Oh boy, making that final decision between Maui and the Big Island can be a real head-scratcher! But fear not, my fellow travelers – I’ve got your back! After countless unforgettable trips with my boyfriend to these mesmerizing Hawaiian islands, I’m excited to share my insights, highs and lows (and maybe even some laughs) to help you confidently choose the perfect island oasis for your upcoming adventure.
Here’s the deal:
I’ve spent countless hours soaking up sunsets, trekking through lush landscapes, and indulging in mouth-watering cuisine across both Maui and the Big Island. Because of this extensive exploration, I am more than prepared to guide you on this journey – pointing out must-see attractions, hidden gems, scrumptious eateries – you name it!
In this comprehensive comparison guide, we’ll dive into what makes each island unique by examining their distinctive vibes and cultures while highlighting the best beaches, activities, tours and restaurants they have to offer. Trust me; by the time you’re finished reading this article, you’ll feel like an absolute expert on all things Maui and Big Island!
Warning: This article may cause spontaneous urges to start packing your bags for a one-way ticket straight to paradise!
So without further ado… let’s dive in and discover which Hawaiian wonderland is calling your name: magical Maui or breathtaking Big Island?
Overview of Maui
Maui is an island of beautiful sandy beaches, alluring spacious resorts, palm trees, and historic volcano sunrises. Unlike the other islands, Maui is a composition of smaller cities and towns, providing a peaceful atmosphere, great for a relaxing paradise vacation.
Though famous for honeymoon and wedding destinations, it provides great nitches to explore the jungles, historic farming tours (we loved the coffee, lavender, and pineapple tours), and many secluded beaches. Visiting this island in the off-season kan provides a calm and exotic time filled with diverse activities.
It’s also the island with the best opportunity in Hawaii to enjoy whale and dolphin watching in the wintertime. And exotic rainforest adventures with waterfalls and secluded swimming spots found on the road to Hana in the summer months.
Those looking for romantic restaurants, couples activities, and stunning sunsets will enjoy all the offers of Maui.
Overview of the Big Island
The Big Island is the adventurous island with the most diversity in Hawaii! Did you know you can find snow and snowboarding at the top of Mauna Kea at more than 13,000 feet? The coastline is diverse, shaped by volcanoes and natural elements providing stunning beaches of red, black, green, and white sand. Not to mention exciting jungle and volcano adventures for those looking to be active.
Asides from the exquisite one-of-a-kind beaches, the Big Island offers quality snorkeling, adrenaline adventures for volcano hunters at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and even star gazing at Mauna Kea. In addition, you will find extensive lava fields, exotic snorkeling opportunities (including night snorkeling), bamboo and fern forests to explore, and much more.
The Big Island is the largest of the islands but has fewer tourists visiting than Oahu and Maui, therefore it is more spacious and less crowded.
The beaches of Maui
There has always been a debate about which island has the best beaches. I am here to end this debate. It’s Maui!
The island of Maui has diverse beaches of white powdery sand and golden stretches of both small and large beaches. There are great resort beaches here, lagoons, and protected areas for swimming. There are also underdeveloped and tucked-away beaches for seclusion and privacy.
Here are my favorites:
#1 Wailea Beach – Best Luxurious Resort Beach
This beach is a collection of five moon-shaped beaches connecting along a gulf course backdrop. It is easily the most beautiful and luxurious beach in Hawaii stretching out over a 1,500-acre space and offering magnificent ocean views.
The beach is perfectly maintained, the surroundings manicured to perfection and everything screams luxury. The hotels provide chairs and paddles at your request, and there are many great restaurants to enjoy a high-quality meal. (from all the beaches we visited, I felt pampered here!). Not to mention, in comparison to Waikiki beach, it is almost three times larger! The water here is perfectly clear and the sand is soft, making this protected and calm cove ideal for swimming. (We spent most of our day here!)
#2 Kapalua Bay Beach – Best Snorkeling Beach
I love this beach because it offers great snorkeling, bodyboarding, kayaking, and safe swimming all in one spot. The setting is impeccable with resorts surrounding the beach and a frame of palm trees all around. This secluded cove is just north of Lahaina and is public (though many don’t know that).
The beach is rarely crowded even though it is small. But visiting on a weekday will always ensure you find plenty of space and peace. This is the spot I choose for snorkeling (it’s very rich in marine life, coral, and tropical fish) and reading a book while sunbathing. Here you can also spot the majestic large green turtles swimming or lounging.
The beaches of the Big Island
#1 Hapuna State Beach – Luxurious half-mile of white sand
This is the largest white sand beach on the island. It is repeatedly voted as one of the most beautiful beaches on the island, and with good reason. We enjoyed swimming and snorkeling at this calm water beach, but there are also other watersport opportunities.
