Last updated on August 14, 2023 by Wandering our World
When it comes to luxurious island vacations, the Pacific archipelago of Hawaii and the Indian Ocean’s Maldivian island chain are often cited near the tops of travel lists, and with good reason. Both destinations are not only synonymous with opulent island living but also with epic water sports opportunities.
But while they have a few things in common, they are both quite different from each other in many respects.
The Maldives is an archipelagic nation, comprised of 26 atolls and myriad coral islets stretching out into the Indian Ocean to the south of India.
The small coral islands and their surrounding lagoons are the perfect destination for those looking to escape the madding crowds and relax in the lap of luxury. The world’s leading and most luxurious hoteliers have set up shop, often on privately-owned islands, and the pristine sands lead into crystal-clear waters filled with diverse and vibrant marine life.
The US state of Hawaii is separated from the mainland by 2,000 miles of Pacific Ocean and has catered to the rich and famous for many a year.
It’s six main tourist islands—Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Maui, and Hawaiʻi—are lined with large and exclusive resorts, and the state is known as the spiritual home of surfing. Hawaii is more of an adventurous destination, and in addition to its world-class surfing, it also offers superb hiking among its volcanoes and lava fields.
While both destinations have luxurious options in spades, it is also possible to enjoy both destinations on a tighter budget.
One of these destinations offers the perfect peaceful desert island hideaway, while the other is better suited to cater to the more adventurous at heart.
Read on as we dive deeper into the differences and similarities between Hawaii and the Maldives to help you plan your dream island vacation…
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Best For Surfing?
- Which Is Better For Diving & Snorkeling?
- Which Is Best For Nightlife?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Better For Honeymoons?
- Which Is More Expensive?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- What Time Of Year Is Best?
- Which Is The Best Choice?
Which Is Easier To Get To?
With both Hawaii and the Maldives home to at least three international airports, you may think they will both be super simple to get to. And the truth is, they may be, but it will depend a little on your point of origin.
Velana International Airport (MLE), serving the capital city of Malé, is the Maldives’ main airport. It receives international flights directly from many major European cities, the Middle East, and a few major Asian metropolises too.
While reaching the Maldives may be relatively easy for those living within these regions, it will take a second flight if you are traveling from the US, Australia, or Africa.
Gan International Airport (GAN), Hanimaadhoo International Airport (HAQ), and Villa International Airport (VAM) are all much smaller than the main airport and only link internationally to India and Sri Lanka, but do also run many domestic flights.
Often the easiest route to your atoll is to fly to Malé’s airport and then board a small aircraft for a low-altitude flight with stunning views across the island chain to your final destination.
Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), also known as Honolulu International Airport, is Hawaii’s main port of entry and the state’s busiest international airport. It will probably be your easiest route to the islands, but that will depend not only on where you are coming from but also to which island you are heading.
Honolulu is one of Hawaii’s more famous tourist destinations and is found on the island of Oahu. The airport receives direct flights from all over the US, as well as from many cities in Eastern Asia and a few in Australia and New Zealand.
Travelers from elsewhere within the US may find it easier to fly to a smaller airport, especially if they are not staying on Oahu itself.
The island of Kona, however, is also linked to Japan via direct flights arriving at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA), and each of the other main tourist islands has an airport with good links to the western seaboard of the US and Canada.
While both destinations seem a little off the beaten path in terms of flights, they can both be reached reasonably easily, but different people living in different locations will have different answers as to which one is easiest to reach…
Which Is Best For Surfing?
While everyone is well aware of Hawaii’s links with the origins of surfing, maybe only the more discerning surfer is aware of the plethora of surf spots dotted throughout the Maldivian islands.
Expert and pro-level surfers may still be more drawn to Oahu’s famous North Shore in Hawaii, but those with little or no experience wishing to ride a few waves may well enjoy the Maldivian surf just as much.
But with Hawaii being touted as the birthplace of surfing, many will be drawn, not just to the epic waves and breaks, but also to Hawaii’s spirituality as a surfing destination: it’s a way of life for many Hawaiians.
