The Caribbean vs Hawaii: An Honest Comparison To Help You Choose!

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Last updated on July 11, 2023 by Wandering our World

If you’re dreaming of an island escape, with soft sands, lush forests, warm waters, fabulous food, and utterly jaw-dropping scenery all around, you have to consider a trip to either Hawaii or the Caribbean.

Both of these locations rank among the world’s most desirable vacation destinations. They’re filled with luxury resorts, world-class beaches, and idyllic conditions for a wide range of activities, from surfing and sunbathing to snorkeling and more.

However, they also have some massive differences in terms of size, diversity, location weather, and so much more.

For example, Hawaii is probably the best choice for adventure lovers, hikers and surfers, but the Caribbean has arguably better beaches and an island that will suit every type of traveler.

And that’s not to mention the fact that they’re in totally different parts of the world, with Hawaii out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Islands in the Caribbean Sea, which is part of the Atlantic.

When trying to choose between these two dreamy destinations, it’s important to weigh up the big differences between them. This should make it easier to figure out which place is better-suited to meet your needs and provide the magical trip-of-a-lifetime you’re looking for.

And this guide is here to help with that! Below, we’ll put Hawaii up against the Caribbean, assessing the big differences and best choice in a range of key areas, like beaches, activities, nightlife, food, and more.

CONTENTS:

  1. A Quick Overview
  2. Which Is Best For Activities?
  3. Which Is Better For Beaches? 
  4. Which Is Better For Nightlife?
  5. Which Is Better For Hiking & Outdoor Adventures? 
  6. Which Is Best For Shopping? 
  7. Which Has The Best Food? 
  8. Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
  9. Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?  
  10. Which Is Better For Backpackers? 
  11. Which Is Safer? 
  12. Which Is Cheaper? 
  13. Where To Stay According To Your Budget
  14. Which Has Better Weather?
  15. Which Is The Better Choice? 
An infographic pitting the Caribbean vs Hawaii and showing some of the key differences that will be discovered later in the article.

A Quick Overview: Hawaii vs Caribbean

Hawaii: A Quick Overview

Hawaii is a U.S. state, made up of a series of islands in the Pacific Ocean. It’s often nicknamed the “Aloha State” in reference to the common “Aloha” greeting used across the islands, and it’s a very unique state, as it’s the only one outside of North America, approximately 2,000 miles from the mainland.

In terms of population, around 1.4 million people live in Hawaii.

The state is made up of 137 islands in total, but many of them are small and uninhabited. There are eight “main islands,” with O’ahu being by far the most populous, with more than a million inhabitants, many of which live in or around the Hawaiian capital of Honolulu.

Each island is unique, but they’re generally famed for dramatic coastal cliffs, volcanoes, forests, and beaches.

The history of Hawaii goes back many centuries, with historians believing that Polynesian travelers first settled there sometime between the years 1000 and 1200.

The settlers created their own chiefdoms and customs, with Hawaii developing gradually over the years before it was visited by European and American explorers and eventually became part of the U.S.

Even though it’s changed a lot over the years, Hawaii has maintained a distinctive culture.

The island also has its own fascinating mythology and traditions, and it’s proven to be a prime vacation destination for people from around the world, boasting iconic beaches, like Waikiki, along with extraordinary landscapes and endless outdoor activities.

Honolulu with a vibrant red sunset
iStock.com/Jonathan Ross

Caribbean: A Quick Overview

The Caribbean is a region of the Americas, located in the Caribbean Sea, which is located between the south coast of the U.S. and the northern coast of South America.

It’s made up of many different islands, nations, and territories, with the most prominent and populous examples including Haiti, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica.

In total, there are 13 countries and 12 dependencies in the Caribbean, with several other overseas territories and a grand total of more than 700 islands, reefs, and cays spread out across the sea.

Each island and nation has its own unique history, culture, and features, and the region has a long and storied history, with evidence of human life going back thousands of years.

As in Hawaii, the Caribbean was greatly transformed when European settlers arrived and began claiming territories of their own.

However, in modern times, many of the islands and nations have attained their own political independence, like Jamaica, Barbados, and the Bahamas. Then, in the 20th century, the area began to enjoy a huge tourist boom.

It’s not hard to see why so many tourists flock to the Caribbean, year after year. It’s a place where the sun never seems to stop shining, the sands are softer than almost anywhere else on Earth, the scenery is sublime, and the food is heavenly.

In short, just like Hawaii, it’s one of the best all-round vacation destinations of them all.

