Maui vs Big Island: Which Hawaiian Destination Is Better?

So, it’s come down to Maui vs Big Island. We’ll be honest – that’s not a bad problem to have! Both of these isles showcase some of the very best parts of the Aloha State. Each has a dramatic coastline, dashes of tropical jungle, and breathtaking backcountry that’s carved by smoke-belching volcanos. What’s more, both are downright awesome places for that vacay in the sun.

They do have their differences, however. In fact, the Big Island – which is also known as the Island of Hawai’i – and Maui are two of the most contrasting specks in the whole of the Aloha chain. One is known for its salt-washed surf beaches and laid-back life. The other is dominated by colossal peaks and comes dashed with primeval lava fields.

This guide will take a look each in turn, to help you pinpoint the one that’s better for the sort of Hawaii getaway you’re after. It’ll deal with everything from the accessibility of the islands to the best option for snorkeling and surfing. We’ll even take a look at how it adds up for Maui vs Big Island for families and honeymooners. So, prep those hibiscus garlands, folks. Let’s go…

Maui vs Big Island: Getting there

Getting to Hawaii
Photo credit: Jakob Owens

There’s no doubt about it: Maui is the easiest of these two islands to travel to. That’s largely thanks to Kahului Airport. It’s the second largest in the whole of the state and a hub for the local Hawaiian Airlines. You should find it a cinch to get a flight that arrives there from the mainland US, not to mention a short-haul internal flight from Honolulu. Big Island isn’t without its arrival points, though. It’s got two airports, the main being Kona International on the west coast.

If we take departures out of LAX as an example, a quick search on Momondo shows that there are an estimated 36 nonstop links over to Maui each day. Compare that to the mere six direct flights that go to Big Island. You’ll also find that tickets are generally cheaper on the routes that go to Maui’s Kahului Airport – they start at around $310 return per person, compared to around $500 per person for Big Island.

Winner: Maui

Maui vs Big Island: Weather & when to go

Maui Vs Big Island comparison
Photo credit: Hari Nandakumar
  Best time to visit: Reason
Maui September & October Highs in the upper 80s, virtually no rainfall, in between summer and winter crowds
Big Island May & June Average temperatures in low 80s, lowest annual rainfall, summer crowds not yet around.

Okay, so it’s pretty much always nice in Hawaii, so you shouldn’t have to worry about the weather too much, no matter if it’s Maui or Big Island that come out on top here.

Maui sees a real peak in crowds throughout the summer months (April-August) and the midwinter (November-March). It’s the most popular vacation hotspot of the two, so things can get pretty busy, and prices in the resorts will shoot up to boot. We’d recommend dodging Christmas entirely if you can. It’s also a good idea to skip the height of the Hurricane season, usually from July to November. Really bad storms are very rare, but there are better times in the calendar.

Big Island also has a distinct wet season and dry season pattern but is noticeably cooler throughout the year. As in Maui, most of the rain falls in winter and it’s much drier in summer, with the wettest months being November and December. The east coast gets way more rain than the west and the north – like 10 times less! That’s thanks to the moisture barrier that’s formed by the great volcanos. It helps to keep the popular resort areas of Kailua-Kona open for holidays no matter the month. Big Island will also get really busy when the Ironman World Championship takes place in October.

There’s one exception to all the above: Winter is best for surfers in both Maui and Big Island!

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Winner: Draw

Maui vs Big Island: Price

Hotels on Big Island and Maui
Photo credit: Rebecca Elliott

We’ve already seen that you can expect to fork out a whole load more on flights to Big Island than to Maui. But what about once you’ve landed?

It’s actually a different story on the ground. Big Island is the cheaper of the two destinations. That’s mainly because it’s not quite so popular with package holidaymakers and has less of a luxury feel. It’s also a tad cooler, meaning snowbirds looking for their fix of winter sun will often head to Maui instead, leading to less of a spike in accommodation rates during key periods.

Maui, on the other hand, is riddled with high-class resorts and golf clubs. It’s one of the islands of choice for jet setters looking to feel the tropical charm of the Aloha State, and it has pricier restaurants and shopping to match. Because of its popularity, you’ll also find that snorkeling tours and planned volcano treks tend to cost more up here.

We’ve put together a quick comparison of some average prices you can expect on each island courtesy of Budget Your Trip:

  Accommodation (per night) Transportation (per day) Average daily cost (per person)
Maui $108-216 $50 $215
Big Island $90-180 $30 $206

Winner: Big Island

Maui vs Big Island: Eating

Don’t worry – there’s hearty Polynesian cooking on the menu in both these spots. We’d say adventurous eaters will almost certainly prefer the Big Island, though. That’s down to the fact it’s way more rural, so there’s farm-to-table coffee to sample and all manner of exotic fruits. Maui directs eaters to its diverse array of international eateries. They’re located in the big hotels and in the major resorts, offering Hawaiian fusion food and haute cuisine. It’s really a question about what sort of foodie you are!

Winner: Draw

Maui vs Big Island: Hotels and accommodation

Maui hotels
Photo credit: Rajiv Perera

Maui is known across the globe for its deluxe honeymoon resorts and gorgeous golf complexes. It will always trump Big Island when it comes to getting five-star service. The bulk of those sorts of places are along the west and the south shorelines, fronting the best beaches and making the most of the driest weather. Condo and villa accommodations are another big thing in Maui. They offer good bang for your buck, especially if you’re willing to move a few blocks back from the beach.

