🏝 Big Island vs Kauai: How to Decide for Your 2023 Vacation

Big Island vs. Kauai blog cover graphic. Text overlaying two images, one showing a sunset over the ocean on a beach on the Big Island scattered with lava rock and the other showing the Na Pali coast on Kauai as seen from a boat.

Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii are the two least-visited of the major Hawaiian islands by a substantial margin.

They are not typically recommended for a first visit to Hawaii, but those who value authentic, local, and quiet may find these to be the best options.

Both Big lsland and Kauai call to the adventurous travelers and peace-seekers alike. They are for those who want to avoid the crowds and whose idea of the perfect vacation involves more than poolside service.

Throughout this guide, we will be thoroughly comparing Big Island vs Kauai in all factors that need to be considered when choosing between the two islands. These include things like average costs, weather, beaches, activities, scenery, and more.

By the end, you will understand the pros and cons of visiting each island and have the complete picture on what makes each so special.

Disclosure: In order to keep providing you with free content, this post likely contains affiliate links. If you make a booking or purchase through one of these links we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. So a HUGE thank you to you if you click one of these links πŸ™‚

🌺 Big Island vs Kauai Snapshot

In many ways, Kauai and Big Island are the most similar islands to compare. They are the two least popular and largely attract the same kind of visitor. That is, those who want to avoid the crowds and/or are visiting Hawaii to explore, not just sit on the beach.

In perhaps more ways, the two islands could not be more different.

For example, Kauai is the smallest major Hawaiian island at 552 square miles and Big Island is by far the largest at 4028 square miles.

Kauai is wet, lush, and teeming with vegetation, while Big Island is sparse and mostly covered in lava rock. Kauai is also the oldest island in Hawaii, and Big Island is the youngest.


Kauai sees the least visitors despite most agreeing that it is the prettiest island in Hawaii. Frequent rain, limited beaches, and an inaccessible western coastline are all major deterrents for those seeking that idyllic tropical getaway. Because so much of the island is inaccessible, the tourists are more densely packed as well

The Big Island sees only slightly more people, but is also faster-growing and far more spacious. It benefits from a prevalent “leeward side” (dry side) with an extensive coastline of golden-sand beaches that run from Kona to Kohala.

The Big Island suffers, however, from being less aesthetically pleasing than the other islands, the vast driving distances required to get anywhere, and the coarse sand that makes up most of its young beaches.

Consult the table below for a quick look at the most commonly compared features of Big Island vs Kauai.

A graphic showing a table comparing the features of Big Island vs. Kauai on a floral tropical background.

Who Should Choose Kauai Over Big Island

Kauai and Big Island most attract the same crowd. Because of this, you should decide what factor is most important in your decision and let that guide you.

For example, perhaps you can find cheaper accommodation on one than the other, or perhaps there is a specific destination like the Na Pali Coast that you absolutely need to experience.

Beyond that suggestion, Kauai may be a better option than Big Island for the following types of people:

  • Hikers
  • Nature lovers
  • Intimate hotel / Small resort patrons
  • Honeymooners
  • Upscale travelers
  • #Van-lifer (willing to vacation by camper van)

Who Should Choose Big Island Over Kauai

The Big Island offers most of the same things as Kauai, but with better weather, more space, and a livelier town in Kailua-Kona.

Big Island is specifically a better option than Kauai for the following people:

  • Families with children
  • Beach bums
  • Group celebrations
  • Budget travelers
  • Road trippers
  • Small-crowd seekers
  • Snorkelers and marine life enthusiasts

🏝 YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY:
PLANNING A TRIP TO BIG ISLAND: ULTIMATE GUIDE
-or-
PLANNING A TRIP TO KAUAI: ULTIMATE GUIDE

🌴 Big Island vs Oahu Breakdown

πŸ¦– Kauai Overview

Low clouds line the tips of the jagged Na Pali cliffs in this photo captured on a sunny day during a Napali coast boat tour on Kauai.
  • Nickname: The Garden Isle
  • Where to Stay: Poipu or Princeville
  • Airports
    • Lihue (LIH) – Main Airport

Best for: People who see Hawaii as a place to be explored more than have a holiday. It is about adventure and activity, not just sunbathing and cocktails.