Palm trees on sunny Caribbean beach
iStock.com/lucky-photographer

Which Is Best For Activities?

Hawaii and the Caribbean are big places, with lots of fun things to enjoy and experience. Whether you want to lounge around on the beach, soaking up the sun and admiring the views, or escape into nature for hikes and adventures, you can do it all in both of these locations.

However, there are a couple of key differences in terms of attractions and things to do…

Hawaii: The Activities

If you’re heading to Hawaii, you’ll most likely land in Honolulu and spend a lot of time in the Aloha State’s capital city.

This is where some of the best cultural experiences can be found, like a trip to Iolani Palace, which was once home to Hawaii’s rulers, like Kamehameha III. Honolulu has museums and galleries, like the HoMA Museum of Art and Pearl Harbor Memorial.

Honolulu may be the main city in Hawaii, but it’s not the only one. Tourists might also like to check out Kailua, which is famed for its chilled-out vibes and super outdoor activities, like kayaking and snorkeling.

Waialua is also worth checking out, with interesting historic sites like the Waialua Sugar Mill and various old temples and petrogylphs in the surrounding lands.

In general, however, most visitors to Hawaii will probably want to spend more time outdoors, enjoying the sunshine and admiring the breathtaking pristine landscapes of these islands.

They’re perfect for activities like hiking, swimming, surfing, ziplining, kayaking, and so on. You can even take helicopter rides across the islands for a bird’s eye view of their unique beauty.

If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, you could head into one of Hawaii’s awesome national parks, like Haleakala National Park on Maui, a super spot for discovering secret waterfalls, hiking along a volcanic crater, or camping beneath the stars.

The Volcanoes National Park is another extraordinary natural expanse, with dense forests and two of the world’s biggest and most active volcanoes.

Na Pali Coast from drone
iStock.com/ShaneMyersPhoto

Caribbean: The Activities

Many people associate the Caribbean with idyllic beaches and gentle waters. And, while it’s true that you can easily spend a whole week or more simply enjoying the unbelievable beaches in this part of the world, there are also many, many more activities and attractions to enjoy across the islands of the Caribbean Sea, from shopping to snorkeling, hiking, and live entertainment.

History buffs will adore Jamaica. There are lots of great museums and interesting historic hotspots in Montego Bay to the north, along with old plantations, open for touristic tours.

Cuba is also a historic and cultural hub, with tobacco plantations, a museum dedicated to Ernest Hemingway (in his former home), live cabaret shows, and enough activities to easily fill a week.

Over in Barbados, visitors can visit centuries-old rum distilleries or enjoy wild festivals and celebrations, like the Grand Kadooment carnival in Bridgetown.

Prefer nature and adventure? Head to St. Kitts. There, you can hike mountains, explore dense jungles, or ride a scenic railway across the island. Or, try Grand Cayman and swim with the stingrays!

Nature lovers will adore St. Lucia, too, with its hiking trails and soothing mud baths, while culture vultures should stop off at Curacao. There, you’ll find an immensely diverse and friendly population, and the capital – Willemstad – is filled with pastel-tinted homes, a floating bridge, an awesome aquarium, and a massive mall, built inside a 19th century fort.

It’s impossible to sum up the vast range of activities all over the Caribbean. Each island has something new to offer, and this region overall has many more activities and experiences than Hawaii.

So, if you want lots of diversity and new things every day, the Caribbean is a good choice. However, if you like the idea of lots of thrilling natural adventures within easy reach, Hawaii may be better for you.

girl in snorkeling mask dive underwater with tropical fishes in coral reef sea pool.
iStock.com/Bicho_Raro

Which Is Better For Beaches? 

Trying to choose between the beaches of Hawaii and the sandy shores of the Caribbean is like trying to choose between two big, beautiful, delicious cakes, covered in tasty frosting and sprinkles!

They’re both so wonderful, there really is no wrong answer, and you’re sure to find majestic views, super soft sands, and warm waters, regardless of which one you choose.

Hawaii has approximately 750 miles of coastline. Large parts of it are quite rocky, with dramatic cliffs and harsh terrain, but there are also lots of super sandy spots that back on to mountains and forests, like the iconic Waikiki Beach and surfing haven of Waimea Bay.

Hamo Beach is another gem, while Ko Olina is a lovely location for family fun.

The Caribbean, meanwhile, is famed around the world for its powdery sands, being home to many of the best-ranked and most-loved beaches on Earth. From the sugary sands of Grace Bay to the gentle waters of Seven Mile Beach, this region has an all-star lineup of breathtaking sandy expanses.

