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.
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 bedroom 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 tones of affordable fast food and fine dining, all at a reasonable price point.
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.
Banana Bread. Buy a banana bread from any of the vendors on the Road to Hana. Sooo good!
Top activities to do in Maui
1. Road to Hana.
A small town connected to central Maui by a famous scenic drive. Warning: many have been known to get car sickness driving the Road to Hana. 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.
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. Note: The hike will take 2-3 hours roundtrip.
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 $15 USD. Tip: Park entrance fee is valid for 3 days, save it to enter the Summit (Haleakala National Park, activity #2 on our list) 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.
- Start your journey early 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. The ride is long and winding but is well worth it! It is an unforgettable experience, so you have to do it at least once.
Note: 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. We also went in the afternoon when there are a full bed of clouds, another great view!
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 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.
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: 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.
- 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! Note: 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.
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!