Selecting the Best Hawaii Island: Maui vs. Big Island
The 'Valley Isle' vs. The 'Orchid Isle
Are you dreaming of your perfect vacation destination? Hawaii offers the ideal mix of relaxation, adventure, and entertainment for anyone looking to unwind. You'll find everything you want in this Pacific paradise. Uncover the breathtaking views, luxurious accommodations, once-in-a-lifetime adventures, and restaurants. Not sure which island to choose? Our guide to Hawaii provides a comparison of Maui and the Big Island. The guide covers each island's activities, beaches, food, drink, nightlife, and diversity to help you decide.
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Maui and Big Island Overview
Despite sharing some of Hawaii's biggest draws, such as beautiful beaches and plenty to do, each island has its distinct features.
Maui offers the ultimate tourist experience, meeting nearly all vacationers’ high expectations. Maui provides excellent sites and natural resources, such as stunning beaches, mighty volcanoes, and swaying palm trees. With so much of the island dedicated to agriculture, you’ll encounter farms full of organic fruits, vegetables, and taro. Bask in the small town, living at a slower pace.
Maui has a laid-back vibe and tons of authentic Hawaiian experiences to explore:
- Beach towns: Maui offers an array of medium-sized beach towns filled with personality and life.
- Untouched Hana: Go whale watching in Hana.
- Farms: Farming in Hawaii offers something for everyone. You can tour the farms to see the coffee, lavender, pineapple, and protea farms while learning about Hawaiian agriculture.
- Local distillery and wineries: The distilleries and wineries offer several exciting, unique attractions that are a must for all visitors. Sample the wines as you bask in Maui’s stunning terrains.
- Excursions: Ready for an adrenaline-fueled adventure? Visit the summit of Haleakala, sail the Auau Channel for whales, or surf the waves of Maui’s scenic beaches.
Get ready to frolic in nature, absorb island culture, and explore untouched terrain! Maui makes it all possible.
Big Island heralds diversity. The island’s massive size leads to endless opportunities for exploration. The island boasts eight climate zones that nurture its diverse terrain. From the snowy peak of Mauna Kea to active volcanoes to warm, breezy beaches, adventure awaits you! Use our list to help your planning:
- Exploring the coast: As the most significant island in Hawaii, we recommend renting a car to savor the island’s shores. Start from Kona and proceed to the south/eastern side of Hilo.
- Nighttime water adventures: The night provides a glimpse of the rare and elusive Manta Ray. Swim, dive, or snorkel to find them in their favorite haunts.
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: This unique place allows visitors to explore volcanoes, caves, and other natural wonders.
- Mauna Kea: As the highest mountain in Hawaii, this inactive volcano stands at 14,000 feet above sea level. The landmark stood as a cultural symbol for ancient Hawaiian tribes.
- Multi-colored sandy beaches: Choose from beaches with unheard-of white, black, or green sand.
Big Island is your ideal destination if you want to explore the diversity of Hawaii’s natural features.
Big Island Adventures and Activities
Big Island adventures keep even the most active visitors on their toes. Some of your top activities should include:
- Whale Watching in Kona: The winter months offer a spectacular site with whale-watching adventures that will take your breath away.
- Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park highlights ancient Hawaii's rich and diverse culture.
- Excellent Snorkeling at Two-Step: Discover your underwater world at Two-Step. Swim with an impressive variety of fish and coral.
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: This national park comprises many hiking paths. Spend hours on ranger-led hikes and find the best views of the lava flowing into the ocean. Or hike the Kilauea Iki trail and see the effects of volcanic activity on the island over millions of years. You'll descend into the caldera from the Volcano rainforest to see what life was like on this island before humans came.
- Kalapana: Visit Kalapana's black sand beach. Lava overtook the beach in the 90s. Yet, the newly formed black sand spans touch remnants of the original sand. Such a comparison provides a rare glimpse of how the island changes constantly.
- MacKenzie State Park: We suggest grabbing your camera and walking through the beautiful landscape. Here, these views create a social media-worthy image.
- Hilo: Hilo's downtown area affords an excellent day of exploring. Swing through the shops, galleries, and boutiques. Sample the local food or purchase local arts and crafts at the Farmers Market held Wednesdays and Saturdays. You can also find the Tsunami Museum.
- Kapoho Kalapana Road: Drive through Puna to see the breathtaking views of lava fields, waterfalls, and wild horses along the coast. In addition, cruise along the Hamakua Coast for the beautiful coastline and turquoise waters.
