Bali vs Hawaii: An Honest Comparison to Help You Decide!

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If you’re looking for a tropical island fringed with palm trees and soft-sand beaches for your next vacation, then Indonesia’s Bali or the US’s State of Hawaii may already be on your radar.

After all, both destinations are bathed in tropical sun and are known for their superb surfing and scuba diving. Both are also destinations that are home to impressive natural landscapes, including lush rainforests, iconic beaches, and hike-able volcanoes. So which one is best for you…?

Bali, known as the ‘Island of the Gods,’ sits just below the Equator, between the islands of Java and Lombok, and is Indonesia’s only Hindu-majority province. The province includes the island of Bali itself, as well as the nearby islands of Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Ceningan, and is Indonesia’s best-known tourist destination.

Famed for its beautiful beaches, ancient Hindu temples, excellent scuba diving, and great surfing, Bali is a top destination for many different types of travelers especially backpackers, young couples and those seeking a fun nightlife scene…

Hawaii, nicknamed the ‘Aloha State,’ lies some 2,000 miles west of the US mainland, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and is world-renowned for being the home of surfing and its stunning volcanic landscapes.

Hawaii’s six main tourist islands – Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Maui, and Hawaiʻi – all boast superb beaches and are popular for their excellent surfing and scuba diving. In particular, Hawaii is a great destination for family beach holidays, hiking, and for those seeking to engage in water sports…

But that’s just the start!

That’s why below we’ll delve a little deeper into the similarities and differences between these two iconic vacation destinations and see which has the best beaches and nightlife, and which is better for surfing and scuba diving, to help you choose your next dream destination!

CONTENTS:

  1. Which Is Easier To Get To?
  2. Which Is Better For Beaches?
  3. Which Is Best For Surfing?
  4. Which Is Better For Diving & Snorkeling?
  5. Which Has The Best Volcanoes?
  6. Which Is Best For Nightlife?
  7. Which Is Best For Families?
  8. Which Is More Expensive?
  9. Where To Stay According To Your Budget
  10. What Time Of Year Is Best?
  11. Which Is The Better Choice?
An infographic pitting Bali vs Hawaii and showing some of the key differences that will be discovered later in the article.

Which Is Easier To Get To?

While figuring out which is easier to get to will depend on where you live, generally speaking, both Hawaii and Bali are pretty easy to reach.

Both destinations have busy international airports to fly into, but you may still need two flights to reach either one.

Bali is the tourism gateway to Indonesia and is home to the country’s second-busiest airport, Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS) in Denpasar. The airport is well connected to Australasia and East Asia, with several direct flights to major cities in these areas each day.

Bali’s airport also has direct flights to the Middle East and to Istanbul, and travelers coming from Europe will need to transit along the way. If you are based in the US, you will also need a second flight to reach Bali, with Tokyo and Seoul being popular routes.

Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), also known as Honolulu International Airport, is the busiest and largest airport in Hawaii and is located on the island of Oʻahu.

Unless you are based on the west coast of the United States, this will probably be your best bet for reaching Hawaii, although Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island, and Maui also boast busy airports.

Honolulu International Airport receives direct flights from the western US coastline as well as from East Asia, and travelers from other locations may need to transit via major cities in these areas.

There is no clear winner in this category, as both locations have bustling international airports, and you may find yourself needing two flights to reach either destination.

Young woman looking out at the beautiful ocean view.
iStock.com/kieferpix

Which Is Better For Beaches?

If you’re planning on spending much of your vacation relaxing on tropical beaches, then both Hawaii and Bali can deliver.

Whether you’re looking to enjoy a relaxing day at the beach (with or without the kids in tow), to try your hand at surfing, or are looking for a party beach for sunset drinks, both destinations have plenty of choices…

Ultimately, both Bali and Hawaii are blessed with an array of stunning beaches to keep the beach bums happy, and there’s no clear winner here.

With Bali, though, you could argue that it’s easier to get around and see as many as you can, as they’re all on the same main island…

But with all of that being the case, one of the best ways to work out which is best for your vacation, is to show you the best beaches each destination has to offer!

Couple walking on Waikiki beach Hawaii vacation. Happy couple in love relaxing at sunset on tourist famous travel destination in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii.
iStock.com/Maridav

Bali: The Best Beaches

Best Family Beach: Heading south from bustling Kuta takes you to the Bukit Peninsula, which is where you can find Nusa Dua Beach.

This long stretch of powder-soft sand is backed by exclusive resorts, with sun loungers for hire, and is a great place for a family day out at the beach.

Best Surfing Beach For Beginners: Kuta is the busiest area of Bali, and its main beach is a convenient place to try surfing for the first time.

There are plenty of surf schools in the area, and you have shopping malls and restaurants on hand for when you need to refuel.