Some of the beaches in the Caribbean have pink sand. Others seem to stretch on all the way to the horizon. Some have world-class snorkeling and scuba diving.

Others offer the perfect postcard scenes that many people dream of when they imagine the ultimate island getaway. In short, the beaches in this part of the world are sublime. There’s nothing else quite like them.

Overall, with more beaches overall and larger beaches, as well as more family-friendly sands and waters, the Caribbean takes the win in this category.

However, the beaches of Hawaii are still utterly breathtaking, and they’re usually better for wildlife encounters, as you can often see whales, sea turtles, and dolphins off the shores of the Hawaiian islands.

Sandy Bay, Caribbean beach on the South Coast of Barbados (1)
iStock.com/Above Barbados

Which Is Better For Nightlife? 

If you love parties, bars, and staying out after-dark, certain spots of the Caribbean will most definitely appeal to you.

In particular, places like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Aruba, and Barbados have amazing nightlife scenes. There are bars, casinos, reggae dancing, British-style pubs, lots of restaurants that stay open late, beach parties, dance clubs, and more.

At the same time, other islands, like Aguilla, St. Barts, the British Virgin Islands, and St. Vincent all tend to get super silent in the evenings, with most people simply heading back to their hotels to rest.

So, all in all, the level of nightlife you find will very much vary, based on which island or nation you choose to visit.

Over on Hawaii, large parts of the island state get pretty sleepy and quiet in the evenings too, but Honolulu keeps the party going into the early hours.

The state capital has a nice mixture of luxury rooftop lounges, thumping nightclubs, and mature, open-air bars down by the beach, giving people plenty of options to spend time in the evenings.

If you really want to party hard every night, head to one of the Caribbean’s liveliest islands. But if you’re happy with a small but decent selection of bars and clubs, Hawaii should suffice.

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

Which Is Better For Hiking & Outdoor Adventures? 

If you love outdoor activities, Hawaii is widely-considered a hiking paradise. There are lots of terrific places to trek here, from the aforementioned national parks like Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and Haleakala to the numerous coastal paths and trails across many of the main islands.

Hawaii is also great for other outdoor activities. It typically has better surfing conditions than most of the Caribbean, for example, and has all of those famous volcanoes to explore and admire, as well as dense forests for treks and wildlife watching.

Ziplining, horseback riding, and kayaking are some other super ways to spend time outside.

You can enjoy many of those same activities in the Caribbean, too, but it all depends on which island you choose to visit.

Some are mainly oriented around the sugary sands and luxury resorts, while others are a little wilder. Saint Lucia, for example, is a hiking gem, with tall mountains to climb. Saint Kitts and Martinique also have plenty of trails.

Overall, Hawaii is the better choice for most outdoor adventurers, with so much to explore, right at your fingertips.

In the Caribbean, you might have to travel around more to find the best outdoor fun, but there’s still lots to love here for explorers of nature.

empty beach on Kauai
iStock.com/Adam-Springer

Which Is Best For Shopping? 

When you’re not busy basking on the beaches or soaking up the sunshine of Hawaii or the Caribbean, you might like to pass the time with local stores, malls, and markets, snapping up some island attire or buying some fun souvenirs to take back home.

In Hawaii, Honolulu is the main place to shop. You can find lots of great souvenir stores here, along with big malls like the Ala Moana Center, which has over 300 stores.

If you can find the time, it’s also worth heading to the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet – held each weekend, this is a fun and lively market, perfect for hunting down treasures at bargain prices.

Given the Caribbean’s vast size, it’s undoubtedly a better place to shop in general, but it all depends on where you stay.

Some islands have only the bare basics, while others have big malls, souvenir stores, upmarket boutiques, and so on. Several islands here sell products tax-free, so it can be a top spot for deluxe jewelry, fashion, and footwear.

In particular, Barbados, the Cayman Islands, St. Martin, and Aruba are excellent for shopping and offer much more than Hawaii, perfect for people who want to stuff their suitcases with souvenirs and gifts.

Cruz Bay, St John
iStock.com/SeanPavonePhoto

Which Has The Best Food? 

If you speak with people who have visited either Hawaii or the Caribbean, they’re likely to tell you how wonderful the food is.

Both of these island hotspots have terrific culinary scenes, with some sublime local recipes and lots of fresh, island-grown ingredients or seafood fished straight from the surrounding waters. But which is best?

Well, in Hawaii, seafood is a big part of the menu. Locals have been fishing the Pacific waters for centuries, and there are some delicious fish to enjoy in your lunchtime poke bowl or seafood platters.

