The Ultimate Travel Guide to Maui Hawaii (2024)

Waterfall Road to Hana Maui Hawaii

Inside: Planning a Maui vacation? From the top hotels to all the best things to do, here’s everything you need to know about Hawaii’s Valley Isle.

Welcome to Maui, the heart of Hawaii.

Lovingly dubbed ‘The Valley Isle,’ the island of Maui is a beacon for travelers seeking both adventure and tranquility. 

This island gem offers more than just breathtaking landscapes and pristine beaches. It’s a world where the spirit of Aloha thrives, inviting travelers to explore its rich culture, diverse ecosystems, and the kind of hospitality that makes you feel like Ohana (family).

From the lush trails of the Iao Valley to the sun-kissed sands of Wailea, Maui is a playground for all. Whether you’re diving with sea turtles in Molokini, chasing waterfalls along the Road to Hana, or simply enjoying a sunset on the beach in Kihei, every moment here is a special experience.

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you choose to book through these links, I receive a small commission, which I will likely blow on mai tais, poke, and shave ice.  All of this internet voodoo takes place at no additional cost to you. 

In this guide, we’ll dive deep into the heart of Maui. We’ll explore each unique region, uncover the best hotels and resorts, and highlight the must-see attractions and activities that make Maui truly magical. 

If this is your first time planning a Maui vacation, this Maui travel guide is your introduction to the island and all of its beauty.

So let’s dive in!

Why visit Maui?

Maui welcomes travelers with lush rainforests, spectacular waterfalls, and some of the most picturesque beaches in the world. You can explore the mesmerizing underwater world of Molokini Crater, or be awed by the sunrise at Haleakala National Park which is nothing short of inspiring.

But before I move on, let’s talk about one very important topic. 

Is it OK to visit Maui after the tragic Lahaina fires? 

In August 2023, the devastating Maui wildfires resulted in the loss of many lives, homes, historical sites, and businesses in West Maui’s historic town of Lahaina. The people of Maui continue to recover from this tragedy and there’s a long way to go.

But there’s no getting around the fact that Maui is a tourist destination. And, as such, the survival of the island’s economy is heavily dependent on a swift return to tourism. And that alone, is a good reason to go. 

In early 2024, Maui launched a tourism reboot called “Mākaukau Maui” which in Hawaiian means “ready” or “prepared.” The message to visitors is that Maui is ready to welcome you back with Aloha.

So while Lahaina itself remains closed to the public indefinitely, the rest of Maui’s resort areas are open and ready to welcome respectful visitors who arrive with the spirit of Aloha. And the good news is, visitors to Maui can help support the island’s recovery while also enjoying their vacation. 

Read more about how to visit Maui with respect and make a positive impact: Yes, Go to Maui. But Here’s What NOT to Do on Your Visit

With that said, let’s get to know the Valley Isle!

Fun Facts About Maui

There are plenty of things that make Maui special but here are a few fun facts:

Haleakalā, the House of the Sun: Haleakalā National Park is home to one of the world’s largest dormant volcanoes. Legend has it that the demigod Maui lassoed the sun from its summit to slow its journey across the sky, gifting humanity longer days. Today, Haleakalā is famed for its breathtaking sunrises and surreal landscapes.

Colorful Beaches: Maui boasts more than 120 miles of coastline, home to 80 stunning beaches. Maui’s beaches feature a unique palette of sand colors, from the renowned golden shores to rare red and black sands formed from volcanic lava found near Hana.

Whale Watching Capital: During the winter months, Maui becomes the prime spot for humpback whale watching in Hawaii. The Auau Channel between Maui, Lanai, and Molokai offers sheltered waters where these magnificent creatures come to breed, birth, and nurse their young, providing spectacular sightings.

Agricultural Haven: Maui is known for its diverse agriculture, including the cultivation of the famous Maui Gold Pineapple and Maui onion, lavender farms in Kula, and the winery at Ulupalakua Ranch. The island’s fertile volcanic soil supports a variety of crops, making it a haven for foodies and farm-to-table dining.