Suggested: THE PERFECT 5-7 DAY KAUAI ITINERARY


⛡️ Big Island Overview

Hapuna Beach in North Kona is captured from a drone revealing the crystal clear blue water and white sand beach of the Kohala Coast.

Big Island Overview

  • Nickname: The Big Island
  • Where to Stay: Kona or Waikoloa
  • Airports
    • Kona (KOA) – Main Airport
    • Hilo (ITO)

Best for: People who value space, seclusion, and budget over manufactured and lavish experiences with a sense of adventure.

Suggested: THE PERFECT 7 DAY BIG ISLAND ITINERARY

🏝 NEED MORE HELP? COMPARE OTHER ISLANDS:
Big Island vs. Oahu
Big Island vs. Maui
Kauai vs. Oahu
Kauai vs. Maui


🌀 Weather in Big Island vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
β˜€οΈThe Kohala Coast on Big Island is the sunniest region in all of Hawaii.
🌦 Kauai is the wettest Hawaiian island, with South Shore being the driest region.
πŸ† Big Island

All Hawaiian islands have a wet side (windward) and dry side (leeward).

The Big Island’s entire western half is leeward, meaning it is typically sunny with less rain and clouds. The Kona and Kohala coastline dominate the entire west coast with plenty of sunny beaches, albeit coarser sand than most prefer.

Most of Kauai’s leeward side is the Na Pali coast, which is accessible only by boat or helicopter. The South Shore is also on the leeward side and is the best option for beach holidays if you have decided to stay on Kauai.

Ironically, the wettest city in the entire US is actually Hilo on the east coast of the Big Island, which sees almost twice as much rain as anywhere in Kauai. However, most people only bother with a day trip or quick overnight stop in Hilo for this reason.

To quickly summarize, the frequent rain in Kauai makes for stunning scenery but also means there are fewer places to stay with both beaches and sunshine than on Big Island.

Annual RainfallDays with (some) Rain
Kauai
Poipu22 inches218 days
Wailua60 inches234 days
Princeville78 inches237 days
Big Island
Waikoloa<10 inches
Kailua-Kona25 inches50 days
Hilo140 inches275 days

πŸ– Beaches in Big Island vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
πŸ– Neither Big Island nor Kauai is best known for the beaches, but both have a few good options.
🌊 Big Island’s beaches are more ample, but tend to have coarser sand and more lava rock.
πŸ† Kauai for quality, Big Island for weather and quantity.

If you are comparing Big Island vs Kauai for a beach-centric vacation, you will have to decide whether you care more about the quality of the beach or the quality of the weather.

Kauai is the oldest Hawaiian island, meaning its beaches have the softest sand. However, much of Kauai’s coastline is either inaccessible or a lava rock shelf, which limits options significantly!

There are a few hidden beaches tucked away throughout the Garden Isle, but only about half a dozen easily-accessible soft-sand beaches that you can spend a day at.

The Popiu region is the main tourist spot due to the combination of beach access and the sunniest weather on Kauai. Princeville is the second-most popular destination due to its proximity to Hanalei Beach, which receives no shortage of rainfall but is the best beach (when dry) on either island.

The Big Island, meanwhile, has some picturesque beaches with reliably sunny weather, but the experience does not always match the aesthetic…

As the youngest Hawaiian island with plenty of ongoing volcanic activity, most of Big Island’s beaches have very coarse sand and are littered with lava rock. Beyond this, many of them are difficult to get to and require long drives down some rough roads.

That said, there are a few gems to be found for sure! The Kona region may not have the softest sand you will dig your toes into, but the beaches are beautiful and mostly easy to get to.

The best beaches on Big Island are found near Waikoloa along the Kohala coastline.

🧐 READ MORE
THE BEST BEACHES OF HAWAII ON EVERY ISLAND

-or-
TOP 25 BEACHES IN KONA


✈️ Flights to Big Island vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
πŸ›¬ More cities offer direct flights to Big Island (KOA) than to Kauai (LIH).
πŸ’° Starting fares vary slightly by departure city, but are very comparable to either island.
πŸ† Tie for pricing, Big Island for the availability of direct flights.

A photo from an airplane window looking out over a beach on Kona flying over the Big Island of Hawaii.

