Big Island vs Maui: The Only Guide You’ll Need

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When it comes to exploring the beauty of the Hawaiian archipelago, there’s one question that always seems to come up: should you visit Big Island or Maui?

Both islands are natural wonders and are known for their breathtaking landscapes, diverse flora and fauna, and of course, the people.

Even though the two islands are neighbors and have a lot of similarities, they are unique in their own way.

In this article, we’ll compare the Big Island vs Maui and help you decide which is the best fit for your trip.

Let’s get started!

Should You Visit Big Island or Maui?

If you’re the kind of traveler who appreciates wide-open spaces and abundant natural beauty, then you should definitely head to the Big Island.

With its plethora of natural attractions – including volcanoes, rainforests, and waterfalls – the Big Island is a paradise for visitors of all ages.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a tropical paradise where you can relax and enjoy the sun and sand all day long, look no further than the beautiful island of Maui.

With miles of pristine beaches to choose from, you’ll never be bored on this island.

In addition to the stunning shorelines, Maui also has plenty of attractions to keep you busy such as Wailea Coast and Haleakala Crater.

Is Big Island or Maui Better?

What is Big Island Known For?

Unfiltered, raw, wild – Big Island is made for adventurers.

While there are cushy resort estates, the island’s allure lies in its unspoiled landscapes.

The sheer scale of the island allows you to explore all types of terrain, whether that’s colored beaches, lush forests or the rocky rim of calderas.

It also offers that tantalizing edge of danger thanks to the active volcano.

For those seeking nature and nothing but, it’s paradise.

Waipio Valley Big Island Hawaii
Waipi'o Valley Big Island Hawaii

What is Maui Known For?

Coined “The Valley Isle”, Maui is a tableau of everything that makes Hawaii a well-loved holiday destination.

You can start your day with sunrise at Haleakala and end it with a sunset cruise, or spend the entire day on Maui’s famous beaches.

You can road trip down Hana Highway, seeking out hiking trails or the world’s best banana bread – maybe do both.

It’s a great getaway for families and couples with diverse interests, especially if “chill and relaxing” are the main criteria for your trip.

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Beaches

Beaches on the Big Island

Big Island sets you up for adventures in the wild, but ‘drama’ and ‘beach’ don’t really mesh well together.

While the volcanic shores and blackened formations look amazing against the teal surf, they’re not very promising when it comes to “beach day lounging”.

Still, the beaches on Big Island are quite something to photograph.

Green-sanded Papakolea Beach is a unique sight, while Magic Sands Beach literally transforms by the day – you never know if you’ll be getting sugary white sand or ebony black grains that particular day.

We’ll have to warn you against surfing in Big Island unless you’re experienced, as the rip currents and reefs don’t deliver safe conditions reliably.

You can, however, snorkel around Hapuna Beach and Kahalu’u Beach Park.

Beach in Maui Hawaii
stunning beach on maui

Beaches on Maui

Maui, on the other hand, is a beachy paradise. The island’s chill attitude towards life applies to every one of its beaches, free of Oahu’s tourist swarms.

If you like your sun tanning to be quiet and people-free, Maui is a great pick.

Maui’s coastline is much calmer compared to Big Island, meaning you can swim comfortably and safely.

You don’t lose out on uniqueness either, as several Maui beaches come in black and red hues.

Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach and One’uli Black Sand Beach are two such destinations.

Prep that camera!

Does Big Island or Maui Have Better Beaches?

From turtle spotting to sun tanning, snorkeling and beachcombing; Maui wins this round.

You can have both sand and fun in the water, without worrying about becoming one with the ocean.

Safety always comes first, people!

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Things to Do

One of the biggest things to consider when debating on Big Island vs Maui is what kind of activities you’re looking to do!

Things to Do on the Big Island

Big Island takes you back to a time where wilderness reigned first.

If you’re struggling to picture its size, well, Big Island houses eight ecosystems, five volcanoes, 650 coffee plantations… you get the idea.

Majority of the activities on Big Island are outdoor-based because it features some of Hawaii’s most unique landscapes.

Expansive Hawaii Volcanoes Natural Park encompasses the active volcanoes of Kilauea and Mauna Loa; black-sanded Punaluʻu Beach is also under its purview.

For even more hiking opportunities, Akaka Falls State Park and Waipio Valley offer lush scenic points.

You can even hike down Pololu Valley, which cuts along the northern edge of Kohala Mountain.

And when you’re not gawking at lava tubes and lush forests, go snorkeling at Hapuna Beach and Kahalu’u Beach Park.

The more sea-attached visitors should also seek out the green sand Papakolea Beach for amazing photo ops.

That’s not to say that Big Island doesn’t have a spot of calm away from deep wilds.

With hundreds of coffee plantations along the roads of Hualalai and Mauna Loa, you can spend a relaxing afternoon on the fields.

Other cultural excursions take you to Big Island’s ancient sites like Mo’okini Heaiau; this sacrificial temple that dates back to 480 AD.

