Endless white beaches, palm trees swaying in the ocean breeze and swimming with dolphins and sea turtles. These are all reasons to visit The Bahamas or Hawaii. But which is better? Well, as always, the answer is ‘it depends’, so we’re going to give you a list of pros and cons and hopefully help you to decide. We’ll also be picking our own winner, so read on for the result. But first a little geography and history (don’t worry – there’s no pop quiz at the end!)
Where is The Bahamas?
The Bahamas, known officially as the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, is a country in the West Indies (and it’s definitely not part of the Caribbean!) Sprinkled over 100,000 square miles of ocean, it comprises 700 islands and over 2,000 rocks and cays and boasts the clearest water on the planet.
It used to be a dependent of the UK, but gained its independence in 1973 (the documents were hand-delivered by Prince Charles – any excuse for a holiday!) The capital city is Nassau which is connected by bridge to the famous Paradise Island, home of the Atlantis resort and casino.
The islands have a predominantly Christian population of roughly 400,000, 70% of whom are under 50 years old. The official language is English, and the currency is the Bahamian dollar, which is always on a 1-to-1 peg with the US dollar.
(Fun fact: The Bahamas was home to the world’s most infamous pirate, Blackbeard, who captured over 40 ships in the early 1700s. Although infamous throughout American folklore, he actually came from a wealthy family in Bristol, England and knew how to read and write, which was quite uncommon at the time.)
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Where is Hawaii?
Hawaii, ‘the Aloha state’, is the 50th and last state of the USA and is located in the Polynesian region of the Pacific Ocean.
Over 2,000 miles away from any other place, it is the most geographically isolated island chain in the world. It’s made up of over 130 islands spread over 1,500 miles, with the capital city Honolulu located on the island of O’ahu. The largest island is Hawai’i (referred to as ‘The Big Island’) from which the state gets its name. The islands were discovered by the British explorer Captain James Cook in 1778, and the Hawaiian national flag has the Union Jack in the corner to mark the long-lasting relationship with the British (making it the only US state flag to include another country’s emblem).
Hawaii has a population of 1.4m who are primarily Christian (70%); it also boasts the highest percentage of Asian Americans in any US state. The official languages are English and Hawaiian, although some residents speak a Hawai’i-Creole/English mix, known as pidgin English.
(Fun fact: The Hawaiian alphabet has only 12 letters, which makes it easy to learn and produces some great sounding words. For instance, Hawaii’s state fish is the humuhumunukunukuapuaʿa, which literally translates as ‘triggerfish with a pig-like snout’. Don’t worry, we can’t pronounce it either!)
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The Bahamas vs Hawaii, Round 1: Accommodation
If you’re looking for an all-inclusive holiday in The Bahamas, the largest and most famous resort is Atlantis, Paradise Island. It features 5 miles of white-sand beaches, the world’s largest open-air marine park, a world-class golf course and a Vegas-style casino. Away from the resort there’s not much to see or do, so you might want to consider one of the other islands if you want to get out and explore.
Bear in mind that hotel rates can be more expensive than you think, with three-star rooms costing upwards of $100 per night. For those on a budget there are a few hostels around the islands, though not too many, with rates from $35 per night. 5-star luxury is of course available, such as at the Kamalame Cay private resort on Andros Island, with rooms up to $700 per night. Or for something a bit different, try the solar-powered luxury tents or hillside shacks at The Other Side on Eleuthera Island, which start at only $500 per night (ouch!).
Hawaiian accommodation tends to be cheaper, with mid-range hotels starting at $75 per night and hostels available for as little as $30 if you’re on a backpacker budget. As you’d expect there’s no shortage of luxury accommodation, such as the Four Seasons Hualalai Resort on the Big Island with its eagle ray-filled lagoon, PGA-accredited golf course, complimentary ocean-sports experts, and secluded villas that that top out at a cool $16,000 per night (no, that’s not a mistake, we really mean sixteen thousand!)
One other option to consider is island-hopping, which is very achievable as Hawaii is comparatively small. There are plenty of island-hop packages available that cover 4 days on each of Oahu, Kauai and Maui islands (for example) for about £3,500 per person (including UK flights). Alternatively, you can pick your own itinerary and take advantage of the inter-island air company, Mokulele, who operate 120 flights a day on their fleet of nine-passenger Cessnas, with journey times of 30-45 minutes between islands.
Our opinion: They say ‘you get what you pay for’ and this is very true of hotels, so luckily each destination has a range to suit every budget. We don’t recommend that you make any choices based on hotel price alone, but, apart from the extravagantly expensive options, the price is more reasonable in Hawaii. So our winner for accomodation is Hawaii.
The Bahamas vs Hawaii, Round 2: The Dining Experience
Hawaii’s main traditional foods come from taro, similar to a yam. The root is steamed or baked to make a starchy and slightly sour paste called poi, to which salmon is often added. The leaves of the taro are used to make laulau, where they are wrapped around pork that’s been slow-cooked in an underground oven until it turns soft and smoky-flavoured.