Best Peaceful Beach: Thomas Beach, near to Uluwatu on the Bukit Peninsula, is a great beach if you’re looking for a peaceful spot to catch some rays or get lost in your holiday book.

It’s a little less crowded than its better-known neighbors, and in addition to being peaceful, it’s also a highly Instagrammable beach too.

Best Party Beach: Seminyak Beach, a short distance to the north of Kuta Beach, faces west and is lined with hip cafes and bars.

It’s a great spot for a sunset Bintang, and you can party on into the night at Potato Head Beach Club, where big-name international DJs can be found behind the decks.

Tropical beach with boats and blue ocean in tropical island
iStock.com/Nuture

Hawaii: The Best Beaches

Best Family Beach: Lanikai Beach, located 15 miles north-east of Honolulu, is a great option to escape the Waikiki crowds and is blessed with super-soft golden sands.

The mile-long beach is also lapped by calm waters, although if driving, it’s best to head there early to secure a parking spot.

Best Surfing Beach For Beginners: There can only be one winner here: Waikiki. While the pros and the experts flock to the iconic and less forgiving breaks on Oahu’s North Shore, those newer to the sport or looking to give it a try will be better served heading to Waikiki.

Best Peaceful Beach: Makalawena Beach, on the western coast of the Big Island, is perfect for those looking for an off-the-beaten-path stretch of sand.

The expansive beach is not reachable by road, and you will need to earn your spot in the tranquil sand by hiking through sand dunes and lava fields. But that’s why it’s so peaceful…

Best Party Beach: Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach is Hawaii’s best-known beach, and as well as being a good spot for your first surf lesson, it is also a great place to celebrate catching your first wave with a post-surf beer or two.

You can follow an afternoon surf lesson with a few happy hour beers, with the Mai Tai Bar being a popular choice.

Hawaii beach Honolulu city travel landscape of Waikiki beach and Diamond Head mountain peak at sunset, Oahu island, USA vacation.
iStock.com/Maridav

Which Is Best For Surfing?

With Hawaii considered the home of surfing, you may expect it to be the clear winner in this category, but not so fast…

Both destinations are Meccas for board-riders, and both have superb waves for all skill levels.

Hawaii North Shore surfing on the island of Oahu is legendary, and is home to the iconic Banzai Pipeline, touted by many as the number one surf spot on the globe.

Honolua Bay is easily Maui’s most popular surf spot, but is usually quite busy with experienced surfers on the lookout for the area’s large swells with great barrel sections.

And on Kauai, there’s awesome surf at Kiahuna Beach, which has gentler waves close to shore and bigger breaks beyond the protection of the reef.

Bali may not quite be as iconic as Hawaii in the surf world, but it’s not so far down the list. One of Bali’s pluses on the surf-holiday front is that the different breaks are more accessible, and you can hire a scooter with a board rack and move freely around the island.

For the more experienced surfer, Bali’s Bukit Peninsula region has some great surf beaches, including Uluwatu, Balangan, and the unforgiving Padang Padang.

While Hawaii might just sneak it in this category, Bali’s not a million miles behind…

surfer on waves in Bali
iStock.com/Nuture

Which Is Better For Diving & Snorkeling?

As tropical island destinations, both Bali and Hawaii are surrounded by clear, blue waters, and both have plenty of opportunities to jump in the water and snorkel or scuba dive with an impressive array of marine life, including sharks, turtles, and giant manta rays.

If you’re considering Bali and plan to spend some time snorkeling, your best bet will be Padang Bai or Tulamben. Both offer superb snorkeling from the beach, but Tulamben has an ace up its sleeve: a shipwreck.

The wreck of the USAT Liberty, a former United States Army cargo ship torpedoed by a Japanese submarine during WWII, lies mere yards from the high tide mark on Tulamben’s beach.

Having been underwater for decades, the wreck is encrusted with colorful corals and provides shelter for a number of marine species, including bumphead parrotfish, turtles, and black-tipped reef sharks.

If you’re an avid snorkeler leaning towards Hawaii, then the two most popular spots are Hanauma Bay on Oʻahu and Molokini Crater off the south-west corner of Maui.

If you prefer to venture below the waves than to bob around on top of them, then you’ll be pleased to know both locations also boast signature dives that feature on many divers’ bucket lists.

Bali, which is part of the so-called ‘Coral Triangle’ is known as the best place in the world to scuba dive alongside the elusive mola mola, or sunfish. The best dive site to see them is Crystal Bay, which is located a short boat ride away from Bali’s southern shores on the island of Nusa Penida.

On the same dive trip, you will probably also dive at Manta Point, where giant manta rays are almost always present.

Hawaii’s most famous dive takes place once the sun has set off the shores of Kona Island. The famous Manta Ray Night Dive has been drawing in divers from the world over and is touted as being among the world’s best night dives.

