A Guide to Choosing Between Maui and Kauai for an Hawaiian Island Vacation

Hawaii offers an abundance of gorgeous beaches, watersport opportunities, hiking trails, locally sourced foods, and cultural experiences. With each Hawaiian island sharing something specific and unique, picking which one can be a tough challenge. If you’re trying to decide between Kauai and Maui, the two most popular spots in the state, here’s a guide to help you to choose the one best suited to your travel style.

Weather Expectations

Hawaii has two seasons in general. There’s summer from May to October with average daytime temperatures around 85oF, while winter stays from November until April with around 78oF of average daytime temperature. The Hawaiian islands receive more rainfall during winter, leading to possible low visibilities, road closures, and flooding. Kauai is one of the rainiest places on the whole planet. Travelers can find sunshine more often on the southern side, but it’s not guaranteed in winter. With less rain than Kauai, the leeward side of Maui are generally drier, which includes Wailea, Kapalua, Kihei, Lahaina, and Ka’anapali. But, the windward side, including Hana and Iao Valley, is wetter.

Water Activities

Both the Hawaiian islands offer several opportunities for ocean activities like surfing, diving, snorkeling, and outrigger canoe paddling. But each island also holds something unique to experience. Being the only Hawaiian island with navigable rivers, Kauai is the best place for river kayaking. Enjoy bird watching while peacefully paddling along the Hanalei River. You can also cruise to the Wailua River State Park and submerge in a waterfall swimming hole. The beaches in Maui are more accessible with calmer water. Molokini, located three miles off the coast of Maui, is a partially submerged volcanic crater and also the only island marine sanctuary in Hawaii. With a clarity of around 100-150 feet, the calm waters in the area are ideal for diving and snorkeling.

Outdoor Experiences

Covering more than 75% of the island, Haleakala is a dormant volcano and sacred site in Maui, which is also home to the Hawaiian state bird, the Nene, and more than 100 other endangered species. Watching the sunrise, sitting above the clouds at 10,000 feet atop the sacred summit is a divine experience; and so is stargazing at night. Kauai offers many trails for hikers with some spectacular viewpoints, especially in the Waimea Canyon State Park. The ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific,’ offers colorful views and unique geological formations. With its 4000-foot steep sea cliffs, the Kalalu Trail of Kauai, running along the rugged Na Pali Coast, is considered one of the most beautiful yet challenging hiking trails in the U.S.