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Inside: For Maui to recover economically from the devastating fires, respectful tourism is crucial. Here’s what not to do in Maui to ensure you visit with Aloha.
My husband and I recently returned from a week on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui. It was my second visit to the island and my husband’s first.
Since moving to Oahu a few months ago, we have been excited to start island-hopping and Maui was at the top of our list.
In fact, we had a weekend trip planned to Lahaina on August 11th. Obviously, due to the tragic fires that occurred on August 8th, we had to postpone that trip. And sadly, the lovely B&B we booked in historic Lahaina Town did not survive the fires.
In the weeks and months since, we have followed the local news closely and debated how long to wait to reschedule our trip. Should we return to Maui now? Or is it the right thing to stay away and let the island grieve?
The message to potential visitors has often been murky depending on who you ask. Yes, relief efforts are still ongoing and parts of the island remain off-limits to visitors.
But there’s no getting around the fact that Maui is a tourist destination. And, as such, the island’s economy is heavily dependent on a swift return to tourism.
The Reopening of West Maui
On October 8th, 2023, West Maui began a phased reopening. Since then, the clear message from the Governor, the Tourism Authority, and many local business owners is, “Please come back to Maui, we need you.”
But that message comes with an important disclaimer.
Maui needs respectful visitors who arrive with the spirit of Aloha. Visitors who want to support the island’s recovery while also enjoying their vacation.
There’s a nuance to visiting the island right now. A clear right and wrong way to behave. And it’s important to understand the emotional state of the island before you arrive.
Confident that we were exactly the type of visitors Maui needed, we quickly rescheduled our trip.
And I’m so glad we did. It was a wonderful experience and we were able to balance a few days of true vacation with a desire to help where we could.
If you’re considering planning a trip to Maui, I heartily encourage you to do it.
But first, let’s address a couple of Frequently Asked Questions about travel to Maui after the fires:
What parts of Maui are closed?
Lahaina Town and its surrounding areas are still closed to visitors and will be for some time. The West Side of Maui, including the popular resort areas of Ka’anapali and Kapalua, is slowly reopening in a phased approach. The rest of Maui, including North Maui and popular South Maui, are open for business and need your support.
The next phase of reopening for West Maui is November 1st. That phase includes the area from Kahana to Ka’anapali.
For the most current information, visit the Hawaii Tourism Authority website.
Should I go to Maui right now?
Yes, without a doubt, now is the time to go back to Maui. The return of tourism is critical to the island’s recovery.
Respectful tourism is welcome and much needed. Since the fires, Maui’s travel industry has lost millions per day in visitor spending. As we were landing in Maui, it was hard to miss the huge field full of unused rental cars.
The bottom line is that businesses will not survive unless visitors begin to return to the island. And return quickly.
Is Maui the same as it was before the wildfires?
No, the island as a whole is, of course, forever changed by this tragedy. The community is still grieving and will be for some time. Let’s just say this is not the place to go for a Bachelor Party right now. With that said, 90% of the island was physically untouched by the wildfires and remains just as spectacular as ever.
What is the best way to help Maui?
There are so many ways to help. The most important way is to visit with grace. While you’re here, donate or volunteer. I’ll expand on both of these later in this post.
Should I cancel my upcoming vacation to Maui?
No, please don’t. While tourism has always been a contentious issue with native Hawaiians, there’s no doubt that a kinder, gentler return to tourism is the single best way to provide economic recovery to the residents of Maui.
Can I volunteer to help while visiting Maui?
You absolutely can! And we did on our visit (more on that in a moment). But don’t feel like you have to. Just the act of visiting is a great way to support Maui’s recovery.
With that said, let’s talk about what visiting Maui looks like right now. We talked with many, many locals during our stay and there was a lot of consensus about the RIGHT way to visit Maui for the foreseeable future.
Based on those conversations, here are my recommendations.
5 Things NOT to Do in Maui
1. Do not go to Lahaina Town
Under any circumstances. Honestly, don’t even think about it.
While it’s true that West Maui is currently in the process of a phased reopening, that reopening does NOT include the devastated town of Lahaina or its immediate surroundings. Visitors are neither needed nor welcome there. It is not a tourist attraction, it is a grieving community.
2. Don’t Take Pictures of Fire Damage
If you happen to see something during your visit that was affected by the fires, please don’t whip out your cell phone and take a picture for social media. Damage from the fires should be treated with respect.