Trips often depart in the afternoon, making a day-lit afternoon dive first, followed by a Kona sunset before the main draw, the night dive with the circling mantas.

While both destinations offer great snorkeling and scuba diving, Bali’s position in the Coral Triangle gives it the edge in this category.

While Hawaii boasts excellent marine life, Bali has much more marine biodiversity and would be a better bet if scuba diving is a priority for you on vacation.

Scuba diving swimming towards a school of fish
iStock.com/vladoskan

Which Has The Best Volcanoes?

If you enjoy trekking or have a passing interest in geology or volcanology, you’ll be pleased to hear that both destinations have superb hiking trails and volcanoes that you can reach the summit of.

And in Bali it’s possible to make the early morning trek to the summits of Mount Agung or Mount Batur.

Mount Agung is Bali’s highest peak, and it sits behind Tulamben Beach. Its 1963 eruption pushed the wreck of the USAT Liberty, which had been sitting on the beach since the war, back into the ocean.

The trek to the 3,000-meter summit and back takes between six and seven hours and rewards trekkers with stunning views across neighboring islands.

Mount Batur lies to the west of Agung, and its summit is a little lower at 1,700 meters. The climb is a little easier and takes around three hours up and down.

The views are also spectacular from the top of this active volcano and include sights of the lake at the volcano’s foot.

If active volcanoes float your boat, though, maybe Hawaii will get your nod of approval even more readily. The archipelago is home to some of the world’s most active and impressive volcanoes, with Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island hard to beat, alongside areas where you can see lava flow into the Pacific.

The park encompasses Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, with both considered highly active and the latter being the world’s largest shield volcano.

On the island of Oahu, you also have Diamond Head Volcano, which gives Honolulu and Waikiki Beach a dramatic backdrop and is a U.S. National Natural Monument.

The trail to the summit of Lē‘ahi, the volcano’s local name, was built in 1908, and the one-mile hike from the trailhead to the summit is steep and strenuous but offers stunning coastal views.

For breath-taking hikes, Hawaii is hard to beat and takes this category, but Bali’s volcano treks are also stunning.

Both locations have experienced volcanic activity in recent times, though, and you should check ahead to ensure the trails are open…

A series of lava flows spill into the ocean over a cliff at dusk, on the Big Island, Hawaii
iStock.com/Ken McCurdy

Which Is Best For Nightlife?

If a big part of your vacation plans center around what happens once the sun has set, you may be more tempted to opt for Bali.

The south-west Bali beach areas – Kuta, Seminyak, and Canggu – are all lively after sunset and a great choice of you want to party into the wee small hours.

The west-facing beaches all offer great sunset views and plenty of beach-front bars and more-exclusive beach clubs have secured the prime spots.

Seminyak, a little more upmarket than its neighbors, is particularly popular after dark, and its higher-end cafes and restaurants are great for an evening meal, before heading onto one of Bali’s most popular night venues, Potato Head Beach Club.

For a good night out in Hawaii, Oahu may be your best bet. The island has the most nightclubs and bars of all the Hawaiian islands, with down-town Honolulu, Chinatown, and Waikiki in particular having plenty of options.

You can expect a night out in Hawaii to be fun, but it will also be a bit more expensive compared to a night out in Bali.

Overall the nightlife in Bali is a little more eclectic and a lot less expensive. Party animals can stay in and around Kuta, while those looking for an occasional night out can stay in quieter areas nearby, such as Sanur.

Multiracial friends having fun dancing together outdoor at beach party - Soft focus on left girl face
iStock.com/DisobeyArt

Which Is Best For Families?

If you’re planning a family vacation, the age of your kids may play a part in your final decision. But it also depends a little on where you live.

From the US, for example, the flight to Hawaii will be much shorter, and with young children, that could be an important factor.

Aside from journey times though, both destinations have plenty to see and do with children of all ages.

A family trip to Hawaii, aside from the excellent beaches, will also allow you to explore Waikiki Aquarium and the Pearl Harbour memorial, as well as the myriad natural wonders such as the Na-Pali Coast and Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park.

Bali, although part of a Muslim nation, is a Hindu-majority island, and there are many temples to explore with the whole family.

Two of the most popular temples are Pura Tanah Lot and Uluwatu Temple. Bali also has an excellent water park, Waterbom Bali, and the Ubud Monkey Forest is also fun with the kids.

You should have no big issues keeping the kids entertained in either destination, both offer plenty of child-specific activities and both have excellent snorkeling, shopping malls, and cinema complexes.

So we have to declare a draw in this category.

Long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) in Sacred Monkey Forest, Ubud, Indonesia
iStock.com/nvelichko

Which Is More Expensive?

If we ignore the costs of flights, which will depend on your point of origin, then we can say there will be a clear winner in this category: Bali.