The beach has a slow and gradual entrance into the water that is mostly white powdery sand. So plenty of shallow water to soak in, take a long walk along the beach or let the children play. If your idea of fun isn’t baking in the sun, this beach offers great spots of shade (trees lined along the beach), and there are covered pavilions for picnics and just resting.
#2 Kaunaoa Beach – Best swimming and snorkeling
Many might not know, but this is also a public beach. If you are not staying at the resort, just get a pass at the gate and enjoy the stunning views and beautiful setting. The beach is family-friendly (with facilities) and has a gentle and long entrance into the deeper waters, so it’s great for swimming and snorkeling. And best of all – it is not crowded.
It’s a little over a half mile long, and on each side, there are great coral reefs for those looking to snorkel and explore the rich marine life such as diverse and colorful tropical fish, coral, and other critters living among them. My favorite part is that you don’t need to pack a lot of stuff, because there is a great restaurant available right next to the beach, which makes a perfect break for breakfast or lunch. Here it’s easy to get quality equipment rental if you wish to try some water sports.
Adventures and tours of Maui
Sure Maui has the best beaches in Hawaii. But I’m a girl who loves adventure, adrenaline, and jungle waterfalls! For a unique experience in nature with breathtaking pictures, do these tours! Maui offers great trails, swimming in waterfalls, and exploring bamboo forests. Read on…
#1 Small Group Road to Hana Adventure Tour with Pickup
Duration: 10 hours (approx.)
Address: 1090 Ho’okele St, Kahului, HI 96732 (Safeway parking lot)
A trip to Maui would not be complete without visiting all the off-the-beaten-path destinations along the road to Hana. Doing it on your own is fine, but you will miss some great spots. That’s why doing this tour is the perfect way to experience this on of a kind adventure.
This tour takes care of everything and it was really hassle-free for us. They offer hotel pick-up, and the tour groups are only 4 to 6 people. They provided both breakfast and lunch and kept us hydrated with water available throughout the trip. The tour guide was entertaining, and funny and offered many cultural and historic stories about the region that enriched our trip.
I love visiting waterfalls and taking pictures so this trip was perfect. The best stops for me were Wailua Falls, Maui Honey Bee Sanctuary, Ohe’o Gulch (the sacred 7 pools), and Kaupo. Wailua Falls was breathtaking and hovered over 100 feet as the water rushes down the cliffs. It’s the most impressive waterfall on the island. Not to mention this can be a great intimate and romantic adventure just for the two of you.
#2 Maui Magical Waterfall and Jungle Tour
Duration: 4 hours (approx.)
Address: United States Postal Service, 120 Baldwin Ave, Paia, HI 96779
If you want to swim in exotic, jungle-surrounded waterfalls and take the best pictures – do this tour. It’s a perfect half-day activity, allowing you to visit some great spots, swim, laugh, and still have time to do some beach exploring or a romantic dinner afterward. This is also great because the groups are small and there is a lot of personalized attention and information given by the tour guide.
The highlights for me were Ho’okipa Beach Park, Waimoku Falls, a magical Bamboo Forest, and Ke‘anae Point. Something you won’t get on other tours is a chance to explore the Rainbow eucalyptus and Bamboo forest (Loved it!), and it is only a short easy hike, suitable for everyone. This tour is limited to adults and children over 12 years old, and when we did it there were only 4 of us on the trip!
Adventures and Tours of the Big Island
The big island adventures are diverse and exciting. Having active volcanoes, endless shores, and a great jungle hiking system doesn’t hurt! Check out my favorite two tours:
#1 4-hour Ocean Kayak Tours from Hawaii
Duration: 4 hours (approx.)
Address: 78 Ehukai St, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
If you are into kayaking, cliff jumping, snorkeling, and exploring incredible sea life with a small group and a safety-focused guide, you will love this tour. When we did the tour it was only my second time getting into a kayak, but with a little instruction, I fully enjoyed the trip and quickly got the hang of it. The groups are no larger than 6 people, so really there is a lot of focused attention and time to see and experience everything with the help of a guide.
Snorkeling was a great part of the trip as the guide took us to a great spot without any other tourists. We were able to see many tropical fish, eel, crabs, starfish, and other great sights underwater. While kayaking we were lucky to spot several large green turtles swimming and best of all Spinner dolphins. They were so close to us, I was shocked!
The tour provides snacks and water. But do make sure to wear a hat and sun protection. On our way back, we took a ride along the shoreline, which I found to be magnificent, and took lots of great pictures from a unique perspective. The instructor even made a great and unexpected stop at a blowhole. I loved it.
