The Ultimate Guide to Maui

The Ultimate Guide to Maui

Maui is the second largest island in Hawaii and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Known for its beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, and epic adventures, Maui offers something for everyone. As a Maui local and travel writer, I've explored every corner of this magical island and created the ultimate guide for planning your dream vacation.

Table
  1. Why Go To Maui
  2. Best Time To Visit Maui
  3. Getting To Maui
  4. Top Regions and Towns
    1. West Maui
    2. South Maui
    3. Central Maui
    4. Upcountry Maui
    5. North Shore
    6. Hana
  5. Getting Around Maui
  6. Top Things To Do
    1. 1. Drive the Road to Hana
    2. 2. Watch the Sunrise from Haleakala
    3. 3. Spend a Day at Waianapanapa State Park
    4. 4. Visit Iao Valley State Park
    5. 5. Snorkel at Molokini Crater
    6. 6. Stroll the Shops of Lahaina
    7. 7. Drive the West Maui Loop
    8. 8. Catch the Sunset from Haleakala
    9. 9. Eat and Beach Hop in Wailea
    10. 10. Splurge on a Helicopter Tour
  7. Best Beaches
  8. Best Snorkeling Spots
  9. Best Hikes
  10. Best Waterfalls
  11. Best Luau Shows
  12. Best Restaurants
    1. Local Hawaiian Cuisine
    2. Upscale Beachfront
    3. Farm-to-Table
  13. Best Annual Events
  14. Plan The Ultimate Maui Adventure

Why Go To Maui

Maui is often voted "Best Island in the World" for good reason. Here are some of the key highlights that make Maui a top travel destination:

  • World-class beaches - Maui has over 30 miles of stunning beaches with soft white sand and clear turquoise waters perfect for swimming, snorkeling, surfing, and sunbathing. Popular beaches include Ka'anapali, Kapalua, Wailea, and Makena.
  • Dramatic landscapes - The interior of Maui is filled with lush tropical rainforests, cascading waterfalls, volcanic craters, and the towering Haleakala volcano standing at 10,023 feet. Picturesque drives like the Road to Hana offer breathtaking scenery around every corner.
  • Outdoor adventures - From ziplining to paragliding to snorkeling with turtles, Maui offers exhilarating activities for all ages. You can surf massive waves at Honolua Bay, hike through bamboo forests to waterfalls, or bike down Haleakala volcano.
  • Delicious farm-to-table cuisine - Maui has an abundance of organic farms, farmers markets, and restaurants serving up island-inspired dishes made with the freshest local ingredients. Be sure to try traditional Hawaiian plate lunches, shave ice, and mai tais.
  • Rich Hawaiian culture - Immerse yourself in Polynesian traditions by watching hula performances, taking ukulele lessons, or attending a luau feast with singing and dancing under the stars.

No matter your travel style or interests, Maui has something for everyone. The island offers a perfect combination of natural beauty, outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, and pure tropical bliss.

Best Time To Visit Maui

Maui has warm weather year-round, but certain times of year provide the most ideal conditions for certain activities. Here are the best times to visit based on your interests:

  • Dry Summer Months (April - October) - This is Maui's busiest tourist season, with little rainfall, lower humidity, and temperatures in the 80s. The ocean is calmest during this time, making it great for snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, and stand up paddleboarding. Whale season also wraps up at the end of April.
  • Whale Watching Season (December - April) - One of the best times to see humpback whales off Maui's shores is between December and April when they migrate from Alaska to breed and birth calves. Take a whale watching cruise for close encounters.
  • Big Wave Surfing Season (November - March) - During the winter, massive swells bring huge waves up to 60 feet high to spots like Jaws (Peahi), drawing daring big wave surfers from around the world. Prime spectator spots include Nakalele Point and West Maui's Honolua Bay.
  • Shoulder Seasons (April, May, September, October) - During the spring and fall shoulder seasons, you'll avoid the most crowds and enjoy pleasant weather with temperatures in the mid 70s to 80s. Hotel rates and airfare are usually cheaper too.

