When planning a trip to Hawaii, the first decision is always “which island should I visit?”
There’s no easy way to say this, but there is no “best island.” Each Hawaiian island has its own unique personality and style. So how do you choose? The answer lies in your personal preferences and priorities for your dream vacation…
The Big Island is best for you if you love variety on your vacation– The Big Island is home to eight of the world’s thirteen climate zones and has an incredible array of things to see and do. From snow-capped mountains to black sand beaches, lava fields, to lush rainforests, you can find it all here.
Maui is best for you if you’re looking for a laid-back vibe – Maui is often called the “valley island,” and it definitely has a more relaxed feel than some of the other islands. If you’re looking to spend your days lounging on the best beaches, chasing waterfalls, sipping mai tais by the pool, and getting pampered at the spa, Maui is the place for you.
We’ve created a guide that will help you figure out which of these two islands best fits your needs! It covers everything from cost to activities and scenery so that you can make an informed decision about where to go for your vacation.
Let’s begin by giving a brief overview of each island…
Overview of the Big Island
The Big Island of Hawaii is the largest in the State of Hawaii, and it’s about to get even bigger! It contains the world’s largest active volcano (Kilauea) and is home to hundreds of species of animals.
The Big Island is best known for its incredible diversity. From black sand beaches to a snow-capped mountain, you can experience everything the island has to offer.
The Big Island is also home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which includes two active volcanoes (Mauna Loa and Kilauea) and two massive craters.
It’s an island rich in culture and history, with a fascinating background of numerous cultures. While the Big Island may not have as much nightlife as some other islands, it does have its quirks and charms that will quickly make you fall in love.
Overview of Maui
Maui is the second-largest island in the State of Hawaii, and it’s incredibly popular! It’s a tropical island paradise, famous worldwide for its beaches, incredible resorts, luxury spas, delicious food, a vast selection of water sports, shopping, and activities.
If this is your first visit to Maui, you will find a fantastic place full of beauty and magic.
Maui has everything — from the stunning rainforest mountains in Haleakala National Park, to the amazing sunrises from the top of the Haleakala volcano, and the black sand beaches in Waianapanapa State Park.
See also: How to Plan a Fantastic Hawaii Babymoon
You’ll find that Maui is for lovers of excitement and adventure. With an excellent range of activities available, you can quickly fill your itinerary with snorkeling, surfing, scuba diving, paddle boarding, sailing, and fishing.
What Makes the Big Island Stand Out?
The Big Island is home to Volcanoes National Park, as well as Mauna Kea — the world’s tallest mountain when measured from its base to summit.
If you’re a nature lover, the Big Island is an excellent choice for you. While not all parts of it are considered “unspoiled,” there’s still plenty of opportunities to get back in touch with Mother Nature.
What Makes Maui Stand Out?
Maui is home to Haleakala National Park, which contains the second tallest mountain in all of Hawaii (Mt. Haleakala) and one of the most incredible sunrises you’ll ever see.
Maui offers a wide variety of activities, from watching humpback whales to flying over the Valley Isle in a helicopter.
If you want to go whale watching, Maui is the best island in Hawaii to do so. Each winter (November through May), humpback whales travel all the way from Alaska down to Hawaii’s warm waters, where they mate and give birth. The peak time for whale watching is between December and April.
The Big Island vs. Maui: Price
Flights to Maui are generally cheaper than the Big Island due to there being more flight options available. This is because Maui is a more popular tourist destination compared to the Big Island.
In general, lodging, shopping, and dining on the Big Island will be less expensive than in Maui.
The Big Island vs. Maui: Volcanoes
The Big Island has two active volcanoes, while Maui has none.
As mentioned before in this post, The Big Island is home to the world’s largest active volcano, Kilauea Volcano, which has been frequently erupting since 1983.
While you can see lava flow on the Big Island, there’s no guarantee that it will be visible during your trip. If this is important to you, be sure to check for recent Kilauea activities before you book your tickets!
Maui doesn’t have any volcanoes, but if you visit Haleakala National Park you can see the world’s largest dormant volcano. It is over one million years old and two miles wide!
The Big Island vs. Maui: Weather
You’ll find that the weather on the Big Island is very comparable to that of other tropical regions. You can expect plenty of sunshine that is tempered by winds that come from the northeast.
You’ll find more rainfall on the island’s eastern side, as the rain clouds coming from the east tend to get stopped here by the mountains.
Maui enjoys year-round pleasant weather and mild temperatures. The average highs are in the low to mid 80s Fahrenheit (27 Celsius), while the lows are between 65 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius).
You will find more rainfall in Maui on the windward side (Haleakala). The high slopes of Haleakala are what causes this side of the island to receive more rain.
