Hawaii Or Fiji? Which Island Paradise To Choose?

Hawaii or Fiji
Photo by BPhelan on Pixabay
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Hawaii or Fiji? We really do envy you if that’s the choice you have to make this year. These are two downright stunning Pacific destinations. They each come sloshed by frothing waves that hide whale pods and dolphins. They each boast runs of gleaming sand strewn with coconut husks and threaded with palms. They each come dressed in wild rainforests carved by gurgling streams and ancient volcanos.

Bucket-list adventures abound in both island nations. You’ll go from hiking the great knife-edge ridges of the Waimea Canyon to witnessing the majesty of the Na Pali Coast or surfing the beaches of Waikiki in the Aloha State. Over in Fiji, vacay time can be set aside to tread the talcum-powder sands of the Mamanuca Islands, to meet manta rays on the Yasawa reefs, and to encounter parrots in the jungles of Koroyanitu. But where should you visit this year?

Don’t worry, we’re here to help with that. It’s not going to be an easy decision, but there are a few key things to consider when picking between these two spots. The truth is that they’re actually quite different. Some 3,150 miles apart from each other, they have differing climates, different sorts of beaches, different hotel options, and require totally different travel plans and budgets.

Getting there and around

A flight to Fiji
Photo by Alec Douglas/Unsplash

Possibly the most significant factor in your vacation planning is the ease of access, which all depends on where you’re coming from. Hawaii is a five-hour flight from LA, but Fiji is double that with a flight time of 10 hours. However, if you’re coming from Australia or New Zealand, maybe adding a tropical break onto a longer trip, you can fly to Fiji in just three or four hours, but Hawaii would take you around nine in all.

That said, Hawaii is generally the easier of the two places to get to for the vast majority of people around the globe. That’s mainly because there are WAY more direct and indirect flights heading to its biggest airport in Honolulu, largely because more airlines connect through the US than connect through hubs in the Southern Hemisphere.

Once you reach your chosen archipelago, you need to decide whether to stay put or go exploring. Hawaii is made up of over 100 islands, but we generally only count the six major islands that tourists can visit. Each of these islands is a fantastic destination in itself, but you can get reasonably cheap, quick flights between them all if you want to explore further.

Most visitors to Fiji arrive on the largest island, Viti Levu, and then venture further out from there. Fiji is made up of 333 islands, and as a general rule, the further you go from Viti Levu, the more beautiful and remote the islands become. You can take ferries between the islands or fly for a faster but more expensive option. The Mamanucas are one of the most popular island groups, located just a 30-minute flight or one-hour ferry from Viti Levu. Alternatively, the most intrepid explorers can head to the far-flung Lau Islands via one of the weekly (yes, weekly!) scheduled planes, by chartering a flight or boat, or joining the locals and going by cargo boat. 

Winner: Hawaii is generally more accessible for most travelers and easier to get around.

History and culture

Fiji's Polynesian culture is prevalent in everyday life.
Photo by Vijesh Datt/Unsplash

Both of these island nations are steeped in the rich history of the Polynesian people who first populated the islands. However, Hawaii, as a part of the United States, has also been heavily influenced by Western culture. The current population holds only around 10% native Hawaiian islanders today, and you’ll notice a distinctly American style to the infrastructure, the architecture, and the ethos. 

You can find pockets of authentic Hawaiian culture, but you might have to hunt it out. Around the resorts, it can all feel a bit staged for the benefit of the huge tourism industry. The Polynesian Cultural Centre on Oahu is one of the best places to head for a cultural experience that is about education rather than pure profit. There, you’ll get to see traditional hula dancing and attend lau evenings of Hawaiian cuisine.

Visitors will also want to head to Oahu for the Pearl Harbour Memorial site. There, they can view monuments, memorials, and museums dedicated to the tragic events of 1941 and pay their respects to those who lost their lives.

In Fiji, Polynesian culture is still prevalent. In fact, 54% of the population is composed of native Fijians, and their authentic traditions and customs are everywhere, built into everyday life. The second-largest population group is Fijian-Indians, descendants of the Indian people who came to Fiji in the 1800s. They also have a unique culture and cooking tradition.

Winner: Fiji has to win here. The island isn’t so dedicated a travel destination and has more palpable Polynesian roots. 

