Cook Islands or Maldives: Essential Facts to Help You Choose

IslandAwe - Cook Islands or Maldives

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Can’t decide which paradise to visit next, the Cook Islands or Maldives?

Understandable. Choosing the best holiday destination can get overwhelming since there’s a lot you need to consider to reach the most suitable decision. 

The Cook Islands and the Maldives are island countries situated in the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, respectively. Though they are located a good 14,000 kilometers apart, both have a lot in common, yet so much different.

If you’re looking for a nice and relaxing getaway amidst breathtaking vistas, unique landscapes, and calm waters (or perhaps even a romantic honeymoon destination), both are great options.

Cook Islands or Maldives – where to travel? The Cook Islands form a stunning destination, characterized by mesmerizing islands and beautiful lagoons amidst serenity and seclusion. The more touristy Maldives, on the other hand, offers luxury experiences and plenty of water-based activities.

Pack your swimsuits, and let’s go analyze and compare the depths of two of the world’s most beautiful travel destinations, so you know what to expect and do while you’re there!

We got to know all the Cook Islands while living there for a couple of years and traveled the Maldives. So we’d love to share our insights with you 🙂

Cook Islands or Maldives? Location & Islands

IslandAwe PukaPuka from Above
Cook Islands or Maldives – Stunning Pukapuka (Cook Islands) From Above

The Cook Islands are a New Zealand protectorate located in the South Pacific, at the heart of Polynesia. The country is home to 15 beautiful islands which cover an area of 240 square kilometers of land. 12 of these are inhabited.

The islands, however, are small in size. Its largest population center, Rarotonga, with the country’s capital Avarua, occupies 63 square kilometers, while its second most famous island, Aitutaki, occupies just 18 square kilometers.

Having a distance of 1500 kilometers between its opposite ends, the country is believed to be one of the smallest in the Pacific. 

The islands, a result of Mother Nature’s volcanic doings, are divided into two groups: the Northern Cook Islands and the Southern Cook Islands. 

The northern islands are featured by six sunken volcanoes covered with beautiful corals, so-called ‘atolls’. 

A stunning, rugged landscape signifies the Southern islands. Cliffs, terraces, valleys, and isolated lagoons are just the beginning of its beauty; the more you explore it, the more you’ll fall in love.

How To Get To the Cook Islands

You can enter the Cook Islands through its major entry point: Rarotonga International Airport. Lucky for you, the airport is located close to all credible hotels (with a maximum drive of 30 minutes from each).

Inter-island Travelling 

You can travel between islands by catching domestic flights. However, only one connection weekly takes visitors to the Northern islands, while 2-3 flights come to the Southern islands per week. Additionally, there is no ferry boat service between the islands.

IslandAwe Maldives Luxury Island
Cook Islands or Maldives – Fantastic Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu Island (Maldives)

On the other hand, the Maldives, famously known as ‘The Tropical Paradise’, is featured by a whopping 1190 islands and multiple atolls.  

However, only 185 of 1190 islands are inhabited. Most of the remaining ones are uninhabited and dedicated to tourism and agriculture, while a fraction of them are ‘disappeared islands’ – the ones that have been eroded away or amalgamated with others.

Its islands, like the Cooks, are featured by coral atolls formed by the top of submerged volcanic mountains. The islands have barrier reefs to protect their low-lying position, as none of these go higher than 1.8 meters.

The Maldives occupies 298 square kilometers of land, making it the smallest Asian country. Its islands occupy approximately 820 kilometers from North to South.

Hithadoo is the Maldives’ most populated and arguably best island, while its capital is Male.

How To Get To The Maldives

You can get to the Maldives through its most popular airport called Male International Airport. This serves Europe and the Middle East amongst other regions. To get to your resort, you will most likely take a speed boat.

Inter-island Travelling

Inter-island traveling is possible in the Maldives, with several modes of transportation offered. These will be discussed later in a later section.

How Does That Affect Your Travel Planning?