3. Don’t Waste Water
Limiting your individual water consumption is always a good practice anytime you travel. But this is especially true when you visit a remote island like Maui.
If you stay at a hotel, consider asking that your towels, sheets, and any additional bath linens not be turned over during your stay. Use the refillable water bottles provided to you in your room. Skip laundry services during your stay and try to reduce your overall water consumption. Every little bit helps.
4. Don’t be cheap
Maui has always been an expensive place to visit. And now, more than ever, the island needs your generosity of spirit and wallet. Tip generously to service workers and hotel staff members. Tipping those who assist you during your stay is a phenomenal way to show Aloha and support them during this difficult time. If you can’t afford to give money, give your time.
We generally travel on a budget but we felt it was important to build generous tipping into our overall trip budget for Maui. We got extra cash when we arrived and tipped everyone from the housekeepers to the valets about 5x what we normally would (and I like to think we were already pretty good tippers).
5. Don’t ask too many questions
It should go without saying that local residents do not want to be asked if they “lost everything in the fires.” If they volunteer their story, be compassionate and listen. But don’t ask.
This is especially true if you are visiting the reopened areas on the west side. Understand that the residents who were directly impacted by the disaster are traumatized and grieving. But many have had no choice but to return to work in the island’s hotels, restaurants, and shops.
We found that most of the locals we encountered were quick to volunteer their personal experiences (or those of friends or neighbors) in the natural course of conversation. It’s just the primary topic of conversation on the island at the moment and will be for a while.
But everyone is different. And none of the residents we interacted with had personally lost a loved one.
But enough about what NOT to do in Maui.
Let’s get back on a positive note and talk about what you SHOULD DO when you visit Maui. And honestly, if you’re taking the time to read this, you’re not the type of traveler who would do any of the above anyway!
Now, let’s talk about some positive ways you can make an impact with your visit to Maui.
Here are my Top 4 things you should do when you visit Maui right now:
1. Lead with Aloha
The theme for Maui’s tourism reboot is “Travel Pono on Maui” which means to travel with respect and treat it like your own home. And nothing embodies this Golden Rule like the spirit of Aloha.
The word “Aloha” is so much more than just hello and goodbye. It’s generosity and compassion. It’s love and encouragement. The spirit of Aloha is the very essence of the Hawaiian Islands. So much so that it’s even defined by state law as “mutual regard and affection” and a guiding philosophy to “extend warmth in caring with no obligation in return.”
Hawaiian culture dictates that everyone is welcomed with respect, kindness, and generosity. And now more than ever, your visit to Maui should be guided by the gentle spirit of Aloha.
2. Donate or Volunteer (or both!)
If you have a free morning or an extra day in your itinerary, I encourage you to sign up for one of the many volunteer opportunities available around the island.
On our recent visit, my husband and I spent an afternoon volunteering at the Maui Nui Strong Central Distribution Site in Kuhului and it was the single best thing we did all week. We were warmly welcomed by the volunteer staff there and put right to work assembling grocery bags for displaced families.
The Distribution Center is open to affected residents on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Every other day is a “re-stocking day.” We visited on a Saturday and assisted with the restocking efforts.
Here’s a list of great volunteer opportunities on Maui.
If your itinerary doesn’t allow time for a volunteer project, there’s no need to feel guilty about that!
You are on vacation and, as I said before, your visit alone helps to support the local community in so many ways. Instead, you could choose to donate to one of many worthy causes. The Maui Strong Fund is a terrific choice for donations because they divide up the funds to local organizations most in need.
3. Book a Tour (or just get out and explore!)
Consider booking a tour with one of many local tour companies. For example, book one of the many incredible snorkel tours to Molokini Crater or a day trip to Haleakala National Park.
In the winter months, Maui is one of the best places in the world to see humpback whales and there are plenty of tours available to get out on the water.
Or book a rental car and hit the road for some of the best scenic drives on the Valley Isle.
Tip: I like Discount Hawaii Car Rental for rentals in Hawaii.
Whether you head to upcountry Maui or tackle the winding Road to Hana in east Maui, with fewer cars on the road there’s never been a better time to go. (Just mind the speed limit on the Road to Hana and it’s a good idea to pack some motion sickness pills!)
