Last updated on May 1, 2023 by Wandering our World
When it comes to tropical island paradises, you can’t get much better than Tahiti or Hawaii. However other than their sun-kissed beaches, these islands are very different.
Which means making the right decision between Hawaii or Tahiti for your dream getaway or honeymoon is vitally important.
For example, if you’re seeking more time on the beach with a cocktail in your hand than anything else, then Tahiti may be the better choice.
That’s because the beaches and swimming water are better in Tahiti than in Hawaii. On top of that, the island has a range of accommodation choices, including upmarket overwater bungalows that are perfect for honeymoons and romantic holidays.
However if you want an active adventurous holiday, alongside laid-back beaches, then Hawaii and its constituent islands will provide a vacation that can be packed full of culture, surfing, hiking and a lively nightlife.
Of course that’s just the beginning when it comes to how Hawaii and Tahiti are different….
That’s why after spending time in both, we compare these spectacular destinations below.
We show you which has the better beaches, what excursions are available, compare the culture, food and lots more.
All so you can make the right decision for your dream Pacific vacation. Let’s get started!
- A Quick Overview & Comparison
- How Do The Beaches & Landscape Compare?
- How Does The Culture Compare?
- Which Is Better For Snorkeling & Diving?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Is Better For A Family Vacation?
- Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Which Is Safer?
- Where You Should Stay According To Your Budget
- How Does The Cuisine Compare?
- Which Is the Better Choice?
Hawaii vs Tahiti: A Quick Overview
Both Hawaii and Tahiti have some fantastic beaches, but Tahiti has the better beaches of the two in our opinion.
The French Polynesian island has gorgeous white sandy stretches of coastline and crystal clear warm water – much warmer than Hawaii.
And whilst like Hawaii, Tahiti is also a surfing destination, Tahiti also has many calm lagoons which are perfect and safe for swimming. So both surfers and those who prefer to wallow in the sea can enjoy this island.
Furthermore, the snorkeling in Tahiti is superb and arguably better than Hawaii. Plus, with the water warm, calm and visibility exceptional, you can really enjoy watching the underwater life.
Expect to see reef sharks (non-threatening to humans), manta rays, and countless multi-colored fish. Just make sure you take a great underwater camera with you – like this one.
It may be a longer journey to Tahiti, but that also means there’s usually far fewer tourists there than in Hawaii. As such, it’s still possible to find secluded beaches with a castaway feel, especially if you hop over to Tahiti’s nearby island neighbors.
One of those neighbors, Bora Bora, is arguably the most beautiful island in the world.
Tahiti also has a lush mountain-clad interior, but Hawaii is more of an adventure-lovers paradise with its dramatic jungle-covered mountains, active volcanoes, world-famous hikes and exciting big city nightlife.
In fact, Hawaii’s highest peak is a massive 4207 meters, compared to Tahiti’s highest which stands at 2241 meters.
Furthermore, each island in Hawaii is very different from the other, making it a great place to explore. In fact even different sides of islands can be very different – as we’ve shown before in the case of Hawaii’s Maui – so Hawaii may just be the perfect destination for a longer holiday (2+ weeks) that involves plenty of exploring.
In essence, we think Tahiti may be the better holiday choice if you want great beaches, are looking to relax, do some inland adventuring and experience a different culture
In contrast, Hawaii should be your choice if you want sun, surf, spectacular hikes, and a lively nightlife, as well as a familiar American vibe. That said, Hawaii also has world famous culture too.
Regarding which is cheaper, Tahiti is often slightly more expensive than Hawaii although they can both be done on a budget. But Tahiti is also the home to stunning romantic overwater bungalows – these villas are often regarded as the most spectacular places to stay in the world.
In terms of food, Hawaii has far more options and is, in general, a cheaper destination than Tahiti when it comes to eating out.
Below we compare the beaches, landscape, culture, food in more detail by looking at some of our favorite spots in both Tahiti and Hawaii. Spoiler alert – they’re very different!
How Do The Beaches & Landscape Compare?
