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You’re heading to Kauai for the first time and now you’re undertaking the difficult task of deciding where to stay. While Kauai is a small island, it is diverse and your vacation experience on the north shore (Princeville) will look very different from your experience on the south shore (Poipu).
When comparing Princeville to Poipu: where should you stay? Pick Princeville if you’re visiting in the summer months and want to enjoy a lush, green landscape (with maybe a little rain). Book in Poipu if you want a better chance of sunny weather year-round and more resort options.
But there’s more to it than that. Here’s a breakdown to help you decide whether your vacation is best spent staying in Princeville or Poipu.
Where are Princeville and Poipu?
Princeville and Poipu are both located in Kauai. Princeville is located on the north shore of Kauai, approximately 45 – 60 minutes north of the airport in Lihue (LIH).
Poipu is located on the south shore of Kauai, approximately 25 minutes from the Lihue airport. Princeville and Poipu are two of the most popular places to stay for visitors to Kauai.
Heading to Kauai and another island? Read our guide on how to do island hopping right.
Why Stay in Princeville?
Princeville is a resort-style community where you can find a mix of residential homes, vacation rentals, and smaller hotels. It’s located on a bluff overlooking the ocean on the north shore, where you get views of the beautiful blue sea and the stunning lush, green cliffs. In the center of Princeville is the award-winning Princeville Makai Golf Course.
Princeville feels like a gateway to the rest of the north shore: you’re just a few miles from Hanalei and some of the most stunning north shore beaches. Winds, weather, and ocean currents can be fierce in the winter but the weather and beach conditions are usually spectacular in the summer.
Why stay in Poipu?
On the south shore of Kauai, you’ll find Poipu, and a number of resorts and upscale restaurants. While Kauai is a relaxed island, if you’re coming in search of a relaxing resort experience, this is the place for you. In Poipu you’ll find resorts along award-winning beaches. And you’re centrally located to some of the most popular activities and sights, including Waimea Canyon, Wailua Falls, and Napali Coast boat tours.
You’ll also find the most consistently dry weather in Poipu. While the landscape isn’t as lush as it is up north, the sun shines a bit more.
Do you know what to pack for Kauai? Here is your Complete Kauai Packing List.
Breaking down the Princeville vs. Poipu debate:
This really comes down to a debate of North Shore Kauai vs. South Shore Kauai. You’ll find less development and lush setting on the north shore, as well as some rain. On the south shore you’ll find more resort options, more development, and sunnier weather year-round.
Let’s break down what that means for your vacation planning, point by point, so you can pick the best spot to stay.
Princeville vs Poipu: Weather
If you’re in search of warmth, you can find that on both the north and south of Kauai. Taking a look at the average high temperature in both places, you’ll see that the highs are only a few degrees apart. Both Princeville and Poipu reach their top temperatures in September, with an average of 86.1 degrees in Poipu and 84 degrees in Princeville.
The other piece of weather that a visitor needs to consider is rainfall. Kauai isn’t called the Garden Isle for nothing. The lush landscape of the north shore is attributed to the rainfall it receives. Rainfall in Princeville and north shore Kauai is significantly higher than rainfall in south Kauai.
One thing to note is that there are many times (especially during the summer months) where it doesn’t rain all day on the north shore. You’ll have an early morning rain or a short and sudden burst of rain as a cloud passes over you. Sure, it’s not always comfortable when you’re sitting on the beach to get hit with a downpour, but that rain is what makes the north shore of Kauai such a lush and beautiful setting.
Princeville vs Poipu: Beaches
Both the north shore and south shore of Kauai have fantastic beaches. The top beaches on the island can be found in either location. But there are differences that will make your choice between Princeville and Poipu that much clearer.
If you’re staying in Princeville, be prepared to drive each time you want to head to a beach. There are limited beach options within the Princeville resort area. Princeville is located on a bluff overlooking the ocean, so walking out of your hotel or vacation rental and into the water is a bit more challenging.
If you’re staying in Poipu, you’ll have much easier access to the beach. Depending on where you stay, you can be within short walking distance of multiple beaches.
In my opinion, you’ll get slightly more picturesque beaches on the north shore, near Princeville. But the water at these beaches isn’t really accessible for swimming year-round. Mid-October through mid-April is generally the rougher months for the waves and ocean currents on the north shore near Princeville, though those dates aren’t set in stone. If you’re traveling anytime in those shoulder months you could be greeted with calm water or large swells, depending on the day.
In Poipu, you’ll be more likely to find optimal water and swimming conditions at the beaches during the winter months.
Find a beach on Kauai the whole family can enjoy with this list of the 7 best kid-friendly beaches on Kauai.
Do you know what doesn’t matter where you stay? Kauai food trucks! They are everywhere but let us show you where to find the best trucks in our Ultimate Kauai Food Truck Guide.
Princeville vs. Poipu: Snorkeling
If you’re heading to Kauai during the summer months, the north shore wins for best snorkeling. You’ll find three of the best snorkeling spots on Kauai on the north shore: Tunnels Beach, Anini Beach, and Ke’e Beach. These areas have large coral reefs, plenty of sea life, and generally very calm ocean currents during the summer.
However, outside of those summer months, snorkeling can get treacherous on the north shore.
South Kauai still has great snorkeling options, and they are more reliably available year-round. Though the beaches on the south shore near Poipu experience rougher water conditions during the summer, there are plenty of protected swimming and snorkeling spots so you can enjoy the water. And in the winter, this is your best bet for finding calm ocean water.
Don’t miss our pick for the 5 best snorkeling spots on Kauai. Directions, maps, and tips included!
Princeville vs. Poipu: Activities
Kauai isn’t a large island. If you want to drive from the end of the north shore to Waimea Canyon, it’s only 2.5 hours each way.
That said, you likely aren’t planning on spending your entire vacation driving around the island to see different sites and enjoy the activities. So what is most centrally located, Princeville or Poipu?
If you stay in Princeville, you’re an easy drive from:
- Haena State Park (and Ke’e Beach)
- Hanalei Town
- Napali Coast Tours that leave from Hanalei (summer only)
- Kayaking the Hanalei river
- Kilauea Lighthouse
If you stay in Poipu, you’re an easy drive from:
- Wailua River Kayaking Tours
- Wailua Falls
- Mountain Tubing Adventure
- Waimea Canyon
- Triple Waterfall ATV Tours and Koloa Zipline Adventure
- Spouting Horn Blowhole
- Napali Coast Tours that leave from Port Allen (year-round)
- Kapa’a and Koloa Town
Where should you stay, Princeville or Poipu?
In a nutshell, if you don’t mind a little rain and you’re looking for a more laid-back, outdoorsy, and quiet vacation, staying up north in Princeville is the spot for you. If you’re looking for the best chance of sun, ocean conditions that are good even in the winter, and resorts with plenty of amenities, you should choose to stay in Poipu.
If you’re looking for more help, check out our guide for where to stay on Kauai. We go through different parts of the island in detail and give you our top picks for hotels and vacation rentals.
And for your best vacation, check out our Kauai itinerary. With planned out excursion dates around the island we’ll help you see the best sights.
Get The Kauai Itinerary
The step-by-step itinerary takes you to all the best beaches, snorkeling spots, restaurants, and sights. You’ll get six carefully planned excursion days to help you see the can’t miss stops no matter how limited your time is.
Get all the details on our itinerary and download it for a memorable and easily planned trip to Kauai.