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Maui vs. Big Island: The Ultimate Comparison Guide (for 2024)

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As a travel writer and travel expert, I’ve personally visited Hawaii many times, and I’ve been to Maui and the Big Island multiple times each! I also write for Fodor’s Guidebooks for Hawaii so I’ve had the opportunity to explore the Hawaiian islands on many visits. I created this guide to help other travelers who are trying to decide which island to visit. I’m sharing this information to make your Hawaii travel planning easier! I also offer personal trip consulting to Hawaii, so please contact me with any questions and for pricing.

Deciding between Maui or The Big Island? This guide will help you choose which island is best for you!

Hawaii is a dream destination for many travelers across the globe. It’s located in the Central Pacific Ocean and is home to several gorgeous islands that are open to visitors, and each one is very different and offers an abundance of diverse experiences. These islands are Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, and The Island of Hawaii (commonly referred to as “The Big Island”). The most popular islands for tourists to visit on the Hawaiian archipelago are Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and, of course, The Big Island.

Are you planning to visit Maui and The Big Island? Are you trying to decide which island to visit for your vacation — Maui or the Big Island? You’ve come to the right place! Many travelers, especially first-time visitors to Hawaii, often prefer to spend their time on one or two islands. For travelers on a vacation that’s less than two weeks, it’s ideal to choose one island, as it’s challenging to visit more than one island and still have a relaxing trip. Keep in mind that unless you’re on a cruise, the only way to travel between the Hawaiian islands is by airplane.

This post is the ultimate comparison between Maui vs The Big Island — and will help you to decide which island is best for you!

If you’re still trying to decide between ALL the islands, check out my quick quiz that will help you narrow down your choices! How to Choose the Best Hawaiian Island for your vacation! And if you’re wondering how long your flight will be to Hawaii, take a look at my post here: How long is a flight to Hawaii? And tips for long flights.

Note: ALL photos in this blog post were taken by me while visiting Hawaii.

Maui Wildfires in 2023: Maui recently experienced devastating wildfires. Unfortunately, the town of Lahaina was completely destroyed. However, Maui is open! As of 2024, The locations mentioned in this post are open for visitors. Maui residents are asking travelers to visit but to avoid the area around Lahaina. Be sure to double-check as you make your plans, as the situation with residents in the area is evolving.

Maui vs. Big Island: Comparing Activities & Things To Do

This ultimate guide will help you decide which island to visit: Maui or the Big Island of Hawaii. In this Maui vs the Big Island of Hawaii guide, please know that both of these tropical islands are exceptionally gorgeous, and offer fantastic activities, breathtaking views and fantastic experiences from beautiful beaches — to unforgettable adventures.

True to its name, The Big Island is the largest of the Hawaiian islands and is home to multiple ecosystems with a diverse terrain that includes black, green, and red sand beaches that can be found on various parts of the island.

The island of Maui is called, “The Valley Isle,” and is also the second-largest of the Hawaiian islands. It receives about 25 percent of Hawaii’s visitors and is famous for gorgeous beaches, whale watching during the winter months, and the spectacular sunrises (and sunsets) from its tallest peak, Haleakala.

This comprehensive guide will give you all the information you need to make the best decision about which Hawaiian island to visit!

Airplane wing pictured with Hawaii below
View from above the Big Island of Hawaii in 2022

Maui: Things To Do

✔️ Visit Haleakala at sunrise

You don’t want to miss the incredible sunrise from the summit of the majestic Haleakala volcano, the island’s tallest peak. There are plenty of tours here, and most of them start in a pre-dawn hour so you can witness fantastic daybreak when you reach the summit. This sunrise tour includes a van ride up to the top with breakfast! Tip: Bring a jacket and warm layers when you get the top! And if you want to learn about snow on Haleakala, check out my post here: (Link to my snow in Hawaii story).

✔️ Shop in Whaler’s Village

On Maui, Kaanapali has excellent beaches – and some great shopping, too. One of the best shopping areas on Maui is Kaanapali’s Whaler’s Village. It’s within walking distance of many oceanfront hotels, has several restaurants (and you can also walk to nearby bars and restaurants) and it’s located on the ocean, so you can stroll along a (paved) walkway when you’re finished shopping.

✔️ Take the road to Hana

Most visitors to Maui plan to explore the road to Hana on their visit, as it’s a great way to see fantastic scenic views and waterfalls. But we all know that the Hana Highway is best when someone else is driving! Instead of driving yourself (and possibly missing some of those breathtaking views), take a private tour to Hana tour that includes breakfast and lunch — and let an expert drive, while you sit back, relax and enjoy this incredible ride. You’ll swim in waterfalls, see a black sand beach and stop at many breathtaking lookout points along the way.

