Kona is located on the Big Island and is one of the main tourist destinations in the country. Situated along the west coast of the biggest island in Hawaii, Kona is primarily known for its beach attractions and bustling city center.
Maui is a separate island from the famous Big Island. However, it offers just as many amazing tourist attractions and destinations. Maui’s charm draws avid beachgoers and thrill-seekers. So, how do you choose where to go between Maui and Kona?
Maui is the second-largest island comprising Hawaii. It is located northwest of the Big Island and features lush forests, rugged terrains, and amazing beaches.
Maui’s tourism primarily banks on its out-of-this-world beauty. The grandiose Haleakala Volcano dominates the island’s landscape. However, there is still so much more to explore up the mountains and under the sea that comprises Maui.
Visitors can find different accommodation options perfect for lone travelers, couples, and families. Maui has several high-end hotels, family resorts, as well as quaint bed & breakfasts, and house rentals.
People visiting Maui can best enjoy the island with notably less crowd than the more popular Big Island or Oahu.
What Makes Maui Unique?
Dormant Volcano Adventures
The Haleakala volcano sits on the southeastern end of the island of Maui and is undoubtedly one of the most visited tourist attractions in the region. With the English name of East Maui volcano, Haleakala is recognized as the largest dormant volcano in the world.
Earlier volcanic activity from the Haleakala volcano formed most of Maui’s geography. The westernmost end of Maui was formed by a different volcano now listed as extinct.
The Haleakala volcano is a dominating feature in Maui island. Its highest peak reaches over 3,000 m (1.9 mi), making it a popular destination for hikers. However, this tourist destination is not just for hikers or adventure seekers to enjoy.
Skywatching at Haleakala’s Peak
Thousands of tourists visit the 122 sq km (47 sq mi) Haleakala National Park daily to explore more of Maui’s wilderness. The Haleakala summit is a popular spot for tourists to watch the sunrise above the clouds. At night, the peak becomes a hotspot for stargazing.
The height of the volcano’s summit and its distance from light pollution made it a suitable location for an astrophysical complex. Today, the Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing observatory features several ground-based telescopes. Although the research facility is not open to the public, the complex is the perfect place to watch the galaxies far and beyond.
Numerous Hiking Trails
Trips to Haleakala National Park do not end by reaching their peak. There are several other attractions and activities available for tourists to enjoy. Aside from watching the sunrise and waiting for the sunset at the summit, visitors at the park have several other hiking trails to choose from.
Some trails traverse the park’s unique landscapes and geography. The most popular hiking trail brings tourists up to the volcano’s summit. Others take visitors to alpine deserts, subalpine shrublands, and coastal districts.
Hiking at Haleakala National Park is perfect even for beginners. The elevation is not harsh and different trails vary in lengths from a mere 0.6 to 7.4 km (0.4 to 4.6 miles). Regardless, hiking through various parts of the national park would only take a couple of hours at most.
The Scenic Road to Hana
There is no better way to explore the island of Maui than taking a trip from one end of the island to the other. The renowned Road to Hana is a nearly 84-km or 52-mile long coastal road that takes tourists from the beach up the twisting mountains.
Also referred to as Highway 360, the Road to Hana is relatively short but the drive can be challenging. The trip starts at Kipahulu by the northern coast of the island and ends in Kalepa, Hana by the southeastern part of Maui.
Although relatively short, the scenic adventure takes roughly 10 to 12 hours to loop. Tourists need to note that driving through Maui’s mountain includes passing through 600 hairpin turns and 60 one-lane bridges.
However, the trip’s charm is not only the hour-long drive. It’s the numerous tourist attractions that people can drop by along the way:
Ho’okipa Beach Park
The Ho’okipa beach stretches through the towns of Paia and Haiku. Tourists taking Highway 360 can find the rugged coastline roughly 14 km (9 miles) from departing Kahalui.
Although not as developed as other beaches in Maui, Ho’okipa is actually a world-renowned windsurfing and surfing spot. It features impressive waves and strong winds that draw enthusiasts all over the globe.
Maui Garden of Eden
The Maui Garden of Eden is often considered a must for anyone traveling Highway 360. Only a mile or so away from Ho’okipa Beach, the Maui Garden of Eden is a world-class arboretum featuring over 700 plant species.