The Big Island vs. Maui: Nightlife, Dining and Shopping
There is not much nightlife on the Big Island or Maui, but there are plenty of restaurants and a few bars if you’re looking for social activity.
Maui features some bars located in Lahaina and Kaanapali.
Both the Big Island and Maui provide a range of dining options — from fresh seafood to farm-to-table cuisine.
The only difference is that the Big Island’s restaurants tend to be less flashy than those on Maui, but plenty of excellent fine dining options are still available.
You can find fresh fish and traditional Hawaiian food on the Big Island, as well as plenty of high-end dining options. Like Maui, there are excellent fine dining restaurants to choose from, ranging from formal to casual.
Maui has fantastic shopping opportunities, including Lahaina, Ka’anapali, and Kihei. This is the place to go if you want luxury brand clothing or accessories!
The Kukui Mall in Kahului, Maui also offers fantastic bargains — this mall includes many outlet stores where you can buy fantastic clothes and products at discounted prices.
The Big Island has decent shopping, but not as many luxury shops as what you’ll find on Maui.
The Big Island vs. Maui: Outdoor Activities
When it comes to outdoor activities, the Big Island wins, hands down. Part of this is because the Big Island is, well…bigger, and there is more of it to explore.
The Big Island has 8 of the world’s 13 climate zones, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Maui is certainly no slouch here either though, but if you’re looking for solitude and untouched nature, the Big Island will be your best choice.
Maui is great for outdoor-oriented visitors as well, but it doesn’t have the range of activities that the Big Island provides.
I will break down the popular outdoors activities in more detail below.
The Big Island vs. Maui: Waterfalls
The Big Island of Hawaii and Maui both have some of the best waterfalls to explore. Maui is home to the famous Waimoku Falls and Twin Falls, located along the road to Hana.
Waterfalls in Maui are definitely one of the best stops on the Road to Hana and a big reason why people take this journey.
The Big Island is also home to the iconic Akaka Falls, Kahuna Falls, Hi’ilawe Falls, and Rainbow Falls.
The main difference between these two islands is that Maui’s waterfalls are easily accessible, and most of them are located along the famous road to Hana. You can literally park your car, and within minutes you can view the waterfalls.
Some of them require a short hike, which is nothing compared to the efforts it takes to get to some of the waterfalls on the Big Island.
The Big Island has easily accessible waterfalls like Rainbow Falls, but most require a longer hike.
Be sure to check out the this article on the top 9 waterfalls to visit on the Big Island if you are interested in learning more.
The Big Island vs. Maui: Hiking
Maui is home to the famous bamboo forest hike and the Pipiwai Trail that leads to Waimoku Falls.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the famous bamboo forest on Maui is now considered private property, and is closed.
There’s a vast range of hikes on Maui, from casual strolls to arduous multi-day treks. Some of the most notable hiking trails include: the Waihee Ridge Trail, Keonehe’ehe’e (Sliding Sands) Trail, and the Hosmer Grove Loop Trail.
Another fantastic hike on Maui is the hike through the famous Haleakala Crater on the flanks of the Haleakala volcano.
The Big Island has many hidden gems for hikers, such as rainforest valleys and ancient trails used by native Hawaiians. If you’re looking for a longer and more challenging hike, the Big Island might be your best bet.
The Big Island is home to several volcanoes, including Mauna Loa — one of the most massive mountains in the world — providing unique trails and hiking experiences.
Maui has some excellent hiking trails as well, but nothing like what you’ll find on the Big Island.
The Big Island vs. Maui: Beaches
This one is tough to compare because both islands have excellent beaches. It all comes down to what you’re looking for during from your vacation.
To help answer this question, we will break it down even further into types of beaches.
In a nutshell, the Big Island offers a lot of diverse beaches, where you’ll find many different types of sand and water on one island. From black sand beaches to green sand beaches, rocky shores, cliffsides, etc.
Maui has excellent beaches in all four main tourism regions: West Maui, South Shore, Central, and Upcountry. Even though Maui has plenty of amazing white sand beaches, the beaches are not as diverse as the Big Island.
Black Sand Beaches
Both the Big Island of Hawaii and Maui have at least one black sand beach.
Maui is home to the famous Waiʻānapanapa State Park, which features a beautiful black sand beach. This beach is located on the road to Hana and is definitely one of the best stops on this drive.
Please note: Reservations are required, so visit the state park’s website for more information.
The Big Island is home to several black sand beaches, including the famous Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.
There are a lot of black sand beaches on the Big Island due to its high level of volcanic activity.
If you want to see multiple black sand beaches while on your vacation, then the Big Island is for you. If you are okay with seeing only one incredible black sand beach, Maui will check this box.
