🏝 Maui vs Kauai: Which to Choose for Your First Visit in 2023

Maui vs. Kauai blog cover image.  Text overlaying a graphic of two images; the top shows sunset with waves crashing on the shore in Maui, the bottom image shows the Na Pali Coast in Kauai as seen from a boat at golden hour.

Both Maui and Kauai offer slices of paradise like you will only find in Hawaii. Aloha vibes blow in on the trade winds that rustle palm trees and comb picture-perfect beaches.

In comparing Maui vs Kauai, the question is not which is better, but which is better for YOU!

Every island has its own sights, flavors, and intangible energy that calls to us differently. Kauai is a lush, green island with savage landscapes and unbeatable nature. Maui, meanwhile, has endless golden-sand beaches, waterfalls, and everything from 5-star resorts to beachside camping.

In this guide, we compare all of the most important factors to help you decide whether to choose Maui or Kauai for your next Hawaiian vacation. This includes breakdowns of cost, beaches, activities, weather, crowds, scenery, and so much more.

By the end, you will have learned everything you need to be confident in booking your flights to paradise!

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™‚

🌺 Maui vs Kauai Snapshot

Maui is by far the more popular option for a Hawaiian vacation over Kauai. The reasons are many, but the most influential is certainly Kauai’s notoriously rainy climate.

Beyond that, Maui provides far more options for flights, beaches, resorts, and tourist amenities.

The table below provides an easily-digestible look at the most comparable features for deciding between Maui and Kauai.

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

Who Should Choose Maui Over Kauai

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

  • Families with children
  • Honeymooners
  • Beach bums
  • Road trippers
  • Snorkelers / scuba divers
  • Surfers & windsurfers
  • Shoppers
  • Group celebrations

Who Should Choose Kauai Over Maui

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

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

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PLANNING A TRIP TO MAUI: ULTIMATE GUIDE

🌴 Maui vs Kauai Breakdown

🐒 Maui Overview

A turtle rests on the sand with palm trees in the background at VOR beach in Maui.
  • Nickname: The Valley Isle
  • Where to Stay: Kihei or Wailea
  • Airports
    • Kahului (OGG) – Main Airport
    • Hana (HNM)
    • Kapalua (JHM)

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.

Suggested: PLANNING A TRIP TO MAUI: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE


🌿 Kauai Overview

A view of the green mountains of the Kauai north shore from Hanalei Bay overlook in Hawaii.
  • 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: PLANNING A TRIP TO KAUAI: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE

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

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Kauai vs. Big Island
Kauai vs. Oahu


🌀 Weather in Maui vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
β˜€οΈ Kihei & Wailea on Maui are the driest places to stay with the best weather on either island.
πŸŒ₯ Kauai is the rainiest Hawaiian island by far and precipitation should be expected.

A setting sun shines through a gap in a row of swaying palm trees in Kapaa on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Kauai receives more annual rainfall and more days with at least some precipitation than any other Hawaiian island. Maui, meanwhile, is home to the driest and sunniest regions in all of Hawaii.

Weather will always be among the most important factors for planning a tropical getaway, which is one of the main reasons most people choose Maui over Kauai for their holiday.

In particular, the Kihei and Wailea region on the southwest coast of Maui are the most reliable destinations for sunshine in all of Hawaii.

If you otherwise love Kauai and want the best chance at sunshine, the south side of the island is the “leeward side” (aka dry side) and Poipu is by far the best option.

Annual RainfallDays with (some) Rain
Maui
Kihei / Wailea10 inches45 days
Ka’anapali24 inches83 days
Hana77 inches263 days
Kauai
Poipu22 inches218 days
Wailua60 inches234 days
Princeville78 inches237 days

πŸ– Beaches in Maui vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
🏝 Maui has more (and better) beaches with easier access than Kauai.
🌊 Kauai has a few beautiful beaches but is more renowned for its diverse landscapes.

Maui has considerably more sandy beaches and accessible coastline than Kauai, and is unanimously the better choice for beach-centric Hawaiian holidays.

Beyond this, Maui enjoys far more sunshine than Kauai meaning more plentiful beach days.

With that said, there are some exceptional beaches on Kauai as well.

The two most popular and easy-to-reach beaches on Kauai are Poipu Beach in the south and Hanalei Beach in the north. Both of these are superb destinations for a day in the sand, but the options for those idyllic, postcard-worthy shorelines are limited outside of these two.

