Are you debating between a Hawaii or Puerto Rico vacation? Keep scrolling to find out everything you need to know about choosing a trip to Hawaii vs Puerto Rico.
This comparison of Hawaii vs Puerto Rico was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.
Aloha and Hola, globe-trotting families!
If you’re like me, you’re forever dreaming of the perfect tropical getaway. You’ve probably found yourself daydreaming of trading in the mundane routines for the sound of crashing waves, salty air, and miles of gorgeous beaches.
But when it comes to booking your family vacation, the world of island getaways offers so many breathtaking options that it can be challenging to decide.
Should you hula in Hawaii or fiesta in Puerto Rico?
The eternal question!
Hawaii and Puerto Rico are like two radiant pearls in the vast ocean of travel destinations—each boasting its unique allure and charm. But when it comes to a family vacation, we want more than just stunning landscapes.
We need adventures that make our hearts race, activities that connect us to local culture, and of course, kid-friendly experiences that keep our little ones entertained.
So, for families who enjoy hiking through lush landscapes, dipping their toes in turquoise waters, or building sandcastles on pristine beaches, this blog post is for you.
We’ll dive deep into the heart of Hawaii and Puerto Rico, exploring the best of these idyllic island getaways to help you decide where your next family vacation should be. We’ve personally been to both destinations.
Whether you’re an adventure-seeking clan or a family of beach bums, read on, and let’s set sail on this exciting journey together.
Remember, there’s no such thing as a wrong choice here; only different shades of paradise.
Buckle up, fellow travelers. The journey toward your next memorable family vacation begins now!
Are Hawaii and Puerto Rico Part of the United States?
Yes, both Hawaii and Puerto Rico are part of the United States, but they have different political statuses.
Hawaii is a U.S. State
It became the 50th state of the United States on August 21, 1959. As a state, Hawaii has full representation in the U.S. Congress, with two Senators and two Representatives.
Puerto Rico is a U.S. Territory
It was acquired by the United States from Spain following the Spanish-American War in 1898. As a territory, Puerto Rico does not have voting representation in the U.S. Congress.
The people of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens, but they cannot vote in presidential elections unless they reside in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia.
In both Hawaii and Puerto Rico, federal laws of the United States apply, but they have their own local governments and constitutions.
Brief History of Hawaii and Puerto Rico
Hawaiian Islands History
Hawaii’s history is a fascinating journey that begins with its original Polynesian settlers, who arrived around 1,500 years ago and established a vibrant culture based on a complex system of social hierarchy and land division.
Contact with Europeans began with British Captain James Cook’s arrival in 1778, leading to significant cultural and demographic changes, including the introduction of Western economic concepts and Christianity.
In 1898, after a period of influence by American missionaries and the controversial overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani, Hawaii was annexed by the United States, becoming the 50th state in 1959.
You can see some historical sites all across the islands.
Puerto Rico History
Puerto Rico used to be a Spanish colony and it’s played a huge part in the history and culture of the islands.
Originally inhabited by the indigenous Taíno people, the island was claimed by Spain following Christopher Columbus’s arrival in 1493, leading to a long period of European colonization marked by cultural exchange and conflict.
In 1898, following the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory, a status it maintains today, offering a unique blend of Taíno, Spanish, African, and U.S. influences in its culture and traditions.
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Puerto Rico Climate vs Hawaii’s Weather
When is Rainy Season?
Hawaii and Puerto Rico both have tropical climates, meaning they experience a rainy season each year.
In Hawaii, the rainy season typically runs from November to March. However, the amount of rainfall can vary greatly depending on the island and even different regions of the same island.
The windward (eastern) sides of the islands typically receive more rain than the leeward (western) sides.
Puerto Rico’s rainy season is generally from April to November, with the heaviest rains usually occurring from August to November.
However, it’s worth noting that rain showers in Puerto Rico are often brief and localized, and it’s still possible to enjoy plenty of sunshine during the rainy season.
Both Hawaii and Puerto Rico are located in regions that can experience tropical storms and hurricanes.