Created by Maui’s first ISA-certified arborist, the arboretum houses an art gallery. Aside from its beautiful garden and landscaping, it also has an overlook that offers amazing views of the island.
At mile marker 29 of Highway 360, tourists can find the Nahiku Marketplace. The Nahiku Marketplace is located along the eastern coast of the island, right along the highway. It features several local shops that offer food, souvenirs, and other local products.
The Nahiku Marketplace is an amazing stopover to enjoy a variety of cuisines from Hawaiian street food to ice-cold coffee. From here, the town of Hana is just about 10 km (6 miles) away.
Unlimited Waterfalls to Discover
Aside from the beaches, Maui’s landscape also includes numerous waterfalls tucked within lush rainforests. If you’re tired of the sand and the beach, you can take your adventure up the mountains and discover the majestic waterfalls hiding within.
Maui’s collection of waterfalls comes in different sizes. Some are tall streams falling down a gentle cascade while others come as a rush of water down multi-tier falls. This makes waterfall hopping in Maui even more exciting.
The Twin Falls in Maui is considered the most accessible waterfall attraction on the island. Situated right along the famous Road to Hana, it only takes a short hike up for tourists to reach the base of the falls. The site features two falls sitting side by side as they cascade down an open cave, thus the origin of its name.
Seven Sacred Pools
The Seven Sacred Pools are located within the Haleakala National Park. It features a series of natural freshwater pools flowing from one to the next. Getting to the Seven Sacred Pools requires a short hike through a scenic bamboo forest. Although beautiful, local authorities ask visitors to take caution when swimming in the pools.
The Honokohau Falls is known as the tallest waterfall on the island of Maui. Standing at about 335 m (1,100 ft), the majestic falls consists of two tiers of falls plunging down the lush mountainside. Honokohau Falls is not accessible by land and requires a thrilling helicopter ride to see.
Maui Culture and History
The Hawaiian island of Maui is rich in cultural attractions. Being named after the Polynesian mythological icon, the Polynesian natives and their traditions are significantly reflected in some of the island’s most popular tourist destinations.
Maui’s culture is not all about the tools and the luaus. The island also had a long history of being part of a British monarch. It also had its fair share of war, battles, and struggles.
Tourists visiting different cultural attractions can further appreciate Maui’s culture and history by visiting various museums, cultural centers, and other historic villages to gain firsthand experience.
Hana Cultural Center and Museum
Although often overlooked, the Hana Cultural Center and Museum is an amazing place for tourists to know more about the island’s history and culture. Founded by the town’s kupuna or wise elders, the goal of the cultural center is to preserve traditional Hawaiian culture and lifestyle.
Listed as part of the National Register of Historic Places, the museum complex features a quaint but expansive collection of artifacts that tells the town’s story. Visits to the museum also include an hour-long movie about Hana’s history and development.
Lahaina Town Historic Trail
The Lahaina town historic walking tour takes tourists through a series of culturally and historically relevant sites located close to each other. Those taking the tour can choose between a short 30- to 45-minute long trip or a longer 90-minute route. The sites included in this walking tour are:
“The Master’s Reading Room, The Baldwin Home Museum, Richards House, Taro Patch, Hauula Stone, The Brick Palace, The Old Lahaina Lighthouse, Pioneer Inn, Banyan Tree, Courthouse, The Fort, Canal and Government Market, The Episcopal Church, Hale Piula, Maluuluolele Park, Waiola Church, Waiola Cemetery, Hongwanji Mission, David Malo’s home, The Old Prison, The Episcopal Cemetery, Hale Aloha, Buddhist Church, The Luakini Street, Maria Lanakili Church, The Seamen’s Cemetery, The Wo Hing Museum, The U.S. Seamen’s Hospital”
Kona is the primary tourist hub in Hawaii’s Big Island. The North and South Kona districts dominate the western coast of the Big Island and are home to some of Hawaii’s most famous tourist attractions. Kailua-Kona is regarded as the center of the North and South districts, making it the heart of Kona’s tourism industry.