If you’re in search of spectacular scenery, relaxing and romantic settings, and clear waters to swim in, either one of the Cook Islands or the Maldives will do for you.

But if added to the above, you’re looking for seclusion, the Cooks will suit you better. 

Its most remote atoll, Penrhyn, is a great place to cut off from the rest of the world and spend time in isolation (with the people you take along, of course). And so is breathtaking Pukapuka, another atoll of the northern archipelago of the Cook Islands.

If you’re looking for sheer beauty in addition to privacy, the Cook island, Manihiki (also called the ‘Island of Pearls’) is definitely your go-to destination.

Privacy aside, the Maldives, owing to its large numbers of islands, offers many touristy things to do, especially food and water-based activities. There’s a lot you can explore and enjoy, while the Cooks, on the other hand, are more of a relaxing beach getaway with minimal activities.

Considering the access to location, the Maldives is easier to access if you’re from Europe or Asia, while the Cook Islands are easier to access from the Pacific and the US.

Cook Islands or Maldives? Culture & People

IslandAwe Penrhyn Eltje and Handicrafts

The Cook Islands are occupied by Maori-speaking Polynesians, who are welcoming and warm people happy to introduce you to their culture. Bright-colored costumes, tattoos, parades, and festivals are a glimpse of their culture’s blueprint.

As a memory of your vacation and a symbol of the culture of artistic Polynesians, you can find unique hand-crafted souvenirs, such as bags, hats, and wood carvings, to take along with you.

Plus, you can enjoy their island nights to experience their heritage; dancing, singing and devouring traditional meals are a few of the things you’ll get to enjoy.

Photo: Cook Islands or Maldives: Handwoven hat and jewelry from Tongareva/ Penrhyn, Cook Islands

On the other hand, the culture of the Maldives is heavily influenced by Dhihevi-speaking Asians. It can be categorized under conservative cultures, where people dress modestly and preferably avoid alcohol and pork. 

However, that’s not for you to worry about – hotels and bars still serve alcohol under license so you can enjoy a good drink (or two). 

Their food is hot and spicy (plus lavish if you book an all-inclusive holiday package at their resort), and cultural performances are hosted to acquaint tourists with their culture.

Plus, you can explore their culture at their beautifully built mosques – a trip to at least one of them is recommended during your stay!

How Does That Affect Your Travel Planning?

It would be correct to say the cultures of both destinations are different and unique.

If you’re looking for a more open, liberal environment, head towards the Cooks. If you don’t mind modestly-dressed individuals around you, the Maldives would be a great option.

Both destinations have locals who understand English, so language shouldn’t be a problem in either one of them.

Regarding the food, you’re more likely to find light and simple dishes in the Cook Islands, while the Maldives have spicier options. That is just a generalization, though, as you can find what you prefer in specific areas of both places.

Both destinations offer great ways to explore their culture, so no matter which one you choose, you’ll get to learn more about the people and their lifestyles.

Cook Islands or Maldives? Population & Visitors

The population of the Cook Islands is around 17,500. They receive a lot more visitors, with the numbers going as high as 170,000. 

The Cook Islanders are friendly people happily welcoming tourists approximately ten times their own size throughout the year!

On the other hand, the Maldives has a much larger population, peaking at 530,000. Its visitor numbers were as high as 170,0000.

If you use the difference in tourist numbers to analyze popularity, the Maldives would be 10 times more well-known than the Cook Islands.

How Does That Affect Your Travel Planning?

With not much difference between the landmass of both places, you can expect the Maldives to have more (well, a lot more) people than the Cook Islands. This is another reason which makes the Cook Islands a better choice privacy-wise. 

Hence, if you’d like to mingle with other people and wouldn’t mind some hustle-and-bustle, the more touristy Maldives is a great option. Otherwise, the less-touristy Cook Islands’ seclusion awaits you!

Cook Islands or Maldives? Price Levels

A visit to the Cook Islands is affordable when compared to other expensive islands and neighboring countries.

