🏝 Maui vs Big Island: How to Decide for Your 2024 Vacation

Maui vs. Big Island of Hawaii blog cover image.   Text overlaying a graphic showing two images; at the top is a drone photo along the coast of Maui, and at the bottom is the sun setting behind a row of palm trees on a beach on the Big Island.

Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii are the two youngest and largest of the Hawaiian islands, and both are considered premier vacation destinations.

Understand that there is no “best” Hawaiian island, only “favorite”.

Maui is far more popular than the Big Island, but it is surprisingly my least favorite, personally! In fact, I have visited both Maui and the Big Island three times each and have always enjoyed my experiences on the Big Island more.

But this is not about me, it’s about which is the right choice for you! My goal is to provide unbiased comparisons between the two islands based on data, research, and personal experience.

In this guide, I will compare the most important differentiating factors between Big Island vs. Maui. This includes average costs, quality of beaches, weather, notable attractions, and overall vibes.

By the end of this guide, you will have learned everything you need to know to make the right choice for your perfect tropical getaway.

🌺 Maui vs Big Island Overview

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

Some Quick, Important Notes

πŸ”₯ As of October 8, 2023, all regions of Maui and Big Island that were closed following wildfire damage have been re-opened, with the exception of Lahaina.

πŸ† Maui is far more popular (and populated) than the Big Island, especially for first-time visitors to Hawaii. Due to increased demand, Maui also provides a wider range of tourist services.

πŸ§˜β€β™€οΈ The Big Island is far larger in terms of landmass and hosts far fewer people than Maui. This makes it quieter and easier to find solitude.

✈️ 16 airports have direct flights to Maui, while only 11 airports have direct flights to Big Island.

πŸ“Έ Top things to do on Maui include Haleakala National Park, Road to Hana, Red Sand Beach, Molokini Crater, Wailea & Kihei Beaches, and day trips to Lanai.

πŸŒ‹ Top things to do on the Big Island include the Manta Ray Night Snorkel, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Green Sand Beach, Black Sand Beach, Waipio Valley, Kona, and Captain Cook Monument.

🌴 Maui vs Big Island Detailed Comparisons

🐒 Maui Overview

A resident honu lays in the sunshine as towering tropical palm trees and the West Maui Mountains fill the background in this Maui photo from VOR Beach.
  • Nickname: The Valley Isle
  • Where to Stay: Kihei or Wailea
  • Airports
    • Kahului (OGG) – Main Airport
    • Hana (HNM)
    • Kapalua (JHM)
  • Best Things to Do
    • Molokini Crater
    • Beach Hopping
    • Road to Hana
    • Whale Watching
    • Haleakala National Park
    • Sunset Luau

Best for: People who want a little bit of everything; some lavish, upscale options, nature to explore but mostly by car, famous and secret beaches, something for everyone.


Who Should Choose Maui Over Big Island

If you consider your ideal vacation variety to fall into one of the following categories, Maui is a better option than Big Island for you:

  • Families with children
  • Honeymooners
  • Beach bums
  • Shoppers
  • Group celebrations
  • Upscale travelers

⛡️ 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 Things to Do
    • Manta Ray Night Snorkel
    • Volcanoes National Park
    • Green & Black Sand Beach
    • Snorkel at Captain Cook
    • Beach Hopping in Kona
    • Coffee Tour
    • Waipio Valley

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


Who Should Choose Big Island Over Maui

Big Island is a better option than Maui for the following first-time visitors to Hawaii:

  • Nature & landscape photographers
  • Hikers & adventure seekers
  • Local culture enthusiasts
  • Small-crowd seekers

🌀 Weather in Maui vs Big Island

Key Takeaway
β˜€οΈWailea on Maui and Kohala on Big Island are the two driest regions in Hawaii.
πŸŒ₯ Maui has a larger “leeward side” (aka dry side) overall.

Both Maui and Big Island have reliably sunny regions for those who want the best chance at sunshine on their holiday.

The majority of the west coast of Maui is mostly sunny, but the Kihei and Wailea regions are particularly dry. Hana, to the south, is by far the rainiest part of the island.

Waikoloa is located on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island and is actually the sunniest place to stay in all of Hawaii, recording more hours of sunshine and less cloud cover or rain than anywhere else. It is also where you will find the best beaches on Big Island.

The Kailua-Kona region is also a great place to consider, as it also gets plenty of sunshine. Unfortunately, the beaches are more coarse than those in Kohala or Maui, and clouds are more prevalent.

