Aloha Maui! Maui is the 2nd largest of the Hawaiian Islands and I believe this is the perfect tropical destination for relaxation. Six days minimum is recommended to fully enjoy the serene beaches and explore this beautiful island.
Tip: Pick up the “Maui favourite Island directory” at the luggage area of the airport for tips on activities, dining and shopping.
Car rental is definitely a must in Maui. Rental rate is cheap and parking is free at most hotels. I highly recommend a small car to save on gas. Note: It takes ~30min to drive from the airport to South Maui and ~60min to West Maui.
FYI: Driving in Maui is like driving through a small rural town.
Hotels and condo rentals are options for accommodation. In Maui, everything is a drive away but if you want to be near the beach, the two areas to consider are the West and South.
West Maui (Kaanapali, Napili, Honokowai, Kahana)
- Kaanapali. This is the luxury part of the west side with high end hotels, beautiful scenery and white sand beaches for swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing. Most condos and hotels are right on the ocean and the location is near all the tourist attractions.
South Maui (Wailea, Kihei). Slightly quieter atmosphere than West Maui with less rain and wind in the winter. However, most accommodations are across the street from the ocean and they are not walkable to restaurants and shopping centres like in Kannapali.
- Kihei. We stayed at CRH – Hale Kamaole, a 2 bedrooms condo for $134 USD per night. The amenities such as a kitchen, washer and dryer made it even better than a hotel. Plus, they provided beach materials such as boogie boards, pool noodles, and beach umbrella for free. I really enjoyed my stay there and recommend this style of accommodation.
There are two seasons in Maui. Winter (Nov through April) and Summer. Regardless of the season, the weather in Maui is warm all year-round so any time of the year is a good time to visit Maui.
Since Hawaii is located closer to the equator, the amount of daylight hours as well as the sunrise and sunset times do not vary as much. Sunrise between 6am-7am and Sunset between 6pm-7pm all year round.
There are tonnes of affordable fast food and fine dining, all at a reasonable price point.
Foodland (a grocery chain in Maui). Spam Musubi (spam on rice) and Poke are popular food to try here.
Coconut’s Fish Cafe (Located in South Maui). I highly recommend the coconut shrimp. As for entrée, the locals recommend Fish Tacos, with or without wraps.
Bubba Gump Shrimp (from the movie Forrest Gump) in Lahaina. Spectacular ocean view tables and lots of food to choose from at a reasonable price. The seafood are cheap here! I believe the seafood bucket in the photo cost me ~$28 USD.
Starnoodle (located near Lahaina). Ramen is a must try item.
Mama’s Fish house (located at the edge of Paia town, on the way to Hana). The restaurant has a secluded beach and the view is absolutely stunning, you can walk around and take pictures of the ocean while waiting. The menu (on website) is pricey, if you are on a tight budget, you don’t have to deprive yourself of this experience as there are other ways to get around. What I did was instead of ordering an entrée, I ordered an appetizer instead, which ranges $30-40 USD. Being a small person, that’s simply enough to fill me up. The restaurant offers free valet parking, but tipping is expected when you are picking up the car. Tip: Make reservation in advance as they are fully booked most days. We initially wanted to book for Dinner, but there was no opening so we went for Brunch instead. The scenery did not disappoint and I found it to be much more beautiful during the bright daylight. Since we were in the area, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring and shopping around the town of Pia. As a pleasant surprise, on our drive back to town from the restaurant, we made an unexpected stop at Kuau beach and saw tonnes of sea turtles.
Banana Bread. Buy a banana bread from any of the vendors on the Road to Hana. Sooo good!
Costco and Walmart. Both are located within 10minutes from the airport and are cheap places to buy chocolate and other souvenirs. At Wal-Mart, you must try “Fresh from Hawaii” Macadamia Nuts Coconut Crunch, it is an island favorite and is mine as well. If you don’t like coconut, caramelized sea salt flavour is another alternatives. Tip: Maui airport demands that all food items (including chocolate) be taken out of your carry-on luggage when going through security. Beware and pack your food items at the top of your luggage or better yet, in a separate bags to avoid having to opening up your luggage to dig it out.
Note: Shave ice is very disappointing in Maui, is literally ice with food coloring. ‘Shave’ your money and don’t even bother trying it.
Top activities to do in Maui
1. Road to Hana.
A small town connected to central Maui by a famous scenic drive. There are 600 turns with 54 narrow one-lane bridges that takes around 3 hours (from South Maui) to 4 hours (from West Maui) to complete-without stopping. Indeed, the journey is more important than the destination when talking about the Road to Hana. Warning: Many have been known to get car sickness driving the Road to Hana. If you are the driver, please slow down when turning around the curve. If you are not the driver, bring a pillow and squeeze it against the seat and window and lean against it to help you sleep; or consider taking a small portion of gravol to get you through the trip (enough not to get sick but not enough to get sleepy. For me, the magic portion is 1/4 of a 50mg gravol every four hours).