There are more direct flights to Kona (KOA) on Big Island than to Lihue (LIH) on Kauai, which should be a priority whenever possible as every layover brings the potential for major disruption to your holiday due to delays or cancellations.

The baseline airfare for both Kauai and Big Island are nearly identical, though they may vary slightly based on the date and city of departure. Some cities may have a slightly cheaper base fare to one than the other, but this is uncommon and the difference is negligible.

In other words, only your specific travel dates will determine if there is a potential savings opportunity flying to one island over the other.

With all this in mind, the cost of flying to Hawaii is actually far more reasonable than you might imagine, especially if you are able to fly on weekdays.

⭐️ Pro Tip: Accommodation will be by far the most expensive part of your visit to Hawaii. If budget is a concern, you should prioritize affordable accommodation over airfare as you are making your decision on which island to visit.

🧐 READ MORE
HOW TO PLAN A TRIP TO HAWAII FROM START TO FINISH


πŸ’° Cost of Visiting Big Island vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
πŸ’² Big Island offers the cheapest accommodation.
πŸ’³ Expect similar costs on all other expenses.
πŸ† Big Island

Big island photography: Enjoying a brilliant sunset from the Sheraton Kona.
Enjoying a brilliant sunset from the Outrigger Kona.

It is important to understand that accommodation will be your greatest individual expense item on any trip to Hawaii!

When comparing the cost of a trip to Big Island vs Kauai, tours, airfare, groceries, and activities are fairly equal. Your accommodation will be the main factor that swings things!


Hotel & Resort Costs on Oahu & Kauai

The table below shows the average daily rates of hotels and vacation rentals on Kauai vs Big Island in 2022, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

HotelsVacation Rentals
Big Island$400.10$241.90
Kauai$398.08$388.05

While the daily average rates will be skewed by the high cost of luxury properties, it does help give an idea of the accommodation costs on each island.

The Big Island also has 1.5 times more hotel rooms and 1.7 times more vacation rentals island-wide than Kauai, but sees only around 1.2 times the number of visitors. Therefore, it is often easier to find a better deal on the Big Island than Kauai, particularly with vacation rentals.

When researching prices, we searched booking.com, VRBO, and other accommodation platforms on multiple dates and found that the Big Island had the lowest-priced comparable hotels.

These started from $200-250 in Kona and Waikoloa (Big Island), compared to $300-350 in Princeville and Poipu (Kauai).

The cheapest options on the Big Island were found in Hilo, starting at $115 per night. On Kauai, the Wailua region was cheapest at $200 per night.

It is noteworthy that Kauai is the more camper van-friendly of the islands so if you are feeling truly adventurous and prioritizing budget, renting a campervan may present the most cost-effective option of all.


Other Costs

Flights are the second-highest trip cost and the baseline airfare for Kauai and Big Island are nearly identical regardless of departure city.

The costs of food and activities on each island are likely to be fairly comparable, with a variety of options on each.

On both islands, you can keep to a tight budget by eating locally or buying groceries and enjoying free activities. Similarly, you can splurge at fancy restaurants and book lots of tours if money is not a concern.

If maintaining a budget is important to you, be sure to open our complete breakdown on how to budget for a trip to Hawaii in another tab.

πŸ’° READ MORE:
BREAKDOWN: COSTS & BUDGETING FOR A TRIP TO HAWAII


πŸš— Getting Around Big island vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
🚘 Big Island & Kauai are the adventure islands and a car is essential for exploring either.
πŸ– Both islands can be done without a rental car, but only if you stay at a resort.
πŸ† Kauai

Adam Marland and Sophie Clapton of We Dream of Travel pose on a Jeep under palm trees in Kona on the. Big Island of Hawaii.

Public transportation in Hawaii is very limited and should not be relied upon.

If you plan on doing any amount of sightseeing and exploring of the islands, you will need to rent a car regardless of whether you decide on visiting Big Island or Kauai.

The major roads on both Big Island and Kauai are wide and easy to drive, especially if you are accustomed to driving in the US.

That said, every Hawaiian island has major resort areas with everything you need within walking distance if you just plan on just staying near the beach.

On Big Island, the Waikoloa area is best for a beach-side holiday without a car. Kailua-Kona is a decent option as well, but the beaches and weather are better further north.