Hawaii:The Beaches & Landscape
This is a place which has an abundance to offer away from the seaside. However for travelers leaning towards a Hawaiian holiday, there’s still many great beaches where you can enjoy that famous laid-back surfer vibe.
Some of our favorites include the less well-known Waimea Bay Beach on Oahu, and the stunning Hanalei Bay on Kauai island. For great snorkeling and the chance to see turtles, then visit Hanauma Bay on Oahu.
For a more fun-fueled beach adventure, pick up a cocktail and enjoy the fun nightlife at the famous Waikiki Beach (photo below). This beach is unlike any other in the world – it’s lively, fun, and full of character. It’s certainly more fun than any beach in Tahiti, in our opinion anyway.
Then if you’re feeling energetic, a hike up Hawaii’s Diamond Head – which looms over Waikiki – will give you spectacular panoramic views of Honolulu and Oahu.
But it’s the landscape of Hawaii that is really worth exploring.
Hawaii is home to active volcanoes where you can see lava flows, it has spectacular road trips like the ‘Road to Hana’, has some of the world’s best hikes and is home to incredible wildlife, birdlife and plenty of whale watching too. All in all, if you like to get out into nature, this may be the best destination in the world for you – better than Tahiti.
The Hawaiian island of Kauai is a good place to start if you want to really see the best of Hawaii’s landscape.
This island was the backdrop for the film Jurassic Park, so expect great hiking and walking trails that will take you back in time. A superb walking and hiking in Hawaii book – such as this one – would be a great addition to your suitcase.
However the reefs on this island are also world renowned among divers, and offer fantastic scuba and snorkeling opportunities. While Volcanoes National Park, on Big Island, is the place to go for spectacular lava fields and photo opportunities that are unique and out of this world.
Tahiti: The Beaches & Landscape
Often underrated, Tahiti is seen as the gateway or launchpad to the rest of the Society Islands such as Moorea and Bora Bora – which is well renowned for its tropical allure and luxury hotels.
But this is an island – and region – that’s perfect for tourists looking for luxury interspersed with a bit of adventure. The beaches are gorgeous and there’s some mountains and trails to explore too (albeit not to the same extent as Hawaii).
Budget travelers will also find options in French Polynesia, with Tahiti offering some backpacker guesthouses with cheaper dorm rooms. That’s an advantage to Hawaii too, as both destinations have a range of accommodations from five-star resorts to backpacker spots.
Tahiti has some wonderful beaches – many with fantastic all-inclusive resorts beside them – but one of our favorites is Plage de Toaroto. This gorgeous stretch of white sand is a perfect place to relax for the day. The water at this beach is also calm, and a great spot for swimming and snorkeling.
A quirk of Tahiti is the island’s many black sand beaches – a byproduct of volcanic activity. Lafayette beach is one of the best on the island. The sand is soft and comfy, and the beach a real sight to behold.
Tahiti is also well-known for Teahupoo Lagoon, where the world’s most prolific surfers come to test their skills on the island’s famous sharp reef breaks.
However Tahiti has much to offer away from the coast too. This volcanic island is perfect for jungle trekking, hiking up mountains, and swimming in waterfalls.
Recommended: Walking And Hiking In Tahiti
One of our favorite hikes is Aorai Mountain, although it’s recommended for experienced hikers only. However throughout the island there are great trails to explore.
A trip to nearby Moorea will expose you to countless waterfall trails too. One of the best is the beautiful Afareaitu Waterfall (Vaioro Falls) which is tucked behind lush mango trees and ferns.
Back on Tahiti, make sure you visit the mysterious Mara’a Grotto, a cave with a rock pool. The cave seems like it rains on the inside, which is the water seeping through from the mountain above.
In essence, Tahiti has a bit of everything. It has stunning beaches, some great hiking trails, fun surf and plenty of superb snorkeling spots.
So if you’re looking for a holiday which has a bit of everything Tahiti could be perfect. But if you’re wanting a more hiking or surfing-focused vacation, then Hawaii will likely be better.
How Does The Culture Compare?
You will find a friendly welcome in both Tahiti and Hawaii, and both are culture-rich regions.
However if you’re looking for a lively nightlife and shopping scene then Hawaii will be a better vacation destination for you.