Oahu is Hawaii’s most famous surf destination and not only boasts the iconic Waikiki Beach in the south of the island, but its northern shoreline sits atop the bucket list of many an avid surfer.
To the north of Hawaii lies over 2,000 miles of ocean, stretching up into the stormy north Pacific region. Wave energy originating in this storm-ridden region makes its way down to Hawaii, and Oahu in particular is famed for its humongous North Shore waves.
It’s some of the best surfing on the planet, but it’s not very forgiving and is best left to the pros and advanced-level boardriders.
The lesser-known Maldivian surf is at its best in the summer months, between April and October, with the biggest waves hitting the reefs in June, July, and August.
One of the most popular Maldivian surf destinations is North Malé Atoll, close to the airport. It’s home to some of the Maldives’ best-known breaks and offers a good mix of lefts and rights, including Lohis, Cokes, Chickens, Ninjas, Jails, Honkeys, and Sultans.
Sultans can see waves of up to eight feet, but if you’re looking to catch some consistently bigger waves, you will need to head to the more remote southern atolls, which are best surfed via a surf charter trip.
It’s impossible not to select surfing’s spiritual home, Hawaii, as the winner in this category, although it should be said that the Maldives is better than most people think when it comes to a surfing vacation.
Which Is Better For Diving & Snorkeling?
Both Hawaii and the Maldives are surrounded by endless miles of blue ocean, and both offer excellent scuba diving and snorkeling options.
When snorkeling or diving in either destination, you will have chances of seeing manta rays and reef sharks, and the Maldives in particular is a great place to get to see the world’s largest fish, the elusive and harmless whale shark.
For scuba divers considering a trip to Hawaii, the most famous dive in the archipelago takes place from the shores of the island of Kona after dark.
The Kona Manta Ray Night Dive in Hawaii features on many scuba divers’ bucket lists and is vaunted as being one of the best night dives in the world. The trip is usually done as a two-tank trip, with an afternoon dive followed by a surface interval spent waiting for the sun to disappear.
Once the sun has set, the boat’s crew lights up the dive site, and down you go. The floodlights attract the smaller fish and plankton, and in turn, the hungry giant mantas come sweeping in for a snack.
Elsewhere in the Hawaiian archipelago, good diving can be found on Hawaii Island (the Big Island); at Molokini Crater, a semi-submerged volcano close to Maui; and also at sites close to Honolulu on Oahu.
For those who prefer to stay on the surface, there is also excellent snorkeling throughout the islands, with great chances of spotting a turtle or two.
The Maldives is one of the world’s most popular dive destinations, and with good reason. The myriad atolls and islets form channels that funnel nutrient-rich waters into the lagoons that feed the ecosystem.
The diving is excellent throughout the Maldives, but in general, the north is the place to go for mantas, and the south is better for sharks, including tiger sharks and hammerheads.
The summer months see the world’s largest known aggregation of manta rays gather in Hanifaru Bay on Baa Atoll at the northern end of the Maldivian island chain.
The bay is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and activities are closely monitored, with scuba diving prohibited. You can snorkel with these gentle giants, though, and doing so will be magical and memorable.
The more remote southern Maldivian atolls extend farther into the Indian Ocean and are known as great places to spot sharks. Whale sharks, hammerheads, and tiger sharks can be seen, along with a whole host of different reef sharks.
While both locations offer great spots for snorkeling and scuba diving, the Maldives wins in this category. There is excellent snorkeling throughout both the Maldives and Hawaii, but for divers, the draw of the Maldives may prove too much to resist…
Which Is Best For Nightlife?
If you’re planning on enjoying a few nights out whilst on vacation, you will probably be better off plumping for Hawaii.
The Maldives is a more exclusive destination, with many of its islets and atolls housing one solitary resort. So when vacationing in the Maldives, you may be on an island with nothing besides your hotel and its facilities.
