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Are you dreaming about a getaway to the stunning islands of Hawaii? Curious to know which islands might be the most bustling with visitors? Look no further. In this blog post, we delve into the question of which Hawaiian island is the optimal travel destination based on the volume of fellow tourists. We’ve tapped into the official records from Hawaii’s Tourism Authority and enriched this with our unique data and insights.

In our exploration, we examine not just the attractions and activities each island offers but also the annual tourist footfall. By integrating various metrics such as the land area of the island, the availability of accommodations, and more, we’re set to guide you on the most suitable Hawaiian island for your next vacation. The latest data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority revealed a significant fluctuation in the number of air arrivals over recent years, with a peak of over 10.2 million tourists in 2019, followed by a dip to around 2.7 million in the challenging Covid year of 2020, and a rebound to approximately 9.1 million in 2022. In addition to air travelers, the islands also greeted a notable number of cruise passengers. Despite these variations, Oahu and Maui consistently remain the most visited islands, hosting the majority of Hawaii’s tourists and standing as the archipelago’s hotspots.

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Total number of tourists in Statewide Hawaii - and the effect COVID-19 had

Hawaii Total Arrivals 2014-2023

The latest data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority paints a hopeful picture of recovery post-pandemic, with visitor numbers inching closer to the pre-2020 figures. After a steep drop in tourists in the challenging Covid year of 2020, there’s been a heartening climb back up, with around 9.1 million visitors in 2022, just shy of the previous highs. However, not all islands are riding the same wave of recovery. While some are bustling with activity, Maui has seen a relative drop in visitors—a quiet whisper of the wildfires that made headlines in 2023.

If you’re looking to be where the action is, Oahu and Maui have traditionally been the favorites. But if recent trends are anything to go by, it’s clear that while Oahu continues to thrive as a tourist magnet, Maui’s visitor numbers are indicating a different tale. It might just be the perfect time to explore Maui if you prefer a more serene experience.

For those wanting the full picture, it’s worth noting that the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism has expressed concerns over a slight downturn in tourism. Early 2024 has seen a stable, if not marginally reduced, number of visitors. A detailed look at the monthly statistics, such as those provided for February and January, can shed more light on these patterns. For the complete statistics and insights from the authority, you can view the press releases for February and January.

Hawaii's Busiest Island

RankIslandAverage Visitors (Last 7 Years)
1O'ahu4,691,184
2Maui2,483,505
3Hawai'i Island1,447,445
4Kona (part of Hawai'i Island)1,262,198
5Kaua'i1,103,073
6Hilo (part of Hawai'i Island)482,022
7Lāna'i60,062
8Moloka'i46,421

Choosing your Hawaiian destination may now come with a few more considerations. Whether it’s the vibrancy of Oahu or the tranquility of Maui that appeals, the islands welcome all with warm sunshine and the promise of unforgettable adventures.

Oahu, the most visited of the Hawaiian Islands, is a beacon for tourists, with an average of nearly 4.7 million visitors over the past seven years. This island is the heartthrob of Hawaii, home to the bustling capital city of Honolulu, the historic Pearl Harbor, and the iconic Waikiki Beach. It’s the go-to for those looking for a blend of cultural experiences, shopping, and nightlife, alongside beautiful beaches.

Maui, with its diverse landscapes and world-class beaches, ranks second in popularity. Known for the scenic Road to Hana, Haleakala National Park, and luxurious resorts in Wailea, it’s no wonder an average of about 2.5 million visitors have been enchanted by Maui’s charm.

Hawaii’s Island, also known as the Big Island, shows a different side of the Hawaiian experience. It’s a land of contrasts with the snow-capped Mauna Kea, active volcanoes at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and the coffee farms of Kona. Its unique offerings have attracted an average of 1.4 million visitors.

Kona, a district on the Big Island, deserves its own mention. Famous for its world-renowned coffee and the Ironman World Championship, Kona has drawn over 1.2 million visitors. Its laid-back atmosphere and pristine waters make it ideal for snorkeling, diving, and enjoying the slow island life.