On top of that, in Hawaii you will encounter no language barrier as English is the first language. French is the official language in Tahiti, although English is understand by some, especially people working in the tourist sector.
Below we look at the culture in each island, and what you should expect if you choose to visit!
Hawaii: The Culture
Hawaiian culture – aloha wear, hula, and luau for example – is almost better known that Hawaii’s gorgeous sunsets! So getting a taste of the real Hawaiian experience is a must if visiting here. You may even receive a Hawaiian Lei on arrival!
Recommended: How Every Tourist Should Accept A Hawaiian Lei.
The iconic luau – a traditional Hawaiian feast with entertainment – should be the first thing on your list.
We recommend the Smith Family Garden Luau in Kauai due to the delicious traditional food on offer, and the colorful entertainment and dances. But almost everywhere on Hawaii you can find a spectacular luau experience.
With your interest piqued in Hawaiian culture after taking part in a luau, head to the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Oahu to learn more about the Polynesian people and culture.
Hawaii is also home to one of the most notorious war crimes in history – the WW2 attack on Pearl Harbor. For military history buffs, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum is therefore a must visit.
The great thing about Hawaii is the fact its culture is very accessible to all tourists. Big resorts and hotels hold cultural events, and with the archipelago proud of its heritage and English-speaking, tourists can find many places to find their own aloha spirit.
We’d just encourage you to get away from the tourist traps, as the best cultural experiences are usually found outside of resorts.
Tahiti: The Culture
Visiting French Polynesia is a special experience, and while English is not the first language here, that only adds to the feeling of being in a different and exciting place.
From the famous story of the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ to the oral history shown through dance and song, you can learn a lot through the cultural experiences on offer in French Polynesia. Many of which will be organized by your resort.
On this island you can also try your hand at spearfishing, or learn the incredible meanings behind traditional Maori tattoos. You will also find dance performances of the traditional ‘Ori Tahiti’, and there are places where you can take lessons with locals.
Tahiti is awash with museums which include the Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands, which focuses on the island’s Polynesian history.
The James Norman Hall House – the house of the island’s most famous author who co-wrote Mutiny on the Bounty – has a 1920’s garden tea-room and library that’s worth visiting too.
For a glimpse of the oldest Catholic church in Tahiti, visit the Notre-Dame Cathedral in the capital Papeete. This is an example of the old colonial-style architecture that came with the Europeans.
While in Papeete, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Papeete Street Market. It’s the perfect place for picking up souvenirs!
Which Is Better For Snorkeling & Diving?
Hawaii: Snorkeling & Diving
Aside from surfing, Hawaii is very popular for snorkeling and diving, both for beginners and professionals. That’s because so much of the coast is great for snorkeling, with healthy coral reefs and colorful tropical fish waiting for you under the sea.
The island of Maui is especially known for snorkeling. The bays are protected here, and the water is clear and calm year-round.
There’s also a place in Hawaii where you can snorkel in a crater!
At Molokini Crater, you’ll find amazing rock formations and wildlife like green sea turtles. The crescent-shaped crater has depths ranging from 20 to 300 feet, suitable for newbies and pro deep divers. But for the best visibility, head out early in the morning.
Another place which shows off the archipelago’s diverse landscape is Cathedrals in Lanai.
This dark underwater lava tube is a great spot for experienced divers looking for a new experience. The way down is like a tube that extends 60 feet down before opening up into a cavern, giving off the most surreal light effects. You’ll also find plenty of marine life to observe.
Hawaii is a particularly popular place for snorkeling with dolphins too. Many snorkeling sites are known to be passed by dolphins on a regular basis, including but not limited to Kealakekua Bay and Honauau Bay.
It’s not just dolphins, but you can also meet sharks! At Hammerhead Point on Oahu, you can dive into the sea and encounter incredible hammerhead sharks.
Tahiti: Snorkeling & Diving
Tahiti is also known as being one of the greatest diving spots in the world thanks to its gorgeous and diverse coral reefs and marine wildlife.
