Kauai vs Maui: The Honest Comparison You Need (Updated)!

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Last updated on February 2, 2023 by Wandering our World

It would be pretty hard to choose the “wrong” Hawaiian island for your vacation. They’re all stunning and you can find amazing beaches and recreational activities on all of them – including on the gorgeous islands of Kauai and Maui. However depending on what you want your holiday to be like, one of these islands will suit you better.

For example Maui is a popular honeymoon spot with many things to do, lots of upscale restaurants, and more resort options than Kauai. It has arguably better beaches as well, so if beaches and resorts are your priority then Maui could be the better choice.

On the other hand, Kauai is an outdoorsy-type paradise with amazing views, a lack of crowds, and true solitude. It is definitely more rustic in comparison to Maui, and would be the better choice if you’re wanting a vacation with many outdoor activities in a more untouched part of Hawaii.

However that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to deciding whether Maui or Kauai is the best choice for you.

And that’s where we come in! Luckily we know Hawaii well and can tell you exactly what makes each island different and unique. Let’s get started!

CONTENTS:

  1. A Quick Overview
  2. Which Has Better Beaches
  3. Which Has Better Resorts
  4. How Do The Activities Compare
  5. How Does The Nightlife Compare
  6. Which Is The Better Choice
Maui vs Kauai infographic

A Quick Overview Of Kauai vs Maui

Kauai and Maui are both relatively quiet when compared to bigger islands like Oahu.

Maui is more accessible in regards to beaches and tourist excursions. It’s also a major honeymoon destination with high-class resorts.

On the other hand, Kauai is a bit more on the rural side, boasting jagged mountain peaks and expansive forests.

Simply put, Kauai is an adventurer’s paradise, lacking the big tourist draws and crowds.

Recommended: The Best Hawaiian Islands for Families

The 'Road to Hana' is an adventure. Many parts of this winding road narrow to just one lane as it goes through one of the truly last undeveloped tropical areas of the island of Maui, Hawaii. You can see the road winding around the sea cliffs of this picture, as the powerful ocean waves create a misty spray.
iStock.com/ironrodart

Which Has Better Beaches?

Maui: The Beaches

You’re in Hawaii, so a beach day is a must.

Maui boasts gentler waters than Kauai, along with much diversity. The water is calm on this island and might be better for those who aren’t the strongest swimmers.

From the sparkling white sand in Kaanapali to the red sand at Koki Beach Park to the black sand at Wai’anapanapa State Park, you can take your pick of diverse beaches too. You can also see the stunning Molokini crater from Big Beach.

Or why not rent a kayak to take along the coast. Lao Valley is also a fun option, where you can find the iconic 1,200 foot Needle Rock formation.

Maui is also known for its excellent snorkeling, and you don’t want to miss that if you choose this as your vacation spot. When the weather is mild, there is no shortage of great sites to dive deep and see the underwater world.

Aerial view of Kapalua coast in Maui, Hawaii. famous tropical destination.
iStock.com/Thomas De Wever

Kauai: The Beaches

Kauai has wider beaches than Maui, but they can be harder to reach.

You may need a four-wheel drive to navigate the unpaved road that leads to Polihale State Park but there you can find impressive tall dunes and waves. However that makes for dangerous swimming unless you’re at Queen’s Pond, which is protected by a sandbar. All of these reasons lead to the seclusion and privacy of the area though.

If you like to surf or sail, Kalapaki Bay is a perfect spot. Anini Beach is a calmer water option because a large reef protects it. It’s also quite long, with 2 miles of beach access, so finding a private spot won’t be challenging.

Poipu Beach Park is another popular spot, and the Haena Beach Park is absolutely gorgeous and has a view of Mount Makana.

Overall, Kauai beaches tend to have rougher currents and strong swells, especially if you hit the island during the winter months. So when it comes to whichone has the better beaches, we believe Mauihas better beaches than Kauai.

Recommended: Kauai vs Big Island

empty beach on Kauai
iStock.com/Adam-Springer

Which Has Better Resorts?

Maui wins this category due to the sheer number of options.

Wailea Beach on Maui is an area that’s known for boasting some of the most extravagant resorts in the state, and is a great place to be based.

Both the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea (see photos and rates) and the Grand Wailea – A Waldorf Astoria Resort (see photos and rates), are well worth checking out. Many celebrities have spent time in both hotels, and the area’s appeal is clear with massive swimming pools and gorgeous greenery surrounded by beaches and lush forests.

You can also find less expensive options in Ka’anapali with 4-star amenities. Airbnb stays are also an affordable option and can be found scattered throughout the island.

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

Kauai is a bit more sparse when it comes to accommodations due to building restrictions. However, with that said, you can find fantastic resorts on Kauai as well.

If you’re looking for luxury then the Grand Hyatt Kauai (see photos and rates here) is a spectacular five-star resort and spa set in tropical surroundings, beside the beach, and with world-class facilities for adults and kids alike. It’s one of those hotels we all want to stay in at some point in our life.

Need a more budget-friendly option? Coconut Beach offers a wonderful stay which is still luxury but on more of a budget.