Getting To Maui

The main gateway to Maui is Kahului Airport (OGG). Here are some options for getting to Maui:

  • Flights - Kahului Airport has many direct flights from major U.S. and Canadian cities, as well as connecting flights across Hawaii's other islands. It's served by airlines like American, United, Delta, Alaska, Hawaiian, and more.
  • Cruise Ships - Cruise ships frequently stop at Kahului Harbor and other ports like Lahaina Harbor and Ma'alea Harbor, allowing cruisers to explore Maui for a day or multiple days. Popular cruise lines include Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Princess.
  • Ferries - You can take passenger ferries like the Maui Ferry or Expeditions Maui-Lanai Passenger Ferry from nearby islands like Oahu, Molokai or Lanai. This allows you to island hop across Hawaii.

Once you arrive, your ground transportation options include renting a car, booking an airport shuttle or taxi service, taking public buses, or using rideshare apps like Uber or Lyft available on the west side of Maui. Having a rental car makes exploring the entire island much easier.

Top Regions and Towns

Maui is divided into several regions and towns, each with its own unique vibe and attractions:

West Maui

West Maui contains popular resort areas like Ka'anapali and Kapalua. With its calm shallow waters and golden sand beaches, this area draws families, couples on romantic getaways, golfers, and luxury travelers.

Towns: Lahaina, Ka'anapali, Kapalua, Kahana, Napili, Honokowai

South Maui

South Maui has famous beaches and luxury resorts around Wailea and Makena. Excellent conditions for swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing can be found all winter long. The upscale area attracts retirees and couples looking for seclusion and amenities.

Towns: Wailea, Makena, Kihei

Central Maui

Central Maui contains the main airport and largest town Kahului along with famous surf town Paia. It acts as a gateway to adventures like the Road to Hana or Haleakala. Families, backpackers, surfers, and budget travelers base themselves here.

Towns: Kahului, Wailuku, Paia

Upcountry Maui

Upcountry Maui refers to the artisan towns and rural farming communities on the slopes of Haleakala. Panoramic views and cooler temperatures draw those seeking to escape the resort areas and experience a different pace of life.

Towns: Pukalani, Makawao, Kula

North Shore

Maui's North Shore boasts the famous big wave surf breaks and unspoiled towns like Haiku. With jungles, waterfalls and few crowds, this area appeals to nature lovers, surfers and those seeking the road less traveled.

Towns: Haiku, Paia, Hookipa, Hana

Hana

The remote seaside town of Hana feels like stepping back in time with its black sand beaches, jungle waterfalls, and Hawaiian traditions. Located at the end of the famous Road to Hana, it attracts adventure seekers looking to unplug and immerse in nature.

No matter which region you stay, it's easy to access the rest of the island with some strategic planning using a rental car. When picking accommodations, consider proximity to the attractions and activities you want most.

Getting Around Maui

Here are the best transportation options for getting around Maui:

  • Rental Car - Having your own vehicle is highly recommended for maximum flexibility exploring Maui. Drive along scenic coastal routes, stop at fruit stands, or pull over to snap photos anywhere you want. Consider a 4x4 vehicle for the Road to Hana.
  • Public Bus - Maui Bus provides affordable bus service between most major towns across the island. However, routes are limited so review schedules carefully when planning your itinerary.
  • Taxis and Shuttles - Taxis and airport shuttle services are readily available for point-to-point trips if you rather not drive yourself. Consider splurging for a private tour.
  • Limousine Services - Hire a limo service to take you between resorts or on custom sightseeing excursions in luxury. Perfect for special occasions or group trips.
  • Moped Rentals - Mopeds and scooters are a common way to buzz around towns across Maui. But they can't go on highways and may not feel safe for long distances.
  • Uber/Lyft - Rideshare apps operate in West Maui providing another transportation option, but coverage is limited on the island.

With strategic planning using multiple modes of transportation, it's easy to maximize your time exploring Maui's magical sights.

Top Things To Do

With so many incredible things to see and do, planning your itinerary for Maui can feel overwhelming. Here are 10 of the top attractions and activities you won't want to miss:

1. Drive the Road to Hana

This epic full day adventure involves driving a winding 50-mile coastal route with over 600 twists and turns past waterfalls, beaches, hiking trails, and scenic viewpoints. Top sights along the way include:

  • Twin Falls
  • Black Sand Beach
  • Waianapanapa State Park
  • Wailua Falls
  • Pools of Oheo

2. Watch the Sunrise from Haleakala

Wake up early to make the drive up to the summit of Haleakala volcano for a stunning sunrise view above the clouds over the volcanic crater landscape. Sunrise tours and bike rides down the volcano are popular.

