Your Trip to Maui: The Complete Guide

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This magical island combines the comforts of resort ambiance with a unique tropical atmosphere. On one side of Maui you’ll find some of the finest restaurants in the state, world-class shopping and luxury accommodations. On the other, rugged valleys and deep, vibrant craters, surrounded by dense jungles filled with waterfalls, hiking trails and adventure. 

Maui encompasses 272 square miles of some of the earth’s most beautiful landscapes and is home to 144,444 permanent residents.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: Usually, the best time to visit Maui is either from April through June or September through November. The rainiest season is just beginning by the end of November, while the crowds are the largest in July and August (August is also typically the hottest month).

Language: English, Hawaiian, and Hawaiian Pidgin English.

Currency: USD

Getting Around: The main public mode of transportation on Maui is the Maui Bus. Though it doesn’t make stops on the island’s rugged Hana coast due to the slim, curving Hana Highway, the bus will easily take you to the more popular areas of Kihei and Lahaina. There is also a convenient stop just outside of the busy Kahului Airport. You can check out the bus routes in real-time on the Maui Bus maps page. Most visitors choose to rent a car at one of the car rental desks outside of the airport, though you can also rent from kiosks throughout the island. Ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft have started to take off in Hawaii, but you may have to wait longer than in large cities since the drivers are more sparse.

Travel Tip: Don’t try to overdo it on a Maui vacation. Depending on how long you’ll be staying, pick one or two fun adventures and focus the rest of your time on relaxing at the beach or sticking close to your rental. Many visitors try to fit in a sunrise at Haleakala, the entire Road to Hana drive, wine tasting in upcountry Maui and whale watching in a few days—and completely miss out on the beach. 

Things to Do

Maui has some of the best snorkeling in the state. The crescent-shaped Molokini Crater, which is a volcanic crater partially submerged off the shores of Wailea, is world-famous. You don’t have to step on a boat to get some quality snorkeling in, either, as there are just as many great spots along Maui’s coastal beaches. On the north side of the famous Kaanapali Beach on the island’s west side, the waters just off the shore next to Black Rock—a favorite cliff-jumping rock for Maui’s locals—are known for being a haven for honu, or Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. Also on the west side, Lahaina offers opportunities for shopping and dining, as well as plenty of accommodations. Like most of the other islands in Hawaii, Maui is known as a hiking and watersports destination as well. Expect a more natural approach when it comes to attractions on Maui, such as a day at the lavender fields in Kula or taking a stroll through Iao Valley State Park. 

  • Haleakala National Park: The largest park on Maui spans more than 33,000 acres and centers around a 10,000-foot volcano. The volcano’s crater is seven miles across, two miles wide and almost 3,000 feet deep. 
  • Whale Watching: Whale watching on Maui is widely considered the best in the state. During the whale season from December to May, the migrating humpbacked whales love Maui’s warm water. 
  • Road to Hana: This road trip through Maui’s mountainous east coast along the Hana Highway offers the chance to spot multiple waterfalls and take in some truly spectacular beach views.

What to Eat and Drink

Most of Maui’s residents (and a majority of its visitors) tend to prefer a more casual approach to dining, focusing instead on enjoying the quality ingredients that the island provides. From unique, locally-grown fruits and vegetables to Maui-raised grass-fed beef and other free-range livestock, to fresh line-caught Hawaiian fish often served up the same day the fisherman brought it in. It is a chef or foodie dream in any sense.

Out of all the Hawaiian Islands, Maui has the most to offer when it comes to local drinks. Pau Vodka is distilled from Maui Gold Pineapples, and Maui Brewing Company is the largest craft brewery in the state. Don’t leave without trying Lokalani, a sparkling rose produced by Maui Wines with grapes grown in Kula.

Find the best bars and restaurants on the island with our guides to nightlife on Maui and the best restaurants on Maui.

Where to Stay

There are a few areas of Maui that most visitors tend to choose for accommodations. Most tourists stay on the west side of the island, which includes famous Kaanapali Beach and Lahaina. Here you will find some amazing restaurants, tropical bars and places to shop. Along the same lines, South Maui, mainly Kihei and Wailea, also attracts many people. The south side may have less shopping and dining available than in the west, but it has the added value of being less crowded with the same great weather.

Those looking for a more laid-back, small-town surfing vibe would be better suited for Paia on the North side of the island. It is a bit more isolated, but with closer proximity to the Road to Hana sightseeing drive and much more greenery. Central Maui around Kahului International Airport (where most visitors fly into) has limited accommodations and less scenic sights, but can make up for it with its centralized location on the island. While most come to Maui to hit the beach, those less interested in sun and sand may want to consider staying in upcountry Maui close to Kula and Haleakala where there is incredible scenery. It is more difficult to find accommodations in upcountry and North Maui, so make sure to plan ahead with your vacation rentals if you’d like to stay in either areas.

Learn about the different areas of the island with our guide to where to stay on Maui and the top hotels and resorts on Maui.  

Getting There

Though there are technically three airports on Maui, most people fly into Kahului International Airport. The only way you’d want to fly into the other two small airports is if you’re connecting from another island in the state. Kapalua Airport is close to Kaanapali and Lahaina, while Hana airport is in Hana town on the east side. Cruise ships dock in Kahului at the Kahului Boat Harbor and many cruise passengers like to travel to Lahaina or Kihei if they’re staying for several nights. 

Money-Saving Tips

  • While it is possible to rent cars from different spots on the island, the airport rental offices are usually the cheapest option.
  • Instead of spending money on a whale watching tour, book a ride on the ferry from Lahaina Harbor to the neighboring island of Lanai and make a day trip of it. The ferry route takes you right through the Molokai Channel, one of Hawaii’s humpbacked whales’ favorite spots.
  • If you’re planning on enjoying snorkeling on Maui more than once (and you should!), bring your own snorkel and mask from home to save money on rentals—which can average at $15 per day depending on the beach.
  • Eating out doesn’t have to be expensive on Maui, even on the west side where most tourists go. Plenty of local bars, such as Hula Grill and Kimo’s, offer happy hour discounts on food and drinks. Even better, rent accommodations with an outdoor grill or kitchen and hit up the local markets, such as Fish Market Maui in Lahaina or a farmers market.
  • Find out more money-saving tips with our guide to visiting Hawaii on a budget.
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