Shave ice is super popular in Hawaii too, perfect for cooling off on a hot day, along with stews, cream pies, and baked goods.

Over in the Caribbean, there’s even more diversity in terms of the local dishes and flavors, due to the unique melting pot of culinary influences from places like Europe, Africa, South America, and beyond. This vast, varied fusion of influences has led to the creation of some delicious regional dishes.

Ingredients like beans, sweet potatoes, coconuts, meat, and fish are all commonly-used in the Caribbean, and various islands have their own distinctive styles and recipes. Jamaican cuisine, for example, is famed for the likes of curry goat and spicy jerk pork, while Haitian cuisine is more Creole in style, with flavorful rice dishes and rich stews.

Overall, you’ll eat well in either location. If you adore seafood, Hawaii will definitely make you happy, but if you want to try an even wider range of meals, the Caribbean is the better destination.

Sea food in restaurant in Fuerteventura
iStock.com/oliwiaziolkowska

Which Is Better For A Family Trip? 

Both Hawaii and the Caribbean are fabulous destinations for family adventures with kids of all ages. They both have lots of family-oriented activities to enjoy, but one of them might be a little better-suited to your family, depending mostly on tastes and the ages of your kids.

Hawaii has lots of luxurious family resorts to stay at, just like the Caribbean. However, it has the unique advantage of being more compact, with lots to see and do in a relatively small area, so you can access everything from ziplines and waterfalls to beaches and waters quite quickly and easily.

In the Caribbean, there are even more activities for kids and families, but they’re spread out across different islands, so you might have to travel a little more to see all you want to see.

This might not be a problem for older kids and teens, but if you’re traveling with little ones, the convenience of Hawaii might be better for you.

With that said, the Caribbean has the edge in terms of beaches, with safer, more family-friendly sands. It also has lots of all-inclusive resorts with kid-friendly amenities, perfect for families who just want to sit back, relax, and not have to worry about a thing. 

Happy family - mother, kid in snorkeling mask dive underwater, explore tropical fishes in coral reef sea pool. Travel active lifestyle, beach adventure, swimming activity on summer holiday with child.
iStock.com/B Raro

Which Is Better For Honeymoons & Couples? 

Planning an extra special honeymoon in a tropical paradise destination? Or maybe you just want a romantic trip with your partner to celebrate your love and make happy memories together? In either case, Hawaii and the Caribbean are two of the very best destinations to select.

Both of these places can offer everything that couples crave, from luxury resorts to fine dining, super soft sands, romantic vibes, and picturesque scenery in every direction.

However, one location might be better for you and your partner than the other, depending mostly on your tastes and desires.

Hawaii is arguably the better choice for outdoor adventures and activities in nature, with its dramatic scenery and vast national parks. If you want to surf the wildest waves or trek into dense rainforests, this is a fabulous place to visit. 

In the Caribbean, there are more diverse activities and landmarks to check out, from museums to old colonial mansions and plantations. Cities like Santo Domingo and Nassau have plenty of intriguing historic sites to go along with all the sugary beaches and colorful wildlife.

So, if you want a blend of cultural activities, beach fun, and natural beauty, the Caribbean could be best.

Happy, young couple in white summer clothes enjoying their vacation on a tropical beach
iStock.com/SHansche

Which Is Better For Backpackers? 

Hawaii and the Caribbean aren’t usually considered among the top backpacking destinations, due to their high prices.

However, it is possible to have a backpacking adventure in either one of these locations, as long as you put in some effort and plan your trip accordingly.

Hawaii has plenty of hostels near the coast, perfect for surfers, swimmers, and sunbathers to stay without spending a fortune. Plus, the islands are all quite close together, with good air and sea transport links to help you hop around.

And, with so many great natural spaces to explore, adventurous backpackers can have the time of their lives here.

In the Caribbean, everything is more spaced out, so it’s best to pick either one island or a small group and stick to them to save money.

There are decent transport links connecting many of the islands in the Caribbean, and it’s easier to find budget-friendly places to stay and eat compared to Hawaii. Thanks to this, the Caribbean may be slightly more suitable for the average backpacker.

Backpacker using her phone in a hostel
iStock.com/Rawpixel

Which Is Safer? 

Safety might also be on your mind when trying to decide between Hawaii and the Caribbean.

In general, travelers won’t have to worry too much about crime in either of these destinations. They’re both very welcoming, touristic places with pleasant locals and relatively low crime rates.

However, of the two, Hawaii is generally considered the safer option. It has a low overall crime rate and the native population is famed for being very friendly and caring towards visitors. 

