Hawaii. How could you go wrong? If you’ve been before, you’re probably already planning your return. If you’ve never been, it’s definitely on your wish list. Needless to say, the Aloha way of life is quite addictive once you get a taste of that sweet island air.
Of all eight inhabited Hawaiian islands, there are a few that keep us coming back time and time again. We always have a hard time deciding between Maui or Big Island, and if you’re in the midst of planning your Hawaiian getaway, chances are you need a little guidance too. Swaying palms, scrumptious fresh food, and mind-blowing sunsets are guaranteed wherever you go. But there are a few things that make the islands distinctly different, and here’s what you need to know before making your decision.
Maui: Love the classic golden sand and turquoise water combo? Then Maui’s 30 miles of beaches are sure to please. Here, you’ll discover everything from hidden coves off the beaten path to sandy spots bustling with action. For a peaceful escape, venture toward the southern edge of the island to Makena Beach. Makena offers stunning views of nearby Big Island and is separated into two beaches: Big Beach and Little Beach. You can access Little Beach by climbing over a rock on the west end of the beach, and chances are, you’ll have it all to yourself. Neighboring Wailea Beach has clear and calm waters perfect for snorkeling enthusiasts. For a beach with everything from surfing to restaurants and shopping, head to Kaanapali Beach. Here, you can snorkel around Black Rock, then mosey on up to dry land for a cocktail at the Hula Grill for a beach day done right.
Big Island: Big Island offers virtually everything but your typical beach. From black sand to green, you can sink your toes into some of the world’s most interesting sands. The go-to black sand beach (created by volcanic activity) is Punaluu, just a stone’s throw away from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It’s perfect for a sunset picnic but the water here is relatively rough so you should avoid swimming. If you’re traveling with little swimmers who want a taste of the ocean, your best bet is Hapuna Beach State Park, equipped with lifeguards, facilities, water, and soft sands. The famous green sand beach can be found at Papakolea, only accessible via a 2-mile hike through Hawaii’s South Point.
The Verdict: If you’d like a different colored stretch of sand every day of the week, go to Big Island. If you love to keep your beach-going more predictable, then lotion up on the shores of Maui.
Maui: Hiking and surfing and diving, oh my! Your typical day on Maui could cover many different altitudes, species, and sensations. The island’s vast and varied landscape makes it a favorite among those who love to add a jolt of adrenaline into their day. Wake up for an early morning surf session; even if you’re unsteady on the board, the number of top-notch surf instructors around Maui make learning fun and guarantee that you’ll improve your skills. Come afternoon, hike along the Waiheke Ridge Trail, a journey that will work up a decent sweat while offering photo-worthy vistas encompassing the surrounding rainforest, Makamaka’ole Falls, and ocean. Afterward, treat yourself to a Kona beer and take in that gorgeous sunset.
Big Island: If you’re in serious need of relaxation, the number of ways to access your inner zen on Big Island will delight. The Mauna Lani Resort boasts one of the best spas on the island, with island-inspired treatments like a papaya body scrub and an open-air lava sauna. Once you’re feeling perfectly rejuvenated, we recommend taking on the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; here, you’ll discover a wide array of hikes, but a truly spectacular experience is the “Glow Show” at the Jaggar Museum and Overlook where you can witness lava flume clouds first hand. For a hike by day, head to the Akaka Falls State Park to see the breathtaking 442 foot (!) waterfall.
The Verdict: A day in Maui could consist of pretty much any high-energy adventure your imagination can muster up. Big Island’s state parks, on the other hand, offer unique experiences for nature lovers. If you’re a hiking enthusiast, you’ll find plenty to enjoy on each island.
Maui: Much like its landscape, the villas on Maui come in many different forms. From mansions on the beach to breezy hideaways at the foothills of the West Maui mountains, there’s a home to suit all styles. For stately elegance with a tropical flair, we love Turtle Beach Villa, which has eclectic accents and local artwork, lush greenery everywhere, and a location just steps away from the ocean. For a romantic and cozy feel, our go-to spot is Napili Cove (pictured right), a charming spot surrounded by palm trees and the ocean.
Big Island: Welcome to resort living, redefined. Big Island is filled with luxurious resorts that combine the privacy you crave, plus the amenities you love. Golfers, in particular, will love the villas of Mauna Kea resort right on the greens. High Bluffs (pictured right), combines Balinese style architecture and a stunning outdoor space including koi ponds, a Jacuzzi and infinity pool while being steps away from the course. While stunning homes within resorts are plentiful on Big Island, you can also find spots right on the beach. Puako Hylton, located within the small town of the same name, boasts a lanai that wraps around the entire back of the home and stairs right down to the golden beach. Whether you spend your day paddle boarding, reading your favorite magazines or swimming in the ocean, tucking into a fresh Hawaiian feast right on the beach is the epitome of good living on Big Island.
The Verdict: If you’ve always dreamed of waking up to the sounds of the waves in a beachside mansion, Maui is where you need to be. But if having a world-class golf just steps away from your bedroom is more your flavor, Big Island wins this round.