There’s a really famous natural diving spot in Tahiti called The Aquarium. It’s a fantastic place for diving and snorkeling beginners and is full of life.
But if you’re an experienced diver, head to Pointe des Pêcheurs. Not only is the seafloor adorned with gorgeous, healthy corals but it’s also widely known to be the best spot to meet manta rays and sea turtles!
One extremely popular snorkeling and diving spot is actually a short ferry ride away from Tahiti, on the island of Moorea. On the northeastern tip of this island, there’s Temae Beach where you can snorkel right off the beach!
In the end, both Hawaii and Tahiti offer world-renowned snorkeling spots.
Hawaii has lots of options and different landscapes from the Molokini Crater to snorkeling with dolphins and sea turtles. Tahiti, on the other hand, is more famous for its stunning coral reefs and also the wide variety of tropical fish you can see there.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
Hawaii: The Nightlife
Being one of the most popular destinations in the world, there’s no doubt in our mind that Hawaii beats Tahiti when it comes to nightlife.
The vibe of Hawaiian nightlife is exactly the vibe of the islands and its people: relaxed and open. People party under the stars at beachfront locations instead of in dark nightclubs. That being said, there are many late-night parties in clubs where people dance til dawn too.
The most popular night hub is Honolulu on Oahu. There are plenty of bars, nightclubs, and live music venues in this bustling city.
One of the most popular bars in Oahu is RumFire, a beachfront lounge serving unique cocktails. But for dancing, check out The District Nightclub.
And of course the infamous Waikiki beach on Oahu is infested with lively bars, clubs, and live music venues.
For that tiki vibe bar on the beach, Duke’s Waikiki is the best choice for those looking for cocktails – especially mai tais – while enjoying the view of surfers.
Next, on Maui, head to Lahaina which has a vibrant night scene with bars lining the beach and many festivals held throughout the year. A notable place is Fleetwood’s on Front St., which is a casual restaurant with a rooftop bar that offers a gorgeous view of the ocean.
For a more chilled-out nightlife scene, Kona on Big Island and Kihei on Maui are some of the best choices.
Huggo’s on the Rocks in Kona is known to be a great place to hang out and drink cocktails right on the beach. While in Kihei, Monkeypod Kitchen has the best happy hour specials around!
As you can see, there are so many options for nightlife in Hawaii, spread throughout all corners of the archipelago! This is quite different from Tahiti where the nightlife is only really concentrated in one area in the capital.
Tahiti: The Nightlife
In Tahiti, the best nightlife spot is the capital of the country itself, Papeete. This is where bars and nightclubs are mostly concentrated, with festivals also often being held throughout the year.
One of the most popular nightlife spots in the city is Vaima Shopping Center. One of the most popular spots is the Piano Bar, which is actually known for racy entertainment with adult shows late into the night.
But if you’re looking to dance all night long, there’s a disco nightclub called Le Retro that’s worth checking out.
Another place known amongst locals for its night entertainment is Le Mandarin, a Chinese restaurant that has a karaoke room.
Which Is Better For A Family Vacation?
Hawaii: For Families
Having been one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world for decades, it’s no wonder that there are countless activities to do in Hawaii that are fantastic for the whole family.
Simply put, from cultural activities to adventures in nature to kids’ playgrounds and waterparks, Hawaii is a great place for a family vacation.
One of the most popular attractions for families is the Maui Ocean Center. It’s not your usual aquarium as it’s also an oceanography center, where you can see the largest living tropical reef aquarium in the Western Hemisphere!
For some exciting science for kids, take them to ʻImiloa Astronomy Center to learn about the universe in a fun environment. There’s also a planetarium in the complex.
However one big thing that makes Hawaii such a great family vacation spot is the culture and how it’s such an integral part of the archipelago. Locals will readily share their culture with visitors, including families and children which makes it a great place for kids to experience something new.
In fact, a lot of resorts have children’s programs where they can learn about Hawaii culture. The staff will teach kids how to make lei and even how to dance the hula. The icing on the cake are the cultural festivals that always seem to be taking place in Hawaii throughout the year!
And for families with older children, there are plenty of fun excursions in nature from jungle trekking to quad bikes, zip lines and visiting volcanoes and adventure parks!
