Feeling conflicted when choosing between Maui and Kauai? Then you’ve come to the right place.
Choosing between two Hawaii Islands is like asking a caffeine addict to choose between a hot Americano and a cold brew. But a vacation demands time and money, so you may be forced to choose either one of these two magnificent islands.
Hawaii is full of life and offers an infinite list of exciting things to do. If you’re looking for warm weather, beautiful beaches, adventurous water sports, scenic landscapes, and festive culture, this heavenly place is the ideal destination for you.
The state has a total of 137 islands with eight central islands. These central islands are Hawai’i, Maui, Koho’olawe, Moloka’i, Lana’i, O’ahu, Kaua’i, and Ni’ihau. Oahu is popular amongst tourists for serving the best of both worlds – beautiful beaches and water sports during the day and a social life consisting of food, drinks, and good music in the city at night.
In contrast to Oahu’s buzzing mood, Maui and Kauai are much calmer and quieter. This is why tourists seeking a less-crowded island often find themselves torn between these two options.
Psst…Once you’re done choosing your island destination, check out this post for a comprehensive Hawaii packing list.
Kauai vs. Maui – What Each Island Offers
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On the surface, Maui and Kauai sound like the same islands – filled with peace and stillness. But the key difference between them lies in what the island’s main activities revolve around and how easily accessible these activities are.
In this article, we’ll outline every difference between Maui and Kauai in terms of distance, weather and activities, and provide the necessary information to help you choose the best island for you.
Getting to heaven takes time. West Coast residents will have to invest in a six-hour-long flight, and East Coast residents have to invest double of that. Some international carriers will be available to take you directly to Maui or Kauai.
Direct flights are expensive, so you can book a flight to Oahu and then get to your chosen island via a carrier flight. Honolulu International Airport in Oahu is the main port of entry. From there, you can take an approximately 30-40 minute flight to Maui or Kauai.
Unfortunately, there is no ferry service operating directly from Oahu to Kauai or Maui or any outer island. Ferry services are only available between the islands Maui and Lanai and between Maui and Molokai.
Maui to Kauai – Distance
If you can afford a trip to both the dreamy islands, you can take the sky route as there is no direct ferry available. The Hawaiian Airline flies non-stop from Maui (Kahului Airport) to Kauai (Lihue Airport) and will have you at your destination in 35-40 minutes.
Getting Around Once There
It’s wise to decide in advance how you’ll get around your chosen island. Generally, Maui is easier to get around than Kauai. If the thought of getting lost on an island scares you, you’re safer off by choosing Maui.
Getting Around Maui
Getting around Maui is easy – most of the island is accessible by short drives and bus rides. The only long road is the alluring Road to Hana Highway. And if you decide to visit the summit of the dauntless Healeakalā volcano, the drive can take up to 3 hours. Almost everything else is in close proximity, especially if you’re staying in one of the central areas.
Getting Around Kauai
Getting around Kauai is more of an effort. The island is one of the least developed islands of Hawaii, but you can access 20% of it by car. Exploring the rest of Kauai involves hikes, boat tours, and helicopter rides. Bus services do not cater to tourists. If you’re a daring, adventurous traveller, and can brave the thrill of Kauai, then this island might be the one for you.
If you choose to visit this island, here’s a guide on where to stay in Kauai.
Maui outshines Kauai when it comes to sunshine, literally. Compared to Kauai, Maui is warmer and dryer, with daytime temperatures ranging between 75-85°F (23-29°C).
Kauai is called the “Garden Isle” since most of the island consists of mountains and rainforests, which gives the island a lush, wet climate. In fact, Mount Waialeale, in Kauai, is known as one of the wettest places on earth.
From December to March, Kauai experiences a lot of rain (especially on the east shore). Average temperatures range between 18-25°C in winter and 23-29°C in summer.