Ancient petroglyphs and the burial caves within Waipio Valley too, reflect the rich tapestry of Hawaiian history.

Modern cultural experiences tap into the cultures that have once made Hawaii home, featuring classes on Portuguese oven baking or Tahitian dances.

Road to hana black sand beach overhead view
Road to hana black sand beach overhead view

Things to Do in Maui

Maui carries a more balanced ratio of outdoor fun and laidback road trips.

The Road to Hana lines up a diverse itinerary of all the outdoor activities you can think of: hiking to waterfalls, exploring botanical gardens, scuba diving offshore, miles of black lava and sugary sand beaches, the snorkeling haven of Molokini, etc.

This drive leads you straight into Maui’s often overlooked Upcountry, where adrenaline runs swing from one end of the spectrum to the other.

There’s the sprawling Haleakala National Park to explore, alongside four-wheeler tours and zip-lining through forests.

There are also relaxing farm tours, which bring you through coffee, lavender and pineapple plantations.

Peppered through it all are countless food trucks, waiting for the next foodie to come along.

Apart from sneak peeks into Maui’s industrial path via plantation tours, other cultural attractions include museums and traditional shows.

Whalers Village Museum and Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum recount Maui’s whaling history and sugarcane production respectively.

Glam and full of pizazz, the Ulalena Show at Maui Theater and Te Au Moana show approaches the past through art.

To get even more hands-on, hunt down the Pi’ilanihale in Kahanu Garden.

Or, take a walking tour through Maui Nei, a hidden village within the valleys.

You can even volunteer to clean up heritage sites such as Malama Honokowai Valley.

Interested to know more? Check out this travel guide to Maui for first-timers.

Are There More Things to Do on Big Island or Maui?

It really depends on your interests! Big Island ekes out the best hiking trails and epic, volcanic landscapes.

If you want to be part of nature, this is the island for you.

Maui tempers outdoor adventures with rest stops, casual shopping, relaxed beach lounging and more low-key fun.

It's the better choice for those wanting a little more comfort.

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Nightlife

Neither Big Island nor Maui is huge on nightlife, but one does have a slight edge over the other.

Nightlife on the Big Island

Party lovers will not find all-nighters and free-flow booze on the Big Island.

With its main allure being unspoiled nature and wilderness, this Hawaiian island embodies slow and simple living to the max.

Due to the rural settings, nightlife is limited to your dinner venue.

This could be a drink or two while admiring sunset, or stargazing from the comfort of your accommodations.

Posher resorts and country bars do serve live music, and luaus come with dance performances, but you won’t be the one shimmying on stage.

big island nightlife huggos on the rocks
photo by huggo's on the rocks big island

Nightlife in Maui

Maui’s nightlife, while wholesome, is more upbeat than Big Island.

Paia and Lahaina’s Front Street hosts a lively bunch of bars and restaurants which spill out onto the roads.

Kihei too, has its collection of eateries that offer happy hour between 3PM to 6PM.

Some pubs pass as nightclubs thanks to casual dance floors, but you’ll probably be sitting back with a beer in hand.

For something extra spirited, Aloha Friday is Maui’s version of a town party.

Art vendors meet delicious food and street performances so you can mingle with the local community.

For more before-10PM activities, look to sunset cruises and luaus.

Does Big Island or Maui Have Better Nightlife?

If we think of nightlife in traditional terms, Maui comes closest to your expectations.

Compared to Big Island's isolated and quiet estates, the sounds and festivities across Maui’s towns are practically a concert.

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Dining & Restaurants

The Hawaiian Islands never disappoint when it comes to food! Big Island and Maui are no different.

Dining on the Big Island

Before even mentioning food, know that Big Island’s Hilo coffee is world-famous.

Definitely order a ‘cuppa when you’re out at breakfast, or enjoying an afternoon break.

Big Island Coffee Roasters offers amazing tasting sessions and creamy, smooth coffee bars.

When it comes to proper meals, Big Island takes its menus seriously too.

Quality is consistent through casual walk-ups and fine dining – at surprisingly affordable prices!

Homegrown produce makes it to the table, whether that’s macadamia nut encrusted mahi-mahi or tender barbecue.

Plenty of dishes are locally inspired, often with an interesting twist.

Throw in a local craft beer and you’re set for the day.

For even more local tastes, drop by Hilo’s farmers’ markets. They tend to serve light refreshments and traditional Hawaiian eats.

mama s fish house maui
photo by mama's fish house

Dining in Maui

Maui draws from both local and international tastes, and in recent years, have come up with increasingly innovative dishes.

Many celebrity chefs have popped up in Lahaina with experimental menus that draw from both land and sea catches.

You may be familiar with some of its most popular restaurants like Mama’s Fish House and The Andaz’s Ka’ana Kitchen.

Maui has also made a name for itself with some of the world’s best food trucks!

They’re peppered around the island, although many serve the Road to Hana.

From the lemongrass fried chicken from Thai Mee Up to the furikake curly fries of Like Poke?, or the classic Dino’s Gourmet On-The-Go loco moco; everything inspires you to start a food blog.