On Kauai, Poipu is the best option for a beach vacation without a rental car as it is nearest to the Poipu Beach Park and other sunny beaches, has the most resorts, and is on the dry side of the island.

Princeville is also a good option with easy access to Hanalei Beach but is on the windward (rainy) side of Kauai.

If driving simply isn’t an option for you but you still want to do some activities, you will need to arrange tours that offer pick up services.

In this instance, Poipu will be the best option on either island. Kauai is smaller allowing you to see more in less time and there are a ton of amazing tours that will pick up in Poipu.

Luckily, rental cars are surprisingly affordable beginning at just $35/day during off-peak seasons, and rarely landing over $65/day even when busy.


πŸ“Έ Top Sights, Activities & Things to Do: Big Island vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
🏝 Top attractions on Kauai are Na Pali coast and Waimea Canyon.
πŸŒ‹ Top attractions on Big Island are the night manta ray swim and visiting an active volcano.
πŸ† Both Kauai & Big Island have incredible tours and activities; which is best is strictly a matter of personal taste.

The Big Island and Kauai are the two best islands for outdoor lovers and adventure seekers. Both offer some incredible tours that are truly unforgettable.

As the two islands are so similar in terms of the audience they attract, the primary reason to choose one over the other is the specific tours and/or attractions you are most interested in.

The best things to do on Big Island include witnessing the activity of a highly active volcano, night swimming with manta rays, snorkeling the marine life sanctuary at Captain Cook Monument, visiting the rare green sand beach of Papakolea, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, and stargazing at Mauna Kea.

Kauai is more about the incredible landscapes and diverse ecosystems. The one absolute must-do on a trip to Kauai is to book a tour to the Na Pali Coast by air and/or by sea.

Other popular activities on Kauai include kayaking the Wailua River to Secret Falls, visiting the rainbow-colored Waimea Canyon, hiking the Kalalau Trail, swimming in Wailua Falls, and visiting Queen’s Bath at sunset.

Both islands provide iconic Hawaiian experiences such as attending a luau or taking a sunset sail.

πŸŒ‹ RELATED GUIDE:
101 BEST THINGS TO DO ON BIG ISLAND

35 BEST THINGS TO DO ON KAUAI


πŸ€™πŸ½ Vibes & Atmosphere in Big Island vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
πŸ§— Big Island is spacious and friendlier, attracting a calmer traveler.
β›± Kauai is scenically stunning and relaxed, but much more compact.
πŸ† Big Island

The Big Island sees only ~1.6 million annual visitors and is roughly 7 times larger in land mass than Kauai (4000 square feet vs 550 square feet), which sees about 1.3 million visitors annually.

In other words, both islands are relaxed and quiet by Hawaii standards, but the Big Island provides a lot more space to roam with far more accessible coastline.

While Kauai is the least-visited, much of the already small island is also inaccessible due to the thick rainforest in the center and the jagged cliffs of the Na Pali coast that spans the entire western coastline. In fact, the only way to drive north to south on Kauai is along the east coast.

The result is that the popular places and activities can still get surprisingly crowded on Kauai.

On the Big Island, only the towns and villages tend to have crowds. Because there is such ample space, finding your own spot on any number of beaches is a guarantee.

The locals of Big Island are also friendlier to tourists than those on Kauai. This is unsurprising when you consider how much they are forced to share their space on Kauai compared to Big Island.

Be prepared for a slow and relaxed pace of life on both islands and expect things to get very quiet after dark.


🏨 Accommodation & Resorts in Big Island vs. Kauai

Quick Takeaway
🏑 Big Island has more vacation rentals and hotels at a lower price point than Kauai.
⭐️ Both islands offer a range of accommodations from hotels to luxury 5-star resorts.
πŸ† Big Island

In comparison to Maui or Oahu, the Big Island and Kauai have far fewer options when it comes to accommodation. However, they still offer a range of accommodation for all types of travelers, from hostels to 5-star resorts.

The vast majority of visitors to the Big Island choose to either stay in Kailua-Kona or Waikoloa. Both of these regions are on the dry side of the island and nearest to necessary services. Waikoloa is also where you’ll find most of the 5-star luxury resorts on the Big Island.

On the wet side of Big Island, Hilo offers more budget accommodation options in closer proximity to Hawaii Volcanoes NP and Akaka Falls State Park.