⚠️ RELATED GUIDE
THE BEST BEACHES OF HAWAII


✈️ Flights to Maui vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
πŸ›¬ More cities offer direct flights and a lower baseline airfare to Maui than Kauai.
πŸ’° Maui will usually be cheaper, but dates will impact flight costs to Hawaii more than the specific island.

An airplane departs for Kauai over the West Maui mountains during golden hour.

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

Because Maui is the more popular Hawaiian island to visit, there are also far more flights there than to smaller, quieter Kauai. Accordingly, the starting price for airfare is less for flights to Maui (OGG) than to Kauai (LIH).

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.

If you have some flexibility regarding the dates of your vacation, be sure to check flight prices and options for both islands as you will likely be able to find comparable prices.

⭐️ 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 the airfare.

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


πŸ’° Cost of Visiting Maui vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
πŸ’² The cost of a visit to Maui and Kauai are very similar, with available accommodation being the primary budget concern.

A young woman on a hammock in front of blue water and palm trees on the beach of Poipu on the south shore of Kauai in Hawaii.

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 Kauai vs Maui, you are primarily comparing the cost of accommodation on each island as tours, airfare, groceries, and activities are fairly equal.

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 $398.08 on Kauai. Keep in mind that this number is likely skewed as Maui has more high-end hotels than Kauai.

But average price isn’t the only important metric! Maui offers a far wider range of hotels and resorts than Kauai, meaning there may be more availability and better chances at finding a deal, especially during off-season.

Personally, we searched booking.com, VRBO, and other accommodation platforms on multiple dates and found that it was possible to find comparable prices on each island. The biggest difference in the rates came down to the specific dates and availability.

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.

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 Maui vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
πŸ– Maui makes it easier to book an extended stay without needing a rental car.
🚘 Visitors of Kauai will almost certainly need to rent a car, but driving is easy here.

A camper van is parked in front of the Hanalei Bay overlook looking out onto the tropical rainforest of Kauai in Hawaii.

If you plan on leaving your resort and exploring the islands, you will most likely want a rental car regardless of whether you decide on visiting Kauai or Maui.

Public transportation in Hawaii is very limited and should not be relied upon. If you want to do any exploring of your own, which we highly recommend, you will need to rent a car.

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 where all services are within walking distance. These include Wailea, parts of Kihei, and Ka’anapali.

The major draw of Kauai is the beautiful nature and greater sense of peace and quiet. While you could certainly plan an entire stay in a resort in Princeville or Poipu and never need to drive, it would make more sense to choose Maui over Kauai if all you seek is a beach resort.

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: Maui vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
🏝 Maui has better beaches and provides more activities & tours for tourists.
🐠 Kauai has the best landscapes and nature in Hawaii, but requires more effort to see.

Maui and Kauai are the two best Hawaiian islands for nature and adventure lovers. Both are home to a surprisingly diverse range of photogenic ecosystems.

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

The major highlights of Maui include the mighty Haleakala Volcano, Red Sand Beach, Molokini Crater, several waterfalls, 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.

In Kauai, the incredible Na Pali Coast is hands-down the major attraction. This can be visited by air or sea only, with a slight exception for the Kalepa Ridge Trail and Kalalau Trail which provide limited land access.

The other major attractions in Kauai include Waimea Canyon, aka “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, Wailua River, Hanalei Bay, and a myriad of impressive waterfalls.

With the exception of the helicopter and boat tours of the Na Pali cliffs, most of Kauai can be explored by self-tour.

πŸ¦–RELATED GUIDE:
BEST THINGS TO DO IN KAUAI


πŸ€™πŸ½ Vibes & Atmosphere in Kauai vs Maui

Quick Takeaway
😴 Kauai is the quietest and least-visited island, with the chillest vibes.
β›± Maui is a major destination with more buzz than Kauai, but still gets very quiet after dark.

Maui sees almost 3x more visitors annually than Kauai, so it comes as no surprise that there is a bit more buzz and bustle on “The Valley Isle”.

While Maui is seen as a premier tropical getaway, the perpetual rain that frequents Kauai keeps most visitors at bay.

The result is exactly what you would expect. Kauai is a quiet island that enjoys a slower pace and calmer atmosphere than Maui. Everything is closed after dark and nightlife is difficult to find. Many find the locals less hospitable to tourists on Kauai than any other island.