Kaua’i, the Garden Isle, known for its lush landscapes and dramatic cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, offers a more serene getaway. It’s perfect for nature lovers and those looking for outdoor adventures, from hiking to kayaking. With just over 1.1 million visitors, it’s a less crowded alternative with no shortage of breathtaking scenery.

Hilo, on the east side of the Big Island, provides a glimpse into the local lifestyle and is rich with Hawaiian culture, waterfalls, and rainforests. It’s the place to be for those looking to escape the typical tourist trails, reflected in its lower visitor count of around 482,000.

Lāna’i and Moloka’i, the smallest publicly accessible inhabited islands in the chain, offer seclusion and a step back in time to old Hawaii. Lāna’i, with luxury resorts and uncrowded beaches, sees about 60,000 visitors, while Moloka’i, with its strong native Hawaiian heritage and the towering sea cliffs of the Kalaupapa Peninsula, remains the least visited with just over 46,000 guests. These islands are ideal for travelers seeking tranquility and a break from the modern world.

Each island in Hawaii offers its unique flavor and experience, from Oahu’s electric energy to Moloka’i’s untouched serenity. With this knowledge, you can choose which slice of paradise suits your dream Hawaiian vacation.

O’ahu: The Gathering Place 🌺

  • Visitors: 4,691,184 on average
  • Key Highlights: Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, Waikiki Beach
  • Fun Things to Do:

Maui: The Valley Isle 🌴

  • Visitors: 2,483,505 on average
  • Key Highlights: Road to Hana, Haleakalā National Park, Wailea Beach
  • Fun Things to Do:
    • Drive the scenic Road to Hana
    • Watch sunrise at Haleakalā
    • Luxuriate in Wailea’s resorts
    • Discover Maui’s Best Activities

Hawai’i Island: The Big Island 🌋

  • Visitors: 1,447,445 on average
  • Key Highlights: Mauna Kea, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kona Coffee Farms
  • Fun Things to Do:
    • Stargaze atop Mauna Kea
    • Visit the active volcanoes
    • Taste the famous Kona coffee
    • Check out Big Island Adventures

Kona: The Sunny Side 🌞

  • Visitors: 1,262,198 on average
  • Key Highlights: Ironman World Championship, Snorkeling and Diving Spots, Coffee Plantations
  • Fun Things to Do:
    • Dive into the clear waters
    • Compete or spectate the Ironman race
    • Indulge in a coffee farm tour

Kaua’i: The Garden Isle 🏞️

  • Visitors: 1,103,073 on average
  • Key Highlights: Na Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon, Hanalei Bay
  • Fun Things to Do:
    • Hike the trails of the Na Pali Coast
    • Explore the depths of Waimea Canyon
    • Kayak in Hanalei Bay

Hilo: The Old Hawaii 🍃

  • Visitors: 482,022 on average
  • Key Highlights: Rainbow Falls, Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens, Local Markets
  • Fun Things to Do:
    • Visit the Rainbow Falls
    • Stroll through Liliʻuokalani Gardens
    • Shop at local farmers markets

Lāna’i: The Pineapple Isle 🍍

  • Visitors: 60,062 on average
  • Key Highlights: Luxury Resorts, Shipwreck Beach, Garden of the Gods
  • Fun Things to Do:
    • Relax in upscale resorts
    • Explore the eerie Shipwreck Beach
    • Be awed by the lunar landscapes of the Garden of the Gods
    • Experience Lanai’s Attractions

Moloka’i: The Friendly Isle 🌊

  • Visitors: 46,421 on average
  • Key Highlights: Kalaupapa Peninsula, Papohaku Beach, Halawa Valley
  • Fun Things to Do:
    • Take in the history at Kalaupapa
    • Enjoy the tranquility of Papohaku Beach
    • Hike the lush Halawa Valley
    • Visit Molokai’s Timeless Charm

No matter which island you choose to visit, each one offers its own unique slice of Hawaiian paradise, complete with activities and sights that are sure to make your vacation memorable. Whether it’s adventure, relaxation, or a mix of both, Hawaii’s islands are ready to offer you a warm aloha and an experience to last a lifetime.

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