Hilo, on the “windward side” (aka wet side) of the Big Island, is the rainiest city in the US!

Annual RainfallDays with (some) Rain
Kihei / Wailea10 inches45 days
Ka’anapali24 inches83 days
Hana77 inches263 days
Big Island
Waikoloa<10 inches
Kailua-Kona25 inches50 days
Hilo140 inches275 days

πŸ– Beaches in Maui vs Big Island

Key Takeaway
🏝 Maui has more beaches with easier access and softer sand than Big Island.
🌊 Many of Big Island’s best beaches are tough to get to and feature coarse sand.

If beaches are the main priority in deciding between Maui and Big Island for your Hawaii vacation, you will definitely want to choose Maui.

Maui has an expansive sandy shoreline that runs nearly the entire west coast of the island, plus a few more gems on the Maui North Shore near Paia. Because of this, it is easy to find a slice of paradise to have all to yourself, even on such a busy island.

What’s more, nearly all of the beaches on Maui are roadside and easily accessible with soft, golden sand and water safe for swimming.

The Big Island, meanwhile, has some beautiful beaches, but most are very coarse and littered with sharp volcanic lava rock. Beyond this, most of the Big Island’s best beaches are difficult to get to, requiring long drives down questionable 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 easier to access. The best beaches on the Big Island are found near Waikoloa along the Kohala coastline.



✈️ Flights to Maui vs Big Island

Key Takeaway
πŸ›¬ More cities offer direct flights to Maui (OGG) than Big Island (KOA).
πŸ’° Starting fares vary slightly by departure city but are very comparable to either island.

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

15 cities in the US (and 30 worldwide) provide direct flights to Maui, compared to just 10 cities in the US flying direct to Kona on the Big Island.

The starting airfare for both Maui and Big Island are nearly identical, though they vary slightly from city to city. Some will be slightly cheaper to one than the other, but typically, the difference is negligible.

In other words, only your specific travel dates will determine if there is a saving for flights to one island over another.

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.


πŸ’° Cost of Visiting Maui vs Big Island

Key Takeaway
πŸ’² Big Island is less expensive than Maui, but the cost of a visit to any Hawaiian island is largely based on accommodation type.
πŸ’³ Maui has a higher average cost but a greater variety of options than Big Island.

The swimming pool at the oceanfront luxury resort of Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea, Maui

Tours, airfare, groceries, and activities are fairly equal when comparing the average cost of a trip to Big Island vs Maui. Accommodation will be the factor that swings your budget!

The Big Island has the cheapest options for budget-minded travelers and is slightly more affordable all around. Hilo is the most wallet-friendly option on Big Island, but its remote location on the wet side limits its appeal.

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Maui has the highest average hotel price of the four major islands. In 2022, the average daily rate for a hotel room in Maui was $606.92, compared to $400.10 on Big Island.

Keep in mind that this number is skewed as Maui has more high-end hotels than the Big Island!

Maui offers a far wider range of hotels and resorts than the Big Island, meaning there may be more availability and more opportunities for finding a deal, especially during the off-season.

I scoured booking.com, VRBO, and several other platforms to compare accommodation costs in the most popular areas to stay on each island (Kihei and Kona). My findings concluded that prices were almost always comparable regardless of date.


πŸš— Getting Around Maui vs Big island

Key Takeaway
πŸ– Maui makes it easier to book an extended stay without needing a rental car.
🚘 Big Island is the “adventure island” and a car is (mostly) essential for exploring.

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.

Both Big Island and Maui have “vacation in a box” style resorts that provide all necessary services within walking distance of your hotel room. On the Big Island, the Waikoloa area is best for this style of beach vacation; on Maui, try Wailea or Ka’anapali.

Public transportation in Hawaii is very limited and should not be relied upon. If you plan on doing any amount of sightseeing and exploring the islands, you will need to rent a car regardless of whether you decide to visit Big Island or Maui.

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

On the Big Island, many of the attractions require driving some distances on rough dirt roads. Maui’s roads are almost all paved, with the exception of one extended section on the Road to Hana loop drive.

Those uncomfortable driving in Hawaii will probably want to choose Maui for their Hawaiian holiday. There are more tour operators who provide shuttle services on Maui and more areas to stay with great beaches and services all within walking distance.

Luckily, rental cars are surprisingly affordable, beginning at just $30/ day during off-peak seasons and rarely landing over $65/ day, even in peak season.