Majestic Marine Life: The island isn’t just stunning above sea level. Beneath the waves, the waters house a labyrinth of over 50 miles of coral reef, providing a sanctuary for countless marine species. This vibrant underwater world makes Maui a premier spot for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts.

Ready for Rainbows: Maui’s frequent rain showers and abundant sunshine create the perfect conditions for frequent and vivid rainbows.

What Is Maui Best Known For?

Maui is celebrated for its diverse landscapes that range from the lush greenery of the Iao Valley to the majestic summit of Haleakala Crater. The Road to Hana is famed for its winding paths leading to waterfalls, rainforests, and black sand beaches. And Maui’s underwater world offers exceptional snorkeling experiences at Molokini Crater.

Road to Hana Views Maui Hawaii
Road to Hana Views

What’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Maui?

Like the rest of Hawaii, Maui has just two seasons – summer and winter.

Summer months – From May to October, summer offers warm and dry conditions ideal for sun-seekers. You’ll find the ocean perfect for swimming and other outdoor activities. 

Winter months – (Also known as whale season!) From November to April, Maui has a slightly cooler and wetter climate.

Maui’s weather is as diverse as its landscapes. Each region has its own microclimate. The western and southern shores enjoy sunny, dry conditions, while the eastern part of Maui, especially around Hana, is more lush due to more rainfall.

My favorite time to visit – Typically, (Spring) April to June and (Fall) September to November offer the most favorable conditions. During these months, you’re more likely to experience warm, comfortable weather, fewer rain showers, and less crowded attractions. 

When Is Whale Watching Season in Maui?

Whale watching season in Maui is from December to April (the peak months are January and February). If whale watching is on your Bucket List, there’s no better place to be than Maui during whale season.

During these months, humpback whales migrate from cold Alaskan waters to the warm, safe waters of Hawaii to mate, calve, and nurse. And Maui is widely considered the best Hawaiian island for close encounters with whales during this annual winter migration.

Whale-Watching-Maui-Hawaii
Whale Watching in Maui

If you’re looking for the best Maui whale-watching tours, here’s everything you need to know to choose the right boat tour for you: The Everything Guide to the Best Maui Whale Watching Tours

How Many Days Do You Need in Maui?

Maui is a great place to spend a week or more. Catch a mesmerizing Haleakala sunrise or snorkel at Molokini Crater with plenty of time to explore the island’s best beaches and sights.

You can see a lot in just 3-4 days, but I recommend a minimum of five days to truly appreciate the best of Maui. Be sure to allocate a full day for the Road to Hana. 

If you can extend your stay to a full week or more, all the better! Extra days mean you can explore lesser-known trails, relax on the island’s pristine beaches, or even take a day trip to other islands.

Which brings me to…

Can you visit other islands from Maui?

Indeed, you can! Frequent flights from Maui’s Kahului Airport connect you to hotspots like the beaches of Waikiki or the Big Island’s volcanoes. There are also day tours by ferry to nearby Lanai for a quick taste of another island’s charm.

Each island has its own distinct charm and attractions, and exploring them can add more fun to your Hawaiian holiday. A quick flight to Honolulu is a great way to see historical sights like Pearl Harbor or have lunch at the food trucks on the North Shore.

Read More: The 7 Absolute Best Things to Do on Oahu (if time is short!)

Or grab a flight to Kauai to see the incredible Na Pali Coast (give yourself a full day for this one!). Hopping between islands is the perfect way to see more of Hawaii while you’re on this side of the Pacific.

Read More: The Ultimate Travel Guide to Kauai Hawaii (2024)

What to Pack for Maui

In Hawaii, casual resort wear is the name of the game. And even though Maui has a more upscale vibe than laid-back Kauai, there’s still no need to pack anything fancy, even for nicer restaurants. Aloha shirts for men and lightweight dresses in fun colors for women are acceptable just about everywhere. 

Maui’s weather can be a bit of a mix, with sunny days and occasional rain showers. And as I mentioned earlier, the weather can change quickly depending on which side of the island you’re on.