Is Big Island or Maui Better for Food?

Despite Big Island slowly growing its bars and restaurants, Maui wins with an extensive selection of dining options.

The restaurants in Lahaina, Paia, Kihei, Kaanapali and Wailea simply offer a much larger variety of eateries and menu items. 

Foodies, Maui is really the only option for you.

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Accommodations

Where to Stay on Big Island

Big Island accommodations are split between the west and east coast.

Resorts and hotels line the more developed Kona side, with Kailua-Kona town promising mid-range stays.

If you’re looking for variety, Hilo features a range of guesthouses, local inns and exclusive lodgings.

Typically, your budget stays start at $60 for hostel rooms.

Mid-range hotels would cost between $120 and $250 a night, while luxury condos for rent can hit $600.

Seasoned travelers would tell you this: choose your accommodation based on your preferred environment.

Because Big Island houses 8 micro-climates, you want to settle somewhere you’re comfortable in.

But if you’re looking to throw practicality and money out the window – the stunning Four Seasons Hualalai is a Forbes-approved pick.

The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort and Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel are also great options.

four seasons resort hualalai
photo by four seasons resort hualalai

Where to Stay in Maui

While pricier on average, accommodations on Maui offer a generous range.

The bulk of these stays are located on the south and west coasts of the island, but aren’t divided by price range like those of Big Island.

For cheaper accommodation, look to shared hostel dorms which average $50 per night.

Middle-range hotels float around the $250 mark, but ticks up during peak seasons.

What really covets attention though, are Maui’s luxurious beachfront resorts.

For those seeking private beaches, airy rooms and on-site golf courses – this is it.

Be prepared to shell out $500 or more for these pampering options.

Here are some resorts for you to consider:

Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott
Andaz Maui At Wailea Resort

Are Hotels Better on Big Island or Maui?

It's a tie between Big Island and Maui when it comes to accommodations.

Big Island may have fewer choices overall, but you can enjoy sprawling estates at cheaper prices and with fewer crowds.

Maui, while featuring a wide variety of accommodation, tends to be a lot pricier.

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Cost & Budget

Budget may be a deciding factor for you because let’s face it, Hawaii holidays aren’t exactly cheap!

To help you figure out which island fits best for you, here’s the breakdown of an average 1-week budget for two on the Big Island and Maui.

Average Budget for 1 Week on Big Island

Expect to shell out extra for car rental or transportation here – the downside to a huge playground is that you have to travel further between attractions.

The upside? Most attractions are free!

With the exception of certain National Park entrance fees, you’ll be paying for equipment rentals mostly.

The average one-week Big Island trip budget for two is approximately $4000.

Here’s the breakdown:

Flight Cost – Depending on departure location and time of the year, economy round-trip costs around $350-$700 per person.

It’s cheaper to fly in from the west coast (if you’re in the States), and cheaper to fly into Kona compared to Hilo.

Car Rental – The average car rental price in Big Island is $40 a day; $280 a week.

Public Transport – Daily transportation costs easily hit $30 since locations are far apart; taxis are significantly more costly.

Accommodation – Daily rates average around $250 per night. That’s $1750 a week.

Food – Food trucks cost $10 – $15, a cheaper deal compared to sit-down meals.

Lunch averages $15 – $20 per person but prepare to pay more for dinner.

The average weekly food costs on the Big Island for two amounts to $700 (excluding drinks).

Activities – Plenty of activities are free barring equipment rental costs.

Snorkeling or helicopter tours average $100 – $150 per person while Hawaii Volcanoes National Park costs $30 per vehicle.

Assuming you’ll be snorkeling and visiting national parks at least once, expect to spend at least $300 in a week.

Big Island Hawaii
big island natural beauty

Average Budget for 1 Week in Maui

Maui is no doubt one of the most expensive Hawaiian Islands to visit due to the increasing number of tourists.

The average one-week Maui trip budget for two is approximately $7000.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Flight Cost – Depending on departure location and time of the year, economy round-trip costs around $400-$800 per person.

It’s cheaper to fly in from the west coast (if you’re in the States).

Car Rental – The average car rental price in Maui is $50 a day; $350 a week.

Accommodation – Daily rates have shot up due to the pandemic, averaging $530 per night. That’s $3000-4000 a week.

Food – Meals can cost hefty bucks, starting with $15 breakfasts, $25 lunches and $50 dinners per person.

A beer averages $8 so expect cocktails to be more expensive.

The average weekly food costs in Maui for two amounts to $1260 (excluding drinks).

Activities – Activity costs vary immensely, with museum tickets and gear rental starting at $15 while snorkeling and specialty tours can cost $250-$350 per person.

Assuming you’ll be snorkeling and doing a major tour, expect to spend at least $800 in a week.

Is Big Island or Maui Cheaper to Visit?

Big Island is one of the cheapest Hawaiian Islands to visit, thanks to its rural setting and comparatively low tourist traffic.

Of course, your spending hinges on various factors.

Accommodation choice alone can have a huge impact on overall cost.

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