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

Key Takeaway
🏝 Maui has better beaches and restaurants, with a good mix of nature for those seeking it.
πŸŒ‹ Big Island has some of the most impressive sights and experiences in all of Hawaii, but requires more of a commitment.

Maui and Big Island are both surprisingly great destinations for nature and adventure lovers. Each is home to a surprisingly diverse range of photogenic ecosystems, and each has unique activities that will create lifetime memories.

If your perfect Hawaiian vacation involves sightseeing and tours rather than just cocktails on the beach, you can’t go wrong with Maui or Big Island!

The major highlights of Maui include the mighty Haleakala Volcano, Red Sand Beach, Molokini Crater, several waterfalls, whale watching, countless pristine beaches, and the world-famous “Road to Hana” scenic drive. All of these can be done via tour or on a self-drive.

On the Big Island, there are several incredible things to do that you simply cannot find in many places on this planet. The most heralded are the Manta Ray night snorkel adventure, witnessing a lava lake bubble and ooze in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, visiting a green sand beach, and stargazing at Mauna Kea.

In addition, both Maui and Big Island offer a variety of cultural experiences, such as sunset sails and luaus.


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

Key Takeaway
πŸ§— Big Island is quieter and friendlier, and calls to the adventurous travelers.
β›± Maui is a major destination with more buzz than Big Island, but is still quiet after dark.

A surfer rides the waves at Pine Trees Beach during a magical sunset on the Big Island.

Maui is the second-most popular of the Hawaiian islands with nearly 3 million visitors annually. The Big Island of Hawaii, by contrast, sees only about half that at approximately 1.6 million annual visitors.

Not only does Maui see twice the annual guests, but the actual size of the island is about 6x smaller (Maui is 727 square miles vs about over 4000 square miles and growing for Big Island). In other words, you can expect a lot more hustle and bustle on Maui with a faster pace.

The Big Island is spacious and hospitable. Expect friendlier locals and residents who seem less fed-up with tourists than you would understandably find on Maui.

Be aware that both islands are surprisingly quiet after dark. Finding a bite to eat can even be tricky if you wait more than an hour or so after sunset!

🏨 Accommodation & Resorts in Big Island vs. Maui

Key Takeaway
🏑 Maui has better accommodation options for honeymoons and special occasions.
🌧 The Big Island offers more budget accommodation options in Hilo, the wetter side of the island.

A photo showing Sophie Marland laying in the water at the Fairmont Hotel beach on Big Island.
Sophie soaking in the sun on our first visit to Big Island.

Both Maui and the Big Island are well-developed for tourists and offer a wide range of accommodations.

Maui has almost double the number of hotels as the Big Island, but also receives almost double the amount of visitors. As a result, availability tends to be comparable on the two islands.

Regardless of which island you choose, keep in mind that you will pay a premium for beachfront property.

⭐️ Pro tip: Both Maui 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.

Accommodation on Maui

At no cost to you, we receive a small amount for any bookings made using the links below.

Most of the accommodation options are found on the western coast of Maui, especially around Wailea, Kihei, and Ka’anapali.

The majority of Maui’s resorts are located in the Wailea and Ka’anapali regions because this is the sunniest area on Maui.

Maui is well-known for its luxury, oceanfront resorts, and honeymoon hotels, making the island a favorite for couples.

Additionally, it is easy to find condo rentals that are perfect for family vacations.

Accommodation on Big Island

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 are nearest to necessary services.

On the wet side of the island, Hilo offers more budget accommodation options in closer proximity to Hawaii Volcanoes NP.

Although not as renowned, the Big Island boasts some luxury hotels, particularly in Waikoloa, that rival those on Maui. You will also find plenty of condo rentals.


🍹 Bars & Nightlife in Maui vs Big Island

Key Takeaway
🍻 Big Island has some fun breweries & bars, but nothing in the way of clubs.
🍹 Maui has some upscale dining and live music but is still mostly quiet at night.

Big Islands most famous brewery is Kona Brewing Co, seen from the entrance in this photo.

Hawaii, as a whole, is not known for its nightlife. In fact, it can be surprisingly difficult to even find a casual dining option for more than a couple of hours after dark, especially on Big Island.

That is not to say you will not be able to find a place to enjoy a social drink. Most of the hotels have bars open until 1am and the more populous areas of both Maui and Big Island will certainly have at least a few options for keeping your night going at least a bit longer.

