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Sanibel vs Maui - how do they compare

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London
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Sanibel vs Maui - how do they compare

We went to Maui last year and loved it, because it was scenic, wild, friendly, laidback, and unpretentious. The beaches and sea were beautiful, the locals were chilled, the interior spectacular.

We don't want to go straight back (we'll save it for next year) so are looking for an alternative. How does Sanibel compare with Maui?

The beaches, on first glance, don't look quite so good.

But what about the ambience, and the safety/crime, and restaurants, and the locals?

Is it considered exclusive, like some of the top-end Caribbean destinations, or sandals and shorts, like Hawaii?

Thanks for your help

Hell, Michigan
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1. Re: Sanibel vs Maui - how do they compare

Lets see - i've been both places, they are very different, but similar in some aspects. We absolutely love Hawaii, but it is so far and very expensive to go to. Sanibel Island is a good solution for us.

Differences - Maui is a lot bigger island, the geography of the island is quite different than Sanibels. On Maui, there are several towns or areas to visit, there is a dormant volcano, ocean kayaking around the southern tip which is fabulous. The snorkeling and diving is top notch - the sea life is incredible.

Sanibel is smaller, it is a town in and of itself. There aren't different towns on Sanibel to visit. Most of the condos, Inns and resorts are on the Gulf Of Mexico, while the restaurants and shopping are along the interior of the island - so you must bike or drive to it. There are a few exceptions to this. Did you visit Lahania in Maui? Sanibel would be like Lahania, except with amazing beaches. I think comparing it to a town, instead of the entire island would be better, as Sanibel is so much smaller than Maui.

Sanibel has 20 + miles of bike trails, has a gorgeous nature preserve (Ding Darling) that you can bike, walk, fish, kayak. There is kayaking also on Tarpon Bay and Pine Sound. The beaches, I like better than Hawaii. The water is calmer, tho not as clear. The sealife/fish are more colorful on Maui, but Sanibel has dolphins, pelicans, rays, manatees, and turtles. Much of the island is a nature preserve, so the beaches are not groomed - they are left natural to not disturb the wildlife.

Sanibel is very laid back, kind of mom and popsy, shorts and t shirts kind of place. It's a great place to visit if you want to shell ( #3 in the world for shelling), relax on the beach, bike, observe nature at its finest, kayak and eat good food.

Do not expect to drive around looking for rain forests or dormant volcanos - you will be sorely disappointed.

Google Ding Darling, Tarpon Bay, shelling. Look at the traveler photos on the left hand side. Also consider the sister island, Captiva.

Maine
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2. Re: Sanibel vs Maui - how do they compare

I have not been to Maui but have been to the north shore of Oahiu and it was lovely and gorgeous. But truth be told I like Sanibel better...glad we got to go to Hawaii but really do not care if ever go back (in part distance is a real drawback for me) but I am going back to Sanibel and think I could go back many times (and hope to) and be quite happy. We love the shelling, nature, flowers and feel of Sanibel better. The only thing I liked better about Hawaii was the snorkling- if I could some how add that to Sanibel and still have shells I would be content for life there!

The Bakery
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3. Re: Sanibel vs Maui - how do they compare

Sanibel cannot match Maui for physical beauty. It is far leas developed. You won't see high rises lining the beaches, or resort after resort crowded together. It's very laid back and very shorts,tee and sandals. It's flat as a pancake and the beauty is more subtle. With 65% of the island held as National Wildlife Refuge or conservation land, as strict building codes preventing anything over 4 stories, and a concerted effort to keep many of the old fashioned beach cottages preserved, Sanibel has managed blend modern and old Florida in a very comfortable style. Captiva is more 'upscale', but still laid back.

These islands are not where the 'beautiful people' go, they aren't trendy, there's little to no nightlife, and activities are aimed at families. Yes, there are plenty of couples and honeymooners, but they're the more outdoorsey types, not the glitz and glam types.

It is exclusive in that there are limited accommodations, and no real 'resorts' per se, but not like say, ST Barts or Mustique - or Palm Beach or SOuth Beach for that matter. Very much a middle class paradise.

Sanibel Island...
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4. Re: Sanibel vs Maui - how do they compare

All the above comments are accurate so I'll try ot to repeat.

Having been to both recently I would say that the common attraction of both is the laid-back atmosphere with a focus on nature.

If Maui was where Sanibel is located it would win hands down for sheer natural beauty- but it would have been long ago spoiled by the throngs of visitors and overdevelopment that would have doubtlessly occurred being so convenient.

Sanibel has done a spectacular job of protecting its own brand of beauty without turning itself into a haven of the mega-wealthy.

If I had unlimited time and money I would go to Maui more often but having Sanibel so "close" makes it the ultimate winner in my book.

Massachusetts
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5. Re: Sanibel vs Maui - how do they compare

All I'll add is that on Sanibel the ambience is relaxed, there is little crime ( locals usually don't even lock their bikes) and the locals are friendly. The island is flat, which makes traveling its bike paths even more enjoyable.

London
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6. Re: Sanibel vs Maui - how do they compare

Some really useful advice there, thanks everyone.

What would be the prettiest stretch of beach in Sanibel?

