Maui vs Kauai: Which Island Should You Visit

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You’ve been dreaming about vacationing in Hawaii for as long as you can remember, and you’ve narrowed it down to Maui or Kauai.

But you can’t make up your mind, and we get it; the decision can be a tough one as both islands have distinct personalities.

The short answer is, if you want gorgeous beaches with lots of activities, then Maui would be a good choice. If you prefer more natural beauty lush landscapes, then Kauai is probably better for you.

In this ultimate guide, we’ll compare Maui vs Kauai to help you decide which island is best for your next vacation.

Maui vs Kauai: Beaches

Beaches in Maui

Maui doesn’t lack in beaches, not in the least bit.

It does, however, offer up sandy strips that are free from the usual crowds that clutter up more metropolitan spots – you’ll get laidback vibes all around.

If you don’t like people, the beaches in Maui are a welcome respite!

Maui’s coastline benefits from calm waters too, making it a safe choice for families with kids.

Variety and uniqueness also come hand in hand on this Hawaiian island.

From Wailea’s upscale resorts and beach area to the surf-ready Kahului town, you’ve got plenty of choice.

You can even match sand color to wardrobe! Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach and Kaihalulu Beach’s dramatic red hue are just two of many photo ops.

You can definitely up your social media game here.

Maui Beach
maui beach by dronepicr

Beaches in Kauai

Making up 45% of the coastline, the beaches on Kauai are a tough competitor to beat.

They’re exactly the Hawaiian beaches you see on postcards; white sand that shines gold under the sun, and palm trees casting shade for visitors while the waves lull softly.

You can kick off your snorkeling journey anywhere as the waters are perfect year-round, except for slightly rougher winters.

But don’t think sun lounging is all you get to do on Kauai. Surrounding these delightful beaches is a landscape wilder than that of Maui.

There’s Hanalei and its sky-scraping cliffs looming over five beaches. There’s also Maha’ulepu, where sand dunes lead towards sand caves and piles of driftwood.

Adventure is always around the corner.

Does Maui or Kauai Have Better Beaches?

Both Maui and Kauai have stunning beaches and plenty to do on them!

But while sun tanning, snorkeling and beachcombing can be done on either, Maui is a teeny-weeny bit better.

You just can't pass up the unique colored sand beaches here.

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Maui vs Kauai: Hiking / Outdoor Activities

Maui Outdoor Activities

Forget arguing about what to do – Maui is literal paradise for those who want to try everything.

Long, winding drives? Check. Mountain climbing? Check. Soaking up vitamin D? Check.

From watery depths to high in the clouds, everywhere is your playground.

Hana Highway and its collection of attractions are a Maui classic.

Stop by fairytale-like Ohe’o Gulch or a black lava sand beach, tour pineapple plantations or frolic in lavender fields.

Stretch your legs with horse riding and four-wheeler tours, or work your arms at a golf course.

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If Upcountry is too calm for you, Haleakala National Park is brimming with hikes up to volcanic peaks.

Of course, we can’t forget about water fun! 30 miles of beaches are simply launching pads for all the snorkeling and scuba diving you can fit into your Hawaii trip.

Molokini is a popular day trip for kayaking, alongside other small islets.

Depending on which shore you’re on, surfing and turtle spotting will keep you occupied too, well into sunset.

Kauai Outdoors
kauai landscape by Darryl Kenyon

Kauai Outdoor Activities

If you like your outdoors extra wild, the “Garden Isle” is your pick.

Kauai is relatively untouched compared to Maui, with fewer towns and less tourist traffic. Oldest of the chain, this island dates back 4 to 5 million years.

There’s natural erosion to thank for the sheer cliffs, canyons and deep jungles you’ll find here.

Beauty beyond your wildest dreams, remember to breathe when you see Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon! These stunning landmarks are a must for hikers.

Kalalau Trail and Kauilau Ridge Trail are two dynamic treks that lead to panoramic views.

For even more time in greenery, visit the 2800-acre Kualoa Ranch.

Distinctive mountains, waterfalls, fig forests and sprawling plains made it the perfect shooting site for Jurassic Park.

Caution: Dinosaur sightings may occur. Just kidding!

Once you’re tuckered out running from those predators, the waterfront comes next.

Whether you choose to relax, splash about or peek underwater, Kauai’s beaches are great for cooling down.

Does Maui or Kauai Have Better Outdoor Activities?

Both. Kauai and Maui both offer a brilliant range of things to do outdoors.

While Maui has a wider variety of excursions due to its mixed terrain, Kauai's historic wilderness just cannot be beat.

Decide on what you'd like to do and go from there.

Avid hikers will prefer Kauai’s epic landscapes, while leisure activities like botanical garden tours and sunrise watching are best on Maui.