This handy packing list for Maui covers all the bases:

  • Lightweight, Breathable Clothing: Think cotton or moisture-wicking fabrics.
  • Rain Jacket: A lightweight one can be a lifesaver.
  • Heavier Jacket (or thick sweatshirt): If you’re planning to do sunrise at Haleakala.
  • Swimwear: For those beach days and waterfall dips.
  • Cover-ups: For lounging by the pool or beach.
  • Comfortable Footwear: Water shoes for adventures, sandals for the beach, and sneakers for hiking. (Leave the high heels at home!)
  • Hat and Sunglasses: Protect yourself from the tropical sun.
  • Beach Bag: To carry your beach essentials.
  • Reef-Safe Sunscreen: The only kind available to purchase in Hawaii.
  • Insect Repellent: Ward off the bugs, especially in lush areas.
  • Eco-Friendly Tote Bags: For groceries or souvenirs (free bags are not a thing in eco-conscious Hawaii).

Maui is all about embracing the island’s natural beauty and resort-casual vibe. With this list, you’ll be well-prepared to enjoy everything Maui has to offer.

How to Get to Maui (by air or sea)

Maui is a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so there are only two ways to get here – by air or sea. Most visitors arrive by air at Maui’s Kahului Airport from the mainland US or via a connecting flight from Honolulu. But there are also a few cruise ships that call on Maui.

Here’s a quick overview of both:

Maui’s Kahului Airport 🛫

Maui’s Kahului Airport (OGG) is located in the central part of the island. You’ll find all the essential amenities in this modern airport like car rental counters, visitor information, and hotel shuttles. There are also several shops and restaurants for a quick bite before your flight. 

Maui Kahului Airport Hawaii
Maui’s Kahului Airport

Maui has another airport in West Maui, the Kapalua Airport. This one is near the popular Ka’anapali resort area and is primarily served by Mokulele Airlines with flights from Honolulu.

However, the vast majority of visitors to Maui will arrive at the larger Kahului Airport.

Direct Flights to Maui

There was a time when getting to Maui required a connection through Honolulu. But those days are long gone and today flying nonstop to Maui is easy thanks to a variety of airlines with direct flights to Kahului Airport.

Hawaiian Airlines operates frequent flights from several mainland cities. As do Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest, and Delta. Cities with nonstop flights to Maui include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, Denver, and Chicago (and seasonal flights from Atlanta).

How to arrange a lei greeting 🌺

Contrary to popular belief, you won’t be welcomed to Maui at the airport with a traditional lei greeting. Unless, of course, you arrange it in advance! I love this idea, especially if it’s your first time visiting Hawaii or if you’re coming for a special occasion like your honeymoon. This Maui Kahului Airport Orchid Lei Greeting is the perfect welcome to paradise! 

Maui’s Cruise Ship Port 🚢

Travelers arriving in Maui via cruise ship dock at Maui’s only deep water cruise ship port, also located in Kahului. This port welcomes a variety of cruises that sail through the Hawaiian archipelago.

Maui Kahului Cruise Port Hawaii
Tha Kahului Cruise Ship Port

Cruise ships stay overnight in Maui allowing passengers enough time to enjoy a variety of excursions to nearby attractions or relax on the picturesque beaches. A cruise around the Hawaiian Islands is a great way to see all four of the main islands on a single trip. 

Do I Need a Rental Car on Maui? 🚗

I vote yes. With a rental car, you’ll have the freedom to discover secluded beaches, hidden waterfalls, and scenic lookouts on your own schedule. Car rental agencies are available at Kahului Airport but you’ll definitely want to book well in advance to ensure availability and get the best rates.

When it comes to rental cars, Discount Hawaii Car Rental is my go-to site.

MY Pick
Driving on Molokai Hawaii

Discount Hawaii Car Rental

For rental cars in Hawaii, go to the local experts. They’ll find you the best rate among all the major companies with no booking fees. And their customer support is top-notch.

