visiting the Big Island will stay somewhere along the Kona Coast. It’s famous for having a rocky coastline and tons of resorts.

The Kona Coast is full of lava rocks.

It’s a great place for night snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, or walking on lava rocks. Plus, it’s easy to book tours and excursions with resort pick-ups.

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 most unique national parks in the United States and you’ll feel like you’re on another planet.

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 ideal time is sunrise. Visitors 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 at Haleakala Crater is also quite beautiful!

Molokini Crater

One of the coolest places to snorkel in Hawaii is Molokini Crater off the coast of Maui. You’ll need to book a Maui snorkeling tour to get there.

Image of snorkelers at Molokini Crater jumping into the water
Go snorkeling at Molokini Crater off the coast of Maui.

You can do full-day or half-day tours and sometimes they even go to Turtle Town where you can spot Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles!

Road to Hana

Driving the Road to Hana is one of the best things to do on Maui. It’s a two-lane road that follows the coast from North Shore to the East Shore, ending in Hana town.

Get the best Road to Hana tips by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel Spot! Image of Upper Waikani Falls (aka Three Bears Falls) along the Road to Hana on Maui

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

Many 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.

Maui vs the Big Island for a Honeymoon

Planning a honeymoon in Hawaii? Maui and the Big Island offer very different types of honeymoon vacations.

Planning a Maui Honeymoon

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

Find out the most romantic honeymoon activities in Maui recommended by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel Spot! Image of a man and woman walking on the beach away from the camera
Maui is a popular honeymoon spot in Hawaii.

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 Big Island Honeymoon

There are some gorgeous 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.

Find out the most romantic things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii recommended by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel Spot! Image of a man and woman holding hands in the ocean while wearing swimsuits
The Big Island has recently become a top honeymoon spot.

Couples will also appreciate the romantic restaurants in Kona. You’ll enjoy tasty 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

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.

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

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

Both Maui and the Big Island are great for Hawaii family vacations.

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 delicious shave ice spots.

Maui with Kids

There are tons of fun things to do on Maui with kids. A few of our favorites include the Maui Tropical Plantation, the Maui Ocean Center, and the Surfing Goat Dairy Farm.

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

Which Island is Cheaper: the Big Island or Maui?

Are you heading to Hawaii on a budget? You’re probably wondering if Maui or the Big Island is the cheapest Hawaiian island to visit.

The good news is both of them can be somewhat affordable. I’d say you can find better deals on the Big Island vs Maui.

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

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.

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.

Things to do on the Big Island on a Budget

There are plenty of free things to do on the Big Island, no matter what type of activity you’re looking for.

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.

Things to do on Maui on a Budget

You won’t run out of free things to do on Maui. Since it’s such a popular tourist spot, there are plenty of activities that won’t cost you a dime.

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.

Best Places to Stay on the Big Island and Maui

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

There are also lots of vacation rentals on the Big Island and Maui. 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. You can read my full 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.

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.

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

Honestly, there really aren’t a lot of great public transportation options on the Big Island or Maui. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to visit the Big Island without a rental car unless you only book tours/excursions with resort pick-up.

I highly recommend renting a car on Maui and the Big Island.

It’s definitely possible to visit 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.

Big Island versus Maui: Beaches and Snorkeling

If you are a total beach bum or want to do some snorkeling in Hawaii, both Maui 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’s one of the nicest white sandy beaches and it’s perfect for a relaxing beach day.

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.

Check out the sea turtles at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.

While you can find black sand beaches on Maui, Punalu’u is the famous black sand beach. Plus, you’ll probably see Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles here!

Papakolea Green Sand Beach

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

This famous green sand beach can be tricky to get to. You’ll either need to hike or pay a local to drive you. Rental cars are not allowed.

Top Maui Beaches

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.

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

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 really easy for visitors to walk from their resort.

Image of Kaanapali Beach on Maui with footprints in the golden sand
Kaanapali Beach is one of the most popular beaches on Maui.

It’s one of those pristine beaches that people envision when they dream about their perfect Hawaii vacation.

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.

Big Island vs Maui: 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 most impressive 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 of a challenge, head to the Pololu Valley. Here, you’ll get to explore one of the most beautiful valleys in Hawaii.

Beautiful Pololu loop trail located near Kapaau, Hawaii, that features beautiful wild flowers and stunning views to the Pololu Valley. Big Island, Hawaii.
Adventure-seekers will love hiking in the Pololu Valley.

The lush greenery and epic scenery will blow your mind. Just be sure to keep to the trail and be respectful to the land.

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 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.

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

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.

Road to Hana Stops: Image of the Pipiwai Trail through a bamboo forest
The Pipiwai Trail is a popular Road to Hana stop.

I recommend getting there early, if possible. It’s even better if you can spend the night in Hana and then do this first thing in the morning.

Sliding Sands Trail

Want to hike at Haleakala volcano? The Keonehe’ehe’e Trail (aka Sliding Sands Trail) is a popular choice for Haleakala hiking trails.

You’ll get to explore a dormant volcano while catching amazing views of the Maui coastline in the distance.

Things to do and Outdoor Adventures: Maui 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 Maui Adventures

Ziplining on Maui

Maui offers some incredible 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 or easy half-day excursion!

Snorkeling at Molokini Crater

One of the best places to snorkel on Maui is Molokini Crater. You’ll need to book a Molokini boat tour because it’s actually off the coast of Maui. I suggest booking a tour that includes breakfast, lunch or both!

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 in Kona 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

Hawaii 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 Maui 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 Maui and the Big Island have some great luau options.

Image of three men standing in the ocean at night holding torches at a Hawaii luau
Both the Big Island and Maui 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 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.

Big Island vs Maui: Nightlife

If nightlife is important to you, you’ll definitely want to go to Maui. There are tons of restaurants with live music and lively bars on Front Street in Lahaina.

The Big Island is pretty quiet. You can still find live music at the resorts, but that’s mostly it.

Why is Maui More Popular than Big Island?

Maui has been a popular vacation destination for decades. People are familiar with it and there are tons of direct flights to Maui. Plus, it has world-renowned resorts and many celebrities visit Maui.

The Big Island has only become a popular vacation spot in recent years. It has a reputation for being “rugged” and quiet. And most people don’t realize how many incredible activities the Big Island offers.

Should You do Maui 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 Maui 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.

Maui also has all-day adventures, like visiting Haleakala National Park or exploring the Road to Hana.

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

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!

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!

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