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Maui vs Kauai: Culture & Historic Attractions

Maui Historic Attractions

The bulk of Maui’s historical attractions are tied to the many industries that raised the island.

Two famous ones are Maui Tropical Plantation and the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum, as sugarcane and pineapple production were huge businesses back in the day.

Tour these estates to learn about the production process, and spot some heritage buildings along the way.

Likewise, Whalers Village Museum touches on an age-old industry.

Cultural experiences on Maui tend to play hide-and-seek; easily accessible ones include artistic and performance-based shows, like the Ulalena Show at Maui theatre and Te Au Moana.

Outside of these vibrant productions are hidden religious structures.

Scour through Kahanu Garden for the towering Pi’ilanihale, or wade into Malama Honokowai Valley.

Through walking tours at Maui Nei and more, you get to visit ancient villages and sacred sites hiding in plain sight.

Maui Tropical Plantation
maui tropical plantation by Willie Jones

Kaui Historic Attractions

Kaui, on the flip side, slaps you with history at every turn. It’s a literal living, breathing, growing piece of ‘artifact’ after all.

Still practicing ancient Hawaiian rites to this day, Kauai is steeped in culture and tradition.

Plan a driving route to experience its broad range of heritage sites.

Aside from contained indoor-outdoor sites like the Kauai Museum and Kalamaku Luau, Kauai’s rich story is best felt when you’re interacting with the land.

One of the most popular attractions is the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Lighthouse, restored to its original design.

Then there’s Old Koloa Town and its 19th-century storefronts, giving you a nostalgic glimpse of the island’s most prosperous era.

Kilohana Plantation takes you on a train ride through the estate, while Poipu’s eponymous trail is a history lesson for the eyes.

Check off all 14 cultural sites if possible, like the Spouting Horn and 1910 Koloa Jodo Mission.

Does Maui or Kauai Have Better Cultural/Historic Activities?

Kauai is our pick this round as it carries a much deeper sense of history than Maui. It literally transports you back in time.

Immerse yourself in its long-held traditions and ancient landscapes because history, in this case, belongs outdoors.

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Maui vs Kauai: Nightlife

Maui Nightlife

Neither Maui nor Kauai is a huge party island, but it doesn’t mean going to bed at 8PM either.

On Maui, nightlife begins at sunset and ends before midnight.

Happy hour starts at 3PM, with bars and restaurants at Kihei, Paia and Lahaina playing host.

Quite a few of these eateries offer views of the coast and a refreshing cocktail menu.

Nightclubs with dance floors are limited, but chances are, you’ll prefer a lively pub with comfort eats anyway.

Livelier attractions range from Aloha Friday to luaus.

Get your caricatures drawn at outdoor art stalls or feast on traditional eats while watching fire dancing. If you’re willing to shell more bucks, sign up for a sunset cruise.

Nightlife in Maui is made for the laidback and romantic.

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bar acuda
bar acuda bar photo by bar acuda

Kauai Nightlife

Similarly, Kauai works with the sun, not without it.

Most venues shut down after the promised sunset watch, so don’t expect late nights out.

The rhythm is slow too, as entertainment equals live music and dinner out.

Three rare options for post-dinner hangouts are Bar Acuda and Stevenson’s Library  – they offer some combination of late-night bites, excellent drinks, and a cozy dance floor.

Does Maui or Kauai Have Better Nightlife?

Unless all you want to do is unwind with chill drinks and music, Maui is the better choice for nightlife.

Compared to Kauai's slow and rural setting, Maui's various towns come awash with sounds and festivities.

In particular, the luau got everything covered: delicious food, tangy drinks, amazing performances and a heart-drumming atmosphere.

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Maui vs Kauai: Dining

Dining on Maui

Maui is home to the world’s best banana bread and no one lets you forget it!

Low-budget fare can topple high-end eateries when done right, and Maui’s restaurants do so many things right.

Sample fruit-based snacks and baked goods at roadside stands, or dig into fresh seafood at Paia Fish Market.

Food trucks like North Shore Noodle Bar and Thai Mee Up also deliver great food on the regular.

Moving past American classics and mahi-mahi, Maui’s upcoming food scene expands its palate to include creative fusions.

Lahaina now features many celebrity chefs, craft brew pop-ups and local dishes with a twist.

Best of all, they source from local farms to keep things authentic.

To start, drop by Mama’s Fish House for a Maui staple.

Mamas Fish House
mama's fish house by Kirt Edblom

Dining on Kauai

Kauai swings between super casual eateries and exclusive restaurants.

Gastropubs make up the bulk of this growing food scene, fitting in with the island’s laidback vibe.