The beaches

Beaches in Hawaii and Fiji
Photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri/Unsplash

Look – there’s going to be a paradise beach waiting for you no matter where you choose, Fiji or Hawaii. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the various sorts of beaches to expect in each location…

First off: Hawaii. The six main islands of the Aloha State each have their own standout beaches. In Oahu, we’d say that’s the buzzy strips of Waikiki (Honolulu’s original resort). In Maui, we’d say the honor goes to the cinnamon-tinged sands of Kaanapali. In Kauai, it’s surely the incredible horseshoe bay of Hanalei or the wild coves of the Na Pali Coast. For the most part (Na Pali, being the exception), the beaches in Hawaii are super accessible. You just drive up and park. They’re also a bit more varied in look than the ones in Fiji – some are rugged and wild, others are pristine and soft.

Next: Fiji. We defy anyone to find beaches that could top the ones that string up the Mamanuca Islands. Silky sands slope a few degrees into turquoise waters dotted with clusters of coral gardens. Coconut palms hover, Robinson Crusoe-like, over the bays. There are deluxe hotels just behind for the honeymooners. This is paradise on Earth. And that’s just scratching the surface. You also get the stunners of Denarau Island, the castaway beach of Monuriki, Viti Levu’s own Natadola – it’s endless. They might not be as accessible as Hawaii’s but they are downright idyllic.

Winner: Fiji steals this one. Hawaii has some gorgeous beaches but Fiji could have the best in the whole world!

Watersports

Fiji is the soft coral capital of the world.
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Both of these destinations are a paradise for snorkelers, offering warm, clear waters teeming with fish life. Hawaii has excellent snorkeling and dive sites, like protected Hanauma Bay, the dramatic Molokini Crater, and the Kona coast, where you can snorkel with manta rays. 

However, Fiji is known as the soft coral capital of the world and offers an unparalleled underwater experience. Head to Taveuni to snorkel the famously vibrant Rainbow Reef, or visit Kadavu Island to dive the 100km long Great Astrolabe Reef, home to turtles, sea snakes, reef sharks, eels, pufferfish, and sea horses. Or you can just wade in off any of the beaches in these parts to snorkel with all manner of underwater wonders. 

If you’d rather stay on top of the water, then your options are endless in either location. Kayaking, SUP boarding, sailing, and fishing are available all over these islands. And of course, there’s the surfing. Hawaii is world-famous for its waves, and the surf culture is a part of everyday life. Take lessons on famous Waikiki Beach, or test your skills against some of the best breaks in the world. Fiji might not be quite so famous, but it’s not short of a break or two. Pro surfers can find world-class waves on the Mamanucas, while beginners can learn the art of wave riding on the main island of Viti Levu. 

Winner: If you have a passion for diving and snorkeling, we’d recommend Fiji. If surfing world-famous waves is your dream, it has to be Hawaii. 

Natural beauty

Hawaii's natural landscape is stunning
Photo by Braden Jarvis/Unsplash

Hawaii is unquestionably one of the most eye-wateringly gorgeous states in the USA. Of the major islands in the chain, it’s the Garden Isle of Kauai that we think stands out from the crowd – it’s even nicknamed The Garden Isle. Most travelers there stick to the horseshoe bay of Poipu in the south. Those who venture north will be stunned by the majesty of the Na Pali coast, a land of sinewy cliffs colored green that tumble straight into the roaring ocean. Close by, the Waimea Canyon is hailed as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and the Kōkeʻe State Park is covered in jungles and peaks with lookout points.

And that’s just one island of many. We should also mention the incredible Haleakalā National Park in Maui, where you’ll find Mars-like landscapes of dusty red rock rolling high above the tropical coasts, and the otherworldly Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, which showcases steaming calderas and fumaroles over on Big Island. Amazing, amazing stuff.

Most of Fiji’s population lives on just two islands. There are 333 more, leaving hundreds of deserted, untouched, and undeveloped places to explore. Mostly, it’s the shorelines here that hit the headlines (and the covers of travel brochures!). In lots of places, they are the picture of paradise – take the sugar-soft sands and turquoise seas of the Mamanuca Islands as just one example. But they also pass through wild mangrove swamps and come fringed with reef systems where you can dive in to meet sea kraits and octopuses.

