Maui vs. The Big Island: Which Destination is Better for You

Deciding between Maui and The Big Island for your next Hawaiian vacation?

You’ve got two excellent choices ahead of you. Between Maui’s luxurious resorts and Hawaii’s laid-back atmosphere, each island will give you plenty of the relaxing tropical vibes you crave. Seeking adventure? Maui’s Haleakala National Park and Hawai’i’s Volcanoes National Park are just two of many incredible places to explore.

But when it comes down to it, one island could very well suit you more than the other, since Maui and the Big Island of Hawai’i can be quite different.

Here I’m going to compare the two islands to hopefully help you decide which is better for you!

Maui vs. The Big Island: Price

Watching the sunset at Wailea Beach on Maui.

First things first, let’s look at pricing. It’s no surprise that the white-sand beaches of Hawaii can be pricey, but you can definitely visit on a budget.

You can get a ballpark estimate on pricing from Budget Your Trip’s travel widget below.

This tool aggregates cost data from real travelers to give you a sense of what you might pay for various travel expenses in this location.

You can compare this data to the same data for Maui below.

I’ll discuss these travel-related costs in more detail below.

Flights

girl on southwest airlines flight
Southwest Airlines has flights to Maui and both Kona and Hilo on the Big Island!

It is easy to fly to both Maui and the Big Island from the mainland U.S.

If you are flying into Maui, you will fly into Kahului (OGG).

However, those flying to the Big Island can fly into Kona (KOA) or Hilo (ITO).

Flight prices vary, but Maui has cheaper flights than the Big Island. That is because there are more direct flights from the U.S. mainland.

The average cost per direct flight round trip to Maui (return, non-stop):

  • $320 from LA
  • $410 from Chicago
  • $547 from Miami

Meanwhile, the average flight to Kailua-Kona (return, sometimes non-stop):

  • $300 from LA
  • $400 from Chicago
  • $510 from Miami

The average cost to Hilo (return, sometimes non-stop):

  • $410 from Los Angeles
  • $790 from Chicago
  • $700 from Miami

Accommodations

Kulaniapia Falls waterfall view
The view from the breakfast patio at the Inn at Kulaniapia Falls on the Hilo side of the Big Island.

Overall, the Big Island has less expensive accommodations than Maui. But, if you’re after staying at luxurious places, you’ll probably want to look into accommodations on the Kohala Coast.

On the other hand, Maui has a few more options as it receives more tourists. I’ll go into hotel specifics under the lodging section of this post, but now let’s look at the price. Here is a breakdown of average hotel costs per night in different categories on each island:

Budget Hotels:

  • Big Island: $90 -100
  • Maui: $100-150

Mid-range Hotels:

  • Big Island: $120 -$200
  • Maui: $200-360

Luxury Hotels:

  • Big Island: $200-$1200
  • Maui: $400-1500

Food

Breakfast at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua on Maui.

Visitors spent an average of $106 on daily meals per person on the Big Island, according to budgetyourtrip.com. On Maui, they spent about $94. This price can vary depending on what type of restaurant you go to, your dining preferences, and the food you order. There are so many great food options on both islands that I simply couldn’t begin to list them all.

I will say one thing, though: my favorite restaurant in the whole wide world is in Maui. It’s Mama’s Fish House, and there’s a reason that a ton of people will recommend it to you!! So dang good – be sure to make a reservation ahead of time!

Transportation

girl reading map jeep suitcase hawaii
At Pololu Lookout on the Big Island of Hawai’i.

Driving is by far the best mode of transportation to move around both islands. There are shuttles, taxis, and public transportation in each place. Unfortunately, those options limit your freedom and movement. Kahului (OGG) and Kona (KOA) airports are the best places to rent vehicles on each island.

A sedan on Maui could cost you around $50-60 each day, while on the Big Island, it averages $55 each day.