Think tiki torches, Pacific views and outdoor seating paired with ahi tacos and craft beers.

Traditional Polynesian foods are also frequent visitors at the table – the macadamia nut-flavored chicken is truly, chef’s kiss. The lilikoi garnish really adds a kick.

But while award-winning chefs are slowly gravitating towards Kauai, the current selection is still tiny compared to Maui and Oahu’s developed dining scene.

Just keep in mind that it’s not exactly a foodie’s paradise, even if the quality is A-okay.

Is Maui or Kauai Better for Food?

Maui takes the cake and offers many more dining options compared to Kauai.

Food stalls, food trucks, cafés, fusion restaurants, fancy cuisine – there's something for every budget and preference.

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Maui vs Kauai: Accommodations

Where to Stay in Maui

Maui isn’t the cheapest Hawaiian island to stay on, but there’s a huge variety of accommodation to choose from.

Clustered on the south and west shores, these accommodations include budget-friendly shared hostel dorms, averaging $50 per night.

Move up the scale and you have mid-range hotels that cost $250 on average.

The most expensive options come in various forms, ranging from beachfront resorts to private villas.

The former comes with generous amenities, on-site restaurants and even private beaches.

With more land to roam and rooms decked out luxuriously, no wonder prices start at $500 per night.

Four Seasons Maui
four seasons maui by Christopher Chappelear

Where to Stay in Kauai

Kauai too, has its accommodations lining the coast. Inland stays are harder to come across, but most prefer to stay near the waterfront anyway.

Because it’s less developed and hence less traveled, prices are a lot lower compared to Maui.

Most ensuite rooms average at $100 per night, while the slightly more luxurious resorts along the east coast are double the price.

Other popular options include Airbnbs. If you’ve got the budget for it, why not stay at an upscale condo?

The island’s older hotels also cost a pretty penny, but the charming furnishings are absolutely worth it.

Are Hotels Better on Maui or Kauai?

It's hard to compare Kauai and Maui accommodations as the pros and cons are pretty balanced.

We'd lean toward Maui simply because it has a larger number of places to stay.

Maui is great for those with flexible budgets, especially if you like to be in the thick of things.

Kauai offers more affordable rates and less competition, perfect if you don't want to stay around crowds.

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Maui vs Kauai: Cost & Budget

Keep in mind that your trip may be as cheap or expensive as you’d like!

So many factors feed into a budget: flight price, accommodation, car rental, activities, food…you name it.

Here’s a breakdown of what a 7-day Hawaii trip looks like for two people.

Average Budget for 1 Week in Maui

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

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

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Average Budget for 1 Week in Kauai

The average one-week Kauai trip budget for two people is $5000. This factors in flights, car rental, hotel, daily meals, and covers two excursions on the island.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Flight cost – Depending on departure location and time of the year, economy round-trip costs around $400-$700 per person. Like Maui, it’s cheaper to fly in from the U.S west coast.

Car rental – The average car rental price in Kauai is $45-50 a day; $350 a week.

Accommodation – Daily rates for hotel rooms average $328 per night; a total of $2296 for a week.

Food – Meal costs vary widely, with breakfasts around $10, lunches around $20 and dinners averaging $40 per person. A beer averages $6 while cocktails cost a couple more dollars.

The average weekly food costs in Kauai for two amounts to $980 (excluding drinks).

Activities – Majority of Kauai activities can be done on the cheap, like hiking and doing self-guided tours.

The most costly would be snorkeling, sailing and helicopter tours, which range from $115 to $300. Budget at least $500 to cover two major Kauai tours.

Is Maui or Kauai Cheaper to Visit?

Kauai is definitely the cheaper island to visit.

The influx of tourists in Maui has pushed accommodation prices much higher compared to the other islands. 

Kauai also has the advantage of cheaper things to do, since hiking and camping barely cost anything.

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Which Hawaiian Island Should You Visit?

Why Should You Visit Maui?

Fun, vibrant, relaxing – Maui is exactly what the postcards sell.

If you’re the type of traveler who likes to experience a bit of everything, the diverse attractions on this island will appeal to you.

Developed towns mean you’re in touch with modern luxuries while the long coastal drive ensures plenty of adventure.

Indoors, outdoors, families or couples; Maui adapts easily to your needs.

Ready to plan your exotic getaway? Check out our travel guide to Maui.

Why Should You Visit Kauai?

Are you an outdoor junkie? Kauai is best for nature-bound souls, especially if hiking is your main choice of activity.

Photographers too, are easily lured here, thanks to the awe-inspiring landscapes and lack of crowds.

The quiet, laidback vibe is exactly what the doctor prescribed for those looking to unplug.

If you want to sit back and do nothing, Kauai is your pick.