Hawaii Tropical Storms and Hurricanes
The official hurricane season in the Central Pacific, where Hawaii is located, runs from June 1 to November 30, with the peak activity usually from July to September.
However, the state is somewhat less vulnerable to hurricanes than many other Pacific islands and the U.S. Gulf Coast, due to factors such as cooler water temperatures and different atmospheric conditions.
That said, hurricanes and tropical storms can and do occasionally hit Hawaii, and when they do, they can be very destructive.
Puerto Rico Tropical Storms and Hurricanes
Puerto Rico is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, where the official hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, with peak activity typically from late August to October.
Puerto Rico is more prone to hurricanes and tropical storms than Hawaii. Notably, the island was severely impacted by Hurricane Maria in 2017, which was one of the most devastating storms in the region’s history.
Is Puerto Rico More Expensive Than Hawaii?
The average cost of a Hawaii vacation is significantly higher than the average cost of a Puerto Rico vacation.
According to a 2022 study by the U.S. Travel Association, the average cost of a 7-day Hawaii vacation is $2,648 for a couple, while the average cost of a 7-day Puerto Rico vacation is $1,670 for a couple.
There are a few reasons for the difference in price. First, Hawaii is located much further from the mainland United States than Puerto Rico, which means that airfare is typically more expensive.
Second, Hawaii is a more expensive place to live than Puerto Rico, which means that hotels, restaurants, and other expenses are also more expensive.
Puerto Rico is one of the most affordable Caribbean island destinations. However, that doesn’t mean things are cheap.
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Resorts: Puerto Rico vs Hawaii
Resorts in both Hawaii and Puerto Rico offer luxurious accommodations, stunning scenery, and a host of amenities.
However, they each have unique features due to their distinct cultural and geographical characteristics.
What to Expect at Hawaii Resorts
Hawaii’s resorts, particularly those on the islands of Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island are known for their extensive grounds, world-class amenities, and stunning natural settings.
Resorts like the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, and the Hilton Waikoloa Village offer high-end dining, spa facilities, golf courses, and activities such as lei-making and hula lessons.
Many resorts in Hawaii also offer eco-tours and adventures like whale-watching, snorkeling, and hiking in their vacation packages.
A stay in a Hawaiian resort often feels like a retreat into a tropical paradise surrounded by lush vegetation, volcanic landscapes, and the clear waters of the Pacific.
What to Expect at Puerto Rico Resorts
Puerto Rico’s resorts also offer a wide range of amenities, with the added allure of Caribbean culture.
Many resorts are located near Old San Juan, which offers a rich history and vibrant nightlife.
Resorts in Puerto Rico often provide opportunities for unique local experiences, such as salsa dancing lessons, rum tasting, and excursions into El Yunque National Forest.
The culture of Puerto Rico infuses these resorts with a distinctly Caribbean vibe, from the cuisine to the design aesthetic.
As I said before, Hawaiian resorts tend to be more expensive on average than those in Puerto Rico.
However, both destinations offer a range of options to fit different budgets, and prices can vary based on the time of year and specific location.
Do You Need to Rent a Car in Puerto Rico or Hawaii?
This is a tricky question and it really depends on where you are staying and what’s on your vacation itinerary.
Personally, I think that if you are staying anywhere outside of Waikiki, you really will want to rent a car in Hawaii.
That’s because there are so many places to explore in Hawaii and it’s hard to rely on public transportation or Uber (outside of Waikiki).
For Puerto Rico, it can be helpful to rent a car if you want to explore the El Yunque National Forest or go kayaking at a Bioluminescent bay.
If you visit Vieques or Culebra Island, there’s also an option to rent a golf cart to get around. We did this and it was a BLAST!
Main Cities in Puerto Rico and Hawaii
Hawaii and Puerto Rico both have one major city.
Honolulu, the bustling capital of Hawaii, offers a unique blend of urban life and island charm.
Enjoy stunning beaches like the famous Waikiki, historic sites such as the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, and a vibrant food and arts scene.