Maui vs. The Big Island: Natural Beauty

Gazing out at Red Hill Crater on Haleakala on Maui.

Both Maui and the Big Island boast stunning natural beauty.

You’ll find incredible coastlines and beautiful beaches in each place.

Overall, I’d describe Maui as more lush than the Big Island, but that doesn’t mean the Big Island isn’t lush! It just has more volcanic terrain (along with active volcanoes), where a lot of the land is covered in black volcanic rocks.

One important difference to note when comparing the Big Island and Maui is that the Big Island is, well, big. Much bigger than the other Hawaiian islands. Though Maui is the second largest Hawaiian island, the Big Island is over 5 times the size of Maui!

Regardless of whether you book tours to see the sights or drive places yourself, it’ll take you much longer to explore the Big Island. Simply put, places are just so much further away!

Between the two, the Big Island offers more diverse natural landscapes. Part of that is due to how much bigger the Big Island is compared to Maui. The Big Island is more extensive, but that doesn’t mean it has more beautiful sights than Maui! In fact, because of Maui’s size, it’s easier to see a bunch of beauty in Maui on one trip.

Maui has the Hana Highway with tons of waterfalls, Haleakala (Maui’s inactive volcano), Iao Valley State Park, and endless beaches.

For a good visual summary of Maui, check out my post on the 41 most Instagrammable places in Maui.

Meanwhile, some highlights on the Big Island include Volcanoes National Park, Papakolea Green Sand Beach, parks, and waterfalls around Hilo.

Fifty miles north of Hilo is the Waipio Valley and Overlook, which seems like a world of its own. The valley floor has papayas, bananas, mangoes, grapefruit, and avocados. Its landscape boasts vivid orchids, hibiscus plants, and ginger trees.

And for the Big Island, check out the 33 most Instagrammable places on the Big Island!

Maui vs. The Big Island: Lodging

Whether you’re looking for luxury hotels, budget stays, or something in between, both islands will provide great options. Let’s get into it:

Maui

Poolside at the Grand Wailea in Maui.

You can find most of the hotels in the south or west parts of the island of Maui.  There are excellent accommodation options, including hostels, chain hotels, and exclusive resorts. Airbnb and other vacation rentals are alternative choices.

Here are the places we’ve stayed in Maui. I can say wholeheartedly that I recommend all of these hotels! You can see how they compare in this post of the 12 best luxury hotels in Maui.

The Big Island

four seasons room service
Breakfast in bed at the Four Seasons Hualalai on the Big Island.

There are two main sides of the Big Island, Hilo, and Kailua-Kona, where most hotels are. If you want to see the island in-depth, it’s best to split your stay between the two. There are more hotels in Kailua-Kona, but more attractions near Hilo. You can find the same type of lodging options on the Big Island as you would in Maui.

The Big Island has fewer luxury resorts than Maui, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find them! Since it is less touristy than Maui, you won’t have quite as many options, but I’m confident you’ll be able to find a place that suits you.

Here’s where I’ve stayed on the Big Island that I highly recommend:

Maui vs. The Big Island: Activities/Popular Attractions

Now that we’ve discussed price and lodging and natural beauty, let’s cover the popular attractions. While you can do similar water activities in each place (though the Big Island offers the best manta ray night snorkeling… we did one and I highly recommend it!), on land it’s a different story.

Maui

Outside of Iao Valley State Park, one of the places where you’ll find Jurassic Park vibes in Maui.

Maui is a top resort destination for visitors worldwide. This reputation comes from its tranquil beaches and stunning landscapes. There are no large cities on the island, so this place is ideal for travelers looking for relaxation and a slow pace of life. Its low-key atmosphere doesn’t mean that there aren’t exciting things to do. Visitors can find world-class water activities, hiking, beaches, and vantage in Maui.

Road to Hana

One of the most popular activities on the island is the Road to Hana. Visitors can either drive this route on their own or take a tour. Some of the island’s most incredible scenic landscapes and beautiful places are here. Take your time to see everything the Road to Hana has to offer.

