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. So making the right decision between Hawaii or Tahiti for your dream getaway or honeymoon is vitally important.
Having spent time in both, we compare Hawaii vs Tahiti below, showing you what to expect in each, and some of the best places to visit.
Hawaii vs Tahiti: Which should you visit?
Both Hawaii and Tahiti have some fantastic beaches, but without a doubt Tahiti has the better beaches of the two. 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.
Furthermore, the snorkeling in Tahiti is superb and much 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 far fewer tourists here 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.
Whilst Tahiti also has a lush mountain-clad interior, Hawaii is more of an adventure-lovers paradise with its dramatic jungle-covered mountains coupled with an exciting 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, making it a great place to explore. Therefore Hawaii is the perfect destination for a holiday that will last two or more weeks.
In essence, Tahiti is the better holiday choice if you want great beaches, are looking to relax, island hop, 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.
Regarding which is cheaper, Tahiti is slightly more expensive than Hawaii although they can both be done on a budget. Tahiti also has several upmarket resorts with stunning romantic overwater bungalows. In terms of food, Hawaii has more options and in general is a cheaper destination than Tahiti when it comes to eating out.
Below we look at some of our favorite spots in both, before comparing the culture in each. Spoiler alert – they’re very different!
Hawaii 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 at the famous Waikiki Beach and get chatting to locals. 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.
The Hawaiian island of Kauai 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.
The tropical forests here on Kauai – the ‘Garden Isle’ – make their way up the mountain-sides towards sharp dramatic peaks. However the reefs on this island are also world renowned among divers, and offer fantastic scuba and snorkeling opportunities.
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.
Budget travelers will also find options in French Polynesia, with Tahiti offering some backpacker guesthouses with cheaper dorm rooms.
Tahiti has some wonderful beaches, and 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 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.
Hawaii vs Tahiti: Explore the sights and experience the island
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.
In Hawaii you will also 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!
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.
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.
Visiting French Polynesia affords visitors a unique opportunity to delve into the lives of early settlers and learn more about the arrival of Europeans. 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.
On this island you can try your hand at spearfishing and 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!
Hawaii vs Tahiti: A taste of island life
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.
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!
In Tahiti, the food is 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. 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 will 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, 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.
Recommended for your trip to Tahiti or Hawaii
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