Of course Hawaii is famous for its tropical fruits, grown from rich, volcanic soil in Upcountry Maui, so don’t leave without trying some pineapple or liliko’i (passion fruit), best consumed with fine crushed ice and vodka (Kilauea Lodge near the Volcano National Park on the Big Island is reputed to makes the world’s best Liliko’i Margarita!)
For those of you with a sweet tooth, make sure you visit Oahu to try Waialua Estate’s rare, world class award-winning chocolate made from cacao grown exclusively on volcanic soil. Hawaii is also a place for coffee lovers, where the peaberry Kona brand, cultivated on the slopes of the Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes, is one of the top three coffees in the world and the only drinkable coffee grown in the US.
(Fun Fact: During WWII, US troops manning the beaches of Hawaii became addicted to Spam (‘spiced ham’) shipped by The Hormel Company in Minnesota. Since then, it’s become a favourite with local Hawaiians, who eat six million cans a year!)
Traditional Bahamian (or ‘Bajan’) food is largely based around the conch: the chewy, textured meat from sea snails. Served in a variety of ways, the simplest is conch salad, which is diced conch with chopped green peppers and tomatoes tossed with a marinade of fresh lime, lemon, and orange juice – very refreshing! Try it with pigeon peas and rice, a signature side dish that goes with virtually everything, and wash it down with a bottle of Kalik, the popular local brew.
You’ll find the best place to try these local dishes is at a ‘fish fry’ – usually a mish-mash of brightly-coloured wooden shacks in a central location, such as Goldie’s or Twin Brothers on Arawak Cay. As well as conch, there’s grouper, snapper and rock lobster, steamed in foil or ‘cracked’ (battered) and served with a calypso sauce. At night, these places double as a type of outdoor food market where locals come to eat, gossip and sometimes even dance.
Whilst we’re talking about local food, for desert we recommend Guava Duff, which is a boiled pastry filled with sweetened guava paste and topped off with a creamy rum sauce (don’t worry, you can always burn off the calories on the beach!). And of course there’s always the famous rum cake, of which Tortuga is the most popular variety.
If you’re looking for a more european or American-style meal, then these are readily available at the larger resorts and hotels. The Cricket Club Pavillion in Nassau serves a traditional British fry-up breakfast and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding for a sunday roast, and Virgil’s Real BBQ at Artlantis, run by the award-winning Times Square company, offers family-sized portions of southern-style barbeque chicken or ribs.
(Fun fact: The Bahamas has the third-largest wine cellar in the world! Called Graycliff’s, it has over 250,000 bottles from 15 countries, and includes some of the rarest, most expensive wines on the planet.)
Our opinion: We love food (who doesn’t?), but we really love fish. We nearly gave this one to Hawaii – basically because of the chocolate! – but as we said, we really love fish – especially those laid-back fish fry places. So it’s a win for The Bahamas.
The Bahamas vs Hawaii, Round 3: Weather
The first question you’ll be asked when you get on Facebook or Instagram is “what’s the weather like?” and you’ll be pleased to know your answer will always be “‘amazing!” Both of these destinations are known for their tropical climate and, depending on when you visit, you’ll be guaranteed blue skies and sunshine.
In The Bahamas, the trade winds ensure that the weather is warm all year round, with summer highs of 90°F (32°C) and winter lows averaging 70°F (21°C). Peak season is from mid-December to mid-April, avoiding the really hot weather and also the chance of hurricanes (June to November). The heaviest rain typically falls in May and June, but these are mainly short showers so don’t really have much effect on the overall climate.
The Hawaiian islands have a dry season from April to October and a rainy season from November to March, with summer highs of 83°F (28°C) and winter lows averaging 70°F (21°C). The presence of so many valleys, mountains and open plains means the islands have many ‘microclimates’, so places like Hilo can be very wet, while neighbouring places like Puako are completely dry.
(Fun fact: Hawaii has 10 of the world’s 14 climate zones, and you can find all of them on the Big Island alone, basically because it’s big and high. So even at the height of summer, it’s always raining somewhere in the Islands!)
Our opinion: Well, as you can see from the information above, there’s really nothing in it. So this round is a draw.
The Bahamas vs Hawaii, Round 4: Beaches
According to Forbes travel, The Bahamas has the number two ranked beach in the world. It’s also quite unusual, in that the sand is pink! Pink Sands Beach is on Harbour Island and stretches for three miles. The sand gets its colour from microscopic sea creatures with reddish-pink shells, and it’s incredibly soft to walk on.
If you choose to stay at the Atlantis resort, there are many great beaches on Nassau. One is the unusually-named Cabbage Beach on Paradise island, which is an award-winning tourist beach. If jet-skiing, parasailing and banana boats are your thing, then this beach is definitely worth a visit (but note that it does get very crowded, especially with the cruise ship crowd, so get your towel down early!)
But if you want to get away from it all (and who could blame you?), hire a boat to one of the Out Islands such as Bimini – a small island that’s big on beaches. Some of the beaches there don’t even have a name, so you’re bound to find a secluded spot for your own personal slice of paradise.