Whether you’re surfing the azure waters, hiking Diamond Head Crater for panoramic views, or exploring the diverse cuisines and cultures in its neighborhoods, Honolulu promises a rich and varied experience for every traveler.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan, the vibrant capital of Puerto Rico, mesmerizes with its colorful Spanish colonial architecture in Old San Juan, historic fortresses like El Morro, and lively beaches such as Condado and Isla Verde.
A fusion of cultures and flavors, you’ll experience its rich history, explore thriving arts and music scenes, and savor diverse and delicious cuisine, from traditional mofongo to innovative fusion dishes.
Famous Attractions in Hawaii and Puerto Rico
Things to See in Hawaii
Hawaii, with its breathtaking landscapes, vibrant culture, and rich history, offers countless attractions.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Located on the Big Island, this park is home to two active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. You can hike around the craters and witness the stunning spectacle of volcanic landscapes and, occasionally, active lava flows.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
A lot of people who visit Hawaii want to see the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. That’s where Japan attacked the United States and sparked the U.S. entry into World War Two.
There’s also the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
This world-renowned beach in Honolulu, Oahu, is known for its golden sand, great surf, and beautiful views of Diamond Head. It’s a hub of activity with numerous hotels, shops, and restaurants lining the beachfront.
Na Pali Coast
Located on the island of Kauai, this park features some of the most dramatic and beautiful landscapes in the world, including towering sea cliffs, narrow valleys, cascading waterfalls, and remote beaches.
Haleakala National Park
Things to See in Puerto Rico
There are a lot of cool things to do in Puerto Rico including outdoor adventures, cultural attractions, and gorgeous beaches.
Old San Juan
This historic district in Puerto Rico’s capital is known for its narrow cobblestone streets, pastel-colored colonial buildings, and historic fortresses like El Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal.
Old San Juan offers tons of shopping, dining, and historical sites.
El Yunque National Forest
This tropical rainforest, the only one in the U.S. National Forest System, is home to unique flora and fauna. Visitors can hike trails, go ziplining, swim in natural pools, and enjoy breathtaking vistas.
Located on the island of Culebra, Flamenco Beach is often ranked among the world’s most beautiful beaches, known for its clear turquoise waters and white sand.
You can also find a few abandoned U.S. military tanks at Flamenco Beach.
Rio Camuy Cave Park
This extensive cave system, one of the largest in the world, offers a unique adventure. You can explore its large chambers, subterranean rivers, and impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations. Check the latest rates and availability.
At night, these bays glow due to the presence of microscopic organisms, creating a magical experience.
Puerto Rico Beaches vs Hawaii Beaches
Both Hawaii and Puerto Rico boast some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, each with its own unique characteristics and attractions.
Beaches in Hawaii
Hawaii’s beaches are known for their stunning variety.
From the black sand beaches of Punalu’u on the Big Island, formed from volcanic basalt to the famous golden sands of Waikiki Beach on Oahu, and the picturesque Na Pali Coast beaches on Kauai, Hawaii offers a unique beach experience on each of its islands.
Hawaiian beaches are also famous for surfing, with spots like Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay offering some of the best waves in the world.
You’ll also find tranquil, crystal-clear waters perfect for snorkeling and spotting diverse marine life in places like Hanauma Bay.
Beaches in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico, on the other hand, offers Caribbean beach experiences. The beaches feature warm, turquoise waters and white sandy shores, with palm trees providing a tropical backdrop.
Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island is often ranked among the best beaches globally, known for its clear waters and pristine sands.
Condado and Isla Verde beaches are popular for their vibrant atmosphere and accessibility from San Juan.
Puerto Rico also has unique beach experiences, like the secluded Playa Negra with its volcanic black sand and the stunning bioluminescent Mosquito Bay on Vieques Island.
Are There Tropical Rainforests in Hawaii or Puerto Rico?
Hawaii is home to several lush rainforests, filled with unique plant and animal species and incredible landscapes.
Located on Oahu’s North Shore, Waimea Valley is a rich botanical garden within a significant cultural and archaeological site. The valley, filled with native and exotic plants, leads to a beautiful waterfall.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park includes rainforest areas with unique vegetation adapted to the volcanic landscape.
Walking through the Thurston Lava Tube (Nāhuku), you’ll emerge into a lush rainforest, an experience showing the stark contrast between the volcanic landscapes and the vibrant rainforest.