Kona is known for its bright, sunny, and often dry climate. This makes both the North Kona and South Kona districts popular beach spots. Along with its vast collection of pristine beaches, Kona is an amazing summer destination. It draws millions of visitors each year, primarily families and nature lovers.
Kona is world-renowned as the home of the grueling Ironman World Championship Triathlon. It also features several cultural attractions and activities perfect for adventure-seeking individuals.
What makes Kona unique?
Hawaiian Beach Trips
Given that Kona is most often blazing under the sun, its tourism banks highly on beach activities and outdoor adventures. The Kona district hugs the western coast of the Big Island. This provides a long stretch of coast with different geographies and landscapes.
Beaches close to the tourist center of Kailua-Kona are well-developed and lined with accommodations. However, beaches in other parts of the Kona district are a lot more quirky and diverse while still keeping their tropical Hawaiian charm.
The Hapuna beach is one of the most popular beaches on the Big Island. Only a mere 45-minute drive from Kona, the Hapuna beach stretches for roughly 1 km (1/2 mile) and is a popular destination for families. Hapuna beach is the largest white sand beach located in Big Island and it often draws tons of crowds.
The Manini’owali Beach is the perfect sandy paradise for those looking for a more private swim spot. Located roughly 24 km (15 miles) northwest of Kona, the Manini’owali Beach is typically not as crowded as those found closer to the Kailua-Kona center. It is characterized by soft white sand and clear, calm waters best for a quick swim or basic snorkel.
Water Expeditions and Underwater Adventures
Activities at Kona are not limited to the beach. Instead, tourists are encouraged to explore more of the Big Island’s biodiversity under the sea. Kona boasts of the numerous snorkeling and diving spots in the region.
The world-renowned Two Step lies 48 km (30 miles) south of Kona. It is considered one of the most beautiful snorkeling and diving spots in the region because of its clear waters and colorful reefs. It is also home to a variety of marine species including dolphins, monk seals, manta rays, and green sea turtles.
Other popular snorkeling sites in the Kona region are Kealakekua Bay in downtown Kona, Ho’okena in North Kona, and Beach 69 in South Kona.
Tourists can also spot whales along the Waikoloa coastline right by Kona. The stretch of the Kona-Kohala coast on the western side of the Big Island is recognized as one of the best areas to spot humpback whales.
Humpback whales from Alaska migrate to the warmer waters of Hawaii during the winter season. From December to March, these gorgeous creatures frequent the area. Because of this occurrence, the Kona-Kohala coastline is added as part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
A Melting Pot of Hawaiian Culture and History
Aside from the Big Island’s undeniable beauty, tourists visiting Kona can also see and appreciate Hawaii’s culture and history. The Kona region is home to several national historical parks. These parks celebrate and preserve the island’s long history and years-long tradition.
Puuhonua-o-Honaunau National Historical Park
Considered as one of the island’s most important historic sites, the area was once a place of refuge and home to royalty. The Puuhonua-o-Honaunau National Historical Park covers roughly 180 acres (72 ha) and is widely considered one of Hawaii’s most sacred sites.
In Hawaiian culture, sacred laws are extremely important. Breaking such laws come with severe consequences such as death. A ceremony of absolution allows them to avoid such consequences and be accepted back into society. The Puuhonua-o-Honaunau is a sacred place of refuge where such ceremonies occur.
Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
The Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park was established in 1978 and features both of Big Island’s beauty and history. Stretching along the coast of the Kona district, the historical park covers 1,161 acres (470 ha). It consists of several well-marked trails passing through different sections of the park.
Aside from its scenic landscape, the national historical park is home to an archeological site. The Honokohau settlement is a National Historic Landmarked location and was listed as part of the National Register of Historic Places in the 1960s.
Hawaii Air Explorations
The Big Island is naturally beautiful. It features lush rainforests, grandiose mountain ranges, active volcanoes, and amazing beaches. Heading to these locations by land or via boat is one way to explore Kona’s scenic landscapes. However, helicopter tours are also a popular way to visit Kona’s most famous tourist attractions.
Traveling on a helicopter brings out a different kind of thrill to Kona’s beauty. These tours allow tourists to view and appreciate the island’s gorgeous landscapes. Helicopter tours provide a different kind of experience depending on the tour option.
