Which Hawaiian island is better: Maui or Kauai?

Wild, wonderful Kauai

We love the Hawaiian islands.

The islands of Aloha are like nothing else you can experience in this country – or perhaps anywhere in the world.

I first visited Maui in 1995 at my parents’ recommendation. They had fallen in love with the island a few years prior and they travel a lot, so when they rave about a place, I listen. During my week there, I too fell madly in love with the island.

When my parents bought a Maui timeshare some years later, I was elated at the thought of being able to return to this magical place. Sure enough, thanks to my folks’ generosity, we’ve been back to Maui three times – once when pregnant with Z and twice as a family of three.

Maui was fun as a duo and even more memorable as a tropical playground with 18-month-old and then 5-year-old Zoe. She may not remember much from those trips, but I sure do – and we have plenty of photos and videos to show her.

Last year, when Z was 12, we got to experience another unforgettable Hawaiian island: Kauai, the garden isle. Z and I spent an unbelievable 10 days there and loved every bit of it until the last day when I had my Hawaii heart incident.

After I got checked out (and heart-cathed!) in Honolulu, I returned to Kauai with a clean bill of health. That’s when E flew out to join us and we had a couple more days on Kauai as a family to relax and show E everything we had fallen in love with about the island.

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect tropical destination than Kauai. Less crowded and commercial than Maui, it is an unspoiled paradise with about half the tourists and even more breathtaking, wild nature to take in. But which island is our favorite?

I can tell you that before we headed to Kauai, I swore that Maui would always remain my favorite Hawaiian island. But those ten days in Kauai did something to me. The garden island’s relaxed vibe seeped into my soul in so many ways – and apparently, this happens a lot. So, which is my favorite? See if you can tell from the list below.

First, here are some great things Maui and Kauai have in common:

  • Gorgeous scenery including the Pacific Ocean, mountains, rainforests, cliffs, waterfalls and beaches
  • Volcanos (ancient and dormant ones on Kauai and a sleepy but active volcano, Haleakalā, on Maui. Haleakalā has erupted at least 10 times during the past 1,000 years)
  • Beautiful, friendly people with an incredible, rich culture
  • Great food and best-ever fresh pineapple
  • Aloha – the amazing cultural philosophy or spirit of the Hawaiian islands

Now, here are a few attributes that are unique to each place.

Maui highlights

  • Second-largest Hawaiian island
  • Has a more polished, sophisticated vibe
  • Incredible fine-dining restaurants
  • The road to Hana
  • Maui lavender farm with ocean views
  • Sunrise atop Haleakalā
  • Great snorkeling, shopping and dining along Ka’anapali beach
  • Amazing, diverse cuisine and bakeries
  • More nightlife than Kauai (at least in Lahaina and Ka’anapali)

Kauai highlights

  • Only 20% of the island is developed and accessible by car
  • Has a relaxed, sleepy and unhurried vibe
  • Phenomenal food truck scene
  • World-class snorkeling at Tunnels beach
  • Chickens literally everywhere you go
  • Waimea canyon with all its blazing color
  • Exquisite and uncrowded beaches, some with napping endangered monk seals
  • Glass beach – a must for sea glass collectors
  • The entire island shuts down at 8 pm (I found this charming – some may not like it!)

I’m not the first writer to attempt to pick a favorite between Maui and Kauai. It’s not easy to do! In my mind, Kauai feels more like a wild, unspoiled natural paradise while Maui feels like a posh, perfect dream vacation.

Bottom line: if you get to visit either Hawaiian island, you are lucky indeed.

And if you liked this post, be sure to check out my similar post comparing Costa Rica and Kauai as amazing vacation destinations!

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat and snake mom. Travel nut. Natural born writer. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.
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