If you choose not to rent a car and want to arrange an airport transfer to your hotel, this Maui Airport to Hotel Shared Airport Transfer is a great, affordable option.

Where to Stay in Maui – Hotel vs Vacation Rental

When it comes to where to stay in Maui, your primary options are full-service resorts or limited-service vacation rentals. 

Hotels & Resorts – Maui is world-famous for amazing full-service resorts featuring all the typical amenities – pools, spas, restaurants, and concierge services. For convenience, luxury, and pure relaxation, it’s hard to go wrong with one of Maui’s incredible resort properties.

Wailea Beach Resort Marriott Maui Hawaii
Wailea Beach Resorts

South Maui’s Wailea and West Maui’s Kaanapali are the top areas for resorts. Of course, not surprisingly, these fabulous properties often come with a hefty nightly price tag. 

Vacation Rentals – Larger and more affordable vacation rentals are another extremely popular option, especially in the South Maui area of Kihei. Vacation rentals can be great for larger families offering more space and kitchens for saving money on dinners out.

However, I’m currently advising against booking vacation rentals on Maui, and here’s why.

The current vacation rental situation on Maui

Since the tragic Lahaina fires, the island’s many vacation rentals have become a hotly debated topic. Residents and some state officials are lobbying hard for the island’s vacation rentals to be converted to longer-term housing for displaced Lahaina families. And considering many of those families have been living in hotel rooms for months, it’s hard to argue with this logic. 

With that said, in light of the political instability of that situation right now, I’m currently advising against booking vacation rentals on Maui. Let the local community sort this one out and book a hotel or resort for your vacation.

There’s a severe lack of affordable housing on Maui and renting a condo for a vacation that could house a local family just doesn’t feel right. Plus, moral dilemma aside, the last thing you want is to make a reservation for a condo and have it canceled on you at the last minute due to new legislation.     

Get to Know the 5 Regions of Maui

Maui has five distinct regions, each with a personality as varied as the island’s landscape. The five regions are:

South Maui

Wailea Beach is the star of Maui’s southern shore with golden sands, gentle waves, and dazzling sunsets. This is my favorite part of Maui to call home when I visit.

Beaches of Maui Hawaii
Wailea Beach, South Maui

Wailea is dotted with luxury hotels, restaurants, and world-class shopping. Molokini Crater sits just offshore and many of the island’s snorkeling tours also depart from here. The nearby small beach town of Kihei has a more charming, local vibe that is also popular with visitors. 

Best Hotels in South Maui:

Grand Wailea Beach Resort Maui Hawaii
Grand Wailea Beach Resort Maui

West Maui

Lahaina Town and its surrounding areas are closed to visitors and will be for years. Do not attempt to visit this area.

However, the rest of Maui’s West Side, including the popular resort areas of Ka’anapali, Kapalua, and Napili Bay are open for business and need your support. After Wailea, this is my second favorite part of Maui to stay. 

West Maui Hawaii
Flying over West Maui

The luxe resorts of Kapalua offer world-class golf courses and there are plenty of serene bays perfect for snorkeling. There’s also some pretty great whale watching from shore during whale season. 

Best Hotels in West Maui:

East Maui

Seekers of tranquility may head to East Maui, where remote lodges near the Road to Hana offer seclusion amidst lush landscapes. This side of the island doesn’t have many lodging options but there is one really good one: Hana-Maui Resort, a Destination by Hyatt Residence.

Twin Falls Maui Road to Hana
Twin Falls, Road to Hana, East Maui

Central Maui

Central Maui anchors the island with busy Kahului Airport and great towns like Paia. Though more urban, Kahului is a convenient base for the adventure-bound, with easy airport access and budget-friendly hotels.

The windswept Ho’okipa Beach Park attracts surfers and windsurfers from around the globe, showcasing Mother Nature’s raw power. It’s also the best beach for spotting basking honu (turtles).

Paia Town Maui Hawaii
Paia Town shops

The historic town of Paia is a charming contrast to flashy Wailea with its bohemian vibe, surf shops, and eclectic boutiques. 