On Big Island, the main tourist draws for late-night socializing are the breweries in Kona. On Maui, Kihei is the main hub for cocktail hour, especially since the tragic destruction of the other popular tourist town of Lahaina.

If nightlife is an important consideration in choosing between Big Island Maui, you will absolutely want to go with Maui.

🍽 Food & Restaurants in Maui vs Big Island

Key Takeaway
🍴Maui has more fine dining options and a wider selection of restaurants than Big Island.
🍱 Big Island’s high-end restaurants are exclusively found in Waikoloa and Kailua-Kona.

A small boat between palm trees with "Mama's Fish House" painted on the bow acts as a marker for Mama's Fish House restaurant.

Big Island has far fewer fine-dining options than Maui. Those that do exist are found exclusively within the luxury hotels in the Kailua-Kona and Waikoloa regions.

Surprisingly, one of the fanciest places to eat on Maui is tucked away in the Paia region along the North Shore. Mama’s Fish House offers mouth-watering fresh seafood and is widely considered the premier restaurant on Maui.

If you are looking for local, casual *grindz*, Maui gets the nod again but you can’t go wrong with either island.

*Grinds, commonly spelled with a “z” as grindz, is a Hawaiian slang term for food or a meal out.

Hawaiian food is delicious and all of the islands have plenty of options for discovering it on a (relative) budget. There are plenty of food trucks and small-kitchen destinations to grab something affordable and authentic.

🌿 Natural Beauty & Scenery of Maui vs Big Island

Key Takeaway
πŸŒ„ Big Island is very sparse and volcanic, but has some incredible opportunities for nature lovers.
🌸 Maui is more beautiful as a whole and has a good mix of diverse ecosystems.

Not everyone dreams of sitting by the pool all week on their vacation. If you are anything like us, the best trips offer plenty of sightseeing as well!

Maui is better than Big Island if you are looking for a mix of beach days, dining, and roadside attractions. The island is small, paved, and easy to explore by car. It is also more beautiful to look at from most places.

Some of Maui’s top natural attractions and scenery include the famous Road to Hana scenic drive through lush, waterfall-laden rainforest, as well as a red sand beach, Haleakala volcano, O’heo Gulch, Olivine Pools, Black Sand Beach, and so much more.

The Big Island is covered mostly in a layer of dark black lava rock, making it a bit less visually pleasing than tropical Maui. However, this volcanic landscape also creates some unique beauty that is one of a kind to the Big Island of Hawaii.

Note that you also have to work a bit harder and drive a bit further for most of the Big Island’s key natural features (and beaches, for that matter).

The top destinations for nature lovers on Big Island include Hawaii Volcanoes NP, Green Sand Beach, Waipio Valley, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, Mauna Kea / Mauna Loa, and the Hilo rainforest.

The bottom line is this: Maui has the better mix of relaxing vacation with a bit of sightseeing, whereas Big Island is best for people who want to avoid the crowds and enjoy being on the go.


β›± Crowds in Maui vs Big Island

Key Takeaway
πŸ‘¨β€πŸ‘©β€πŸ‘§β€πŸ‘¦ Maui is the second most popular Hawaiian island, but crowds are mostly well-dispersed. Expect company in most places, but crowds only in the Kamaole Beaches & resorts.
🌴 Big Island is a quiet and spacious island with lots of hidden beaches. Expect crowds only in Kailua-Kona, and even those are fairly small.

Sophie sleeps in a hammock under palm trees on the Big Island at Puako Bay Beach on the Kohala coast.
Sophie sleeping peacefully on a beach on our 2022 visit to Big Island.

Maui sees about 3 million people annually on average, compared to only about 1.6 million visitors to Big Island.

Couple this with the fact that the Big Island of Hawaii is almost 6x larger in mass and you can imagine the difference in buzz and crowds!

Those who prefer Big Island to Maui typically prefer how much more laid-back the island is and how much quieter even its busiest beaches are.

Maui, meanwhile, has lots of visitors overall but does benefit from a far more easily-accessible shoreline. Places like Kihei will always be bustling, but finding a quiet place for a beach day is actually surprisingly easy as there are just so many to choose from along the entire west coast.

Ka’anapali in the region known as “West Maui” is the Waikiki Beach of Maui. It is where you will find find large resorts right on the beach with families and beach bums who don’t plan on straying far from their hotel rooms.

Hana and the Maui North Shore Region are two great options for those truly trying to get away from the families and crowds.