While the hotels are well-equipped and have excellent facilities, including fine dining and bars, if you’re looking to socialize and mingle, Hawaii will have many more options for you, and you will be able to move around the bigger islands more easily.
If you’re looking for Hawaii’s party scene, you can do much worse than mooching around Honolulu after the sun has set. There are plenty of tiki bars, clubs, and restaurants in and around Waikiki Beach and Chinatown, and it’s a great spot for a sunset beer or two.
Elsewhere within Hawaii, you can also find great bar and restaurant options on each of the other islands too. The Big Island is another decent bet for a good night out, and the island has its fair share of restaurants, breweries, and pubs to explore.
If your nightlife ideas center around partying into the wee small hours, then you’re better off checking out the options for Oahu in Hawaii rather than the Maldives.
Which Is Best For Families?
If you’re planning a family vacation, depending on the age of your children, you will probably be better able to keep them entertained and occupied in Hawaii.
The Maldives caters largely to couples and attracts an older clientele than Hawaii does. That being said, if your children are water babies who love to be in the ocean, then it will be a tougher decision.
One of the reasons Hawaii has more entertainment options for children is down to geography. While Hawaii’s largest island, Hawaii Island, known as the Big Island to avoid confusion, covers more than 4,000 square miles (10,000 kilometers squared), the largest island in the Maldives, Gan Island, on Haddhunmathi Atoll, measures a mere five miles long by two miles wide.
Many of the islands and islets in the Maldives are privately owned and house solitary private resorts, with no other buildings present. While the resorts are high-end, with excellent facilities, there are few options for exploring beyond your small islet.
However, if your kids are budding marine biologists, they will love the amazing snorkeling on offer mere footsteps from your front door.
You can find resorts in the Maldives that do cater for families, with the Soneva Fushi resort being a popular choice. The resort is located near the manta ray agregation site at Baa Atoll and also has a kids club and two kids’ swimming pools.
In Hawaii, you are much more free to explore outside your resort. While there are activities for children to enjoy on each of the main islands, many tout Oahu, whose name translates as “The Gathering Place,” as the best choice.
In addition to the North Shore surf towns, Oahu is the home of Honolulu, Waikiki Beach, and the majority of Hawaii’s population.
Some of the child-friendly activities to enjoy on Oahu include surf lessons at Waikiki, a tour of Pearl Harbor, hiking Diamond Head volcano, Jurassic Park movie set tours, and a day out snorkeling in Hanauma Bay.
Coupled with the island’s great amenities, including shopping malls and cinemas, Oahu is a great bet if traveling with kids in tow.
Overall, there’s a clear winner in this category, with Hawaii being the more child-friendly option.
Which Is Better For Honeymoons?
Just as Hawaii’s larger islands are more suitable for family vacations, the Maldives’ small and more intimate islands may be the better choice for a romantic couple’s vacation or a honeymoon.
But that’s not to say, of course, that you can’t also enjoy a romantic getaway in one of Hawaii’s quieter corners.
If seclusion is the order of the day, though, you will find it easier to escape the madding crowds in the Maldives.
There are many adult-only resorts in the Maldives that have focused on tranquility and privacy when designing their aesthetics. Many resorts feature postcard-perfect overwater bungalows, opulent villas nestled among palm trees, or charming beachfront cottages mere steps from the ocean.
The resorts in the Maldives are well-versed in catering to the couples’ market and offer many romantic excursions and activities, including private beach dinners, luxurious spa packages, and exclusive sunset sailing trips.
And there’s always the opportunity for an uninterrupted romantic beach stroll along sections of uninterrupted soft, white sand.
While the Maldives is perhaps the best bet for a ‘traditional’ honeymoon or romantic break, you can still enjoy the tranquility of solitude in superb surroundings in Hawaii too.
If you’re the kind of couple who prefers being active to lying on the beach, you may prefer to find a peaceful corner of Hawaii for your getaway.
Maui is often touted as being the best Hawaiian island for a honeymoon or a romantic vacation. The island boasts a selection of intimate, luxury resorts; it has a reliably sunny climate; and there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities.
