Probably the most frequently asked Hawaii vacation question is, “Would I be better off going to Kauai or Maui?” That is a question that gets bantered about on different Hawaii forums across the internet. The truth is that no one else can answer that question for you because it depends on what you value in your vacation. My answer to that question is, “It depends.” It depends on what is important to you. The good news is that the more you are struggling with that question, the more likely you will not answer it wrong. They are both awesome and you should plan to visit both of them…eventually.
In a nutshell, if you want the most beautiful Hawaiian island with low crowds and a shot at some solitude, Kauai is your place. One thing that Kauai has that no other place on earth comes close is the Na Pali coast. I hate to use the overused adjective but it is simply awesome and must be viewed first hand–by boat or by helicopter. But is must be viewed.
Maui excels in the sunset category. If you are a sucker for killer ocean sunsets, Maui is your island. Because most of the places to stay on Maui are on the West side of the island, you don’t have to plan where to be when the sun goes down. You can be frolicking on the beach or sitting in a beachside cafe and when the sunset happens, you will have a front row seat. And the sunsets are spectacular. Seeing those ocean sunsets on Kauai, takes a little more work and you are limited to a handful of places to take them in: Kee beach, Polihole beach and a handful of spots up Wiamea canyon.
One decisive factor in deciding which island to go to is your affinity to the mega resorts. Between the two islands, Maui is the mega resort king (or queen if you prefer). One walk along KaaNa Pali or Wailea beach and you can see the resorts that expand up into the sky. Kauai has fewer of these giant resorts and because of the height restriction on the island, they are far less dominant. This results in more of a feeling that you are getting away from the crowds. When I am on Maui and I eyeball these vast stretches of resorts, I always ask myself the exact same question, “How many people are visiting today?”
You are definitely sharing the island with more people on Maui. Maui has roughly 2.4 million visitors a year compared to Kauai’s 1.2 million. More people means more people watching if you like that kind of thing. Maui also sports a more active nightlife.
For me, I love both islands but I prefer Kauai over the two. One of my favorite things to do on Kauai is to watch the sunset on Polihale beach. Most of the time when I do that, we drive as far North in the park as we can and find ourselves the only people on the beach (or at least it seems that way). Finding solitude on Maui usually takes a little more work but I think the sheer beauty of the Kauai island is what has won me over. Kauai is stunningly beautiful, especially the North side.