Hawaii is the dream vacation destination for many and with several islands to choose from, it’s hard to decide where to go. For a first-time visitor Maui and Kauai are excellent choices. Both are two of the most beautiful islands in Hawaii, yet they offer a unique experience on their own.
So Maui vs Kauai, which destination is best for a dream holiday? Here you will find some considerations to help make your decision.
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Maui vs Kauai: Accessibility
Hawaii is an archipelago composed of eight major islands and many smaller islets located 2,500 miles from the west coast of the United States.
With 727 square miles and nearly 150,000 inhabitants, Maui is the second largest and third most populated island in Hawaii. It is more accessible and it receives double the number of tourists than Kauai.
There are several airlines that offer direct flights to Maui from Los Angeles such as American Airlines, Swiss Air, Hawaiian Airlines or Alaska Airlines. Tickets cost less than $400 and the flight time is between 5 and 6 hours. From New York, flights are both longer and more expensive. Alaska Airlines offer good deals for around $450 but layovers are long, so if you prefer a shorter 12-hour flight with one stop you will end up paying nearly $550.
If you’re flying to Maui from Europe, you can find tickets for about $1000 if you buy in advance.
With 562 square miles and around 70,000 inhabitants, Kauai, aka the Garden Isle, is a smaller and much less densely populated island than Maui. Kauai is more rural, lush and secluded, a perfect destination for nature and hiking lovers.
American Airlines, Swiss Air, Avianca, Hawaiian Airlines, United and other major airlines have direct flights from Los Angeles to Kauai for $450. From New York, however, all the flights have one stop -usually in San Francisco, Honolulu, Los Angeles or Denver- and cost around $600.
A flight from Europe to Kauai with a major airline like Lufthansa or Air France takes nearly 24 hours and costs between $900 and $1200 depending where you’re flying from.
Maui vs Kauai: When to go?
Even though Maui enjoys tropical temperatures the whole year, it has a rainy season that goes from November to March. Most visitors arrive between June and August, and December and March, when flights and accommodation are more expensive. So, considering weather, cost and crowds, the best months to visit Maui are April, May, September, and early October.
Like Maui, Kauai, enjoys warm temperatures all year round but receives more rain and is home to Waialeale Mount which is said to be one of the wettest places on Earth.
Most of the rain in Kauai falls from late November to March, when many tourists arrive escaping from the winter. The period from June to August is also very busy so April, May, September, and October are ideal to visit.
Maui vs Kauai: Attractions
With black sand beaches -especially on the west side-, calm waters, beachfront hotels and famous sunsets, Maui is a very popular option for many and receives nearly 2.5 million tourists every year, nearly twice as much as Kauai. Additionally, Maui’s waters are relatively calm making it a very good place for snorkeling.
Even though Maui is famous for its hotels and restaurants, it’s a very diverse island and two of its main attractions are Haleakala, the largest dormant volcano in the world which is a popular spot for sunset and sunrise, and the Road to Hana that will take you through amazing waterfalls and beaches.
For many, Kauai has the best nature of all the Hawaiian islands and it’s famous for its diverse scenery with mountains, cliffs, valleys and beaches.
Kauai is incredibly green with rich flora and fauna, a dream destination for outdoor lovers. It offers the whole package: stunning landscapes, world-class hiking trails, secluded beaches and even rivers that you can kayak.
It’s worth mentioning that several of the most spectacular sites on Kauai such as the Napali Coast, aren’t easily accessible by road, which means that they involve a hike, boat, or plane trip. However, there are some amazing natural sites such as the Waimea Canyon -aka Grand Canyon of the Pacific- that can be easily seen by car or on a hike.
Overall, both islands offer great activities but Maui’s best attractions are more accessible than Kauai’s.
Maui vs Kauai: Accommodations
Even though both islands have a good selection of hotels and restaurants, Maui is more developed for tourists than Kauai and offers more options in terms of accommodation.
