Want to explore Hawaii, but don’t know where to start? Deciding which island to visit can be overwhelming at first glance. Here is a breakdown of the four most popular Hawaiian Islands to help you choose which spot is best for your next tropical vacation.
Known as the “Garden Island,” Kauai is the oldest island in Hawaii and is notorious for its jagged coastline, luscious rainforests, and mountainous terrain. Although beautiful, this is not the ideal island destination for vacationers craving a relaxing day on the beach with calm waters and no rain. In fact, Kauai’s Mount Waialeale is one of the wettest spots in the world with an average rainfall of 450 inches per year. Rainfall varies depending on your location on the island, so check the forecast or monthly rainfall averages ahead of time before deciding on which area on Kauai suits your vacation needs.
Hikers, however, will thrive in stunning Waimea Canyon State Park and in trails along the notorious, picturesque Na Pali Coastline. Beaches in Kauai can be rockier with rougher waters than beaches in Maui, but with only a fraction of the crowds.
Home to famous Waikiki Beach, Oahu is the best Hawaiian island for solo travelers or younger folks craving a combination of nightlife, nature, and relaxing days on the beach. Bustling Waikiki is a vastly different environment than quiet Kauai, and luxury retail, chain restaurants, and heavy traffic abound. Tourists flock to see historical sights such as Pearl Harbor, and hike to the top of volcanic Diamond Head State Monument overlooking Waikiki.
Surfers will be drawn to Oahu’s North Shore where waves are large and food trucks are plentiful. Families can enjoy calm waters on Lanikai beach and can enjoy ziplining at Kualoa Ranch. If you’re indecisive on what you want your Hawaiian vacation to consist of, Oahu’s vast array of activities might suit your needs.
Romantic Maui is ideal for honeymooners and families with small children, with its western side of the island being lined with resorts, condominiums, and major retailers and dining options. Calm waters and idyllic scenery draw in tourists year-round. Although historic Lahaina offers somewhat of a nightlife, it does not compare to the nightlife of Oahu. Hikers will be pleased with the Sliding Sands Trail in Haleakala National Park, along with hiking in Iao Valley State Park.
Another hot spot in Maui is the Road to Hana, which can take hours and becomes quite crowded during high season. Along the Road to Hana are waterfalls and swimming holes, a black sand beach, and even a red sand beach. If you want the stereotypical Hawaiian experience, there are plenty of Luaus hosted in the evenings for families to enjoy. Wildlife is also abundant in Maui, as Lahaina is famous for whale watching tours, while sea turtles are frequently spotted while snorkeling and swimming in the crystal blue Maui waters.
Island of Hawai’i (Big Island)
Known as “Big Island,” the Island of Hawai’i is the youngest and largest island in the State of Hawaii. Unlike the previous smaller islands, circling Big Island in one day is a daunting task. Home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, visitors have the opportunity to see active volcanoes, including Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on earth. Big Island is a great destination for those looking to minimize their change of rainfall during their vacation, as a large portion of the island remains relatively dry.
Adventure travelers heading to Big Island can enjoy cliff jumping, night snorkeling with manta rays, and exploring some of the island’s more isolated beaches. Alongside black sand beaches, Big Island is home to Papakolea Green Sand Beach, which is one of the only four beaches in the world with green sand. To get to some of these destinations, an all-wheel drive rental vehicle might be your best option (just be sure to read the rental contract ahead of time to avoid driving on forbidden roads). Although not nearly as perfect for nature lovers as Kauai, Big Island is another great choice for travelers looking to avoid the crowds and take in the beautiful scenery of Hawaii.