✔️ Learn to surf

Maui is where I stepped on a surfboard for the first time and it’s a beautiful place to learn how to surf. Even if you are an intermediate or advanced surfer, Maui is the best place to feel the exhilaration of catching waves! This surf school is near Lahaina, but there are others around the island, too, like this one is located in Kihei.

A view of the beach on the island of Maui with green foliage in the foreground and the Pacific Ocean beyond.
On the beach on Maui, Hawaii

Big Island: Things To Do

✔️ Visit Volcanos National Park

On the big Island, Volcanos National Park is home to two active volcanos, Kiluaea and Mauna Loa. You can tour these volcanos with a private guided tour, which will ensure that you see the best of everything and get the chance to explore these incredible natural wonders. It’s an incredible experience to get up close to these volcanoes and learn about how they are helping to shape the island. The tour’s leader is an island expert, which will make the experience extra-special!

✔️ Explore waterfalls

The Big Island is home to an abundance of magnificent waterfalls. The best way to see these spectacular waterfalls is with a small group adventure waterfall tour, as you’ll get close to the best waterfalls with a local expert who knows the optimal places for viewing. The guide will help you reach these jaw-dropping sights. Best of all, it’s an easy pick up (with snacks and lunch included).

✔️ Take a Helicopter ride over the island

The ultimate Big Island experience is viewing the volcanos and waterfalls from the sky via helicopter. It’s probably the most memorable activity you can do on your vacation! Take flight on a six-person helicopter and hover above the volcano steam vents and waterfalls – with panoramic views of the island, volcanoes, beaches, lush valleys, and the Pacific Ocean. This is an unforgettable activity, indeed! NOTE: Helicopter rides in Hawaii are very popular, so it’s best to book in advance because seating is limited.

✔️ Go stargazing

The best place in the world to see the stars is The Big Island of Hawaii. Sign up for this unique twilight volcano and nighttime stargazing (small group) tour for the island’s best experiences. You’ll be amazed at the magical nighttime sky, and will learn all about the planets, stars, and constellations. This tour is very comprenhensive and includes dinner and amazing nighttime sight-seeing, too!

A rugged beach with driftwood on the sand on Maui with the ocean beyond.
A rugged Maui beach view

Maui Snorkeling

✔️Snorkel by kayak

It’s fun to snorkel via kayak along the Maui coast, as you’ll see tons of tropical fish and marine life just off the shore. Maui is home to “Turtle Town” where you will see an abundance of sea turtles, so be sure to watch out for those fascinating creatures as well! This small-group guided kayaking tour is the Makena turtle town tour features an expert guide who will bring you to the best spots on the reef and provide some marine life education as well.

✔️Snorkel the famous Molokini crater

Off the coast of Maui is the Molokini crater, and it’s an awesome place to snorkel, as it’s home to tropical marine life of all kinds. The only way to reach this unique destination is by boat, and there are several tours that bring guests there for snorkeling and diving adventures. I recommend this tour, as the crew is experienced and the tour guides are excellent. These catamarans are very spacious with a comfortable with lots of room to spread out on deck and below. In fact, there’s a shady area below deck with great amenities, such as delicious food and modern bathrooms. 

✔️Snorkel from a luxury catamaran 

Maui offers a wide array of snorkel cruises aboard modern and stable catamarans that bring guests to the best snorkeling spots around the island. This exceptional cruise will bring you to amazing snorkeling spots all around the island of Maui to observe stunning marine life around this gorgeous island. This tour is based in Kaanapali beach and offers breakfast and lunch, too.

Big Island Snorkeling

✔️Snorkel with Giant Mana Rays

The Big Island of Hawaii is the best place in the world to snorkel with manta rays at night! The guides shine spotlights on the mantas, resulting in an incredible, other-wordly experience. As you snorkel safely atop the waves, these gentle giants swoop, dive, twist and turn beneath the ocean as you get an up-close look from above. Book your nighttime snorkel with manta rays here!

✔️ Snorkel at Captain Cook / Kealakekua Bay  

This historic destination is where Captain Cook was killed by native Hawaiians in a famous battle. Kealakekua Bay happens to be a great place for snorkeling. You’ll cruise the volcanic Kona coast on this excursion that brings you to the bay — and see whales (in winter) and dolphins along the way.

Activities Winner: The Island of Maui is the activities winner! Why? Because there’s a wide array of activities on this island! AND you can’t beat the vast assortment of things to do on the island of Maui!