Maui has a little something for everyone and is a great pick for most honeymooners’ wishes in Hawaii.
While you could argue that the company is more important than the destination when it comes to honeymoons and romantic getaways, the seclusion and peacefulness of the Maldives make it a better bet for a couple’s vacation.
Which Is More Expensive?
While it is possible to visit either location on a budget, they are both geared more towards the more affluent traveler and are both considered to be more luxurious and expensive destinations than many others.
The Maldives in particular has a reputation for being a luxury travel destination, but there are a few budget options, especially in and around the country’s capital, Malé.
When planning your budget, the first obstacle to negotiate is the price of a flight. While it will depend on where you live, in general, most people will find cheaper flights to the Maldives. However, the Maldives will have fewer budget accommodation options, and you may need to book well in advance.
If you live closer to Hawaii, especially those living on the west coast of the US, you may find Hawaii flights cheaper, and you will find it easier to find budget accommodation compared with in the Maldives.
Aside from flights and accommodations, the general cost of living in these two destinations is also a little high.
They are both island destinations that are surrounded by miles and miles of blue ocean, and most things need to be imported to the island via sea or air, resulting in higher costs.
With Hawaii being the US’ state with the highest cost of living and the Maldives being one of the world’s favorite luxury travel destinations, you can expect high prices in each location.
While flight distances and fares will be a little different for different people, we’ll have to declare this category a draw.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
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!
Budget: The word ‘budget’ is a rarity in the Maldives, but on the stunning Fonimagoodhoo Island you can find private villas at the four-star Reethi Resort at a tenth of the price as other Maldives stays.
With everything catered for, and a white sand beach on your doorstep, this resort makes the Maldives affordable to most. See photos and rates!
Luxury: At Amilla Maldives you get the opportunity to stay on an overwater villa that sits directly over the gorgeous waters of the lagoon. The sea views are, of course, breathtaking. But even more so from your own private pool.
Couple that with the world-class service and you have one of the best resorts in the world and the perfect honeymoon stay. And incredibly it’s still a lot cheaper than similar stays in the Maldives. See photos and rates!
What Time Of Year Is Best?
Both Hawaii and the Maldives are located within the tropics. And while this affords both locations warm weather throughout the year, it also means there are times with more rainfall than others. If you’re hell-bent on avoiding the rains, it could make your decision an easier one though.
Hawaii’s driest months fall between March and October, while the Maldives has opposite seasons and June through November are its wettest months.
Conversely, the Maldives’ driest time of the year falls between November and March, which tend to be wetter in Hawaii.
Bear in mind though, that the wetter seasons in the tropics, often referred to as the ‘rainy seaon,’ are not filled with 24 hours of rain. Often in the rainy seasons there is one heavy downpour late in the afternoon, and there can be stunning blue skies for the rest of the time.
Both destinations are blessed with great weather patterns though, and it’s hard to pick a winner in this category.
The fact that they have different patterns though may help you make your decision one way or another.
Hawaii vs The Maldives: Which Is The Better Choice?
Whichever of these fine, well-established tourist destinations you choose, you will be sure to have a memorable vacation.
While those looking for a peaceful, secluded, or romantic break may prefer the charms of the Maldives, those with a more adventurous mindset and a craving for outdoor activities and/or a party scene may be better suited to Hawaii.
Both destinations have an abundance of luxurious accommodations and high-end resorts to choose from, and both offer superb snorkeling.
Scuba divers may prefer the more vibrant reefs in the Maldives, and surfers may prefer the more ‘energetic’ waves in Hawaii.
Hawaii is a great choice for a family vacation, and the Maldives is a very popular choice among honeymooners.
These two opulent destinations have many similarities but also have lots of small differences, and at the end of the day, if you’re still struggling to decide, let the weather gods choose for you: the Maldives has its best weather between November and March, while Hawaii’s best weather falls between March and October.
As two island destinations, though, both locations are perfect for ocean lovers, and both will allow you to enjoy a spectacular vacation in decadent surroundings.