In general, most of the hotels in Maui are located in the south or west of the island. Although prices can vary depending on the season, you can find a bed in a hostel dorm for $50 per night in Kahului, decent 3-star hotels for $250, or exclusive 5-star suites with ocean views for $800.
Kauai also has accommodation for all types of budgets but it doesn’t have as much variety as Maui if you’re looking for condos or resorts. Most of the lodging is concentrated on the eastern and southern side of the island where you can find nice rooms with a private bathroom for $100, many hotels between $200 and $300, as well as fashionable spa resorts for $900.
Hawaiian food is influenced by a wide variety of cultures that migrated to the Islands and left their trace in the cuisine. Many dishes combine Polynesian, Asian and European flavours making it very tasty and unique.
In Maui there are restaurants to suit all tastes where you can find excellent traditional and international food. Some of the dishes you must try in Maui are poi (a paste made from taro root), laulau (pork wrapped in taro leaves), kalua pig (tender pork that is roasted for hours and has a smoky taste), and lomi salmon (salad made with raw salmon, onions, tomatoes and chilli).
Even though Kauai doesn’t have as many restaurants as Maui, it has enough variety to please every type of traveler. Apart from poi, laulau or lomi salmon, some of the local specialties that are worth trying are Hanalei Jerk Ragout (buffalo in a spicy sauce with rice) or lilikoi (passion fruit) pie, a delicacy made with lemon meringue that is said to be unique to Kauai.
Even though it’s often called “the playground of the rich”, Maui isn’t only accessible to a few. However, it’s true that generally speaking Kauai is a bit cheaper.
In terms of accommodation, there isn’t a huge difference between both islands but when it comes to shopping and eating Maui can be slightly more expensive as it’s more touristy. Having said that, there are many local places that offer great value for money and will help you save some dollars.
Regarding activities, both islands offer excellent free and paid options. Helicopter flights tend to be more expensive in Maui compared to Kauai but whale watching trips are cheaper in Maui.
Considering accommodation, food and activities, you can expect spend between $150 and $250 in Maui, and a bit less in Kauai.
Renting a car is definitely the best way to explore both Maui and Kauai. It’s true that there are taxis and public transportation on the islands but a car will allow you to better enjoy your time and make the most of your holidays.
Prices for a mid-size car start at around $25 per day if you book in advance but generally you can expect to pay between $40 and $50 per day.
- Hawaii is the only American state that has 3 official languages: English, Hawaiian and Pidgin, named an official language in 2015.
- The Hawaiian language comes from the Polynesian family and its alphabet has 13 letters: five vowels and eight consonants.
- Pidgin is a local slang that combines words from English and Creole.
- Maui receives nearly 2.5 million tourists every year while Kauai is visited by around 1.3 million making them the second and fourth most visited islands in Hawaii respectively.
- Kauai is famous for being a popular location for fantasy films. Movies such as Jurassic Park, Avatar and Pirates of the Caribbean were shot there.
Maui vs Kauai: The Verdict
These two islands are beautiful in their own way. Maui is a more developed island, it’s more accessible and it’s a great choice for those who come to Hawaii for the first time looking for variety. There are plenty of resorts, good restaurants, great shopping areas, amazing beaches and outdoor activities such as the Haleakala volcano and the Road to Hana.
On the other hand, if you love nature, world-class trekking, amazing scenery and want something more adventurous, Kauai is your choice. Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast are two of the most beautiful places in the Pacific making this island a dream destination for nature lovers.
To sum up, both islands are stunning and you can’t go wrong with either option. If you have the chance and enough time try to split your trip and enjoy both of them!
He is an expert travel advisor and enthusiast. He has traveled extensively in the USA, Central American, South America and Europe. He has visited every Sandals Resort and is one of a select few Diamond Elite members of the Sandals Chairman’s Royal Club.
Dan graduated from Johnson & Wales University with an associate degree in Culinary Arts. Later he graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies with a focus on people and culture.