The same can be said for many parts of the Caribbean, too, but certain islands and nations, like the Dominican Republic and Haiti, have slightly higher crime rates and instances of pickpocketing or theft.

If you’re interested in visiting the safest Caribbean islands, opt for the likes of St. Barts, Barbados, Martinique, and Antigua and Barbuda.

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 Cheaper? 

Of course, we also need to compare costs. Hawaii and the Caribbean are both known for being pretty expensive vacation destinations, with high flight prices and expensive accommodation. But is one a little cheaper than the other?

Well, the total cost of your trip will depend on a lot of different factors, like where you’re flying from, what time of year you visit, which hotel you stay at, and so on. However, in general, if we look at average daily or weekly costs, a trip to the Caribbean should be slightly cheaper than one to Hawaii.

Typically, accommodation, food, and activity prices are slightly lower in the Caribbean, and it’s a bigger region, with more choice in terms of places to stay.

So, if you’re on a budget, you can pick one of the more affordable spots, like Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, or Cozumel. Hawaii also has a lot of all-inclusive resorts to help you save money on food.

In Hawaii, you won’t find quite as many options, and prices will therefore be a little higher across the board.

However, it’s still possible to have an affordable stay in the Aloha State, as long as you make reservations ahead of time and plan your trip with care.

Aerial view of tropical beach. Saona island, Dominican republic
iStock.com/valio84sl

Where To Stay According To Your Budget:

Caribbean

Budget: Set on 400 acres, the excellent Half Moon all-inclusive resort in Jamaica’s Montego Bay has three kilometers of private white-sand beach and features three restaurants and five bars!

The active-minded can enjoy the basketball, volleyball, squash, and tennis courts, and there’s an 18-hole golf course and spa. It’s one of those resorts we all want to stay in at least once in our lifetime, and incredibly it’s quite affordable considering everything on offer. See photos and rates here!

Luxury: The gorgeous French Leave Resort in the Bahamas has all the facilities you’d want alongside world-class service, but it’s the stunning sea views and outdoor infinity pool that really makes this resort worth staying at.

Located directly on a pristine beach, you’ll be treated to some of the best sunsets in the Bahamas when staying. Its luxury and romance all rolled into one. See photos and rates!

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!

Hawaiian sunset with sailboat and mountains
iStock.com/Jonathan Ross

Which Has The Best Weather?

Both Hawaii and the Caribbean Islands are famed for their warm and sunny weather, but how do they compare in terms of actual temperatures and risks of rain or storms?

Of the two, Hawaii has the more stable and steady weather conditions. Temperatures change gradually from month to month, peaking in the summer, and it’s pretty warm and comfortable for large parts of the year.

In the Caribbean, too, temperatures generally range from warm to hot, but can fluctuate a little more, due to the vast size of the area and its tropical conditions.

Both regions also have rainy seasons. In Hawaii, the main time for rain is between November and March.

Meanwhile, in the Caribbean, there’s a chance of rain and hurricanes from June through to November, which is when the islands tend to be the least busy. 

So, overall, you’ll get plenty of warm weather, no matter which destination you choose.

If you’re looking for an off-season vacation, the Caribbean is perfect to visit between December and February for a tropical escape from wintry conditions. Meanwhile, for a summer trip and more consistent, reliable weather, Hawaii may be the better choice.

Sunset over Charlotte Amalie St Thomas
iStock.com/BackyardProduction

Hawaii vs Caribbean: Which Is The Better Choice?

So, which is the grand winner of this Hawaii vs the Caribbean comparison? Well, in a comparison as broad as this, it’s virtually impossible to say that one destination is better than the other.

They both have so much to offer, and the Caribbean is such a big place, with very different experiences, depending on where you go.

Compared to some of the smaller and simpler Caribbean islands, Hawaii is definitely better, safer, and more enjoyable. But compared to others, it doesn’t have quite as much to offer, especially in terms of cities and cultural activities. 

So, given that the Caribbean is bigger, generally cheaper, and has more to offer for families, kids, couples, and many sorts of visitors, it’s probably the better overall choice for most people.

It’s got amazing shopping, delicious dining experiences, the beaches of your dreams, and such a vast range of cultures and activities, the fun truly never ends in this part of the world.

With that said, Hawaii is still fully deserving of a spot among the best vacation destinations in the world. It’s an exquisitely beautiful place, with jaw-dropping scenery and its own unique charms. And if you’re looking for a memorable island getaway, you really can’t go wrong with a trip to Hawaii.

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    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.