Haleakala National Park

You can find the best sunrise on the island at this spectacular dormant volcano. Haleakala National Park is an integral part of local culture. It has outstanding hiking trails and panoramic views. You’ll also find endangered species you can’t find anywhere else in the world here!

Molokini Crater

Molokini Crater is a crescent-shaped rock formation off Maui’s coast. You can only reach it by boat. Avid snorkelers or scuba divers will be in heaven at this high-quality dive spot, where they can view ocean life up close. You won’t find a better place in Maui for these activities. Divers can even try SNUBA, a mix of scuba and snorkeling.

Helicopter Tour

Visitors who aren’t content with only seeing Maui from the ground would love this helicopter tour (it also flies over Molokai so you can say you saw two Hawaiian islands!). Helicopters offer unparalleled views of Maui’s spectacular scenery and natural beauty. A bonus is being able to take some incredible photos that are impossible to capture from the ground.

These are just a few things to do in Maui; for a full list, check out my list of 60 unforgettable things to do in Maui.

The Big Island

Rainbow Falls near Hilo on the Big Island.

The Big Island is more spread out than Maui and is larger than the rest of the Hawaiian islands combined. Visitors can enjoy a wide range of activities, natural wonders, and breathtaking views. Of course, like any Hawaiian island, there are magnificent beaches to visit.

Mauna Kea

Can you believe that it sometimes snows in Hawaii? Yup, it happens on Mauna Kea on the Big Island, and occasionally people actually go skiing here! Also, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world! I know what you’re thinking… isn’t Mount Everest the tallest in the world? Well, Mauna Kea is taller when you measure from its base underwater! You can actually drive up Mauna Kea. It was closed due to protests when we were in the area on our last trip, but next time we will definitely do the drive!

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Big Island is world-famous for its volcanoes, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the prime place to see volcanic craters. It is an unforgettable destination where you can see sights you can’t see anywhere else in the world. The most famous attraction here is the highly active Kilauea volcano, which most recently erupted in September 2023. When Kilauea is active, you can sometimes actually visit the lava flows!

Be sure to check here for details on any delays/trail closures at the Park before you head over there!

Kona Coffee Living History Farm

Rich volcanic soil produces some of the most flavorful coffee grounds worldwide. If you visit this living history farm, you’ll see what life was like for coffee farmers in the 1920s and 30s. Of course, you’ll have to sample some of the farm’s famous coffee while you are exploring the property!

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park

Learn about Hawaiian island traditions at the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park. You’ll find restored relics from the 18th century and a landing place for royal canoes at this site. It is an ideal destination for those who want to learn a little more about Hawaiian history and culture.

Click here for the 40 best things to do on the Big Island.

Maui vs. The Big Island: Beaches 

Did you know that except for Federal Government Areas, all beaches in Hawaii are public?

While Maui might have “prettier” beaches that evoke the classic sense of the word, the Big Island has more unique beaches with the only green sand beach in the Hawaiian islands! On the other hand, Maui has the only red sand beach (the beach is public but it requires trespassing to get to by land, so go at your own risk!). Both have gorgeous black sand beaches. Here are some of the best beaches on each island.

Maui

We spent our first morning on Maui at Makena Beach, my favorite beach in Maui.

Baldwin Beach Park

Baldwin Beach Park is an excellent beach destination outside of Paia. It has all of the amenities that beachgoers could want. These include endless sand, lifeguards, picnic tables, showers, and more. The beach is an ideal destination for boogie boarding and has some designated swim spots. Its sunsets are second-to-none.

Honolua Bay

Honolua Bay is not the best beach for lounging, but it is one of the top beaches for snorkeling. You can snorkel alongside a wide variety of fish and sea turtles. Summer is the best season to visit because of its calm waters. There is a brief, enchanting hike to reach the snorkeling area.