On Kauai the most popular regions to stay in are Princeville or Poipu. In the north of the island (the wet side), Princeville has more affordable small hotels and vacation rentals available. Conversely, Poipu in the south (the dry side) has more expensive hotels and larger resorts.

The east coast of Kauai, including Lihue, Wailua, and Kapa’a, offers the most affordable accommodation. However, it is further from the best beaches and top attractions.

You will find the type and quality of accommodation offered on each island to be fairly comparable, with both offering everything from a bunkbed in a hostel to a suite in a luxury 5-star hotel complete with its own golf course.

For those up for an adventure, Kauai is a great place to explore by campervan. Not only does this make for an unforgettable experience, but renting a campervan provides the most cost-effective option for visiting any Hawaiian island available.

Regardless of which island you choose, keep in mind that you will pay a premium for ocean view rooms.

⭐️ Pro tip: Both Kauai and the Big Island typically have additional taxes and resort fees, so ensure you click all the way through your booking to get a final estimated price as these additional fees can add up quickly.

🏠 READ MORE
WHERE TO STAY ON BIG ISLAND
WHERE TO STAY ON KAUAI


🍹 Bars & Nightlife in Big Island vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
🍻 Big Island has fun breweries & bars, but nothing in the way of clubs or late-night offerings.
🍾 Kauai has minimal nightlife and is even difficult to find a meal much after dark.
πŸ† Big Island

Kauai Night Photography of a moon rise from Polihale State Park.

Nightlife is limited anywhere in Hawaii, but Big Island and Kauai are especially quiet after dark!

For perspective, there are less than 5 bars open past 11pm on the entire island of Kauai.

The Big Island doesn’t have anything in the way of clubs, but there are some great breweries with a fun vibe in Kailua-Kona which have a vibrant pulse.

In addition, most of the high-end hotels and resorts in Kona and Waikoloa have bars open until 1am.

If you are visiting Hawaii with a group of friends or just enjoy staying up late and are comparing Big Island vs Kauai specifically, you will want to choose Big Island and look to stay near Kailua-Kona.


🍽 Food & Restaurants in Big Island vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
🍴Kauai has some good local, budget-friendly options for Hawaiian food but very few high-end restaurants.
🍱 Big Island’s fine dining options are also limited & exclusively in Waikoloa and Kailua-Kona.
πŸ† Big Island

Close up food photography of the Hawaiian dish of poke.

Whether you are just looking for some local, authentic “grindz” (the Hawaiian slang for food) or a high-end meal out, Big Island will have a wider selection to offer than Kauai.

Both islands will have a handful of local eateries to try some poke, loco moco, or other traditional Hawaiian food. As Big Island is more populated, especially in Kona, it will be easier to find these small kitchen establishments than on Kauai.

When it comes to fine dining, both islands are extremely limited but do have a few standouts. You will typically find high-end restaurants located, unsurprisingly, within the high-end resorts.


🌿 Natural Beauty & Scenery of Big Island vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
πŸŒ„ Big Island is very sparse and volcanic, but has some unique landscapes for nature lovers.
🌸 Kauai is stunning in every direction and is accepted as the most beautiful Hawaiian island.
πŸ† Kauai

The same rain that deters many visitors from choosing Kauai for their holiday also gives life to the most lush, beautiful island in Hawaii.

When it comes to overall scenery, Kauai is absolutely the best. Everywhere you look looks like the Garden of Eden.

Kauai is the most popular destination for active travelers. It provides a few choice shores for those necessary beach days, but also has some spectacular opportunities for exploration by self-guided or local-guided tour.

The most famous destination on Kauai is the Na Pali coast, which can (mostly) only be seen via a boat or helicopter tour.

Beyond that, there are plenty of amazing waterfalls, remote beaches, seascapes, and even the rainbow-colored Waimea Canyon, known as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”.

Conversely, the Big Island is mostly a sparse and savage landscape that is still being formed by a highly-active volcano. The Hilo rainforest is an exception to this, but few vacationers ever get out that far.

While it may not be as scenic overall, places like Hawaii Volcanoes NP, Papakolea Green Sand Beach, Waipio Valley, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, Mauna Kea / Mauna Loa, and the Hilo rainforest are incredibly unique destinations that will excite photographers and nature lovers.