Hawaii is well-known as a hangout for the rich and famous, and with its location 2,000 miles off the US mainland’s western shores, you can expect things to cost a little more here than in many other locations.

If you are based in the US, you may be tempted by the cheaper flights to Hawaii, but if you’re on a budget, once you land, you will be able to stretch your funds much further in Bali. The clearest way to see this is to check out the hotel options for each location.

On average, people tend to spend around $150 or more for a night in a Hawaii hotel, but in Bali, you can either get a much better hotel for the same price or book an equivalent hotel at a much lower nightly rate.

Food, drinks, and excursions will all be much cheaper in Bali, too. As a Southeast Asian island, you can enjoy excellent street food in Bali for a dollar or less.

Nasi goreng and mee goreng (fried rice and fried noodles) stalls are ubiquitous, and local eateries known as warungs offer cheap and delicious meals throughout the day.

Hawaii is a little more upmarket in general, and eating and drinking out will set you back a little more. There are options for keeping the costs down a little, though, but they are not as readily available as they are on Bali.

Getting around on Bali is also much cheaper and easier too. You can hire a scooter or a car quite cheaply and see the whole island, whereas seeing the whole of Hawaii will involve inter-island flights…

All in all, if you’re looking for a great vacation destination that’s also budget-friendly, Bali will be a better choice than Hawaii…

morning view in the rice fields with green rice and clear sky smoldering over the mountain range
iStock.com/Rahmad Himawan

Where To Stay According To Your Budget

Bali

Budget: With beautiful beachside bungalows and a pool with an unbeatable Indian Ocean view, Nirwana Beach & Resort feels far more luxurious than the price tag. Set in pristine Eastern Bali, you’ll be taking photos everywhere you turn if staying here. See photos and rates here!

Luxury: It would be easy to recommend another beachside resort in Bali, but instead we had to suggest what must be one of the most magical hotels in the world. At Munduk Heaven Luxury Villas you’ll be walking across bridges above the treetops to get to their stunning restaurant, bar and outside pool.

But don’t expect to have your feet on the ground when returning to your room – you’ll be staying in their luxury ‘floating villas’ complete with jacuzzi and jungle views from above! It’s a place that really has to be seen to be believed. See photos and rates here!

Hawaii

Budget: Located in the heart of Waikiki, 2 minutes walk to the famous Waikiki Beach and surrounded by shopping and dining is the luxury boutique Halepuna Waikiki hotel.

This four-star hotel will stretch budgets, but the panoramic views of the ocean and city – alongside the gorgeous infinity pool – will be worth it. See photos and rates!

Luxury: Montage Kapalua Bay on Maui is one of those hotels we all wish to stay in one day. It’s extravagant beachfront luxury on a 24-acre landscaped resort with unparalleled views to the sea and beach access. It’s everything you’d expect of a five-star resort and more. See photos and rates!

beach vacation in luxury hotel, tropical holidays in luxurious resort, woman sitting near swimming pool
iStock.com/anyaberkut

What Time Of Year Is Best?

As two tropical destinations, both Bali and Hawaii can be visited throughout the year, although there are times when you can expect more rainfall in each destination than at other times of the year.

In general, Bali’s wetter months are from November through March, while Hawaii receives the majority of its rainfall between October and April.

Both destinations are located within the tropics, though, and you can expect high temperatures and plenty of sunshine in whichever one you choose.

Hawaii’s and Bali’s driest months both tend to be August, and you can expect slightly warmer temperatures in Bali.

Bali, located just below the Equator, sees average high temperatures just above 30 °C, while Hawaii, just below the Tropic of Cancer, sees average high temperatures of just below 30 °C.

As both destinations are bathed in excellent tropical climates, there’s no clear winner in this category, but remember to pack your sunscreen whichever place you choose…

Boats on a remote beach in Bali
iStock/CreativaImages

Which Is The Better Choice?

Whichever of these two fabulous vacation destinations you choose, you’re sure to have a memorable vacation. Both destinations are bathed in almost constant sun, and each has its fair share of stunning beaches to relax on.

Water sports are exceptional in both locations, with both offering world-class scuba diving and surfing as well as superb snorkeling spots.

And that’s not to mention the stunning natural beauty on land, with volcano treks through rainforests, passing waterfalls on the way, offering the most spectacular views of the landscapes below.

While there are many similarities, the main deciding factor for many may be the budget. Bali, despite needing a longer flight for many, will be the cheaper option in most cases.

And with the option of spending much less on your accommodation, you can spend your pennies enjoying the cultural and entertainment attractions instead.

Wherever you end up, be it Bali or Hawaii, you’re in for a vacation to savor and to remember…

Author

  • Wandering our World

    Hi and welcome to Wandering our World! This article was written by one of the Wandering our World team - a team of travel enthusiasts who live around the globe.