Ka’anapali Beach

Ka’anapali is one of Maui’s most beloved beaches for a good reason. Some even say its natural beauty is comparable to the famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu! This retreat has an expansive sandy area and underwater scenery. People love whale watching at this beach in the winter months when humpback whales pass by its shores.

Makena Beach

Makena Beach boasts over 165 acres of recreational area. This area includes two beaches and a dormant volcanic cinder in the center. Beachgoers enjoy fishing, swimming, snorkeling, and lounging at the beach at Makena. Note, you may encounter nude sunbathing there, but it is less and less common these days.

Palauea (White Rocks Beach)

Palauea means lazy in the native Hawaiian language. Lazy perfectly describes the beach’s ambiance. It is the ideal place to lounge around. The beach isn’t very crowded so you can enjoy tranquility at its finest. It is also a trendy wedding or event destination.

Wai’anapanapa State Park

If you’re looking for something a bit off-the-beaten path, this beach fits the description. Along the Road to Hana, Wai’anapanapa boasts black sand volcanic coastlines and lush greenery from its hala forest. Popular activities for visitors are hiking, picnicking, and shore fishing. It’s a secluded getaway perfect for connecting with nature.

The Big Island

Sunset at Hapuna Beach right by the Westin Hapuna Beach on the Big Island.

Hapuna Beach

A few miles north of Kona is Hapuna Beach, a popular destination for vacationers. It’s an ideal beach for swimming and snorkeling. Lush greenery and soft sand surround the clear blue water. During the summer, there is over 200 feet of beach space where visitors can spread out.

Maniniowali Beach

You might think that you’re in the Caribbean for a moment while standing on this spectacular beach with powdery white sand. The water here is calm, especially during the morning hours. Sometimes, the surf picks up, and it becomes ideal for bodyboarders and snorkelers.  

Makalawena Beach

It isn’t easy to reach Makalawena Beach, but it is well worth the trek. You won’t find hoards of people on this beach. Instead, you’ll find unspoiled white sand and clear blue water. There’s a coral reef off the coast that protects the beach, making it ideal for swimming.

Papakolea Green Sand Beach

A green sand beach isn’t something you see every day, but you can enjoy it at Papakolea. The green sand comes from green olivine crystals from the old cinder cone nearby. These crystals mix with black and white sand to create a multidimensional effect.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Hawaii is famous for its black sand beaches, and Punalu’u is one of the most famous ones. It is popular for its sand and for its opportunities to see the endangered Hawksbill turtle. The black sand at this beach is a result of lava fragments. This beach is ideal for seeing turtles, picnicking, and relaxing.

Wailea Bay

This beach is one of the Big Island’s most popular destinations. During the winter, the beach erodes, but during the summer, it is a fantastic location. It is well-known for its diversity of sea life and is perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Maui vs. The Big Island: Weather

girl in front of rainbow in Maui
There’s a reason why Hawaii is known as the Rainbow State! We got this photo in Kapalua on Maui one day in February.

The Hawaiian Islands are well-known for their comfortable weather all year. Temperatures on both Maui and the Big Island don’t fluctuate much. They hardly top 80 degrees or drop below the mid-50s.

Tourists flock to the islands because of this pleasant weather. Most people visit between June-August and the winter to escape the cold.

I’d say that the shoulder season in spring (April and May) and early fall (September and October) are the best seasons to visit the islands. That time it isn’t too crowded or too rainy.

Some months have more rain than others. November-March have the most precipitation on both islands.

When it rains in Hawaii, typically you’ll find tropical showers that don’t last too long. Don’t get me wrong, there are days of constant downpour. But normally you’ll get some rain and clouds that give way to a rainbow!

Maui vs. The Big Island: Nightlife

Honestly, the only night activity we do is eat dinner! By the time we’re done exploring, we’re ready to hit the hay! Pictured above is Meridia Restaurant at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort on the Big Island.

