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As tropical getaways go, you can’t beat a vacation to Hawaii. As a dream destination with a universal appeal, it’s easy to see why the islands have become synonymous with paradise. From sugary white beaches to Technicolor coral reefs, and a diverse range of hiking trails and volcanoes for the adventurous soul, Hawaii truly has something for everyone.

However, it’s not always as simple as just deciding to vacation in Hawaii. Each of the islands here are truly diverse, offering a whole new set of sights, experiences and attractions, so it’s important to choose the right one.

The following tips will help you choose the right island for your trip. Alternatively, if you have the time, plan on some island hopping and take in a few!

Kauai

Kauai is the northernmost island in Hawaii, and it’s a great choice for those who want to experience rugged natural landscapes and travel off the beaten path. It is the most undeveloped of the main islands, so it sees far fewer crowds, and you’ll get access to untamed nature like lush forests and white, sandy beaches.

Highlights here include the trails of Kokee State Park and Waimea Canyon (cited as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”). Wailua Falls is a popular waterfall, and Poipu Beach was voted one of America’s best beaches.

Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

Maui

Maui is a great choice for those who love beaches, hiking, and food. This is the second largest island in the Hawaiian chain, and many believe it is home to some of the best beaches in the world.

Maui highlights include whale watching in Lahaina Town as well as driving the Road to Hana — one of the most scenic drives in the world. Travelers to Maui also enjoy the many hiking trails that wind past waterfalls and through volcanic national parks. Of course, there’s also a great restaurant scene here. Foodies flock here for Hawai’ian regional cuisine.

The Road to Hana, Maui

Hawai’i – The Big Island

The big island is aptly named — it is larger than the rest of the islands combined, and because of this, travelers can experience 11 of the world’s climatic zones. This means everything from white sandy beaches and snow-capped mountains to waterfalls, rainforests and one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

Travelers interested in hiking, culture, and wildlife will love it here. Highlights include Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Historic Kailua-Kona Town, Waipio Valley, and Ka Lae (America’s southernmost point).

Haleakala

Oahu

Oahu is known as the “gathering place.” I you’re traveling internationally, you will first land here at Honolulu’s airport before making a domestic connection. However, Oahu itself has a lot to offer for those willing to spend some time before transiting. This is a great spot for travelers hoping for adventure with access to modern amenities, and the island offers a vibrant mix of cultural and natural wonders.

Highlights include surfing the North Shore’s famous giant waves, hiking along knife-edged pali (cliffs), and reliving American history with a visit to the Pearl Harbor museums. Waikiki Beach is also a big draw for international visitors because it’s considered Hawaii’s most iconic beach. Since this island gets major publicity, you can always find coupons, discounts and vacation deals.

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Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging since 2007, with the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure. Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

Photo credits: Featured photo by Paul Bica. Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii by Dhilung Kirat. Haleakala by David Schroeder. Pinterest image wave by Joe Parks

    28 Comments

  1. We have been to Maui, Kauai, and Oahu but never the big island! On our next trip we plan to make it there. Hawaii is always a good idea, we have been twice and we know we’ll be back.

    • Glad to hear you’re a big Hawaii fan too! We got married on Maui and loved it – great thing about having so many different options for islands is that it’s a great destination for multiple trips!

  2. I was lucky to spend Christmas 2015 in Kauai and it was unreal. The riptides aren’t so fun though..!Volcanoes National Park is on my list for next time :)

    • An amazing way to spend Christmas I bet! I would absolutely trade white snow for white sand any day :D

      You’ll love Volcanoes National Park Shannon :) Hope you have the chance to plan a trip back soon! X

  3. I’ve been to the Big Island and was really impressed with the scenery and how relaxing it was there. I’d love to visit Maui and Kauai. Thanks for the tips. I’ll definitely be going to Hawaii soon.

    • Maui is absolutely fabulous – it’s where we got married, so will always have a special place in my heart :) And you’ll absolutely love Kauai too :) Honestly, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with Hawaii regardless of which island you choose!

  4. I was very close going to Hawaii once but from where I ma from I needed over 24 h to get there but it’s still on my bucket list. My island of choice you probably be the Big Island

    • Definitely a long haul flight to get there, but once you do I promise it’s worth every hour you were in the air :)

  5. Great roundup Meg- I’ve been to Oahu before but always get confused about the other islands. I definitely need to head back and see the rest of them for myself!