🐠 Snorkeling & Diving in Maui vs Big Island

Key Takeaway
🀿 Maui & Big Island are the two best islands in Hawaii for snorkeling.
🌊 Both islands have unique, one-of-a-kind tours worth considering.

Maui and Big Island are easily the best Hawaiian islands for snorkeling and scuba diving. Which one gets the crown depends only on who you ask!

Both Big Island and Maui have dozens of incredible snorkeling spots that you can access right from the beach. This means that if you bring your own snorkel gear (as I highly recommend), you can swim with tropical fish and turtles anytime you like for free!

The most famous beach-access spots on Maui are Olowalu, Punalau, and “Turtle Town”. On Big Island there is Two-Step & Ho’okena where dolphins may join you!

Both islands also have some amazing snorkel tours that provide a different experience.

Perhaps the most famous underwater adventure is the manta ray night snorkel, which is nothing short of a spiritual experience! Captain Cook Monument snorkel tours also all-but-guarantee dolphin encounters and incredible reefs.

On Maui, the Molokini Crater tour brings visitors to a marine life sanctuary in the middle of the ocean where a perfect crescent moon-shaped crater harbors a thriving underwater world. There are also a few beaches where you can guarantee a few honu (turtle) friends.


πŸ₯Ύ Hiking in Maui vs Big Island

Key Takeaway
πŸƒβ€β™€οΈ Big Island has more hiking opportunities, but very few popular tourist trails.
πŸ§— Maui has a few fun trails, but most things can be seen from the roadside.

If hitting the trails is an important part of your ideal Hawaiian vacation, know that Maui and Big Island both have some options available but neither is particularly known for hiking.

Maui probably gets the nod as the more hiker-friendly for tourists, but Big Island certainly has more hikes available overall with those that have ample time and interest… mostly locals.

Most of the hiking trails on Maui are in the West Maui Mountains and in Haleakala National Park along the Road to Hana. This is where you will find the most famous hike on Maui in the Pipiwai Trail.

On Big Island, many beaches require some significant walks to reach but this is really more “commute” than “hike”. The most popular tourist hiking trails are those in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and a few waterfall trails near Hilo.

The great thing about Maui is that the majority of its most beautiful destinations can be seen with minimal walking as long as you have a car. Big Island requires far more driving and walking to reach your rewards, but this effort means you are more likely to have them mostly to yourself.

πŸ™‹β€β™€οΈ Maui vs Big Island FAQs

A trail to Makalawena Beach splits through lava rock and palm trees during a golden sunset on Big Island.

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

Is Maui nicer than Big Island?

Maui is the better choice over the Big Island for most first-time visitors to Hawaii. The beaches on Maui are nicer and far easier to get to than on Big Island. Maui also provides more tourist-friendly services than Big Island.

Big Island of Hawaii is specifically the better choice for travelers who would rather have a quiet beach than an idyllic one.

Should you go to Maui or Big Island first?

Maui is typically the better option for a first visit to Hawaii than Big Island. The beaches on Maui are nicer and easier to get to, and the island caters more to its tourists.

Many prefer the quieter, more peaceful Big Island, but Maui tends to be the better choice for a first visit.

Are the beaches better in Big Island or Maui?

The beaches on Maui are much better than those on Big Island, providing easier access and softer sand. Because the entire western shoreline is accessible on Maui, it is also easy to find a spot on the beach to have all to yourself.

The Kohala region has the nicest beaches on the Big Island for those who prefer to vacation there.

Is it cheaper to fly to Maui or Big Island?

Starting airfare differs slightly between Maui and Big Island based on departure city but is extremely comparable. There are more direct flights available to Maui (OGG) than to Kona (KOA).

Which island is cheaper, Maui or Big Island?

The Big Island of Hawaii is the most budget-friendly of all the Hawaiian islands. While flights will typically be similarly priced to both islands, meals and accommodation tend to be cheapest on Big Island.

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

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™‚

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

Before you go, we have a plethora of other guides to both islands and the entire Rainbow State to browse. Each of these will be useful as you continue planning the vacation you deserve!

General Hawaii Travel Guides

Maui Travel Guides

Big Island Travel Guides

πŸ’¬ Final Thoughts on Maui vs. Big Island

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™‚

I truly hope you have found this guide comparing Maui vs Big Island useful for deciding which island to choose for your next Hawaiian adventure!

If you still can’t decide, might I 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 I have not answered, revisions I 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.

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Written by
Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's β€œChief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

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