In Hawaii, you’ll be pleased to learn that all of the beaches are free to visit. They’re also ecologically protected, and sunscreens containing zinc are banned in order to protect the coral reefs. Not to be outdone, Hawaii has its own coloured beaches – you can find red, white, black, and green sand that will look amazing on Instagram! For example, Honokalani Beach, tucked away within Waianapanapa State Park and sacred to the Hawaiian people, has jet black sand formed from cooled lava. With bright turquoise water and a lush green forest background, it’s a visual feast.
On Kaua’i Island you’ll find the stunning Hanalei Bay. Apart from being famous for its surf breaks, local law states that no buildings can be higher than the palm trees, which has ensured the area is resort-free. The three beach parks have an ‘edge-of-the-world’ quality, and it’s easy to feel like you’re hiding from the world for a day.
One last beach we’d like to mention is Lanikai Beach on Oahu Island. Another entry in the world’s top 10, Lanikai means ‘heavenly sea’ and if you’re there for the sunrise, then you’ll see why. It’s pretty awesome!
(Fun Fact: One of the few green sand beaches in the world is at Ka Lae on the Big Island, Hawaii. Ka Lae translates as ‘South Point’ which is aptly named, as it’s six degrees further south than Key West, making it the real southernmost part of the USA!)
Our Opinion: With so many islands at each location, there are an almost unlimited number of beaches and you’re sure to find ‘your beach’, whether it’s on an activity-filled resort or a secluded hideaway. But for sheer variety, that amazing pink sand and all the little Out Island hideaways, we’re giving this one to The Bahamas.
The Bahamas vs Hawaii, Round 5: Cost of Living
According to a 2020 survey by Numbeo, whose data is used by The Economist and Time Magazine, The Bahamas is the sixth most expensive country in the world to live in. Hawaii, taken separately from the mainland US, comes in at number 12. As a guide Switzerland is at the top, the USA is twentieth, and the UK is at number 27. Overall, The Bahamas is about 7% more expensive than Hawaii.
For the residents this figure changes when you break it down – for instance rent in Hawaii is a whopping 62% higher than in The Bahamas – but for visitors this 7% difference means you won’t really notice the difference overall. Some things will be cheaper (a bottle of imported beer will cost you $4.50 in The Bahamas compared to $7.00 in Hawaii) and some will be more expensive (a litre of fresh milk is $3.50 in The Bahamas but only $1.65 in Hawaii).
Our Opinion: Seven percent would make a big difference if you planned to stay for a year, but over a two-week holiday it really won’t be noticeable. No outright winner here.
The Bahamas vs Hawaii, Round 5: Entertainment
Whether you seek adventure or discovery, there’s never any shortage of things to do. We can’t list everything, so here’s a few showstoppers.
In the Exumas there is a beach known as Big Major Cay, which is totally uninhabited. Except for a population of feral pigs. No one quite knows how they got there, some say they swam over from a shipwreck, but one of the most popular attractions in The Bahamas is….swimming with the pigs! Booking a tour will cost about $200 per person, but that also includes a small plane for transport, swimming with nurse sharks, a nice buffet and visiting some iguanas.
The Bahamas has the longest known underwater cave system in the world (over 9 miles) at Lucayan National Park on Grand Bahama Island, and if you’re a diver then this can’t really be missed. Even without the diving it’s a great day out, which typically includes a nature hike, kayaking through the mangroves and some quality time at Gold Rock Beach, one of the prettiest beaches in The Bahamas. A tour with a certified dive guide will cost about $150 per person.
On the Big Island of Hawaii lies Maunakea, a dormant volcano with a peak 13,800 feet (4,200m) above sea level. When you measure it from the base, which is underwater, the total height is 33,000 feet, making it the tallest mountain in the world! (Mt Everest is just over 29,000 feet tall). You can hike to the summit, or take the easier option and go with a guide in a 4×4. The Sunrise on Maunakea tour is a 7-hour excursion which will cost you $200 per person, after which you can honestly say you’ve seen the sun rise from the top of the world!
If you’ve got an adventurous spirit, then why not try a zipline? Kauai Island offers some of the longest lines – there’s a brand new one over ¾ miles long – and most operators offer packages that include other outdoor activities. The Kipu Zipline has you flying over movie locations including Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Single lines start from $50; multi packages will cost about $130. It’s a unique way to see Hawaii, just make sure you pack your GoPro!
Our opinion: Seriously, this is a tough call! We’ve only listed a few activities here, but there’s so many more and we know they’re all amazing! But just for the volcanoes, we’re giving this one to Hawaii.
So….The Bahamas or Hawaii: The Winner
With The Bahamas, a major factor has to be the beaches: beautiful soft sand and crystal clear water. If your goal is pure relaxation then The Bahamas will definitely fit the bill. Hawaii is more of an adventure and sight-seeing holiday: canyons, mountains, lush volcanic forests….. But we said we’d choose a winner, and so for us it’s Hawaii.
Wherever you choose, you’ll have a great experience and come back with some amazing memories and awesome photos.
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