Happy couple in infinity pool
iStock.com/grinvalds

How Do The Activities Compare?

Maui: The Activities

In terms of activities, you must take the ‘Road to Hana‘ in Maui. Stunning views, several hiking trails, hidden swimming holes, and farm stands are scattered throughout this drive which makes it a great day’s adventure.

This is hands-down one of the top scenic drives in the world, so make sure to keep your head on a swivel whileon your way.

Maui is also home to Haleakala, a massive dormant volcano. Bring a jacket and enjoy the scenic drive as you climb 10,000 feet above sea level (temperatures can drop up to 20 degrees from the beach to the top!).

Sit above the clouds and enjoy extraterrestrial terrain or head up early to catch one of the world’s best sunrises.

Recommended: The Most Beautiful & Rare Birds of Maui

Beautiful Hana Road, Scenic Hana Highway on the east coast of Maui, Hawaii
iStock.com/Julie Caron

Back at the coast, Maui provides the opportunity to explore many quirky beach towns and agricultural areas too, where you can tour coffee and pineapple farms. There are plenty of excursions, whether to beaches, farm tours, or whale watching.

Maui is also a perfect spot to take a boat tour because of the calmer waters. You’ll be able to relax with smooth sailing and plenty of views all around.

In fact whale watching is a popular draw in Maui from November to March, where you can see 10,000 humpback whales as they migrate to warmer waters! You can also find sea turtles and other amazing underwater life.

Catamaran cruises are a popular outing to check out, as well as many day hikes and waterfalls, especially on the Road to Hana.

Humpback breach Maui
iStock.com/Andrew Haefner

Kauai: The Activities

Kauai is an outdoor lover’s paradise. With so much untouched land, it has fully earned the nickname the ‘Garden Isle’. And is famous for being where the movie Jurassic Park was set.

In fact Kauai is a prime spot for travelers that want to go off the beaten path – literally. A good portion of the island is only accessible by hikes or ATVs, but it’s well worth it.

Waimea Canyon is a great spot to visit. It’s located on the western part of the island, and is 3,000 feet deep and 10 miles long! Also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,”  it’s definitely a site you don’t want to miss. You can take the difficult hike down and see it from all angles.

You can also find Koke State Park on Kauai which boasts over 4,000 acres of forest and countless hiking trails. Kilohana Plantation is another cool spot to see an actual working farm. Try some rum samples and explore the restored home and enjoy lunch at the restaurant on site.

Na Pali Coast from drone
iStock.com/ShaneMyersPhoto

And if you’re looking for some epic hikes, Kauai is an arguably better hiking destination than Maui. The Napali Coast in particular has many hikes, including a 22-mile famous route, but you can also find plenty of easier hikes too.

Another benefit to Kauai is that you can hike in lush jungle no matter where you are based on the island. In contrast most resorts in Maui tend to be on the dryer side of the island, so access to waterfall or jungle hikes will require more of a drive and research.

This island also has perfect rivers for kayaking, especially if you take the Hule’ia River through the National Wildlife Refuge. Keep your eyes peeled for rare monk seals as well, as Kauai is home to a big population of them!

Recommended: The Hawaiian Monk Seal & Where To Find Them!

And lastly visit the friendly towns of Hanapepe, Koloa, Waimea, Kapaa, and Hanalei if you’re looking for indoor activities. Hanalei has plenty of art galleries to wander, all at a lush green mountain base, making it a very picturesque town.

Young couple walking through rainforest
iStock.com/jacoblund

How Does The Nightlife Compare?

Neither island is a major hub for nightlife, but if you’re looking for somewhere with a bit more going on, Lahaina in Maui is a prime spot.

You can find restaurants, pubs, breweries, and entertainment options to fit your needs. Nothing super fancy, but it’ll do the job.

Kauai, on the other hand, is significantly more laid back. Most places shut down pretty early, so if you’re looking for late nights of dancing, this may not be the spot for you.

With that in mind, however, it makes this island a very family-friendly option.

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

Kauai vs Maui: Which Is The Better Choice?

Maui is a popular honeymoon spot or place for groups/families due to the sheer access to various activities that are good for all ages and interests. You can also find more upscale restaurants, making for a classy, romantic evening.

There are more resortoptionson Maui too, and better beaches than Kauai, so if beaches and resorts are your priority then Maui could be the better choice.

On the other hand, Kauai is an outdoorsy-type paradise with amazing views, a lack of crowds, and true solitude. It is definitely more rustic in comparison to Maui, and would be the better choice if you’re wanting a vacation with manyoutdoor activities in untouched Hawaii.

Wherever you choose to vacation, Kauai or Maui, you really can’t go wrong. You’ll end up on a gorgeous island with picturesque views all around, sparkling ocean and soft sand, and plenty of adventures no matter where you look.

Both serve as perfect spots to spend time away from the real world to rejuvenate your mind and body. Take a well-deserved, relaxing, and exciting vacation on either island, and you’re sure to have a wonderful time. Remember, no stress. You’re on island time now!

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  • 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.