Caribbean vs. Hawaii: How to Choose

If you’re trying to decide whether to go to the Caribbean or Hawaii, we can help! This comparison of the Caribbean vs. Hawaii will cover similarities and differences between these amazing tropical destinations so you can choose the best one for your trip.

Caribbean vs. Hawaii Quick Take

Both the Caribbean and Hawaii are gorgeous and fun tropical destinations that are perfect for all types of travelers. There are some significant differences that will help you decide, including distance from the U.S., types of accommodations and activities, and cost.

Caribbean vs. Hawaii Overview

Although some people wonder, is Hawaii in the Caribbean?, it is not. Hawaii is located in the Pacific Ocean about 2500 miles away from California. It is in a much different time zone than the U.S. (3 hours earlier than the West Coast), whereas most Caribbean islands are in the same time zone as the East Coast of the U.S.

You may also wonder, is Hawaii like the Caribbean? The answer to this is yes and no. While Hawaii and the Caribbean share many similarities, there are some major differences as well. We’ll go into these in detail in our comparison of the Caribbean vs. Hawaii, but here are the basic ones.

Both Hawaii and the Caribbean are tropical island destinations with breathtaking beaches, vividly colored water, palm trees, fascinating local culture, historic sites, delicious food including fresh seafood, a huge variety of outdoor activities, and warm weather all year round.

Beautiful summer afternoon at the outer wall with sentry box of fort San Felipe del Morro in old San Juan in Puerto Rico
Beautiful summer afternoon at the outer wall with sentry box of fort San Felipe del Morro in old San Juan in Puerto Rico

However, Hawaii is a U.S. state, while most Caribbean islands are either independent nations or territories of foreign countries. The exceptions are Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which are territories of the United States (so no passport is needed here for US citizens).

Hawaii is made up of four main islands: Oahu, Maui, the Big Island, and Kauai. There are more than 20 different Caribbean islands.

Also, Hawaii is a lot further away from the U.S. than islands in the Caribbean, especially if you live on the East Coast. But even from the middle of the country, flights to Hawaii can be twice as long as those to the furthest Caribbean islands. In general, you can reach most Caribbean islands from the U.S. within one to four hours. Even from the West Coast, flights to Hawaii take at least five hours.

Both areas offer a range of islands with breathtaking beaches and jaw-dropping water. However, there are more islands in the Caribbean than in Hawaii. And while Caribbean islands are quite varied, including scrubby and desert-like landscapes, mountainous and volcanic landscapes, and lush tropical rainforest landscapes, the Hawaiian islands are somewhat similar. They are all volcanic in origin with lush jungles as well as lava landscapes and sandy beaches, but they range in size and age. Kauai is the oldest, lushest, and least developed.

The Caribbean vs Hawaii reddit thread points out that Hawaii has suffered from overtourism, and many native Hawaiians ask people to reconsider visiting there, so this is something to take into consideration when deciding on your trip.

Caribbean vs. Hawaii Weather

While both Hawaii and the Caribbean are warm all year round, there are some major weather differences. The weather in Hawaii tends to average about the same all year and is generally milder than that of the Caribbean, which can get quite a bit hotter in the summer.

You can also find a range of weather types on each Hawaiian island, which has a dry side and a rainy side, as well as major elevation changes. For example, there are mountains on the Big Island that can have snow. Caribbean islands are much smaller and tend to have the same weather across the entire island.

Both areas, however, are subject to severe storms—Hawaii to tropical cyclones, and the Caribbean to hurricanes (except for a few islands outside the belt including Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao). The season for storms in both areas is June to November. If you travel during these months, be sure to get travel insurance.

The best time to visit Hawaii for good weather is outside of that season, or December to May.

The best time to visit the Caribbean for good weather is in the winter.

If you want to see whales, you can do so in both places. In Hawaii, humpback whale season is November to May. In the Caribbean, it’s mid-January to March.

Caribbean vs. Hawaii Cost

If you’re trying to decide between these two areas, you’re probably wondering, is it cheaper to go to Hawaii or the Caribbean? The answer depends on several things, including where you’re traveling from, the time of year you go, and what sorts of activities and accommodations you book.

However, in general, Hawaii is said to be more expensive than the Caribbean. Of course, there are some Caribbean islands (and resorts) that can be incredibly pricey, so it really depends on where you want to go. Some of the most expensive Caribbean islands are St. Barts, Mustique, Anguilla, and private island resorts like Jumby Bay off the coast of Antigua and Cayo Espanto off the coast of Belize.

If you happen to live on the West Coast where there are plenty of nonstop flights to Hawaii, then Hawaii may be less expensive for you to visit than the Caribbean. But for most people, Caribbean destinations will be less expensive than Hawaii. Some of the most affordable Caribbean islands are the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico.

Caribbean vs. Hawaii Atmosphere

Both the Caribbean and Hawaii will have distinct differences in atmosphere due to their cultural heritage and history, but Hawaii (and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) will have a more American feeling as well as familiar conveniences—and the same currency.

However, Hawaii also has a significant Asian influence in addition to its Polynesian heritage, resulting in a unique atmosphere that isn’t found anywhere in the Caribbean.

The culture on Caribbean islands varies widely depending on the particular island’s history. Influences come from the indigenous populations as well as settlers from the U.S. and/or European countries such as Britain, Holland, Portugal, Spain, and France– and, unfortunately, often the slaves they brought over from African countries.

Some Caribbean islands have a European feel, while others have their own slant on the Caribbean vibe.