Oahu Island is probably the most popular for hiking, having two volcanic mountain ranges with various attractions including waterfalls and World War II bunkers.
One of the most popular hikes is the trail to Makapu’u Point Lighthouse, which is just 2 miles round trip, but brings the most incredible view of the ocean at the top.
Tahiti: For Families
Compared to Hawaii, Tahiti has far fewer attractions. You won’t find many adventure parks or water parks, and your vacation will instead be filled with hanging out at the beach, snorkeling, and exploring the local culture.
But if you do decide on a family trip with your kids, the best hotel is Tahiti Village Resort. It has an awesome waterpark, with long flumes and plenty of other fun features.
For a shopping spree for older kids, there’s a popular market called Municipal Market or Papeete Market. Here you’ll get to meet locals and experience their culture, as well as buy food and handicrafts.
So, which one is better for families? Well, Hawaii has a far more developed tourist infrastructure and with that comes all kinds of activities for families. Therefore, we think lively Hawaii is the better choice for a family vacation.
That said, Tahiti is quieter and the attractions are mainly in nature, whether that’s the stunning beaches or forest-clad mountains.
So the island may be better for families who are looking for a more relaxed and peaceful vacation.
Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
Hawaii: For Couples & Honeymoons
Hawaii is home to countless romantic attractions and excursions, from lounging around tropical resorts to riding horses on the beach.
For a private excursion, take a cruise and enjoy a drink or dinner with a beautiful view of the sea. You might even see a pod of dolphins swimming beside your boat, although the chances of seeing them are higher if you take the cruise in the morning.
Away from the sea, Hawaii also has some of the most enchanting and romantic waterfalls. In particular, a trip to Wailua Falls with your spouse will create an incredible honeymoon picture.
And if you want a once-if-a-lifetime experience, then book a two-passenger helicopter tour. This is an amazing way to appreciate the archipelago’s diverse landscape while enjoying each other’s company.
For something more intimate, Hawaii is also known as being a great place for stargazing. Some of the best stargazing spots in Hawaii include Kulanaokuaiki Campground on the Big Island, Haleakala National Park on Maui, and Polihale State Park Beach on Kaua’i.
But the best stargazing spot is surely at Mauna Kea’s peak. This hike might be a challenge, but the view at the top is worth it.
During peak time between February and September, you can even see the Galactic Core of the Milky Way!
Tahiti: For Couples & Honeymoons
When compared to Hawaii, Tahiti is the perfect place for couples looking for a more private honeymoon. Many of the resorts here are overwater bungalows – French Polynesia’s specialty – which are in stark contrast to Hawaii’s towering hotels.
Some of the best couples activities in Tahiti include island hopping and snorkeling, going on a sunset cruise, and going on a cruise to a private island to enjoy a few hours alone.
There are also plenty of enchanting waterfalls in Tahiti too, such as the Faarumai Waterfalls and Fautaua Valley Falls. Another fun natural attraction is Bain de Vaima, where you and your partner can take a refreshing dip.
Between the overwater bungalows, the waterfalls and the stunning mountain hiking trails, Tahiti is a fantastic vacation for couples who want to lounge around on the beach but also have a little bit of adventure.
So which is better?
Well in the end, Hawaii and Tahiti are amongst the best honeymoon destinations in the world, with dreamy beaches and resorts that will certainly make you feel like you’re in paradise. Both also offer a slew of activities and attractions for those looking for an adventurous honeymoon.
But one thing’s for sure, if you want a quieter honeymoon, Tahiti is definitely a better choice than Hawaii.
In contrast, Hawaii is the perfect honeymoon spot for couples who like the buzz of a location and a lively nightlife scene.
Which Is Cheaper?
When talking about costs, it always depends on where you stay and eat and the kind of activities you do. However, in general Hawaii is cheaper than Tahiti.
Hawaii has a wider range of accommodations and eateries, with many budget homestays and street food vendors.
On the contrary, while such things also exist in Tahiti, Tahiti’s tourism is mostly upscale, with luxurious overwater bungalow resorts as the main accommodation on the island.