Q: Should I drive or pay to do the bus tour?
A: If you are afraid of heights and unsure of your driving ability, do the drive to the Summit first (#2 on our activities list below) to see if you could handle the curvy and windy road, it is a preview to the Road of Hana. If you can count yourself as a driver and have another driver as a back up, you should definately drive and here’s why. First, your rental vehicle is already paid for the day so you might as well save money and drive it. Second, is more comfortable sitting in your own car & driving at your own pace, you can crank on the music or listen to the apps (see below) like you have your own guide without the additional expense. Third, you can make as many stops as you like and stay as long as your heart desire. Fourth, most tour buses do not go as far as the Bamboo forest so you might not get to see the amazing view it has to offer.
Tip: I highly recommend that you download an offline “GyPSY Guide Road” audio app on your phone to help you navigate the road to hana. You will pay $6 for the experience of having your own tour guy in the vehicle. The app is also a GPS system so it signals your location and guide you where to stop. The narrator gives you interesting facts throughout the trip based on the direction you are driving.
Road to Hana activities
A few of the most popular areas to see on this famous drive are:
1. Twin Falls. A first destination on your journey where you get to see fruit stands and multiple waterfalls. The hike to the first waterfall is an easy hike. Stay at least 20 min and take a quick swim in the refreshing waterfall pool. If you have more time, continue hiking down the path to see grander waterfalls. Note: this may take ~1 hour roundtrip.
2. Garden of Eden. This is a popular tourist stop if you don’t plan to drive past Hana and want to see a botanical garden. Admission fee is $15 USD per person. We didn’t want to pay admission fee and decided to skip this spot.
3. Kaeleku Caverns. Open daily 1030 am – 4 pm. Costs ~$12.50 per person. This is the largest and most accessible lava tube in Maui. You will be given a flashlight as you walk through the dark tunnel on a self guided tour. Expect to spend 30-45 mins here, depending on how long you stop to read the informational signs.
4. Black Sand Beach of Wainapanapa State Park. Not only will you see black sands, but also water caves (lava tubes) and unpredictable blowholes. Blowholes are seawater coming up and out through the holes found in rocks, splashing a few feet into the air. Depending on the tide, the blow holes will provide a fantastic show!
5. Red Sand Beach at Kaihallu. A “clothing optional” beach. Be prepare to trek 15 mins to reach the beach. The hike starts across the lawn at the sea side of Hana Community Centre and continues as a steep trail down to the beach. There are 2 paths down to the beach, take the path that stays on the rocky beach. Its slow but not as dangerous as the other path.
7. Seven Sacred Pools (Oheo Gulch). The name is deceiving because there are more than 7 pools. As well, each pool contains freshwater, and since water is the source of life and considered sacred, hence the name “sacred” pool.
8. Bamboo Forest. There are two Bamboo Forests: (1) 20 min past Twin Falls on the road to Hana (2) within Haleakala National Park. If you choose the latter (better of the two), take the Pipiwai trail. During the trail you will first come across a Banyan Tree (a gigantic tree), the beautiful bamboo forest, and finally a 184-foot waterfall at Makahiku. Tip: The hike will take 2-3 hours roundtrip depending on how often you stop for photos. Wear photo worthy clothes and take a picture of your back walking into the bamboo forest… It is absolutely stunning! In order not to drive back in the dark, my advice is to start driving back before 4pm.
Note: The seven sacred pools and bamboo forest are both located in the Kipahulu district of the Haleakala National Park, about 20 minutes drive past Hana. Park entrance fee is $25 USD. Tip: Park entrance fee is valid for 3 days, save the receipt and use it to enter the Summit (Haleakala National Park, activity #2 on our list below) at a later time.
Once you have reached the Haleakala National Park, some say the best return option is to take the backside road of the island for better scenery and a faster route. This road is not recommended to drive in the dark and/or if it is raining. It is a gravel road and the rain will make the road slippery and dangerous as you are driving close to the edge of the cliff. We didn’t want to take the risk so we took the same route back.
- Bring extra towels and wear a bathing suit underneath your clothes so that you can go swimming at the waterfall.
- Bring bottles of water and enough food/snacks for this all-day affair. If you did not bring enough food, no worries, you could purchase food at food stands near each of the rest stops.
- Bring walking shoes and sandals to change between hiking and swimming.
- Bring sunscreen and bug repellents.
- Start your journey early (530a.m) as it will take ~ 10 hours round trip stopping at all the places listed above.
Note: Keep in mind that the sun sets between 6-7pm and is highly recommended that you do not drive back on the Road to Hana in the dark. Consider staying overnight in Hana if you plan to do most of these activities.