3. Spend a Day at Waianapanapa State Park

This lush state park has a volcanic black sand beach, sea arches, ancient Hawaiian sites, caves to explore, and the Piilani Trail passing through a jungle filled with mango trees and naupaka plants.

4. Visit Iao Valley State Park

This lush green valley in the West Maui Mountains has walking trails past bamboo groves and the iconic Iao Needle, a 1,200-foot volcanic spire rising from the valley floor.

5. Snorkel at Molokini Crater

Take a snorkel cruise to this crescent moon-shaped partially submerged volcanic crater in the Alalakeiki Channel between Maui and Kahoolawe. Snorkel among coral reefs and brightly colored tropical fish in the protected marine preserve.

6. Stroll the Shops of Lahaina

Historic Lahaina town has tons of art galleries, boutique shops, souvenir stores, and restaurants to explore along lively Front Street. Check the schedule for free hula shows and Polynesian dance performances at the Lahaina Cannery Mall.

7. Drive the West Maui Loop

This scenic driving loop winds along the coast passing beach towns, scenic lookout points, and stops for snorkeling and swimming with green sea turtles at places like Kapalua Bay, Nakalele Blowhole, and Honolua Bay.

8. Catch the Sunset from Haleakala

For a different perspective, return to Haleakala summit before sunset to watch the skies darken and stars emerge over the volcanic landscape. Make reservations for sunset tours and plan to dress warmly.

9. Eat and Beach Hop in Wailea

Beach hop from Wailea to Makena Bay checking out luxury resorts and soft sand beaches along the way. Fuel up at the Shops at Wailea or have a fancy sunset dinner on the beach at restaurants like Mala Ocean Tavern or Migrant.

10. Splurge on a Helicopter Tour

Book a helicopter tour for an incredible bird's eye perspective of Maui's famous waterfalls, sea cliffs, and remote Hana coastline. Float above towering volcanoes and Jurassic-looking valleys not accessible any other way.

With so many things to do on Maui, the most important part is giving yourself enough time to soak it all in. I'd recommend at least 5-7 days to experience the best attractions at a relaxed pace.

Best Beaches

Maui is synonymous with breathtaking beaches. Here are some of the top beaches to add to your itinerary:

  • Kapalua Bay - Calm, crescent shaped bay perfect for swimming and snorkeling among colorful reefs. Great beginner spot located in Kapalua.
  • Ka'anapali Beach - Sweeping 3-mile stretch of golden sand lined with resorts and restaurants in West Maui. Prime spot for sunbathing and strolling at sunset.
  • Wailea Beach - Crescent-shaped beach fronting the luxury resorts of Wailea with soft sand, minimal waves, and a coastal walking path.
  • Makena Beach State Park (Big Beach) - Large golden sand beach that's never crowded due to tricky parking access. Neighboring Little Beach is popular with nudists.
  • Hamoa Beach - Sandy cove beach fringed by palm trees in Hana, perfect for swimming and enjoying spectacular views of volcanic coastline.
  • Ho'okipa Beach Park - North Shore beach famous for big wave surfing and windsurfing with views of surfers on the waves. Great spot to watch spectacular sunsets.
  • Wai'anapanapa State Park - Unique black sand beach near Hana with incredible scenery, sea arch caves to explore, and swimming holes along freshwater streams.

Be sure to check ocean conditions before entering the water as many spots have strong currents, large waves or rocky sea floors making them better for sunbathing than swimming. With 30+ miles of coastline, Maui has a beach for every water activity.

Best Snorkeling Spots

Thanks to clear waters and healthy coral reefs, Maui serves up fantastic snorkeling around nearly every corner of the island. Some top spots include:

  • Molokini Crater - Crescent moon-shaped crater and protected marine preserve teeming with tropical fish just off the southern coast. Visible via snorkel cruises.
  • Honolua Bay - North West Maui reef with regular sightings of sea turtles, dolphins and seasonal whales, accessible from shore.
  • Turtle Town - South Maui spot where green sea turtles congregate near the rocks at Makena Beach. Also great for spotting whale sharks and rays during winter.
  • Ahihi Kinau Natural Preserve - South coast protected area with rocky coves and three pristine reefs only accessible by foot or boat.
  • Black Rock (Ka'anapali) - Walk from Ka'anapali beach to access the reef at the tip of Black Rock known for an abundance of fish and occasional sea turtle sightings. Great beginner spot.
  • Napili Bay - West Maui beach with easy shore access to reefs teeming with colorful parrotfish, tangs and the occasional spotted eagle ray or octopus.