However, like the rest of Hawaii, rain in Kauai is brief and doesn’t last for long hours or days. Moreover, the south shore doesn’t experience as much rain and is considered a safe place to stay. Having said this, the north shore of Kauai makes for a picture-perfect moment after a brief rainy session, which may be followed by an entrancing rainbow on a lucky day.
Both the islands, Maui and Kauai, serve the classical Hawaiian life we imagine it to be. Towering mountains, turquoise-coloured water, warm sunshine, lush greenery, and thriving jungles make up the scenery and landscapes of both islands. There is plenty to do with adventurous water sports and thrilling jungle expeditions.
Activities in Maui
One of the key features of Maui is Haeakalā – a dormant volcano with a massive crater. This is the third largest volcano in Maui and forms more than 70% of the island.
You can take the Sliding Sands trail to drive to the mountain’s summit and see the 10000 feet (3048 meters) peak up close. Alternatively, you can book a tour and enjoy the desert-like views in peace from the passenger seat.
The Road to Hana is a must-see highway with twists and turns and captivating views. This scenic drive runs along the northeastern coastline and serves breathtaking views of black and red sand beaches, a bamboo forest, waterfalls, and dense jungles.
Other famous activities in Maui include:
- A catamaran sunset cruise
- Boarding, kayaking, or snorkelling at the Kapalua Bay Beach
- Surfing the gentle waves at the Makena beach with a view of the Molokini crater
- Observing humpback whales in their habitats putting on an extravagant show while migrating in winter
- Visiting one of the resorts at Wailea Beach – also famous amongst A-list celebrities
- Snorkelling is better here compared to Maui because it’s more easily accessible and has better sites. There’s a high chance you’ll get to see sea turtles too.
Activities in Kauai
As mentioned before, Kauai is an ideal match for an adventurous daredevil. Many people know this island as the location for “Jurassic Park”, and every day spent here feels exactly like a scene from this action film.
Kauai has an abundance of emerald-green forests and edgy mountain peaks that pierce the bright blue sky. It’s more rural than Maui, providing a more “authentic” jungle-island experience.
Here you can check out the largest canyon in the Pacific, called the “Waimea Canyon” (also nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. This canyon stretches for over 10 miles (approximately 16 km) and offers a challenging hiking trail that takes around 2 to 3 hours to complete.
Another must-see tourist attraction for nature lovers in Kauai is the Na Pali Coast, which stretches about 15 miles (about 24 km). Discover the magnificence of this coastline by getting a bird’s eye view on a helicopter ride, or going under the glistening waters for a snorkelling trip, or taking in the dramatic views while cruising or sailing.
For a day of fun, book a Nai Pali Coast tour here.
Other well-known activities in Kauai include:
- Surf, sail, or canoe at the Kalapaki Bay
- Meet the monk seals (declared critically endangered) at the Poipu Beach
- Something that Maui lacks, but is Kauai’s speciality, is navigable rivers. If you’re a fan of river kayaking or have wanted to try it out, visit the Wailua River or the Hule’ia River.
- If you feel like undertaking an adventure trip, hire an SUV to travel across the uneven, sandy road to get to the Polihale State Park for amazing views of the Na Pali Coast.
- Hiking is better in Kauai than Maui. However, some treks are best suited for professional hikers, so be careful if you’re not very experienced. The Kalalau Trail is suitable for experienced hikers, while beginners should opt for the Kuilau Ridge Trail.
Maui or Kauai – Choose Your Ideal Destination
Maui is more of a tourist-friendly island, with most of the activities being easily accessible. The tourist locations are also in close proximity to the central hub.
Kauai, on the other hand, Kauai is a hidden gem and offers a closer look at the island-jungle life. Key locations in Kauai are far apart, and getting to each one feels like an adventure trip.
If you’re looking for an easy vacation with some luxury, fine dining, a buzzing nightlife, then Maui is for you. The island offers a great deal of safe adventurous activities, making it a good destination for families and couples.
Alternately, if you’re looking to get in sync with nature and find your life’s purpose through adventure, thrill, and semi-strenuous hikes, Kauai is for you.