Accommodations can be found in a range of prices, and the restaurants are generally fair-priced. Plus, you wouldn’t have to worry about overspending on shopping, as the Cooks barely offer any shopping opportunities. 

To get around, you can hop on to public transport, including buses and taxis, to travel between islands. Walking to your favorite spots is a great way to minimize transportation costs and enjoy scenic views on the way. 

In contrast, the Maldives is an expensive destination to visit – arguably one of the world’s most costly beach holiday destinations (but oh so worth it!).

There are private luxury resorts, high-end restaurants, and extravagant activities (such as a luxury yacht cruise) that can, quite frankly, cost you an arm and a leg. 

There are multiple modes of transportation in the Maldives. If you’re in a hurry, take a seaplane or speedboat. Want a luxurious journey? Yachts give an elite experience. For cheap options, you can consider ferries or buses. 

Both countries are primarily dependent on imports to meet their food needs, making groceries and basic supplies more or less expensive. For a deeper look, check out side-by-side price comparisons of the Cook Islands and the Maldives.

How Does That Affect Your Travel Planning?

Price levels make a difference, but your choices have a more significant say when it comes to going on vacation.

You can find expensive things to do in the Cook Islands, though the number of luxury resorts they have is lesser when compared to the Maldives. Likewise, you can manage your finances in the Maldives by staying in a guesthouse and opting for cheap food and activities. 

As a more general idea – if you’re planning your vacation around a budget, the Cook Islands would work well with your plans. But if you don’t mind investing some bucks, the Maldives has luxury resorts awaiting your arrival.

Cook Islands or Maldives? When To Travel

The Cook Islands generally see two seasons – a rainy season between December and March and a more dry plus mild season for the remaining months.

Evidently, May through October would be the best time to visit when you can enjoy sunny days and pleasant temperatures. As a general idea of temperatures, the Northern islands average at 27°C, while the Southern islands experience an annual average of 23°C.

The seasons in the Maldives are quite the opposite of the Cooks when it comes to visiting periods. December to April are the dry months, being the best time to visit the country. The remaining months are characterized by strong winds and rain.

The temperatures in the Maldives vary between 24°C and 31°C, staying constant for the most part.

Natural Hazards:

Cyclones are likely to occur in the Cook Islands between December and April. Earthquakes and tsunamis can also happen, though not so common.

Likewise, major disasters are rare in the Maldives, though small-scale hazards such as heavy rainfall and coastal floods can be expected.

How Does That Affect Your Travel Planning?

The warmer months, as mentioned for each of the two destinations, are incredible periods for you to plan your vacation. But keep in mind that both places are flooded by visitors around these times of the year, thus driving the prices high for these particular months.

However, there’s a better guarantee of warm and sunny days in the Maldives, where the average temperatures are higher and last for the most part of the year.

Remember to pack some warm clothes in case the temperatures fall during the dark hours, though!

The comparisons and contrast of the two stunning destinations come to an end here, hoping that they help you make up your mind on where you want to head to next. The relaxing and unspoiled Cook Islands or the mesmerizing and plush Maldives – the choice is yours to make. Wherever you go, have a lovely trip:-) 

Safe travels! Also, if the Cook Islands intrigue you, learn more about their vibrant marine life and other animals.

Where to Get Detailed Information About the Entire Cook Islands…

Interested in learning more about the Cook Islands? Surf through our website for everything you need to know (including aesthetic visuals of all the inhabited islands!).

Plus, we have a travel guide covering all the following details:

  • How to get to Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke, Mitiaro, Palmerston, Pukapuka, Nassau, Manihi, Rakahanga, and Penrhyn (plus their contact details and geocodes)
  • Best time for traveling
  • Useful facts and statistics
  • Details on the infrastructure
  • Tips on where to shop and what to eat

Plus a lot more. Dig right into the Cook Islands Travel Guide, the complete guide to the entire 12 inhabited islands of the country!

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