Mount Waiʻaleʻale, located in the center of the island of Kauai, is one of the rainiest places on Earth. Its name literally translates to “rippling water” or “overflowing water” in Hawaiian, reflecting its incredibly wet climate.
El Yunque Rainforest
Puerto Rico, on the other hand, is home to El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest System.
El Yunque is a diverse ecosystem filled with unique fauna and flora, many of which are endemic to the island.
With its towering trees, waterfalls, and panoramic views, El Yunque offers numerous trails for hikers of all levels.
One of the unique features of this rainforest is the dwarf forest, a result of the area’s high altitude and soil composition.
Outdoor Activities: Hawaii vs Puerto Rico
If you want to go whale watching in Hawaii, the island of Maui is where you’ll want to go.
There are several Maui whale-watching tours that will get you close enough to witness these majestic sea creatures. You can do this in the winter months (November-April). Check the latest rates and availability.
Deep Sea Fishing
It’s hard to find deep-sea fishing excursions in Puerto Rico. But they are easy to find in Hawaii.
Both Hawaii and Puerto Rico are amazing scuba diving spots.
There’s a cool scuba diving experience for beginners right in front of the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico.
It’s right on a coral reef and you’ll see tons of tropical fish without having to go that far from the beach. Check the latest rates and availability.
Both Hawaii and Puerto Rico offer some exceptional hiking trails for all skill levels.
The Kalalau Trail on Kauai is a 22-mile round-trip trail along the Na Pali Coast and is considered one of the most beautiful hikes in the world. It’s also one of the most challenging due to steep climbs and rough terrain.
Diamond Head on Oahu is a relatively short but steep hike that leads you to the edge of a 300,000-year-old crater with panoramic views of Waikiki and Honolulu.
In Puerto Rico, Cueva Ventana Trail is a short hike that leads to a beautiful ‘window cave’ overlooking the Rio Grande de Arecibo valley.
For more experienced hikers, the trail to Cerro de Punta, the highest point in Puerto Rico, offers a challenging hike with rewarding views.
Hawaii has a few national parks. The most famous ones are Haleakala National Park on Maui and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.
In Puerto Rico, El Yunque National Forest and the San Juan National Historic Site are managed by the U.S. National Park Service.
If you want to learn how to surf, you’ll have plenty of options in both Puerto Rico and Hawaii.
Hawaii Island Hopping vs Puerto Rico Island Hopping
Island Hopping in Hawaii
The main island in Hawaii is Oahu. That’s where you’ll find Honolulu, Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, and so much more. It’s also where Disney Aulani Resort is located.
It’s really easy to take an inter-island flight from Oahu to Maui, Kauai, or the Big Island. Actually, there are tons of flights between all the main four islands.
There are also select flights to Lana’i and Moloka’i on smaller aircraft.
If you head to Maui, you can even take a passenger ferry to the island of Lana’i.
Island Hopping in Puerto Rico
If you want to explore outside of Mainland Puerto Rico, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s super easy.
You can either take a ferry or a tiny airplane to Vieques Island or Culebra Island. You can also book a snorkeling boat trip to Culebrita or Icacos islands.
What to Eat in Hawaii and Puerto Rico
If you’re a foodie, you won’t go hungry in either location. Both Puerto Rico and Hawaii have really tasty cuisine that blends together foods from around the world.
I will say that both places focus more on meat/seafood and starches and less on veggies.
If you’re looking for somewhat traditional Hawaiian food, you’ll want to try kalua pork, Hawaiian shrimp, huli huli chicken, lau lau, and poi.
But, Hawaii’s cuisine is also inspired by various Asian cultures. I suggest trying kalbi ribs, Spam musubi, hamburger curry, bento boxes, and so much more!
I recommend ordering plate lunches in Hawaii because you can usually try a few items, plus you’ll get rice and macaroni salad. These are easy to share with kids.
And make sure you save room for shave ice! This was brought over by Japanese plantation workers and now it’s the signature frozen treat in Hawaii!