The activities are mostly cheaper in Hawaii, too. Even though Hawaii also has (many) exclusive attractions, there are budget-friendly options and free activities such as hiking in national parks.
But what separates the cost of the two destinations the most is the flight price. Hawaii is closer to both the US and Europe. Tahiti’s location is very remote and there are not many airlines that provide flights to this island.
Which Is Safer?
The US government lists the travel advisory for French Polynesia as a Level 1, meaning it’s as safe as it can be.
Hawaii is also a safe place for tourists, with it having the lowest crime rate amongst all tourist destinations in the US.
So they’re both very similar when it comes to safety.
Where You Should Stay According To Your Budget?
Shoestring: Just one minute from the beach and with free bike rental, Hakuna Matata Hostel on Maui is fun, cheap and friendly. You’ll be making memories in no time here, and without damaging your bank account. See photos and rates!
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!
Shoestring: Just a few steps from the beach and with a dramatic jungle and mountain backdrop, Manomano Lodge gives travellers a chance to holiday in style but without the huge price tag. The location is fantastic for activities, and the beach beside the lodge is one of the best for snorkeling on the island. And if you’re lucky, you may even get the chance to eat some of the tropical fruit grown in the lodge’s garden! See photos and rates!
Budget: Te Moana Tahiti Resort is luxury, but at a price that won’t break the bank. This gorgeous resort set right on the lagoon has an infinity pool, fantastic facilities and views across the ocean that will make anyone jealous. It’s also well located for activities around the island, making it a fantastic choice if you’re looking for luxury tied in with adventure. See photos and rates!
Luxury: It was the Society Islands that invented overwater bungalows, and one of two resorts in Tahiti that has them is the InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa. You’ll be sleeping above the ocean with lush tropical land one way, and the distant volcanic peaks of Moorea looming ahead. Expect exceptional facilities and food to go alongside the views. See photos and rates!
A Taste Of Island Life: How Does The Cuisine Compare?
With both being tropical island paradises, expect an abundance of fruit, coconuts and fresh fish. Below we pit Hawaii vs Tahiti as we look at the cuisine on offer.
Hawaii: The Food
Hawaiian food is truly unique, combining Polynesian, European, Japanese and American tastes.
A must try – and what you will almost certainly have at a luau – is Kālua pork. A whole pig is slow cooked for several hours and then the meat pulled apart ready to be eaten. It’s absolutely delicious.
For something that has more of an American feel, try loco moco – a burger steak, fried eggs and gravy. Perfect after a day swimming or hiking.
Shaved ice is also common in Hawaii, and is perfect to cool down on a hot day. This tasty treat is flavored with syrup, and is sometimes served with ice cream too!
Tahiti: The Food
In Tahiti, the food is, of course, mainly seafood based.
Try raw fish with coconut milk. Usually, this is made from tuna or bonito fish. It is sliced into cubes and marinated in coconut milk, lemon juice, onion, cucumber, tomatoes, garlic and spring onion.
With such a big Chinese-Polynesian population, there is a wonderful fusion of cuisines in French Polynesia.
For example, Chao men (fried noodles with vegetables, meat and shrimp), chicken with lemon sauce, chao chap (roasted duck), and mapo tofu are popular dishes on the islands. Raw fish is also very prominent in Chinese cooking in French Polynesia.
A notable French influence in Tahiti also shines through in sweet treats such as firi firi (Tahitian doughnuts) and banana crepes. A favorite breakfast food is coconut bread!
Tahiti vs Hawaii: Which Is The Better Choice?
Both Hawaii and Tahiti make excellent holiday destinations. But if you’re seeking more time on the beach with a cocktail in your hand, then Tahiti may be the better choice.
The beaches and swimming water are better in Tahiti and the island has a range of accommodation choices, including upmarket overwater bungalows that are perfect for honeymoons and romantic holidays.
However if you want an active holiday as well as beaches, and have more than a week to spare, then Hawaii and its constituent islands will provide a vacation that can be packed full of culture, surfing, hiking and adventure, as well as great beaches and a lively nightlife.