    • Thanks Tamara! Haha there are a lot of them so it can definitely get confusing :) Feel free to reach out in the future if you’re planning a trip back and we would be happy to help X

  6. Such great info because I always get the islands mixed up! Maui would be my first Hawaiian stop because I absolutely want to do the Hana scenic drive and hike around the island.

    • My best tip for the road to Hana is to take out insurance on your rental car! It’s a super windy narrow road with cars coming at you the other way as you hug the cliff, lol and we were on edge the whole time not having insured it :D!!! But it’s an adventure and a beautiful drive; I’m sure you’ll love it!

  7. Kauai looks like my kind of island- off the beaten path and undeveloped, not to mention it looks like the highlands in Iceland!

    • Absolutely – Kauai and Iceland really do have very similar environmental traits!

  8. It has been so long since I’ve truly experienced the Hawaiian Islands. I’ve been back to the Big Island and Oahu for a day or two layover recently, but never had time to explore much. I’m dying to visit Hawaii Volcanoes NP and some of Maui’s beaches. And the scenery in Kauai looks absolutely stunning! I love how underdeveloped the island is and would go back in a heartbeat!

    • Kauai is definitely one of the most amazing places to be if you’re looking for that untouched, wild, off the beaten path kind of travel. Hope you have the chance to organize some island hopping throughout Hawaii soon!

  9. That’s a vacation that will indeed appeal to most people! I remember watching movies and tv shows set at Hawaii when I was a kid and really wanted to go. Now my bucket list is so long and it is not at one of the first places but still would love to visit if given the chance. Waikiki beach and the pearl harbor museum shouldn’t be missed. Thanks for the tips!

    • Absolutely, Hawaii has something for everyone! Hope you have the chance to make it there soon :) Maybe you can slot a couple of days in as a layover on-route home from something higher up on the bucket list :) Happy travels!

  10. It has been years since I visited Hawaii. I went to Oahu and Maui, but think I would now like the charms of The Big Island must more. Thanks for the guide in picking between them, I really had no idea the main differences.

    • It can definitely be confusing trying to figure out the difference between them … glad we could help out :)

  11. Nice roundup Meg. We’re headed there in a few weeks to visit both US National Parks. That will have us on Big Island and Maui with a little time left over for Oahu before heading home.

    • Thanks Carrick! Hope you have a fantastic trip!

  12. I am trying to plan a Honeymoon for my son. I am having anxiety about it. Which island would you recommend for a Honeymoon? Not a big crowd fan..

    • Hi Beth, I would go for Kauai. It’s a great honeymoon destination because it’s very secluded and has amazing natural beauty. It’s a very romantic place.

      Because it’s the most underdeveloped of the islands, you avoid the crowds, and you’ll get access to untamed nature like lush forests and white, sandy beaches.

      Hope that helps! I’m sure it will be an absolutely beautiful wedding, and he’s very lucky to have a mother who would surprise him with a honeymoon in Hawaii :)

      All the best X

  13. Your comment on the Road to Hana on Maui brought back so many memories! I learned a lot about leaving enough time for activities on that trip. We had planned the trip too tight and once on the Road to Hana (which is really one way so you are totally stuck going forward and can not turn around) we realized we were BARELY going to have enough time to make it back to catch our flight to the next island. I spent the entire trip on the back floorboard of the car – praying. LOL! It was twisty and looking out the window it looked straight down!!!! a very long way down!! LOL! Note to self…allow enough time for traffic and slow sight seers on the Road to Hana.

    Last summer we went to the Big Island as a family and had the most wonderful time. We saw the volcano that has been erupting since 1938, swam with the dolphins, visited a chocolate farm and attended a luau – and made wonderful travel memories! We read before we went from the reading list I put together on the destination of Hawaii.

    Great breakdown of all the different islands. There are several more I still want to visit!

    • So glad to hear you’ve enjoyed your time on the islands Natalie … yes, the Road to Hanna always seems to produce a unique experience for the travelers daring enough to take the road!!

      It sounds like you had the most amazing family trip to the Big Island and managed to get a lot in … there really is so much to do, you could definitely spend many, many trips heading back and checking out a different island each time you do :D!

      Maybe we’ll bump into you somewhere in Hawaii soon! :)

  14. I’ve visited Maui may times for work and would go back for a family vacation in a heartbeat. Love it!

    • It’s a pretty incredible island!

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