Punda boardwalk in Curacao's capital of Willemstad
Punda boardwalk in Curacao’s capital of Willemstad

Caribbean vs. Hawaii Accommodations

The Caribbean offers a huge range of accommodation types, from inexpensive to super-swanky. There are hostels, hotels, condos, resorts, and AirBnBs, so it can be good for a budget getaway, a mid-range vacation, or a once-in-a-lifetime splurge like a honeymoon. In the Caribbean you can find affordable resorts, family resorts, adults-only resorts, all-inclusive resorts, luxury resorts, and even nude resorts. There are also resorts in the Caribbean that feature overwater bungalows.

Aerial drone view of Caribbean resort Bavaro, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Aerial drone view of Caribbean resort Bavaro, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Hawaii also features a wide range of accommodation types, but it doesn’t have as many budget options. Hawaii also does not have all-inclusive resorts. So if you’re looking for a laidback all-inclusive beach getaway, the Caribbean is your best bet.

However, you can find hostels, hotels, condos, resorts, and AirBnBs thoughout the Hawaiian islands. There are beachfront properties, in-town properties, and charming inns and resorts located on hillsides that feature incredible views. Some of these are located on working coffee plantations or farms, which you can tour.

Caribbean vs. Hawaii Activities

There is plenty to do in both Hawaii and the Caribbean.

Both have incredible beaches with different colors of sand, but Hawaii wins for the sheer diversity of its beaches. You can find white, golden, pink, black, red, and green sand, as well as rocky coastlines, lava coastlines, cliffs, and wide, flat sandy beaches.

While the Caribbean offers white, golden, pink, and black sand beaches, it is best known for sugar-white sand and dazzling turquoise water. These types of beaches can be found on most Caribbean islands. (If this is what you’re looking for, check out our article on the 15 best Caribbean beaches.)

Some Caribbean islands offer surfing, but Hawaii is famous for its giant waves. If you’re an advanced surfer, it is probably the best choice for you. But beginning surfers may prefer the calmer waters and smaller waves you can find in the Caribbean, and even experienced surfers can enjoy surfing there.

If you’re comparing Caribbean vs Hawaii snorkeling or scuba diving, you might be wondering, is the water clearer in the Caribbean or Hawaii? The Caribbean is the winner in this case. While there is excellent snorkeling and scuba diving in both locations, the water in the Caribbean is warmer, clearer, and calmer. You can snorkel and scuba dive throughout the Caribbean (check out some of the best spots here).

For the most part, Hawaii’s landscapes are more impressive than those found in the Caribbean. The volcanic peaks are higher, the jungles are lusher, the waterfalls more amazing. There are also lava flows and tubes all over the Hawaiian islands. Hiking is much more plentiful and challenging in Hawaii than in most Caribbean islands.

In the Caribbean you can find a range of historic and cultural sites, adventure sports like ziplining and ATV tours, hiking, and more in addition to watersports. Different islands feature different activities including unique attractions such as the world’s only drive-through volcano (on St. Lucia) or an underwater sculpture park (in Grenada). Most islands also have towns or villages to visit, although they’re usually pretty small.

You can find volcanoes in the Caribbean, but on just a few islands, and most of them are dormant. Volcanoes in Hawaii are much larger and more active.

Different Caribbean islands will have different cultural offerings, but all the islands in Hawaii feature the famous luau. This don’t-miss show combines traditional foods with demonstrations of hula dancing and other local activities like fire twirling.

Hawaii also has a rich array of cultural and historic sites, hiking and exploring opportunities, watersports and land sports, and adventure sports. The islands also have towns to visit. These range in size, but can be much larger than those in the Caribbean. Honolulu on Oahu is the biggest, with high rises and a thriving downtown like many American cities. In fact, it’s larger than some major U.S. cities such as Atlanta or Seattle. However, the least developed island, Kauai, just has a handful of small towns.

If you’re interested in nightlife, most Caribbean islands have bars, nightclubs, and live entertainment in the evenings (although some are much livelier than others). You can also enjoy a huge variety of festivals in the Caribbean. Hawaii also features a variety of nightlife and festival options, although these vary depending on the island you visit.

If you want to go island-hopping, Hawaii may be the best choice for you. Except for some areas in the Caribbean like the Virgin Islands, it is usually harder to go island hopping there than in Hawaii.

It is possible to take a cruise in both areas, but there are more cruise itineraries and ships available in the Caribbean.

Caribbean vs. Hawaii Food

While fresh seafood is popular in both the Caribbean and Hawaii, there are big differences when it comes to cuisine.

Hawaii’s Polynesian heritage can be seen in the variety of unique dishes there like poi, poke, kalua pork, and lomilomi salmon. There is also a ton of Asian food available in Hawaii due to immigrants from countries like Japan and China.

Different Caribbean islands have different types of dishes depending on their history and whether they had Spanish, British, French, Portuguese, or Dutch settlers. Each island has its own special take on “Caribbean cuisine,” and includes fresh fruits and vegetables that are grown on that island as well as the types of seafood that are commonly found in surrounding waters. For example, the Bahamas is famous for conch and lobster, while Jamaica is known for its jerk chicken and ackee and salt fish.

After reading our comparison of the Caribbean vs. Hawaii, what do you think? Is Hawaii better than the Caribbean or is the Caribbean better than Hawaii for your trip? Let us know in the comments! And if you’d like help planning your vacation, feel free to reach out to one of our expert travel agents!

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