Located in Haleakala (House of the Sun) National Park. The dormant volcano’s summit is Maui’s highest peak at 10,023 feet above sea level. We recommend you wake up early to drive up to the Haleakala Visitor Centre (9740 ft.) and watch the sunrise. There is the least amount of clouds at sunrise, so you are able to see Maui and the other islands. This is an amazing view! Be aware that there is heavy traffic before dawn and you may need to walk a bit to the summit, so budget enough time to get there before the sunrise. Although sunrise and sunset is the best time to visit, we also went in a cloudy afternoon when there are a full bed of clouds, another great view and make for amazing photos!bThe ride is long and winding but is well worth it! It is an unforgettable experience, so you have to do it at least once. Tip: If you are planning to visit during sunrise, reservation is required. Make in advance before your trip as it can sell out fast. Click here for more information. Don’t forget to save your entrance ticket to use for the bamboo forest (activity #8 on the road to hana). Since is a winding road, slow down when you are making a turn and take gravol if you are not the driver to prevent motion sickness.
Note: While driving the road to the summit, we saw a few bike tours. It appeared a vehicle would take the bikes and people to the top, and then they would bike down from the summit. Looks interesting…
3. Lahaina Town.
A fun historic tourist town on the west side of Maui. You could find lots of free parking certain lot and also at the end of Front Street to park your car.
- Banyan Tree. A photo-worthy gigantic tree planted in 1873 and now stands over 50 feet high and fills an entire city block.
- Front Street. Located oceanfront in this historic town. There are lots of restaurants, shops, art vendors and galleries. This is a must-do to hang out and buy souvenirs. Take a photo sitting on Forrest Gump Bench (outside Bubba Gump Shrimp) and pretend to ‘walk in Forrest’s shoes’.
- Whale Watching. Peak season is in Jan/Feb, but the entire season lasts from mid-May to late November. You can catch the site of whale fins from ashore at Kaanapali Beach, Papawai Point (west of Maalaea), Big Beach (Makena). For a best view, take a cruise from the harbour. Note: If you get motion sickness this activity might not be for you; if you do go, sit in the back of the boat and gravol is also highly recommended.
This is one of my favourite experiences in Maui, cost ~$100 USD. You must include a Luau if this is your first time visiting. You will get to watch a pig roasting ceremony and enjoy a buffet-style of Hawaiian food. The buffet we went to was only so-so, but the fire dancers and show afterward were amazing. It was truly an enjoyable evening, and we got to take pictures with some of the dancers afterward! Tip: The Grand Wailea Resort has a Luau, which is available on Costco website to be purchased in CAD money. There are lots of Luaus in Maui, I heard the show is usually similar, differences being the quality of the food and venue. We did not care too much for the food, we picked based on location. Nonetheless, I prefer the Luau over the Polynesian Cultural Centre on Oahu island (Honolulu)— since both are equally expensive, each is good to go to just once.
- WEST Maui: Kamaole I,II or III. Best beaches with pristine waters and warm, inviting sand. The beach is usually crowded with tourists. This beach is more for sunbathing as they have big waves making swimming very difficult. Tip: Free parking is available at Sheraton hotel, but space is limited. I highly recommend that you also google “free parking” in this area before heading out as a back up.
- SOUTH Maui: Makena Beach earns its name as “Big Beach” because it’s the biggest beach in South Maui. This is a more secluded beach, with great views of the islands of Molokini and Kahoolawe. It’s neighbour beach Puu Olai or “Little Beach” is popular for people who like to wear little to nothing.
In 1797 and even earlier, the Haleakala Volcano erupted and lava flowed into the ocean. Fortunately, the volcano remains dormant since and this site is the aftermath of that event. This is your chance to see and walk through lava rocks (Note: you will encounter fresher lava rocks in many areas on the Big Island). This is also a popular spot to see Dolphins! Tip: Park on the road and walk because if you accidentally drive over a sharp lava rock you will get a flat tire. It is about 5 min drive from Makena Beach.
An infamous surf spot–one of the largest and strongest surf breaks in the world with wave sizes that exceed 70-feet in the Winter (December-March). Because the waves are very consistent and sometimes monstrous, many movies and events are held there.
8. “The Shops at Wailea” shopping centre in South Maui, the scenery itself is worth a visit on its own. Like most shopping centers in Maui, you can always redeem your 3 hours parking validation by purchasing a minimum amount within the mall.
On our last day, we ventured out and got a Henna tattoo on our hands for ~$20 USD. (FYI: henna is a temporary tattoo). Unlike what Forrest Gump said about life, Maui is not ‘like a box of chocolates’ and we hope our tips here give you lots of ideas on what to do and see there.
Mahalo for reading!