White Sand Beaches
Both the Big Island and Maui have a large number of amazing white sand beaches.
Maui is home to some truly unique beaches, including the famous Ka’anapali Beach, Makena Beach and Napili Bay Beach.
Overall, I think Maui has better beaches than the Big Island in terms of white sand beaches — from stunning resorts with excellent facilities to more secluded, natural coves.
The Big Island has some excellent white sand beaches as well, and there is certainly no shortage of them at all. The Big Island doesn’t have as many luxury resorts as Maui, but if you’re looking for a more natural shoreline experience with unparalleled views, then do check out the Big Island’s incredible rocky coasts filled with gorgeous snorkeling spots.
My favorite white sand beach on the Big Island is Makalawena Beach, a secluded beach on the island’s western coast. The only way to access this beach is via a 30-minute hike along an unpaved, rocky path and beach trail.
If you make it all the way there, you will be greeted with a gorgeous beach with white sand and clear water.
The beaches on the Kohala Coast, such as Hapuna Beach, Spencer Beach, and Anaeho’omalu Bay, offer some of the best white sand beaches on the island.
The beaches on this side of the island are definitely worth visiting, plus they have the best sunsets on the Big Island — be sure to experience that as well while you are there.
Green Sand Beach
The Big Island of Hawaii has one green sand beach (Papakōlea Beach), while Maui has zero.
Maui has other types of interesting beaches worth visiting, but it lacks a green sand beach like the Big Island.
Olivine is the mineral that forms this type of beach. The olivine is brought up to Earth’s surface during volcanic eruptions.
The Big Island’s green sand beach is located near the town of Pahala in the Ka’u region of the island. This is one of my favorite beaches on the Big Island — you can literally spend hours relaxing and exploring all that this fantastic little beach has to offer.
One thing to note about the green sand beach is that the sand is not as green as many people expect it to be. Don’t let this deter you though, as the beach and surrounding area is pretty incredible. The beach is tucked down in between two cliffsides, which makes for amazing views and pictures.
Also, this beach is close to the south point, making it very convenient to stop at both locations in one outing.
Red Sand Beach
The Big Island of Hawaii does not have a red sand beach, while Maui does. The red sand beach in Maui is sometimes referred to as the pink beach, but technically it’s considered red.
The red sand beach in Maui is called Kaihalulu Beach, and it is located in Hana. The beach is tiny, but quite beautiful due to its rocky cliffs and red sand. The beach is public, but you will need to cross through private property to get to the beach. If you decide to visit this beach, do so at your own risk.
The Big Island vs. Maui: Snorkeling
This is another hard one to judge because both islands have some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii.
Maui is home to some fantastic snorkeling spots such as Molokini and Honolua Bay. Both of these spots are classified as marine life conservation districts, which means they’re protected from humans and human activities. This has allowed the reefs in these areas to flourish.
On the Big Island, visitors will find several excellent spots to snorkel, including Two Step Beach and Captain Cook Monument. This is a protected area and has some great snorkeling.
Another favorite spot for me on the Big Island is Kealakekua Bay. This is an excellent spot to snorkel, and the marine life here is fantastic.
If you love sea turtles and specifically want to swim with sea turtles, then I would recommend Maui compared to the Big Island. The Big Island has turtles, but it’s much easier to spot them in Maui. (Note: It is recommended to stay at least 10 feet away from the turtles, as they are federally protected and an endangered species.)
That said, the Big Island has many other great snorkeling spots, so it depends on what you want.
The Big Island vs. Maui: Whale Watching
Whale season is from December through April, and both islands offer excellent whale watching opportunities.
If I had to pick a winner in this section, then I would choose Maui. It’s so much easier to spot whales in Maui than on the Big Island.
Most times, we spotted whales in the wintertime without even trying.
Maui has better spots than the Big Island when it comes to spotting whales — they include Lahaina Point, Secret Beach, Makena Cove, and Hokipa Beach Park.
That said, the Big Island does have some great places to spot whales if you know where to look. Some good places include Mahukona Beach Park and several places along the Kohala Coast.
The Big Island vs. Maui: Surfing
In my opinion, if you’re looking for some excellent surfing experience and surfing is why you are going to Hawaii, then Oahu is where you should go. Oahu has some of the best surfs in the world.
But since we are comparing Maui and the Big Island, here is my recommendation on the two.
The main difference between the two is that Maui has more surf spots than the Big Island, however, the Big Island surf spots are also not as crowded as those on Maui.
Both Maui and the Big Island have some great beginner, intermediate and expert level surf breaks. As mentioned before, Maui just has more options compared to the Big Island.