#2 Big Island Hawaii Volcano Adventure Tour w/ Lunch
Duration: 10 hours 30 minutes (approx.)
Address: (pickup options available, hotels, airport)
The Big Island still has an active volcano, and adrenalin lovers should not miss it. This is an all-day tour where you get to experience massive craters, steaming vents, lava tubes, black sand, and even fiery magma.
There are several great stops on the tour including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Thurston Lava Tube, Rainbow falls, and Kilauea Iki Crater. The instructors are very knowledgeable and professional. Including going over all the safety procedures.
There were about 20 people in our group and everything was perfectly organized, so there was never any waiting. We had a great hardy lunch and I left the trip with amazing kind pictures of this adventure. If you are looking for an all-day adrenalin activity, this is it.
Restaurants of Maui
Maui restaurants are diverse, ranging from great food trucks and street vendors to high-class dining. Here are the two restaurants that I love for those special occasions and treating yourself to a nice romantic date.
#1 The Plantation House – Hawaiian food on the Plantation Golf Course
Address: 2000 Plantation Club Dr, Lahaina, HI 96761
It’s hard to find a better restaurant on the island. With amazing open-air seating, and impeccable food it also provides a beautiful view of the golf course and open ocean. I love this restaurant because it is suitable for every meal, whether you are looking for a casual lunch, or a romantic date night dinner – they got you. Not to mention skilfully made cocktails, craft beers, and an endless wine card.
Picky eaters will also find this a great spot because they serve a fresh assortment of beef, pork, and seafood with vegan and gluten-free options. They even have a family-friendly kid’s menu. Just make sure to make a reservation ahead of time (especially for date night) because they are usually booked. Service is impeccable, so even on a busy night, they are attentive and knowledgeable about the menu.
#2 Mama’s Fish House – Local landmark with fresh seafood and an ocean view
Address: 799 Poho Pl, Paia, HI 96779
This restaurant is known as the island staple. It has been working for so long, both travelers and locals love it. Best of all the menu changes, because they work with so many local fishermen and suppliers. You will always have great catch-of-the-day offers mixed with house specials and signature meals. All the food is seasonal.
Located beachside in Paia they offer stunning views of the ocean, palm trees, and the nearby beach. The restaurant is decorated in the Polynesian style with traditional and unique artwork and details wherever you look. The tables here are well-spaced. The restaurant doesn’t feel overcrowded, even when they are fully booked. The downside is, it’s sometimes hard to find a reservation, so plan this visit ahead of time.
Restaurants of the Big Island
My favorite restaurants in Hawaii are mostly on the Big Island. They have such a great offer of spacious, open-air dining opportunities, that you will mostly feel like you are being pampered on the beach. Here are my two – can’t miss – restaurants on the island.
#1 ULU Ocean Grill & Sushi Bar – The best waterfront sushi spot
Address: 72-100 Ka’upulehu Drive Ka’upulehu, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
This is my favorite restaurant in Hawaii, but then I love seafood and sushi. The restaurant is located at the Four Seasons Resort and has well-spaced open-air seating with a postcard view of the sunset and ocean. Even though it’s part of a resort, they source most of their food locally and work with the farmers and fishermen in the area.
Another thing that sets them apart is the service. All the staff is professional and friendly and there is no waiting to be seated (at your reservation time). When we visit (every chance I get), I always ask for recommendations and suggestions from the staff. They are very knowledgeable about the food they serve and pair it perfectly with their extensive wine card.
#2 Brown’s Beach House – Luxurious beach restaurant with farm-to-table meals
Address: 1 N Kaniku Dr, Waimea, HI 96743
If you are looking for the perfect date night venue, this one is literally on the beach. Here the outside seating is perfectly spaced out among palm trees overlooking the ocean and fiery sunset. This is a AAA Four Diamond restaurant that offers a comprehensive and well-thought-out menu with great portions and a separate vegan menu. For meat lovers, you must try the honey-glazed pork belly and the coffee venison with sweet carrot puree.
We have had some great date nights here, and the service and ambiance have always been top-notch. It’s a great place for a special occasion.
When choosing between Maui and the Big Island, it’s hard to go wrong. Each island is more than beautiful and has all the content an exotic vacation should offer.
However, based on your style of vacationing, activity level, and love of nature and luxury, this article can help you pin down the perfect island for you.
Carefully look over the content listed such as activities, beaches, and restaurants, to find the exact spot for your perfect island paradise.
Follow my advice, and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!
Last Updated on May 2, 2023 by Brigitte