Snorkeling Winner: The Big Island is the snorkeling winner! Why? Because it’s the ONLY Hawaiian location where you can snorkel with giant manta rays at night! In addition, you can participate in other / regular snorkeling activities by day as well. This means you can still snorkel with amazing tropical marine life in beautiful bays, and reefs right off the beach. You can also sign up for snorkeling via catamaran cruises, too!

Maui vs. Big Island: Comparing Accommodations

Are you looking for a place to stay on Maui or the Big Island? Both Maui and The Big Island are home to some memorable and fabulous beachfront resorts.

NOTE: I have personally stayed at all of these beautiful resorts listed below, so I’m sharing my own first-hand experiences and reviews.

Maui: Accommodations

📍Westin Maui Resort and Spa Ka’anapali

The Westin Maui Resort and Spa is a world-class oceanfront resort for couples as well as families. I highly recommend staying at the newly-renovated Ho Ku Pa Ka tower, which was refurbished in 2021 and features exclusive access to the fabulous indoor-outdoor lounge. All of the rooms are modern, and spacious, have a private lanai and ocean views. The swimming pools here are steps from the sand! Book the Westin Maui Resort and Spa here!

A view of the Ritz Carlton, Kapalua Bay on Maui with the swimming pool front and center!
Ritz Carlton Kapalua Bay, Maui

📍Ritz Carlton Maui Kapalua

For the ultimate in luxury, the Kapalua Ritz Carlton is a magical place to visit, as it’s perched overlooking one of the most stunning bays in the world, Kapalua bay.

This resort offers an array of rooms and suites, several restaurants (a few on the beach!) and beachfront activities, too. As a Ritz Carlton, you’ll be receiving the utmost in pampering and exceptional service along the way.

As an added bonus, this resort is adjacent to an oceanfront walking path and hiking trail that winds along the cliffs and offers the most stunning rugged scenery on the island. Book the Ritz Carlton Maui Kapalua here!

📍Hotel Wailea (adults only)!

Hotel Wailea is an ideal location for couples, as the rooms are massive – and feel more like modern apartments with separate bedrooms and gourmet kitchens. Perfect for a honeymoon or romantic getaway — or just if you want to stay at a tranquil, adults-only destination. The pool deck is relaxing – with a full bar featuring exceptional cocktails. This adults-only resort is not situated directly on the beach, but you still get those blissful ocean views (and the hotel offers a shuttle to the surrounding area’s hotels, restaurants, and most importantly, the beach — to a specific area that’s set up for this resort’s guests only). Book your stay at the Hotel Wailea here!

The beach in front of Maui’s Grand Wailea resort

📍Grand Wailea Maui, A Waldorf Astoria Resort (Family-friendly)!

This sprawling oceanfront resort across many acres is legendary and truly offers something for everyone. There are multiple styles of rooms, several swimming pools (including a water-park-style pool area for kids and a separate pool for adults). There’s also an on-property lagoon and breathtaking tropical gardens with pathways that wind through the property. There are several restaurants here, a lovely chapel – and even a world-class art collection at this iconic resort. Truly something for everyone at this breathtaking resort!

Book your stay at the Grand Wailea here!

Big Island Accommodations

📍Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Autograph Collection

Perched on a jaw-droppingly beautiful cove on the Kona coast, this hotel was built in 1965 and considered the most expensive resort in the world at that time. It remains a top, five-star destination the The Big Island. This resort is home to various sizes of rooms and suites; several restaurants overlooking the ocean. It’s situated on one of the most idyllic beaches in the world, with a cool beach bar and beach activities steps away, including lounge chairs, umbrellas, outrigger canoe rides, reef snorkeling, and manta ray nighttime snorkeling!  

Book your stay at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Autograph Collection

View of a guest room at the Mauna Kea resort with a king bed and an ocean view beyond.
Mauna Kea Beach Resort – King Oceanfront room with view

📍The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort

Overlooking another beautiful cove, the Hapuna Beach Resort along the Kona coast is the newer sister property to the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel next door. Hapuna Beach offers a similar high-end experience but a slightly different and more casual vibe. You still get all the beachfront bliss here, with lounge chairs, umbrellas, snorkel gear and more.

Book your stay at the The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort

View from Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on Hawaii’s Big Island 2022

📍Hilton Waikoloa Village

This iconic Hawaiian resort is situated on over 60 acres on the Kohola coast – it’s so large it has a very conveient train running through it — to help guests get from one end of this massive property to the other! There are several swimming pools here, a lagoon,  a multitude of awesome restaurants, and several styles of guestrooms and suites. There are plenty of shops, bars, and beachfront activities, too.