Inland, Fiji might not be quite as dramatic as the Aloha State overall. But there are a few places to see. Chief among them is surely the Koroyanitu National Park, where huge waterfalls spill off table mountains in the jungles and colossal kauri trees gaze down from overhead.

Winner: Hawaii.

Nightlife

if you're looking for nightlife, Hawaii is much more lively than Fiji
Photo by Coconut Gf on Pixabay

This is one category where Fiji simply cannot compare. Hawaii is the outright winner for its thriving nightlife. Each of the main islands of Hawaii has its own nightlife hub, like the Kona coast of The Big Island or Lahaina in Maui. But real party hunters will want to head to Honolulu on Oahu. There, you’ll find everything from dive bars to world-class clubs and cabaret nights to rooftop lounges overlooking Waikiki Beach.

You’ll also find a huge range of restaurants serving global cuisine from right across the Americas and Asia. Choose from American chains, high-end fusion restaurants, five-star eateries to and family-run diners. You’ve got sleek sushi joints and grill houses on the Waikiki strip next to sizzling soy noodle bays in Chinatown. But you’ve also got authentically Hawaiian joints and budget-friendly options in those parts if you look for them. 

In Fiji, you’ll find a couple of nightlife hubs, mostly around Nadi in Viti Levu. But once you head out to the smaller islands, nightlife is really not on the agenda. Then it’s more about peaceful sunset cocktails, maybe accompanied by a local acoustic band or some entertainment laid on by your resort.

The restaurants in Fiji are all about the traditional Polynesian fare. So, if you love tropical fruit, freshly caught seafood, and an abundance of coconut, prepare to delight your taste buds. Of course, the high number of Indian residents means you’ll also find excellent South Asian food, but you won’t find many other global cuisines or fine dining options. All in all, the nightlife is tame and relaxed in Fiji compared to in Hawaii.

Winner: Hawaii has the liveliest nightlife, no questions.

Budget

sadly neither of these destinations is a budget friendly choice.
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Sadly, neither of these vacation spots come cheap. Hawaii is consistently listed as one of the most expensive places to visit in the US. It offers few budget accommodation options and is packed with expensive bucket-list activities like helicopter flights over active volcanoes, ATV tours, bungee jumping, and skydiving. All that plus high-end restaurants and bars, and the opportunity to do some luxury shopping in Honolulu, and you can spend money easily in the land of Aloha. 

Flights to Fiji aren’t cheap, and cruising between the islands to find your perfect spot will take a chunk out of your budget. But, once you’re on your dream island, you’re likely to spend less than you would in Hawaii. While you can find those same bucket-list activities if you want to, the pace of life is calmer, and you’re encouraged to spend more time relaxing and soaking up the scenery. Here, your money will likely be spent on sun lounger cocktails, snorkel rental, and handmade souvenirs from the traditional craft markets, not to mention the lux hotel you stay at.. 

Winner: It totally depends on where you travel from. Come from the US and Europe and it’s Hawaii. Travel from Asia or Australia and it’s Fiji.

Hawaii or Fiji: Conclusion

Hawaii or Fiji is a truly difficult one to pick. These are two of the planet’s most idyllic tropical paradises. They both offer that Robinson Crusoe hit of somewhere totally remote in the midst of the Pacific Ocean, with surf breaks and snorkeling reefs by the bucket load. However, they also have clear differences…

First off, Fiji is WAY further and harder to reach from the US. It can cost a packet to get there and is best done from Australia or New Zealand. Fiji is also way less developed than the Aloha State, with over 300 islands that usually have just one or two places to stay, or none at all, despite the main island of Vitu Levu. The vibe here is all about escaping the Rat Race to picture-perfect isles of wisp-white sand and azure seas, places like the Mamanuca Islands and others.

Hawaii is a more rounded destination. It’s easier to reach from the US thanks to the regular bunch of flights that go to Honolulu. From there, you can hit the party strips of Waikiki or go venture up to the wild Na Pali Coast, you can explore WWII history at Pearl Harbor or hike trails along the amazing Waimea Canyon. All in all, it’s likely to be a livelier trip with more potential activities on the menu.

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Anita is from Wales and has been a travel addict since her first trip to Australia ten years ago. Since then she's lived and worked in Oz, New Zealand and Canada, worked many ski seasons and travelled widely through South East Asia, Morocco, India and Europe. She's a nomad, freelance writer, foodie, compulsive reader, tea addict and animal lover.