Best Hotel in Central Maui:

Upcountry Maui

In Maui’s Upcounty region, rolling pastures, fields of lavender, and organic farms thrive in the rich volcanic soil. The cooler climate nurtures a diverse agricultural scene, where one can find everything from boutique wineries to renowned goat cheese producers. Experience a different side of Maui by visiting the farms and botanical gardens of Upcountry—a great way to enjoy panoramic views and the island’s agricultural treasures.

​Like East Maui, there aren’t really any hotels in this area. The primary lodging option is the very rustic Kula Lodge

5 Best Things to Do on Maui 

Exploring Maui is the best part of a visit to this Hawaiian paradise. There are hundreds of things to see and do around the island but here are the top Maui experiences that I consider must-dos:

1. Drive the Road to Hana

A scenic drive like no other, this iconic 64-mile drive is not just about the destination but the journey. With over 600 curves and more than 50 bridges, the Road to Hana is a thrilling (and sometimes a little scary!) adventure.

Road To Hana Drive Maui
Road To Hana, Maui

Meander through lush landscapes, hike to waterfalls and walk along black sand beaches. It’s an unforgettable experience with jaw-dropping vistas at every turn. If you’re hesitant to drive it yourself, this Small Group Road to Hana Adventure Tour is the #1 Road to Hana tour on the island.

If you do decide to drive it yourself, I highly recommend downloading the Shaka Guide for the Road to Hana:

BEST DIY Tour APP
Shaka Guide App Hawaii

The Shaka Guide App

If you’re a DIY kind of traveler like I am, this is the perfect app to download for your Hawaii vacation. These GPS-guided audio tours are fun, easy to follow, and a super affordable way to explore the islands. I bought the whole Hawaii package when we moved here but you can also purchase individual tours.

2. Watch the Sunrise at Haleakala

Rise early and witness the breathtaking sunrise from atop Haleakala National Park. For the best experience, make sure you arrive well before dawn and dress warmly. Later, explore its vast crater and the surrounding surreal landscape that resembles the moon’s surface.

Don’t forget you’ll need a reservation for sunrise (more on that below). If you can’t score a reservation, you can still visit for sunrise by booking a tour like this top-rated Haleakala Sunrise Tour.

3. Snorkel at Molokini Crater

This crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater is a premier snorkeling and diving spot in Hawaii. Molokini Crater is a marine sanctuary teeming with vibrant coral reefs and over 250 species of tropical fish.

A short boat trip brings you to this snorkeling paradise with unparalleled underwater visibility and abundant sea life. The best boat trip for Molokini is the awesome Molokini Snorkeling Adventure Aboard Calypso.

4. Explore Iao Valley State Park

Wander through this lush, peaceful valley to see the Iao Needle, a natural rock pinnacle, and learn about the area’s significant cultural history.

5. Go Whale Watching

Maui is one of the best places to watch humpback whales in their natural habitat. The peak season runs from December to May and if you visit during those months, a whale-watching boat trip is a must. I like morning boat tours like the terrific Eye-Level Whale Watching Eco-Raft Tour for the smoothest ride and the highest likelihood of sightings.

3 Maui Activities That Require a Reservation

Not surprisingly, several of the top experiences in Maui are also the most popular and have recently introduced reservation systems to avoid overcrowding. If you plan to do any of the following, mark your calendar to make those reservations as soon as you’re allowed to:

Haleakalā National Park Sunrise Viewing: One of the most awe-inspiring experiences on Maui, watching the sunrise from the summit of Haleakalā, requires reservations for each vehicle. In addition to purchasing a park permit ($15 per adult + $30 per car to park), if you want to enter the park before 7:00am for sunrise, you’ll also need a specific sunrise reservation (another $1 fee). These reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance on the park’s website and are highly sought after. 

Waiʻānapanapa State Park: While the Road to Hana itself doesn’t require reservations, you will need a reservation for this popular state park along the road. The park’s black sand beach is the top attraction here and the reservation system ensures visitors have access to parking and facilities without overcrowding. The entry fee is $5 per person and parking will cost you another $10. Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance on the Hawaii State Parks website.