Big Island has two clusters of resorts. The first is on the main vacationing strip of the west coast around the airport of Kailua-Kona. The vibe there is similar to Maui in that it’s largely big resorts with pools, but you can also bag hostels and cool homestays that cost a whole load less. The second area of note sits on the wetter, lusher east coast at Hilo and to the south of that town. They’re about more standard holidaying accommodations, mainly because they’re primarily used as a base for exploring the Volcanoes National Park.

Overall, Maui just has way more variety and class on the hotel front, although you will pay for the luxury.

Winner: Maui

Maui vs Big Island: Things to do

Things to do in Maui
Photo credit: Abigail Lynn

You’re not going to be bored on either Maui or the Big Island, that’s for sure.

The first of these Hawaiian gems is laden with some of the state’s top-draw sites. The stunning beaches of Wailea combine with whale watching and Polynesian hula schools to create a truly eclectic mix of things to do. On top of that, you’ll get a clutch of some of the region’s top golf courses, loads of deluxe hotel spas, and accessible beginner surf spots on Maui.

Big Island lends itself better to those who like the great outdoors. It’s a far more natural and wilder island, with dramatic coast drives that’ll have you gasping in awe at every turn in the road. Of course, it’s the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park that really tops the pack. There are days and days of adventures to be had there, scrambling through lava tubes and seeing erupting calderas.

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Winner: Draw

Maui vs Big Island: Nature

Nature on Big Island
Photo credit: Martin Zangerl

Big Island is larger and younger than Maui and the northern isles. That means it’s got way more open space and seems far less developed than its Aloha compadres. You can drive for whole stretches along the coast roads and not see another soul in these parts. The peaks are rounder and fatter, and the volcanic side of Hawaii is still very much on view – especially in the awesome Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

Maui is an absolute stunner, there’s no doubt about that. However, in some ways, it’s its own worst enemy. The good looks have brought far more resorts and development, which means the prettiest western coastline is now a string of hotels. The beaches remain intact, though, and you can always venture inland to the reserves of Haleakala to escape everything. They’re a Mars-like dash of wilderness, peaking at over 10,000 feet (you can even sometimes catch snow up there!).

Winner: Big Island, but only just

Other considerations

Weighing up the Maui vs Big Island question isn’t just about what it costs and the weather. It’s also about more specific things, like where’s best for your family trip and which island offers the top surf breaks. Viola…

Maui or Big Island for families?

Families should go for Big Island. Hey, it’s just our opinion, but something tells us the little ones will be seriously thrilled at the prospect of walking through the Thurston Lava Tube and seeing the steaming fumaroles of the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Maui’s also a little bit too covered in golf resorts and spa hotels aimed at older visitors and honeymooners. That said, it still has stunning beaches and plenty of great family hotels.

Winner: Big Island

Maui or Big Island for snorkeling?

The most dedicated of snorkelers will want to head to Big Island. The whole place is ringed by some of Hawaii’s most untouched volcanic reef. That brings all sorts of creatures, from sea turtles to spinner dolphins to butterflyfish. However, getting in and out of the water is hard because it’s typically over jagged rock and the reefs are much more affected by the waves. The upshot? Novice snorkelers and family snorkelers will do better in Maui, where the spots are mainly over sandbanks and in protected lagoons.

Winner: Big Island

Maui or Big Island for surfing?

Maui hasn’t garnered a rep as one of America’s top surf destinations for nothing. This chilled isle has more glassy breaks than you can shake a hibiscus garland at. Beaches like Lahaina are really accessible for beginners and have fantastic surf schools. There are also lots of intermediate-friendly breaks down the Honoapiilani Hwy between Olowalu and Kihei. Big Island is a different story. It has some gnarly waves but they’re very far apart. There’s also not the same surf infrastructure, so you could find it tricky to rent boards and whatnot.

Winner: Maui

Maui or Big Island for honeymoon?

It’s a no brainer here: Maui wins. There are more 5-star hotels and deluxe golf courses, there are stunning sunsets, and the picture-perfect beaches you’re after on that island. Big Island shouldn’t be discounted, though. It’s better if you’re after a honeymoon with a twist of adventure, not to mention more seclusion and privacy away from the crowds.

Winner: Maui

black sand beach
Image by Kathy VanDeventer from Pixabay

So, is it Maui or Big Island?

The truth is that Maui and Big Island offer subtly different things. Maui is a doozy for honeymooners, golfers, and surfers. It’s far more developed and really well positioned to offer that hit of Aloha State R&R. Big Island is more rugged and untouched. It’s the place to go if you want to see volcanos (there’s a whole national park of them) and to escape the crowds, although there’s still a hit of resort holidaying to be had on the west coast.

If you’d like to add anything to this lowdown on the perennial Maui vs Big Island question, we’d love to hear your thoughts!


James Ardimento has spent the last 12 years journeying around the globe ! With its precious experiences and tips he gained around Asia, South America, Europe and the US he is a precious asset for this blog and for its readers