Columbus, OH
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7. Re: Sanibel vs Maui - how do they compare

The beach along Sanibel is mostly all the same -- not groomed as was stated earlier. It is more crowded on the East end as opposed to the West end, but if you go in the summer (which is the off season), you won't find crowds to be a problem at all. Google searches and TA member photos will show you what it looks like (seems you've done a little of that already).

The water in the Gulf of Mexico can sometimes be as calm and smooth as glass. This is one of the reasons (not the only one) the shelling is so good...those shells just don't get pulverized by big waves like they do in most places. The slope of the beach also allows you to wander WAY out from the shore, and low tide creates lots of sand bar islands and shallow pools where you will find live shells, hermit crabs, live sand dollars, star fish, sea stars, etc.

I'll just echo what others have said...Sanibel appeals to nature lovers. It doesn't have the glitz and flash of Maui. Ding Darling Nature Preserve is amazing for those of us who like to look at birds and tree crabs, anoles, and other creatures. The main attraction of the beach is the amazing pristine shells you will find. Most of the hotels along the shore have very well kept grounds...palm trees, green grass, beautiful plants, etc.

It is quite hot there in the summer (hence it being Off Season), so be prepared for that.

Nothing compares to Hawaii...it is its own special place. Nothing though compares to Sanibel and Captiva either if you ask me...no place I've ever been anyway.

Sanibel Island...
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8. Re: Sanibel vs Maui - how do they compare

We prefer the beaches from West Gulf Drive and points west. The beaches themselves on the east end are fine but they do face towards the mainland and you can see the high-rises of Fort Myers and Bonita Beach on the horizon as you look out from the beach.

For some that may be a deterrent, for others not a problem.

As you go further west, you look out at a more westerly direction and see nothing but water, boats, pelicans and sunsets!

The Bakery
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9. Re: Sanibel vs Maui - how do they compare

As to the quality of the beaches - The far rougher surf in Hawaii makes for tougher swimming than the Gulf. Hawaii, like most mountainous islands, has 'pocket' beaches. Crescent shaped beaches that are of various lengths dotted along the coast. Sanibel and Captiva are barrier islands. The beaches are just long, unbroken stretches of sand that go on for miles.

One year I was in Hawaii, on Anguilla and on Sanibel/Captiva. Anguilla, like Sanibel, is a flat and featureless island with some of the finest beaches I've seen anywhere in the world. Shoal Bay is consistently ranked among the top ten. They were not as pretty as the ones in Hawaii, but the sand was amazing and the water crystal clear. I loved Anguilla. I liked Hawaii. I love Sanibel.

Since that year I've been back to Hawaii several times - and my last visit to Maui a few years back ill likely remain my last. It's just gotten too built up for my taste.

Anguilla has gone ultra upscale and attracts the 'beautiful people' and those with the money to feel like they are. Not what I want when I vacation. I fell in love with the island of St John in the USVI. Accessible only by water, it is one of the safest islands and has stunning pocket beaches - small ones - and fabulous snorkeling right off the beach. Very shorts and tee shirt, its proximity to the BVI's, including Tortola and Virgin Gorda (both within sight) make it a magnet for those who like to do bare boat charters. Like Sanibel, most accommodations are in rental homes and a handful of condos. If I were to pick a spot that had the beast features of both Sanibel and Hawaii, St John would be it.

Sanibel has nice 'natural' beaches that are major sea turtle nesting grounds. The east end has rather sandy water filled with detritus as it washes over sandbars to reach the beach. The water gets clearer as you go west and north and by Captiva it's fairly clear. No, not like Anguilla, but very nice. Unlike Anguilla or St John, there are no reefs anywhere, so you can snorkel, but you'll see limited things. It's a great way to shell the sandbars. The beaches are uncrowded and get downright empty in some areas. No topless or nude sunbathing/swimming. No furniture can be left on the beach overnight as it's a barrier to the turtles. The shells make the sand 'gritty' and hard on the feet, especially along the shell line to the water. Well above the shell line it's soft. Shelling s the best in North America.

AFter many years and many beaches, Sanibel/Captiva remain one of my top picks in large part due to shelling and larger part due to the fact Sanibel has controlled development and the island retains the feel of a refuge for its human visitors from the concrete jungle of far too many beaches and islands these days. I hope this helps.

Wyoming & Sanibel
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10. Re: Sanibel vs Maui - how do they compare

My initial reaction to the question was "your description of Maui isn't mine." We've been many times and the Maui most people think of, is high rises, restaurants and bars along the beach. The beaches are crowded, but the water and snorkeling/diving is fabulous. Fair amount of crime and traffic congestion. The only part of Maui that I think would approximate Sanibel would be Hanna (not the drive), but the community. There is better shopping and dining and variety of accomodations on Sanibel than in Hanna. I'd also liken the feel of Sanibel to the big island of Hawaii.

It certainly sounds like Sanibel should be on your list of places to visit, given your criteria. It isn't everyone's cup of tea. There isn't a lively bar scene like you find in Maui. As to dress, if you consider Maui sandals and shorts, then Sanibel would be flip-flops and swimsuits with cover-ups. Sanibel is more casual than Maui (although there are a couple of places with dress codes).