Kona or Maui – Which Is Better?
People traveling to Hawaii typically think of a summer paradise with beaches lined with palm trees. They imagine themselves lounging under the blazing sun with a cold drink on hand.
However, vacations in Hawaii can be more than just the beach and the sand. Maui and Kona are both popular tourist destinations in Hawaii. They draw thousands of visitors each year because of their unique charm.
Kona is considered a tourist hub. The region is developed to become a tourist attraction and world-class destination. Because of its natural beauty, Kona became an extremely popular spot for beach and water activities. Its coastline features different beach types and the sea is home to beautiful coral reefs and diverse marine life.
Tourists traveling to Kona can find a wide selection of activities. They can explore world-class snorkeling sites and watch humpback whales swim around. Visiting Kona’s historical parks also allows them to learn more about Hawaii’s culture.
Maui’s beauty is on par with Kona. However, Maui’s charm draws those who seek adventure and enjoy the outdoors. Maui’s tourist attractions celebrate the island’s beauty and encourage exploration.
Tourists can take their adventures from Maui’s dormant volcano, collection of waterfalls, and gorgeous coast. Polynesian culture is also reflected in Maui’s handful of cultural centers and museums.
It is hard to choose which is more beautiful between Kona and Maui. However, it is possible to say that Maui explores more of its mountains while Kona celebrates the sea.
So if you prefer the mountains over the sea or the other way around, maybe this can help you decide where to travel next.
Is Kona Cheaper Than Maui?
Between Kona and Maui, the island of Maui draws more tourists each year. Considering its popularity, tourism in Maui quickly developed into a hub. On the other hand, the Big Island is considered one of the cheapest destinations in Hawaii compared to the other islands.
Maui offers a wide array of tourist destinations wherever you are on the island. Because of this popularity, most commodities in Maui tend to be inflated. Prices for food, transportation, accommodation, and activities cost the same wherever you are.
However, Kona remains a quaint rural district in Big Island. Only certain areas of Kona are developed to become tourist hubs which allow certain parts of the district to keep their prices low.
Traveling to Maui tends to be pricier than in Kona. Some say that a daily budget of $100 is enough in Kona while Maui needs somewhere between $150 to $250.
Is Kona in Maui?
Kona is a district located in the largest Hawaiian island commonly referred to as the “Big Island.” The district covers most of the island’s western coast.
Maui is one of the eight major islands that comprise Hawaii and it is separate from the Big Island where Kona is located. It lies west of Big Island and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region.
Is Kona Near Maui?
Maui is the island that sits right by the northwestern coast of the Big Island. Traveling to Kona from Maui has a total distance of roughly 118 km (73 miles). That distance is near for, say, an airplane.
The most common transportation from Kona to Maui is via plane or the occasional cruise ship.
How Can I Get From Kona to Maui?
The Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA) at the Keahole is the primary transportation hub in the Kona region. It offers flights from Kona heading directly to the nearby island of Maui.
Several airlines offer nonstop flights from Kona to the Kahalui Airport (OGG) and the Kapalua Airport (JHM) in Maui. The Hawaiian Airlines and Ohana by Hawaiian have at least twenty-five flights to Maui daily. On the other hand, Mokulele Airlines offer at least fifteen flights each day.
The average flight time from Maui to Kona is about 30 to 45 minutes. This depends on the location of the airport for departure from Kona and the airport for arrival at Maui.
Is There a Ferry From Maui to Kona?
There are no ferry services available for tourists to travel from the island of Maui to Kona. The only option is to fly from one of Maui’s airports and land at the Kona International airport on the western side of Big Island.
How Long Is the Boat Ride From Kona to Maui?
Despite the lack of public ferry services, private vessels can still travel from the Big Island to Maui via boat. The Alenuihaha crossing is a renowned route from Maui to the Big Island. However, it is known to be extremely dangerous and treacherous.
The total distance between the islands using this channel is roughly 48 km (30 miles). The channel, although relatively short, features a 2.1 km (7,000 ft) abyss and is characterized by choppy waters.
Given the general sea condition, a boat ride passing through the Alenuihaha crossing can take about an hour or two depending on the boat’s speed.