For the best visibility, look for locations with calm water conditions. Always apply reef-safe sunscreen before entering the ocean and avoid touching any corals. The variety of marine life seen snorkeling in Maui is unforgettable.

Best Hikes

Lace up your hiking boots and get ready to explore dramatic landscapes across the Valley Isle on these top Maui trails:

  • Pipiwai Trail - 4 miles round-trip passing Makahiku Falls, Waimoku Falls and an incredible bamboo forest in Haleakala National Park.
  • 'Iao Valley State Park Trails - Easy short trails in lush Iao Valley including a path to view the iconic Iao Needle rock formation.
  • Waihe'e Ridge Trail - 5 miles out and back with panoramic ocean-to-summit views as you descend deep into the West Maui Mountains from here.
  • Lahaina Pali Trail - Sweeping ocean views along this 6 mile trail between Lahaina and Wailuku along the West Maui Mountain ridge.
  • Haleakala Crater Trails - Hike down into the volcanic crater and Multi-Color Sandscape of Haleakala for unique lunar-like scenery.
  • Makena State Park Trails - Hike ridge trails across ancient lava flows with spectacular views of Makena's Big Beach.

For trail maps, current conditions and entry fees for state and national parks, visit the Hawaii Division of State Parks website and National Park Service website before you go. Bring plenty of water, apply sunscreen and wear proper footwear.

Best Waterfalls

With abundant rainfall year round, Maui has countless magical waterfalls cascading down from lush mountain cliffs throughout the island. Some waterfall highlights include:

  • Twin Falls – Easily accessible waterfall along the Road to Hana with multiple cascading pools perfect for swimming. Requires a short hike through the jungle.
  • Waimoku Falls – Plunge pool at the end of the beautiful Pipiwai Trail inside Haleakala National Park. Expect a steep uphill hike but worth it.
  • 'Ohe'o Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools) - A series of cascading pools and waterfalls along the ocean near Hana inside Haleakala National Park.
  • Waihe'e Falls – Located along the Waihe'e Coastal Trail with ocean views. One of the most photographed falls on Maui.
  • Wailua Falls – Iconic 80-foot waterfall along the Hana Highway making it easy to drive up and admire. Features in famous films and TV shows.
  • Nakalele Blowhole - Unique spot where water shoots up like a geyser when waves hit a sea cave below at the right angle along the northern coast. Requires a short hike.

Pack your swimsuit if you want to take a dip in pools below. Take care around slippery rocks, cliff edges and trails. Check flash flood warnings after heavy rainfall.

Best Luau Shows

For a taste of authentic Hawaiian culture, attend one of Maui's lively luau feasts featuring traditional dishes like kalua pork, poi and haupia, along with ceremonial hula dancing and music performances under the stars. Top luau picks:

  • Old Lahaina Luau – Oceanfront luau in Lahaina with traditional food, dances from different Polynesian cultures, and craft workshops. Authentic Hawaiian hospitality in a lush garden setting.
  • Drums of the Pacific Luau – Ka'anapali luau with live Polynesian dances, fire knife dancing, and Hawaiian music. Family-friendly with beachfront views of sunset.
  • Wailea Beach Resort Luau – Elaborate luau at the Wailea Beach Resort featuring traditional imu pork feast, Molokai wild pig hunt dance, fire dancers, hula and Hawaii-inspired cocktails.
  • Te Au Moana – Intimate luau experience at the Wailea Marriott showcasing Native Hawaiian music, cultural demonstrations and storytelling in addition to classic luau entertainment.
  • Feast at Lele - Upscale luau held on the beach at Lahaina featuring contemporary cuisine from across Polynesia with a visually stunning performance.