The Big Island vs. Maui: Lava Tubes
When it comes to lava tubes, the Big Island of Hawaii wins this section, hands down.
Maui is home to the Hana Lava Tube, a beautiful lava tube located right in Hana. You can easily access this amazing lava tube from the main road.
On the other hand, the Big Island has many amazing lava tubes that are definitely worth exploring. My personal favorites are the Thurston Lava Tube, Kula Kai Caverns, and Kaumana Caves.
The Thurston Lava Tube is located right in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and it is part of the Chain of Craters Trail. The lava tube is incredibly beautiful, and it’s very easy to hike to it from the park.
The Kula Kai Caverns are located near the south point, while Kaumana Caves are located near Hilo.
There are plenty more lava tubes on the Big Island if you have time to explore, so please check them out.
The Big Island vs. Maui: Scenic Drives
Both Maui and the Big Island are great places for taking scenic drives, but the Big Island wins this category simply because the island is massive and there is a lot to explore.
The Big Island has several scenic drives that will make your jaw drop to the floor — they include the Kohala Coast, Saddle Road (Mauna Kea), Hawaii Belt Road, and Chain Of Craters Road (in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park). There are many more scenic drives on the island, so please explore!
If I had to pick one on the Big Island, I would recommend Saddle Road, up to the summit of Mauna Kea. This is a fantastic route, and it provides jaw-dropping views all along the way.
Maui has the famous Hana Highway scenic drive. This road will take you along the coast, through lush green forests, and past some of Maui’s most famous waterfalls. Hana is a charming town with lush greenery, waterfalls, and some fantastic views.
In my opinion, the best scenic drive on Maui is without a doubt the Haleakala Highway, from Hana down to Kipahulu. This highway takes you all the way from sea level right up to 10,000ft, and you’re guaranteed to see some amazing views along the way.
The Big Island Vs. Maui: Which is Better for Families?
One thing to keep in mind about the Big Island is that it takes time to drive from attraction to attraction due to it’s size. You will spend a reasonable amount of time in your car traversing between sites.
On the other hand, Maui is very easy to drive around; you can get from one attraction to another in a reasonable timeframe.
If you’re traveling with your family and want to explore multiple attractions but have limited time, I recommend Maui.
See also: The Top 5 Hawaiian Children’s Books
However, if you have more time, then the Big Island has more options.
The bottom line is both islands are fantastic and have plenty of attractions for all ages.
The Big Island vs. Maui: Safety
When it comes to safety, both islands are pretty safe. As always, please take precautions and do not leave any valuables visible in your car.
Maui has a significantly higher crime rate than its neighbor island; however, most crimes are petty thefts and burglaries that happen to visitors who leave their belongings visible in their cars.
The Big Island has petty theft, but the crime rate is considerably lower than on Maui.
The bottom line – both islands are safe places to visit.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which island in Hawaii is the prettiest?
This is a difficult question to answer, as all the islands have their unique beauty. Everyone is different and opinions vary by individual, so I can’t tell you what the popular opinion is.
Personally, I think that it all comes down to what you want from your vacation. You really can’t go wrong on any of the islands!
How to Get to Maui from the Big Island
The most common way to get from the Big Island to Maui is by plane. You will have to fly from the Kona or Hilo airports on the Big Island and arrive at Kahului Airport in Maui.
Unfortunately, there is not a ferry service between the two islands.
How much time should I spend on each island?
If you have the time, I recommend spending ten days on the Big Island of Hawaii. This will give you enough time to visit all the main attractions and still have plenty of time for other activities.
If you don’t have ten vacation days to spend on the Big Island, seven days should give you a good sense of what the island offers.
In my opinion, if you are flying all the way to Hawaii, why not spend your time seeing most of the island’s attractions?
I live on the east coast of the continental US and it’s a long flight to get to Hawaii, so every time I go I make sure to spend a minimum of ten days.
I recommend spending 5-7 days in Maui. This will allow you to see most of the main attractions on the island and still leave time to relax and unwind at one of Maui’s famous beaches!
Is there a ferry from the Big Island to Maui?
Unfortunately, there is no longer a ferry service that runs from Maui to the Big Island.
The Verdict: Which is better, the Big Island or Maui?
Both the Big Island and Maui are excellent Hawaiian islands — each with their own unique attractions.
Maui is smaller than the Big Island, however, this makes it easier to get around. On the other hand, the Big Island is quite large, making it perfect for visitors who have more time and desire to explore many different attractions.
If you have limited time and want to explore multiple attractions, then I recommend Maui. If you have more time and want to explore different regions, then the Big Island is a better option.
Until next time, Aloha!
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