Nightlife on both islands is pretty lowkey compared to other destinations. Neither island is well-known for sophisticated clubs or wild entertainment. There are a few spots on each island that provide a fun night out.

Maui doesn’t have any bustling cosmopolitan cities, only a “downtown” area in Lahaina, which is still rebuilding after the devastating fires of August 2023. Throughout the island, there are brewpubs, dive bars, and live entertainment. Still, only a few stay open past 10 p.m.

While it’s still relaxed, the Big Island has more late-night options than Maui. You can find exciting cocktails, karaoke, live music, and dancing venues in Kona and Hilo. Resorts also regularly hold parties and live entertainment for guests. The Big Island has more entertainment options than Maui but is still lowkey.

If you want nightlife on a Hawaiian island, your best bet is Oahu – which is also famous for its cultural and historical sites, along with Pearl Harbor.

Maui vs. The Big Island: Family Friendliness

The whole family will love the penguins in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Maui!

Is Maui or the Big Island better for families?

Well, that depends on your family.

If your family likes outdoor activities, both islands have fantastic outdoor adventures.

But keep in mind that landmarks are further apart on the Big Island, so you will have more travel time there. It’s also less touristy if you’re looking for more authentic cultural experiences.

Families who enjoy lounging on the beach at a resort may prefer Maui. The island is also smaller and easier to navigate than the Big Island.

You’ll find beaches, hikes, and outdoor activities for your family on both islands. All in all, the best option depends on your family’s interests.

Maui vs. The Big Island: Safety

At Dragon’s Teeth in Kapalua on Maui.

No place on earth can guarantee 100% safety, but Maui and the Big Island are generally very safe for tourists.

Like anywhere in the U.S., many cities are prone to crime, and Hawaii is no exception. Most Hawaiian cities fall below the national average for crime rates. Still, it’s important to research local crime rates for cities you’re visiting to be sure.

You’ll also want to make sure to lock your car and hide any valuables that are inside it since theft is the most common threat on these islands. Though Maui sees more property crime than the Big Island, it also sees almost double the number of tourists.

Additionally, some natural threats pose a danger to visitors who are not cautious.

Hawaii has intense sun rays that can be harmful if you don’t use the proper skin protection. Other safety measures include being aware of weather patterns, rip currents, coral, jellyfish, and large waves.

Maui vs. The Big Island: Which one is better?   

Alii Kula Lavender Farm
At Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm on Maui. Can you spot two adorable birds in this photo?

So, which island is better, the Big Island or Maui?

The answer is, you can’t go wrong on either island! Maui is an excellent destination if you have less time to explore, want quality beach time, and hope to relax.

The Big Island is more budget-friendly, has more to explore (and requires more driving to see it all), and is less touristy.

And both islands have unique sights you can’t see anywhere else.

So, which would you choose?

And if you’re deciding between more than just these islands, check this article for a comparison between all the Hawaiian islands!

I also have the perfect itinerary if you’re ever thinking of exploring Kauai.

Safe travels!

Jasmine

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Picture of Jasmine Alley

Jasmine Alley

I'm a Dallas-based, full-time travel blogger with a serious case of wanderlust! Through my website and Instagram, I hope to help others plan picture-perfect trips to the most beautiful places in the world! When I travel, I like to emphasize nature, hidden gems, and unique places.
Picture of Jasmine Alley

Jasmine Alley

I'm a Dallas-based, full-time travel blogger with a serious case of wanderlust! Through my website and Instagram, I hope to help others plan picture-perfect trips to the most beautiful places in the world! When I travel, I like to emphasize nature, hidden gems, and unique places.

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Hi, I’m Jasmine! I’m a nature-obsessed, beauty-finding, Jesus-loving dreamer with a serious case of wanderlust. I love to create photo-worthy travel content and hope to fill your travel plans with incredible beauty and breathtaking views! Thanks for following along on my adventures!

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