Tickets for Maui luaus typically cost $100+ per person. When choosing one, consider aspects like oceanfront setting, menu, crowd size and interactive experiences offered. Share in the Aloha spirit at this treasured Hawaiian tradition.

Best Restaurants

Maui's dining scene is as eclectic and multicultural as its population. For unforgettable meals, check out these spots:

Local Hawaiian Cuisine

  • Aloha Mixed Plate - Casual harborfront eatery in Lahaina serving Hawaiian plate lunch classics. Get the kalua pork and lau lau.
  • Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice - Best shave ice on Maui with unique tropical flavors and fresh fruit toppings. Multiple locations.
  • Sam Sato's - Historic mom-and-pop restaurant in Wailuku specializing in savory dry mein noodles, a local favorite.

Upscale Beachfront

  • Mama's Fish House - Iconic restaurant serving refined dishes with Hawaiian flair and the island's freshest seafood. World famous Maui location. Reservations essential.
  • Mala Ocean Tavern - Gourmet locally inspired food and killer sunsets on the beach at Wailea. Fancy but relaxed vibe.
  • Merriman's Kapalua - Acclaimed Chef Peter Merriman's Maui outpost specializing in farm-to-table Hawaiian regional cuisine using locally sourced ingredients.

Farm-to-Table

  • The Mill House - Farm-to-table restaurant at Maui's historic sugar mill featuring artisanal cuisine showcasing the island's bounty.
  • The Restaurant at Olowalu Plantation House - Charming oceanside restaurant using produce and herbs from its surrounding gardens. Live Hawaiian music nightly.
  • Farm to Feast Experiences - Specialized food tours and farming experiences focusing on locally grown food, sustainability and Hawaiian culture on Maui.

Don't leave without trying local specialties like poke bowls, loco moco, shave ice and malasadas while you're visiting paradise. With so many fabulous options, it's easy to eat incredibly well on Maui.

Best Annual Events

Along with perfect weather and beaches, Maui hosts amazing festivals and events worth planning a trip around:

  • Whale Festival (February) – Celebrate the migration of thousands of humpback whales to Maui's warm waters with whale watches, competitions, exhibits and more.
  • Maui Film Festival (June) - See big name stars light up the red carpet at premiere screenings under the stars hosted at venues throughout Maui.
  • Makawao Paniolo Parade (July) – Old West themed parade in upcountry Maui town of Makawao celebrating the island's paniolo (cowboy) history with horses and wagons.
  • Maui Marathon (September) – Run through scenic courses across Maui, passing spectacular beaches, scenic highways and misty jungles along the route.
  • Hawai'i Food & Wine Festival (October) – Sip wines and nibble dishes from acclaimed chefs and restaurants from Hawaii and around the globe at this acclaimed culinary festival.
  • Hula O Na Keiki (November) - Watch hundreds of keiki (children) show off their hula skills onstage at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center during this beloved competition.

Time your Maui escape to experience some of the island's unique celebrations of food, film, music and culture.

Plan The Ultimate Maui Adventure

With so many world-class beaches, adventures, sights and flavors, planning the details for your perfect Maui getaway can feel daunting. Here are my insider tips for an unforgettable Maui experience:

  • Come for 5-7 days - Do the island right by giving yourself 5-7 days or more to explore without feeling rushed. The extra days allow you to soak in the magic and ambiance that makes Maui so special.
  • Mix Up Locations - Spend a couple nights in different regions like Lahaina, Wailea, Paia and Hana for a more well-rounded experience across the island.
  • Pack Well - Bring sunscreen, hat, bathing suits, hiking shoes, lightweight clothing, raincoat, and aloha shirt to fit right in.
  • Get Adventurous - Hike to waterfalls. Learn to surf. Snorkel with sea turtles. Take that helicopter ride. Some of the best experiences happen when you get off the beaten path.
  • Eat Up - Savor the chance to try diverse locally grown Hawaiian and Asian-inspired dishes you won't find anywhere else. It's a foodie paradise.
  • Disconnect and Unwind - Forget about emails and texts. Nap on the beach. Read a book. Island time moves at a slower relaxing pace.

You truly can't go wrong on this slice of paradise. With my insider tips, you're ready to start planning your own ultimate Maui adventure. The hardest part will be leaving. Let the spirit of Aloha wash over you.

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