If your budget is tight, just grab some reef-safe sunscreen and a picnic lunch and head straight for one of Maui’s beaches. There are beautiful beaches around the entire island and a day at the beach is one of the best things to do on Maui. Keep an eye out for the elusive Hawaiian monk seal or a lounging green sea turtle (but remember to keep your distance from monk seals and turtles).
4. Eat and shop locally
Support the local economy and small businesses by eating at a local restaurant or shopping for snacks or souvenirs at a local store.
Of course, it’s worth mentioning that even chain businesses like Costco or the big resorts employ locals, so every business on the island needs your support. But the small businesses need you more than most.
Here are just a few of my favorite local businesses on Maui:
Alii Kula Lavender Farm – A great place to beat the heat, it’s usually 15 degrees cooler up there!
Da Kitchen (Kihei) – Local Hawaiian plate meals hands down the best meal we had while on Maui!
Fork and Salad in Kihei – farm to table, all sourced from local farmers, 2 locations – Kihei and Kahului.
Jaws Country Store – A classic stop on the Road to Hana.
Kula Surfing Goat Dairy Farm, Kula – Goat farm tours and products.
Mama’s Fish House – Before the fires, this popular restaurant was the toughest reservation on Maui (typically booked 3-6 months out). But currently, you can actually walk in at lunchtime without a reservation. This is not likely to last long so get there while you can! Like many Maui restaurants, a meal at Mama’s supports local farmers and fishermen.
Maui Bees – Producing all organic honey in the up country.
Maui Brewing Company – Because Hawaii’s largest craft brewery is always a good idea.
Maui Cookie Lady, Makawao – So much more than just cookies. These decadent creations are a favorite of local celebrities like Oprah and The Rock.
Maui Fresh Streatery, Kahului – Perhaps Maui’s most popular food truck, Chef Kyle Kawakami is a fixture in the local community. His truck has been tirelessly serving local residents in the aftermath of the fires.
Maui Specialty Chocolates, Kahului – freshly made mochi and chocolates, call and order ahead and they will hold items for you because they routinely sell out of their supply.
Monkeypod Kitchen – Home to the best Mai Tai in all of Hawaii (in my expert opinion) and delicious farm-to-table Hawaii regional cuisine. Two locations – Wailea and Ka’anapali (reopening October 30th, while they were closed they provided over 40,000 free meals to West Maui residents).
Native Intelligence, Wailuku – Native Hawaiian-owned, featuring local designers.
Paia Fish Market – 3 locations on Maui (one was lost in the Lahaina fires). Amazing fish tacos and more.
Paia Gelato – Amazing gelato, coffee, and a great place to pick up a picnic lunch to take to the beach.
Paradise Now, Wailuku – Hand-painted original art from Maui.
Shikeda Bento Patisserie, Wailuku – Japanese and French-inspired pastries made fresh daily using local Maui ingredients.
Sixty Two Marcket, Wailuku – Both a restaurant and a market featuring local farmer products. The menu rotates seasonally every 62 days.
South Maui Fish Company, Kihei – Featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, this popular fresh catch food truck serves 100% local Hawaiian fish and sells out daily.
South Maui Gardens, Kihei – This full-service nursery and community green space is home to the Kihei Food Oasis where you’ll find many of Maui’s best food trucks & live music every 2nd Saturday.
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice – Lost 2 of their Lahaina locations in the fire and 17 of 19 employees lost their homes. Find them in Kahului, Kihei, and Paia.
So yes, it’s time to go back to Maui
Without exception, everyone we encountered on our visit to Maui was grateful we were there. We were thanked numerous times for coming and welcomed graciously by everyone from restaurant servers to hotel staff.
Because we did not visit any part of West Maui, we did not see any damage from the fires on our visit.
If you do visit the west side of the island (obviously, not Lahaina), tread lightly. Some hotels, shops, and restaurants are open, and would greatly appreciate your visit. However, there are also many displaced locals living in this area so please be extra sensitive.
But as long as you visit with common sense and a warm spirit of Aloha, most residents of Maui will welcome you with open arms.
And thanks to quick and affordable flights between our home in Honolulu and Maui’s Kahului Airport (OGG), we look forward to visiting as often as possible in the coming months to spread Aloha and continue to support the island’s recovery.
So start planning that Maui vacation.
If you took the time to read this post, you obviously care about how your visit will impact the island. And that’s why you’re exactly the type of visitor Maui needs most right now.