Book your stay at the Hilton Waikoloa Village

📍Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo – a DoubleTree by Hilton

On the other side of the island, Hilo offers a completely different, more laid-back vibe than the Kona or Kohala coasts. The Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo – a DoubleTree by Hilton is an ideal place to stay if you want to be steps away from downtown Hilo, close to the airport — and within minutes of everything in the area.

Book your stay at the Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo – a DoubleTree by Hilton

Lodging winner: Maui (although the Big Island is a close second!) Maui has a vast assortment of large and small hotels and resorts. Most are oceanfront — and some are within walking distance of shops, and restaurants.

Maui vs Big Island: Which Is Best For Families?

There are many destinations throughout Hawaii that are excellent for families. After all, as long as you have a great pool and easy beach access, you’ll have a wonderful location. Depending on the ages of your kids and teens, there are more choices to make regarding the best place to stay and the ideal location. Older kids will have more activities available to them.  

Maui For Family Travel

If you’re traveling with children to Maui, you will want to make things easy! And Maui is a great island to plan ahead for family-friendly activities! It’s best to start by choosing the best resort for your kids. Choose a large resort with big, family pools that are convenient for easy family activities such as (for example) the Grand Wailea or the Westin Maui Resort and Spa.  

The Big Island For Family Travel

The Big Island is also a destination where you can bring your family, but it will require a bit more planning. The island is volcanic, so you’ll need to check which beaches offer the soft sand (instead of volcanic rock!) You’ll also be better off with kids at a big, family-friendly resort with a pool and amenities, such as the Manua Kea, Hapuna and Hilton Waikoloa Village (all listed above!) Keep in mind that the the Big Island’s popular activities (such as hiking the volcano, trekking to waterfalls, snorkeling with manta rays, and taking helicopter rides) may be a bit too intense for very young children.

The Family Vacation Winner: Maui! Why Maui? Maui has a wide array of resorts with massive, family-friendly pools and easy beach access. The Big Island has a few as well, but Maui just has more to choose from, and they are located in places where you might not need a car to reach restaurants and stores. As mentioned above, many of The Big Island’s popular activities are more rugged and may be more suitable for older kids and teens.

Maui vs. Big Island: Average Vacation Cost

Travelers to Hawaii agree that Hawaii is expensive, no matter which island you choose!

It’s the most isolated group of islands in the world, and everything needs to be shipped from the US mainland (or elsewhere) and prices for everything are very high. Generally speaking, the cost of traveling to Maui is slightly more expensive than the Big Island, but that depends on the time of year, where you are flying from, how long you will be flying — and which type of accommodations you are choosing.

Airfare from the US mainland fluctuates a bit, but it’s safe to assume airfare from the east coast is about $1,000 to $1,400 for economy seats. A small price to pay for paradise!

Cost of Traveling To Maui

Depending on the time of year, a trip to Maui for two for a week could be approximately $5,000 – $10,000 (without airfare) depending on the resort you choose and the type of restaurants and activities you prefer.

Cost of Traveling To Big Island

Depending on the time of year, a trip to The Big Island of Hawaii for two for a week could be approximately $4,200 – $10,000 (without airfare) depending on the resort you choose and the type of restaurants and activities you prefer.

The Cost winner: The Big Island! Why? Because Maui is generally considered more expensive than The Big Island of Hawaii. You will still need to do your own research and determine which island is best for you. Be sure to visit https://www.hawaiitourismauthority.org for more details about Hawaii.

Conclusion: Maui vs. Big Island Pros & Cons

In conclusion, Hawaii is an incredible destination to visit on your vacation and travelers return again and again to visit different islands. Whichever island you choose to visit, you’ll be thrilled with your vacation.

This comprehensive guide is for you to use as a tool when you’re narrowing down your decisions to travel to Maui or The Big Island. There’s really no way to definitively say which island of Hawaii is “best” — they are all so beautiful -– so in my opinion, I always say it’s best to pick one for now and one for a trip in the future.

Here’s a quick recap of our winners (please know that no matter which island you choose, you’ll enjoy the trip of a lifetime):

Best snorkeling: The Big Island

Best activities: Maui

Best resorts: Maui

Best for families: Maui

Best pricing for vacation: The Big Island

Thanks for reading my guide to Maui vs Big Island of Hawaii! I hope you enjoy your Hawaiian adventures — wherever you choose to go! Would you like to learn more about Hawaii? Please check out my other posts about Hawaii here:

Does it snow in Hawaii? Prepare to be surprised!

Where to stay in Waikiki (check out this comprehensive guide to the best hotels in Waikiki)

How long is the flight to Hawaii? (And great travel tips for fliers on those long flights)!

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