πŸ“Έ FIND MORE INSPIRATION:
TOP 25 PLACES TO VISIT ON BIG ISLAND FOR NATURE


β›± Crowds in Big Island vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
🌴 The Big Island is a quiet and spacious island with lots of hidden beaches. Expect crowds only in Kailua-Kona and Waikoloa, and even those are reasonable.
🌺 Kauai sees the least people overall but the tourist attractions and popular beaches get very busy as there are less options on Kauai.
πŸ† Big Island

Two young ladies share a hammock on a sunny day at Makalawena Beach & Monk Seal Mahai'ula Beach in North Kona.

Big Island sees 1.6 million visitors annually vs 1.3 million for Kauai, but has 7x more landmass. On top of that, much of Kauai is actually inaccessible.

What that means is that while there are far fewer people on Kauai than anywhere else, they tend to be more densely concentrated. Parking for popular beaches like Hanalei or Tunnels Beach can be a nightmare as the island is just not designed to support its current level of tourism.

Many people who have visited all of the Hawaiian islands, ourselves included, prefer Big Island to any other because of how relaxed it is.

There are tons of beaches to choose from and though the sand is not as soft as on the other islands, finding parking and a quiet place to yourself is easy.

The great thing about Kona in particular is that you can have the best of both worlds. That is, you can find a busy brewery or something similar when you want some buzz, then slip away to your own slice of paradise when your mood changes!


🐠 Snorkeling & Diving in Big Island vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
🀿 The Big Island is the best island for snorkeling in Hawaii, and Kauai is likely the worst.
πŸ† Big Island

Big Island is the best snorkeling island in Hawaii. It is home to one of the most moving and incredible underwater experiences you will ever have in the Manta Ray night snorkel, which is the one true MUST do on Big Island.

Note that even if you do not swim or snorkel, you can and should include the night swim with manta rays on your Big Island itinerary!

In addition, the marine life sanctuary at Captain Cook Monument is perhaps the best coral garden in the state, and dolphin encounters are almost guaranteed in several spots.

Finally, most of the Kona and Kohala coastline can be snorkeled for free right from the beach. There are at least 20 epic snorkeling spots on Big Island we have personally visited and can recommend.

Kauai is on the other end of the spectrum. There are only a few beach-access snorkel sites worth considering and some of these, such as popular Tunnels Beach, can only be safely swum in seasonally.

⭐️ Pro tip: To save money and allow you to snorkel at any beach, pack your own snorkel gear.

🀿 RELATED GUIDE:
BEST SNORKELING ON THE BIG ISLAND


πŸ₯Ύ Hiking in Big Island vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
πŸƒβ€β™€οΈ Kauai has incredible hiking including one of the best hikes in the country in the Kalalau Trail.
πŸ§— Big Island has a bunch of hidden hikes for locals, but relatively few easily-accessible trails for tourists, especially in the areas most people will be staying.
πŸ† Kauai

Kauai has a collection of incredible hikes and trails begging to be explored, but most are missed by the casual tourist.

It’s true that most of the best hikes in Kauai require some time, prep, and occasionally, permits, but any outdoor enthusiasts will rejoice in some of the trails that await them.

The most famous and popular trail on the island is the Kalalau Trail which leads to epic views of the Na Pali Coast. The shorter but questionably-legal Kalepa Ridge Trail is the only other land-access hike that leads to views of the Na Pali cliffs.

There are also dozens of amazing jungle hikes that will lead to secret waterfalls as well as opportunities to walk amongst the rainbow-colored Waimea Canyon.

Big Island, meanwhile, requires lots of long walks to reach your destinations, but these are really more of a commute than a hike.

The most popular tourist hiking trails on Big Island are those in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and a few waterfall trails near Hilo.

The locals on Big Island would be quick to argue that there are dozens if not hundreds of incredible hikes for those that know where to look, but these are not things that short-term visitors and vacationers are likely to be looking for or even able to find.

🧳 Packing for Hawaii

An empty luggage container with a tropical appearance

There are a few essentials that you will want to consider taking with you to the Hawaiian islands.

For a complete guide on what to pack, including a printable list, check out our ULTIMATE HAWAII PACKING GUIDE.