- Historic Town of Honoka: Go to the heart of this town, the Waipi'o Valley. Here you'll have a perfect view of the Valley of Kings and its impressive taro crop. It's a great place to enjoy a leisurely lunch while browsing the stores and art galleries and taking in some culture.
- Rainbow Falls: Marvel at this cascading waterfall and enjoy this natural wonder.
Maui Adventures and Activities
If you're into exploring and enjoying all mother nature has to offer, Maui has an impressive list of adventures to explore:
- The Road to Hana: Savor this scenic 50-mile drive to Hana, passing 600 curves and 60 bridges. Stop along the way for a quick hike or feast on some local produce at one farm stand.
- Visit the Haleakala Crater: Head to Haleakala National Park's summit or trek the shorter paths along the Pa Ka'oao Trail or the Leleiwi Overlook. If you're feeling ambitious, tackle the Sliding Sands Trail.
- Kaanapali Beach: Stake your claim on the beach to take in the views. Are you looking for more action? Rent a kayak or stroll the paths along the shoreline. Last, shop or dine in the many stores or restaurants along the coastline.
- Iao Valley: In the center of the West Maui Mountains and outside Wailuku, Iao offers a quiet escape into nature. The 1,200-foot Iao Needle rock formation takes center stage in this trail as hikers trek past the West Maui Mountains, garden, and river view pepper the trail. Along the path, read the signposts commemorating King Kamehameha's conquering the island of Maui.
- Whale Watching: From November to March, you can watch 10,000 humpback whales gather in the waters of the Auau Channel. Watch these whales from the banks of Lahaina, Kihei, Kaanapali, and Wailea.
- Snorkeling: Book your choice of snorkeling tours, with many offering whale watching at a price during the winter months.
- Boat Tours: Boat tours off Maui's west coast give the best opportunities to enjoy Maui's view from the ocean. Most tours also route past nearby islands, including Molokini, Lanai, Molokai, and Kahoolawe.
Maui presents enough variety to please any vacationer regardless of a person's preference. Maui holds a range of beaches, from the deluxe Wailea beaches to the red sand at Koki Beach. Suppose white sand appeals to you; cruise to the white sandy beaches in Kaanapali. Are you looking to capture Mother Nature at its best? Consider the Waiʻānapanapa State Park, where black sand lay across the turquoise ocean. Indeed, your loved ones will love your images. For the low-key traveler, choose Mai Point for its no-frills beaches.
Maui Food, Drink, and Nightlife
Maui bursts with energy and offers a vibrant selection of restaurants, shopping, and entertainment. Its countless restaurants, clubs, and bars serve a fusion of Hawaiian and international cuisine. Cruise downtown Lahaina for local eateries, celebrity-owned restaurants, brewpubs, and live music for a colorful night. For some renowned entertainment, go to Wailea to indulge and splurge. Experience the world-class restaurants, beach-side cocktails, high-end sushi, or the DJ-pumping nightclubs.
Big Island Food, Drink, and Nightlife
Although Big Island presents limited nightlife options, nightlife thrives in Kona. With its laid-back vibe, Kona's nightlife is less intimidating. People looking for a more relaxed, fun experience will appreciate the vibe in Kona. Yet, with a laid-back meal or cocktails, Hilo offers diverse dining options.
What Makes Maui Unique?
As you roam Maui’s beautiful terrains, savor its chill vibes. Here, vast terrain areas like Haleakala add unimaginable beauty to the landscape. From magnificent volcanoes to unique red or black sandy beaches, prepare yourself for an adventure. Whether you hike, bike, camp, stargaze, or whale watching, Maui offers the ideal spot to kick back, relax, and experience the beauty of nature.
What Makes Big Island Unique?
With many attractions to experience and see, Big Island offers incredible vacation time. The island fits the desires of nature lovers, history buffs, and culture enthusiasts. A central location allows you to explore the entire island and its wondrous beauty. Check out the brilliant lava flow, historic sites, diverse terrains, charming towns, etc., for an unforgettable vacation. The island boasts everything from pristine beaches to rainforests and volcanoes, and its unique Hawaiian culture and cuisine will please.
Big Island offers the widest variety of experiences for authentic Hawaiian experiences. Maui is perfect for you if you're looking for an island with a more miniature landscape but plenty of outdoor activities.