Imagine crystal clear waters, picturesque beaches, surfing, warm temperatures and snorkeling. That’s exactly what Honolulu and Maui have to offer.

Maui and Oahu, the island where Honolulu is located, are the most visited of the eight Hawaiian islands and they’re the typical picture of a Hawaiian holiday. They’re a popular choice among first timers and offer a lot of amenities for tourists, such as hotels and resorts, shopping malls, restaurants and tours.

Which one should you choose? Here you will find some things to keep in mind to help you decide where to go.

Location and accessibility

With nearly 1 million residents, Oahu, aka the Gathering Place, it’s the cultural and economical center of Hawaii and is visited by more than 5 million tourists every year.

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Honolulu is home to the biggest airport in the archipelago and receives flights from all over the world. Several major airlines such as Swiss Air, United, Air New Zealand or Hawaiian Airlines, offer 10-hour direct flights from New York for around $650.

If you want to save some money, there are options for $500 with one stop in Los Angeles, San Francisco or Phoenix. Hawaiian Airlines, Air Canada and some other airlines, also have direct flights from the west coast for less than $400.

A flight from the main European cities to Honolulu takes around 24 hours and starts at $800.

Maui is the second most visited island in Hawaii after Oahu, and it’s famous for its beautiful beaches and beachfront resorts. Several airlines offer flights with one stop from New York for around $550 and direct connections from Los Angeles for nearly $400.

Similarly to Honolulu, a typical flight from Europe takes roughly 24 hours but costs $1000.

Maui vs Honolulu: When to go

Honolulu receives half of all the visitors that arrive in Hawaii so planning when to go is especially important to avoid crowds and high prices.

Honolulu enjoys warm temperatures year round and Oahu is said to be the island with the best weather in Hawaii. Most tourists arrive between June and August during the summer months, and between December and April. It goes without saying that during these periods plane tickets and hotels rates are at their highest.

Considering accommodation prices, weather and crowds, the best months to visit Honolulu are May, September and October.

Maui, on the other hand, has pleasant weather during the whole year but has more rainfall from November to March. Additionally, most visitors flock there between June and August, and December and March. During these months, the island is at its busiest and accommodation is more expensive making the ideal months to go April, May, September, and early October.

Maui vs Honolulu: Things to do

Honolulu and the surrounding areas are famous for its scenic beaches, water sports and waves making it an ideal destination for beach and surf lovers.

With views to the famous Diamond Head and great snorkelling, Waikiki is the most popular beach and it’s full of resorts, restaurants and shops. Not too far away you also have the spectacular Lanikai, which is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. For surfing fans, the North Shore is the best option with its world-renowned beaches such as Pipeline, Sunset and Waimea Bay.

Another must-see in Honolulu is the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor where you can soak up in history visiting two museums. Even though the entrance is free, there is a daily limit on visitors so it’s a good idea to book your spot in advance. If you want a cultural experience, the Polynesian Cultural Center and Paradise Cove Luau are great places to visit.

For those who are more active, the Diamond Head State Monument is a popular place for hikers and offers stunning views of the coast and the city of Honolulu.

Maui, on the other hand, offers beautiful beaches (some even with black sand), calm waters with great snorkeling spots, a wide variety of shopping areas and famous sunsets.

For travelers who like the outdoors, Maui has got you covered. The Road to Hana, a highway that stretches for 64 miles and goes through beautiful beaches and waterfalls, is definitely a must, as well as a trip to the famous Haleakala, the largest dormant volcano on the planet.

Additionally, Maui is famous for being a world-class whale watching destination, so if you happen to visit the island from November to May, book a tour and don’t miss your chance to see the humpback whales migration.

Maui vs Honolulu: Accommodation

Oahu and Maui are the most developed islands for tourists and even though they’re usually more expensive than the others, they both offer plenty of accommodation options for every budget.

Oahu has hotels and resorts all around the island, although many are concentrated in Honolulu and Waikiki Beach. Even though it can vary with the seasons, you can find a bed in a hostel dorm from $40 per night, affordable private rooms for $150, 4-star hotels for $350 per night, and exclusive beach front houses for $700 and above.

In Maui, most of the accommodation can be found in the south or west side of the island.  A bed in a hostel dorm starts at $50 per night, a 3-star hotel with nice facilities will cost you around $250, and a more exclusive beachfront resort will set you back $600.

The Food

Hawaiian cuisine is a reflection of its diverse demographics and ethnicities and incorporates varied flavours. Many famous Hawaiian dishes were brought over from the Polynesian and Asian islands, while also having American and European influences.

Oahu and Maui are probably the two islands that offer more diversity when it comes to food. You have your pick of international and local dishes no matter your budget.

Apart from the famous kalua pig (pork wrapped in banana leaves), poi (taro root paste), lomi lomi salmon (salted salmon usually served with tomato and onion), luau stew (beef brisket cooked with taro leaves) and saimin (also known as the Hawaiian ramen), Oahu is famous for its delicious shrimp, especially near the North Shore.

In Maui you can taste all the traditional Hawaiian dishes as well as some artisanal goat cheeses.

On both islands, you can expect to pay around $60 for a meal for two people in a good restaurant and between $80 and $100 for a more upscale option. If you get out of the tourist areas, you can find local places that offer some dishes for less than $20 per person.

Maui vs Honolulu: Cost

Generally speaking, as Honolulu and Maui are the two most visited places in Hawaii, they tend to be more expensive than other islands. However, it’s also possible to enjoy both destinations without spending a lot of money.

Oahu has a wide selection of shopping malls, restaurants and entertainment areas, especially around Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, so it’s a place where you could easily spend a lot of money. The good news is that there are also many free (or almost free) things you can do to enjoy your time in this beautiful island such as trek the Diamond Head, visit the USS Arizona Memorial or enjoy one of the countless beaches on Oahu.

In terms of accommodation, shopping and eating, Maui isn’t the cheapest island. Having said that, there are local restaurants and shops that offer great value for money and will allow you to have a more authentic Hawaiian experience.

Overall, in both islands you can expect to spend between $150 and $250 per person per day including accommodation, food and activities.

Get around

The best way to explore both Honolulu and Oahu is by renting a car which will normally cost between $40 and $50 per day.

However, if you plan to have a more relaxed holiday sticking to the main cities and occasionally doing a day trip, taxis or local transportation will has got you covered.

Did you know?

  • 85% of all the inhabitants in Hawaii live on Oahu and it receives half of the more than 10 million tourists that arrive every year
  • Maui is also known as the Valley Isle due to the large portion of low land between its two volcanoes, Mauna Kahalawai and Haleakala
  • Lanikai Beach’s popularity increased considerably after Barack Obama spent some vacations there between 2008 and 2012.

Maui vs Honolulu: The Verdict

Oahu and Maui are the two most visited islands in Hawaii and the top choice for first-timers.

Honolulu is the most populated and developed island and is famous for its spectacular beaches and great waves. It’s the island where you will find the widest variety of hotels, shopping, restaurants and nightclubs. Additionally, it has a couple of interesting historical and cultural sites such as the Pearl Harbor memorial, the Polynesian Cultural Center or the Paradise Cove Luau. If you like the outdoors, you could climb the famous Diamond Head and enjoys the views of Honolulu.

On the other hand, Maui is a great choice for those who want to enjoy beautiful beaches and also spend some time snorkeling and hiking. Even though there are condos, hotels, many restaurants and shopping areas, it’s not as crowded as Oahu. Apart from its beautiful coast, Maui offers excellent outdoor activities such as the Haleakala volcano and the famous Road to Hana.