Waianapanapa State Park Black Sand Beach Maui Hawaii
Waianapanapa State Park Black Sand Beach

ʻĪao Valley State Monument: Advance reservations are also now required for the ʻĪao Valley State Monument. The entry fee is $5 per person, parking is $10, and reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance on the Hawaii State Parks website.

If you can’t score a reservation, you can still visit all of the above by booking an organized tour.

Best Maui Beaches

Whether you prefer bustling beach parks or quiet coves, Maui’s beaches captivate with their natural beauty and inviting waters. Here are some of the best beaches on Maui:

Wailea Beach is one of my favorite beaches for its golden sands and clear, azure waters, perfect for swimming and sunbathing. 

Ka’anapali Beach is famous for cliff diving ceremonies at sunset and offers excellent snorkeling with vibrant marine life. 

Ho’okipa Beach – For turtle spotting, this popular beach on Maui’s north shore is the place to be.

Hookipa Beach Turtle Beach Maui Hawaii
Hookipa Beach Turtle Beach Maui Hawaii

Wai’anapanapa State Park – For something truly unique, this striking black sand beach along the Hana Highway is a must-see.

Best Maui Luaus

For an authentic Hawaiian experience, you can’t miss attending a luau during your stay in Maui. My two favorite luaus on Maui are the Te Au Moana Luau at The Wailea Beach Marriott Resort and the Maui Nui Luau at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa.

Best Maui Hikes

For avid hikers, Maui has an array of trails that cater to various levels of fitness and offer a glimpse into the island’s diverse beauty. 

Twin Falls Hike: A family-friendly option, this short trail at mile marker 2 on the Hana Highway leads to a serene waterfall perfect for a refreshing dip.

Pipiwai Trail: Stretching 4 miles round trip in the Haleakala National Park, you’ll pass by banyan trees, a bamboo forest, and the majestic 400-foot Waimoku Falls.

Waihee Ridge Trail: This challenging 4-mile round trip weaves through lush forestation and opens up to panoramic views of Maui’s northern coast and deep valley gorges.

Sliding Sands Trail: Challenging yet rewarding, this 10-mile trek descends into Haleakala Crater offering a lunar-like landscape and sightings of rare silversword plants.

Best Maui Restaurants

Mama’s Fish House – For an unforgettable dining experience on Maui, Mama’s Fish House is truly a special place. The fresh local catch of the day is transformed into exquisite seafood dishes. The restaurant’s setting in a coconut grove on a secluded beach adds to the appeal. Reservations are tough to get and regular Maui visitors know to reserve a table right after booking their flights. 

Monkeypod Kitchen –  Celebrated for its commitment to craft cocktails (like a truly delicious Mai Tai) and farm-to-table cuisine, this is one of my favorite restaurants in Hawaii. We eat at the Waikiki location regularly and the Wailea restaurant is a great spot for a lively atmosphere, with live music and a menu highlighting local ingredients.

Maui Food Trucks – Don’t stick to restaurants on Maui, be sure to sample the local flavors at the island’s many food truck parks. A few local favorites are Like Poke? and Thai Me Up.

Best gifts to bring home from Maui

Take home memories of Maui while also supporting local artisans and farmers. The island is renowned for its rich agriculture, so consider Maui-grown pineapple or Macadamia nuts. Maui’s own Ocean Vodka is another local favorite. 

Handmade jewelry crafted from local materials like lava rock and coral or artisanal crafts made from native Koa wood are another good choice. Don’t overlook local art, featuring Hawaiian landscapes, which can be found at various galleries.

Guide to Maui Hawaii Travel Things to Do
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Wrapping up your visit to Maui

And there you have it! The best of the magical island of Maui in one handy place. There’s a good reason Maui is one of the most popular Hawaiian islands to visit. The island’s natural beauty and stunning resorts have been charming visitors for decades.

You just might be next.

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