Puerto Rican Food
Puerto Rican cuisine is a rich blend of influences, including Taino, Spanish, African, and American culinary traditions. Most food in Puerto Rico has a plantain base.
A staple dish in Puerto Rican cuisine, mofongo is made by mashing together fried green plantains with garlic, salt, and olive oil in a wooden mortar and pestle.
Arroz con Gandules is Puerto Rico’s national dish. It’s a flavorful combination of rice, pigeon peas, and pork, cooked with sofrito, olives, capers, and sometimes bell peppers.
Flan (a creamy caramel custard) and tembleque (a coconut pudding) are two classic Puerto Rican desserts you’ll find on the island.
Hawaii and Puerto Rico FAQs
Which is safer for family travel, Hawaii or Puerto Rico?
Both Hawaii and Puerto Rico are generally considered safe for family travel. As with any destination, it’s recommended to stay aware of your surroundings, especially in larger cities.
There can be areas with higher crime rates, but they are generally not in tourist areas. Always check current travel advisories for the most up-to-date information.
Which destination has more family-friendly activities, Hawaii or Puerto Rico?
Both Hawaii and Puerto Rico offer a plethora of family-friendly activities. Hawaii has beautiful beaches, volcanoes to explore, and cultural and historical sites like the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
Puerto Rico also has lovely beaches, the unique bioluminescent bay, and the historic old town of San Juan. It really depends on what type of activities your family enjoys.
How do the costs of travel compare between Hawaii and Puerto Rico?
The cost of travel can vary greatly depending on factors like time of year, accommodations, and activities.
Generally, Hawaii is considered a more expensive destination than Puerto Rico for accommodations and dining. However, airfare will greatly depend on your location.
What is the best time to visit Hawaii and Puerto Rico?
Hawaii is a great destination year-round, but the best weather is typically from April to June and September to November.
Puerto Rico also has a tropical climate that’s warm year-round, but the best time to visit to avoid hurricane season is from mid-April to June.
What kind of cultural experiences can my family expect in Hawaii vs Puerto Rico?
Both Hawaii and Puerto Rico offer rich cultural experiences. In Hawaii, you can learn about Native Hawaiian culture through music, dance (like hula), food, and art.
In Puerto Rico, you can experience a blend of Spanish, African, and indigenous Taino cultures, which is evident in the island’s music, food, and festivals.
Which destination offers better beach experiences, Hawaii or Puerto Rico?
Both Hawaii and Puerto Rico have world-renowned beaches. Hawaii is famous for its beaches with different colored sands (white, black, green, and red), while Puerto Rico is known for its beautiful turquoise waters and white sand beaches.
Your experience may vary depending on what you’re looking for – Hawaii for surfing and Puerto Rico for calm, warm waters.
What kind of wildlife can we expect to see in Hawaii vs Puerto Rico?
Hawaii is known for its marine life, including sea turtles and a variety of tropical fish. You may also see nene (Hawaiian geese) and Hawaiian monk seals. In Puerto Rico, you might encounter iguanas, coquis (tiny frogs), and a variety of tropical birds.
Which destination is better for nature and hiking, Hawaii or Puerto Rico?
Both are excellent for nature lovers. Hawaii has a diverse range of hikes, from volcano treks to waterfall hikes. Puerto Rico offers rainforest hikes in El Yunque National Forest and cave exploration in Rio Camuy Cave Park.
The choice depends on what type of nature experience you prefer.
Puerto Rico vs Hawaii: Which One is Best?
Whether you’re seeking the vibrant, diverse landscapes and rich Polynesian culture of Hawaii, or the warm Caribbean vibes, colonial history, and mouthwatering cuisine of Puerto Rico, both destinations offer unforgettable experiences for family travel.
They each boast beautiful beaches, captivating cultures, and engaging activities suitable for all ages.
The decision between a Hawaiian or Puerto Rican adventure ultimately hinges on your family’s particular interests and travel desires.
Careful planning, from exploring the varied sights to indulging in regional dishes, can make either choice an incredible journey.
So, pack your bags, embrace the island spirit, and prepare for a memorable tropical vacation in these enticing family-friendly destinations. Safe travels!