Essentials

A young woman applying reef-safe sunscreen on a beach in Hawaii
Don’t forget to pack reef-safe sunscreen.
  • Reef-safe sunscreen: Traditional sunscreen is full of chemicals that are hugely damaging to coral reefs. Furthermore, Hawaii is the first state to require the use of reef-safe sunscreen. Accordingly, reef-safe sunscreen is perhaps the most important item to pack for Hawaii.
    We use Stream 2 Sea sunscreen as it’s non-harmful and most of their bottles are made from sugarcane resin rather than plastic. Purchase on Amazon or direct.
  • Beach travel towel: Hotels will provide towels for use within their grounds but you will want to take a towel with you for the beach. We recommend bringing a travel towel specifically as they are small, dry quickly, and do not collect sand!
  • Snorkel gear: Unless you’re only planning on taking snorkel tours, it is cheaper and easier to bring your own snorkel and mask and fins than renting them each day. You can also buy these items as a snorkel set which works out cheaper still.

πŸ™‹β€β™€οΈ Big Island vs Oahu FAQs

A fiery sky sunset on Big Island at Puako Beach in the Puako Bay near Kona.

Use the drop-down boxes below to find the answers to the most frequently asked questions comparing Kauai to the Big Island of Hawaii.

Is Kauai nicer than Big Island?

Kauai is the prettiest island in Hawaii, but Big Island is a better choice for vacationing, especially for first-time visitors. Pricing is more reasonable and the beaches are more plentiful with smaller crowds.

Drone photo showing the lagoon, beach, and shoreline of Waikoloa in Kona on the Big Island.
Big Island
Should you go to Kauai or Big Island first?

The Big Island is a better choice than Kauai for a first visit to Hawaii. You will typically find cheaper accommodation, more availability, and far more quiet beaches.

Kauai is undeniably beautiful but, despite seeing the least annual tourists, struggles the most of any Hawaiian island to keep up with consumer tourism needs.

Are the beaches better in Big Island or Kauai?

The best beaches on Kauai are more scenic and feature softer sand than the best beaches of Big Island, but they are also far more crowded and incredibly limited.

Big Island has substantially more beaches along its expansive coastline which prevents overcrowding, but the sand tends to be coarse and littered in lava rock.

The Kohala region has the nicest beaches on the Big Island.

Wide angle view of Magic Sands Beach on Big Island with tropical blue and green water, white sand, and black lava rock.
Magic Sands Beach, Kona, Big Island
Is it cheaper to fly to Kauai or Big Island?

Starting airfare is nearly identical traveling to Lihue (LIH) on Kauai or Kona (KOA) on Big Island. There are, however, more direct flights available to Big Island than Kauai.

A photo from an airplane window looking out over a beach on Kona flying over the Big Island of Hawaii.
Which island is cheaper, Kauai or Big Island?

The Big Island of Hawaii is more budget-friendly than Kauai, particularly in terms of accommodation. Kauai has more demand than supply for tourism and prices tend to inflate, especially during peak season.

Is Kauai better than Big Island for families with kids?

Families with children should choose the Big Island of Hawaii over Kauai for a Hawaiian vacation. There are many sheltered coves and beaches on Big Island with no currents to worry about, whereas Kauai’s beaches often have rip tides to consider.

πŸ“š More Big Island, Kauai & Hawaii Travel Guides

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We hope you’ve found this guide comparing Big Island vs Kauai helpful as you plan your next Hawaiian vacation.

Before you go, we have a plethora of other guides and travel tips for both islands as well as for general Hawaii trips. Each of these will be useful as you continue planning the vacation you deserve!


General Hawaii Travel Guides


Kauai Travel Guides


Big Island Travel Guides

πŸ’¬ Final Thoughts on Big Island vs Kauai

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

We truly hope you have found this Hawaii travel guide comparing Big Island vs Kauai useful for deciding which island to choose for your next adventure to the Rainbow State!

If you still can’t decide, might we recommend visiting both?! Island hopping in Hawaii is incredibly affordable and a great way to experience two very different places for yourself!

Now we’d love to hear from YOU!

If there are any questions we have not answered, revisions we need to make, or other suggestions for improvement, please let us know in the comments below.

Likewise, if you have found it useful and want to leave some kind words, those are always appreciated.

Now grab some reef-safe sunscreen and go prepare for the trip of a lifetime!

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