Maui, meanwhile, caters heavily to tourists and there are a lot more of them. You can expect to occasionally have difficulty finding parking or solitude, but will never struggle to find the services and amenities you require.

Maui is surprisingly quiet after dark, however. While each of the major tourist hubs will have at least one or two bars open late, this is by no means a “party island”.


🏨 Accommodation & Resorts in Maui vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
🏑 Maui has better accommodation options for honeymoons and special occasions.
🏩 Kauai has more affordable starting rates but fewer options.

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

On Maui, most of the accommodation can be found on the south and west side of the island, especially around Wailea, Kihei, and Ka’anapali. The majority of Maui’s resorts are located in the Wailea and Ka’anapali regions.

The vast majority of visitors to Kauai choose to either stay in 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.

Maui has almost three times the number of hotels than Kauai and sees far more tourists each year. Due to this, there is a much wider selection of accommodation to choose from, but also more competition for them, especially during peak season.

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 which are perfect for family vacations.

While Kauai has a few excellent luxury resorts, there aren’t as many of the same calibre as you’ll find in Maui.

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.

⭐️ Pro tip: Both Maui and Kauai 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 KAUAI
WHERE TO STAY ON MAUI


🍹 Bars & Nightlife in Maui vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
😴 Kauai has almost no nightlife outside of the resorts.
🍹 Maui has some upscale dining but is still very quiet at night.

Night photo of the Andaz Resort on Maui.

The only metropolitan city you will find anywhere in Hawaii is Honolulu on Oahu. Outside of that, nightlife is limited on any island and mostly limited to low-key bars.

If nightlife and clubbing is an important element of you Hawaii trip, Maui will be a much better choice than Kauai. In particular, Lahaina and Kihei on Maui are where you will find the most activity after dark.

There will always be some bars open until 1am, even on Kauai, but don’t expect to find much beyond this.


🍽 Food & Restaurants in Kauai vs Maui

Quick Takeaway
🍴Maui has more fine dining options and a wider selection of restaurants.
🍱 Kauai’s higher-end restaurants are limited and mostly found in Poipu.

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.

Whether you are celebrating a special occasion in Hawaii and fine-dining is a priority, or looking for casual places to take the family, Maui will have a few more options to choose from.

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.

Kauai has a few high end options of its own, most of which residing in the resort-town of Poipu on the south side (also the dry side) of the island.

If you are looking for local, casual *grindz*, you can’t go wrong with either. Hawaiian food is delicious and both islands boast no shortage of amazing food trucks and small-kitchen destinations to grab something affordable and authentic.

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


🌿 Natural Beauty & Scenery of Maui vs Kauai

Quick Takeaway
πŸŒ„ Kauai is more beautiful overall with incredible, diverse nature everywhere you look.
🌸 Maui has a lot of natural treasures and amazing sights, but they need to be sought out.

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 Kauai if you are looking for a mix of beach days, dining, and outdoor adventuring; especially if you prefer to explore by car than by hike.

There is the famous Road to Hana drive through lush, waterfall-laden rainforest, as well as a red sand beach, Haleakala volcano, O’heo Gulch, Olivine Pools, and so much more.

Kauai, meanwhile, is beautiful every direction you look. The frequent rain has created a lush landscape earning this island the nickname “The Garden Isle”.

There are also a handful of incredible places to find with amazing photo opportunities such as Na Pali Coast, Queen’s Bath, Waimea Canyon, Wailua Falls, and plenty more.

If landscape photography and hiking is your thing, you will want to choose Kauai over Maui.

πŸ“Έ FIND MORE INSPIRATION:
BEST HAWAII PHOTOGRAPHY LOCATIONS


β›± Crowds in Maui vs Kauai

Quick 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.
🌴 Kauai is the quietest island in Hawaii with lots of hidden beaches. Expect crowds only in Poipu and Hanalei Bay (Princeville).

A photo of a busy afternoon at Kamaole Beach, the most popular beach on Maui for families and vacationers.

Maui sees about 3 million people annually on average, compared to only about 1.3 million on Kauai. It should come as no surprise then that Kauai is the quieter island with mostly smaller crowds.

We say mostly smaller because there are also far fewer places to disperse the crowds that do exist on Kauai. Nearly the entire west coast is inaccessible due to the sheer Na Pali cliffs, and many of the beaches are not easily accessible on Kauai.

Accordingly, you can expect the resort-centric beaches of Poipu and Hanalei Bay to be very crowded at all times.

Maui, meanwhile, has more visitors overall but also far more easily-accessible shoreline. Places like Kihei will always be abuzz with visitors, 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; that is, it is the place where you will 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.

⚠️ RELATED GUIDE
THE TOP 10 BEST TOWNS IN MAUI


🐠 Snorkeling & Diving in Kauai vs. Maui

Quick Takeaway
🀿 Maui is the best island in Hawaii for beach-access snorkeling, and Molokini Crater is the most famous snorkel site in the state.
🌊 Kauai is the worst of the Hawaiian islands for snorkeling.

Most consider Maui to be the best Hawaiian island for snorkeling and scuba diving. There are more beach-access snorkel spots on Maui than any other island, plus an assortment of excellent locations you can reach by boat tour.

There are several locations with guaranteed turtle sightings on Maui that are free to visit and easy to access, a few Marine Sanctuaries you can visit for free, plus the world-famous Molokini Crater. Read more in our complete guide to the best snorkeling spots on Maui.

Kauai, conversely, is easily the worst of the islands for snorkeling. Most of the “good” spots are beaches with seasonal limitations due to dangerous swells and conditions. These include Ke’e Beach, Tunnels Beach, and Anini Beach.

Bottom line: if you plan on spending significant time underwater, you will definitely want to choose Maui over Kauai.

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

🀿 RELATED GUIDE:
BEST SNORKELING SPOTS IN MAUI


πŸ₯Ύ Hiking in Maui vs Kauai

A hiker on the Kalepa Ridge Trail looking out over the Na Pali cliffs in Kokee State Park Kauai.

Quick Takeaway
πŸƒβ€β™€οΈ Kauai is (arguably) the best island for hiking and exploring.
πŸ§— Maui has a few fun trails, but most things can be seen from the roadside.

It is not to say that there is more hiking on Kauai than Maui, but most agree that the hikes available are more spectacular.

In particular, the Kalalau Trail is probably the best in all of Hawaii and one of only two ways to explore the Na Pali coast by foot (the other being the amazing but now-closed Kalepa Ridge Trail).

Maui has plenty of hiking opportunities, especially around the West Maui Mountains, but very few outside of the locals tend to hit these trails.

The most famous hike on Maui is the Pipiwai Trail in Haleakala National Park on the Road to Hana. This hike takes you through an incredible Bamboo Forest to different waterfalls.

The great thing about Maui is that most of its most beautiful destinations can be seen with minimal walking as long as you have a car. Kauai demands a bit more hiking if you want to truly see the best of the best, but is more lush and beautiful overall.

🧳 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 Maui vs Kauai FAQs

A young girl stands between two silhouetted palm trees during a magical sunset at Hanalei Beach on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
Day 7: Depart

Use the drop-down boxes below to find the answers to the most frequently asked questions comparing Maui to Kauai.

Is Maui nicer than Kauai?

Maui is the better choice over Kauai for most first-time visitors of Hawaii. The weather is much more reliable and both the beaches and tourist amenities are far more available on Maui than Kauai.

The primary reason to visit Kauai is not for a tropical beach vacation, but for the amazing hikes, scenery, and adventure-based outings available.

Should you go to Maui or Kauai first?

As most people vacationing in Hawaii plan on maximizing beach time, Maui will be a better option than Kauai for a first visit. The beaches on Maui are more plentiful than on Kauai, and the weather is far more reliable.

Kauai is known for its natural beauty and more adventurous tours than for its beaches or tourism.

Are the beaches better in Kauai or Maui?

Maui has far more accessible shoreline than Kauai. Not only are the beaches nicer, but there are more of them available from the roadside to help disperse crowds.

Maui also sees far more sunshine than Kauai, meaning more fair-weather beach days!

Is it cheaper to fly to Maui or Kauai?

The baseline price of flights is the same for both Maui and Kauai, but there are more direct flights available to Maui.

Which island is cheaper, Maui or Kauai?

The costs for visiting Kauai are Maui are very comparable. Kauai is more friendly toward camper vans which provides the most budget-friendly way to visit Hawaii, but the prices for hotels, activities, and food are about the same on both Kauai and Maui.

πŸ“š More Kauai, 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™‚

We hope you’ve found this guide comparing Maui vs Kauai 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


Kauai Travel Guides

πŸ’¬ Final Thoughts on Maui 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 guide comparing Maui vs Kauai useful for deciding which island to choose for your next Hawaiian adventure!

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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